The Wind Blows Where it Pleases

This is an outline of the notes that I use to teach my Wednesday evening class on the sayings and the life of Jesus.

The Heart of the Lesson: Jesus was conceived and empowered by the Holy Spirit and he teaches the disciples about the role of the Spirit in walking by faith, even while encountering hostility of the spiritually blind.

Today’s Term: Counselor – meaning the Spirit is our advocate and helper who leads them in the truth; the paraklete, “the one who comes along side.”

The Spirit in the Life of Jesus:

  1. Conceived by the Spirit (Matthew 1:18, Luke 1:35)
  2. The Spirit leads Simeon to the Hope of Israel (Luke 2:25-27)
  3. The Spirit was upon him (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61:1-2)

Spirit, Wind, Breath (John 3:8)

  1. Jesus talks with Nicodemus about the necessity of being born again.
  2. Jesus is using a play on words that we don’t catch in English. Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek all use the word for “wind” (pneuma). The wind blows where it pleases, but John 3:8 can also be translated, “the Spirit blows wherever it pleases” or even “the Spirit breaths whenever it pleases.”
  3. Nicodemus would have easily connected this teaching to the beginning of Genesis, the Spirit hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2). This can also be translated the wind or breath was hovering. All three suggest something alive and powerful, beyond the control of any person or religious group.
  4. The Spirit is inexpiable. Theologians often omit teaching on the Spirit because he is so difficult to understand.
  5. After the ascension, the Spirit came upon them (Acts 2:2) and empowered them to carry out the mission that Jesus left to the church. Where God’s Spirit blows, great things happen.
  6. The Jews Christians tried to maintain control through circumcision, Sabbath observance, and food laws, but the Spirit moved them past these. Paul tells the church not to put out the Spirit’s fire (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

The Flesh Counts for Nothing (John 6:63, 66)

  1. The words of Jesus are life, more than our need for food. They wanted to make Jesus a bread king and intended to take him by force.
  2. Jesus puts out a hard teaching (John 6:60) and they take offense and grumble, and even leave. But the disciples realize that Jesus alone has the words of life.
  3. Others were not interested in the life that the Spirit was giving them. They sought the material when Jesus brought the spiritual. “The flesh counts for nothing” is one of the most profound statements of Jesus.
    1. Gnostics took that statement out of context, saying it proved the material world is evil and much be neglected, only the spiritual mattered.
    2. Or they stressed the opposite, the sins committed in the flesh were not important since the Spirit is all that mattered.
    3. Jesus’ point is the necessity of salvation, eternal life comes from the Spirit.

Pouring the Spirit (John 7:37-39)

  1. As people left Jesus because the teaching was too difficult, others became even more thirsty (Matthew 5:6). Water is essential to life and Jesus talks about this “living water.”
  2. The Spirit being “poured out” is common language (Isaiah 44:3, 32:15, Ezekiel 39:29, Zechariah 12:10, Joel 2:28-29, Acts 10:45, Romans 5:5).

The Counselor (John 14:16-17, 14:26, 15:26, 16:8-11)

  1. The NT mentions the personal nature of the Spirit, a HE rather than an IT.
  2. Counselor comes from paraklete, to come along side, like a helper or court advocate.
  3. The Counselor is both with and in the believer. He is not of this world.
  4. The Spirit came upon some OT characters: Moses, Joshua, Elijah, Elisha, even John the Baptist.
  5. The Spirit of truth will teach the disciples all things at the time it is needed.
    1. Discerning falsehood (1 Corinthians 2:10, Ephesians 3:5)
    2. Spiritual discernment (1 Corinthians 12:10)
    3. Spiritual understanding (1 Corinthians 2:11-13)
    4. Spiritual assistance (Romans 8:26)
  6. John’s inclusion of the Spirit as Counselor when the synoptics do not: the apostles were dying off (martyrs) and they needed encouragement that Jesus was always present even through through to the end.
    1. Fears about Jesus’ delay in returning (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
    2. As decades passed, people became skeptical (2 Peter 3:3-8)

Breathing Out the Spirit (John 20:19-22)

  1. We usually look back to the upper room at Pentecost as the birthday of the church but forget that the disciples had already received the Spirit (John 20:22). Perhaps the Acts 2 story is about receiving the Spirit in power (Acts 1:8).
  2. Peace is the Hebrew word shalom often spoken at times of divine connection: Gideon (Judges 6:23, Daniel (Daniel 10:19). They get the message of peace three times (John 20:19, 21, 26). This is likely more than just a greeting.
  3. The Spirit is often connected to peace (Romans 14:17, Galatians 5:22, Romans 8:6).
  4. Jesus breathes on them, pneuma (Greek) and ruach (Hebrew) both meaning breath of spirit; he is creating something new.
    1. As God breathes life into Adam (Genesis 2:7)
    2. As God breathes life into the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:8).
  5. We are sent out ones: apostolos.
    1. Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20)
    2. Commissioned to go out (Matthew 28:18-20)

Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:22-32)

  1. So, the unpardonable sin. Context proves this is not difficult at all.
  2. A blind and mute man is possessed by a demon, which Jesus drives out. One would think this is the Messiah but the religious few have an assumption that Jesus’ power comes from the devil, not God. They say that Jesus has the power of demons because he in in cahoots with demons.
  3. Beelzabub (2 Kings 1:2-6) is a name applied to the god of Ekron, meaning “lord of the flies” or “Baal the Prince.” So, the Jews would think the devil is the “prince of demons.”
  4. Jesus’ response to them indicates they were being illogical. Satan is evil but he is not stupid, a house divided against itself cannot stand.
  5. The devil is not the issue here, it is that Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with Us” (Matthew 1:23), not the “devil with us.”
  6. Attributing the miracles of God to the devil is evidence of a totally perverse mind and reprobate heart. Woe to those who call good evil… (Isaiah 5:20).
  7. Peter responded to Jesus, “depart from me I am a sinner” (Luke 5:8) but the opposite is true of the Pharisees, they say that Jesus is the sinner.
  8. In Luke 11:20, Luke uses the phrase, “finger of God” reminiscent of the court of Pharaoh (Exodus 8:19).
  9. Speak against Jesus and you can be forgiven, but not against the Spirit.
    1. People who reject Jesus as the Messiah can be forgiven if they later come to faith (Acts 7:51 – we all do this at first). If you worry about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, it is a good indication that you have not.
    2. Blasphemy against the Spirit, accusing God of evil, cannot be forgiven. If a man sins against the Lord who will intercede for him (1 Samuel 2:25). Once they had decided that Jesus’ power was from the devil, they were rejecting the only provision for their salvation, and there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12).
  10. Jesus says that he who is not with me is against me (Matthew 12:30). He is saying that to not decide is to decide (against him). There is no neutrality or thinking about deciding tomorrow. In a war, one must choose sides.
  11. In Mark’s version, his family is coming to take charge of him because he has lost his mind (Mark 3:20-27).
    1. His enemies believe he is in league with the devil and is a liar (Mark 2:7)
    2. His family thinks he is an insane lunatic (Mark 3:21)
    3. The demons know who he is the Lord… the Son of God (Mark 1:24, 3:11).

Camel Through the Eye of a Needle

This is an outline of the notes that I use to teach my Wednesday evening class on the sayings and the life of Jesus.

The Heart of the Lesson: often success by the world’s standard is a sign of spiritual poverty. What good will it be for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? (Matthew 16:26).

Today’s Term: Soul – translated from psyche, which is also self. While possessions are not bad in themselves, too much attachment cause some people to lose their soul.

The Sneering Pharisees (Luke 16:14-15)

  1. These Pharisee literally turned up their noses at Jesus. Why? Wealth was a way to measure God’s pleasure with them. More wealth allowed them to give more to the poor. Wealth became everything to them.
  2. God knows the heart – our thoughts and motivation (Proverbs 21:2, 1 Samuel 16:7).
  3. God was not only all-knowing and all-powerful, but perfectly holy, too. Roman and Greek gods were like spoiled brats toying with mankind, but the God of the Bible is portrayed as the moral center of the universe (Isaiah 55:8).

The Camel-Needle Dilemma (Matthew 19:23-26)

  1. The rich, young, ruler could not part with his wealth, so is this typical of the wealthy? He does not belong to God, not himself, but belongs to the inanimate things he possesses. Jesus’ point is that the rich will find it more difficult to surrender their lives to Christ.
  2. Wealth opens doors, so why not open the door to heaven?
  3. Their history is filled with God’s people being men of great wealth: Abraham, Job, Solomon. It appears that right living leads to health and prosperity.
  4. Great wealth has led many away from God (1 Timothy 6:9, 17-18).

Your Two-Cents Worth (Mark 12:41-44)

  1. The widow’s coin was small but huge in God’s eyes. All through the ages, this woman will be know for her generosity and sacrifice. Rich people gave from their excess, she gave all she had, beyond her ability.
  2. The story is followed by Jesus’ prediction of the temple’s destruction. Giving all she had impressed Jesus, while the temple was managed by materialistic, unscriptural men; it was doomed to fail.

Success Now, Distress Later (Luke 6:24-25)

  1. Rather than all blessings in the Beatitudes, Luke brings in several woes. This is not about condemnation, but warnings.
  2. The wealthy have received their comfort and consolation already, paid in full, but they have not received that which is worth having, eternal life.
  3. Telling the well-fed that they will go hungry is not a prophecy of physical hunger, but of spiritual hunger. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled.

Unsound Investment Strategy (Luke 12:13-21)

  1. In settling a dispute, Jesus does not provide an answer, rather he tells them to get their minds off of material things.
  2. Jesus sees the man’s desire not one of fairness (divide the inheritance) but one of greed. He was not teaching against possessions in general, but against abundance. If you have all you need, be content with that. The man’s focus was not on “what do I need?” but “what can I get?”
  3. As a farmer, this man was dependent on rain and the sun. Seems like he would be grateful to God for his success.
  4. Humor in the parable: his field is so profitable that his barns will not hold it all. He would rather build bigger barns than give it away to the poor and hungry.
  5. While planning for the future, he obviously did not plan far enough.
  6. Do not forget the real source of your possessions (Deuteronomy 8:17, James 4:13-14).
  7. Observation: this man does not live in the present, rather he is living in the future. His “eat, drink, and be merry” lies in the future. Many driven people live for delayed gratification.
  8. The point is, we must be rich toward God (Luke 12:21).

The Great Chasm (Luke 16:19-31)

  1. Here is a “rich man that landed in hell” parable, with a severe contrast with Lazarus at the gate.
  2. Both died and had different destinies, but only the pitiable beggar is at home with the father, at Abraham’s side.
  3. We know the beggar’s name but the wealthy man is nameless; total role reversal.
  4. Lazarus can warn my brothers – if they will not listen to the Law and the Prophets, they will not respond to a sign, even if someone was raised from the dead.
  5. The man’s sin was indifference to the suffering around him, literally at his own gate.

