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The People Jesus Meets
Selected accounts from the Gospels of Jesus meeting with different people.
We have in these accounts of Jesus meeting with various people the evidence that whatever the person's background, beliefs, personality and issues they were immediately and individually known and understood by Jesus. He perceived the underlying condition of every human more clearly even than the individual. We see that in spite of all the human failure and degradation Jesus appeals to the person in their need to show them that he is the answer to that need. We see that when Jesus interacts with people he is utterly faithful, truthful and consistent with them. He probes their inner-most condition and deals with it head-on. We see therefore how Jesus is the healer of all human failure, physically in the consequence of a fallen world and spiritually in the corruption of the human soul. The healing which Jesus gives is not a temporary cure but a complete and permanent cure because it is a relationship with himself, the Master Physician. His healing remedy is not just kind words of comfort nor some life advice, nor even some medicinal potion but is himself and his Spirit becoming like a stream of life-giving water to nurture, feed, and quench the thirst of every human need.
And Jesus is still doing this today; meeting people and dealing with their condition.
When Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do.
But you go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' for I came not to call the righteous, but
sinners to repentance."
When Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick. I came
not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
Jesus answered them, "Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come
to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
He said to them, "Doubtless you will tell me this parable, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done at
Capernaum, do also here in your hometown.' "
He said to them, "Doubtless you will tell me this parable, 'Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done at
Capernaum, do also here in your hometown.' "
Those who passed by blasphemed him, wagging their heads, and saying, "You who destroy the temple, and build it in
three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!" Likewise the chief priests also mocking,
with the scribes, the Pharisees, and the elders, said, "He saved others, but he can't save himself. If he is the King
of Israel, let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now,
if he wants him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God.' "
Please click on the following links to go to the section on each parable.
- 1. John the Baptist
- 2. Andrew
- 3. John the Apostle
- 4. Simon Peter
- 5. Philip
- 6. Nathanael
- 7. The Virgin Mother
- 8. Nicodemus
- 9. The Samaritan Woman
- 10. The Leper
- 11. Matthew
- 12. The Paralysed Man
- 13. The Man with a withered hand
- 14. The Centurion
- 15. Simon and the Woman
- 16. Three would-be Followers
- 17. The Demoniac
- 18. Jairus
- 19. The Woman who Touched
- 20. The Syrophoenician Woman
- 21. The Father and Son
- 22. The Condemned Woman
- 23. The Lawyer
- 24. The Man born Blind
- 25. The Covetous Man and Brother
- 26. Martha
- 27. Mary
- 28. The Young Ruler
- 29. Zacchaeus
- 30. The Widow at the Treasury
- 31. Annas and Caiaphas
- 32. Pilate
- 33. Herod
- 34. The Dying Thief
- 35. Mary of Magdala
- 36. Cleopas and Another
- 37. Thomas
- 38. The Ethiopian Eunuch
- 39. Saul of Tarsus
- 40. Cornelius
- 41. Lydia
- 42. The Philippian Jailor
- 43. Felix
- 44. Agrippa
- 45. Demas
- 46. Onesimus
- 47. Summary
1. John the Baptist
The Person Before
- No-one greater than John had ever lived. He was greater than all the prophets and Kings.
- He was filled with the Holy Spirit even from before birth
- He was a prophet but from a priestly line
- He lived a secluded life
- He preached repentance and baptised people with water as a symbol of repentance
- He knew that his baptism was not enough to deal with sin
- He clearly saw the need for someone else to be the Messiah
- He saw himself as unworthy even to loosen the shoes of the Messiah
The only recorded dialogue directly between Jesus and John is at Jesus' Baptism. John, realising the purity and sinlessness of Jesus, also realised that his own call to repentance and baptism had no place for one so righteous. At first, John says he should be baptised by Jesus but Jesus chooses to be baptised by John "to fulfill all righteousness." After the baptism, John sees the Spirit of God descending on Jesus in the form of a dove. This had previously been revealed to John that this would be the sign that Jesus was the Son of God, the promised Messiah. These two elements showed John (i) that Jesus was the promised one that would baptise with the Holy Spirit and (ii) that Jesus's ministry would somehow involve this sinless one identifying with the sinning and taking the place of a sinner. Perhaps it is hard for us to appreciate the full significance of even this limited revelation to John. He knew the prophetic writings concerning the Messiah but now sees things more clearly. Jesus has graciously revealed to John himself and something about the way he would take.
We see the effect of Jesus' statement on John a few weeks later. After Jesus has returned from his temptations in the wilderness, the next time John sees Jesus he says "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." We can see the revelation that Jesus' words at his baptism had on John. Now John realises that Jesus the Messiah is himself God's sacrificial Lamb.
Later when in prison, John sent Jesus a question: "Art thou He that cometh, or look we for another?" This indicates that John had perhaps doubted, or at least become perplexed because of the works or methods of Jesus. Probably his expectations of the methods by which Jesus would take away the sins of the world were different from the reports he had heard and this raised questions in his mind. Jesus sent message back to John explaining exactly what he was doing and added "And blessed in he, whosoever shall find none occasion of stumbling in me." Perhaps this sounds a little strange to us but in effect Jesus was saying to John that he is not called upon to understand but to trust: don't see any cause for concern, and you will be blessed. Here again, and in John's hour of trouble in prison Jesus has a special word for him to exactly address his need and encourage his faith.
Conclusion: The Identity of Jesus - The Lamb of God
We learn from Jesus' dealings with John about the true identity of Jesus. We have John's testimony that he saw the Spirit of God descend onto Jesus and heard a voice from heaven declaring that Jesus was God's Son. We also see Jesus actually coming to John to be baptised to show that God, in his Son, was identifying with fallen sinful man; taking the place of sinful man; God exchanging places with man. The conclusion of John is that Jesus is the Lamb of God. The exact title "Lamb of God" is unique in the Bible to John the Baptist (though the title Lamb is given to Christ many times in the book of Revelation). This was John's remarkable insight that here was God and sacrifice together.
In the Old Testament, in Genesis 22:7, Isaac questions "where is the lamb for a burnt offering?" and in Genesis 22:8 Abraham replies "God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son." The question is answered in its deepest sense by the New Testament in the words of John: God has provided the Lamb.
Luke 1:13-17; Matthew 3:1-9; Matthew 3:10-15; Matthew 11:7-14; John 1:19-27; John 1:28-36; Matthew 11:2-6; Mark 6:21-29
The Person Before
- Andrew was a fisherman from Bethsaida.
- He was a close follower and disciple of John the Baptist and therefore well aware of John's call to repentance and he was seeking "the Kingdom of God" and living in the expectation of "the one who would follow."
- He had a brother called Simon Peter and we see that their father's name was John
- He is often referred to as the brother of Simon or with Simon - perhaps he was the younger brother.
- John the Baptist preached "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matt. 3:1); then Jesus came and also said exactly the same "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand" (Matt. 4:17). This was enough to convince Andrew that Jesus was a teacher to be followed like John.
The first consultation recorded between Jesus and Andrew (presumably along with John the Apostle) is recorded in John 1:35-44. Jesus asks the question "What are you looking for?" This question, coming at the start of Jesus ministry and directly after John the Baptist had said "Behold the Lamb of God", is direct and challenging, inviting Andrew to consider his life, the message he had heard from John the Baptist and ask what does he really want in life? The answer given by Andrew and John is in the form of a question: "Teacher where are you staying?" This was not polite interest but indicates they wanted to speak at length with Jesus concerning these matters. We do not know the detail but we know that after this discussion Andrew immediately goes to find his brother Simon to tell him that they had found the Messiah and bring him to Jesus.
It appears it was some later time (Mark 1:14 and Matthew 4:17-20) when John the Baptist was in prison that Andrew with his brother had gone back to their fishing nets that Jesus again called them to follow him and become fishers of men. Andrew is next mentioned when Simon's mother-in-law is healed at the house of Andrew and Simon. Later still (Mark 3:13-19 and Matthew 10:1-4) Andrew with the eleven others are appointed as the apostles of Jesus. The next event recorded is at the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:8-10). Here it is Andrew that in venturesome faith suggestively puts forward a lad with two loaves and some fish, but also realizing the insufficiency as he asks "what are these among so many?" Though tentative, Andrew's faith is rewarded in the sense that he is given to see that what seems worthless and inadequate can, in the Lord's hands be made into over-sufficiency.
