healing

Sinner In Need of a Savior

14 And it shall be said,
“Build up, build up, prepare the way,
    remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
    who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
    and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
    and to revive the heart of the contrite.
16 For I will not contend forever,
    nor will I always be angry;
for the spirit would grow faint before me,
    and the breath of life that I made.
17 Because of the iniquity of his unjust gain I was angry,
    I struck him; I hid my face and was angry,
    but he went on backsliding in the way of his own heart.
18 I have seen his ways, but I will heal him;
    I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners,
19     creating the fruit of the lips.
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord,
    “and I will heal him.
20 But the wicked are like the tossing sea;
    for it cannot be quiet,
    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.
21 There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:14-21 ESV

Verse 13 ended with the promise:

But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land
    and shall inherit my holy mountain. –
Isaiah 57:13 ESV

The Hebrew word translated “refuge” is chacah, and it means “to flee for protection.” This is an open invitation from God to His people offering them to place their hope and trust in Him. But He knew they had options, so He challenged them to make their decision. The next time they found themselves in trouble, they could cry out to Him, or they could turn to their assortment of false gods and see how well they fared.

But God makes it clear that, when deliverance comes, it will come from one place: From His hand. The day was going to come when the people of Judah would hear the long-awaited words, “Rebuild the road! Clear away the rocks and stones so my people can return from captivity” (Isaiah 57:14 ESV), and they would come from the mouth of God, not some lifeless idol. And Isaiah differentiates God from the so-called competition by describing Him as “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV). He is the transcendent God who is above all. He is not relegated to earth and subject to the whims of men. He is not the product of man’s minds or hands and does not require their help in moving from one place to another. He is also eternal, without beginning or end. Every idol the people of Judah worshiped came into existence because someone took the time to manufacture it. And it would one day decay and fall apart. But not God.

And He alone is holy, totally pure and free from any and all forms of defilement. John reminds us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5 ESV). God’s very character makes Him unmatched and unparalleled. There is no one besides Him. 

“I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.” – Isaiah 45:5 ESV

Yet, this transcendent, holy, incomparable God has made Himself known to mere men. But only to those who meet a certain condition or requirement.

“I live in the high and holy place
    with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
    and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts.” – Isaiah 57:15 NLT

Notice the attributes of those to whom God reveals Himself. They are contrite and humble, crushed in spirit, and marked by repentant hearts. In other words, they are cognizant of their need for God. No pride. No self-righteousness. No arrogant boasting in their own self-earned standing before God. No, the people to whom God reveals Himself are those who are contrite or broken in spirit. They have been crushed by cares of the world and their own efforts at trying to live righteous lives in their own strength. When Jesus delivered His great invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NLT), He was addressing all those who were worn out and beaten down by trying to earn favor with God through self-effort.

God reveals Himself to the humble, those who recognize their true spiritual condition and their need for someone higher and greater than themselves to save them. And this requirement of humility is found throughout the Scriptures. 

Though the Lord is great, he cares for the humble,
    but he keeps his distance from the proud. – Psalm 138:6 NLT

One’s pride will bring him low,
    but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. – Proverbs 29:23 ESV

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. – James 4:6 ESV

The people of Judah had become prideful and arrogant, thinking of themselves as somehow better than everyone else because of their unique standing as God’s chosen people. In one of the many confrontations Jesus had with the Jewish religious leadership of His day, He warned them, “Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones” (Matthew 3:9 NLT).  Their status as descendants of Abraham gave them no merit before God. Their Hebrew heritage did not impress God or somehow indebt Him to them.

God was looking for those who would humbly recognize their need for Him. His anger against them was real, and it was perfectly justified. He was just and right to punish them for their rebellion against Him. But He wants them to know that His anger can be abated and assuaged if they will only turn to Him and seek His salvation. That is the essence of the gospel message. Sinful men must reach the point where they are willing to admit their sinfulness and humbly acknowledge their complete inability to earn God’s favor through acts of self-righteousness. They must turn to the sole source of salvation made possible through the grace of God. And the apostle Paul puts it in terms we can understand.

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. – Romans 5:6 NLT

God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. – Romans 5:8 NLT

Recognizing God’s holiness and coming to grips with our own inherent sinfulness is the key to experiencing God’s graciousness as revealed through His Son’s sacrificial death on our behalf. Jesus told His disciples, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Lue 5:31-32 NLT).

As long as the people of Judah continued to see themselves as spiritually healthy and in no need of a divine doctor, they would continue to suffer the deadly symptoms of their sin. God reminds the people of Judah about their stubborn refusal to take His punishment of them seriously.

“I was angry,
    so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
    but they kept going on their own stubborn way.” – Isaiah 57:17 NLT

And yet, God delivers the amazing news:

“I have seen what they do,
    but I will heal them anyway!
    I will lead them.” – Isaiah 57:18 NLT

God offers to heal them in spite of them. He promises to lead them even though they had consistently refused to follow Him in the past. But the key to experiencing His healing and help was humility. They were going to have to admit their need for Him. And all that God had been doing to them and around them was so that they might know the reality of their sin and their need for His salvation.

The apostle Peter reminds us of the biblical truth: “God opposes the proud but favors the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). But he goes on to tell us what to do in response to that truth.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. – 1 Peter 5:6 NLT

But what does that humility look like? It is not just a matter of recognizing our sinfulness and our need for a Savior. It involves a daily dependence upon God and a growing recognition of His love for us and His ability to provide for all our needs, cares, and concerns. Peter goes on to say:

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. – 1 Peter 5:7 NLT

And God assured the people of Judah, “I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far” (Isaiah 57:18-19 NLT). All they had to do was humble themselves before Him.

But God knew there would be those who refused to acknowledge their sin and admit their need for His salvation. So, He warns them:

“But those who still reject me are like the restless sea,
    which is never still
    but continually churns up mud and dirt.
There is no peace for the wicked.” – Isaiah 57:20-21 NLT

Like the sea that is never calm, but in a constant state of perpetual upheaval, these unrepentant, prideful, and stubbornly self-righteous individuals would never know the peace that comes through humble contrition and willing submission to “the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15 NLT). 

Confession of our sin is key to receiving cleansing from our sin. Admission of our guilt is a critical step in experiencing the blessing of God’s grace. Those who refuse to see themselves as sinners will never recognize their need for a Savior. Which is why the apostle John so strongly warns us:

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. – 1 John 1:8-10 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

Yet I Will Praise Him

9 A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah, after he had been sick and had recovered from his sickness:

10 I said, In the middle of my days
    I must depart;
I am consigned to the gates of Sheol
    for the rest of my years.
11 I said, I shall not see the Lord,
    the Lord in the land of the living;
I shall look on man no more
    among the inhabitants of the world.
12 My dwelling is plucked up and removed from me
    like a shepherd’s tent;
like a weaver I have rolled up my life;
    he cuts me off from the loom;
from day to night you bring me to an end;
13     I calmed myself until morning;
like a lion he breaks all my bones;
    from day to night you bring me to an end.

14 Like a swallow or a crane I chirp;
    I moan like a dove.
My eyes are weary with looking upward.
    O Lord, I am oppressed; be my pledge of safety!
15 What shall I say? For he has spoken to me,
    and he himself has done it.
I walk slowly all my years
    because of the bitterness of my soul.

16 O Lord, by these things men live,
    and in all these is the life of my spirit.
    Oh restore me to health and make me live!
17 Behold, it was for my welfare
    that I had great bitterness;
but in love you have delivered my life
    from the pit of destruction,
for you have cast all my sins
    behind your back.
18 For Sheol does not thank you;
    death does not praise you;
those who go down to the pit do not hope
    for your faithfulness.
19 The living, the living, he thanks you,
    as I do this day;
the father makes known to the children
    your faithfulness.

20 The Lord will save me,
    and we will play my music on stringed instruments
all the days of our lives,
    at the house of the Lord.

21 Now Isaiah had said, “Let them take a cake of figs and apply it to the boil, that he may recover.” 22 Hezekiah also had said, “What is the sign that I shall go up to the house of the Lord?” – Isaiah 38:9-21 ESV

Hezekiah had been severely ill, and the prophet Isaiah had given him the divine prognosis that his illness would end in death. In his despair, Hezekiah prayed to God and received the news that he would be healed and his life would be extended an additional 15 years. The book of 2 Kings provides additional details concerning Hezekiah’s miraculous recovery.

Then Isaiah said, “Make an ointment from figs.” So Hezekiah’s servants spread the ointment over the boil, and Hezekiah recovered! – 2 Kings 20:7 NLT

Sometime after these events, Hezekiah composed a poem commemorating the occasion and recording the diverse range of emotions he had experienced.

Hezekiah had been rocked by the news of his pending death. It was unexpected and had caught him completely by surprise. Like anyone facing the prospect of an untimely death, Hezekiah thought about all those he would leave behind.

“Never again will I see the Lord God
    while still in the land of the living.
Never again will I see my friends
    or be with those who live in this world.” – Isaiah 38:11 NLT

He couldn’t help but feel that he was being robbed of life, and denied the joy of experiencing all the pleasures that come to the living. Like all men, he had a difficult time imagining what existence beyond death might look like. He refers to his soul being confined to Sheol, the abode of the dead. The ancient Jews did not have a well-developed understanding of the afterlife. Their concept of the blessings of God was closely tied to life on this side of death, not beyond it. Which led Hezekiah to wonder whether his premature death was the result of his own sin. He couldn’t help but consider that he had somehow displeased God and his terminal illness was a form of divine punishment. For the Jews, disease was viewed as a sign of God’s displeasure. The apostle John records a scene from the life of Jesus that reflects this common misperception.

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” – John 9:1-2 NLT

The disciples were reflecting the commonly held view that blindness was a curse, not a blessing. So, this man or his parents must have done something that angered God and brought about his blindness.

Hezekiah shared this mindset and saw his illness as a curse from God. Which led Hezekiah to pray incessantly, his voice sounding like the coos of a dove as he moaned out his pleas for God’s mercy. And yet, he somehow believed that his calls for healing would be ineffectual.

“But what could I say?
    For he himself sent this sickness.
Now I will walk humbly throughout my years
    because of this anguish I have felt.” – Isaiah 38:15 NLT

His illness was God’s doing, and there was nothing he could do about it. But his poem takes a dramatic turn at this point. Suddenly, Hezekiah begins to reflect his gratefulness for the dark night of the soul he experienced.

“Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live!
Yes, this anguish was good for me,
    for you have rescued me from death
    and forgiven all my sins.” – Isaiah 38:16-17 NLT

God provided healing and the assurance that his life would be extended another 15 years. Hezekiah’s sorrow was immediately replaced with joy. His despair was replaced with delight in God’s mercy and unmerited favor. God was allowing him to live and, not only that, forgiving his sins in the process. Because Hezekiah believed his illness was the result of sin, his healing could only have happened if God forgave his sin.

You can sense Hezekiah’s rather earth-bound and limited view of life and the afterlife. From his human perspective, life was essential if one were going to praise God.

“For the dead cannot praise you;
    they cannot raise their voices in praise.
Those who go down to the grave
    can no longer hope in your faithfulness.” – Isaiah 38:18 NLT

He shared the commonly-held view that this life was where God’s blessings were to be enjoyed and where our devotion to God was to be displayed. You see this mindset reflected in the psalms.

The heavens belong to the Lord,
    but he has given the earth to all humanity.
The dead cannot sing praises to the Lord,
    for they have gone into the silence of the grave. – Psalm 115:16-17 NLT

Even King David had shared this view of life and death.

Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
    Save me because of your unfailing love.
For the dead do not remember you.
    Who can praise you from the grave? – Psalm 6:4-5 NLT

From Hezekiah’s perspective, long life provided an opportunity to praise God. “Only the living can praise you as I do today” (Isaiah 38:19 NLT). And he intended to take advantage of every single moment God was going to give him on this earth.

“I will sing his praises with instruments
every day of my life
    in the Temple of the Lord.” – Isaiah 38:20 NLT

Hezekiah’s desire to spend his remaining years praising God is commendable. His ecstatic reaction to the news of his healing is natural and normal. He had been facing certain death and, suddenly, he had been given a new lease on life. In the excitement of the moment, Hezekiah expressed his desire to repay God by dedicating his life to the praise and glory of God. And again, this reaction by Hezekiah is commendable, but it raises some unavoidable questions: Are we only willing to praise God when He gives us the desires of our heart? Had God not chosen to heal Hezekiah, would the king have praised the Almighty anyway? Would he have accepted the will of God even when it seemed to contradict his own human understanding of what it means to be blessed by God?

The prophet Habakkuk provides us with a much more balanced illustration of how we, as humans, should understand and respond to the seeming incongruities of life.

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
    and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
    and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
    and the cattle barns are empty,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
    I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! – Habakkuk 3:17-18 NLT

The apostle Paul shared this same viewpoint, declaring to the believers in Rome that, even in the face of trials and troubles, we have ample reason to praise God.

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. – Roman 5:3-5 NLT

In Hezekiah, we have reflected a similar but significantly different sentiment.

Lord, your discipline is good,
    for it leads to life and health.
You restore my health
    and allow me to live! – Isaiah 38:16 NLT

The question is whether we, as those who believe in the sovereignty of God, are willing to accept both the good and the bad of life as coming through His hands. It was right for Hezekiah to rejoice in God’s healing. It was appropriate for him to respond with praise and adoration at his miraculous restoration by God. But the fact is, God does not always heal. Things do not always turn out for the better. Those with terminal illnesses do not always receive an additional 15-years of life. But those facts do not alter the goodness of God. They do not do anything to diminish the divine sovereignty of God. In our greatest moments of darkness and despair, our attitude should be that of Job who, when facing the loss of all that he had, was able to say:

“Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?” – Job 2:10 NLT

Praising God in the good times is easy. Praising Him the difficult times requires faith and a strong belief that His will is always right and His plan, while not always clear to us, has our best interest in mind.

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

 

 

Striking and Healing.

16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women, and tremble with fear before the hand that the Lord of hosts shakes over them. 17 And the land of Judah will become a terror to the Egyptians. Everyone to whom it is mentioned will fear because of the purpose that the Lord of hosts has purposed against them.