Rich, Cozy, and Lukewarm (Revelation 3:14-19)

  1. Of these seven churches, the first six had a mix of praise and criticism, but this seventh church (Laodicea) had all criticism from Jesus.
  2. Lukewarm can be mediocre, a play on words regarding the warm springs in the city. It was not cold for drinking, nor was it hot for healing properties.
  3. The word used for spew or spit is literally vomit.
  4. Laodicea was a wealthy city that declined assistance after an earthquake in AD 60. Jesus points out their spiritual poverty.

The Soul Objective (Matthew 16:24-26)

  1. To deny oneself means to say no to oneself. Luke adds the word “daily” and to everyone, not just the disciples (Luke 9:23).
  2. Jesus makes it clear that he came to suffer and die in Jerusalem, and those who follow him can expect the same treatment.
  3. While crucifixion on the cross was a once and done deal, persecution for the believer is an every day event along the journey of discipleship.
  4. The term “follow me” is another hard saying for us today. In a sense, we lose our lives to gain real life. The world translates “gains” by profit and loss, so those who see life this way need to write off their life as a loss.
  5. Soul is psuche, or some may see it as the real self of a person. The point is that if we live selfishly like most people do, we will end up losing our real selves.
  6. Jesus offers glory at a high cost. This type of honesty is not very appealing on a recruitment poster for Christianity, but it can spark interest and loyalty in those who seek something greater than themselves in life.
  7. Key passages: Galatians 2:20, Romans 12:1-2.

The Wages of Obedience (Luke 12:32)

  1. Why fret over such earthly things when God is pleased to give people an everlasting reward?
  2. Jesus uses a tender expression, “little flock.” This emphasizes the fact that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who guard and looks out for his sheep.
  3. The Father does not give the kingdom grudgingly but willfully, with pleasure, to those who trust the Shepherd to guide and protect them.

Treasures in Heaven

This is an outline of the notes that I use to teach my Wednesday evening class on the sayings and the life of Jesus.

The Heart of the Lesson: we will look at some of Jesus’ most difficult saying about material goods and how worrying is pointless.

Today’s Term: mammon, often translated money, but is actually worldly possessions.

Possess Nothing but Heaven (Matthew 5:3)

  1. Here is the opening of the beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. The point is that Jesus turns the world’s value system upside down. You are not blessed when you have an abundance of worldly goods.
  2. You are blessed, not when you are poor, but when you are really poor, the destitute. When we have no one to turn to except God. When we are flat on our back we have nowhere to look but up. While there have been many people who were upper class, the vast majority of the ancient world were poor.
  3. Jesus knows the poor are often pitied, snubbed, and ignored but they are closer to God than most people (Revelation 3:17). They were often people of character, decency, honesty, and loyalty.
  4. Jesus commends those poor in spirit, not just the literally poor. We are not accepted by God until we recognize and confess our deep spiritual need. Believing in yourself is not the way to salvation (2 Timothy 3:2).
  5. The pattern throughout history: when Christians become wealthy, many lose their or forfeit faith (among exceptions, of course).

Give Until it Feels Good (Matthew 5:42, Luke 6:34-35)

  1. Beggars back in the day were around just like today, but Jesus is challenging us to give generously even if you can’t determine if they need what they ask for. Who has time to investigate all the requests? He may be saying, “Be willing to accept being taken in.”
  2. The Law of Moses: borrowing money interest-free (Exodus 22:25, 25:36). Wealth in monasteries increased and theologians began to justify money-lending and capitalism. Capitalism grew when Christians who were to live under vows of poverty, interest was a sin, chose to ignore their vows.

Jesus via Paul (Acts 20:33-35)

  1. Here is a saying of Jesus that is not written in the gospels… it is in read letters!
  2. Paul provided for his own needs when he was traveling (tent-making) and in Ephesus, he challenged them to follow his example. Not only provide for yourselves but have funds to help the weak and needy.

A Beggar’s Banquet (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

  1. Here we have a Sabbath meal with a prominent Pharisee. Rather than think about places and position, think about those of low status.
  2. Seek the lowest place rather than assuming the place of honor. Life is not a game of “king of the hill.”
  3. Jesus also addresses generosity without thought of reward. Don’t invite someone with the thought of a reciprocal invitation.
  4. There is genuine gratitude from people who can never repay you for your generosity and kindness.

Rust-Proofing Our Lives (Matthew 6:19-21)

  1. Material goods can easily become our idols. Many people embrace Retail Therapy to feel better about their situation or themselves.
  2. Treasure on Earth is is a temporary and false God and can disappear in an instant. People can show off their wealth through cars, clothing, technology, and possessions. Our joy and value in things will eventually fade.
  3. Our investments and possession are never secure.
  4. The Bible never says that money is the root of all evil, but the love of money (1 Timothy 6:9).

Financial Slavery (Matthew 6:24)

  1. Being a slave to wealth is not just for the wealthy, but the poor can make acquiring possessions their personal goal.
  2. The phrase “be a slave to” is better “serve.” Similarly, the word “masters” is lords or owners. The idea is clear, there is an owner-slave relationship when it comes to money and possessions. Do you possess your things or does your stuff possess you?

Worry and Anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34)

  1. Trust and provision is what we find in Psalm 23:1.
    1. A worrier believes the worst will come to pass, and if it doesn’t, we credit our worry as the factor that kept the bad from happening.
    2. A worrier attempt to take control over life, to drive away the negative by fretting over it.
    3. A worrier will create a lot of unhappiness but God is the one who satisfies (Psalm 145:15-16).
  2. A call not to worry is not a command against planning ahead, but rather a call to not let the future sap your joy for today.
  3. The antidote for worry? Prayer (Philippians 4:6-7, 1 Peter 5:7).
  4. God’s will is still a factor (James 4:13).

Rich and Sad (Mark 10:17-22)

  1. The man ran up to Jesus with such urgency, seeking eternal life.
  2. Good Teacher – Jesus may have seemed harsh but flattery was not going to work on him.
  3. You know the commandments – Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not to abolish the Law. The question, “which ones?” reveals perhaps he was “buying the stairway to heaven.”
  4. The desire to “do” something certainly indicates the belief in a works salvation. In his Jewish background, it did not occur to him that he needs to “be” something rather than “do” something.
  5. This guy had a lot going for him and he was striving toward doing what the Law required; he kept the Law from his youth. He was not a jaded or wayward son. He had it all, but lacked one thing (Mark 10:21).
  6. Selling all you have and giving it to the poor is not an alternate plan of salvation, we still need to be born again. Selling all he had was like a death sentence, literally. Having treasure in heaven requires that we give up our earthly treasure.
  7. Consider the disciples…
    1. No settled homes (Luke 9:58)
    2. Went hungry (Mark 2:23)
    3. Were a charity case for certain women (Luke 8:3)
    4. Had given up everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28)
  8. Here may be the only recorded time where someone was sad because he had a lot of wealth.

The Father Knows What You Need

This is an outline of the notes that I use to teach my Wednesday evening class on the sayings and the life of Jesus.

At the Heart of the Lesson: Jesus teaches about prayer, emphasizing persistence, trust, and the importance of prayer.

Today’s Term: Father – which is central to his understanding of prayer, which is an act of personal communion with our heavenly Father.

Strictly for Show (Matthew 6:5-8)

  1. Devout Jews made it a habit to pray several times a day (generally at 9am, 12pm, and 3pm) no matter what they were doing or in what position.
    1. At the heart, a good idea to pause and reflect on our relationship with God.
    2. But Jesus saw their true motivation and prayer had ceased to be important; and more showy for those who could hear and see them praying.
  2. The private room or prayer closet, between you and God.
  3. Meaningless repetition or babble (like with Baal in 1 Kings 18:26), characteristic of the pagans, or even Catholics or Muslims today.
    1. A prayer does not need to be recited, like one is in a trance.
    2. The Jews did not babble like the pagans but they had their empty forms, even reciting the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) each morning and evening.
  4. Jesus makes it clear that God knows what you need before you ask him, so length of prayer, the number of people praying, or eloquence of speech is not a factor.

A Better Way to Pray (Matthew 6:9-13)

  1. Typically called the Lord’s Prayer, this is better called the Model Prayer. I see the Lord’s Prayer being in John 17:1-26, where the Lord is actually praying for his mission, disciples, those who come after them, namely all followers of Jesus down through the ages.
  2. Jesus’ use of the term Father, is much different than the tradition lofty address of “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” or “Creator of the World” or “Merciful One” or “Divine Presence.” For Jesus, “Father” was enough because piling on titles are not important. Titles don’t express a relationship.
  3. “Father” then and now: back in the day, father’s commanded respect and authority unlike the way fathers are portrayed in American culture today.
  4. When we call God “Father” we are acknowledging we are his children. An earthly father knows what his children need even when they ask for a bunch of crazy stuff.
  5. The Prayer itself…
    1. “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9, see also Luke 11:2)
    2. “In heaven” – he is still transcendent, holier than us, greater than us. “Our Father in Heaven” is a balance between love and power.
    3. “Hallowed” – meaning holy or separate or distinct. We are giving his respect to his unique character.
    4. “Your kingdom come” and “Your will be done” is an example of parallelism, the second phrase is a restating of the first. Living in his kingdom mean living in harmony with God’s will. This is not resigning to God’s will (like it’s fate or done with resentment) but an embracing of God’s will, since God knows best.
    5. “Give us our daily bread” which likely means simply give us what we need today. (Jesus is the Bread of Life, John 6:35, 48, and God provided manna in the wilderness, Exodus 16:13-18, 31).
    6. “Forgive us our debts” – reminds us that we are all sinners. The word here is not hamartia, meaning to miss the mark, but rather opheilema, meaning literally debts, things that are due. Perhaps these are things we should have done but fail to do them, or failed to give God or our neighbors what we owed them.
    7. “Forgiving others” – God forgiving us is contingent on our forgiving others. We cannot pay our debt by fasting or praying or giving to the poor, but through forgiving others.
    8. “Deliver us from the evil one” – this is more than just delivering us from generic evil.
  6. Is this a magic prayer to be repeated word for word or more of a model prayer? This is not the words to memorize but to be used as a template or framework.

Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7-11)

  1. One important key is that God is a generous Father. The verbs here are the imperfect tense, meaning, keep on asking, seeking, knocking. Don’t give up.
  2. Do we get all for which we ask? No. Jesus says the Father give good gifts to those who ask (Matthew 7:11). He already covered our request for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10).
  3. Asking for wisdom (James 1:5-6) and confidence that God hears us (1 John 5:14) when we ask according to his will.
  4. Did Jesus call us evil (Matthew 7:11)? Total depravity (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Pesky, Inconsiderate Friend (Luke 11:5-8)

  1. The custom of hospitality in Bible times, so this is a familiar story. The late-night friend’s boldness is what gets the man out of bed. He was actually shameless in his persistence to ask. He did not give what was asked out of love for his neighbor but because the neighbor was a nuisance to get rid of.
  2. This parable appears to be a contrast between our own goodness and God’s. God’s generosity requires much less cajoling, he does not need to be awakened, since he already knows our needs.
  3. The point is that one should continuing making his request rather than giving up too soon. In this story, the man was begging for something he needed (daily bread), it was not for something unnecessary.