Next, (John 12:20-28) we see Philip consulting with Andrew concerning Greeks who wanted to see Jesus. As he did after the first meeting with Jesus, Andrew's counsel is evidently that the men be brought to see Jesus.
Then we meet Andrew again, with 3 other disciples asking Jesus what will happen in the future. Jesus' reply (the Olivet discourse) is given in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.
Conclusion: Seeking and Finding
We first see Andrew seeking. He is a follower of John the Baptist and therefore aware of the need for repentance and the coming Kingdom of God. After meeting Jesus, although we have no record of what was discussed the effect on Andrew is to convince him that Jesus is the Messiah and that he should fetch others to Jesus. Andrew is called by Jesus to be an apostle, ventures out in faith, remains close to Jesus. The story is of someone who did find what they were seeking and because he found, he sought to help others to find. The Bible is silent on that first discussion with Jesus and Andrew but we conclude that everything Jesus said convinced Andrew that Jesus was the answer to his question. We are confident that Andrew never lost sight of this truth.
John 1:35-44; Mark 1:14-18; Matthew 4:17-20; Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-4; Mark 1:23-31; John 6:5-12; John 12:20-28; Mark 13:1-4; Acts 1:12-16
3. John the Apostle
The Person Before
- John never names himself in his Gospel but from the other Gospels we know that John was the son of Zebedee and Salome.
- John had a brother James and they were fishermen, as were Simon and Andrew
- Salome was the sister of Mary the virgin mother, making John and Jesus cousins
- Although anonymous, the writer of the Gospel of John appears to refer to himself as a "disciple whom Jesus loved"
- John was also the writer of three letters and the Book of Revelation
- From his writings John appears to be enthralled by the profound implications of the gospel, recording the events and sayings that had great meaning for him, and having an expansive and visionary outlook.
Jesus first says to John "Come and see". Later he says "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men." Then Jesus numbers John and his brother James as two of the apostles; and then, like he gave the name Peter (Rock) to Simon, he gives the surname Boanerges to both John and James (Mark 3:17). This name means sons of thunder suggesting that Jesus recognised in them the potential to become mighty warriors in spiritual warfare.
Three times Jesus had to rebuke John to correct him. The first was when John forbade an "outsider" for casting out demons in Jesus name. The second concerned callling for revenge on Samaritans for not receiving Jesus. And thirdly, was the occasion when James and John caused indignation in the other disciples by requesting preferred places in the Kingdom.
There were three other occasions when John along with James and Simon were singled out by Jesus to accompany him. This was the raising of Jairus daughter (Mark 5:37 - He allowed no one to follow him, except Peter, James, and John the brother of James.); the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1 - After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them up into a high mountain by themselves.) and the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:37 - He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and severely troubled.) As to why Jesus singled out these three we can assume that it was not due to higher status but individual need. Whatever element of weakness Jesus saw in them, by witnessing these experiences Jesus was teaching them and bringing them into a better understanding and preparing them for what would follow.
After all this Jesus showed great confidence in John: on the cross Jesus entrusted his mother to the care of John.
Lastly we see Peter, after the resurrection and by the sea of Tiberias, asking in a rather impolite manner "Lord, what about this man?" referring to John. Jesus' reply was a correction to Peter, misunderstood by most but John himself saw Jesus' meaning.
Conclusion: Come and SEE
It is rather speculative, but after John's initial encounter with Jesus, in John 1:39 Jesus says to John and Andrew "Come and see". The question that prompted this was "Rabbi where are you staying?" They were hoping to go to somewhere to speak further to Jesus. The words of Jesus "Come and see" could be heard as come and see where I am staying or perhaps Jesus was really saying come and SEE, really SEE. And maybe that is the meaning that John heard. If so, we can think of all of Christ's dealings with John as delivering this promise; John did SEE and his visionary hopes were graciously given him in abundance. Furthermore, in John's vision on Patmos towards the end of his life in Revelation 4:1 we read that an angel of God says to John "Come up here, and I will show you the things which must happen after this." If we can make this connection then John did SEE and the promise of Jesus was more than John could ever have imagined. John was shown more of the future than any other man.
John 1:35-44; Mark 9:38-40; Luke 9:51-56; Mark 10:35-41; John 19:25-27; John 20:1-8; John 20:1-8
4. Simon Peter
The Person Before
- Like his brother Andrew, Simon was a fisherman from Bethsaida.
- In a number of occasions the gospels portray Simon asking some big questions and showing great emotional reactions. This reveals a man wanting to learn, prepared to ask the questions, trying to understand, impulsive, passionate and dedicated in his desire to follow Jesus.
- His father's name was John
- He is often referred to along with his brother Andrew.
It is Simon's brother Andrew that brings Simon to Jesus. At their first meeting Jesus already knows who he is and says so; then he says to Simon, your name is being changed to Peter. This is remarkable in itself and it is remarkable that the impulsive Simon does not react to this and it is probably due to his utter astonishment. It is even more remarkable that Jesus seeing into this man that he is impulsive and passionate should rename him as Peter or Cephas which means rock. In effect, Jesus tells him he is going to be the thing he is not! He will be foundational and solid. Jesus saw Simon, and saw the potential of the man. Probably, this was so astonishing to Simon that he was totally captivated by Jesus from that moment.
It was some time after this first meeting that Jesus said to Simon Peter "Follow me". There are several events and occasions where Simon Peter is mentioned. He is the disciple that walks on water and then sinks; he is the disciple that testifies to Jesus as the Son of God and then moments later is rebuking Jesus for saying he would suffer and be killed. He is again not listening at the transfiguration and it seems cannot understand that Jesus must die and be raised. He is the disciple that says he will lay down his life for Jesus, he defended Jesus at his arrest but later denies Jesus three times. He is the disciple that is restored after the resurrection when Jesus appears to them on the beach and says to him three times, "Feed my lambs."
Conclusion: Strength through Christ
So in conclusion we ask did Simon become the rock which Jesus named him. Did he eventually overcome his impulsive character and become as solid as rock. Did Jesus realise the potential he saw in Simon or was that prediction of strength to come to nothing?
To answer that question we see in Acts 2 and 3, Simon Peter standing up defending the faith on the day of Pentecost so that about three thousand were baptised and added to the church; healing a lame man and then preaching the gospel with eloquence and conviction in the Temple. He did become a true foundational apostle. That he became strong like rock of course was not of himself, his strength came through the work and person of the ultimate rock which is Jesus.
When did this happen? It hadn't happened at Jesus trial because Peter denied Jesus. It seems that it was the resurrection that changed everything for Peter. He writes in 1 Peter 1:3 that "he was born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." In Luke 24:34 we read that Jesus appeared after the resurrection, privately to Peter. There is no record of that conversation but we can be fairly sure it was in his mind when he wrote 1 Peter 1:3.
John 1:35-44; Mark 1:14-18; Matthew 4:17-20; Mark 3:13-19; Matthew 10:1-4; Matthew 14:28-30; Matthew 18:21-22; Matthew 16:15-25; Matthew 17:1-5; Matthew 26:33-36; Mark 1:23-31; Mark 13:1-4; John 6:68-69; John 13:36-38; John 18:10-11; John 21:15-17; Acts 1:12-16; Acts 2:12-17; Acts 3:1-21; 1 Peter 1:3-5
The Person Before
- Philip was from Bethsaida, as was Andrew and Peter.
- Philip is only mentioned by name as an apostle in Matthew, Mark and Luke. All the information we have about him is from four short passages in John. It seems that Philip was not a prominent character and perhaps the type of person often overlooked.
- At the last supper it was Jesus who said to Philip; "Have I been with you such a long time, and do you not know me, Philip?" suggesting that he was perhaps a little slower than some.
- Nevertheless Philip was familiar with the Scriptures especially the Law and the Prophets.
If it is correct to think of Philip as a less prominent and less impressive character, then our Lord's dealings with Philip are the more remarkable. Firstly we note that Jesus was interested in Philip. Jesus found him and said to him "Follow me" which we can think of as more like "come with me." It seems that Philip quickly recognised Jesus as the one written about by Moses and the Prophets.