18 In that day there will be five cities in the land of Egypt that speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord of hosts. One of these will be called the City of Destruction.

19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt. When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them. 21 And the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. 22 And the Lord will strike Egypt, striking and healing, and they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them.

23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.

24 In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:16-25 ESV

The key to understanding this section of the oracle delivered against the nation of Egypt is found in the repetitive statement, “in that day.” This is a reference to a future time when God will dramatically reverse the fortunes of the Egyptians. While, in the short-term, they would suffer defeat at the hands of the Assyrians, God reveals that there will be a day Egypt, Judah and the Assyrians will all worship Him together. 

God describes a future period of time when the Egyptians would fear the people of God. Rather than Judah having to beg Egypt for help against their enemies, the Egyptians would tremble in fear before the people of Judah and their almighty God. The oracle describes five Egyptian cities where Hebrew will be the primary language. Not only that, the inhabitants of those cities will swear allegiance to Yahweh, the Lord of Hosts. Quite a remarkable change of events. And it is quite obvious to see that these things have not yet taken place. But as far-fetched as these prophetic statements may seem to us, they should not be written off as being allegorical or metaphorical in nature. God is providing a glimpse into the eschatological future, the end times – a day when He will rectify all that is wrong on this earth. He is the Creator-God, and He will one day restore His creation to its former glory. That includes those who are made in His image – men from every tribe, nation, and tongue.

The text mentions one of the five Egyptian cities being called “the City of Destruction.” In the Hebrew, the word is haheres, which translates into “City of Destruction.” But in several of the older manuscripts from which the Scriptures are translated, the word hakheres is found, which translates into “City of the Sun.” Because of the positive nature of this section of the oracle, it seems that this option is the appropriate one. The Greek rendering of hakheres is Heliopolis, which was the name of one Egypt’s most ancient cities where the sun god, Re, was worshiped. It would appear that the oracle is revealing that the Egyptians will one day abandon their worship of their false gods for worship of the one true God.

Another amazing aspect of “that day” is the mention of “an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the Lord at its border” (Isaiah 19:19 ESV). In a land that had been long known for its pantheon of false gods, the mention of an altar to Yahweh is significant. These monuments dedicated to the God of Israel will act as a sign, reminding the people of Egypt that He alone is their source of sustenance and salvation. In fact, the text tells us, “When they cry to the Lord because of oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and deliver them” (Isaiah 19:20 ESV). The very God who had brought plagues against the Egyptians in the days of Moses, will one day be the God to whom they turn for help in times of trouble and, He will answer them, sending them a savior and defender. 

It is important to recall that, during the days in which Moses was attempting to free the people of Israel from Egypt, God had promised, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them” (Exodus 7:5 ESV). But the Egyptians had continued to reject God. Later on, after God had brought the seventh plague of hail against the land of Egypt, Moses had told Pharoah, “As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the Lord. The thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, so that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s. But as for you and your servants, I know that you do not yet fear the Lord God” (Exodus 9:29-30 ESV).

In spite of all the plagues God brought against the people of Egypt, they would continue to reject Him as God and refuse to fear Him. But Isaiah describes a day, a future day when all that will change.

…the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day and worship with sacrifice and offering, and they will make vows to the Lord and perform them. – Isaiah 19:21 ESV

The prophet Zechariah spoke of that very same day.

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. – Zechariah 14:16-19 ESV

The oracle of God reveals the dual nature of His relationship with mankind. It speaks of Him “striking and healing” the Egyptians. He will bring judgment, but He will also extend mercy. The Hebrew word translated as “striking” is nagaph and it refers to the striking with a fatal plague, sickness or death. But the Hebrew word translated as “healing” is rapha' and it is best understood as, not so much a physical healing, but a restoration to favor. In fact, the text describes the Egyptians as returning (shuwb) to the Lord.

…they will return to the Lord, and he will listen to their pleas for mercy and heal them. – Isaiah 19:22 ESV

This is interesting phrasing because, in reality, the people of Egypt never worshiped God. And yet, they are described as returning to Him. This seems to be a picture of fallen mankind being restored to the former relationship Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden, before the fall. Man was made in the image of God and meant to have an ongoing, unbroken relationship with Him. But sin severed that relationship. And yet, God, in His mercy, will one day restore fallen men. This is not a promise that all men will be saved, but that men from every tribe, nation and tongue will one day worship before the God who made them. The book of Revelation speaks of a day when a great multitude will stand before God’s throne.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!” – Revelation 7:9-10 NLT

And Isaiah tells of a day when the nations will exist together in harmony. There will be a road leading all the way from Egypt to Assyria, winding its way through the land of Judah. And rather than armies marching along this road to wage war against one another, the Egyptians and Assyrians will use this highway to worship God together. Isaiah describes a God-ordained alliance between Israel, Assyria, and Egypt. He will one day bring the nations together in unity, joined by a common worship of and reverence for Himself. And rather than bringing judgment against the nations, God will bless them.

“Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” – Isaiah 19:25 ESV

During Isaiah’s day, the people of God were attempting to create unity through alliances. But these alliances were premature and not God-ordained. God was not interested in Israel or Judah placing their hope in these nations. He wanted them to trust Him. If they would, He would bless them. In a sense, they were trying to face-forward God’s will by doing things their way. Too often, we fail to understand that God has a plan that far surpasses our comprehension. We can’t see into the future, and so, we find ourselves focusing on the here-and-now, and attempting to fix our problems in our own strength. But it is far better to trust in and wait on 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

The Battle Lines Are Drawn.

14 And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,

“‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
    you have prepared praise’?”

17 And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. –  Matthew 21:14-17 ESV

After having cleansed His Father’s house, Jesus proceeded to return it to its rightful status as a place of healing and hope. When Solomon had prayed the prayer of dedication over the original temple, he had asked of God, “listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30 ESV). Solomon deeply desired that the magnificent building he had constructed would be a place where God’s presence dwelt and where those who approached God in humility could find forgiveness and restoration. Which is why he had prayed, “whatever plague, whatever sickness there is, whatever prayer, whatever plea is made by any man or by all your people Israel, each knowing the affliction of his own heart and stretching out his hands toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place and forgive and act and render to each whose heart you know, according to all his ways (for you, you only, know the hearts of all the children of mankind)” (1 Kings 8:37-39 ESV).

With His cleansing of the temple, Jesus had made the temple a place of prayer once again. As He walked through its courtyards, the crowds came to Him, the blind and the lame somehow made their way to Him. And Matthew simply states, “He healed them.” And these would be the last healings Jesus would perform in His earthly ministry. Here in His Father’s house, he was extending mercy and grace to those who come to Him with their physical afflictions. And, as Solomon had prayed, Jesus, who knows the hearts of all the children of mankind, saw past their physical infirmities and longed to restore their more serious spiritual condition. Which is why, within days, He would offer Himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.

But the reaction of the scribes and Pharisees speaks volumes. Matthew states that when these men saw “saw the wonderful things that he did,” they became indignant. The Greek word translated as “wonderful” refers to something miraculous or marvelous, and worthy of admiration. But instead, these men were filled with indignation or displeasure. The were appalled, not awed. Rather than rendering worship to God for what they were seeing, they reacted with anger. They were offended by the shouts of the children who were declaring, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And they asked Jesus if He was hearing what the children were saying.

And Jesus calmly responded to them, quoting from one of the psalms, of which they would have been familiar.

You have taught children and infants
    to tell of your strength,
silencing your enemies
    and all who oppose you. – Psalm 8:2 NLT

Earlier, when Jesus had first entered Jerusalem, the crowds had shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:38 ESV). And the Pharisees had demanded the Jesus rebuke them. But Jesus had told them, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40 ESV). The reality of Jesus’ identity was going to be revealed one way or the other. And now, the children were crying out and declaring that Jesus was the Messiah. These innocent, humble children saw what the well-educated, religious leaders could not see.

These men were not stupid. They could see that much of what was taking place around them was further proof of Jesus’ Messiahship. But they refused to admit it or accept it. The shouts of the children were a verbal confirmation, echoing the sentiments of the crowds surrounding Jesus. But the scribes and Pharisees remained stubbornly opposed to Jesus, and blind to the evidence taking place all around them. And yet, they could sense the tide was turning. They were losing control. The influence of Jesus was increasing with each passing day. And as it did, their anger grew and their desperation to do something about this threat to their power and influence escalated dramatically.

There is a spiritual battle taking place behind this somewhat idyllic scene. We picture Jesus healing the lame and the blind. In our mind’s ear, we hear the praises of the children. But behind this peaceful and harmonious scene lie the wreckage and confusion left by Jesus as a result of his angry assault on the moneychangers and vendors He had found in the court of the Gentiles. Among the overturned tables and amidst the bleating sheep and bellowing oxen, there were vendors trying to restore order to their once lucrative booths. And there, lurking in the dark corners, were the religious leaders of Israel, shaking their heads in indignation and disgust. Jesus had once again disrupted the status quo. He had invaded their turf and rocked their religious world. And behind these men stood the prince of this world, Satan himself. He saw Jesus as a threat to his rule and reign, and was willing to do anything to eliminate Him.

Jesus, in a last display of His divine powers, healed the blind and the lame. Satan, in a last-ditch attempt to thwart the plans of God, would use his influence over the spiritually blind and those sickened by sin, to turn them against the Messiah. The forces of wickedness were gathering against the Son of God. The battle for the souls of mankind was about to take place. And here, in the temple courtyard, we see the primary participants in this epic struggle gathering for what will be a spiritual showdown in the city of Jerusalem.

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

Justice to Victory.

9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
    my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
    nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
20 a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” – Matthew 12:1-9-21 ESV

Jesus had just claimed, “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” and now He was going to prove it. Immediately after wrapping up His discussion with the Pharisees about the Sabbath, Jesus entered their local synagogue. Matthew records that there was a man in the congregation who had a withered hand. His hand was evidently shrunken and paralyzed and clearly visible to all those around him. It’s not clear whether this man was a regular member of the congregation or had been arranged by the Pharisees as a plant, in order to trap Jesus. But they immediately seized the opportunity in order to place Jesus in a predicament. They asked Him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” And Matthew makes it clear that their intent was to trick Him into giving a wrong answer so they might accuse Him of disobeying their laws. According to their oral tradition, it was only legal to provide medical attention if the individual’s life was in jeopardy. In all other cases, it would be considered working on the Sabbath.

It’s evident that these knew Jesus could heal. They had seen Him do it. Their real issue with Him was that He didn’t seem to keep their laws. He was operating outside the scope of their authority and creating a potentially dangerous precedence for all those who followed Him.

As Jesus was prone to do, He answered their question with a question: “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11 ESV). The Jews had a litany of man-made rules for all kinds of things, including the treatment of animals. And they had strict commandments regarding anything that had to do with relieving physical suffering.

[If] one has an ache in his teeth he may not rinse them with vinegar, but he may dip [his food] as usual [in vinegar and eat normally], and if he becomes healed, he becomes healed. [If] one has pains in his loins he may not anoint with wine or with vinegar; he may [however] anoint with oil, but not rose oil. – Mishnah, Shabbat 14

Even relieving tooth pain could be construed as work, if not done in the properly prescribed manner. But when it came to animals, it seems that the Pharisees had developed workarounds or loopholes that would allow them to violate their own laws in order to care for them. This was evidently due to the fact that viewed their animals as property and, therefore, of monetary value.

We are permitted to violate Shabbat to a limited extent to rescue an animal in pain or at risk of death. For example, we can move them if they are in pain, move objects that we would not otherwise be permitted to touch to relieve their pain, we may give them medicine, and we may ask non-Jews to do things that would violate Shabbat to help a suffering animal. – www.jewfaq.org

Jesus was well aware of these laws and His knowledge provided the background for His question. He knew they would do everything in their power to rescue their own sheep if it fell into a pit – even if it meant violating the Sabbath. They had created loopholes to their own laws that allowed them to remain guiltless if they broke them. But these men cared nothing for the man with the withered hand, placing far greater value on their own commandments. And Jesus summarized His views on the entire matter with the simple and succinct statement: “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:12 ESV). The Lord of the Sabbath proved His authority over the Sabbath by restoring this man’s hand – with just a word. And while the man was healed, the Pharisees were incensed. Rather than rejoice in this man’s miraculous restoration, they began to plot as to how they could destroy Jesus.

So, Jesus, aware of the anger of the Pharisees, moved on, and found Himself once again trailing a wake of followers, most of whom were curious rather than committed. But Jesus continued to heal and restore those who came to Him with their physical infirmities. But curiously, Jesus commanded all those He healed to remain silent about what He had done. He knew that human nature would prompt these people to tell anyone and everyone about their supernatural healing. But Jesus was on a divine timeline. He was operating on the Father’s schedule and was wary of the people attempting for force His hand by prematurely announcing Him as the Messiah. And Matthew makes it clear that Jesus had come to fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, but in a way that the people of Israel neither expected or desired. In quoting from Isaiah 42, Matthew pointed out the humble, meek nature of the Messiah. His first appearance would not be as a conquering king, but as a suffering servant. He would come without fanfare, speaking quietly and acting gently. He would extend mercy and grace to all, including the Gentiles. This description of the Messiah would have conflicted greatly with the expectations of the Jews.

Jesus showed compassion to the “bruised reeds” and “smoldering wicks.” And He would do so until He brought “justice to victory.” It would be through His death on the cross that Jesus would conquer man’s greatest enemies: Sin and death. During His earthly ministry, He healed many of their physical infirmities. He even raised the dead back to life. But Jesus came to give new life, in the form of a restored relationship with God the Father and complete forgiveness from sin and release from eternal condemnation. The apostle Paul provides us with encouraging words that should remind us of just how great a gift has been offered to us by God through the sacrificial death of His own Son.

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. 53 For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies.