The Pesky Plaintiff (Luke 18:1-8)

  1. Here is the parable of the unjust judge. The assumption is that this judge did not let the fear of God (or fear of public opinion) affect his decisions (Luke 18:4, also Exodus 22:22-24). These are often condemned in the Old Testament, judges who expected bribes.
  2. This woman had to plead her own case, the ultimate in victim-hood, a widow.
  3. This judge is exhausted and she has worn him out with continual complaining (Luke 18:5). We are not told why the judge would not hear her case, he could ignore her and get away with it.
  4. Her request is simply for justice; this was not unreasonable. Do that which you are paid to do, dispense justice (check out Psalm 9:12, 146:9).
  5. While a humorous story, it is dead serious; it is about trusting God to make things right.
  6. Jesus challenges us to pray and not grow weary. When unanswered, will we continue in prayer? Will Jesus find faith on the earth (Luke 18:8)?

The Amazing Holy Man (Luke 18:9-14)

  1. This following story continues the theme of prayer but moves from persistence to attitude.
  2. The presence of Pharisees in the culture, devout men who took religion seriously, where the common man could not. Pharisee meant “separated ones” – these would look down on others who were not so holy and boast in their devout practices of public prayer and public fasting and public giving. This guy was not real;y praying, he was admiring himself in a mirror.
  3. The prayer starts out right, thanking God, but goes down hill after that.
    1. He didn’t need God since he was doing things right by himself (self-righteousness).
    2. He focuses on his merits.
    3. He compares himself to others.
  4. The tax collector – the despised people of the day, working for the Romans and Herod, notoriously corrupt. This “scum” should not have even been near the temple.
    1. He focuses on his sinfulness and unworthiness.
    2. He knows his need and chases after God. He is not “a” sinner, but “the” sinner. The definite article is in the Greek.
    3. He does not compare himself to others.
  5. Many people tend to behave more like the Pharisee than the publican. Have you heard this one, “There but for the grace of God go I”? Are we not comparing ourselves masked in the language to God’s grace? Paul’s response, “What a wretched man I am” (Romans 7:24).

In Jesus’ Name, Amen (John 14:14)

  1. How often do we see this phrase as a magic bullet in our prayer arsenal?
  2. This is to ask in the spirit of Jesus, according to his revealed will. Let’s not misrepresent of Lord by asking for things not according to his will (for healing? for health? for someone’s salvation? for God’s will to be done? but to win the lottery?).
  3. Going through the pit with Jesus changes what we ask for. The prosperity gospel is only believed by baby Christians in the western world. It is an insult to God and the sacrifice of our Savior to believe that we should receive better treatment that the cross, or the destiny of the disciples (John 15:18-20, 2 Timothy 3:12, 1 Peter 4:12).

You of Little Faith

This post is back to my teaching notes for my Wednesday evening Bible study at King’s Grant, which should take us through the end of the semester (December 15). The whole series of lessons can be found here.

Previously we looked at some sayings of Jesus in the context of his healing sick and demon-possessed people. Today we look at other types of miracles, one involving power over death, the others involving power over the forces of nature.

At the Heart of the Lesson: As part of his mission to usher in the kingdom of God, Jesus performed miracles over the powers of nature. In so doing he evoked faith in many people, but hostility and skepticism in others. This group of lessons is about signs and skeptics. We will also look at the nature of faith and how it relates to Jesus’ miracles.

Key Verse: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” (Mark 4:40)

Key Term: Signs. John refers to miracles as signs that point to a higher reality. They are not done for only material purposes, but to draw out one’s faith. Jesus’ enemies could not see Jesus for who He was.

Conquering Death: (Mark 5:22-24, 35-43)

  1. Jesus on many occasions healed society’s outcasts, crippled beggars, lepers, the demon-possessed. Here a miracle takes place among the respectable.
  2. Jairus is a ruler in the local synagogue. The “ruler” of the synagogue was elected by its elders and was in charge of caring for the building and administering the services. He was not what we would call a preacher or minister.
  3. He treats Jesus as his superior, one of the few cases in the Gospels where any Jewish official showed Jesus respect. Jairus is an establishment figure, not one of the sinners (which Jesus took heat for).
  4. The Greek word for “daughter” is thugater, but Jairus uses the diminutive, thugatrion, “little daughter.” The girl was twelve; considered of age. The tragedy in the story is not just that a child has died, but that the child was on the verge of womanhood. Luke’s Gospel adds the detail that the girl was the man’s only child.
  5. Jesus’ words “Don’t be afraid, only believe” is in contrast to the mourners. In the atmosphere of mourning he brought hope and serenity.
  6. After going inside, the first thing Jesus did was to send out the mourners; the cause for mourning was about to end.
  7. There were and still are professional “wailing women” in many places around the world. As silly as it sounds to us, one purpose was to create an atmosphere in which people were free to release their own grief. Jesus puts them out, they we no longer needed.
  8. “The child is not dead but asleep.” Death is sometimes referred to as sleep, like when Jesus spoke of his friend Lazarus falling asleep. Jesus was assuring them that death had no hold on her, that he would awaken her just as if she had fallen asleep. For the believer, death is indeed like sleep, it is not a permanent state.
  9. The laughter at Jesus’ statement is not the laughter of humor, but mocking. Maybe he was making light of someone just dying.
  10. Jesus’ words to the child can be translated “get up” or “arise,” but also “wake up.” This is one of very few places in the Bible where we have the actual words Jesus spoke in his native Aramaic: Talitha koum, “little girl, get up.” The little girl “got up,” which is the same Greek verb used in other places to refer to Jesus’ resurrection.
  11. The people who saw that the child were “completely astonished.” The great Hebrew prophets Elijah and Elisha both restored dead children to life (1 Kings 17: 17-24, 2 Kings 4: 18-37). They understood that someone great had come to town.

The First Sign: (John 2:1-11)

  1. The miracle of turning water into wine was, according to John’s Gospel, the first of Jesus’ miracles. The story is familiar, yet it is still mysterious. It tells us about the mission of Jesus and about his relationship with his family.
  2. Jesus addresses his mother as “woman.” This was not rudeness or coarseness, but Jesus was asserting his independence and manhood.
    1. He is now doing the will of the Father and is no longer subject to human authority. He was a good and obedient son in all ways, but now that he is “about his Father’s business” (the words he spoke in the temple when he was twelve years old), he is no longer subject to her authority.
    2. Later he honors her request anyway. The Cana incident was, in a sense, Jesus’ coming of age event.
  3. Mary may have had some position of authority at this wedding, seeing how she addresses the servants.
    1. Jesus’ words to her, “Why do you involve me?” is puzzling, but the general meaning is probably “Let me do things in my own way.”
    2. “My time has not yet come” is also puzzling. Some think it refers to his “time” of suffering on the cross. More likely the meaning is that Jesus alone will know when his time to begin doing miracles has arrived. Jesus never did miracles on demand. He and his Father have their own sense of timing.
  4. The water in the stone jars is mentioned as being for the Jewish rites of purification.
    1. One meaning of the miracle is that the water represents the old covenant, the Jewish law with its many regulations, while the wine represents the new covenant, the gospel.
    2. The ceremonial cleansing water was nothing compared with the wine of the new age.
    3. The Jewish teachers of Jesus’ day spoke of the Law of Moses as “water,” in the sense of purifying, quenching thirst, promoting life and health. But of course, the wine is better.
  5. The “master of the banquet” would have been a friend of the wedding party or family; an honorary position. He seems surprised: The best wine has been saved for so late in the festivities, the time when the guests (perhaps mildly intoxicated at this point) could expect the inferior wine to be brought out.
  6. “This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed in Cana of Galilee. Jesus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him” (John 2:11).
    1. Signs, the Greek word is semeia, are important in John as pointers to a higher reality. A miracle is not done for purely material reasons, but to elicit faith, to draw men nearer to God.
    2. Turning water into wine is not done to dazzle people with an act of magic but to make them see the divine glory of the man who performed it. The guests at the wedding may not see the significance of the miracle, but Jesus’ disciples do, and at this point they put their faith in him.

The Heavenly Picnic: (John 6:1-15)

  1. The miracle of feeding the five thousand must have made a deep impression on the first believers, because it is one of the few miracles that is recorded in all four Gospels.
    1. To understand why, we need to remember that the Jews of Jesus’ day expected their Messiah to spread a great banquet for all Israel to enjoy.
    2. They also expected that there would again be manna. In a sense this miracle is both a kind of preview of the messianic banquet and also the giving of bread from heaven.
  2. The people followed Jesus a long way on foot. This indicates there was already a deep spiritual hunger.
    1. Jesus had withdrawn for a time after he heard of the death of John the Baptist. He wanted to be alone, but the crowds would not let him-and instead of rejecting them, he fed them.
    2. People with spiritual hunger are not a nuisance or an encumbrance, but an opportunity.
  3. Jesus’ reaction to the people’s hunger is: “Feed them” but the disciples doubt their ability to do it. When Jesus says to Philip “Where shall we buy bread?” he is likely testing the disciples. Philip says it simply can’t be done, but Andrew mentions the boy with the loaves and fishes. This is one of the few miracles in which the disciples themselves are involved (Jesus performed the miracle, but the disciples gave the food to the people).
  4. The bread at the feeding of the five thousand was barley bread, the bread of the poor, considered to be food for animals, not people.
    1. The “loaves” were not what we would consider full loaves of bread, but more like rolls.
    2. The fish, opsarion, was a small fish of the lake, roughly equivalent to a sardine.
    3. The baskets were the common wickerwork baskets of the poor.
  5. Fun Fact: The miracle of feeding the five thousand was a common subject in the earliest Christian art, even found in the Roman catacombs.
  6. The Messiah’s “banquet” was not bountiful, but it fed the hungry crowd and displayed the power of God.
    1. The people received “as much as they wanted,” and there are even leftovers.
    2. The miracle is not exhausted, for others can be fed. God will continue to provide for his people with leftovers.
  7. There were five loaves, with twelve baskets of leftovers–coincidence, perhaps, yet the number five for Jews brought to mind the Pentateuch, and twelve the tribes of Israel.
  8. One obvious lesson of this episode is that a little goes further with God than we might expect, maybe an enacted version of the mustard seed parable.
  9. In assuming he is “the Prophet,” the people connect him with Moses and the supply of manna in the wilderness, and also with the prophet Elisha, who multiplied bread for a hundred men (2 Kings 4:42-44). In both cases there were leftovers.
    1. The great prophet John the Baptist was dead, and the people were hungry for another prophet to follow.
    2. Muslims teach that this is a reference to Muhammad.
  10. The people’s hunger, both physical and spiritual, causes them to want to make Jesus king. Although they are sheep without a shepherd, he withdraws from them. He was at the peak of his popularity, but he knew he was not the type of Messiah (or king) the people expected.