There are only three other occasions where we have something recorded about Philip. The first occurs at the feeding of the 5,000 when Jesus addresses a question to Philip about where to buy bread, not as if to ask his recommendation but to test him. His reply was practical because in effect he said that they do not even have the money to buy enough bread. Jesus makes no reply but the subsequent miracle would have helped Philip to understand that practicalities are not to be considered as an obstacle where faith and Jesus are present.
The next occasion is one where Philip appears unsure what to do and so consults with Andrew. He hears Jesus' remarkable reply that the time is coming for the glorification of Jesus and also hears the voice of the Father from heaven. In effect, this was saying to Philip and Andrew that the Greeks will have to wait until after my death and resurrection.
The final exchange that is recorded occurs at the last supper when Philip says "Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us" indicating he was still confused about the identity of Jesus. At this point the Lord has somewhat of a rebuke for Philip but graciously explains in a most simple and profound way the exact answer to Philip's confusion: "He who has seen me has seen the Father".
Conclusion: Those who man overlooks, Christ seeks
We seem to see a man here who willingly followed Jesus but perhaps was slow to fully grasp the teaching and identity of Jesus. Our Lord did not give up on Philip, he was selected to be an apostle, he was tested by Jesus and his concerns were answered. We may take heart from our Lord's dealings with Philip. The Lord seeks and will work with all kinds of people and when we are confused, if we ask, Jesus does not leave us in a confused state.
John 1:43-46; John 6:5-7; John 12:20-24; John 14:7-10
The Person Before
- It is fairly certain that Nathanael (in John's gospel) and Bartholomew (in Matthew, Mark and Luke) are the same person. If this is the case, Nathanael was one of the twelve apostles.
- Nathanael was a resident of Cana.
- Of Nathanael, Jesus says "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit".
- Nathanael was clearly a devout Israelite, living under the law and authority of God.
Jesus says that Nathanael is "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit". The reference, especially taking into account Jesus's subsequent words is clearly meant to suggest here is a man like Jacob but without Jacob's faults. It is a high assessment of Nathanael's character. This confirms that Nathanael's comment about Nazareth was not sarcastic, but true because the reputation of Nazareth was not very good. Nathanael is brought to Jesus by Philip but before he was brought he had been sitting privately, away from public notice under a fig tree presumably in devotional meditation. Jesus knows where he has come from and tells Nathanael that he saw him. This supernatural knowledge is enough to convince Nathanael of the Deity of Jesus and he exclaims "You are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel!"
Nathanael, realized he was in the presence of someone with Divine knowledge and it is to his credit that he testifies to the true identity of Jesus. It is speculation but perhaps an aspect of his meditation was revealed in Jesus' words - had he been considering the fact that God sees us when we are unseen by others?
Jesus response to Nathanael is to show him the promise of which Jacob dreamed. But whereas Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on a stairway, Jesus reveals he is the stairway though he uses the name Son of Man rather than Son of God. By so doing he explains to Nathanael how the connection between heaven and earth is made. It is by a Man who is God. Again it is speculation but this subject may well also have been something Nathanael had meditated upon.
Conclusion: Even the most devout person needs Jesus
Nathanael was a devout Israelite and he quickly recognised and believed Jesus to be the Son of God. To him, Jesus gave the meaning of Jacob's vision and provided even clearer insight, revealing himself to be the connection between heaven and earth. He who said nothing good can come from Nazareth, now realises nothing really good has come from anywhere except Nazareth! Jesus came to one who was knowledgeable in the Scriptures and devout in way of life and provided insight, new meaning and hope.
John 1:45-51; John 21:1-2
7. The Virgin Mother
The Person Before
- Mary was from Nazareth, a town which did not have a good reputation based on the words of Nathanael: "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?".
- But Mary though she may have been living in sinful surroundings was herself living in close fellowship with the God of her fathers; keeping herself in full obedience to the law and the Lord.
- We have the Angel's testimony that she was highly favoured, endued with grace and the Lord was with her.
- Mary was of royal descent in King David's line through Nathan and her father was called Heli; she was pledged to be married to Joseph.
- To Mary fell the honour of becoming the mother of the longed-for Messiah.
The first divine communication to Mary was of course from the Angel Gabriel. Despite being told of her tremendous and almost overwhelming calling to be the mother of the Son of the Most High she accepts this, believing the announcement, just asking how it was to happen; after all she was unmarried. She is given the answer and it is the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High. It seems as if another question is in her mind because though it is unasked, the angel answers it: therefore the Son shall be called Holy. It is therefore by the same Spirit and power that the Son will be born to a virgin, that the child shall be perfect and holy but of a human mother. To these stupendous statements Mary simply says; let it be as you have said: her trust and belief are awe-inspiring.
Three occasions when Jesus spoke to his Mother: firstly at the Temple when Jesus was 12 years old ("Why were you looking for me? Didn't you know that I must be in my Father's house?"); and secondly at the wedding in Cana ("Woman, what does that have to do with you and me? My hour has not yet come.") and thirdly when Jesus was also speaking to the crowd ("Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?") seem at least in our translation to be rather harsh. Of course they are not really harsh so we must look for the deeper meanings.
On the occasion when Jesus was found by his parents at 12 years old, left in the Temple we read that even his parents did not understand his reply. It seems that was indicating his awareness of his mission and showing his parents that the time of his submission to their will was starting to decline and the time of his submission to his heavenly Father's will was increasing. It would be necessary for his parents to understand that now there was, as well, a heavenly parent instructing their son.
The next occasion is eighteen years later at the wedding in Cana. Mary comes to Jesus saying that the hosts have no wine. Jesus' first reply suggests that he is saying in effect; what does that problem mean (i) for me and (ii) for you. The second part of the reply suggests that Mary was thinking this problem might be a good way for Jesus to reveal his personality and identity. So Jesus corrects her saying in effect that time has not come. It is evident from what followed that the problem was for Jesus an opportunity for a supernatural act but it wouldn't reveal himself in the way Mary was thinking. Mary however knowing that something might happen, in a motherly way, even though she doesn't fully understand tells the servant "you had better do what he says". The use of the term "woman" in addressing his mother was actually a term of respect, not as it may be received today.
The third occasion is one where Jesus is speaking to the multitudes and Mary and his brothers some to speak to him. We are not told the exact reason but it was probably that Mary was worried about him. Jesus reply is made to the crowds but presumably heard by or told to his family and appears strange. In his answer Jesus reveals a higher relationship than family and it is in the bond between all who consecrate themselves to the will of God. The implication is that Mary was still having difficulty because of her relationship to Jesus as mother and parent. She has a caring desire but Jesus realises that the closeness of this family relationship could be a terrible hindrance: Mary must not allow her motherly relationship with her son to get in the way of the more important saving relationship with her son.
At the cross we see Mary standing by and watching the death of her son. Jesus in his hour of unfathomable pain was concerned about his Mother and directed John to take care of her.
Finally Mary is identified with the company of men and women awaiting Pentecost. The same Spirit that came upon her for the conception of the Son of God within her now came upon her again uniting her with Jesus for ever in spiritual life.
Conclusion: Family relationship is secondary to Spiritual relationship
Mary's story is obviously unique. She was chosen because of her character. She was endued with grace and was faithful to her high office. She lived under suspicion, she bore much of the human responsibility of care for the Son of the Most High God and found her lonely path involved great pain and was not always easy to understand.
Mary was very greatly blessed to be the mother of Jesus but it seems that Jesus realised this blessing could be a problem if parental caring and concern got in the way of his mission and Mary's need for salvation. Jesus knew how to deal with this so that the family relationship was put to one side so that the spiritual relationship could flourish.
Luke 1:26-41; Luke 2:8-35; Luke 2:40-52; John 2:1-11; Matthew 12:46-50; Matthew 13:54-58; John 19:25-27; Acts 1:14
The Person Before
- Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a teacher and ruler of the Jews.
- As a Pharisee, Nicodemus would have been very patriotic, traditional, religious and ritualistic. Aa a ruler of the Jews, Nicodemus would have been a member of the Sanhedrin.
- Nicodemus was also a well known teacher probably in the School of Gamaliel.
