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.