Rebuking the Elements: (Mark 4:36-41)

  1. The Sea of Galilee’s storms could appear out of the blue, with some uncertainty and risk in setting out in the water. Most of the time the lake (which lies 695 feet below sea level) is calm, but the hills around the lake at times act as funnels for sudden gusts of wind.
  2. Matthew’s version of the story refers to the storm as a seismos, meaning an earthquake or something violent. At least four of Jesus’ disciples, the fishermen who were familiar with storms. The fact that this storm had them so frightened tells us it was no ordinary storm.
  3. Jews believed that the entire creation was in a sense hostile to mankind since Adam’s fall, backed up by Paul in Romans 8:20. Jesus calming the storm showed that he could rebuke and control all that was hostile to man: disease, demons, even storms. Jesus spoke to the storm just as he spoke to the demons, with authority and with the full expectation that it would obey.
  4. Jesus’ command to the storm is literally, “Be silent! Be muzzled!” The one Greek word he speaks to the storm, phimao, is the same word he speaks to the demon in Mark 1:25. After the storm dies down and Jesus questions their faith: and they are even more afraid . They literally “feared a great fear.”
  5. This story is about “discipleship under stress.” It is easy to talk about faith when things are calm, but not when your life seems to be in danger. In
    1. Mark’s Gospel, the stilling of the storm follows Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32), in which he spoke of how powerful just a small amount of faith can be.
    2. The disciples have seen him cast out a demon and heal the sick, yet they still cannot trust him, as they question Jesus, “Don’t you care if we drown?”
    3. Under duress, they do not have this mustard seed faith, but “no faith.” The disciples’ question, “Who can this be?” is not faith, but perhaps it is the beginning of faith.
  6. An Historical Note:
    1. In the period between the Old and New Testaments, the tyrannical Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, who believed himself to be a god and persecuted the Jews, claimed he could command the waves of the sea.
    2. The Egyptian pharaohs boasted they caused the annual flooding of the Nile River.
    3. Worldly rulers have frequently made such proud (and false) claims, but the humble carpenter from Galilee could actually do such amazing things.

You of Little Faith: (Matthew 14:22-32)

  1. This is not a repeat of his earlier stilling of the storm. The disciples in the boat are not in danger, but the “wind was against” the boat. Jesus comes to their rescue when life goes against them.
  2. Peter was the one to take the plunge, walking out to meet Jesus on the water. While he overestimated his own faith, his faith was deep enough to say the words, “Lord, save me!”
    1. Peter’s life was filled with good intentions and poor follow-through. His story tells us that he was truly human, a fallible man.
    2. Matthew’s Gospel is often accused of whitewashing the disciples, omitting some of the down sides that Mark records, but obviously in this case Peter is displayed warts and all.
  3. This is one of five places in Matthew where Jesus refers to someone or a group as “little-faiths,” holigopistoi. The disciples have some faith, but it is small.
  4. Peter attempts to walk on water. Often in the Old Testament God has to assure his people he will rescue them from the deep waters.
    1. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you” (Isaiah 43:1).
    2. “Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea-the Lord on high is mighty” (Psalm 93:4).
    3. Jesus’ disciples would have known these passages by heart, and it must have strengthened their faith to know their Master was Lord over the waters.

Spiritually Blind Galileans: (Matthew 11:20-24)

  1. This passage catches many readers off-guard, because Capernaum was one of the most blessed cities in the world. Jesus left Nazareth to live there and many of his miracles were performed there. Reading only about the miracles and the people’s response to them, we might get the impression that Capernaum was full of Jesus’ devoted followers. The statement here corrects that: Apparently most of the people did not respond to Jesus in faith and repentance.
  2. Jesus’ frustration is not a matter of selfish concern for his own reputation, but of the people’s stubborn resistance when the Son of God is walking their streets, healing people, and reaching out to them with compassion. Jesus’ response fits in well with a theme of the Old Testament prophet: privilege demands responsibility.
  3. The Jews were the chosen people of God, yet rather than responding with obedience and love, they were more often disobedient and faithless.
    1. So the harshest words of the prophets are not for foreign nations, but for God’s chosen ones, the supreme ingrates.
    2. The people of Capernaum and Bethsaida were not really hostile to the Son of God, but, worse, they were indifferent to him.
    3. In the time of his ministry, they had come to take his miracles for granted.
  4. According to Jesus, pagan cities like Tyre and Sidon would have been more responsive.
    1. These were two Phoenician port cities on Israel’s western border. Jesus spent some time in the region and performed at least one miracle there, healing the demon-possessed daughter of the Syro- Phoenician woman.
    2. According to Luke 6:17, people came to that region to hear Jesus teach. There were Jews in the region, but most of the people were pagans, though many were eager to hear him. Both cities had a long and mostly unpleasant history with their neighbor Israel.
    3. Hiram, the king of Tyre, was on good terms with Israel’s kings David and Solomon, but Sidon was also home to one of the great villains of the Bible, the wicked Queen Jezebel, who married King Ahab of Israel and did her best to stamp out worship of God while promoting Sidon’s gods, Baal and Ashtoreth (1 Kings 17-22).
    4. Both cities were famously wealthy and corrupt, and Israel’s prophets frequently spoke out against their immorality.
    5. When Jesus spoke out against Capemaum and Bethsaida and compared them to Tyre and Sidon, his listeners would have understood what he was driving at, that the Jewish towns of Galilee were as spiritually empty as the notorious pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon—or as the city of Sodom in Genesis, destroyed by God for its wickedness.

Signs on Demand: (Matthew 12:38-42)

  1. The Pharisees are asking for a miracle “on demand,” but Jesus consistently refuses the request, which is a repetition of the temptation by Satan.
    1. Occasionally a false prophet or false Messiah would promise to perform an awesome miracle. What the Jews were hoping for was a “biggy” miracle, for the public, that would remove all doubt that the man was sent by God.
    2. But the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were not convinced by any of Jesus’ miracles.
  2. Those who saw the raising of Lazarus, the greatest of Jesus’ miracles, reported back to the priests in Jerusalem, who then determined that Jesus must die (John 12:46-53). This “wicked generation” was not convinced by a miracle that Jesus was from God.
  3. The phrase “adulterous generation” echoed the familiar biblical theme of spiritual adultery. The prophet Hosea was ordered to marry an adulterous woman so that his own life would be a living parable of Israel’s faithlessness. All the other prophets lamented the “adultery” of Israel. In the time of Jesus, nothing had changed.
  4. As so often in Matthew’s Gospel, the hostility of the Jews is contrasted with Gentile believers, in this case the repentance of the people of Nineveh when the prophet Jonah preached to them, and the long journey of the Queen of Sheba (“the queen of the South”) to pay homage to, and learn from, the wise Solomon.
    1. As Jonah came to Nineveh from a distant land, so Jesus comes from heaven to earth.
    2. The pagan queen journeyed far to hear the words of a wise Jewish teacher.
    3. Fun Fact: The Jews read the entire Book of Jonah aloud on the annual Day of Atonement, appropriately so, since the day was the yearly honoring of divine mercy.
    4. Solomon and Jonah were both flawed figures.
      1. Solomon, though blessed with exceptional wisdom, catered to his many wives’ desire to have temples set up for their own gods (1 Kings 11).
      2. Jonah, though he did preach repentance to Nineveh, did so with great reluctance, and after Nineveh repented, instead of rejoicing, he went and pouted like a bratty child. Yet the people of Nineveh were saved because of the preaching of the reluctant prophet.
      3. The queen of Sheba praised Israel’s God after being overwhelmed by the great wisdom of Solomon, but whose pagan temples showed he was not fully devoted to the Lord. Jesus was a far greater figure than these two, yet most of the people rejected him.
  5. Jesus saw clearly that the spiritually blind would not be changed by seeing a sign (John 12:37,42-43). This was the effect of Jesus’ miraculous signs: some believed, others did not, and others kept their belief to themselves for fear of what their friends would say.

Putting it into Practice:

  1. “Signs” is a key theme. What were some signs in your own life, occurrences that, seen through the eye of faith, taught you something important about God and his plan for you?
  2. “Don’t be afraid, just believe” is a key verse in the story of raising Jairus’ daughter. As you go through the day, repeat this verse to yourself several times. Make it a point to counter fear with faith.
  3. When the storm strikes their boat, the disciples lose faith, asking Jesus, “Don’t you care if we drown?” Today, and in the days ahead, resolve to respond to difficulties with trust, not doubt.
  4. In the episode of Peter trying to walk on the water, his faith fails him, and Jesus calls him “you little-faith.” Think of some times in your own life when your faith was almost, but not quite, adequate.
  5. Imagine yourself living in Capemaum or one of the other cities where Jesus performed miracles. How do you think you would have reacted? With faith? Puzzlement? Hostility? Be honest with yourself and keep in mind that many good people of Jesus’ day were hostile to him.

Be Freed from Your Suffering

This lesson is about love being expressed through healing.

At the Heart of it all Today: Jesus uses his divine power to heal the demon-possessed and the physically ill, extending his ministry to Gentiles and other outsiders.

Memory Verse: Your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering. — Mark 5:34

Key Term (Unclean): The Bible refers to demons as unclean spirits, Leprosy and other illnesses made them unclean. Yet Jesus did the unthinkable and touched unclean people.

Jesus is remembered as one of the greatest teachers who ever lived, and proof of the durability of his teachings is that we are studying them and seeking to live by them after all these centuries. Miracles were always occasions for more teachings, and some of his most remembered sayings were spoken in the context of these miracles.

My Name is Legion (Mark 5:1-20):

  1. Along the shore of the Sea of Galilee were areas with limestone caves, many of them used as tombs. People believed that evil spirits resided in isolated places, especially where there were tombs. Those who study demonology have observed that possessed people often have greater strength. No one had been able to subdue or bind this man, yet when he sees Jesus from a distance he immediately fears him. He calls Jesus “Son of the Most High God, a title given by the angel in Luke 1:32.
  2. The man is a Gentile and Gentiles generally used “Most High God” to refer to the Jewish God. Here, the demon is trying to show some of its own power by showing that it knows who Jesus is. It appears that evil spirits possess insight that humans do not have. These demons realize they are dealing with the Son of God, not some charlatan.
  3. To know someone’s name is to have some power over him. The demon answers, “Legion,” which may explain the man’s bizarre behavior, running around naked, cutting himself with stones and frightening others. “My name is Legion” may show the split personality often shown by the possessed, who were in some sense themselves but also under control of demonic forces. Legion also conveyed the idea of something armed and dangerous; Jesus is not confronting one demon, but several.
  4. But another interpretation is possible; Jesus only refers to one evil spirit (Mark 5:8). The demon may in fact have revealed that his name was ligyona, the Aramaic word for soldier. His actual reply to Jesus might have been something like, “My name is Soldier, and there are many of us,” meaning several servants of Satan.
  5. In Luke’s version of this story, the demons begged Jesus repeatedly “not to enter the Abyss” (Luke 8:31).
    1. “The Abyss” could refer to the place of the dead or the final destination of Satan and the demons. They know they will end up there eventually, but in the meantime they ask for some other fate, even if it is being sent into a herd of pigs. These demons may fear they will be the “first wave” of demons that get sent into the abyss.
    2. This also may be behind what the demon-possessed man says to Jesus in Matthew’s version of the story: “‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted, ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time (Matthew 8:29).
  6. The question of how moral it was for Jesus to “send” the demons into the poor pigs is moot, since he only allowed the demons to do as they wished. The real purpose of sending the demons into the pigs was to give the sick man a definite sign that the demons were no longer inside him.
  7. One human being was worth more than a herd of swine. To the people in the story, the crime was the economic loss, not the feelings of the pigs. This is another case of misplaced priorities. They would have preferred that the demoniac stay as he had been, so long as their livestock were not bothered. This does not show these Greeks in a very favorable light. Jesus was extending his ministry to the Gentiles, which was commendable, and this demoniac was the first Gentile convert.
  8. The locals begged Jesus to leave their region. Perhaps they feared Jesus would use his power to do even more frightening things. It is interesting to contrast the behavior of these Gentiles with the faith of the Gentile centurion in Luke 7:1-10. Some Gentiles responded positively to Jesus, others did not.
  9. The man is now “clothed and in his right mind.” The Greek word used means “in his senses.” The reaction of the locals to seeing this is fear. They had apparently grown accustomed to his bizarre behavior, but when they see him changed they are fearful.
  10. The man wants to be with Jesus, but he tells him to go and tell his friends of the power and mercy of God. The man becomes the first missionary throughout the Gentile region of the Decapolis.
  11. Jesus tells the man to return to his home and tell people what “the Lord” has done for him. Jesus is not just some wandering healer but the Lord, something these pagans understood even if Jesus’ own people did not.
  12. Jesus was in a situation that, by Jewish standards, was horribly unclean. They were among Gentiles, there were pigs and tombs nearby, and they encountered a raving, naked man possessed by unclean spirits. No respectable Pharisee or scribe would have set foot in such a place, or have anything to do with this guy. Jesus was willing to get down and dirty with people. He was truly Immanuel, “God with us,” and not just God with us in a tidy residential neighborhood, but in the unclean world where people suffer greatly and long for compassion.