- Nicodemus was also different from many of the Pharisees because unlike many others he was open to the possibility that Jesus was a teacher from God and he sought an audience with Jesus to receive his teaching.
Our Lord's dealings with Nicodemus are unusual because rather than dealing individually with the person, the remarks of Jesus are generally applicable to everyone. This seems to be due to the fact that Nicodemus was himself "the teacher of the Jews." Our Lord's dealings with Nicodemus are also unusual since generally he did not openly entrust himself and his teaching to the Pharisees because of their antagonistic attitude to Jesus. Nicodemus was different, a man of discernment and one to whom Jesus could entrust himself.
The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus progresses in three steps.
First we see the exchange of principle:
Nicodemus: "you are a teacher come from God"
Jesus: "unless one is born anew, he can't see God's Kingdom"
Next we see the exchange of explanation:
Nicodemus: "how can a man be born when he is old?"
Jesus: "that which is born of the flesh is flesh. That which is born of the Spirit is spirit"
Finally we see the exchange of understanding:
Nicodemus: "how can these things be?"
Jesus: "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
It was to Nicodemus that Jesus told perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life."
The significance of the conversation is that eternal life is received by spiritual rebirth - an act of God - through belief, made possible by the action of the Son of Man.
It is however impossible to read this conversation without seeing the limitations of human understanding on the appreciation of spiritual things. Jesus does not in any way undervalue the intellect but gives us an insight into a spiritual realm which can be experienced but not understood. The probability is that Nicodemus did not understand much of what Jesus had said until he witnessed the death of Jesus and himself anointed Jesus' dead body and it with the cloths and then seen Jesus "lifted" up to the sky in his ascension.
Conclusion: Spiritual Birth or Perish
Most of Pharisees were strongly opposed to Jesus. But Jesus always treats people as individuals so this Pharisee who was honest and discerning received perhaps the most complete, succinct and sublime explanation of salvation ever.
John 3:1-21; John 7:40-53; John 19:38-42
9. The Samaritan Woman
The Person Before
- This woman was a Samaritan, descended from the Northern Kingdom of Israel.
- This woman apparently had a religious background evidenced by her remarks "our father Jacob" and "we know that the Messiah cometh"
- She seems to have had a problem about where to worship God.
- For whatever reason she had lived a complicated life having had five husbands and now living with a man to whom she was not married. It seems that her religious background had little current significance for her.
- The woman was tasked with the laborious work of fetching water.
Firstly, Jesus appeals to the kindness of the woman in asking for a drink. The woman, knowing that Jesus was a Jew and that Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans was perplexed by this request. Jesus does not answer her perplexity but next appeals to her curiosity and makes a statement which in all probability would have left her bewildered "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water". The woman replies indicating her confusion but also her interest in the possibility of "living water" which might put an end to thirst, for she said "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. So where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his children and his livestock? Jesus then tells her that he is able to give this "living water" and that it will provide eternal life; "Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never thirst again; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life". The woman still struggling with understanding Jesus' statement believes enough to ask for this living water. She says; "Sir, give me this water, so that I don't get thirsty, neither come all the way here to draw." She had surely and remarkably grasped that this living water was something beyond physical water but she can only talk of such a thing by interpreting it in the realm of the physical.
Then we see Jesus, knowing her situation, revealing his knowledge that her life has been one of a desire or thirst in life which was not satisfied despite trying to find what she was looking in six relationships. After admitting her unmarried situation the woman is rather evasive, prepared to admit that Jesus is a prophet but avoiding further discussion on her sin by raising a discussion point in the realm of religion as to the place of worship. Perhaps surprisingly Jesus addresses the issue raised and actually explains a most profound teaching on the subject of worship: the hour is coming when the place will be immaterial. Her reply indicates her belief that Christ will come. Then Jesus says most clearly "I am he."
It is remarkable indeed that Jesus reveals to this Samaritan woman such profound teaching concerning his identity, the Spiritual nature of God, the way God is to be worshipped and the unquenchable life giving power that he is able to give.
The disciples are concerned about Jesus' physical needs but he tells them; "I have food to eat that you don't know about." Clearly indicating that doing the will of his Father was both his work, delight and sustenance.
The outcome of this meeting was the woman telling her friends "Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Christ?" and Jesus staying for two days in that Samaritan town. It was not only that Jesus knew her marital history but that he perfectly understood the in-most desires in her life and was able to perfectly address this need.
Conclusion: The Source of Living Water and a new insight into Worship
This woman was found by Jesus and then engaged her in conversation. We see how it was God's will that this woman met Jesus for this conversation should not have happened according to the normal social convention.
It is perhaps surprising in this meeting that Jesus said to this woman so much of immense significance in his mission and teaching, yet also left so much unsaid that we might wonder how much the woman really understood. At its most fundamental level however we see this woman in need, physically for water, morally for the mistakes and misfortune in her life, spiritually in her unfulfilled life. Jesus does not tell her to do anything, he does not give her advice or reprimand. What he does is ask her for a drink of water and then offer her a gift of eternal life giving water. Jesus' words with his evident personality, respect for this woman, intolerance of the social convention and especially his understanding of her as a person was enough to convince her that Jesus was the Messiah.
10. The Leper
The Person Before
- This man was suffering from the disease of leprosy and in its advanced form.
- By law a leper was separated from contact with other people.
- The case of any leper was hopeless: there was no cure, it was a slow disabling disease.
- The man aware of his plight, desired healing having some reverence towards Jesus approached Jesus, believing that Jesus could help him.
- The leper came, not questioning the ability of Jesus, but only his willingness.
The Leper, presumably having heard something about Jesus beforehand, comes before him convinced that Jesus was able to heal and hoping that he was willing. The Leper did not actually ask to be made clean but only stated his belief that Jesus could make him clean. He put himself at the mercy of Jesus.
Jesus is not afraid to approach this leper, knowing his own power and authority; and neither does Jesus act as if this condition is in any way hopeless and incurable. We read that Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper saying, "I want to; be made clean" and immediately the leper was made clean. It would have been unlawful for Jesus to touch a leper so we would conclude the healing occurred before the touch. It seems almost that Jesus, having heard the belief of the leper, is so eager to show his willingness that there is no hint of hesitation in the healing. The touch and words of Jesus confirmed to the leper the ability and willingness of Jesus to heal. Jesus does not need to touch the leper, nor even say anything to heal this terrible, incurable and disabling disease.
Jesus tells the leper to tell no-one but go to the priest and offer that which the law required for healing. Presumably in telling the leper to keep silent, Jesus' intention was to discourage the crowd to seek him only for the miracles. Whilst the law did include provision for confirmation of healing and an offering, presumably due to the incurable nature of advanced leprosy this would have been an extremely rare if not unheard-of event. It should have alerted the priest to the identity of the healer.
Conclusion: Able and Willing
The Leper came believing Jesus was able, but unsure whether Jesus was willing to heal him. The man received his answer in the touch and words of Jesus. That answer was absolutely yes. The man went away immediately, miraculously healed and believing Jesus.
All disease is ultimately a consequence of sin but this does not necessarily mean that this man was suffering from the leprosy because of any particular or personal sin. From this miracle we can be certain that Jesus is not only able to heal every consequence of sin but also and always is willing.
Matthew 8:1-3; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-15
The Person Before
- Matthew, or Levi as he was also called, was the son of Alphaeus.
- In all probability it was Jesus who renamed Levi, Matthew which means gift of God.
- He is described as a publican or tax collector, an official under the Roman Empire
- He was probably a man of some wealth but the name Levi suggested he was also a Hebrew of the tribe of the Levites (priests)
- Remarkably the Gospels include no remark ever made by Matthew, suggesting a quiet man
- His Gospel however gives evidence that the writer was very familiar with the Old Testament. Matthew gives about a hundred references to the Old Testament, more than all the other Gospels put together. The phrase "that it might be fulfilled" occurs several times. So although he may be thought of as from among the "tax collectors and sinners" he was actually a profoundly religious man.
The first record concerning Matthew is that Jesus "saw him" and said to him "Follow me". No reply is recorded from Matthew but his response was to immediately leave everything, including his means of livelihood, and join Jesus on whatever path and process that would take him. Perhaps Matthew had heard Jesus speak before and been carefully contemplating this in the context of the Scriptures.
