Son of God

Jesus, the Nazarene

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” 21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee. 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, so that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled, that he would be called a Nazarene. – Matthew 2:19-23 ESV

Matthew provides us with no timeline for the events recorded in this chapter. We only know that Joseph was warned by an angel to take his wife and child to Egypt. And sometime later, the angel gave Joseph permission to return to Israel because Herod the Great had died. The dates surrounding these events seem less relevant to Matthew than do the details concerning the return of Jesus to the land of Israel. Just as God had released the descendants of Jacob from their long stay in Egypt and restored them to the land of Israel, so Jesus was allowed to return to the land of promise.

There is an interesting parallel between Jesus and Moses. Both were presented as deliverers of their people. Moses was a Jew who had grown up as an Egyptian, but due to his murder of a fellow Egyptian, he had become an exile and a fugitive, living in the land of Midian. Yet God called Moses and sent him back to Egypt so that he might lead the people of Israel out of captivity and into the land HE had promised to their forefather, Abraham. And God called Jesus out of Egypt, sending Him back to the land of Israel, where He would become the deliverer of His people. Jesus Himself would later proclaim that His God-ordained mission was to provide release for those who were held captive. 

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free…” – Luke 4:18 NLT

But Jesus was not talking about release from physical slavery. He did not come to deliver those held captive by some political or military power. No, His mission was to set free all those held captive by sin and death. The author of Hebrews describes the role of Jesus as the deliverer of Israel in the following terms:

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

There is a second parallel between Moses and Jesus, and it involves the killing of the innocent. In the opening chapter of Exodus, we are told that the Pharaoh feared the growing number of Israelites living in the land of Egypt, so he came up with a diabolical plan to manage the exploding birthrate of the Jews. He gave a command to the Hebrew midwives, designed to limit the number of male births among the Jews and so eliminate any future threat of an insurrection.

“When you help the Hebrew women as they give birth, watch as they deliver. If the baby is a boy, kill him; if it is a girl, let her live.” – Exodus 1:16 NLT

And Herod had issued a similar command in Jesus’ day, ordering the execution of all Jewish boys under the age of two.

Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. – Matthew 2:16 NLT

In both cases, God spared the lives of Moses and Jesus. One was hidden by his mother in a basket made of reeds and rescued by the daughter of Pharaoh. He would grow up in the wealth and opulence of the royal palace, living like a prince and enjoying all the benefits that come with being part of Pharaoh’s household. Jesus would be hidden by God the Father in the land of Egypt, only to return to the land of promise where He would grow up in relative obscurity and lacking any of the royal perks that Moses enjoyed. Interestingly enough, Moses was a Jew from a poor household who became a prince in the palace of Pharaoh. Yet, Jesus was the Son of God, who left behind His royal rights and privileges and took on the likeness of a man, being born into a nondescript Jewish household with little in the way of wealth or fame.

The apostle Paul describes the entrance of Jesus into the world in terms that express His humility and selflessness.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8 NLT

Matthew later records the following statement by Jesus concerning His far-from-comfortable lifestyle.

“Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” –  Matthew 8:20 NLT

There are several similarities shared by Moses and Jesus, but the author of Hebrews points out that any comparison between them falls far short. Moses was just a shadow of the one to come. He provided an incomplete picture of the

Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a house deserves more praise than the house itself. For every house has a builder, but the one who built everything is God.

Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. But Christ, as the Son, is in charge of God’s entire house. And we are God’s house, if we keep our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. – Hebrews 3:3-6 NLT

Moses had been faithful, but not perfectly so. While he had managed to do God’s will and deliver the nation of Israel to the border of the land of Canaan, he would be denied entrance into the land because he had failed to be fully obedient and had treated God with disdain and disrespect. Yet, Jesus was able to confidently assert His full submission to the will of His Heavenly Father.

“I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” – John 17:4 NLT

Jesus was the true deliverer. And He came to offer a rest unlike anything the people of Israel had ever known before. The land of Canaan was supposed to have been a place of rest for the people of Israel. But the first generation of Jews who had escaped captivity in Egypt had refused to enter the land when given the opportunity. And while the next generation had finally obeyed God and crossed over the Jordan and taken possession of the land, they had never fully experienced the rest God had offered, because they had refused to live in obedience to His will.

The author of Hebrews points out that Joshua was able to get the people into the land, but they had never enjoyed all the blessings God had promised, because they had refused to keep their covenant commitment to Him. And yet, God’s promise of rest was not eliminated or invalidated. He would still keep His covenant promise.

Now if Joshua had succeeded in giving them this rest, God would not have spoken about another day of rest still to come. So there is a special rest still waiting for the people of God. – Hebrews 4:8-9 NLT

And as the author of Hebrews points out, the offer of rest still stands.

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. – Hebrews 4:6-7 NLT

Jesus would return from Egypt, settle in the land of Galilee in the city of Nazareth. This was the actual hometown of Joseph, so, in a sense, they were returning home.

Matthew seems to state that Joseph’s decision to settle in Nazareth was the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. But the problem is that there is no Old Testament passage that speaks of Nazareth as being the home of the Messiah. Bethlehem is mentioned, but never Nazareth. So, is Matthew making this up? Is he playing fast and loose with his facts? It seems that he is tying together a variety of Old Testament passages that speak of the Messiah being despised and associating them with the city of Nazareth. At the time Jesus was born, neither Galilee or Nazareth was held in high esteem. Even Thomas wondered how Jesus, the Messiah could hail from such a lowly place as Nazareth.

Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him,  “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” – John 1:45-46 NLT

Matthew seems to be suggesting that all the Old Testament passages that predicted the suffering and ignominy of Jesus were directly tied to His hometown of Nazareth (Psalm 22:6-8, 13; 69:8, 20-21; Isaiah 11:1; 42:1-4; 49:7; 53:2-3, 8; Daniel 9:26). Jesus would be referred to as a citizen of Nazareth, a designation that would be viewed with scorn and derision, not respect and honor. He would be born in the backwater town of Bethlehem and raised in the lowly environs of Nazareth. He would not be impressive in appearance, renowned for His pedigree, or admired for His roots. And yet, He would be the anointed one of God, the deliverer of His people, and the Savior of the world.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
    nothing to attract us to him.
He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care. - Isaiah 53:2-3 NLT

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

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

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

King of the Jews

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6 “‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. – Matthew 2:1-12 ESV

If you compare Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth with that of Luke, you quickly see that Matthew only provides those details that support his attempt to prove that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews. So, unlike Luke, Matthew does not include background information such as the census that required Joseph to take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem. There is no mention of the visit of the shepherds or the presentation of Jesus at the temple. 

In fact, Matthew fast-forwards the narrative and picks up the story when Jesus was probably about one-year-old. Joseph and Mary had remained in Bethlehem, most likely to provide time for Mary to fully heal and to give the baby time to mature before they made the long and arduous trip back to their hometown of Nazareth.

But their delay in returning to Nazareth was obviously God-ordained. He had plans for them, of which they were not yet aware. And there were storm clouds forming in the distance that were going to presage the kind reception their son could expect to experience.

While Mary and Joseph had been adjusting to their new life as parents, a group of wise men or magi from a distant land had been making their way to Israel, in search of the newborn king of the Jews. These men were most likely astrologers who, while studying the stars and the planets, had seen a sign.

“Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” – Matthew 2:2 ESV

Matthew provides us with no details regarding how these magi received or interpreted the sign they had seen. We do not know where they were from or how they made the connection between the cosmic sign and the coming of the Jewish king. Perhaps they came from Babylon, where there was still a fairly large contingent of Jews who had chosen to remain there rather than return to Judah under the leadership of Nehemiah. It would seem that these magi had access to the Hebrew scriptures and had been able to connect the dots between what they saw in the sky and what God had predicted in His Word. One of the passages to which they could have referred was Numbers 24:17, which the Jews of Jesus’ day believed to have Messianic implications.