54 Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.
55 O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-57 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

Not for the Feint of Heart.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” – Matthew 10:34-42 ESV

The message of Jesus Christ is divisive in nature. It demands a reaction. It polarizes and stirs controversy because it is not of this world. It has already become clear that Jesus’ very presence on the earth had stirred up trouble. Satan had tried to tempt Him in the wilderness, attempting to keep Him from His appointed duties as Messiah. The Pharisees have labeled Him as a troublemaker and potential source of conflict and controversy. So, as Jesus prepared to send His disciples on their first independent foray into the world with the message of the Kingdom, He warned them about the dangers they would encounter. What they had to say would not always be well-received. But He didn’t want that to surprise or defeat them. While they must have believed that the news of the Messiah’s arrival would be met with excitement and enthusiasm, especially among the Jews, Jesus wanted them to know that His presence on earth was actually going to cause a great deal of conflict. It would divide families, pitting children against their parents, and disrupting entire households.

But Jesus wanted His disciples to know that the message of Gospel was going to end up causing a lot of strife. And at this point in their relationship with Jesus, the disciples had no way of knowing about His eventual death. They were still under the impression that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah who was going to set up His Kingdom on earth – in Jerusalem. He would reign with power, just as David had. He would return the people of Israel to power and prominence. But little did they know that their Messiah was going to have to suffer and die. And after His death, resurrection and ascension, their message of the good news was going to become even more controversial. 

Paul would later write of the incredible news regarding Jesus, that would become the essence of the good news he and the other apostles would bring to the world.

1 Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-5 ESV

That message would leave many incredulous and others furious. Paul would find himself under constant attack for sharing the good news regarding Jesus. He would be arrested multiple times, thrown into jail, beaten, and even stoned and left for dead. And Paul would learn the invaluable lesson that faith in Christ would require commitment and a refusal to compromise. Those who accepted the message of Jesus Christ would have to make the difficult choice between following Him and maintaining their relationships with family and friends. Because as Jesus said in His sermon on the mount, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14 ESV).

Each and every individual who hears the Gospel will be forced to choose between this life and the life to come. They will be required to place their faith in the message of salvation from sin and death made possible through the sacrifice of the sinless Son of God. Or they will have the option of putting all their hope in this life. Jesus describes this difficult choice of accepting the Gospel message as taking up your cross. It will prove uncomfortable at times. It will result in conflict and difficulty.

But there is a reward associated with the message of Jesus Christ. The disciples would discover that their faithful obedience to their assignment from Jesus would come with some incredible benefits. And after His eventual ascension back into heaven and the arrival of the Holy Spirit, they would find themselves filled and equipped with a power like nothing they had ever experienced before. Their work would be dangerous and difficult, but they would be provided with a source of strength and wisdom beyond their wildest dreams. And the same thing would be true for all who received their message.

In their role as the messengers of Jesus, the disciples would be acting as prophets, speaking on His behalf and carrying the message of God. Those who listened to them would receive the reward of the prophet. This seems to be a reference to the good news that the prophet of God offered. Prophets tended to have two messages – one was a message of pending judgment for those who refuse to listen, and the other was a message of forgiveness and restoration to those who hear and obey the words of the prophet. In the same way, all those who would hear and obey the good news regarding Jesus would receive the reward of eternal life. And for those who receive the message of Jesus’ righteousness as the Son of God and Savior of the world, will be rewarded with His righteousness as their own.

To wrap up His message, Jesus turned His attention to those who would hear what His disciples had to say. For all those who treated His messengers with respect by offering them even a cup of cold water, would find themselves rewarded for their effort. Their kindness would be an indication of their receptivity of the messenger and their message.

The disciples of Jesus were about to enter an exciting new era in their relationship with Jesus. They would be the ones dessiminating the message and working the miracles. No longer would they be spectators. They were about to enter the game. But Jesus wanted them to know that their mission would be accompanied by difficulty. And the day was coming when He would leave them behind, returning to His Father in heaven, and assigning them with the formidable task of taking the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

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

Blind and Mute.

27 And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, “See that no one knows about it.” 31 But they went away and spread his fame through all that district.

32 As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. 33 And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.” – Matthew 9:27-34 ESV

This particular story opens up much like one in chapter eight. On the earlier occasion, Jesus found Himself confronted by another two men, but they happened to be demon-possessed, not blind. But like the blind men, they cried out to Jesus. 

And behold, they cried out, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” – Matthew 8:29 ESV

Notice the difference? These two men were crying out, but it was the voices of the demons or spirits inside them that were doing the talking. Yet, they acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God, a clear reference to His deity. They knew He was God, and we know from the story, that they were, in essence, asking Jesus for mercy because they begged Him to cast them into a herd of swine rather than face an early and inevitable judgment at His hands. Now, take note of the words of the two blind me in this story. They too cried out for mercy from Jesus, but in their own voices. And they also addressed Jesus with a title, but the one they used was “Son of David.” This is a Messianic title and it reveals that this two men believed Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah and that He had the power to heal them. It’s significant that they did not call Him Son of David, because it indicates that they, like most Jews, did not view the coming Messiah as a part of the Godhead. He would be a God-appointed king, like David. So, these two men are not worshiping Jesus as God, but simply indicating their belief in Him as Messiah. But it ironic that these two blind me were able to “see” who Jesus was in spite of their lack of physical sight. Their desperate need gave them a spiritual vision that others with full use of their physical sight lacked.

When Jesus asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?,” they replied, “Yes, Lord.” Then, Jesus, touching their eyes, said, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29 ESV). And Matthew records that they were immediately healed. Their sight was restored. They had not asked for the restoration of their sight, but Jesus had clearly understood what they meant when they had asked for mercy.

But what did Jesus mean when He told them “According to your faith be it done to you?” Was He saying that they had been healed in proportion to their faith? Was it the degree of their faith that resulted in their healing? A more accurate translation of Jesus’ response might be, “since you believed.” It was not the strength of their faith that healed them, but the very fact that they had placed their faith in Jesus’ ability to bring their healing about. They had come to Him with their need and believed that He could do something about it. The point of the story is not the amount of faith they displayed, but the one on whom their faith was focused.

And as with the leper he had healed earlier, Jesus commanded these two men to tell no one what He had done. Unlike some of Jesus’ other healings, this one was done indoors, in relative privacy. But why would Jesus command these men to keep their healing a secret? I think a big reason for Jesus’ stern warning was His concern that, should the people recognise Him as the Messiah, they would attempt to force Him to abandon His primary mission from God and fulfill their false expectations of the Messiah. They were waiting for a savior, but one who would deliver them from the oppression of the Romans and restore the Jews to power and prominence once again. But that is not why Jesus had come. His God-given assignment was to suffer and die at the hands of men, giving His life as a ransom for man (Matthew 20:28). There will be a day when He establishes His Kingdom in Israel and rules from the throne of David, but that will not be until His second coming. Jesus will repeatedly warn those He has healed to keep His designation as the Messiah a secret because He was determined to complete the task assigned to Him by His Father in heaven.

Matthew follows up this story with yet another healing of a demon-possessed man. But there are some interesting contrasts in this particular scenario. First of all, the man is described by Matthew as mute. He is not only demon-possessed but stricken with a physical disability. And if you recall, when Jesus had been approached previously by the two other demon-possessed men, they had cried out to him. But the demons had used the voice boxes of the two men they were possessing. In this case, the demon was unable to address Jesus. It could not cause the man to speak. And it was not until Jesus had cast the demon out, that the man’s voice was restored. Jesus performed two miracles at one. He cast out a demon and restored the man’s ability to speak. But what is significant is that the demon lacked the power to produce sound from the man’s damaged vocal chords. The demon, while powerful, was incapable of replicating the works of Jesus.

And upon seeing what Jesus had done, the crowds responded with amazement, saying, “Never was anything like this seen in Israel” (Matthew 9:33 ESV). This is an interesting reaction, because it is clear from Matthew’s account, that Jesus had performed many other miracles of equal, in not greater, significance.

That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. – Matthew 8:16 ESV

But their reaction indicates the growing degree of amazement among the people as they watched Jesus perform His miracles. They were witnesss to something never before seen in Israel. And yet, Jesus was simply fulfilling the very role the prophets had attributed to the coming Messiah.

5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert… – Isaiah 35:5-6 ESV

But the Pharisees, reflecting their growing jealousy of Jesus and the spiritual hardness of their own hearts, retort that Jesus “casts out demons by the prince of demons” (Matthew 9:34 ESV). They didn’t deny that the miracle had happened, but declared that its source was demonic and not of God. They accused Jesus of being in league with Satan. And this will not be the last time they make such an accusation. Matthew will later record another encounter between Jesus and a demon-possessed man. And when Jesus heals him, the people will ask, “Can this be the Son of David?” (Matthew 11:23 ESV). But the Pharisees will once again respond, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Matthew 11:24 ESV). They cannot bring themselves to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. These men, with full use of their physical sight, were blind to the reality of who Jesus was.

John records a rather heated exchange between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders. In it, Jesus reveals that these men, while heavily steeped in the Old Testament Scriptures, were ignorant of who He was. They studied the Word of God, but failed to recognize the Son of God when He was standing right in front of them.

36 But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. You have never heard his voice or seen him face to face, 38 and you do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me—the one he sent to you.

39 “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.

41 “Your approval means nothing to me, 42 because I know you don’t have God’s love within you. 43 For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me.” – John 5:36-43 NLT

They rejected Jesus. They were spiritually blind and incapable of seeing Him for who He really was. And while they could speak, they used their voices to falsely accuse Jesus of operating in the power of Satan. They could see. They could speak. But they missed the one who could have given them spiritual insight and the ability to verbally praise God for His mercy and grace.

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

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

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

The Focus of Faith.

18 While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” 19 And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. 20 And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, 21 for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. 23 And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, 24 he said, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 25 But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. 26 And the report of this went through all that district. – Matthew 9:18-26 ESV

Jesus and His disciples had just sailed back across the Sea of Galilee to the village of Capernaum. Before they could get out of the boat they were surrounded by a crowd of people who had been waiting for Jesus to return. Among them was Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue. He made his way through the throng of people surrounding Jesus and fell at His feet, begging Him to come and heal his 12-year-old daughter, who was near death. We knew from Mark’s account of this very same story, that the man’s name was Jairus and that he was “one of the rulers of the synagogue” (Mark 22 ESV). As they made their way to the man's home, the crowd followed, pressing in on Jesus. They were all there for a variety of reasons. Some were simply curious. Others hoped to receive healing. Still others, influenced by the rhetoric of the religious leaders, were there because they hated Jesus. But one woman in the crowd was desperate and determined to see if this man called Jesus could help her with a very serious problem. Imagine the scene, as hundreds of people crowded around Jesus, jostling Him, bumping up against Him. Everyone wanted to get a closer look at Him. And somehow this very ill woman was able to make her way to His side, close enough to touch the hem of His robe. That was all she dared to do. She didn't dare do what the leader of the synagogue had done. She probably felt unworthy because of the nature of her physical infirmity. According to the Mosaic law, she would have been considered unclean.

But she was driven by hope. She had heard about Jesus. And Mark tells us, "she thought to herself, 'If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed'" (Mark 5:28 NLT). Driven by need, motivated by desperation, and encouraged by hope, she touched the robe of Jesus and was immediately healed. After 12 long years of suffering and countless trips to doctors that had left her financially destitute and worse off than when she started, she was healed. With just a touch of the robe of Jesus, she had received the miracle of healing.

And Jesus knew exactly what had happened. He had felt healing power go out from Him. So Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" (Luke 8:45 NLT). Interestingly, the word Jesus used for “touched” is one that can be translated, "to fasten oneself to." It carries a sense of intimacy and closeness. Her touch was of a different nature than all the others who were bumping up against Jesus. Some in the crowd had viewed Jesus as a celebrity. This woman saw Him as a source of hope, help and healing. And when she touched Him, she did so fully intending for something unbelievable to happen. And it did.

Jesus takes the time to point out something special about this woman. He states, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well” (Matthew (9:22 ESV). But this statement can be misunderstood and misconstrued. Is Jesus really saying that it was this woman’s faith that provided her healing? Was it the source of and power behind her miraculous cure? No, it was Jesus. He had provided her healing. Her faith was simply the means by which she availed herself of the power available through Him. Her faith activated His compassion and made possible her cure. The important thing to consider is the source of her faith. It was Jesus. She truly believed that a single touch of His robe would provide the thing she needed most: Healing. 

But it’s interesting to note that Jesus said nothing of the faith of Jairus and yet, he had said to Jesus, “My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live” (Matthew 9:18 ESV). His daughter was dead, but he seemed to believe that Jesus could raise her back to life. I would call that faith. But Jesus doesn’t say a word about it. Why? We may gain some insight if we compare the response of Jairus to that of the centurion in the previous chapter. The Roman had stated that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word. And yet, Jairus seemed to believe that any hope of healing his daughter would require a touch from the hand of Jesus. His faith, while evident, had some caveats attached to it.

If we look at Mark’s account of this same story, he seems to indicate that the man’s daughter was “near death” when he approached Jesus. She was on the verge of death. But by the time Jesus showed up at Jairus’ house, she had died. And it was upon hearing this news that Jairus lost all hope. Because Jesus immediately said to him, “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36 ESV). Her death had done a number on his faith. Suddenly, all thoughts of his daughter being “made well” (Mark 5:23 ESV) were gone. But Jesus was far from done. Death was not an obstacle to Him, and more than the woman’s issue of blood and unclean state.

Jesus, upon seeing the mourners and the commotion they were causing, dimissed them, saying, “Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping” (Matthew 9:24 ESV). And they all laughed in His face. They viewed His response as either insensitive or simply stupid. He didn’t know what He was talking about. But Matthew matter-of-factly states, “he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose” (Matthew 9:25 ESV).

Mark provides us with a bit more detail:

41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. – Mark 5:41-42 ESV

A woman was healed. A young girl was raised back to life. All because of Jesus. There was no problem too great for Him to handle. There were no individuals He deemed unworthy of His healing touch. Romans, widows, adolescents, the lame, the unclean and the demon-possessed all found in Jesus a source of hope and healing. But the key is that they came to Jesus. The took the problem to the only viable source of a solution.

Now, think about the crowd that surrounded Jesus that day. We have no idea how many were there, but we do know that they were all trying to come into contact with Jesus. They were following Him and wanted to gain access to Him. And while many of them touched Him that day, only one walked away healed.