Matthew is then recorded as making a feast for Jesus at his house and he invites a crowd of "tax collectors and sinners". It was for this that the Scribes and Pharisees complained "Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?". Jesus replied with an explanation of his whole mission "Those who are healthy have no need for a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." No doubt this was a great satisfaction to Matthew since his action had been vindicated by Jesus as being entirely in accord with the purpose of Jesus.
Conclusion: Jesus found him - for a purpose
So what was the effect and outcome of Jesus finding this man and stating his mission as a physician for those who are "morally sick" - those who recognise and admit they are sinners? The only answer we can give is that Matthew was called to write his Gospel which is a witness to the identity of Jesus as the promised Messiah and King of the Jews. As such it is a gospel for the Hebrews and for others it brings together the Old and New Testaments in the identity of Christ himself. Perhaps Jesus chose Matthew with his knowledge and high regard of the Old Testament in mind so that Matthew could write the Gospel he did.
Luke 5:27-28; Luke 5:2932
12. The Paralysed Man
The Person Before
- This unnamed man was paralysed - suffering a terrible disability for which there was no possibility of a cure. He could not walk and had to be carried.
- The events take place in Capernaum.In all probability it was Jesus who renamed Levi, Matthew means gift of God.
- He was very despondant in his condition.
- He had some appreciation of faith in Jesus for it is recorded that Jesus sees "their faith" implying the man and his friends.
This miracle occurred when Jesus was teaching many Pharisees and teachers of the law at a crowded house. Because there was no room to bring this paralysed man to Jesus, he was lowered by his friends on a bed through the roof. Although perhaps the roof was of light construction this was a remarkable and brazen thing to do. Neither the paralysed man or his friends speak; this man and his disability are laid before Jesus. Indeed, from the accounts in the three Gospels, they don't even speak after the miracle.
Jesus says to the paralysed man "Son, cheer up! Your sins are forgiven you." The implication of Jesus' remark is that this man's paralysis was somehow the consequence of a previous sinful action. Whilst all illness is ultimately the result of original sin in some instances personal sin may have physical consequences. This, together with the man paralysed for 38 years at the pool of Bethsaida, are probably the only instances of this type in the records of Jesus' miracles. We cannot speculate what this might have been but it seems the man may have been aware of this simply because Jesus addresses the root problem in saying: don't be afraid, your sins are forgiven, then after that, arise and get up.
The scribes and the Pharisees object to Jesus claiming to forgive sins. Their objection is that only God can forgive sins, and in that they are correct. Their problem is that this makes Jesus into God, or at least God's ambassador sent by God on God's authority. They appear to overlook the fact that Jesus can say to this paralysed man, "arise", and he is immediately healed, also make Jesus into God, or at least God's ambassador sent by God on God's authority!
The reaction of the crowd is a mixture of amazement, praise to God and fear.
Conclusion: Be of good courage - your sins are forgiven
The lesson from this miracle is that all our suffering is the result of sin, whether directly personal or not, we are all implicated in the same situation. But Jesus shows that he has authority to forgive sins and so deal with root problem of suffering. This does not mean that suffering will immediately disappear because even the man healed subsequently died but when Jesus returns their will be a final end to suffering for those whose sins are forgiven.
It is interesting to note that the man didn't even speak - he just silently presented himself to Jesus with the faith that he had. This reminds us that Jesus sees into right our heart.
If through indifference to Jesus we neglect to seek his forgiveness when we have opportunity then eventually when we do meet him as judge he will not be able to say to us "be of good cheer" and we will be afraid.
Matthew 9:2-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26
13. The Man with a withered Hand
The Person Before
- This unnamed man had a withered hand - obviously he was unable to use it and therefore limited in the work he could do - the wording in the original text suggests this was not a disability from birth but was from disease or accident.
- Jesus found this man worshipping in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The rulers were obviously aware of this man because they are watching Jesus to see whether he would heal the man on the Sabbath.
The context of this miracle is the issue of the Sabbath. On a previous Sabbath, the disciples had picked and eaten grain and the Pharisees questioned Jesus about this, saying the action was unlawful. Jesus gives two examples from the Old Testament where the Pharisee's laws were violated yet those involved were blameless in God's sight. Jesus' reply "I desire mercy, and not sacrifice" indicates that the Pharisees had a wrong perception of God. Still in their misunderstanding, on the Sabbath in question, the Pharisees watch to see if Jesus would heal this man so that, according to their laws, they could claim Jesus had violated the Sabbath.
Knowing that the man with the withered hand is in the synagogue, the Pharisees test Jesus with the question "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath day?" Jesus' reply is that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath and we read in Mark, that Jesus is angry with their hardness of heart. So Jesus says to the man "Stand up in the middle of the assembly" - as if to draw attention to the issue and what he was about to do. Then Jesus says to the man "stretch out your hand" and as he did what previously he could not, in obedience to Jesus' command, he found he could stretch out his hand and it was healed. This provoked the Pharisees into a rage because their laws had been broken. Jesus however claimed that God's law of the Sabbath was not violated and that he himself was the ultimate authority on the Sabbath law - in other words God!
Conclusion: With Jesus impossible things become possible
The first lesson from this miracle concerns observation of the fourth commandment regarding work and worship. The Pharisees had a very strict view of what was lawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus presents his view which is that doing good and having mercy on others does not violate the law. Jesus questions the Pharisees asking them is it lawful to do a good thing on the Sabbath and it is not recorded that they were able to give an answer. It is clear that God is concerned about what is in the heart of a man, and not ritualistic observance which was the issue for the Pharisees.
Secondly we see that Jesus is able to heal this man's un-healable condition of a withered and useless hand. In this case Jesus does not even touch the man but his command is enough for the miraculous healing to take place. That the healing was complete is proven by the reaction of the Pharisees. What other possible explanation can be given for this miracle other than to admit either that Jesus was God or at the very least he had the power and authority of God?
Thirdly we observe that this man tried to do that which was previously impossible for him but in obedience to Jesus and looking at Jesus he was enabled to do the impossible. In his case this was a physical thing - to open out his crippled hand. In our case, it may be a spiritual healing, a task or even a vocation - with Jesus the impossible can become possible when we act on his command and keep looking to him.
Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-11
14. The Centurion
The Person Before
- This unnamed man was a Roman centurion, having soldiers in his charge and himself under the authority of his superiors and ultimately the Roman Emperor himself.
- The Jewish elders considered this centurion to be a worthy man for he loved the Jewish Nation and had built them a synagogue.
- His own opinion of himself was that he was not worthy either to have Jesus come into his house or even to meet Jesus face to face.
- Jesus said of this man his faith was greater than any other he had met even in Israel.
- He had great concern for his servant who was very sick. This seems all the more remarkable knowing that servants in Roman culture were not generally treated well.
- It would appear that this Roman centurion was a remarkable man: trustworthy, compassionate, honest, humble and from whatever he had heard of Jesus, he was convinced by the person, power and authority of Jesus, to believe in him. He seems to have had higher standards than the system he lived in.
The account of the centurion is given in Matthew and Luke: however Matthew has the centurion himself coming to Jesus, whereas Luke says that he sent elders of the Jews. It would seem that Luke's account is probably the more accurate, either way, he was represented before Jesus.
The centurion's request to Jesus concerns his servant who is at the point of death. The request is slightly different in Matthew and Luke. It seems that the man, wanting Jesus to come and heal his servant, is however unwilling to ask that Jesus should come because he considers himself unworthy that Jesus would come under his roof. So the request he makes to Jesus is that he should "say the word", or "give the command", for healing. The reason given for making the request in this way is the centurion's understanding of authority. This is no doubt largely due to his position in the Roman military. He is able to command his sub-ordinates and they must obey; he also has superiors whose command he must obey. Presumably this Centurian had heard of Jesus healings, casting out demons and teaching and had understood this to signify that Jesus had received authority to do these things from the very Throne of God; he could find no other explanation how they could be done.
On hearing the request, Jesus says "I haven't found so great a faith, not even in Israel." This remark and what follows is clearly addressed to the crowd as well as the centurion. The man recognized (i) the authority of Jesus to deal with disability and illness (ii) his own low position in relation to Jesus. Jesus accepted this as true, active faith; the kind of faith he was looking for and yet so often did not find. Jesus says "Go your way. Let it be done for you as you have believed." Jesus spoke the command and the servant was healed.