I see him, but not now;
    I behold him, but not near:
a star shall come out of Jacob,
    and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…

Regardless of how these men made their assessment of the star and its connection to the new king of the Jews, they were sufficiently convinced to make the long journey to Jerusalem. And when they arrived, they expressed little doubt as to the validity of the sign or their interpretation of it. They asked, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” According to their understanding of the sign, this baby was born as the official and lawful king of the Jews. Which is what led them to Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, where David and Solomon had once reigned.

But the magi found another king sitting on the throne of David. His name was Herod, and he was actually an Edomite. He had been placed on the throne by the Romans and was seen by the Jews as a usurper and as nothing more than a puppet to the occupying forces of Rome. Herod was an ambitious and highly suspicious ruler who was relentless and ruthless in his efforts to protect his power. He had a well-deserved reputation for eliminating any and all potential threats to his throne. He had his own wife’s brother drowned in a pool on the palace grounds. He ordered the murder of 46 members of the Sanhedrin. His wife, two sons, and mother-in-law also fell victim to his unbridled fear and suspicion. Potential rivals to his crown were dealt with quickly and effectively.

So, when the magi showed up in Jerusalem asking about the whereabouts of the new king of the Jews, Herod took notice and instigated steps to locate and eliminate this potential threat to his throne.

Matthew’s primary focus in this section is to further promote and prove the kingship of Jesus. In doing so, he established a conflict between Herod, the Roman-appointed king of the Jews, and Jesus, Israel’s God-anointed and rightful king. And it seems clear that Herod was under the impression that this new king was also to be the Christ, the Messiah of Israel. He assembled all the chief priests and scribes of the Jews, asking them, “where the Christ was to be born” (Matthew 2:4 ESV). These learned men revealed to Herod what the Old Testament Scriptures had to say about such matters, and they quoted to him from the prophecy recorded by Micah.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days. – Micah 5:2 ESV

Herod, always devious and deceptive in his efforts, sent the magi on a mission to discover the whereabouts of the new king, falsely claiming a desire to worship him.

“Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” – Matthew 2:8 ESV

Worship is a key theme in this passage. The word itself is mentioned three different times, and the magi are described as falling down and worshiping the young child, Jesus, offering Him priceless gifts of tribute. Kingship and rule are also repeated themes, appearing six different times in 12 verses. Matthew juxtaposes the earthly and undeserving reign of Herod with that of the true king of Israel, Jesus, the Christ. One was not even a Jew by birth, while the other was the son of Abraham and the son of David. One was a tool of the Romans, while the other was the anointed-one of God, who was sent to do His Father’s will.

It is hard to miss that these men from a foreign land were used by God to confirm the identity of His Son. He had used a sign in heaven to direct them to Jerusalem, where they were given further details and divine guidance to find Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.

…the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. – Matthew 2:9 ESV

And Matthew uses these men to establish a theme that will appear throughout his Gospel account. They were Gentiles, non-Jews, and yet they had gone out of their way to seek and find the King of the Jews. And when they found Him, they bowed down and worshiped Him, showering Him with gifts to illustrate their recognition of His sovereignty and glory. And yet the Jews, represented by Herod, their false king, would repeatedly reject Jesus as their Messiah and King. The Gentile magi recognized Jesus as the King of the Jews, but as the apostle John pointed out, the Jews did not.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV

It’s interesting to note that, at the end of his Gospel account, Matthew records the reaction of a group of Roman soldiers who had witnessed the death of Jesus. They had most likely participated in the mocking and abuse that preceded His crucifixion. One of them may have nailed up the sign that hung above His head, which read, “The King of the Jews.” They most likely took part in the nailing of Jesus to the cross on which He died. But when Jesus had breathed His last, Matthew records that their perception of Jesus was radically altered. 

When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:54 ESV

Jesus was born the King of the Jews. And He died the King of the Jews. When He came into this world, He was worshiped by Gentiles from a foreign land, bearing gifts worthy of a king. When He died, He was surrounded by Gentiles of Roman birth, holding swords and spears, but offering Him the greatest tribute they could bring: They acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God. And Matthew will spend the rest of his Gospel, defending and proving that Jesus was indeed the King of the Jews and the Son of God.

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

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

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

Consecrated by the Father

. 31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. 32 Jesus answered them, “I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?” 33 The Jews answered him, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.” 34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I said, you are gods’? 35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be broken— 36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” 39 Again they sought to arrest him, but he escaped from their hands. – John 10:31-39 ESV

At the core of the biblical doctrine of sanctification is the idea of something or someone being set apart. As we have seen, the Hebrew word typically translated as sanctified or consecrated in the Old Testament is qadash. The New Testament Greek equivalent is the word, hagiazō , which means “to separate from profane things and dedicate to God” (“G37 - hagiazō - Strong's Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It could also mean “to render or declare sacred or holy.” The root word from which it is derived was used to refer to that which was set apart or separated as being “holy.”

Grasping this idea of separation to God is essential if we are to understand the concept of sanctification and its role in the life of the believer. When something, such as the utensils used in the tabernacle or temple, were set apart or sanctified as belonging to God and for His use only, they were deemed off limits for any other use.

On the day when Moses had finished setting up the tabernacle and had anointed and consecrated it with all its furnishings and had anointed and consecrated the altar with all its utensils, the chiefs of Israel, heads of their fathers' houses, who were the chiefs of the tribes, who were over those who were listed, approached… – Numbers 7:1-2 ESV

The laver used in the temple could not be used by the priests for personal use. If they were to do so, they would end up profaning what God had deemed holy. While the laver remained ordinary and common in its essence, its status as being sanctified by God for His glory made it totally unique and  extraordinary. 

And yet, the Scriptures reveal that the people of Israel failed to keep holy that which God had set apart as holy, including themselves.

Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

When God set apart something as His own, He intended for it to remain that way. He expected His people to maintain the holiness of His Sabbath, the tabernacle, its utensils and furniture, and their own lives. All of it had been sanctified as His and the Israelites were expected to honor and respect the divine ownership and accompanying sacredness as God’s possessions. Even the great king, David wrote: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself…” (Psalm 4:3 ESV).

But the track record of the Israelites as recorded in the Old Testament is not a stellar one. Theirs is a history marked by failure to remain set apart unto God. And the story of the New Testament is that of God entering the darkness caused by the disobedience of His children, by sending His Son as the light of the world.

With the closing chapter of the Old Testament book of Malachi, there is a more than 400-year gap until we read the opening words of John’s Gospel.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:1-5 ESV

The light penetrated the darkness. But John goes on to say that, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-11 ESV). The people of God, who had been set apart by Him for His use, were living in spiritual darkness. And their spiritual eyes were blinded to the reality of who Jesus was and what He had come to do.

And later on in his Gospel, John records an encounter that took place between Jesus and the Jewish residence of Jerusalem. He had come to town for the Feast of Dedication and was walking in the section of the temple known as Solomon’s Portico. John reveals that there was much debate among the Jews regarding who Jesus was. Some saw Him as a miracle worker sent from God, while others viewed those very same miracles as demonic in nature. In an attempt to clarify His identity, the Jews approached Jesus and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 ESV). And Jesus responded:

“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.” – John 10:25-30 ESV

We know from John’s account that the people were angered by Jesus’ answer because they viewed His claim to be one with the Father as blasphemy. They were so upset that they attempted to stone Him to death. But look closely at what Jesus said to them. Jesus is claiming to have been sent by His Father on a mission with a specific purpose in mind. He was to gather the sheep God had chosen or set apart as His own. Not only had Jesus been set apart for a specific purpose, so had the sheep who would hear His voice and follow Him.

We don’t have to guess at how the words of Jesus impacted by the Jews that day, because John states that “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.” They were incensed. In their minds, Jesus was saying that they were not set apart or holy. And yet, they viewed themselves as the chosen people of God. They were sons and daughters of Abraham. But the problem was, they had not lived as who they claimed to be. Their lives did not reflect the nature of their set-apart status as God’s children.