You see, there are so many times that each of us come into touch with Jesus. We read about Him in the Word. We hear about Him through a sermon, Bible study lesson or small group study. We spend a great deal of our lives "bumping" into Jesus, but never expecting anything to happen as a result. We are part of the crowd that follows Him and even says we believe in Him, but we rarely receive anything from Him. Maybe it is our seeming lack of need or our failure to believe that He can do anything to help us. We come into contact with Jesus, but walk away unchanged. And the problem lies not with Jesus, but with us. We don't reach out to Him expectantly, because we fail to believe He has the power to heal us or help us. The woman in the story had spent twelve years of her life reaching out to everyone but Jesus, and now she was desperate enough to try Him instead. Jesus told her that it was her faith that made her well. Yes, it was His power that healed her, but it began with her belief that simply reaching out to Jesus would make a different in her life. Her touch became the conduit of healing. Her faith as expressed through her intentional touch of Jesus changed her life forever. She chose to "fasten herself" to Jesus. So should we.

In the time it took for this miracle to happen, a tragedy occured. Jairus' daughter died. A servant arrived with the news, but Jesus was not deterred or downcast. He simply said, "Don't be afraid. Just have faith, and she will be healed" (Luke 8:50 NLT). Like the woman in the crowd, Jairus had a choice to make. He could have doubted Jesus' words and given up all hope. But he chose to believe and then put that belief into action by walking alongside Jesus to his home. Matthew records that Jairus, upon hearing of his daughter's death, told Jesus, "you can bring her back to life again if you just come and lay your hand on her" (Matthew 9:18 NLT). Which is exactly what Jesus did. He took the little girl by the hand, commanded her to get up, and she did – fully alive and fully restored. Jairus had chosen to believe. He ignored the circumstances and "fastened himself" to Jesus. He counted on Him to solve his pressing need. And Jesus did. He always does. He longs to feel healing power go from Himself in response to the faith of His followers. He longs to respond to the faith of His disciples when they choose to fasten themselves to Him even in the face of insurmountable odds. Are you willing to reach out and touch Jesus today? He is waiting.

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

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

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

A Healing, a Calling, and a Calming.

14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

18 Now when Jesus saw a crowd around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. 19 And a scribe came up and said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” 20 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 22 And Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”

23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” – Matthew 8:14-27 ESV

In these three short narratives, Matthew provides us with condensed glimpse into the life of Jesus. He uses these three scenes to reveal not only the kinds of circumstances Jesus regularly encountered, but to further support his claim that Jesus was the Messiah.

The first involved the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus found her bedridden, suffering from a fever. In the Hebrew mindset, a fever was seen as a disease, not simply a symptom of something more serious. We are not told what was causing this woman’s fever, but only that Jesus healed her with a touch of His hand. And Matthew indicates that her healing was immediate and complete. There was no lingering weakness or recovery time necessary. She was able to get up out of bed and serve Jesus and His disciples. It’s important to notice that there is no expression of faith mentioned in this story. Unlike the leper and the centurion, Peter’s mother-in-law said nothing and showed no sign of belief in Jesus. And there is no indication that Peter had asked Jesus to come to his home in order to heal his mother-in-law. Jesus saw the woman’s need and, in an act of mercy, healed her. As always, word of this miracle got out and that evening Jesus found Himself surrounded by more people desiring to be healed. Matthew tells us that Jesus cast out demons and healed all those who were sick, and all in fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy found in Isaiah 53:4:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…

For Matthew, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and the subsequent miracles performed by Jesus that evening were all further proofs that Jesus was the Messiah.

Jesus performed His miracles without discrimination or prejudice. He healed an unclean leper, a pagan centurion, the Jewish mother-in-law of one of His followers, and a host of other unnamed individuals who suffered from all manner of diseases and disorders, including demon possession. Again, there is no indication that these people expressed faith in Jesus or declared their belief in Him as their Messiah. They simply came to Him in hopes of receiving healing, and Matthew records, “he healed all who were sick.”

Jesus did not turn away any of those who came to Him with their needs. And these acts of physical restoration provide a foretaste of the spiritual restoration that Jesus would make possible by His death.

…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Matthew 20:28 ESV

Jesus would be a equal opportunity Savior, offering His life as a ransom or payment for the sins of many. He would die on behalf of Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, the educated and uneducated, and slaves and freemen. The people Jesus healed had done nothing to earn their restoration to health. And those whom Jesus saves find themselves the undeserving recipients of God’s grace as made possible through the selfless sacrifice of His Son.

As always, the healing ministry of Jesus attracted followers. News of His miracles spread quickly and the number of His followers increased exponentially. Which is exactly what Matthew records in the next vignette. As Jesus attempted to sail to the other side of the lake to escape the crush of the crowds, a scribe approached Jesus, boldly declaring, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go” (Matthew 8:19 ESV). This man was an expert in the Mosaic law and he is obviously intrigued by Jesus. So much so, that he indicated his desire to follow Jesus as one of His disciples. This was not an indication that the man believed Jesus to be the Messiah. He addressed Jesus as “teacher,” which was nothing more than a display of his respect. And Jesus seems to have seen through the man’s intentions, declaring, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20 ESV). This was less a statement of Jesus’ poverty than it was a declaration of His vagabond lifestyle. He rarely stayed in one place very long, but traveled all throughout the region of Judea, lacking any place that He could truly call home. The most important part of Jesus’ statement was His reference to Himself as the Son of Man. This term is used 80 times in the gospels and, in virtually every case, it is a clear reference to Jesus as Messiah. This scribe was not following Jesus because he believed Him to be the Messiah. He saw Jesus as a popular teacher who was attracting vast crowds of people, but nothing more. And Jesus knew the day would come when men like this would lose interest in His ministry and message.

Matthew follows this encounter with yet another one that involves a disciple stating his desire to follow Jesus, but asking for permission to bury his father first. This man was asking for a leave of absence in order to take care of a pressing family matter, but Jesus somewhat callously replied, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Matthew 8:22 ESV). As He had done with His 12 disciples, Jesus called this man to follow Him, and that call involved a leaving and forsaking of everything and everyone. It was to involve an all-out commitment to the cause of Christ. And it would seem that this man was unwilling or unable to to make that kind of commitment. Receiving healing from Jesus is easy, but following after Him requires commitment and involves cost. 

The third scene described by Matthew involved Jesus and His disciples in a boat. As they sailed across the Sea of Galilee, a fierce storm arose, swamping the boat with waves and pelting the disciples with rain. But while all this was happening, Jesus slept, undisturbed and seemingly unconcerned. In fear for their lives, the disciples wake Jesus up and demand that He save them. What were they expecting Him to do? While they had seen Jesus perform acts of healing, they had no way of knowing that He had power over the wind and waves. But in their fear and desperation, they called out to Him. And Jesus, rather than immediately solving their perceived problem, addressed the real danger they faced: Their lack of faith.

“Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” – Matthew 8:26 ESV

These men had seen Jesus do the impossible. He had healed the sick and cast out demons from the possessed. And while none of them suffered from a physical ailment that required the healing touch of Jesus, they suddenly found themselves in desperate need of salvation. Their lives were in danger. They were at the mercy of the elements, facing certain death, and there was nothing they could do to remedy the situation – in spite of the fact that many of the men on that boat were seasoned fishermen.

Evidently, none of the disciples had an answer for Jesus’ question, because Matthew records that Jesus “rose and rebuked the winds and the sea.” In the original Greek, that word, “rebuked” means “to admonish, reprove, censure severely.” Jesus didn’t just speak to the wind and waves, He scolded them. He read them the riot act. The life-threatening fierceness of the storm came face-to-face with the power of the Messiah. The Savior attacked the very thing that was threatening the lives and intimidating the faith of His followers. And at His word the storm immediately ceased. Matthew states that there was a great calm, which not only refers to the elements, but to the hearts of the disciples. They had been miraculously saved from certain death by the Savior. And all they could say was, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Little did they know that this scene was to serve as foretaste of the greater salvation to come. Jesus came, not just to calm the storms of life, but to rebuke the spiritual wind and waves of the enemy that threaten to overwhelm the lives of men. These 12 men would would day discover that their greatest foe was not the elements of nature, but the prince of this world. And their greatest fear was not that of physical death, but eternal separation from God the Father. But Jesus had come to defeat sin and death, and to calm the spiritual storm created by Satan and intended to drown mankind in the tempest of temptation.

55 “O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. – 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 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

I Will…Part 2.

5 When he had entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, appealing to him, 6 “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” 7 And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go; let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. – Matthew 8:5-13 ESV

Matthew follows up the story of Jesus healing the leper with another surprising account of His healing of a Roman centurion’s servant. While we typically make much of the centurion’s display of faith, which Jesus does as well, we too often overlook the more subtle, yet equally significant statement made by Jesus in verses 11-12:

11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. 

The centurion was a Roman and, thus, a Gentile. He was a commander over 100 Roman soldiers, and it is likely that his servant, who was paralyzed, was also a Gentile. As Jesus entered into the city of Capernaum, He was accompanied by His 12 Jewish disciples and, more than likely, had a sizeable crowd of other Jews tagging along in hopes of seeing Him perform yet another miracle. So, Matthew sets up an interesting confrontation as this Roman military commander, a Gentile, approaches Jesus and requests the healing of his paralzyed servant. The 12 disciples and the other Jews in Jesus’ entourage would have been shocked at the centurion’s boldness. How dare he, a Gentile, approach Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, with a request of this nature. The Jews despised Gentiles and weren’t exactly fond of the Romans either. They viewed Rome as an occupying force that kept the Jewish nation in subjection through their military presence and economically stifling taxation requirements.

The Jews would have been appalled at the audacity of this Gentile’s request and eager to hear what Jesus would say in response. After all, he was a pagan, Gentile, Roman, and a member of the occupying military force. And he was requesting the healing of his Gentile servant. It’s likely that the Jews fully expected Jesus to turn down the man’s request. And later on in Matthew’s Gospel, he records an encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman, who came to Jesus asking that He heal her daughter.

22 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” – Matthew 15:22-23 ESV

Notice that the disciples begged Jesus to send the woman away, fully expecting Jesus to turn down her audacious request. And, at first glance, it would appear that Jesus agreed with them.

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” – Matthew 15:24-26 ESV

Jesus confesses that He had come to be the Messiah of Israel, having been born a Jew and a descendant of David, the great king of Israel. He even suggests that it would be inappropriate to give to a Gentile what had been intended for the Jews. But look carefully at the woman’s response:

27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” – Matthew 15:27 ESV

She recognizes and fully admits her unworthiness, but appeals to Jesus’ mercy, begging Him for nothing more than the healing of her daughter. And Jesus responded:

28 “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:29 ESV

Like the centurion, this woman had come to Jesus out of desparation. Her need was great and she had nowhere else to turn. These two Gentiles, a Canaanite and a Roman, had heard of the miraculous works of Jesus and took the chance that He might use His power to their loved ones. And both displayed a faith that Jesus commends. The centurion believed that Jesus could heal his servant with just a word. He somehow knew that Jesus had authority, given to Him by God, that would allow Him to heal from a distance. The Canaanite woman believed that Jesus was gracious and good, and would be willing to use His God-given power to heal her daughter. And in both cases, Jesus answered their requests. 

But back to verses 11-12. As surprised as the disciples would have been at Jesus agreeing to heal the centurion’s servant, they would have found this statement absolutely shocking. But Jesus was simply quoting from the Old Testament, reminding His Jewish followers of what God had already said would happen.

11 For from the east to the west my name will be great among the nations. Incense and pure offerings will be offered in my name everywhere, for my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord who rules over all. – Malachi 1:11 NET

2 It shall come to pass in the latter days
    that the mountain of the house of the Lord
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
3     and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
    to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
    and that we may walk in his paths.” – Isaiah 2:2-3 ESV

Yes, Jesus had come to the Jews and He would continue to minister among them, declaring Himself to be their Messiah and Savior. But He knew there was a day coming when the message of salvation would be made available to all, Jews and Gentiles. With His coming death and resurrection, the offer of salvation through grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone would be opened up to all men, regardless of their ethnicity. And the day will come when people from every tribe, nation and tongue will stand before God the Father and Jesus Christ, His Son, in the eternal Kingdom.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 NLT

In the early days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He was focused primarily on the Jews. But every now and then, He gives His disciples a glimpse of the future agenda of the Kingdom. He had come for all. The Jewish people, chosen by God, had always been intended to be a light to the nations, but they had failed. So, Jesus came to be a light to the world.

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 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 Jews would end up rejecting Him as their Messiah, convincing the Romans to crucify Him. But Jesus would rise again, being restored back to life by the power of the Holy Spirit. And it would be this message of Jesus’ resurrection that the disciples would one day take to the nations. The apostle Paul summarized the Gospel message quite succinctly in his letter to the Galatian believers.

3 I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. 4 He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. – 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 NLT

A Gentile came to Jesus requesting the healing of his servant and Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But even more significant than that statement was Jesus’ claim that Gentiles would be present in the Kingdom of God. He came to give His life for all men of every tribe, nation and tongue. And while it would be a long time before the disciples got their heads around that concept, the day would come when they fully embraced the divine plan which made the Gospel available and accessible to all.

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

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

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

I Will…

1 When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him. 2 And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 3 And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. 4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”  – Matthew 8:1-4 ESV

Jesus finished His sermon and, rather than taking a well-deserved break, He immediately began His ministry. And it’s interesting to note that upon the completion of His message, the very first person who came to Jesus was a leper. Matthew describes great crowds of people following Jesus, but it was a lone leper, a social pariah and ostracized outcast from the community who made a beeline to Jesus and knelt before Him. This man’s hideous skin disease was not only painful, but marked him as unclean and prohibited him from participation in temple worship. Because he was in close proximity to the crowd, which was most likely comprised primarily of Jews, it is safe to assume he was a Jew himself. But, because of his disease, he was no longer welcome in the community. Leprosy was considered a curse from God, a divine judgment for sins committed. So, lepers were avoided at all costs, not only because of their disease, but because any contact with them would make a person ceremonially unclean. By law, this man would have been required to announce himself to all those around him as being a leper.