Conclusion: Faith from an understanding of the Authority of Jesus
This instance reminds us that we are under authority ourselves. We are all under the authority of God. We are answerable to God, as our 'superior', for our actions. It is as we accept God's authority over us we are brought into obedience and faith. God's authority is not a corrupted authority as is often the case with man's authority but it is a liberating authority that allows life to be based on truth, light and love.
Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:2-10
15. Simon and the Woman
The Persons Before
- This Simon (not Simon the Apostle) was a Pharisee and the woman is unnamed but identified as a sinner, indicating that these two characters were at the opposite extremes of social position.
- Simon is a Pharisee which indicates that he was a religious man but holding to traditions and rituals of man, believing in error that they were correctly interpreting the law of God. The Pharisees believed that they held to the commandments of God but they had little real understanding or living relationship with God. He had an intellectual knowledge of God, understanding the doctrine of holiness and righteousness but failing to see God's grace and mercy.
- In contrast the woman is one with no religious pretense, probably through some personal misfortune is unable to live the life she would want but a person who would welcome the possibility that God could be gracious and merciful.
- By implication in the story it appears that before the meeting in Simon's house, the woman had been forgiven for her sins by Jesus. Simon had not yet been forgiven.
The meeting takes place at the house of Simon following his invitation to Jesus to a meal. It is clear in the account that several, if not many, other people were present and this included the unnamed woman who appears to have invited herself, having found out that Jesus was going to be there.
Simon's attitude towards Jesus is discourteous and possibly somewhat hostile. It seems that he is looking for a reason to justify his desire to discredit Jesus, as he says to himself - Jesus cannot be a prophet because then he would not allow this sinner to touch him.
Simon is right to think that this prophet of God would know what is in people's heart because Jesus 'sees' what Simon is thinking and addresses exactly that point by a parable. The parable concerns two debtors but one owing ten times the amount of the other. Jesus asks Simon if both were released from their debt who should be most grateful. There is a sense of reluctance in Simon's answer and perhaps he anticipates the application but he replies correctly, "He who was forgiven the most".
Jesus then highlights the discourteous nature of Simon's welcome, compared to the extravagant welcome given him by the woman. Thus Jesus revealed the contrast between Simon's hardness and lack of love and the woman's tenderness and overwhelming love. He then goes on to say that this woman's love is due to, and evidence of, forgiven sins. Jesus says to the woman "Your faith has saved you. Go in peace."
Conclusion: Forgiveness of sins brings love and peace
Jesus deals with these two completely contrasting individuals, yet the same words are said to both. His love for Simon and the woman are the same and his desire is that both will have faith and be forgiven. The other guests are astonished that Jesus says to the woman "Your sins are forgiven" and ask "Who is this who even forgives sins?"
This story is only mentioned by Luke. We don't know if Simon changed his mind, but is clear that Jesus did know everything in the woman's heart and in Simon's heart too, so perhaps this was enough to convince him.
16. Three Would-be Followers
The Persons Before
- The first man is a scribe. This was a class of people whose occupation was interpreting and applying the law of God. They were generally and increasingly antagonistic to Jesus. However this man has a desire to follow Jesus and enthusiastically, and perhaps impulsively says that he is willing to go wherever that would take him.
- The second man, described already as a disciple by Jesus also desires to follow Jesus, but is held back by responsibilities.
- The third man, only mentioned in Luke's account, again desires to follow Jesus, but is held back by social engagements.
The would-be followers may be grouped together by Matthew and Luke due to similarity in nature and teaching rather than all occurring on the same occasion. Anyway we appear to have three men (two only are mentioned by Matthew) who desire to follow Jesus but something is holding them back.
In the case of the first man, it is Jesus himself who reveals the issue; the other two give their reasons themselves.
The response to the call of Jesus given by the second man is "Lord, allow me first to go and bury my father." This indicates that he had family obligations and responsibilities which would continue until the death of his father. In other words he gave a reason to delay following Jesus.
The response to the call of Jesus given by the third man is "I want to follow you, Lord, but first allow me to say good-bye to those who are at my house." In this we deduce that the man was keen on his social affairs and wished them to be concluded before he would follow Jesus. Like the second man, he gave a reason to delay following Jesus.
Jesus says to the first man, "The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." This suggests that the issue with this man that was potentially to hold him back may have been comfort, security or property. In his reply, Jesus is saying that he has detached himself from everything that could detract from his work and the progress of the Kingdom of God. And this follower would need to do the same.
To the second man Jesus says, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead, but you go and announce God's Kingdom." The meaning is that family responsibilities must not interfere with spiritual responsibilities. The work of announcing the Kingdom of God is a much higher calling than any other. So there is a time when family responsibilities must be left to others.
To the third man Jesus says, "No one, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for God's Kingdom." The reply is severe but warned against the danger of going back, losing the call, returning to the affairs of worldly life.
Conclusion: Follow without delay and without distraction
All three men were attracted to Jesus but all had reasons not to fully commit. Jesus is saying to each one that they must get rid of whatever was holding them back and set their face to follow Jesus with no distractions. The issues these three men raise are as relevant today as they were then and must serve as a reminder that the call to follow Jesus really means a willingness to desert everything else.
The words of Jesus to these three men are not to be applied universally as if all who are called to follow Jesus should abandon their home or family responsibilities. These were particular words from Jesus to certain individuals; the general teaching is that we should allow nothing to delay our response to the call of Jesus and should allow nothing to distract us from serving Jesus in his Kingdom.
Matthew 8:18-22; Luke 9:57-62
17. The Demoniac
The Persons Before
- The man is described in terms of a man completely out of control, living amongst tombs, unable to be restrained, unable to be governed, lacerating himself, crying out day and night and a menace to others. This man is in great suffering, living not as a man.
- The explanation given in Scripture is that the man was under the control and influence of demons existing inside the man. The narrative described a man whose speech, personality, emotions and actions were under the control of evil spirit beings. We are not told how this happened. We maybe uncertain whether this could happen today, but here we are told of a man under the mastery of evil spirits. It may be that as the Gospel is increasingly proclaimed, so such manifestations have decreased.
The account of the man and his meeting with Jesus is given in Matthew, Mark and Luke. Slightly different details are given in each account and Matthew records that there were two men who were demon-possessed.
We read first that the man immediately went to Jesus as he arrived in the boat from the other side of the lake and Jesus commanded the unclean spirits to leave the man. The demons recognise the identity of Jesus and are fearful, knowing Jesus power over them. Jesus then asks the man his name, probably something he had not been asked before. His reply again indicates the control that the spirits had over the man and he is only able to give the name which indicates possession by many demons.
The unclean spirits then beg not to be sent to the abyss indicating their anticipation of punishment. Instead they request to be permitted to enter a herd of pigs, and Jesus sends them from the man into the pigs. At once the man is in his right mind and the pigs destroy themselves in the lake.
Conclusion: No terror is beyond the ability of Jesus to destroy
The man's situation was truly horrific, possessed and mastered by evil beings, his life completely taken away from him. Yet these evil demons who have power over the man, are themselves in fear of Jesus and however evil they may be are forced to obey the voice of the Son of the Most High God.
The man was completely restored, once a menace to society, now a blessing. He went on to witness to many others how that Jesus had released him from the power of evil spirits and restored him to his right mind.
It is a sad thing that the reaction of the local people was to send Jesus away. It seems that they themselves were afraid of the power that could release the man from demon possession when they had failed to control him let alone heal him. Concerning the loss of their pigs it should be remembered that for these people, who were under Hebrew law, they should not even have been keeping pigs: this was an illicit trade.
Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39
The Person Before
- We read that Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue which means he was not a priest but one who would organise and supervise worship and arrangements.
- Jairus had an only daughter who was 12 years old but was at the point of death. Matthew says "she is already dead"; Mark says "at the point of death" and Luke says "she is dying". It is clear that she was beyond any human help, and in fact by the time Jesus got to her she had already died.