The only thing the people heard Jesus say was His claim to be one with the Father. To them, this was blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. But Jesus responded to their accusation by stating, “do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?” (John 10:36 ESV). Don’t miss the significance of Jesus’ words. He claims to have been set apart or sanctified by God (hagiazō). They were missing the whole point of Jesus’ God-ordained mission. They were so hung up on His claim to be the Son of God that they missed the mission He had been given and the message He had come to proclaim.

The truly remarkable thing about this passage is that the Son of God was proclaiming His own sanctification by His Father. He had been set apart for a purpose and He had come to faithfully and completely accomplish it. Jesus made it clear that He had come to do the works of His Father, and He challenges the Jews, “If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:37-38 ESV).

This is a powerful statement and provides much-needed insight into the idea behind sanctification. Jesus had been set apart by God for a specific purpose, and His status as God’s chosen one could be examined and proven by His efforts on God’s behalf. His works bore evidence of His calling. His obedient lifestyle was proof of His status as God’s Son. Jesus didn’t just claim to be the Son of God, He backed it up with visible, tangible evidence. And the same is to be true of each and every child of God. Our lives are to provide tangible proof of our status as God’s possessions. Jesus had been set part by God and His life reflected that calling. And the apostle Paul reminds all the one who has been set apart by God “to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1 NLT).

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

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

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

 

Power Over Death.

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.

51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” – Matthew 27:45-54 ESV

Jesus hung on the cross, a battered and bruised man, struggling desperately and agonizingly for His next breath. His body was racked with pain. His eyes were filled with blood and the salt from His own sweat. And surrounding Him was a crowd of people who relentlessly mocked Him. Even the chief priest and his fellow members of the religious high council cast insults at Jesus, shouting, “He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42 ESV). They found great delight in disparaging the claim of Jesus to be the Son of God, saying, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God’” (Matthew 27:43 ESV). Even one of the criminals being crucified alongside Jesus got into the act, demanding of jesus, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39 ESV). 

But at Noon, the shouting stopped. The sky grew dark. Luke described it this way: “the sun's light failed” (Luke 23:45 ESV). And that darkness would pervade the whole land for three full hours. It is reminiscent of the darkness that God brought on the land of Egypt by the hand of Moses during the days before the Exodus. 

“Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. – Exodus 10:21-23 ESV

This darkness was palpable and supernatural. It was out of the ordinary and inexplicable. And no one could ignore or avoid it. The light was gone.

One can’t help but think of the words of John, found in his gospel, and written long after the death of Jesus.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. – John 1:4-5 ESV

At that moment, on the hill outside the walls of Jerusalem, it would have appeared as if the darkness had overcome the Light. Certainly, the disciples and all those who had followed Jesus and placed their hope in His claim to be the Messiah, would have seen the darkness as a sign of defeat. The end had come. But John went on to record what was really taking place.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:9-11 ESV

Jesus was being rejected by His own. And the darkness was like a physical manifestation of that rejection, revealing the true spiritual condition of the nation of Israel.

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:19-20 ESV

After three hours of stifling darkness had passed, Jesus broke the silence by shouting, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 ESV). Jesus was taking on the sins of mankind, bearing the full brunt of God’s righteous indignation and just judgment. And in doing so, He found Himself separated from His heavenly Father for the first time in all eternity. Jesus bore the weight of the sins of the world. As Paul so eloquently put it: “For our sake he [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

At that moment, as He hung on the cross, Jesus was alone. He felt forsaken and abandoned by all, even by His heavenly Father. God was pouring out on His own Son the righteous wrath He was obligated by His holiness to dispense. The wages of sin is death. And God was offering His own Son as payment for the sins of men.

Jesus made one final statement from the cross, as He cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46 ESV). Then, He took one final breath and died.

At that moment, when all appeared lost and it looked like the forces of the enemy had won the day, some incredible things took place. Jesus had died, but the action was far from over. Matthew records:

And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. – Matthew 27:51-53 ESV

The death of Jesus was accompanied by incredible, inexplicable phenomena. There was an earthquake. The thick curtain in the temple that barred entrance into the Holy of Holies, was split in two, from top to bottom. And, by far the most bizarre of all events, was the opening of the tombs and the resurrection of the dead saints. As can be imagined, there is much debate and speculation about this particular event. But it is interesting that Matthew provides us with little or no detail. It would seem that the earthquake was responsible for the opening up of the tombs. But the text seems to indicate that the bodies contained within those tombs did not resurrected until Jesus did three days later. And, just as Jesus appeared to His disciples in His resurrected form, so did these people. We are not told who they were or whether they remained alive. Was their resurrection temporary or permanent? Matthew doesn’t tell us. But it seems likely that these people, like Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, were merely resuscitated or brought back to life. They did not have resurrected, glorified bodies lke Jesus had. Like Lazarus, they would die a second time.

But you can imagine the shock and surprise on all those who ran into these once dead saints in the streets of Jerusalem. The death of Jesus, while marking the end of His earthly life, was far from the end of His ministry. Even in death, He displayed His power over death. And the apostle Paul reminds us:

You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. – Colossians 2:13-15 NLT

The people mocked. The soldiers cast their insults. The religious leaders sneered and gloated over their defeat of Jesus. But even in death, Jesus had the last laugh. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. And Matthew records that one solitary Roman centurion saw all that had happened and exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54 ESV). Even in death, Jesus made an impression. This hardened Roman soldier was moved by what He saw and expressed a recognition in the deity of Jesus. His statement is not necessarily an expression of faith or belief in Jesus as his Savior. But it is interesting that the very first person to clearly articulate the deity of Jesus after His death was a Gentile and a Roman. The religious leaders were probably long gone. We hear no words spoken from Jesus’ disciples. But whether he realized the import of his words, this Roman centurion was the first to declare Jesus to be exactly who He always claimed to be: The Son of God.

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

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

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

Guilty As Charged.

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” – Matthew 27:11-23 ESV

Judas had hung himself. The rest of the disciples were in hiding. Peter, in particular, was in a state if deep sorrow, having denied Jesus three separate times, just as predicted.

But Jesus was still in the custody of the high priest’s guards and on His way to Pilate, the Roman governor. The Jewish religious leaders were no fans of the Roman government, but they knew they needed Rome’s authority and legal jurisdiction in order to put Jesus to death.

In his gospel account, John indicates that it was early in the morning when Jesus arrived at the governor’s residence. And Matthew records that the first thing the governor asked Jesus was, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). This seems like an odd way to start his interrogation of Jesus, but it may be that Pilate had heard rumors concerning Jesus. He had most likely heard all the details concerning Jesus’ somewhat spectacular entry into Jerusalem a few days before and had been told about the shouts of the people who welcomed Him along the way..

“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” – Matthew 21:9 ESV

It would also seem apparent that the high priest and the members of the Sanhedrin had accused Jesus of claiming to be the king of the Jews. They knew their charge of blasphemy against Jesus would be of no interest to Pilate. But the threat of a possible insurrection against Herod, the Roman-appointed king of Israel, would have gotten Pilate’s attention. The Jews wanted Jesus dead because He had claimed to be the Son of God. But they knew the best way to get the Romans to sanction His death would be to portray Jesus as a dangerous radical and revolutionary.

John records that, when the Jews showed up at Pilate’s house with Jesus in tow, he had asked them what accusations they were bringing against Jesus. And they had replied, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you” (John 18:30 ESV). They wanted to paint Jesus as dangerous. And both Matthew and Mark make it clear that the Sanhedrin leveled many charges against Jesus. They were doing their best to destroy the reputation of Jesus and to give Pilate no other recourse than to sentence Him to death. And through it all, Jesus remained silent. He said nothing. He was not interested in self-defense, but obedience to the will of His Father.

Pilate, a seasoned and savvy political leader, saw through the motives of the Sanhedrin. Matthew records that, “he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up” (Matthew 27:18 ESV). It was the Jewish religious leaders who saw Jesus as a threat, not Rome. During His three years of ministry, Jesus had done nothing to warrant the least bit of fear or paranoia on the part of Rome. He was not a rabble-rouser or trouble-maker. He had not promoted the overthrow of the Roman government. He had not encouraged dissent or preached revolutionary rhetoric aimed at overthrowing Herod or eliminating Rome. 