45 “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ 46 He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. – Leviticus 5:45-46 ESV

And while Matthew doesn’t describe the reaction of the crowd, we can only imagine the shock and repulsion they must have felt when this man showed up in their midst. They would have backed off in horror at the sight of him. There were likely shouts of ridicule and anger at his unmitigated gall to show his face among them. And how dare he approach Jesus, a rabbi and teacher. But this man was desperate. He longed to be healed. He was tired of being an outcast. So, he took his need to Jesus, and the text tells us he kneeled before Him. Somehow, this man knew that Jesus was the answer to his problem. In his pain and desperation, he took a huge risk and, in violation of the law, he said to Jesus, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” 

Notice the wording of his statement, “If you will….” He seemed to have no doubt in his mind that Jesus could heal him. His only reservation had to do with whether Jesus would. He was well aware of his own uncleanness. His faith in Jesus’ capacity to restore him was strong, but he had doubts about Jesus’ willingness to do so. He was undeserving and unworthy. But he was also just the kind of person for whom Jesus had come to earth.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” – Luke 4:18-19 ESV

4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” – Matthew 12:4-5 ESV

Whether this man realized it or not, in spite of his bad circumstances, he was in good company. He was part of the poor, the captives, the blind and oppressed to whom Jesus had come to minister. Like the lame, the deaf and even the dead, this man’s problem was no match for the Son of God. His disease was no obstacle for Jesus. And amazingly, to the shock of all those in the crowd that day, Jesus reached out His hand and touched this man. In doing so, not only risked making Himself ceremonially unclean, He violated the law. In response to the man’s statement, “If you will…,” Jesus replied, “I will….” And He did. He healed him. In a matter of seconds, the man’s disease was completely eradicated. This man had been healed by a touch from the hand of Jesus, and everyone in the crowd would have been witness to this miraculous event. 

One of the things that gets easily overlooked in this passage is the deliberate decision on Jesus’ part to touch the man. He didn’t have to do so. He could have healed him with a word. But Jesus, knowing that by touching the man He would contract the man’s defilement, did so. In many ways, leprosy represents the pervasive nature of man’s sin nature. It contaminates and separates. It leaves its victim helpless, hopeless and alone. It defiles and deems the individual unfit for communion with God. But with a touch, Jesus took on the man’s defilement and bestowed on him perfect health. The apostle Paul wrote of the amazing transaction that Jesus came to make possible.

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 5:21 ESV

The leper’s physical restoration was symbollic of the spiritual restoration Jesus came to provide all those who would place their faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. But in order for anyone to have their sinful state healed by Jesus, they would have to admit their problem and come to Him just as the leper did – in humility and faith. Jesus once stated, “"Healthy people don't need a doctor--sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners" (Mark 2:17 NLT). The apostle John wrote, “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).

This man was healed, but he still required cleansing. In spite of his radical physical transformation, he was still unclean according to the law.

3 …if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, 4 the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. 5 And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. 6 He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. 7 And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. 8 And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp, but live outside his tent seven days. 9 And on the seventh day he shall shave off all his hair from his head, his beard, and his eyebrows. He shall shave off all his hair, and then he shall wash his clothes and bathe his body in water, and he shall be clean. – Leviticus 14:1-9 ESV

So, Jesus commanded the man, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them” (Matthew 8:4 ESV). This is significant, because healing from leprosy was rare and unheard of. By sending this man to the temple, Jesus would have sent a loud and clear message to the priests that something new was going on in their midst. It’s likely that these priests had never had a single leper show up at the temple healed and ready to offer the prescribed sacrifices. Jesus wanted this man to obey the law and follow the Mosaic requirements for cleansing, but He also wanted the man to provide visible, tangible proof of His power over not only sickness, but sin.

We must not overlook the significance of this man’s desperate state. Because of his leprosy, he was alone, ostracized, unclean, and condemned to a slow, painful death. But he brought his need to Jesus and said, “If you will, you can…” and Jesus did. This man’s physical state mirrors the spiritual condition of each and every man and woman who is infected by sin. The apostle Paul describes the sad reality of man’s spiritual state apart from Christ.

…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12 ESV

Then he provides the good news.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. – Ephesians 2:13 ESV

The man in the story had been restored to health. But he had also been restored to community and been given the right to enter the temple and to offer sacrifices to God. He was no longer alienated. he was not longer a stranger and social outcast. He was no longer without hope and without God in the world. All because he brought his need to Jesus and received the healing touch of the Savior.

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

Expecting the Unexpected.

7 On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted. Acts 20:7-12 ESV

Paul had sent his seven sons in the faith on to Troas, while he traveled back through the region of Macedonia. When and Luke arrived in Philippi, they set sail for Troas where they reconnected with Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus and Trophimus.

In this small section of Luke’s eye-witness account, he reveals something of great significance that can easily be missed due to the remarkable nature of the day’s events. He records that they had gathered with other believers in Troas “on the first day of the week.” This is first time in Scripture where we find a reference to the early church meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week, rather than on the traditional Jewish sabbath. The change in worship days was related to the believers’ desire to honor Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. It also helped separate and distinguish the Christian faith from its Hebrew roots. In the early days of Christianity, it was commonly viewed by those outside of Judaism as little more than a sub-sect of that religious tradition. But with its rapidly diversifying ethnic makeup and teaching that the traditional rite of circumcision and strict adherence to the Mosaic law were not required for its adherents, Christianity was becoming a distinct religious practice and belief system. 

One of the distinctives of the early church worship service was its practice of what the New Testament author, Jude, referred to as the “love feast.” It seems that the church made a habit of sharing a meal together as part of their worship experience and, with that meal, the Lord’s Supper was also celebrated. When Luke records that the believers in Troas had gathered to “break bread”, he is not referring simply to the celebration of communion or the Lord’s Table as we might call it, but with their sharing of common meal, part of which would include their taking of the Lord’s Supper. Paul describes just such a gather in his letter to the believers in Corinth.

20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this! – 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 NLT

In their case, they were destroying the nature of their communal gathering through acts of selfishness and insensitivity to the needs of their fellow members in the congregation. Jude refers to this meal as a love feast because it was to be an expression of their love for Christ and for one another. Paul was upset with the Corinthians because they denigrated the whole point of the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of Christ’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of man, by focusing all their attention on themselves and their own self-centered needs.

Along with the meal, the worship service of the early church included singing, prayer and instruction in the Word. Paul describes this is his letter to the Corinthians.

When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given… – 1 Corinthians 14:26 NLT

It was in just such a setting that Paul addressed the believers gathered together in Troas. And while Paul had plans to leave the next morning, his sermon extended well into the night. No doubt, he addressed many issues with the believers there, recounting his missionary travels and all that he had seen God accomplish. But there was probably a fair share of biblical instruction, with Paul unpacking Old Testament passages and prophecies regarding Jesus. Much of what Paul wrote in his letters to the congregations he had helped start in Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, and Ephesus reveal the kinds of things Paul might have shared with the believers in Troas. As we have seen, Paul was a disciple maker. He was out to see the people in Troas grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God and His Son. He was seeking to make mature believers, not simply converts.

It was in Paul’s lengthy address to his audience that something very unfortunate and unbelievable happened. A young man named Eutychus, sitting on the sill of an open window, fell asleep and plunged three stories to his death. Most likely, the combination of the late hour, Paul’s lengthy talk, and the aftereffects of a large meal contributed to this tragic scene. It is important to note that Luke, a physician and an eye-witness to this event, pronounced the young man as being dead. The truly remarkable part of this story is not so much that the young man died and was raised back to life, but that it is all treated with a kind of faith-filled flippancy by Luke. He treats this incredible scene with a surprising calm and sparsity of words. He simply says, “Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘he’s alive!’” (Acts 20:10 NLT). There is no description of the shock, sorrow and chaos that must have accompanied this tragic accident. Luke gives us no insight into how the crowd responded and he provides no sense of urgency. Paul simply went down, bent over the young man and then announced him as being alive. And then Luke matter-of-factly records, “Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together. Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left” (Acts 20:11 NLT). No rejoicing, celebrating, praising of God or description of shock, wonder or awe on the part of the people. This has led many to conclude that Eutychus had not been dead, but had just swooned and had been misdiagnosed as dead by those who first examined him. But again, Luke the physician seems to indicate that the prognosis was clear – Eutychus had died as a result of his fall.

Why else would Luke have included this story? What benefit is there in describing a young man who fell asleep, plunged out of a third-story window and was mistakenly pronounced to be dead? Why does Luke describe Paul bending over the young man and holding him in his arms? He described another, very similar scene, in his gospel. It involved Jesus and His miraculous raising of a young girl from death.

51 When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s father and mother. 52 The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

53 But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. 54 Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” 55 And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. – Luke 8:51-55 NLT

In this account, it is clear that the crowd knew that the girl was dead. They had already begun to mourn her death. But Jesus described her as being asleep. Was He contradicting their prognosis? Was He claiming that they had been wrong in pronouncing her dead? No. He was revealing that the power of death was nothing to Him. It was no dangerous than sleep. He would revive her from death as easy as one awakens someone from a deep sleep. Jesus took her hand and she revived. Paul took Eutychus in his arms and he was restored to life.

Luke’s rather blasé description of this scene reveals his growing sense of expectancy and the lack of surprise he felt at witnessing these kinds of remarkable miracles. He was becoming used to such scenarios and tended to describe them as if they were simply a part of doing business as a follower of Christ. In his travels with Paul, he had seen some incredible things take place. He was no longer shocked or surprised at what he saw God going through Paul. The raising of Eutychus from the dead, while spectacular in nature, but not unexpected. And the fact that the entire congregation returned to the third floor and continued their time of worship, listening to Paul teach, reveals that, even they were growing to expect the unexpected.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

 

Worthless Things.

8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and began walking. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” 18 Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them. Acts 14:8-18 ESV

After having to leave Iconium due to the Jews stirring up a mob against them, Paul and Barnabas made their way to Lystra, another Roman colony about 20 miles or a day’s journey away. Upon their arrival in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas have another one of those “chance” encounters that were becoming an everyday part of their lives. They were speaking somewhere in Lystra to a crowd that had gathered. There is no mention of them attending the synagogue, as had become their custom. So, it may be that there were not enough Jews in Lystra to warrant a synagogue. But, as usual, Paul and Barnabas had no problem attracting attention to themselves. They simply began to speak to any who would listen. And, in the crowd that day, there happened to be a man who had been lame since birth.

Luke makes note of the fact that the man was listening to what Paul was saying, and that Paul, spotting the man in the crowd, could tell that the man “had faith to be made well” (Acts 14:9 ESV). Luke provides no insight into how Paul knew this. Most likely, Paul was given a kind of spiritual intuition from the Holy Spirit. He was somehow able to see into the man’s heart and perceive in his eyes that this man had faith that God could heal him. He believed. We are not told what Paul said to the crowd, but whatever it was, it produced in this man a believing faith that the God of whom Paul spoke was powerful enough to restore the use of his limbs. Now, it is important that we consider not only this event is included by Luke, but why this man was in the crowd. By this time in the story, we should be recognizing that nothing that is taking place is happenstance or the result of fate. This man’s presence in the crowd was according to the sovereign will of God. The very fact that Paul made eye-contact with this man had not left to chance. God had been the one to orchestrate the entire situation. Either God had directed Paul and Barnabas to the very spot where this man was sitting, or this man was able to find help in being carried to where the two men were speaking. God had preordained that this encounter would take place. But why? Because Paul and Barnabas were now entering the frontier, the furthest edges of the world as they knew it. They were in uncharted territory, speaking to people who were primarily Gentiles and who had no knowledge of Jesus at all. They most likely had heard nothing about the events that had taken place in Jerusalem back during the Feast of Pentecost. These two men, Paul and Barnabas, were strangers to them and, their message about Jesus as the Messiah and Savior, would have been alien and foreign to them. So, God arranged for a way to validate the message of His two messengers. They had been given sign gifts, just as Peter and the other apostles had received. These gifts allowed them to perform signs and miracles, providing their message with credibility and their claim to be speaking for God with visible, tangible proof. This man’s presence was going to prove critical. You can almost sense the building sense of anticipation that precede Luke’s description of what happened next. Luke records that Paul, speaking in a very loud voice, cried out, “Stand upright on your feet.” The crowd had no idea what was about to happen, but we do. We have seen this kind of thing happen before. All the way back in chapter three, we have the story of Peter saying to the blind beggar, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 ESV). And the man did, leaving the crowds looking on in wonder and amazement. That had happened all the way back in Jerusalem. Now, we find Paul and Barnabas hundreds of miles away, ministering in a far-flung Roman colony, filled with pagans who knew nothing of Yahweh, had no idea who Jesus or any reason to believe that what these two men had to say was true. And that was where the lame man came in.

His healing by God will validate Paul and Barnabas’ claims to be speaking for God. And not only that, it will go a long way in establishing Paul as a co-equal with Peter, the recognized spiritual leader of the church at that time. Paul had been a late-comer to the party. He had not been one of the original 12 disciples, but had come to faith in Jesus long after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, having had a one-on-one encounter with the risen Christ along the road to Damascus. For the rest of his life, Paul would battle with those who would try to question the validity of his apostleship. They would continually attempt to paint him as a charlatan, questioning his authority and raising doubts regarding his teaching. But here on this occasion, God sovereignly reveals Paul’s impeccable credentials as one of His messengers by providing Paul with the very same powers Peter possessed.

And to say that Paul’s actions got the attention of the crowd would be an understatement. Luke writes that the people cried out, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” (Acts 14:11 ESV). They knew no better than to attribute what they had just seen to the work of gods – the gods with which they were familiar. They called Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes. The Greeks had a pantheon of gods they worshiped, so we can only speculate why they happened to choose these two particular gods as being the ones standing before them. But whatever their reasoning, these people were strong enough in their convictions that they were dealing with deities, that the priest of the local temple, dedicated to Zeus, showed up with oxen and garlands to make a sacrifice. We are left to imagine what this seen must have looked like. Try and picture the confusion and chaos going on as these people shouted out their praises to Paul and Barnabas, bowing in reverence before them. And just imagine what was going through the minds of these two men as they found themselves the mistaken, but unmistakable focus of the crowd’s worship.