Jairus comes to Jesus worshipping him, falling down at his feet and begging him to help his daughter who was dying. No doubt all human efforts had failed to help the girl recover. His faith is evident, probably based on what he had heard Jesus doing, but pehaps with a little less confidence than that of the centurion, because he asks for Jesus to come and lay his hands on the girl. No reply is recorded but Jesus goes, following Jairus to his house and to the girl.
However there are many people crowding around Jesus and we see that progress is halted by the interruption of another miracle. This is the healing of the woman who touched Jesus clothes. After this, no doubt with Jairus watching, Jesus continues but before long message comes that the girl is already dead, so why bother coming?
No doubt Jairus' hope was now fading but Jesus says to him, "Don't be afraid. Only believe, and she will be healed." He had witnessed a delay to his request when a woman was healed of an infirmity lasting 12 years. Now he had Jesus word to believe that there would be a miracle for his family and his 12 year old girl.
So they come to the house, mourners are present who mock Jesus when he says that the child is asleep. Jesus knows the child is dead but also knows he has authority over her spirit and can command it to return.
Only Jesus, the parents, Peter, John and James enter the house. Jesus says to the girl "Talitha cumi!" which means, "Little lamb. Get up" - a word of infinite tenderness and love. The girl obeyed, her spirit came back, her illness was gone, she got up and walked.
Conclusion: Don't be afraid. Only believe.
The lesson from this miracle (one of only three occasions when Jesus brought someone back from the dead) is in Jesus words "Don't be afraid, only believe". This he also says to us. The second part of what Jesus said "she will be healed" was for Jairus, but the promise to us is "Don't be afraid, only believe". Whatever our situation we can learn to banish fear with faith. This does not mean suffering will cease or problems will be avoided but it does mean Jesus will be with us and then, ultimately the end will be in victory, peace and love with him.
Faith however cannot triumph unless it is based in Jesus. It is Jesus who walked with Jairus and the outcome was victory because Jesus came. It is as we walk in our lives, if we go with Jesus believing in him, that the end will be victorious. We may well meet people who say "why bother with Jesus" or mockingly say "there is no hope". But Jesus is who he is and if he can bring alive dead people we should listen to him.
Matthew 9:18,19 and 9:23-36; Mark 5:21-24 and 5:35-43; Luke 8:40-42 and 8:49-56
19. The Woman who Touched
The Person Before
- This woman was suffering from a discharge of blood which she had for 12 years.
- She had spent all she had on Doctors, suffering even more in their unsuccessful treatment.
- As such, this sick woman was in all probability penniless, ostracised, divorced and shut out of the synagogue. Her plight was very grave.
The account of this woman occurs in-between Jesus dealings with Jairus. It is as Jesus is on his way to Jairus' house that Jesus is surrounded by the crowds and this woman touches his clothes. From the original language used it seems that this was not an ordinary touch but rather that the woman grasped the fringe of Jesus outer garment. This fringe would have had a blue cord which had the significance of reminding the wearer to obey all the Lord's commandments. (See Numbers 15:37-39). By such a daring action, the woman put her faith in this man of God, Jesus, who she sees as one who does obey all the requirements of the law.
The woman does not speak directly to Jesus to ask for healing, perhaps she is afraid, embarrassed or thinks herself unimportant but she has the remarkable confidence to believe that touching is enough.
By her faith, the touch communicates the healing and she realises this immediately. Hoping perhaps to slip silently away, her touch is perceived by Jesus despite the pressing crowds. Jesus asks "Who touched me?" and the woman is compelled to identify herself and what she had done. The woman is in fear and trembling, no doubt knowing that what she did would have been against Rabbinical law. Perhaps expecting an admonition she hears Jesus say to her "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease."
This is the only occasion when Jesus used the term daughter and with the additional remark "Go in peace" it is suggestive that Jesus was welcoming her into the Family of God and receiving her back into the synagogue thus making her restoration complete. She has been made well because she trusted in Jesus and trusted enough to touch.
Conclusion: Touching Jesus in faith brings spiritual healing and restoration.
The lasting value of this and the other stories of people Jesus meets is to understand the attitudes and activities of Jesus. Here we have a picture of many people pressing in upon Jesus and listening to him. And we have an unknown woman hidden in the crowd who by faith reached out and touched and received immediate healing and restoration. We too can receive immediate healing for spiritual illness but only as we reach out to touch Jesus in faith.
Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48
20. The Syrophoenician Woman
The Person Before
- This woman was a Gentile.
- She was in great distress due to the fact that her little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit.
- Jesus had gone to this region, perhaps some 50 miles away, beyond Israel's borders, to seek some rest and respite, intending to be unnoticed. But this woman finds out that Jesus is close-by and, no doubt aware of his previous miracles, goes to him and begs for healing for her daughter.
The woman appeals to Jesus "Have mercy on me, Lord, you son of David! My daughter is severely possessed by a demon!" indicating that she believed him to be the Jewish Messiah, despite her presumably pagan religious background.
The woman appears to follow after Jesus but his response is to say nothing to the woman. His disciples however find her troublesome and urge Jesus to send her away. From Jesus' reply it seems that they were suggesting that Jesus should grant her request so she would go away. Jesus says to the disciples "I wasn't sent to anyone but the lost sheep of the house of Israel." The remark, perhaps a mild rebuke, suggests that Jesus was saying he was not come to heal anyone so they would go away, but he was come to seek the 'lost sheep of the house of Israel'. Exactly what the disciples understood by this is not clear but it is interesting in this context that Jesus did not say 'for Israel' but rather for 'the lost sheep'.
Anyway, the woman now presses her request with worship and she cries out to Jesus "Lord, help me". She has dropped the appeal to the Jewish Messiah and after receiving no reply from Jesus, now appeals to him as the universal Lord and Master of all.
Jesus' reply appears harsh; "It is not appropriate to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." In this, Jesus is saying, in effect, that the blessings of God are for his covenant people and not for everyone. One would think that the woman would be put off by this remark but she is determined to plead her case for her daughter and she knows that Jesus can heal the girl. Her answer is, "Yes, Lord. Yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." She agrees with Jesus' and using his own analogy claims that even the pet dogs in the house do have the food that falls down to the floor. Remarkably, she seems to understand that the privileged position of Israel was always intended to be a witness to God and a means whereby other nations could be blessed.
Her remarks indicate a great faith in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah but also as Lord of all. She knew that he was dealing with house of Israel and that she was outside that privileged position, but with determination believed in the possibility of blessings for those outside the covenant. Through the process, we see Jesus testing and drawing out her faith culminating in Jesus' remark to her "Woman, great is your faith! Be it done to you even as you desire." We reach the point where the woman did receive blessings fallen from Israel's blessings. And in hindsight perhaps we can say that the woman received not just the crumbs but the bread itself as she was joined spiritually to the house of Israel.
The woman's request was granted and the demon left her daughter and she was healed.
Conclusion: Faith transcends nationality.
This miracle appears to connect to Jesus later remarks from John 10:16 "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will hear my voice. They will become one flock with one shepherd." So although Jesus ministry was primarily to the Jews, he was also teaching that this ministry would become open to the Gentiles - everyone who recognised their position as a lost sheep needing a Shepherd to find them.
In this miracle the remarks of Jesus may seem confusing, even hard, but his assessment of the woman - great is your faith - show that he was probing and giving opportunity for her faith. Despite pagan surroundings and lack of the privileges of the covenant between God and the Jewish nation, here was a woman who disregarded nationality and, driven by her need and love, sought a blessing from someone she saw was different, someone who could be trusted.
Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30
21. The Father and Son
The Person Before
- We have in this meeting with Jesus a father and his son.
- The father was greatly troubled because his son was possessed by a demon since birth and from this the boy was dumb, deaf and suffered from severe convulsions.
- We read that the disciples had tried to cast out the demon but were unable.
The miracle occurs immediately after the transfiguration. The transfiguration was a unique and unexplainable process which Jesus went through as preparation for his journey to Jerusalem and the cross. Coming down from the mountain we read that the crowds were amazed at Jesus appearance, suggesting the transfiguration still had some visible effect upon his body. Then it seems that the scribes, the disciples and the father with his son were in discussion, if not dispute. Presumably the issue under discussion is the inability of the disciples to cure the boy. (It was in Matthew 10:1 that we read, "He called to himself his twelve disciples, and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every sickness.")