So, Pilate, in an attempt to placate the anger of the religious leaders and release the obviously innocent Jesus, offered them what he thought would be a no-brainer of a choice. It seems that Pilate had created an annual act of good will that took place during the Jewish celebration of Passover. He would release to them a Jew, held in captivity by the Roman government. On this occasion, he offered them a choice between Jesus or a notorious criminal named, Barabas. According to Mark, this man was a murderer and an insurrectionist. And it seems apparent that Pilate believed the people would prefer to have Jesus released over this well-known criminal. But he was wrong. Due to the influence of the Sanhedrim, the crowd that had gathered outside Pilate’s home made their choice perfectly clear. They wanted Barabas released, not Jesus.

And when Pilate asked the crowd “what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?,” they responded, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22 ESV).  Shocked at their response, Pilate asked, “Why? What evil has he done?” (Matthew 27:23 ESV). And again, the people shouted, “Let him be crucified!” Mob rule overruled common sense and reason. Jesus was innocent of all charges brought against Him, but they did not care. They sensed the blood in the water and the feeding frenzy had begun. 

Pilate had asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, and Jesus had simply stated, “You have said so” (Matthew 27:11 ESV). The words had come from the lips of the Roman governor, and Jesus simply confirmed them. He was the king of the Jews. But not in a sense that Pilate could have understood or in a way that the Jews could have anticipated. He was a king over a different kind of kingdom. And He ruled with far more power and authority than Pilate could have ever dreamed imaginable. Jesus would tell Pilate:

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

In these closing hours of Jesus’ life on earth, the topic of His kingship will come up repeatedly. He will even be mocked by the guards and given a purple robe and a crown of thorns to wear, as they bow down before Him, sarcastically shouting, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18 ESV). When He is nailed to the cross, Pilate will have placed above His head, a placard that reads, “King of the Jews.”

Jesus was and is the King of the Jews. And as the book of Revelation makes clear, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). Pilate was standing before the rightful king of Israel and the right ruler over all of creation. And it’s amazing to think that Pilate was more willing to wrestle with the reality of Jesus’ sovereignty than the Jewish religious leaders were. Pilate wanted to release Jesus. But the high priest and the Sanhedrin wanted Him dead. Even though Jesus had committed no crime. He was guilty of nothing – except the charge of being King of the Jews. For that, He was guilty as charged.

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

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

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

Render Unto God.

15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God's.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. –  Matthew 22:15-22 ESV

It’s probably safe to say that none of us actually enjoy filing our taxes. We see it as a necessary evil and a burdensome obligation. We do it because we have to. It’s required by law and that law carries some pretty stiff penalties for those who choose to ignore it. Taxes were no different in Jesus’ day. In fact, they were worse. The Romans levied heavy taxes on the Jews. On top of that, the Jewish tax collectors added their own exorbitant fees. And then there was the Temple tax that every Jew had to pay, which in actuality, was used to support the lavish lifestyles of the priests themselves. These men lived in luxury while the average Jew barely made ends meet.

In his book, The Message and the Kingdom, Richard Horsley writes, “…impressive archeological remains of their Jerusalem residences show how elegant their lifestyle had become. In spacious structures unhesitantly dubbed ‘mansions’ by the archeologists who uncovered them in the 1970’s, we can get a glimpse of a lavish life in mosaic floored reception rooms and dining rooms with elaborate painted and carved stucco wall decorations and with a wealth of fine tableware, glassware, carved stone table tops, and other interior furnishings and elegant peristyles.”

This staggering combination of tax obligations were overwhelming to the Jewish people, making everyday life practically unbearable and the very mention of taxes intolerable. Palestine was a veritable powder keg waiting to ignite and, according to the Jewish historian, Josephus, the refusal of the Romans to lessen the tax burdens would result in the Jewish War and the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

By now we know that the Jewish religious leadership were looking for any and all opportunities to trick and trap Jesus in order that they might have Him arrested and eliminated. They were certain that it was just a matter of time before He said something that got Him into trouble with the people or with the Roman authorities. If they could get Him to say something the people would disagree with, He would lose His popularity and His growing following. If they could trick Him into saying something that could be taken as divisive or potentially anti-Roman, then they could enlist the aid of the government in getting rid of Him. So they sent some “spies pretending to be honest men” (Luke 20:20 NLT). In other words, they didn’t come dressed as priests, Pharisees, or religious leaders. They disguised themselves as average Jews, hoping to blend in with the crowd and catch Jesus off-guard and unprepared. Their question was well-planned and had a clear motivation behind it. “They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus” (Luke 20:20 NLT). After attempting to butter Him up with false flattery, they asked their question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17 ESV).

But Matthew makes it clear that Jesus saw through their ruse. He knew they were trying to trick Him and even accused them of hypocrisy. But in spite of His awareness of their less-than-sincere motives, He chose to answer their question. He asked for a Roman coin, which have have carried the image of Caesar, a fact that He got them to verify. Then He told them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Matthew 22:21 ESV). The simple interpretation of this passage would be to say that Jesus is simply encouraging civil obedience. The people of God must be good citizens. They must set a good example, even if the government is corrupt and oppressive. But I think Jesus has an even more important point to His statement.

It’s interesting that He pointed out that the Roman coin carried the image of Caesar, the Roman emperor who was also considered a god by his own people. Jesus told them to give this coin to Caesar. It is stamped with his image and, therefore, belongs to him. But Jesus also stated that they were to give to God what belonged to God. What is stamped with God’s image? Back in the book of Genesis, we read, “So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NLT). Every good Jew would have known this story and would have understood what Jesus was saying. Men and women are made in the image of God. They are stamped with His image. Therefore, they belong to Him. Jesus seems to be teaching, that instead of worrying about the temporal things of this world, like money and taxes, the people needed to give themselves to God and His Kingdom. All the way back in His sermon on the mount, Jesus had said, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:31-33 NLT).

Not only were those in Jesus’ audience that day made in the image of God, but as Jews, they had been chosen by God as His special people. They had been handpicked by God and then redeemed out of slavery in Egypt. They were His people – His prized possession. He had told them, “For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure” (Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT). These people had been oppressed and burdened before, and God had rescued them. They were being oppressed and burdened now, but it had far less to do with taxes than it did with sin. God wanted to rescue and redeem them from slavery to sin and death, which is why He had sent His Son. But their minds were elsewhere. They saw their burdens as earthly, not spiritual. They wanted a Messiah to rescue them from taxes and the tyranny of the Romans. But Jesus had come to rescue them from a life enslaved to sin and a sentence of death.

Jesus wanted these people to give to God what was rightfully His – their lives. He wanted them to turn over their lives to the very one who could save them. Jesus stood before them as the Son of God and their Messiah. He was the answer to their problem, but they failed to recognize Him. Jesus had not come to foment insurrection, but to provide salvation. He had not come to lead a revolt against Rome, but to provide restoration with God. His was a spiritual revolution, not an earthly one. And He was subtly reminding His listeners that God, in whose image they were made, required what was due Him. And just as Caesar would punish any and all who refused to pay his mandatory tax, God would punish any and all who refused to give Him what belonged to Him. God had warned the people what failure to obey Him would result in. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands. But he does not hesitate to punish and destroy those who reject him” (Deuteronomy 7:9-10 NLT).

As believers, we have a spiritual obligation to God. He has made us and He has redeemed through the precious, priceless blood of His own Son. Our lives are not our own. We belong to Him because He has paid for us at a great price. He has redeemed us from slavery to sin and made us His own. We are stamped with His image and so we should “give to God what belongs to God” – our very lives.

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

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

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

So Easily Deceived.