We do know that Paul and Barnabas were appalled at what they witnessed, because Luke tells us they tore their clothes in a outward display of grief and remorse. They wanted no part of what was going on. And Paul spoke up, saying, “Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings—just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 14:15 NLT). What Paul said here was dangerous and risky. He was blatantly denying any claim to deity. But more than that, he was attacking their worship of false gods. When he mentions “worthless things”, he was speaking of Zeus and Hermes. He compared them to the living God, the one true Creator of heaven and earth. Paul was treading on very thin ice here. He was surrounded by a crowd of very passionate devotees to the Greek gods. They were excited and convinced that their deities had come to visit them. And Paul was not only shattering any notion that Zeus and Hermes had come to earth, he was describing two of their most revered gods as nothing more than worthless things.

And Paul made it perfectly clear that it was Yahweh, the God of the Jews, who was the source of any and all things they enjoyed in life, not the Greek gods. It was He who  provided them with food, crops, rain and joyful hearts. This would have been unexpected and unwanted news to the people of Lystra. It would have been seen as a case of slander and blasphemy, treating their gods with disdain and disrespect. But, surprisingly, instead of infuriating the crowd, the words of Paul and Barnabas seemed to have the opposite effect. The people tried to worship them all the more.

What we seem to have here is a clear example of the spiritual hunger of lost mankind. These people were spiritually starving to death. They had plenty of gods, but no real proof that their gods actually existed. Like all false gods, theirs were distant and disconnected from everyday life. They never really knew if their gods were engaged with or even interested in their daily lives. Which might explain why they were so excited when they thought that Paul and Barnabas were gods come to earth. They greatly desired an intimate relationship with their gods, but to date, their experience had been the same as every other people group who has set its desires and affections on “worthless things.” Years later, Paul would write to believers living in nearby Galatia, reminding them of their former love affair with false gods: “you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist” (Galatians 4:8 NLT). The people in the crowd that day had no idea that their gods were false. They were blind to the fact that their gods were helpless and hopeless to assist them. Their gods could not save or protect them. In fact, the psalmist eloquently and unapologetically described the true nature of false gods when he wrote:

4 Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
5 They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
6 They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
7 They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
8 And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

Paul and Barnabas had struck a nerve. They had performed a sign among a people who were desperately in search of proof that their religion was relevant and their gods were real. The world, then as now, was cloaked in deep darkness, and filled with spiritually blind people staggering about looking for any glimmer of hope and help. They were deceived. And Paul would later write to the believers in Corinth, clarifying the source of the world’s deception, and the only means of hope.

4 Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.

5 You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 NLT

The light was spreading. But was we will see, the darkness was great. The enemy had blinded the spiritual eyes of those living in Lystra, leaving them in a state of perpetual darkness, desperately longing for relief and redemption, but unable to see the truth when it stood right in front of them.

English Standard Version (ESV)  The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Spiritual Healing.

32 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. 35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

36 Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. 37 In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” 39 So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. 40 But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. 41 And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. 42 And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. 43 And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner. Acts 9:32-43 ESV

The gospel continued to spread. It had already moved beyond the boundaries of Jerusalem into the neighboring region of Samaria. Now, Luke provides with an overview of how it was taken to Lydda and Joppa, two cities located on the Mediterranean coastal plain, northwest of Jerusalem. And Luke records that it was Peter who made the trip to these two cities. His journey to Lydda was most likely part of a trip he made to visit the believers who existed in the cities outside of Jerusalem. Verse 31 tells us: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up” and Luke records that “Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda” (Acts 9:32 ESV). Peter was checking in on all those cities where the gospel had been taken and people had responded. He felt a responsibility to gain a first-hand report on what was happening and to encourage all those who had placed their faith in Christ. It was while he was in Lydda, visiting the saints who lived there, that he heard about a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. Other than the physical ailment from which he suffered, we know nothing else about this man. His name is Greek, so he could have been a Hellenistic Jews. But we are not told whether he was one of the saints in Lydda or not. But Peter, upon meeting the man, boldly declared to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed” (Acts 9:34 ESV), and Luke records that the man “immediately rose.” His healing was instantaneous and complete, a clear work of God. And the immediate outcome of this miraculous healing was not just the man’s renewed capacity to walk, but his neighbors’ acceptance of the gospel. Luke simply states that, upon seeing Aeneas healed, “they turned to the Lord” (Acts 9:35 ESV).

It is always interesting to consider why the Spirit of God inspired the writers of the gospels and the other books of the New Testament to include the accounts of the healings that they did. Surely, these were not all the healings that Jesus and the disciples performed. But they are all very particular in terms of their descriptions. There were many who were lame and could not walk. There were others who were blind and could not see. Jesus and the disciples all cast demons out of those who were possessed. And then, as we will see in the following verses, there are several accounts of those who were dead and then brought back to life. All of these have spiritual implications. They were physical healings, but they mirror what was happening on a spiritual level in the lives of those who came to faith in Christ. At one time they were unable to walk the path that God had chosen for them. They were incapable of following the precept and laws of God faithfully. Like a paralyzed man who was hindered by his body’s disability, the lost were totally incapacitated by their sinful condition. They could never have turned to God on their own. And the blind, while physically incapable of sight, were really unable to see spiritually. They were blind to the realities of their own sin and their inability to achieve righteousness on their own. And Jesus placed this spiritual condition on all, including the Pharisees, who He referred to as “blind guides.” They were spiritually sightless and devoid of any ability to see truth. Then there were the dead, like Dorcas, whose lives had expired and their ability to live any kind of life was gone, let alone to live righteously. They represent all those who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13). Every healing performed by Jesus and the disciples was intended to be a representation of man’s spiritual plight. Jesus spoke of this very thing when He had read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth.

18 “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,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” – Luke 4:18-21 NLT

Jesus had come to open the eyes of the blind – the spiritually blind. He had come to release those who were restricted, not by physical paralysis or non-functioning limbs, but by their own sinful state. He came to set free those who were trapped by their own state of spiritual death and condemnation, not just physical death. Jesus came to feed the spiritually hungry and to enrich the lives of the spiritually impoverished. And every physical healing He performed was a living lesson in the kind of power He possessed and proof of His claim to be the Messiah, the Savior of the world. 

While in Lydda, Peter received word from Joppa, a coastal city about ten miles to the east, that a disciple there named Tabitha had recently died. Upon hearing of her death, Two men from Joppa had been sent to Peter with a simple, yet urgent message: “Please come to us without delay” (Acts 9:38 ESV). Why were they so insistent that Peter hurry? What was the rush? Tabitha was already dead and her body had been laid in an upper room. It would seem that the disciples in Joppa fully expected Peter to do something about this situation. They weren’t just asking him to come in order to perform her funeral. They expected something far greater to happen. So, Peter made his way to Joppa and, upon arrival, he made a beeline to the room where Tabitha’s body lay. There, he found a weeping widows who showed him the clothes that Tabitha had hand-sewn for them. This woman had been a generous and compassionate individual, who had served the local community well. The women who had gathered to mourn her death were expressing their grief over having lost a friend and benefactor. But Peter ushered them from the room, then kneeled by the body and prayed. After some time, he turned to the body and said, ““Tabitha, arise.” And she did. She came back to life. And Luke somewhat anticlimactically states: “Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive” (Acts 9:41 ESV). No emotion. No excitement. It’s almost as if Luke is overly casual in his description of this episode, as if he was not surprised at all by what he had seen. To a certain degree, the members of the early church had an expectation that these kinds of things would happen. They were become somewhat normal occurences and no longer shocked those who witnessed them. But to those outside the church, these kinds of things were far from normal or expected. And when news got out that Tabitah was alive, Luke reports that “many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:42 ESV).

This chapter closes with an interesting side note. It states that Peter remained in Joppa, staying the home of a man named Simon, who just so happened to be a tanner. This little aside can be easily overlooked by those of us in the modern, western church. To us, it simply sounds like Peter stayed in the home of a gracious host, enjoying his hospitality. But notice that Luke reports that Simon was a tanner. That means, as part of his profession, this man worked with the carcasses of dead animals. To any God-fearing Jew, this man’s occupation would have made him unclean and, therefore, to be avoided at all costs. But with this very brief note at the close of this chapter, we get a glimpse into a change that seems to be taking place in Peter’s heart and life. He is opening up to the idea that Jesus wants the gospel to go to ALL men, not just some. It has obviously been extended to Samaritans and Hellenistic Jews. Now, Peter is about to discover that God is going to open up the door to even those whom the average Jew would consider unclean and undeserving of God’s grace and mercy: The Gentiles.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

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

Why Do You Wonder?

11 While he clung to Peter and John, all the people, utterly astounded, ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's. 12 And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. 14 But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” Acts 3:11-16 ESV

When reading the book of Acts, it is easy to focus on the miracles that are described within it: The tongues of fire and the sound of roaring wind that accompanied the coming of the Spirit, the disciples speaking in foreign languages, and the remarkable acts of healing and casting out of demons that took place on a regular basis. In this chapter, Luke records Peter’s healing of a man who had been unable to walk since the day he had been born. He had been relegated to begging for alms at the Temple gate. But, in the name of Jesus, Peter restored this man’s ability to walk, right in front of the crowds gathered for the hour of prayer at the Temple. And as the news of this incredible miracle spread and the crowd grew, Peter took advantage of the situation. He used the miracle of the man’s healing as an opportunity to speak to the crowd that had gathered, and this becomes the real focus of Luke’s retelling of this event.

The context is extremely important. Luke makes it clear that they are on Temple grounds, and that Peter delivers his message in Solomon’s Portico. This is important, because it clearly establishes the fact that the makeup of the crowd to which Peter is going to speak is predominantly, if not, exclusively Jewish. There may have been Gentiles in the audience, but the majority would have been converts to Judaism. Solomon’s Portico encompassed what was called the Court of the Gentiles, a large open area the surrounded the Temple precinct. Gentiles, or non-Jews, were allowed in this area, but were forbidden to enter the main Temple area, under penalty of death.

Luke states that Peter, recognizing the huge crowd that had gathered, and their astonishment at the news of the lame man’s healing, spoke these words: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?” (Acts 3:12 ESV). His entire attention was focused on his fellow Jews who, like him, had come at the ninth hour for prayer. They had come at the regularly scheduled hour to offer their prayers to Yahweh but, instead, they had witnessed the unexpected. Their normal habits and daily duties had been interrupted by something miraculous and out-of-the-ordinary. And Peter knew what they were thinking. He was fully aware that the crowds were whispering and pointing at he and John, wondering who they were and how they were able to heal the lame beggar. But Peter makes it clear to the crowd that the miracle they had just witnessed had not been their doing, but God’s. He refers to “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers” (Acts 3:13 ESV), attributing to their own God the power behind the miracle. And he reminds them that this same God had “glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts 3:13 ESV).

Peter takes an abrupt, but fully intentional turn in the focus of his talk. He gets the attention off of the healing of the lame man on onto the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. And, it’s at this point, we must recall another occasion, when Jesus and His disciples found themselves at this very same spot in the Temple grounds, speaking to a gathering of Jews,

22 It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication. 23 He was in the Temple, walking through the section known as Solomon’s Colonnade. 24 The people surrounded him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus replied, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. 26 But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, 29 for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.”

31 Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. 32 Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?”

33 They replied, “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy! You, a mere man, claim to be God.” – John 10:22-32 NLT

Jesus had proved His claim to be the Messiah through the many miracles He had performed. But the people of Israel had refused to accept Him as their Messiah. He had accused them of not being His sheep. He had declared that only those whom God had given to Him would receive eternal life. And this had infuriated the crowds that day. So much so, that they had picked up stones to kill Him.

And the amazing thing is that they eventually did kill Him, but not with stones. They turned Him over to the Roman authorities and had them do their dirty work for them. And Peter pulls no punches in accusing the Jews in the crowd standing before him that they were guilty of killing their own Messiah – “you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 3:15 ESV). The crucifixion of Jesus would have still been fresh on the minds of all those in Jerusalem. It had been a well-documented and well-attended event. Jesus had become a popular and well-known figure throughout the land of Israel. And news of His triumphal entry and subsequent death would have spread to every corner of the city. There would have also been plenty of rumors regarding the supposed resurrection of Jesus. News of the mysterious disappearance of His body would have circulated and the claims that He had been seen alive by His disciples would have spread like wildfire. And Peter takes advantage of the situation to boldly claim that Jesus was indeed alive and it was by the power associated with His name that the lame man had been healed.

“And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.” – Acts 3:16 ESV

Do you see what Peter is doing? For the Jews gathered in Solomon’s Portico, Jesus had been exposed as a fraud and a fake. While they may have at one time believed He was the Messiah, those beliefs had died along with Him as He hung on the cross. He was not what they had been expecting. He didn’t come in power and set up His kingdom on earth. For all intents and purposes, this Jesus had been nothing more than a man who made bold, even blasphemous claims, to be the Son of God. But He had died. And Peter reminds them that, “you denied the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14 ESV) and “you killed the Author of life” (Acts 3:15 ESV).

And yet, here were Peter and John, two of this dead man’s disciples, performing the very same kind of miracles He had done. Here they were, standing in Solomon’s Portico, where Jesus had been accused of blasphemy and threatened with stoning for claiming to be God. And Peter and John must have recalled the words of Jesus, spoken to the crowds that day.

36 “why do you call it blasphemy when I say, ‘I am the Son of God’? After all, the Father set me apart and sent me into the world. 37 Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s work. 38 But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father.” – John 10:36-38 NLT

Jesus had proven who He was. His miracles had given ample evidence of His deity. He had adequately proven His divinity and God-given role as the Messiah. But the Jews had refused to believe. They had put Him to death for being exactly who He had claimed to be. And Pilate had prophetically ordered that a sign be placed over His head on the cross, that read, “King of the Jews.” Jesus had been put to death for being the Son of God and the Savior of the world. But Peter points out that God raised Him from the dead. He restored Jesus to life and glorified Him by returning Him to His rightful place at His Father’s side. And it was because Jesus had gone that the Spirit had come. And because the Spirit had come, the disciples had received power from on high. They were able to perform the same miracles Jesus had done while He lived on this earth. They preached the same message of repentance. He was not gone. He was alive and well, revealing His presence and power through the lives of His followers. 