Who Touched Me? (Mark 5:24-34):

  1. Since medicine in ancient times was mostly a matter of guesswork and luck, people had varying opinions of doctors—they saw them all as quacks and charlatans, or as being sent from the gods.
  2. Here is a situation that would make almost any reader uncomfortable: a woman with an embarrassing and long-term ailment wishes to be healed, but the healer is surrounded by a crowd. Her flow of blood was even more embarrassing among the Jews because it made her ritually unclean, according to Leviticus 15:25. For twelve years this “untouchable” woman was living among the Jews.
  3. Mark says the woman touched Jesus’ robe (Mark 5:28-29). Matthew and Luke refer to the hem, fringe or tassels of the cloak. The tassel was one of the most recognizable signs that a man was a Jew. They were mandated in Numbers 15:38-39: “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: Throughout the generations to come you must make tassels for the hems of your clothing and attach them with a blue cord. When you see the tassels, you will remember and obey all the commands of the Lord instead of following your own desires and defiling yourselves, as you are prone to do.”
  4. How did Jesus realize that “power had gone out of him?” Not sure, but in some sense healing required power and effort on Jesus’ part. We can’t comprehend that it “took something out of him” and the disciples did not grasp it either, as seen by their response when he asked “Who touched me?” This was one of countless cases of the disciples not understanding Jesus, and it never occurred to them that Jesus’ miracles somehow drained him.
  5. The woman is “trembling with fear” when she comes forward, perhaps expecting a reprimand. Instead, Jesus refers affectionately to her as daughter.
  6. Jesus would be unclean just by touching her but He doesn’t mention it. He understands the nature of this woman’s problem and does not seek to embarrass her in front of a crowd.
  7. Mark reminds us that Jesus was surrounded by a crowd. He seems to have sensed not the touch, but the unseen faith of the woman. The woman herself sensed that she was free of her twelve-year-long bleeding.

Touching a Leper (Mark 1:40-44):

  1. The term “leprosy” referred to a broad category of skin ailments, not just actual leprosy. Some situations could have been like psoriasis or ringworm—minor for us, though harder to cure in ancient times. It is clear that the lepers Jesus healed had the more severe forms, not just minor skin diseases. The cleansing rituals in Leviticus 14:2-3 (actually verses 1-32) must mean minor skin ailments, since true leprosy was never cured.
  2. People with actual leprosy—called Hansen disease—typically lost fingers and toes over time, then eventually an entire hand or foot. This kind of leprosy, which began with a loss of sensation in parts of the body, took a long time to progress with the person literally dying by inches.
  3. Pitiful as lepers were, we do not see much evidence of compassion for them. The way the disease disfigured their faces and bodies made them repugnant to others. Some of the rabbis obsessed with keeping their distance from anything unclean, but Jesus was “filled with compassion.”
  4. Mark’s telling of this incident is startling since a leper was not supposed to walk up and speak to anyone. He was supposed to shout out “Unclean, unclean!” (Leviticus 13:45) so people would know to keep their distance. This leper was bold by approaching Jesus with his request. Jesus gave him confidence that He could accomplish what no one else could. The fact that he knelt shows he sensed an authority in Jesus, perhaps even sensed his divinity.
  5. Jesus touched the leper—No sin or affliction puts us beyond the touch of Jesus. Matthew, Mark and Luke report this miracle very early in their Gospels, a sign that Jesus had the power to heal the most horrible physical affliction of all.
  6. After the healing, Jesus tells the man to go show himself to the priests, as Leviticus 13:3, 9 demanded. Once the man was pronounced cured, he would make an offering to God (Leviticus 14). The leper did not do as Jesus told him: “Instead he went out and began to talk, freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer from everywhere” (Mark 1:45)
  7. Part of Jesus’ ministry was to try to change their wrong conception of  Messiah. This is why he asks the people whom he helps to tell no one. In contrast to the many false Messiahs that sprang up over the centuries, Jesus does not call himself Messiah publicly—nor did he encourage anyone else to call him by the title.

Such Great Faith (Luke 7:1-10):

  1. Most Gentiles detested and mocked the Jews, but some admired the faith and morality of the Jews.The Jews distinguished between Gentiles who were “God-fearers” (those who attended synagogue services and showed some interest in the Jewish way of life) and the more committed “proselytes” (who were circumcised and baptized, plus offered sacrifices). The person had to undress and be baptized, by full immersion, in the presence of three Jewish witnesses. At this point he would have been considered spiritually clean and in God’s eyes equal to the Jews. The centurion in this story, would have been a God-fearer since a proselyte would have been able to have a Jew under his roof. Technically, a God-fearer was still unclean in Jewish eyes.
  2. Aside from being a Gentile, the centurion was in the service of Rome, reason enough for many Jews to despise him, but many of the Jews of Capernaum were very fond of this particular Gentile. Certainly his contribution to the building of a synagogue impressed them. Roman soldiers were often stationed far from home, and some of them mixed well with the locals, marrying and developing friendships.
  3. This centurion had no doubt that Jesus could heal the servant. He knew that according to Jewish practice, a devout Jew like Jesus could not enter his house. The fact that he saw himself as not “fit” to receive Jesus in fact made him precisely fit. Feeling his own unworthiness made him worthy.
  4. In Matthew’s version of this story Jesus says to the centurion, “I will come and heal him” which was eye brow raising to the Jews. Jesus had already proved (by touching a leper) that the distinction between clean and unclean meant nothing to him.
  5. In the Roman armies, a century was a military unit of a hundred men, with sixty centuries making up a legion. A centurion commanded a century.

Eating the Children’s Crumbs (Mark 7:24-30):

  1. It is no accident that Mark and Matthew place this story immediately after the controversy with the Pharisees about what is “clean” and “unclean.” Jesus leaves Galilee with its Pharisees and their foolish regulations and enters Gentile territory, the region of Tyre and Sidon, called Phoenicia. For a short time, Jesus is distancing himself and the disciples from the critics and the crowds.
  2. Matthew mentions her ethnic origin perhaps to remind the readers that this woman was a descendant of the people whom the Jews thought of as the worst sort of pagans. It is ironic that the woman addresses Jesus as “Son of David,” a title for the Jewish Messiah, while just before this the Pharisees were rejecting him and his teachings. Jesus makes it clear here and elsewhere that his mission is to save the people of Israel, yet at various points He encounters Gentiles who have more faith than the Jews. As with the centurion whose servant he healed, Jesus here does not turn down the heartfelt request of a Gentile.
  3. Was Jesus aware that He himself had Canaanite blood? In Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus, one of the ancestors listed is Rahab, the harlot of Jericho at the time of Canaan’s conquest by the Israelites (Joshua 2). Matthew included Rahab in the genealogy, and included another Gentile, the Moabite woman Ruth. Matthew doesn’t miss a chance to spotlight Gentiles who put their faith in God.
  4. Jesus says to the woman, “First let the children eat all they want.” “First” is important because he is not telling the woman that only the children (the Jews) will be fed, only that the children come first. Since she is a mother asking for the healing of her own child, she understands priorities.
  5. Jews did often refer to Gentiles as dogs; and a dog was a familiar term of contempt for a shameless woman. But the word used by Jesus in this story means “little dogs” or “house dogs,” something at least more appealing than the street mongrels, which were despised.
  6. In these days before silverware, eating was with the hands, and people often wiped their fingers on scraps of bread and tossed them to the house dogs. The Jews were throwing away the spiritual food Jesus offered them.
  7. The woman was willing to admit herself to be a “dog,” one who would eat table scraps. Granting her request could only have heightened her joy when he told her the child was healed. As in the case of some other healings, the child is made well without Jesus having to be personally present.
  8. The chief moral aspect of the woman is that she lifts herself up by humbling herself. Admitting herself to be a “dog” who will be content with the crumbs that fall from the table, her faith makes her worthy of sitting at the table. Her behavior illustrates one of Jesus’ own sayings: “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). The woman wanted a miracle not for herself but for her child.
  9. This is one of numerous times that Jesus responded to the plea of a distraught parent. Jesus had not entered Gentile territory to preach or minister to the Gentiles, but He could not avoid doing good. Even among the descendants of the despised Canaanites, Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 49:22: “1 will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner to the peoples.”

I Have Set for You an Example

This is lesson four in my class on the words of Jesus. To see the others, click the “notes” tab above and choose the lesson you want to see.

At the Heart of it All Today: Parables, other teaching and the foot washing episode emphasize the role of servanthood in the life of a disciple. Jesus promises eternal rewards to those demonstrating self-denying love for others.

Key Term: Servant; Jesus cast himself in this role and he demands we do the same. In a world were status is everything, Jesus turns the world’s value system upside down.

Key Verse: Matthew 10:39, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

A Hundredfold Investment: (Matthew 19:27-30)

  1. The rich young ruler just walked away and Peter responds to Jesus’ statement about rich men entering the kingdom of heaven. There is an obvious contrast since the disciples have given up much to follow Jesus.
  2. Peter was not really accurate by saying they gave up “all” to follow Jesus; he still owned a house (Mark 1:29) and a boat (Mark 3:9, 4:1), but he is correct that they have given up on a comfortable life with security.
  3. One’s true family – while it is great loss to leave one’s family, new friends are made along the path of a disciple, ones that share the same values and goals. There is fellowship (koinonia) that at the root means to share a common life.
  4. Receiving back a hundredfold – not really a material investment but a spiritual one. From a material investment, faith is a poor risk, but from an eternal perspective, all things are possible with this ultimate long-term investment.
  5. The term palingenesia is translated “new creation,” “new order of things,” “renewal” or “regeneration.” It is only used here in the gospels. Paul used it in Titus 3:5 to refer to the individual believer’s spiritual renewal. So, in the new world, things will be radically different. Those who gave up all in this life will see a radical difference in the next.
  6. Judging the twelve tribes of Israel – this is quite a shocking statement for the twelve. They will have positions of authority in God’s kingdom, much like the rich young ruler had in this life. No one would have guessed these men where “ruling” material, but Jesus sees potential in people.