I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness. Do bear with me! For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God's gospel to you free of charge?  – 2 Corinthians 11:1-7 ESV

The debate that Paul was waging with his adversaries in Corinth was about far more than his authority and who was going to get credit for the spiritual state of the Corinthian church. This was about deception. Those who were standing against Paul and his ministry were actually leading the Corinthians astray. They were proclaiming another Jesus, promoting a different spirit, and preaching a different gospel. And the thing that bothered Paul the most was that the Corinthians “put up with it readily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:4b ESV). Maybe it was because these “super-apostles,” as he sarcastically refers to them, were skilled in speech and the Corinthians found themselves easily swayed by their rhetoric. With Paul physically out of the picture, it was easy for them to tear about his message and discredit his ministry. He was not here to defend himself. Which is what led him to write this letter. And Paul is forced to remind them of their long-standing relationship with him.

He begs them to bear with a “little foolishness” as he recounts his role in their “betrothal” to Christ. What makes it all so foolish is the fact that he is having to take time to remind them at all. Paul had been the one to introduce them to Christ. Like a father of a bride, he had given them in marriage to Jesus and his goal was to keep them pure until the day their marriage was consummated. It was not enough to Paul that they came to know Christ, he wanted them to remain pure until the day He returned for them or called them home. And yet, he found that they were easily deceived. He even compares them to Eve, who had been deceived and led astray from the truth of God by Satan in the garden. Her deception resulted in her banishment from presence of God. And Paul fears that the Corinthians, due to their willing reception of the false teaching of his critics, would be “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3b ESV).

It is important to note that as Satan led Eve to question the veracity and reliability of God’s word, so these false teachers were causing the Corinthians to question the very heart and soul of the gospel that Paul had preached. They were offering a different gospel that promoted a different Jesus. While Paul does not elaborate on what their message was, it is clear that they were leading the Corinthians astray. The apostle John describes these kinds of people as having the spirit of the Antichrist.

But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here. – 1 John 4:3 NLT

I say this because many deceivers have gone out into the world. They deny that Jesus Christ came in a real body. Such a person is a deceiver and an antichrist. – 2 John 1:7 NLT

Whether these people were denying the incarnation of Jesus or questioning His death and resurrection, we do not know. But it is clear that their message was in direct opposition to the one that Paul had preached. And they had found the Corinthians to be a willing and receptive audience. This was particularly disturbing to Paul, because he had sacrificed so much to ensure that they heard the unadulterated gospel. He brought them the good news of Jesus, free of charge, with no strings attached. He had not come to them demanding that they idolize him or treat him like a god. He humbled himself so that they might be exalted to a right relationship with God through a knowledge of Jesus Christ. He took a backseat, playing the role of the humble mouthpiece for God. He had simply been the messenger, the bearer of good news. And now, to hear that they were so easily accepting another version of the gospel, was disturbing and disconcerting. But Paul was not one to sit back and let his work among the Corinthians go to waste. He loved them too much.

The gospel is always under attack, and most often from within. Satan is the great deceiver and he would much rather promote a slightly false version of the truth than an outright lie. He tends to blend truth with just enough falsehood to make it palatable, but just as deadly. He is more than willing to have people accept Jesus, as long as it is a slightly different Jesus. He loves the idea of a Jesus who was a good man and lived a life worth emulating. He likes to promote Jesus as the great teacher and moral prophet. He prefers a Jesus who was nothing more than a martyr to a cause. But the Jesus Satan promotes is never the Son of God and Savior of the world. He is never the selfless, spotless sacrifice that paid the penalty for man’s sins. He is never the source of man’s justification and the power behind his sanctification. He is never the resurrected and ascended King of kings and Lord of lords who sits at the right hand of God the Father and is one day going to return. That is the Jesus of the gospel. And any other Jesus is a false Jesus.

Inclusive, Yet Exclusive.

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. – John 17:9-10 ESV John 17:1-26

Jesus made a very interesting, yet non-debatable point in this section of His prayer. He had been referencing “the people whom you gave me out of the world” (John 17:6 ESV). He made it clear that it was for these individuals for whom He was praying. “I am praying for them … those whom you have given me, for they are yours.” Jesus clearly had in mind His disciples – all those who had believed in Him, including Mary Magdalene and the other women who had become part of his extended earthly “family.” Anyone who had placed their faith in Jesus and believed Him to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 ESV), had become part of the exclusive group for which Jesus was praying. He distinctly sets them apart, saying, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me.” Jesus echoed His belief that His followers were given to Him by God the Father. These men and women, from all walks of life, with their varying backgrounds, diverse economic situations, and varied sin stories, had been moved by God to step out in faith and follow His Son. And as far as Jesus was concerned, they belonged to the Father. But as the Son of God, He shared in that unique and exclusive relationship with the Father and His children. When God chooses to adopt someone into His family, they become His child and heir, and joint heirs with Christ. They get included into an exclusive family that enjoys unique benefits and privileges. This inclusion should never be taken lightly or for granted. It is not based on anyone's merit and can never be earned or deserved in any way. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV). Salvation is a gift of God, made available through the death of His own Son. There were going to be others who believed in Jesus and who would be included into this exclusive, yet growing family of God. A little later on in this same prayer, Jesus will tell the Father, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word” (John 17:20 ESV). After His death and resurrection, and just prior to His ascension back into heaven, Jesus would tell His disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 29:29-20 ESV). God continues to call individuals from all over the world to Himself. Millions upon millions of people have been included into the family of God by placing their faith in the Son of God as their Savior. Jesus had told His disciples, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32 ESV). His death by crucifixion, along with His miraculous resurrection, continue to draw people back to God. It is all the work of God. Paul reminds us, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-21 ESV).

Christ died for all. His death was sufficient to pay for the sins of all mankind. But not all have have believed. There were many in Jesus’ day who rejected His message and refused to accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. They remained dead in their trespasses and sins. At the beginning of his gospel, John writes, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:9-13 ESV). The light, Jesus, was made visible to all, but not all received Him as the light. They preferred to go on living in darkness. Not all will be saved. The faith family of God, is inclusive to any and all, regardless of the color of their skin, the severity of their sin, their social and economic status, or intellectual prowess. But it is also exclusive. Jesus had made it clear. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). There is no other way. You can't get to God through any other means. That exclusivity means that not all will be included in the family of God. Not all will accept Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. But for those of us who have placed our faith in Christ and been reconciled to or made right with God, we should rejoice and realize that our status as God's children is due to His grace, not our merit. The very fact that we belong to God brings glory to Jesus because He is the one who made it possible. Without Him, we would be lost.

Power and Authority.

that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:20-23 ESV Ephesians 1:15-23

Paul ends his prayer with a rather strange, but highly appropriate reminder of the source of the hope of our calling, our glorious inheritance and the immeasurable power at our disposal. It is Christ, the resurrected, ruling, righteous, and soon-to-be-returning Son of God and Savior of mankind. It is Jesus Christ who makes it possible for us to have a restored relationship with God. His death satisfied the just demands of a holy God. He died in our place so that the penalty for our sins might be paid in full and our condemnation be removed once and for all. His death made possible our adoption by God and our new status as His children. Our calling, our future inheritance and the power of God available to us are all a result of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross. The amazing thing is that He willingly left His rightful place at God's side and came to earth, took on human flesh, and died so that we might live. But Paul reminds us that, after His resurrection, made possible by God's “great might,” Jesus returned to His Father's side and was restored to His rightful position with all the power and authority that was His.

As important as it is that we believe Jesus came as a baby and lived His life as a human being, died on a cross and rose again, it is essential that we understand that Jesus is God, with all the “rule and authority and power and dominion” that God possessed. He is “above every name that is named.” God “put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” In other words, Jesus Christ possesses unsurpassed power and authority, and deserves our unwavering allegiance as the King of kings and Lord of lords. We tend to think that when Jesus cried out on the cross, “It is finished!,” He was saying that His work was done. And while His earthly work had come to a point of completion with His death, He is far from finished. He has returned to His Father's side and He continues to work on our behalf as the head of the church, His body. That means that we, as members of that body, report to Him. And the power and authority that Jesus Christ possesses passes down to us as members of His Kingdom. He has every right to rule and reign over our lives. But we have a responsibility to act as His ambassadors, extending His reign over the earth and living as obedient citizens of His Kingdom as we do so. It is interesting that Paul ends his prayer with a reminder of the power and authority of Christ. In a sense, it is when we come to understand the rightful place of Jesus Christ as our ultimate authority and the unquestioned ruler over our lives, that we really come to know God. Jesus isn't just a doorway through which we walk to get to God. He is God. He is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. He is a vital part of the Godhead – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Mysterious and inexplicable, but essential to what we believe about Jesus Christ and His subsequent role as our returning King. The apostle John was given a vision of what His future return will look like. “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11-16 ESV).