Peter asks the crowd, “Why do you wonder?” He wants to know why they are surprised at what they had just witnessed. This was nothing more than a continuation of the works of Jesus that He had performed while He had lived among them. And it was all in keeping with Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the living fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. One day, in the city of Nazareth, reading from the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus spoke these words:

“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, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Then, Jesus had made this bold claim: “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). He was the Messiah. And Peter and John were once again providing ample proof that Jesus was exactly who He had claimed to be. He was alive and His name alone provided power to comfort the poor, provide release for the captives, healing to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and the favor of God among men.

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

 

Greater Expectation.

1 Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. 2 And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. 3 Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked to receive alms. 4 And Peter directed his gaze at him, as did John, and said, “Look at us.” 5 And he fixed his attention on them, expecting to receive something from them. 6 But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” 7 And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. 8 And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. 9 And all the people saw him walking and praising God, 10 and recognized him as the one who sat at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, asking for alms. And they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him. Acts 3:1-10 ESV

The last chapter ended with an upbeat description of how things were going just days after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. – Acts 2:46-47 ESV

Now, in chapter three, we are given a glimpse into what one of those typical days looked like. Because the early church was made up predominantly of believing Jews, these individuals, including the disciples, were still attending the Temple and practicing their Jewish faith as they did before. As this chapter opens, we find Peter and John going to the Temple at 3:00 p.m., to take part in the prescribed prayer time held at that hour each day.

Luke tells us that Peter and John entered the Temple compound through “the Beautiful Gate.” This was evidently meant as a description, not as the actual name of the gate. There were three primary gates into the Temple grounds: The Shushan Gate, the Corinthian Gate and the Nicanor Gate. We are not sure which of these three gates Luke is referring to, but at this particular gate Peter and John come into contact with a lame man. Perhaps Luke uses this description as a way to emphasize and contrast the man’s impoverished and physically hopeless condition. He had been born with this infirmity and, each day, he had to be carried to the Temple in order to beg for alms. Alms-giving was a common practice in those days, involving the voluntary gift of money or goods to those in need. It was not an obligation or part of the Mosaic law, but giving to the destitute was seen as a righteous act. In fact, Jesus addressed this very topic in His Sermon on the Mount.

2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. – Matthew 6:2-4 NLT

This lame man, upon seeing Peter and John entering the Temple, asked them for alms. He had chosen his spot well, because those entering the Temple were there to worship and would have been predisposed to generosity. The first thing Peter said to the man was, “Look at us!” Most likely, the man made a habit of keeping his eyes down, a sign of his humble estate and in keeping with the Jewish mindset that those suffering from infirmities were being punished by God for their sins. Poverty, disease, physical infirmities and even widowhood were seen by most Jews as signs of God’s punishment for sin. On one occasion, Jesus and His disciples encountered a blind man, and one of the men asked Jesus, “‘Rabbi,’ his disciples asked him, ‘why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?’” (John 9:2 NLT). And Jesus answered them:

3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. 4 We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us. The night is coming, and then no one can work. 5 But while I am here in the world, I am the light of the world.” – John 9:3-5 NLT

Then John records that Jesus performed a miracle, giving sight to one who had been blind since birth. Jesus revealed the power of God in the life of this man, doing for him what he could have never accomplished on his own. The blind man, like the lame man in Luke’s story, was relegated to begging for temporary relief from his suffering. But Jesus came to give something far more lasting and life-changing than alms. He gave sight to the blind. And when the lame man begged Peter and John to give him money, Peter responded, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” (Acts 3:6 NLT). And Luke records what happened next:

7 Then Peter took the lame man by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. 8 He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them. – Acts 3:7-8 NLT

Peter and John both must have recalled the words of Jesus: “We must quickly carry out the tasks assigned us by the one who sent us.” They had received a commission from Jesus and they had received the power of the Holy Spirit, so they knew they had work to do. Peter gave the man something of far greater value than that for which he had asked. The man had begged for the gift of spare change, but Peter gave him a changed life. Notice what Luke writes, “Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.” He was a changed man. For the first time in his life, he was able to go into the Temple to worship. In his previous condition, he would have been banned from entrance into the Temple. That’s why he was forced to sit at the gate each day, hoping for some form of financial relief to assist him in his daily struggle with his physical disability and the social ostracism it caused. But now, his disability was gone. He was running, jumping and worshiping with abandon. Not only that, once the crowd recognized him as the lame man whom they passed daily outside the Beautiful Gate, they were blown away.

When Jesus had healed the blind man, it had also caused quite a stir. The people could not believe what they were seeing. And the Jewish leaders were incensed, especially because Jesus had chosen to heal on the Sabbath, breaking their religious codes. So, they had confronted the man and then his parents, demanding to know what had happened.

24 So for the second time they called in the man who had been blind and told him, “God should get the glory for this, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.”

25 “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” the man replied. “But I know this: I was blind, and now I can see!” – John 9:24-25 NLT

A blind man could see. A lame man could walk. That was as deep as either man’s theology went. They had been radically changed by an encounter with Jesus. The blind man had been touched by Jesus. The lame man had been healed in the name of Jesus.

This unnamed man had come to the Temple that day expecting nothing more than a handout from some generous stranger. Perhaps he had regular contributors, who knew him and made a habit of giving to him each day. He probably had a vague idea of how much money he could expect to take home by day’s end. But there is no way that he came to the Beautiful Gate expecting to walk home on his own two legs. He never dreamed he would be leaping, dancing and worshiping in the Temple when he woke up that morning. His would be a day just like any other day, filled with the same old tasks of getting up, begging a lift to the gate and beginning his humiliating day of begging for coins from those who viewed him as little more than a sinner who deserved his sorry state in life. But his less-than-ambitious expectations were shattered that day. He came to the Temple, lying on a mat, but went home leaping on his own two legs. He came a beggar, but became a worshiper. He showed up a sinner, but suddenly found himself free to walk into the Temple grounds unhindered and unafraid of God’s judgment.

It’s important to note that Peter and John saw this man as more than a nuisance or a common sinner to be ignored. He was an opportunity for the power of God to be revealed and the name of Christ to be lifted up. While Jesus had been in the world, He had been the light of the world. Now it was the disciples’ turn. They had work to do. As far as Peter was concerned, this man was there for a reason: That God might be glorified and the gospel of Jesus Christ might be proclaimed. Just as the miracles of Jesus validated His claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah, the signs and wonders performed by the disciples would prove that they had been sent by God and had the authority to speak on His behalf. And they would take advantage of this opportunity to tell the good news regarding Jesus Christ to all who had gathered. The man’s miraculous restoration would become a platform to share about salvation. The same power that made a blind man see and a lame man walk, could bring the spiritually dead back to life.

18 “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,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 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

 

Our Only Source of Healing.

Why do we sit still?
Gather together; let us go into the fortified cities
    and perish there,
for the Lord our God has doomed us to perish
    and has given us poisoned water to drink,
    because we have sinned against the Lord.
We looked for peace, but no good came;
    for a time of healing, but behold, terror.

“The snorting of their horses is heard from Dan;
    at the sound of the neighing of their stallions
    the whole land quakes.
They come and devour the land and all that fills it,
    the city and those who dwell in it.
For behold, I am sending among you serpents,
    adders that cannot be charmed,
    and they shall bite you,”
declares the Lord.

My joy is gone; grief is upon me;
    my heart is sick within me.
Behold, the cry of the daughter of my people
    from the length and breadth of the land:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King not in her?”
“Why have they provoked me to anger with their carved images
    and with their foreign idols?”
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended,
    and we are not saved.”
For the wound of the daughter of my people is my heart wounded;
    I mourn, and dismay has taken hold on me.

Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of the daughter of my people
    not been restored? Jeremiah 8:14-22 ESV

In this passage we are presented with three different points of view. First, we hear from the people. From their perspective, there was nothing left to do but flee to the cities where they might hide behind the fortified walls in a last-gasp hope of escaping the coming destruction. It’s interesting to note that they blame God for their predicament.

“…for the Lord our God has doomed us to perish
    and has given us poisoned water to drink.” – Jeremiah 8:14 ESV

They take no personal responsibility for what is about to happen. Yes, they admit that they have sinned, but their words reflect an attitude that says their punishment is far more than they deserve. They describe God’s reaction to their sin in harsh, almost accusatory terms, as if He was guilty of attempted murder. They claim that He was out to poison them to death. But at no point do they acknowledge that it was their sins against God that was bringing their own destruction. Instead, they paint themselves as innocent victims who had tried to do the right thing.

“We hoped for peace, but no peace came.
    We hoped for a time of healing, but found only terror.” – Jeremiah 8:15 ESV

But there is a huge difference between hope and repentance. The word that is translated “hoped” is the Hebrew word qavah and it means “to wait, look for, hope, expect” (“H6960 - qavah - Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). They fully expected God to simply forgive them and restore them to favor, but had no intentions of changing their ways. And there is no indication that their expressed hope was in God. They could have been hoping in salvation from their many false gods or from one of their alliances with foreign nations like Egypt. They were expecting a different outcome. They were eagerly waiting and hoping to wake up from the nightmare, but nothing had happened. And the only solution they could come up with was to find refuge in their fortified cities. They had long ago forgotten the words of King David, who wrote:

O God, listen to my cry!
    Hear my prayer!
From the ends of the earth,
    I cry to you for help
    when my heart is overwhelmed.
Lead me to the towering rock of safety,
    for you are my safe refuge,
    a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me.
Let me live forever in your sanctuary,
    safe beneath the shelter of your wings! – Psalm 61:1-4 NLT

God was to be their fortress and protection. But they refused to turn to Him because they refused to repent of their sins against Him. Their own stubbornness was the cause of their hopeless circumstances. God was not to blame. They were.

And now, God gives His point of view. He gives a vivid description of the coming Babylonian invasion of Judah. The size of the army will be so great that their advance will shake the ground. Like an approaching storm, the people of Judah will hear them long before they see them. But when the Babylonians arrive, their destruction will be complete, wiping out entire cities and all those seeking refuge in them. And God makes it clear that this destruction is not just a case of bad fortune or fate. It is His sovereign decree.

“I will send these enemy troops among you
    like poisonous snakes you cannot charm.
They will bite you, and you will die.
    I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 8:17 NLT

They won’t be able to get themselves out of this mess. There will be no escape. And God’s reference to poisonous snakes is a reminder of the scene that took place in the wilderness among the people of Israel generations earlier. It is recorded in the book of Numbers. God had just given the people of Israel a great victory over the Canaanites, but just a few days later they began to grumble and complain.

“Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness, for there is no bread or water, and we detest this worthless food.” – Numbers 21:5 NLT

So God, in response to their ingratitude, sent poisonous snakes among them.

So the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit the people; many people of Israel died. – Numbers 21:6 NLT

As a result, the people changed their tune, and rather than complaining, they called out for Moses to intercede on their behalf and save them.

“We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord that he would take away the snakes from us.” – Numbers 21:7 NLT

And Moses prayed and God heard. But God didn’t just remove the snakes. He provided the Moses with very precise instructions that, if followed, would provide the people with healing.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous snake and set it on a pole. When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it on a pole, so that if a snake had bitten someone, when he looked at the bronze snake he lived. – Numbers 21:8-9 NLT

It is important to notice that God did not remove the snakes. They remained among the people and were still capable of biting the people. The punishment for their sin was still alive and well in the form of countless poisonous snakes. But, if the people, when bitten, would look on the bronze serpent that that Moses had made, they would find healing and life. This involved faith. They had to trust God, believing that the healing He promised would actually happen. They all deserved to be bitten and the inference found in the passage is that all of them were eventually bitten. But only those who believed the words of God and looked at the serpent were restored to life. They were forgiven by God and healed. Jesus would refer to this very event and compare Himself to the bronze serpent.

“And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” – John 3:14 NLT

In the case of the people of Judah, God says there will be no forgiveness given. There will be no bronze serpent this time. The Babylonians, like poisonous snakes, would bite each and every one of the inhabitants of Judah and this time, there would be no way of escape, no antidote for the poison.

The final viewpoint we see is that of Jeremiah. He is an objective third party who stand back and watches what is happening. He knows the guilt of his people. He also knows and understands the holiness and justice of God that is bringing the coming judgment on his people. And he can’t help but grieve. He has been calling out and warning his people to repent. He has spent day after day, month after month telling them what was going to happen if they didn’t turn from their wickedness and return to God. But they had not listened, and He knew God would do all that He had said He would do. He knew God was just and right to bring judgment. The people deserved it. But that didn’t make it any easier for Jeremiah to stand back and watch was happening.

“I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief.
Is there no medicine in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people?” – Jeremiah 8:21-22 NLT

Jeremiah struggled with the idea that God was not going to fix this problem. He knew God was fully capable of healing His people. He longed for God to come up with some kind of solution that would forestall the inevitable destruction.

All the way back in the book of Exodus, we have recorded the words of God, spoken to the people of Israel. Once again, they had been complaining and grumbling to Moses because they had come to a place in the desert where the water was undrinkable. So, God had Moses throw a branch in the water, causing it to miraculously transform into clean, drinkable water. Then God said:

“If you will diligently obey the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and pay attention to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, then all the diseases that I brought on the Egyptians I will not bring on you, for I, the Lord, am your healer.” – Exodus 15:24 NLT

Obedience brings healing. God had told the people of Judah what they needed to do to experience His forgiveness and healing. He had called them to repentance, but they had refused to obey. He was their potential source of healing, but they would not turn to Him. And so they would die, just like their ancestors in the wilderness who, when bitten by the snakes, stubbornly refused to look in faith at the bronze serpent. Healing and hope had been available, but they refused to avail themselves of it. Salvation was theirs to be had, but they were going to have to acknowledge their sin and turn back to God in humility and contrition. 

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

Restore Compassionately.