The “No Seniority” Story: (Matthew 20:1-16)

  1. The Old Testament often describes Israel as a vineyard (Matthew 21:33-46, Psalm 80:8, 14, Isaiah 5:1-2, Jeremiah 12:10, John 15:1). Jesus is not nationalistic, but focuses on individuals who make up this new kingdom.
  2. The land owner is God – calling people to work in the vineyard. The workers from the start of the day expected a day’s wage.
  3. The eleventh hour – literally “at the last minute; before sunset.” The men were not lazy guys wasting the day; they just had not been hired yet. They wanted a job and the owner was generous with payroll. Those who worked all day were grumbling at his generosity; literally it means, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” Maybe the beginning of the phrase, “give him the evil eye.”
  4. The target audience – often the Jews since they did not believe the Gentiles were welcome in the kingdom. The grumblers may be similar to the older brother in the Prodigal Son. Jesus is likely warning the disciples they are not privileged characters in the kingdom just because they were called first (Matthew 19:27). Those who follow Jesus should not be so concerned with place, position or rewards. Do we serve God for what we get out of it, or do we serve him because he deserves it and it is the right thing to do?

Not One of Us: (Mark 9:38-40)

  1. This passage comes immediately after Jesus telling the disciples that striving to be the greatest was wrong, and that service to others was what mattered. John, a part of the inner circle, declaring that this other man was “not one of us” may be an indication that they had an inflated opinion of themselves. After a failed exorcism in Mark 9:14-29, they complain that this power was showing up in someone else; in one not officially a part of the group.
  2. Tolerance may be the lesson; not like today where beliefs don’t matter, but be willing to accept others who have the same goal. John wanted to narrow the circle while Jesus says it is ok to widen it.
  3. This is quite similar to Matthew 12:30 (he who is not with me is against me) but Jesus’ meaning is different. One cannot remain neutral toward him; each person must decide to follow or oppose Jesus. In Mark, (whoever is not against us is for us) refers to the disciples being accepting of others who do good work for Christ.

Sisters with a Difference: (Luke 10:38-42)

  1. This story follows the Good Samaritan, who also put love into action. Perhaps the point in pairing these two stories is that while doing good deeds is commendable, we are not saved by doing good works.
  2. Martha wanted everything just so, and Jesus gently scolds her. She had too many irons in the fire, and probably was not enjoying Jesus’ visit too much. The “one thing” probably meant “one dish” for a meal, but with a deeper meaning. Martha’s desire to serve was commendable but she could have served one dish to spend more time with the Master.
  3. Mary at Jesus’ feet – contrast to the rabbis looking down on the intelligence of women. Women had a vital role in the early church.

Duty Above All: (Luke 17:7-10)

  1. The is a story of a farmer with a worker who serves I the field and in the house, too. At the end of the work day, he cannot just sit down and have dinner, there is inside work to be done, he is still on duty and cannot expect to be thanked for doing his duty. A human master can make demands, and so can God.
  2. This can be directed at people who take pride in their accomplishments for the Lord. When Christ-followers lead a godly life or do good works, they are not going above and beyond the call of duty, but rather this is what is expected on earth and we should not expect praise.
  3. This is in the face of the Pharisees, who had a system of rewards and merit, which Jesus discounts. There is no call to boast in our service of God. We are his servants, not his peers.
  4. Main theme is God’s grace – when a disciple has done all he can for the kingdom, he has no right to expect salvation, but only accept it as a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:27, 11:35).

The Lowest Form of Service: (John 13:4-8, 13-16)

  1. A clear and straightforward story but also not understood by the disciples at the time. In those days there were no facilities to take full baths every day, so they did what I call, “a bird bath.” Attention was given to the exposed parts, which was the task of a slave; a humiliating work for the lowest of slaves. Here, doing this act was one of love and devotion.
  2. This undignified act was setting the disciples up for an even more humiliating and undignified event, the crucifixion.
  3. Wash feet or have no part of me – “part” is literally “inheritance” or “heritage” which may indicate Peter would not share in the joys of heaven. Peter reacts to the foot-washing in the same way he objected to the prediction of Jesus’ suffering. Jesus knew that suffering and humiliation are the roads to glory.
  4. Roles are reversed in this scene. To accept this is to embrace a new order where humility is honored over vanity and pride. The twelve had been arguing about who had precedence. Jesus emphasized that greatness consisted of servitude.
  5. Key point often overlooked – Jesus does this act of service and love for people who would in the matter of hours desert him and run away; being a devoted servant to those who will prove to be disloyal. Also, Judas was present; can it be that this was an act of forgiveness, and him telling them to “do likewise” was a reference to the disciples forgiving Judas because it is what he had to do to fulfill prophecy?

A New Commandment: (John 13:34-35)

  1. Jesus may be gone soon, but the love he has shown them will live on. They already had a few commandments like loving their neighbor as themselves (Leviticus 19:18), now they are to love others as Jesus loves them. This love will be distinctive of a Christ follower.
  2. This command must have made a deep impact on John, since he writes about it in his gospel and returns to the theme in his letters (1 John 3:11, 16, 4:19, 2 John 1:5).

Disowning the Master: (Matthew 10:32-33)

  1. There is a picture of a believer being dragged into court to testify of his devotion to Jesus, but the image is wider to any word or deed where one denies their faith. He is addressing lukewarm believers, those who are half-hearted. Pharisees love the praise of men more than the praise of God (John 12:42-43). Paul was not ashamed of the gospel (Romans 1:16) and encourages Timothy to not disown Christ (2 Timothy 2:12).
  2. Disowning Jesus is not so words of denial, but of missed opportunities, not speaking up when the situation calls for it. Actions may deny him as well, hypocrisy is an appropriate term. We would not be studying the Bible of following Jesus if it was not for those in the first century who stood up of their faith.

Forgetting Everything but God: (Matthew 10:38-39)

  1. The ultimate paradox: to possess life we must give it up. Some men would commit sin to keep on living (situation ethics). This phrase of Jesus might be a reference to Leviticus 18:5, “Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord.” Like, God wants you to live, so sinning in order to keep on living is not wrong. Losing earthly life was not the worse thing that could happen.
  2. Too many jewelry crosses around the necks of those who don’t stand for Christ (Madonna, anyone?). In New Testament times, people did not need gold crosses, they saw real ones every day. It was a barbarous form of execution used on slaves and rebels. So, the believer might not only die a martyr’s death, but die with the lowest form of execution possible.
  3. Today we are to deny self, use self-discipline, and live for Christ more than ourselves (Galatians 2:20).

A Cup of Cold Water: (Matthew 10:40-42)

  1. Jesus words of the cross are balanced with a promise of reward. He is speaking to the disciples, the ambassadors for the faith, similar to 2 Corinthians 5:20 (see Ephesians 6:19).
  2. This water symbolized hospitality. While the world would harass, harm and kill people of faith, there are those who will stand up and offer kindness. Each act of compassion makes a difference. God will not forget your work of helping his people (Hebrews 6:10) and whatever you do for the least of these, you do it for Christ (Matthew 25:40).

Salted With Fire

This is part three of my Wednesday evening study on the Words of Jesus. Click on the following link for the first two lessons [ Go ] Remember to go to the bottom of the articles to use the “printer friendly” link if you want to print them.

The Heart of it All Today: Jesus speaks words of warning and comfort to his followers, that the life of faith would lead to persecution. They can find peace if they keep their minds fixed on eternity.

Key Term – World: Cosmos means the world and everything in it. Disciples are part of the kingdom of God so they will face hostility from the sinful world but will overcome.

Key Verse: (John 16:33) In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

No one could accuse Jesus of sugar-coating the nature of discipleship; he was blunt in telling them what they were up against. “No good deed goes unpunished” will become a reality. This is not all ancient history because it happens all too often in modern times. Religious tolerance is not a reality, especially when it comes to followers of Christ.

Wise Doves (Matthew 10:16):

  1. Sheep – harmless among the harmful. Be wise and gentle. While snakes often symbolize evil, they also symbolize wisdom, shrewdness and cunning. A gentle dove without shrewdness is inadequately equipped, as is a snake without gentleness.
  2. Paul understood what Jesus is saying (1 Corinthians 14:20), “in regard to evil be infants, but in your thinking be adults.”
  3. Telling them they would be like sheep among wolves would likely cause many to turn away. His words are not for the crowds but for those seeking a challenge in life.

Eyes Wide Open (Matthew 10:17-20):

  1. Be on your guard: not to instill paranoia but to warn them that the life of faith brings dangers. Jesus warns not only of governmental persecution but from the apostles own religion, which was pretty cruel. Those called heretics were often those with the most devotion to God.
  2. Religious persecution, local councils: For Jews, a town of 120 or more adults would have a tribunal of three judges. Further up the ladder was a council of 23 judges, and the Jewish supreme court, which  had 71 members (the Sanhedrin and the High Priest). Local judges likely had the same hostility as the Sanhedrin had for Jesus.
  3. Secular persecution: These represent opportunities to witness to their faith. Faith grew as the faithful were persecuted.
  4. Don’t worry what you will say: Not that they should not give thought to what they will say, but don’t fret or agonize over it. Worry tears down the faith we seek to proclaim. God give us grace for every situation; but not future grace. He grants the grace in the moment we need it, to depend on him and not on ourselves.
  5. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit will guide them and Peter experienced it (Acts 8:4), which was a fulfillment of the promise in Acts 4:31.

Salted with Fire (Mark 9:49):

  1. Commentators agonize and debate the meaning here. Jesus just warned about leading other people to sin, and removing any causes of sin in our own lives (If you eye offend you, pluck it out – Mark 9:47-48). Since “everyone will be salted with fire” follows a warning about the fires of hell, we are tempted to see both fires as the same place. How can that apply to everyone (unless it means everyone in hell)?
  2. It appears that “everyone” means the followers of Jesus. The Jewish sacrifices were always rubbed with salt as a part of the ritual, salt being a symbol of purity and preservation. The disciples will be offering themselves as living sacrifices to the Lord (Romans 12:1-2) salted with fire, referring to the testing of persecution. Through the fires of suffering, they will emerge as seasoned believers.
  3. Fire is connected with sacrifice (Romans 12:1). Fire will test the quality of the work we leave behind (1 Corinthians 3:13) and Peter spoke of enduring a fiery ordeal (1 Peter 4:12).
  4. Persecution tends to purge the church of its weak and lukewarm members. Those who fell to persecution were not really that committed to begin with. In the Roman Empire, each wave of persecution brought about a stronger church. Indeed the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church (Tertullian, an early church father, AD 160-220).