He is coming again and this time it will be with power and authority. He is coming as the King of kings and Lord of lord. He has no equal. No one will be able to oppose Him. He will bring judgment to the earth. He will destroy the enemies of God. He will establish His Kingdom on the earth and reign in righteousness. But while all of that is somewhere out in the future, we must not forget that Jesus Christ possesses that same power and authority right now. We are to treat Him as our King and Lord each and every day of our lives. It is He who makes it possible for us to pray. Our very ability to come before God is a byproduct of His death on the cross. We enter into God's presence because of Christ's blood, not because we somehow deserve to be there. Even in our prayers we should acknowledge the great debt we owe to Jesus for what He has done. We can know God because we know Christ.

Divine Protection.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. – 1 John 5:18 ESV

1 John 5:13-21

The possibility of committing sin is an ever-present reality for believers, as much as it is for the lost. John made it clear earlier in his letter, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8 ESV). It is essential to remember that John was writing to believers in Jesus Christ, those who had placed their faith in Him as their Savior and sin-substitute. Jesus had died as the propitiation for their sins, completely satisfying a just and holy God by paying in full the penalty due to God for the sins of all the world – for all time. But while our sins are paid for and there is no longer any condemnation or death sentence hanging over our heads, we still have the capability to commit sin. Which is why John went on to say, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). In John's understanding of the doctrine of salvation, there is no doubt that he believed in the complete effectiveness of Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. He knew and believed that Jesus “appeared to take away sins” (1 John 3:5 ESV). In fact, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8 ESV). With His death, Jesus made it possible for those who believed in Him to live their lives free from the control of sin. He set them free from slavery to sin. Jesus made a life of righteousness not only possible, but the expected norm for His followers.

John gives us the encouraging and comforting news that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (1 John 5:18 ESV). Sinfulness is no longer the normal behavior for believers. Before Christ, our entire lives were marked by sin. It was our only nature. All that we did was done in rebellion to and in defiance of God – even our best efforts and most righteous behavior. Prior to placing our faith in Christ, we followed “the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God's anger, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3 NLT). We were driven by the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). We couldn't stop sinning. But all that has changed. We have received new natures. We have been given the Spirit of God to indwell and empower us. God has provided us with a new capacity to live in keeping with our new identity and standing. We are righteous, because of the righteousness which was imputed to us by Christ. On the cross, He exchanged our sin for His righteousness. Jesus, the one “who was born of God protects him” – the one who has faith is Jesus (1 John 5:18). Not only does Jesus save us, He protects us – preventing the evil one from touching us. On the night on which He was betrayed, Jesus spent time in the garden praying to His Father. One of the things He prayed was, “I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one” (John 17:14-15 ESV). It was His desire then that we be protected from Satan, and it is still His desire today. While “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19 ESV), we are protected by God as we continue to live in the midst of it. Praying on our behalf, Jesus asked the Father, “Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth” (John 171:17 ESV). Why, because we are not of this world any more than He was. We don't belong here. We are in enemy territory. We are surrounded. But we have divine protection. From sin and Satan. We know that, because we are born of God, we are no longer children of this world. We are no longer slaves to sin. “We know that we are from God” (1 John 5:19 ESV) and “no one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he was been born of God” (1 John 3:9 ESV). God's DNA has been implanted within us. We have been rewired from the inside out. As God's children, we are loved by Him, and because He loves us, He protects us. He watches over us. He will not leave us or forsake us. And He has His best in store for us.

Internal Evidence.

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. – 1 John 5:10 ESV

John has mentioned three witnesses that testify to the truth of Jesus' claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7-8 ESV). Then he adds the testimony of God Himself. “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:9 ESV). Even God the Father has testified on the behalf of Jesus, declaring Him as His Son and claiming to have sent Him to “to bring good news” and “to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (Isaiah 61:1 NLT). But John had more evidence to add to his argument. So far, his proof has all be external in nature – the baptism of Jesus, His crucifixion, the coming of the Spirit, and the verbal acknowledgement of God. Now he brings us the testimony within – the very indwelling presence of the Spirit of God that every believer receives upon acceptance of Jesus as their Savior. The apostle Paul tells us, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16 ESV). When brought before the Jewish council, Peter said, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:30-32 ESV).

The Holy Spirit is living proof of Jesus' messiahship. The very presence of the Spirit within the life of the believer should unequivocally convince us of any of His other claims. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). He had told them that the Holy Spirit would testify to them regarding Him. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26 ESV). And that's exactly what the Spirit does. He bears witness, testifies and gives evidence of Christ's life-changing, heart-transforming power in the life of the believer. “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT).

We have the very Spirit of God within us, empowering, equipping and testifying. His presence should make a profound difference in the way we live our lives. Paul explains it quite succinctly. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV). As we see that fruit produced in our lives, we can know that Jesus' death and resurrection are what made it possible. Had Jesus not died, rose again, and ascended back into heaven, the Holy Spirit would not have come. His presence here is proof that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, and that someday He is going to return to this earth to finish what He began. He will restore this world back to its original God-ordained glory. He will destroy sin and death once and for all. He will remove all pain, sorrow, tears, heartache and any other evidence of the fall – forever.

The evidence is overwhelming in favor of Jesus. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world. He is the long-awaited Messiah whom the prophets of old had long-ago predicted. And over the last 2,000 plus years, His claims have been proven true by the miraculous spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ around the world. Millions have come to faith in Christ, of all walks of life and every conceivable people group. And the Kingdom continues to expand. The Holy Spirit is hard at work, guiding, motivating, sending, and equipping God's people to do His Work. But at the end of the day it all boils down to a fairly simply formula: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12 ESV).

Can I Get A Witness?

For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. – 1 John 5:7-8 ESV 1 John 5:6-12

Jesus is the Son of God. That has been John's assertion throughout his letter. He was countering the claims of those who had left the congregation there in Ephesus. Those people had cast doubt on the validity of Jesus' incarnation and divinity. They had denied that He was the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. But John would have nothing to do with their false assertions. Over and over again, he wrote that Jesus was the Son of God. He even asked the somewhat rhetorical question, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:5 ESV). Then John backed up this bold statement with facts. He provided “witnesses” to the reality of Jesus' deity and humanity. “And the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is the truth” (1 John 5:6 ESV). Eight different times, John uses words that have to do with testifying and testimony. He uses the Greek words, martyreō and martyria. The first one is a verb and means, “to be a witness, to bear witness, i.e. to affirm that one has seen or heard.” The second one is a noun and refers to the testimony itself. John wanted his readers to know that the claims of Jesus had been backed up by expert testimony and it was not the testimony of men. First of all, the Spirit testified. But John added that the water and the blood were expert witnesses as well. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7 ESV). The very fact that the Spirit of God indwells the people of God is proof that Jesus was who He claimed to be. He had promised the when He left, He would send the Holy Spirit. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever; even the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17 ESV). “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:38-39 ESV). John made it clear that the Spirit's presence in the life of the believer was proof that Jesus had come as the Son of God, died a substitutionary death on behalf of sinners, and rose again. His resurrection and ascension set the stage for the Spirit's coming. “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us his Spirit” (1 John 4:13 ESV). But what about the water and the blood? What is John referring to with these two seemingly obscure words? It seems that there were some in the early church who believed that Jesus, the man, was the literal Son of God. They taught that when Jesus was born, he was born as a man. But at His baptism in the wilderness by John, the Spirit of the Christ came on Him. He was still just a man, but had the anointing of God on His life. They further taught that when Jesus hung on the cross, the Spirit of the Christ left Him. So when Jesus died, He did so only as a man and not as the Son of God. John rejected this teaching – vehemently and decisively. In fact, he used the occasions of Jesus baptism and death as witnesses for the deity of Christ. “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (Matthew 3:16-17 ESV). Jesus did not become God's Son at that point. He had been His Son from before the foundation of the world. But it was at His baptism that God used the beginning of His earthly ministry to confirm His deity and role as the long-awaited Christ. It is interesting to note that Jesus did not NEED the baptism of repentance, because He was sinless. But He was identifying Himself with sinful man. Just as Jesus did not DESERVE to die on a Roman cross, because He was sinless and without guilt. He was identifying Himself with the sins of mankind, and He “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV). Jesus began His ministry at the Jordan and completed it on the cross when He claimed, “It is finished!” (John 19:30 ESV). The shedding of His blood culminated and completed His mission. His death was the crowning glory of His saving work for mankind. When we celebrate the Lord's Supper, it is a remembrance or commemoration of His broken body and shed blood. At the exact moment Jesus died on the cross, we are told, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split” (Matthew 27:51 ESV). There were other supernatural events that accompanied His death. But the tearing of the curtain that acted as a barrier into the Holy of Holies of the Temple was a stark visual illustration that Jesus' death had made access to God available to all. But John would have us remember, that it is belief in Jesus as the Son of God and the Savior of the world that makes access into God's presence possible. “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12 ESV). God has done something remarkable and great. He has provided salvation for sinful man through His sinless Son. And the Spirit, the water, and the blood testify to the reality of that incredible truth.