If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly,’ if they repent with all their mind and with all their heart in the land of their enemies, who carried them captive, and pray to you toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, then hear in heaven your dwelling place their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you, and grant them compassion in the sight of those who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them (for they are your people, and your heritage, which you brought out of Egypt, from the midst of the iron furnace). – 1 Kings 8:46-51 ESV

1 Kings 8:22-53

Solomon knew that sin was inevitable and unavoidable, “for there is no one who does not sin.” He was not naive enough to think that the nation of Israel could go on indefinitely without breaking God's commands and experiencing His judgment. And he was well aware of the punishment reserved by God for repeated rebellion against Him. God had warned that failure to obey Him would result in exile from Him. “The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away” (Deuteronomy 28:36-37 ESV). The repeated and unrepentant sins of the people would result in the fall of the nation of Israel and their eventual slavery to their captors. That scenario had to look extremely unlikely to Solomon as he stood in the splendor of Jerusalem surrounded by its protective walls, beautiful buildings and unprecedented affluence and peace. But Solomon was wise. He understood the nature of man and the character of God. Men were prone to sin and found faithfulness to God difficult to maintain. And God was true to His word. What He said He would do, He would do. His warnings were real and were to be taken seriously. So Solomon, as he prayed his prayer of dedication for the temple, gave yet another possible scenario – this one illustration a worst-case possibility. What would God do when His people, now in God-ordained captivity because of their sin, called out to Him in repentance, pleading for forgiveness. What will God do if His people call out to Him, saying, “we have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly?” It was Solomon's hope that God would not only hear from heaven, but compassionately forgive and restore them. Solomon was counting on the unlimited mercy of God, that in spite of the unfaithfulness of the people, God would remain faithful, refusing to turn His back on those whom He had called out and made His own.

When Solomon finished praying this prayer of dedication, He got an answer. God responded to each and everyone one of his questions with a resounding, “Yes!” He would tell Solomon, “Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT). When you think about it, Solomon was asking something incredibly bold. He was asking God to “forgive your people who have sinned against you, and all their transgressions that they have committed against you.” In other words, if the people found themselves in captivity, it would have been as a result of their repeated rebellion against God. They would be suffering the punishment they deserved. But Solomon was asking God to forgive and forget all that they had done to receive the punishment they so richly deserved. And amazingly, God said that if they would simply humble themselves, pray, seek His face and turn from their sin, He would hear, forgive and restore them. What amazing compassion. What unbelievable mercy and grace. It reminds me of the wonderful words of Paul when he wrote, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). God knew sin was inevitable and unavoidable for man. That's why He sent His own Son to pay the penalty for man's rebellion. He sent Jesus to bear the punishment that mankind deserved. Jesus made it possible for man, once separated from God by sin, to be restored to a right relationship with Him. God showed compassion in the face of man's rebellion. He did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. Just a few verses earlier in Romans, Paul wrote, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners” (Romans 5:6 NLT). And all we had to do was turn to Him in our weakness and acknowledge our need for Him. The result? He restored us compassionately. He heard our cry, forgave our sins, and made us right with Him. What an amazing, compassionate, loving, merciful God we serve.

God, Our Healer.

Isaiah 57-58, Revelation 12

“I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners, creating the fruit of the lips. Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord, “and I will heal him.” Isaiah 57:18-19 ESV

The Israelites of Isaiah's day were marked by idolatry and spiritual adultery. Over time the numbers of truly righteous individuals dwindled, leaving a spiritual vacuum among the people. But rather than mourn the loss of the righteous, the majority of the Israelites failed to even notice their passing. They continued to practice their idolatry and forsake God. When faced with difficulty or trouble, they turned to their false gods or sought help from foreign kings. Yet they also continued to hedge their bets, turning to God in times of trouble, going through the religious ritual of fasting in the hopes of gaining favor from God. But God wasn't interested in watching His people go through the motions of false humility. He would not tolerate their false acts of piety. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (Isaiah 58:2 ESV). They wanted God to do the right thing, but they were unwilling to do what was right in His eyes. And they couldn't understand why God wouldn't answer their prayers and take notice of their acts of humility. But God informed them, “Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high” (Isaiah 58:4 ESV). It wasn't enough for them to look the part of the humble, repentant servant, wearing sackcloth and bowing down before God. He wanted to see true heart change. God wanted their fasting to be accompanied by acts of justice, compassion, kindness, and a reverence for the things of God. 

What does this passage reveal about God?

God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. He had made it clear to the nation of Israel, that their unique status as His chosen people came with a non-negotiable expectation: They were to be holy. “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:26 ESV). Their lives were to be lived according to His exacting standards, not those of the world. His people were to keep His law and maintain their moral and ethical purity through the ongoing use of His sacrificial system. But sacrifice without true repentance and sincere heart change was meaningless. Earlier in the book of Isaiah, God had declared that the Israelites were simply going through the motions: “this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). They seemed to say and do all the right things, but their hearts weren't in it. They had given their affections to other things. But God told them what His idea of true fasting and mourning looked like. “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?” (Isaiah 58:6-7 ESV). God had nothing against fasting and mourning, but He wanted the act to be accompanied by changed attitudes and heartfelt expressions of love for others. This kind of fasting would result in God's favor. “Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isaiah 58:8 ESV). The psalmist expressed it succinctly. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17 ESV). God told Isaiah, “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Isaiah 57:15 ESV).  

What does this passage reveal about man?

But men find it hard to express humility. Even those of us who claim to love and follow God have a difficult time coming before Him with a contrite and lowly spirit. Our pride gets in the way. We refuse to see ourselves as He sees us. We justify our sin and rationalize our behavior. We compare ourselves to others and deem ourselves somehow worthy of God's favor. But God sees us differently. “Yet they seek me daily and delight to know my ways, as if there were a nation that did righteousness and did not forsake the judgment of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments; they delight to draw near to God” (Isaiah 58:2 ESV). Just like the people of Israel, we can so easily find ourselves seeking God and acting as if our so-called righteous deeds somehow earn us favor with Him. We go through the religious motions, showing up at church and doing our daily allotment of pious activities that make us look good to others, but do little to impress God. All the while we fail to realize that we can do nothing to earn God's favor or live up to His exacting standards. Holiness is impossible for us to pull off, just as it was impossible for the people of Israel. We can't maintain a lifestyle of righteousness in our own strength. The Israelites knew what they were supposed to do, but just couldn't muster up the determination to do it on an ongoing basis. And we find ourselves in the same boat. If we are not careful, even as believers, we will find ourselves attempting to live the spiritual life in the strength of our own flesh. We will attempt to live up to God's standards without His help. Our own pride will convince us that we can somehow pull it off. But like Paul, we simply need to reach the point where we cry out daily, “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” (Romans 7:24 NLT). We simply need to confess our insufficiency and turn to God for the help He has provided through His Son. “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25 NLT).

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

One of the amazing aspects of God's great redemptive plan for mankind is revealed in His faithful, consistent and loving interaction with the people of Israel. In spite of their rejection of His sovereign rule over their lives for generations, He never gave up on them. Even when they failed to accept His Son as their Messiah, instead demanding His death on the cross, God did not turn His back on them. While they have never been able to live up to His standards or maintain the life of holiness He demanded of them, He still has plans for them. He is still going to keep His promise to them. In the book of Revelation we get to see into the future where God reveals how He is going to redeem and restore His people. There is a day coming when He will heal them. He will do for them what they could never seem to do for themselves. Even in the midst of the Great Tribulation, when the people of Israel will suffer the most intense persecution they have even had to endure, God will be there. John is given a vision of a woman who is pregnant. She will give birth to a baby, “a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne” (Revelation 12:5 ESV). The woman represents Israel. The baby is Jesus Christ. After His death and resurrection, God literally “raptured” or snatched up Jesus, taking Him to heaven where He awaits His second coming at the end of the Great Tribulation. But during the last three and a half years of that great time or tribulation, Satan will wage war against the people of Israel. They will have to run for their lives. Jesus warned of this day. “For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short” (Matthew 24:21-22 ESV). But God will protect His own. “…and the woman [Israel] fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for 1,260 days” (Revelation 12:6 ESV). God will miraculously protect His own. He will care for them, even during one of the most difficult times the earth has ever known. And ultimately, God will bring healing to His people. He will redeem and restore them. God promises, “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him,; I will lead him and restore comfort to him and his mourners” (Isaiah 57:18 ESV). God is the great healer. He is the redeemer and restorer. He will do for Israel what He has promised. He is faithful, trustworthy and true to His Word.

Father, thank You for the reassurance of Your faithfulness. You have not abandoned Your people Israel and You have not and will not abandon me. You have even made it possible for me to live uprightly and righteousness in this life. You have given me the capacity, through the power of Your indwelling Spirit, to live humbly and to practice acts of justice, compassion, and kindness – not in my own strength, but Yours. You have made it possible to experience Your healing and help in this life and You have promised me complete healing in the life to come. Amen

Declared Clean.

Leviticus 13-14, Luke 8

The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, “Unclean, unclean.” He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. – Leviticus 13:45-46 ESV

These two chapters in Leviticus are a difficult read. They deal with a strange topic that seems totally non-applicable to our modern culture. All the descriptions of and discussions about these diseases of the skin are somewhat disgusting to think about. But the thing we can't afford to overlook is the emphasis on uncleanliness and cleanness, purity and impurity, acceptance and rejection. This whole section in the book of Leviticus takes the requirements of God to a whole new level. The purity God was looking for went way beyond just the moral dimension. His people were to be pure physically. There was a direct correlation between sin and sickness in the Hebrew mind. These passages are not teaching that these diseases and abnormalities of the skin are the direct result of sin. They are simply using the contagious qualities of these diseases to illustrate the danger of sin among the people of God. A contagious skin disorder, if left unnoticed and unchecked, would quickly spread among the people, bringing death and destruction. Sin can do the same thing. God was teaching His people the serious nature of sin in the midst of the camp. It was to be compared with leprosy. And while the term leprosy most likely does not refer to the modern disease of the same name, it carries the same impact. What we have described in these chapters of Leviticus are a wide range of infectious skin diseases and disorders. And while we could simply characterize them as having nothing to do with our modern context, we must never fail to recognize the spiritual significance the represent.

What does this passage reveal about God?

God cared about His people. He desired that their lives be characterized by blessing, holiness, healing and health. Disease, like sin, was not part of God's plan for man. It showed up on the scene as a result of the fall. The rebellion of Adam and Eve resulted in a shattering of the perfect environment of Eden. Death and disease showed up as unpleasant companions to sin. Disease was an everyday reality in the world by this time. Illness was a common concern for the people of God, just like it was for all mankind. Knowledge regarding infections and the spread of disease was minimal at best. Man was as ignorant of the dangers of sickness as he was of sin. But God knew that contagious disease could be just as devastating to a community as unchecked sin. So He instituted rules and regulations to control the spread of diseased among His people. Like the moral laws He provided to manage their personal relationships, God provided laws to manage their personal hygiene. Like any of the commandments, if these laws were ignored, the consequences would be devastating. God loved His people enough to provide them with a means for determining the exact nature of a disease and appropriately treating it. Ignorance could be deadly.

What does this passage reveal about man?

What should jump out at us in this passage is the devastating nature of these various skin diseases and disorders. Once the people understood their potential for spreading sickness among themselves, they were naturally prone to separate themselves from those who suffered from the diseases. Those who were sick were quickly ostracized. They were shunned and isolated from the rest of the camp. Like sin, sickness had devastating consequences of fellowship and acceptance. Imagine what it would have been like to be diagnosed with one of these diseases. Your world was rocked. You were required to wear torn clothes and walk around with unkempt hair – visual billboards of your condition – and cry out for all to hear, "Unclean, unclean!" You were forced to declare your sorry state to the world. Everyone would give you wide berth, shunning contact with you for fear of contracting whatever it was you had. On top of that, you were required to live in absolute isolation, outside the camp, alone. What an incredible picture of the devastating impact of sin on the life of an individual. You were unclean, impure, unacceptable. You were an outcast, unwanted and unable to do anything about your condition. But God provided a means to be restored. He commissioned His priests to act as mediators, providing a personal touch in these individual's greatest times of need. They offered atonement, cleansing, and a way to be restored to fellowship with God and His people. These diseased individuals could not heal themselves. They could change their condition. They were completely dependent on the help of the priest and the healing of God. Their cleansing was completely outside of their control. Think of the parallels to our former condition as sinners prior to coming to Christ. Paul reminds us, "even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's grace that you have been saved!)" (Ephesians 2:25 NLT). He told the believers in Colossae the same thing: "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" (Colossians 2:13 NLT). It was Jesus who said, "Healthy people don't need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners" (Mark 2:17 NLT).

It's interesting to note that when Jesus was ministering here on Earth, He regularly healed those who were sick. Not only that, He was willing to touch those who would have been considered unclean and impure. In chapter eight of the book of Luke, we have the story of the woman with the discharge of blood. Her illness would have classified her as unclean, and yet the text emphasizes multiple times that she touched Jesus. "She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment" (Luke 8:44 ESV). Jesus immediately responded, "Who was it that touched me?" (Luke 8:45 ESV). Again, He declared out loud, for all the crowd to hear Him, "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me" (Luke 8:46 ESV). The woman, mortified, fell at Jesus feet and "declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him" (Luke 8:47 ESV). In essence, she declared her guilt. She had knowingly contaminated another person with her uncleanness. But rather than scold her, Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace" (Luke 8:48 ESV). Later in this same chapter, we read of Jesus knowingly touching the body of a young girl who had just died. To do so would have made him ceremonially unclean. And yet, Luke makes it clear that Jesus willingly took that risk. "But taking her by the hand he called, saying, 'Child, arise'" (Luke 8:54 ESV).

Earlier in this same book, Luke records the words of Jesus as He read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor" (Luke 4:17-18 ESV). Jesus came to heal the spiritually captive, blind, sick, and oppressed. He came to bring release from the deadly disease of sin. He came to stop the spread of sin's contagion and put an end to its inevitable outcome of death.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Paul reminds me to, "remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:12-13 ESV). I was once like one of those poor individuals who found themselves outside the camp, alone, and separated from God and His people. My sin sickness made me unacceptable to God and unable to come into His presence. But God sent His priest, His Son, into my life to provide the cleansing I could never have found on my own. I have been declared clean and pure, sinless and whole. What an incredible feeling it must have been for a formerly unclean person to be declared clean and acceptable again. What joy they must have felt. What gratefulness they must have expressed to God. I should feel that same way. I have been healed and made whole by God.

Father, thank You for providing my healing. I am no longer barred from Your presence because of the sickness of my sin. Your Son has provided my healing and restored me to a right relationship with You. And I can't express my gratitude often enough. Amen