Rejoicing in the Fire (Matthew 5:10-12):

  1. From the Beatitudes, we don’t like to think much about this one. Being persecuted meant being a part of an elite group of God people; holy men and women of old. There is a long chain of violent deaths. Moses was almost stoned to death on a couple of occasions, Elijah lived much of his life under a death sentence. The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 is a disturbing yet inspiring list of God’s faithful (Hebrews 11:36-38).
  2. The early church knew that everyone who desired to live a godly life will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12). Stephen understood the concept (Acts 7:52). Paul and Silas endured persecution and encouraged others to do the same (Romans 12:14). Even Peter mentions that if you suffer for what is right, you are blessed (1 Peter 3:13-14).
  3. Instead of fear, we are to rejoice and be glad; Luke adds “leap for joy (Luke 6:23). I think the focus is on the eternal reward, rather than the pain of suffering.
  4. Matthew uses the Greek term misthos, meaning reward; it is clear that he does not mean an earthly reward. Great is your reward in heaven can also mean, “great in the eyes of God.” Basically, mud thrown at you by the impure is a pledge of your purity.
  5. This world is not our home; our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20), so compared to heaven, what is the world worth?

Hating the Ambassador (John 15:19-23, Matthew 10:24-25):

  1. Those who hated Jesus will hate his followers, those who accept his teaching will also accept his followers. To hate one is to hate the other.
  2. Share the Master’s glory, they must also share his pain and humiliation. We are part of the same household and sharing is an important concept (Romans 8:17, 2 Corinthians 1:7).

Labor and Joy (John 16:20):

  1. John does not give us any parables, but this passage reveals a concrete situation from everyday life.
  2. John uses thlipsis, meaning more than pain, but great tribulation, where the Spirit is present as a counselor.
  3. No one will take away your joy, a great promise in the Bible. Faith will keep them strong as they carry on the mission of Jesus (2 Corinthians 6:10). Nothing will compare to the joy that is ahead (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 4:13).

Victors, not Victims (John 16:33):

  1. Irony: Jesus’ suffering is about to take place, and what they will endure will be nothing compared to his. Thlipsis is tremendous suffering, intense anguish. “Trouble” is not a good translation.
  2. “Overcome” is nenikeka, the root being “victory.” The world sees them as victims but that is not true. People of faith are considered “otherworldly.”
  3. These same disciples who ran and hid after the crucifixion became fearless after they received the power of the Holy Spirit. They became more than conquerors (Romans 8:37). They knew the God is greater than anything in the world (1 John 4:4). and they have the promise given to overcomers (Revelation 2:7).

No Peace (Matthew 10:34-37):

  1. While Jesus promises inner peace, outer peace will not be easy to find. “Can’t we all just get along” brings a resounding “No.” Living under God’s rule causes problems with others. The government might leave you alone, but the family would harass the one who had left the Jewish faith. Tolerance is difficult when those in the family begin to think and act differently that the rest of us.
  2. There was the practice of disowning a family member who turned away from the faith (Psalm 55:12-13).
  3. Luke 14:26 seems even more harsh. Hating does not sound right. Disciples must be willing to endure separation from everything they find most dear to them. There is no room for lukewarm discipleship.

Standing Firm (Matthew 10:21-22):

  1. Betrayal by family members was pretty extreme. Faith can cause strife in a family, but Jesus goes farther and says that some will be so repulsed by the faith of a family member that they will be betrayed to death.
  2. “He who endures until the end will be saved” means that faith is about the whole life. Endurance is not easy, but it is worth it (Revelation 2:10, Hebrews 12:3).

Running with the Message (Matthew 10:23):

  1. The Jews had been persecuted for centuries and their teachers suffered greatly, but they did not abandon their faith. Jesus is telling them not to recklessly pursue martyrdom. Moving elsewhere to escape martyrdom is not wrong.
  2. Jesus seemed to run toward it in the crucifixion, but there were times were he avoided conflict (Matthew 12:14-15, John 8:59, 10:39).
  3. The early church understood, they scattered during persecution (Acts 8:1, 11:19).

The Only One Who Matters (Matthew 10:28):

  1. It seems that the “One” is Satan, but believers are instructed to resisted Satan, never to fear him (James 4:7, 1 Peter 5:9). The idea of Satan being the keeper of hell and determines who goes there is not found in the Bible. The One is God and we are not to fear humans, but only God.
  2. Why fear God, should we not love him? We are to do both. Fear is more showing reverence, not forgetting our fate ultimately rests in God’s hands.

Next week we will look at “I have set you an example” mastering the art of serving others.

The Harvest is Plentiful

This is an outline of the notes that I used to teach my Wednesday evening class of the sayings and the life of Jesus. Feel free to join us on Wednesday at 6:15pm.

The heart of it all today: the fact that Jesus calls twelve disciples to follow Him, out of a larger group of seventy. They are warned that it will take no less than total commitment but the reward is great.

Key Verse to Remember: “Come, follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” — Matthew 4:19

Key Term for Today, Called: meaning to leave their earlier life behind and commit themselves to the kingdom of God.

Fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22): We often overlook the fact that these men were called to follow out of their daily work schedule rather than during some spiritual experience.

  1. These four (Peter, Andrew, James and John) had seen Jesus before, John 1:35 tells that Andrew (with possibly Peter) had been a disciple of John, but at this encounter, there is a decisive call to follow Jesus. They leave their nets and begin the journey.
  2. Luke 5:10-11 adds that they would be from now on catching people, or taking men alive. “Follow Me” was different here because they would not just be taught with ideas and thoughts, but with deeds. They were not going to be debating theology, but catching men, leading them to salvation.
  3. Mark 1:20 tells us the brothers left their father in the boat with the hired hands. These were more than just working class men, but business owners. God likes to use the working class, like Amos of the Old Testament. Amos 7:14-15 tell us that he was not a prophet of from a prophetic family, just a shepherd from Tekoa, tending his flock when God took hold of his heart.
  4. In Luke’s version, Jesus had already healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39). Then after a night of catching nothing, Peter is told to drop the nets into the deep water (Luke 5:4) before bringing up a huge catch (Luke 5:6). Peter is witness to two miracles and he sees himself in a proper light, a sinful man not worthy to associate with someone like Jesus (Luke 5:8). The others are astonished but only Peter drops to his knees (Luke 5:8-9). Peter’s awareness of his own failing and sinfulness was one of his finest qualities.

Workers for the Harvest (Matthew 9:35-38, John 4:35): Jesus and Paul had a similar method of first teaching in the synagogues, which were local centers for teaching and instruction.

  1. There was no music and singing, just prayer, Scripture reading and exposition. There was no minister, but rather an administrator or ruler, who would call on a competent man to speak.
  2. There was a vast difference in the way Jesus and the religious leaders viewed the people. Jesus had compassion on the people (Matthew 9:36) whereas the religious leaders had contempt for the people and believed them to be cursed (John 7:49). The people were harassed, neglected, ignored and abused by their “shepherd” while Jesus saw them not as losers, but as a rich harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).
  3. Many Old Testament prophets had this same view of people, like Jeremiah 50:6 says they are like lost sheep being lead astray; and Zechariah 10:2 says they wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. First Peter 2:35 continues the theme, and John completes the picture in Revelation 7:17. In John 4:35, the people were ripe for harvest.
  4. This was spoken in Samaria during the encounter with the woman at the well. A spiritual harvest was beginning in of all places, Samaria, a place the Jew despised and avoided. Jesus calls us to go to the outcast, and in essence asks us today, “why not you?”

Beginning the New Israel (Matthew 10:1-4): It is here that the term disciple (Matthew 10:1) is changed to apostle (Matthew 10:2). The meaning of apostle is “sent out one.”

  1. We know little about the twelve, but it was a diverse group, from fishermen to a tax collector (partnering with Rome) to a Zealot wanting to overthrow the Romans. We know little about them because it is likely their work was more important then themselves.
  2. Why twelve? It was a special number for Israel, representing the twelve tribe of Israel. In a way Jesus was beginning a new Israel, not based on family heritage but on devotion to God. Revelation 21:14 says their names are twelve are inscribed on the city’s foundation.
  3. Luke 6:13 tells us that these were chosen from a larger group of disciples.
  4. In Mark 3:16-17, Andrew is not placed with Peter, but the men of inner circle are listed first (Peter, James and John). Mark also adds a detail about the Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17). I discovered the Boanerges means “Sons of Thunder” in Aramaic (ben = child or son, regaz = rage or wrath). Perhaps this is due to their fiery personality (Mark 9:38, Luke 9:54, Mark 10:35-36), or the fact that their father is left standing in the boat (Matthew 4:22 – daddy might have been the fiery thunderous one as the boy left him with all the work).
  5. Two or three had Greek names, Philip and Andrew; the third may be Bartholomew (bar – Ptolemy). Both Andrew and Peter were likely able to speak Greek.
  6. In John 12:20-21, some Greeks wanted to see Jesus and they go to Andrew as the gatekeeper. Bartholomew was likely Nathanael (John 1:45), and Philip brings him to meet Jesus. This is a different Philip than the one in Acts 6:6, 8:5-40).
  7. Matthew and the second James may have been brothers because James is called the Son of Alpheus” (Mark 2:14 – a tax collector named Levi being the “son of Alpheus”). This James is often called James the Less, since the greater James was the brother of John.
  8. Thaddeus is in the list for Matthew and Mark, but in some manuscripts he is called Lebbaeus. To confuse us further, Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13, List neither Thaddeus nor Lebbeaus, but mention Judas the son of James (not Iscariot) who is at the end of all the lists.

Freely Giving (Matthew 10:5-15): Jesus restricts their ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6). This is not for exclusion but rather a matter of priority.

  1. They were not yet equipped to carry the message past their own culture.
  2. They were to freely give, like the example of Moses where God taught him, and he was to freely pass it on to the people.
  3. They received good teaching, so they must pass it on.
  4. They were not to peddle the Word of God (2 Corinthians 2:17). “Take no bag for your journey” might refer to a leather shoulder bag, typically with enough provisions for a day or two. They did not need unnecessary supplies because God would supply their needs.
  5. The money belt (Matthew 10:9) was generally concealed and prevented one from entering the temple, in fear of transacting any business while inside.
  6. Their seeking a “worthy person” seems to be a contradiction since Jesus tended to be drawn to the outcasts in society (Matthew 10:11). This person of peace was likely be the gatekeeper in the community.
  7. “Shaking the dust from one’s feet” (Matthew 10:14) may refer to things that cling to a person, like the dust of idolatry. If people were unresponsive, this action would be a testimony against them (Mark 6:10).
  8. The fate worse than Sodom and Gomorrah seems a bit harsh (Matthew 10:15). The point is that rejection of the gospel is serious. In Genesis 19:5, the evil men desired to abuse God’s messengers; so this seems to be similar. They were an example to those who reject God (2 Peter 2:6).

Wannabees and Would-Have-Beens (Luke 9:57-62): Jesus could attract a crowd, but true followers were rare. People needed to know the cost involved; this was not a life of ease and comfort.