Fulness of Joy.

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. – 1 John 1:4 ESV

In the book of First John, the apostle John is writing to believers. He is reminding them of the tlmeless significance of Jesus Christ. Which is why he opens his letter with a reminder of the non-negotiable reality of Jesus' divinity – "that which was from the beginning" – and his humanity – "which we have heard, which we have seen … and have touched with our hands." He is unapologetically proclaiming his belief in the incarnation of Christ. He had been a first-hand witness of Jesus' humanity, having spent three years of his life in close proximity to Him. But John had also seen Jesus put to death and buried in a borrowed tomb. But then three days later, he had personally witnessed Jesus' miraculous resurrection. He had talked with Him, ate with Him, and then watched as Jesus ascended back into heaven, having just promised to return some day.

John tells his readers, "And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete" (1 John 1:4 ESV). In other words, his purpose for writing the letter was to instill in his readers the same joy he knew and had experienced. God had come in human flesh. Jesus had ended up being far more than John initially perceived or expected. He was more than just a human Messiah or earthly king. He was the Son of God, the Word “that became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14 ESV). But it didn't stop there. Jesus took on “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8 ESV). He had died a sinner's death on behalf of men. And His death made it possible for men to have a restored relationship with God the Father. John says that truth, that reality should produce in us a joy that is full and complete.

But many believers today lack joy. They have Christ, but their joy seems to be less than full. In John's estimation, joylessness is nothing less than Christ-lessness. We can have Christ, but not take full advantage of all He has to offer. Instead, we can easily make Christ a means to something else … our happiness, the hope of a better life or even eternal life. But John would have us realize that Jesus is not a means to finding joy, He is our joy. Many today are suffering from spiritual starvation because they are surrounded by information regarding Christ, but fail to ingest it and feed themselves from it. Starvation doesn't take a complete absence of food, just an inadequate amount of it for survival. I can starve to death standing the aisle of a well-stocked grocery store. The presence of food does me no good if I don't take advantage of it. I can also starve by eating a steady diet of the wrong things. A diet of Twinkies and Moon Pies will not end well. I may feel full, but I will starve my body of the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive. Many of us as Christians do the same thing with Christ. We seek satisfaction and joy in the wrong places. We turn to something or someone other than Christ for what we need and end up starving to death spiritually.

Perhaps you lack joy because you don't get enough of Christ. John said that what he was writing would lead to complete joy – full, abounding, full-to-the-brim joy. Jesus Himself made a similar promise when He told His disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11 ESV). He had just finished teaching the about what it means to abide in Him. He had told them that fruitfulness would be a direct by-product of abiding or remaining in Him. Because apart from Him, we can do nothing. It would seem that John believed fulness of joy was directly tied to our fulfillment in Christ. Is Christ enough? Or do we require more? Is it not enough that the God of the universe sent His own Son to take on human flesh and die a sinner's death in our place? Is it not enough the a holy God would provide a means by which sinful men could be made right with Him and enjoy intimate fellowship with Him now and for eternity? Many of us lack joy, because we are not fully satisfied with Christ. We believe He is enough to save us, but not enough to fulfill us and bring us joy – even in the midst of uncertainty, sorrow, pain and suffering. The apostle Paul would have us understand that it is Jesus Christ – God in the flesh – who alone can provide salvation and satisfaction. He prayed, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19 ESV). Fulness of God brings fulness of joy. Christ is enough. Christ is sufficient. And when we finally realize that truth, we will find true joy.

The Truth On Trial.

Matthew 27:2-14; Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:1-7; John 18:28-38

Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." – John 18:37 NIV

Jesus had been brought before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. Now the Jewish religious leaders would have to convince Pilate that Jesus was a threat to his government and worthy of death. I find it fascinating that these men were more than willing to use the Roman governor to carry out their plan to put Jesus to death, but refused to set foot in his house because of fear that it would defile them. What a clear contrast between their religion and what Jesus came to offer. He had spent His time with tax collectors and sinners. He had ministered to Roman centurions and Samaritans. He would have had no problem walking into Pilate's home, because Pilate was just the sort of person Jesus came to save. But on this occasion, the high council of the Jews stood outside Pilate's headquarters shouting accusations against Jesus. The charge of blasphemy, while more than enough cause for death as far as the Jews were concerned, would have meant nothing to Pilate. So they accused Jesus of a litany of trumped up charges, including telling the people not to pay their taxes to Rome. But Jesus would not respond to any of these false accusations. The only time He spoke was in reference to the truth regarding Him being the King of the Jews. Jesus explained, "My kingdom is not an earthly kingdom. If it were my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36 NLT). The truth was, Jesus was a King. He was the King of kings and the Lord of lords. But His kingdom was of a completely different class and kind than that to which Pilate was familiar. Jesus had a throne, but it awaited Him in heaven. His kingdom was much greater and grander than anything the Romans or Caesar himself could ever imagine. For the time being, Satan would remain king of the world. He would maintain his authority and rule over the lives of men for a little while longer, but even that was going to change.

Jesus was not just a king, He was THE King. And it was for that reason He was born and why He came into the world. He was born to be King and He would die because He was King. But few, including Pilate, would recognize the truth of His claim. In fact, Pilate asked Jesus the age-old question, "What is truth?" (John 18:38 NLT). Which is ironic, because the one who referred to Himself as the way, the truth and the life was standing right in front of him. But Pilate didn't acknowledge the truth of who Jesus was, even though he referred to Jesus as, "this King of the Jews" when asking the Jews what they wanted him to do with Him. He found Jesus guilty of nothing more than claiming to be the King of the Jews, and it would be for this reason that Jesus would ultimately die. No other charge was ever proven against Him except that one. He acknowledged no other accusation against Himself, except that one. The truth was that Jesus was the King of the Jews. The truth was that Jesus was going to sacrifice His life for that of His own people. He was the King who would give up His life for the citizens of His own Kingdom.

Father, the more I study the last days of Your Son's life on this planet, the more I am blown away by the sheer magnitude of what He did for me. All of the events surrounding His final days are packed with meaning and overflowing with significance. Here was the King of kings standing before a lowly Roman governor, placing Himself at the mercy of a mere man and allowing him to decide His fate. Here was the King of the Jews allowing the so-called religious leaders of the Jewish people to falsely accuse Him and demand His execution. Here was the creator of the world allowing His own creation to treat Him like a common criminal. All so that the truth could be made known. His death was part of the truth. His selfless sacrifice was part of the truth. His substitutionary death was part of the truth. His resurrection would be part of the truth. And His eventual return will fulfill all truth. He was exactly who He claimed to be. Amen.

The Son of God.

John 5:1-47

"You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” – John 5:39 NLT

In this passage, Jesus encounters a man who had been sick for 38 years. Every day, this man somehow made his way to the pool of Bethesda, near the wall of the Temple. The waters were thought to hold healing properties and, when they were stirred up, if you could be one of the first to get in the water, you would receive healing. This man's problem was that, after 38 long years of suffering, he had no hope of ever getting in the water in time. Jesus asked him a question with a very obvious answer. "Would you like to get well?" (John 5:6 NLT). To which the man replied, "I can't, sir, for I have no one to put me into the pool when the water bubbles up. Someone else always gets there ahead of me" (John 5:7 NLT). In response, Jesus tells the man, "Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!" (John 5:8 NLT).

And immediately the man is healed and does just as he is told. It was an amazing moment. This man's life was changed forever. But John reminds of us one small detail in the story. It is the Sabbath. And when the Pharisees see this man "working" on the Sabbath by carrying his mat, they are appalled. And when they find out Jesus told him to do so, they begin to confront Jesus about breaking the Sabbath. But it would be Jesus response to them that would turn their anger into thoughts of murder. Jesus said, "My Father is always working, and so am I" (John 5:17 NLT). Here lies the greatest disconnect between Jesus and the religious leadership of His day. He claimed to be the Son of God, and in so doing, He claimed to be deity. According to their standards, that was blasphemy, a crime punishable by death.

And this is still the disconnect most people have with Jesus today. Most have no problem believing that Jesus lived or that He was a powerful and influential teacher. Many have little or no struggle with the idea of Him doing miracles. But where the problem comes up for most is with the concept of Jesus as the Son of God. This remains a stumbling block for most people today. Even for many church-going, Bible-believing, so-called Christians today. Like the Pharisees, they search the Scriptures, thinking that in them they will find eternal life (John 5:39). In other words, the secret to having a right relationship with God is through discovering His requirement as found in His Word. So they read the Scriptures trying to decipher the rules and requirements God has set out so that they can keep them and make God happy. But Jesus reminds us, "the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life" (John 5:39-40 NLT). Jesus' miracles were simply to act as proof of who He claimed to be. They were evidence of His deity. The power He displayed came from God and so did He. In fact, Jesus makes it clear that God had given Him the power to provide eternal life to any and all who would believe that He was God's Son. "I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life" (John 5:24 NLT). It was essential that they believe that Jesus was sent from God and was the Son of God. And not only has God given Jesus the life-giving power to provide eternal life to those who would believe He came from God, He has given Him the power to judge all men at the end of the age. With a word from Jesus, all the dead will rise and face judgment – some to face eternal life and someeternal death. The Pharisees saw the miracles of Jesus. They heard the powerful teachings of Jesus. But they could not handle the claims of Jesus to be God. That was beyond their ability to comprehend or consent to. And as a result, they missed the point. They were so busy trying to work their way to eternal life that they missed the very one who could give them eternal life.

Jesus was and is the Son of God. He is the second person of the Trinity. He was God's means by which the world might be saved and men might be reconciled to a right relationship with Him. But it is essential that men believe Jesus was who He claimed to be. The miracles and messages of Jesus mean nothing if they do not point us to His deity. The words of Scripture will mean nothing if we do not find within them the message that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to save the world from the judgment of God. Jesus was more than just a man. He was more than just a prophet. He was more than just a faith-healer. He was more than just a teacher. He was the Son of God. Yet Jesus can still say to so many, "For I have come to you in my Father's name, and you have rejected me" (John 5:43 NLT).

Father, it was Jesus' claim to deity that became the stumbling block for so many. They couldn't comprehend it, so they simply rejected it. They couldn't explain it, so they refused to believe it. But to those who believed through a simple act of faith, He gave eternal life, and I am so grateful to have been included in that number. Thank You. Amen.

At His Command.

Matthew 8:14-17; Mark 1:29-34; Luke 4:38-41

“This fulfilled the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, who said, 'He took our sicknesses and removed our diseases.'” – Matthew 8:17 NLT

When the people in Capernaum had witnessed Jesus cast the demon out of the man inside the walls of their very own synagogue, they exclaimed, "What sort of new teaching is this? It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey his orders!" (Mark 1:27 NLT). They were blown away by what they had seen. Jesus spoke and even the demons obeyed Him. He had authority. His words had power. He was more than just another itinerant rabbi roaming the landscape of Palestine recruiting disciples. This man was special.

And as Jesus made His way from the synagogue to the home of Simon Peter, He found Himself confronted with another need, the mother-in-law of His host was sick with a fever. Luke tells us He rebuked the fever and it left her. And her healing was immediate and complete, because she got up at once and prepared a meal for them. By that evening, news had spread and crowds began to gather, bringing their sick and demon-possessed friends and family members to Jesus. Mark says, "The whole town gathered at the door to watch" (Mark 1:33 NLT. But there is an interesting dynamic going on in these passages. You have two groups interacting with Jesus and they each give us a vastly different perspective of just how they view who Jesus is. The people see a powerful healer. They obviously believe He can heal or they wouldn't be going through the effort of coming to Him with their various maladies. They aren't really sure who this man is, but if He can give them release from their physical ailments and deliver them from demon possession, that is all that really matters. They are stuck on a physical plane. But the demons are spiritual creatures and they have a much different perspective on just who Jesus is. Luke tells us that when Jesus commanded the demons to come out of an individual, they obeyed, but not before shouting, "You are the Son of God!" (Luke 4:41 NLT). Luke says that Jesus rebuked them and refused to let them speak because they knew He was the Messiah. They were fully aware of just who Jesus was, and they understood and feared the significance of His arrival in what had been their domain up until that time. He was competition. He was to be feared because He had power over them. He wasn't just some rabbi, He was the very Son of God, the Messiah. Jesus was their worst nightmare realized.

It is interesting that Jesus refused to let the demons acknowledge His true identity. But He knew that if the people began to connect the dots and realized that Jesus was the Messiah, as the demons stated, they would misunderstand. Their view of who the Messiah would be and what He would do was radically different than the role for which Jesus had come. They were looking for a conquering king and a political leader to liberate them from the oppression of the Romans. Jesus knew that the people, including His own disciples, would attempt to force His hand and try to get Him to set up His earthly kingdom now. But Jesus was on His Father's timetable, and He came to provide a different kind of liberation. He was going to set them free, but not from Roman rule. He was going to bring them salvation, but not from political oppression. The demons seemed to know this. They inherently understood that Jesus was out to do war on a spiritual plane. They had experienced His power and had been forced by Him to give up hard-fought territory. They were no match for Him. And it scared them.

It is interesting that many people today are looking to Jesus for only what they can get from Him, and their interest is purely physical in nature. They want better lives, happier marriages, more successful careers, better behaved kids, and trouble-free futures. They fail to realize that the realm in which Jesus works is a spiritual one. He came to do spiritual warfare with a spiritual enemy. He came to deliver from spiritual captivity and to heal spiritual diseases. This is not to say that Jesus cannot or will not heal us from physical sickness, but His main concern has and always will be our spiritual condition. He is out to restore us to spiritual wholeness and completeness. He wants to transform our hearts and radically change our inner beings so that we become increasingly like Him. Our greatest desire should be for spiritual healing. We should constantly look to Jesus and see Him for who He is, the Son of God, with the power and authority to radically transform our inner lives and completely restore our sin-sick hearts.

Father, it is so easy to get stuck on a physical plane and lose sight that our greatest problem is a spiritual one. We are spiritual creatures and the battle we fight each day is a spiritual one. Keep us focused on the real reason for which Your Son came. Don't let us lose sight of the prize and become distracted by short-term fixes that relegate Jesus to some kind of life coach who is here to make our physical lives better. Give us eyes to see life from a spiritual perspective. Amen.