  1. “Let me bury my father” was not likely said by one who had just lost his father. It was a polite way to say no thanks but no thanks; good intention without commitment. His calling was higher than family obligations. Rather than focus on death, we are to focus on real life.
  2. “Hand to the plow” probably refers to the story of Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 19: 20). Elijah was willing to wait for Elisha, and Elisha did not disappoint him, but Jesus challenges us to not look back; we are not as dedicated as Elisha. Paul has something to say about this topic, (Philippians 3:13).

Builders and Kings (Luke 14:28-32): The radical idea here is to give up everything, and this life is not going to be easy.While Jesus attracts large crowds, He is not pander to the people. Evangelism was done the hard way. Don’t attract the greatest number of people, but those with the best commitment and dedication.

The Seventy (Luke 10:1, 17-20): The discussion is usually about the number (70 or 72?). Seventy is more likely for these reasons of symbolism:

  1. There were 70 elders to assist Moses (Number 11:16)
  2. The Sanhedrin consisted of seventy men
  3. There were seventy men who translated the Septuagint (LXX)
  4. There were seventy nations listed in Noah’s genealogy in Genesis 10
  5. Some rabbis said that there were seventy bulls sacrificed during the Feast of Tabernacles.
  6. Jesus was condemned by the Sanhedrin, but these seventy would proclaim the kingdom rather than try to destroy it.
  7. They returned with news of joy. Jesus did not say they were to cast out demons, but what a pleasant surprise (Luke 10:17, Matthew 10:7-8).
  8. They were to continue in humility; even Satan falling from heaven may have been a reminder of his pride at the beginning and being tossed out of heaven (Ezekiel 28:14-17).
  9. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20) stresses the importance of worshiping God and not ourselves of our accomplishments. These records were like in any city on its citizens (similarly Philippians 4:3, Hebrews 12:23 and Revelation 20:12).
  10. “Nothing will harm you” could be interpreted literally, or perhaps the fact that the disciples can overcome anything, Satan, demons and other enemies. Demons were a reality in this time and culture; He was not saying not to fear demons, but to overcome them.

Next time we will look at “salted with fire” and the hazards of being a disciple.

My Father’s Business

This is an outline of the notes that I use to teach my Wednesday evening class on the sayings and the life of Jesus. Feel free to join us at 6:15pm, beginning September 11.

The Heart of the Lesson is the fact that at age 12 Jesus becomes aware of His calling to be concerned with “His Father’s business.” As an adult Jesus takes on this mission by identifying with sinners, by experiencing baptism, and overcoming temptation.

Key Memory Verse for Today: “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” — Matthew 4:4

Key Term for Today: Test. The word tempt often has a bad image, but the original word meant testing. Important characters are tested in the Bible, like Abraham. A man was not great until he has been tested. Temptation can be seen not as the temptation to sin but to avoid sin.

Jesus’ Pre-existence: John 1:1, this helps us see that Jesus existed long before entering a middle class Palestinian family.

Jesus’ Birth: Luke 2: The gospels tell us about His miraculous birth, but nearly nothing about His childhood and youth.

Jesus’ Boyhood: Luke 2:40-52. What do we learn about his family in Luke 2:42?

  1. There were three festivals that Jews were required to attend: Passover, Pentecost, Booths.
  2. Women were not required to go, but Mary did; this goes toward our understanding her devotion to God.
  3. The caravan: probably for traveling protection, extended family.
  4. “Three days of searching” (Luke 2:46)? Perhaps there was one day each for discovering, returning and finding the missing boy.
  5. Age 12 (Luke 2:42) the age of manhood: Jesus was sitting with the leaders of the temple (Luke 2:46-47).
  6. Then came the parental question: “Why have you done this to us?” (Luke 2:48). Jesus responds that He would be, “in my Father’s house,” which can also be understood as “about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49 KJV). This emphasizes the mission.
  7. My Father” is not the customary “our Father.” Even in His boyhood, Jesus seemed to demonstrate a personal closeness to God. Mary uses the phrase “your father and I” (Luke 2:48) which is a reference to Joseph. Jesus is respectful of His earthly father, but He is aware of the unique relationship He has with the Father.
  8. Referring to the genealogies, it was more important for Jesus to be understood as the Son of God than to be a son of David. He would repeatedly disappoint those expecting a military Messiah to defeat their enemies. He would never disappoint those who could see Him as the Son of God.

Mary’s perspective: She really did not understand her son, or she saw evidence that He is who she knew Him to be.

  1. Remember Luke 2:21-38. Mary had plenty of opportunities to treasure and ponder all of these things in her heart (Luke 2:51, see also 2:19).
  2. The gap in Jesus’ life is covered in Luke 2:52.
  3. The non-canonical infancy narratives (about AD 100-150) attempted to explain this silent period: these are not inspired Scripture. (Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of James).

Jesus’ Nature: Was He born like an adult and only play-acting the role as a child? Hebrews 5:8 – The writer says that He learned obedience. He was the Son of God yet fully human. Real human beings grow and develop, get tired, hungry and thirsty. He grew from a helpless and dependent infant into an adult who was changed on the inside as well as the outside.

Fulfill All Righteousness: Key teaching of the NT, Jesus was fully human yet sinless. The God-Man.

  1. So, why submit to the ritual of baptism when it was the public acknowledgment of repenting from sins? Matthew 3:13-17 – while it did not seem appropriate, Jesus insisted – Matthew 3:15.
  2. Main point is that Jesus identified with us, the sinless choosing to experience what the sinner must go through. Perhaps He was dedicating His life to God and His mission.
  3. Certainly Jesus identified with John’s movement of repentance, and turning back to God. Jews did not employ baptism for other Jews, it was for Jewish converts, symbolizing their cleansing from sin. It is as if God had leveled the playing field by promoting baptism of repentance for all people.

Jesus’ Ministry: What prompted Jesus to begin His ministry? At John’s call, maybe He sensed the spiritual time was right, and to begin something new. Baptism symbolized the washing away of sin, but also it symbolized death; the old self was drowned, to rise up in new life.

Jesus’ Without Sin: What does it mean that Jesus was sinless?

  1. All His life He submitted His own will to the will of the Father. At the time of the baptism, did Jesus know He was sinless?
  2. Perhaps the temptations to follow will answer this question. Notice the Father gave full approval to the Son’s action.
  3. Matthew 3:17 – the Father is well pleased.
  4. Psalm 2:7 – refers to the enthronement of Israel’s king.
  5. Isaiah 42:1 – refers to the suffering servant.
  6. Psalm 2:8 – is the response Satan gives to the temptation to have power over the kingdoms of the world (Matthew 4:9).

The Dove: This is the visible sign, the descent of the Spirit on Jesus, as a dove.

  1. This is reminiscent of Joel 2:28. The baptism could have been the Father’s seal of approval, and the seal was the Holy Spirit.
  2. Jesus was marked with a mission and given the power to bring it into being.
  3. “Heaven was opened” – literally “torn open,” which is the same word as the torn veil in the temple. In Jesus, the barrier between heaven and earth was removed.
  4. “Beloved” – applies to an only child.

The Tests: God approves of the Son’s mission: remember that where God is at work, Satan is also at work.

  1. Matthew 4:1 – Satan seeks to nip this mission in the bud, he saw the divine plan.
  2. After the baptism, Mark 1:12 says the Spirit “drove” or “impelled” Jesus into the desert. The same word is used when Jesus drove demons out of people. The Spirit did not drive Him out to see Him fail the test, but so Jesus would emerge a more determined spiritual warrior (1 John 3:8).
  3. This was no spiritual retreat to be alone with the Father; it was a desolate place, infested with beasts and demons.
  4. Jesus would be doing what Adam and Eve did, to face temptation. Rather than in a garden, it was the wilderness. Jesus was tempted while He was weak and alone, unlike Adam and Eve. Satan comes at us when we are at our weakest, too.
  5. Hebrews 2:18 – He suffered when He was tempted.
  6. Hebrews 4:15 – Tempted in every way, yet without sin.

Bread From Stones – Matthew 4:2-4, “If You are the Son of God” was a taunt rather than a doubt; Satan knew exactly who Jesus was.

  1. “Fasting 40 days” was a reminder of Israel wandering in the wilderness. A time of testing for them (spiritually/morally). For the most part the children of Israel failed, unlike Jesus. Moses and Elijah both encountered God in the wilderness.
  2. “Man does not live by bread alone” is from Deuteronomy 8:3. In context, it is the episode of the daily manna (Deuteronomy 8:1-6). All three responses are from Deuteronomy.
  3. All three are temptations to power. Resistance comes through God’s Word. Jesus was relying on His upbringing, using Scripture when facing a difficult situation.
  4. Was this a providing of bread for His own needs? People expected the Messiah to prepare a banquet for all the Jews. Jesus knew that feeding the people would be a bribe, gaining followers with material goods. Check out what happened in John 6:10-11, 15. There is a warning in John 6:26-27 – Same response as to Satan, “man does not live by bread alone.” Jesus was no social reformer bent on eliminating hunger and poverty; that was not ultimately His mission.

Testing God – Matthew 4:5-7: Throw Yourself from the temple – quoting Psalm 91:11-12 to back him up.

  1. Here is proof that speaking Scripture is no indication one one’s spiritual condition. Satan knows the Bible; familiarity with it is no assurance of salvation.
  2. Jesus’ response referred to the Exodus. The people wanted water, and Moses warned them not to test God (Exodus 17:1-7). Moses reminds them of the time they tested God (Deuteronomy 6:16).
  3. Many people asked Jesus for a sign, to do some dazzling miracle to prove Himself. Israelites in the wilderness saw miracles all the time and they did not have great faith.
  4. The Romans had charlatans referring to themselves as the “sons of god” so Satan tempted Jesus to be a miracle worker, and give the people what they expect. They expected miraculous wonders, but they got the perfect sacrifice for their sin.

Earthly Power – Matthew 4:8-11: Humans are attracted to and worship power.

  1. Jesus was not the Messiah they wanted. Power vs. self-sacrifice. Throne of power vs. a Galilean carpenter.
  2. The temptation here is not necessarily just to worship Satan, but to worship political power. Satan says to Him, be the Messiah they expect. Political hopes are based on regime change, but even in the Maccabean dynasty they became wealthy and corrupt. Nations get the politicians they deserve.
  3. Jesus taught that political regime change meant nothing, but a heart change was everything.

Satan’s Dominion: Luke’s account (Luke 4:6) mentions the inhabited world was given over to Satan, who is the Prince of this world – Colossians 1:13, Ephesians 2:2. Jesus does accept the gift; now is the time for judgment on this world (John 12:31). God reminds us there can be no comprising with the enemy (1 John 3:8). A laughable choice – serve God or serve the devil. It’s like Bob Dylan, You Gotta Serve Somebody.

Epilogue: Satan was not finished with Jesus. Luke 4:13 mentions he left Jesus until an opportune time. They will meet again. For now, Jesus passes the great test. He was the obedient Son of God. He did what Adam had failed to do, He withstood temptation.

Next Week – “The Harvest is Plentiful” and the calling of disciples, and more.