Listening to this discussion, quite possibly the father sees his hopes for healing for his son turning into a theological debate between the scribes and disciples and we imagine his disappointment and growing fear of failure.
Jesus asks the scribes "What are you asking the disciples?" But it is the father who replies and explains "Teacher, I brought to you my son, who has a mute spirit; and wherever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, and grinds his teeth, and wastes away. I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they weren't able." He says, "I brought to you my son" but it is unclear whether he said that because it was his intention but the disciples intervened in Jesus absence, or whether he said so because he was bringing his son to Jesus through the disciples.
Jesus' reply is "Unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?." The remark appears to be mainly for the disciples ears but it expresses a general soliloquy revealing the heart of Jesus and the difficulties of his mission due to unbelief.
Jesus asks for the child to be brought to him and then asks the father how long the boy had been affected. The father's reply "from childhood" effectively means from birth. And in passing we note therefore, that here we have an example of demon possession which is not the result of any action or wrongdoing by the person possessed. Jesus does not need to know the answer to this question but it gives opportunity for the father to ask "But if you can do anything, have compassion on us, and help us." It seems as if the failure of the disciples has put doubt in his mind - can Jesus do what his disciples failed to do?
To the question asked by the father "if you can do anything" Jesus gives the reply "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." Jesus is not telling the man it is up to him to believe more, but he is explaining a profound principle of life and the principle by which he was living: that faith in God and total acceptance of his will, allows the impossible to become possible. To this remark the father cries "I believe" and he adds "Help my unbelief!" It is a remark of great honesty and no doubt has been echoed by many if not all Christians ever since. He recognises he does not have the perfect faith that Jesus speaks of; he still has lingering fear and doubt and questions but he is venturing out in belief and seeking help from the one who is able to help.
Jesus immediately rebukes the evil spirit and it leaves the boy, throwing him down in a final convulsion. Jesus gives the healed boy back to his father - a beautiful demonstration of the power and love of God,
Conclusion: All things are possible to him who believes.
Following this miracle the disciples ask Jesus privately why they could not cast out the demon. Jesus answers "This kind can come out by nothing, except by prayer and fasting." But faith remains the overriding principle so Jesus is saying that the faith required for the greatest tasks can only come by much prayer and devotion and self-sacrifice.
Matthew 17:14-20; Mark 9:14-29; Luke 9:37-44
22. The Condemned Woman
The Person Before
- We know nothing of the background of this woman other than she is brought to Jesus having been caught in the act of adultery.
- Under Mosaic law this carried the death penalty.
This account appears only in John's gospel and it is thought that this section may have been added later as noted in some Bible versions.
The woman is brought to Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees to test him hoping that he would say something by which they could accuse him. If he said she should be stoned this would be against Roman law and if he said she should not be stoned then he could be accused of diluting Mosaic law.
It should be said that if she was caught in the act of adultery, the man was also guilty and he too should have be brought and be stoned under Mosaic law, but he was not even mentioned. One wonders whether the whole thing, adultery included, was planned by the scribes and Pharisees hoping they could trap Jesus by his responses.
To their question "Teacher, we found this woman in adultery, in the very act. Now in our law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. What then do you say about her?" Jesus gives no reply but stoops down and starts writing with his finger on the ground. We are not told what he wrote or whether it was intended for the woman, the accusers or both.
Whatever was written, the accusers continue to press their question and then Jesus gives his reply "He who is without sin amongst you, let him throw the first stone at her." Jesus rises above their level of questioning and above even the law and enunciates the eternal principle that God is the only one who has the right to a exact penalty for sin. After saying that, Jesus continues writing in the sand on the ground.
Jesus had already taught them his ethic concerning adultery "I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." It may well be that at this point his accusers recall this teaching. And so, being convicted by their own conscience the accusers leave one by one.
We then see that only the woman remained with Jesus and the on-looking crowd that was in the temple before the accusers came. Jesus says "Woman, where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?" and she replies "No one, Lord." It seems that at that point she yielded to Jesus as Lord and Saviour in her heart. She had witnessed his supremacy both intellectually and theologically over the scribes and Pharisees and she sees now someone worth believing and worth trusting. Jesus replies with his final word to the woman "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way. From now on, sin no more." This confirms that she was free from condemnation and forgiven.
In saying to her "From now on, sin no more" Jesus was saying that a new pathway was open before her, a new life, one where making him her master, would make mastery over sin a possibility.
Conclusion: God alone has the right to exact penalty for sin, but also has the grace to forgive the penitent.
The lessons from this story are (i) like this woman we are all guilty of sin and condemned (ii) Jesus, because he is sinless has the right to exact penalty for sin and, (iii) Jesus because he gave himself for us is able to forgive and release the guilty from condemnation.
23. The Lawyer
The Person Before
- This man was a lawyer, which is more or less the same as a scribe - one who is an expert in Old Testament law, the additional traditions and their interpretation. His job was to study the law, teach it, interpret it and act in a judicial capacity.
- He comes to Jesus and we read his desire is to 'test' Jesus; there appears to be no hostility, but is seeking Jesus' view.
The lawyer ask his question "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He addresses Jesus as "Teacher" and the terms "scribe", "lawyer" and "teacher" all mean more or less the same thing - one who is expert in Old Testament law. So the lawyer seems to address Jesus as an equal and perhaps this suggests his approach is on intellectual and theological grounds only, and it seems that in the conversation Jesus responds in like manner. The question asked is perhaps the supreme question of all time that may be asked of any teacher or philosopher but it is framed in terms supposing that a man can do something to 'inherit' eternal life.
Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer; it is after all, his job to have an answer. Jesus asks him "What is written in the law? How do you read it?" - asking him for not only for the law itself but also his interpretation.
The answer given by the lawyer succinctly summarises the ten commandments. One to four dealing with man's relation to God, the heart of which is to be total devotion and love; six to ten dealing with man's relation to others, and here again the heart of it all is love.
Jesus replies in agreement, "You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live." The problem then is back with the lawyer, and it seems he realises the difficulty and perhaps is thinking to himself "can I do this?" or "have I always done this?"
So the lawyer is seeking to find a way of justifying to himself that he is doing enough. So he chooses to raise the issue of who is my neighbour perhaps thinking, well, if this is a restricted group then I might claim I have complied fully with the law.
Jesus answers his question with the familiar parable of the Samaritan which needs no further explanation. At the end, Jesus asks the lawyer "which person was a neighbour to the one in need?" The lawyer gives the obvious answer: him who showed mercy - avoiding admitting that this was the Samaritan. So rather than telling the lawyer who is his neighbour, Jesus asks him to consider to whom he can be a neighbour. This changes the ethic from duty to a particular neighbour or group, into love for any person in need.
Jesus' final remark to the lawyer is "Go and do likewise." In other words, go and be a neighbour to those in need. Again Jesus has put the problem back to the lawyer and we image him to be thinking "can I do likewise?"
The lawyer presumably is left to contemplate the issue of whether, according to his understanding of the law, eternal life is achievable. Can he inherit eternal life?
The lawyer should have recalled at this point that the Old Testament also looked forward to a Saviour who could "do likewise" and that it is through him that eternal life can be given.
Conclusion: Love God and be a neighbour unconditionally.
Perhaps the key lesson from the parable that Jesus taught was that love is to be unconditionally given. This is God's love, and Jesus showed it to us when he died for those who were sinners and enemies of God.
On another occasion, also in conversation with a lawyer, (and it is possible that it might even have been the same lawyer) Jesus himself gives the same answer - Matthew 22:36-40 (see below). On this occasion Jesus adds that all of the law and all of the prophets depend on or have their foundation upon the two supreme commands; love God and love your neighbour. So we have the testimony of Jesus himself that though faith, repentance and sacrifice are not mentioned, they are part of what is mentioned.
Luke 10:25-37; Matthew 22:36-40
24. The Man born Blind
The Person Before
- This unnamed man was blind from birth and no doubt was begging, and dependent on any gifts from passers-by.
- His parents are mentioned in the account and also it appears that the man is known to the Pharisees.
The account of this blind man is rather unusual since there appears to be no action on the part of the man in seeking Jesus. He is seen by Jesus as he and the disciples pass by. It is also unusual since Jesus first heals the man, then finds him a second time to tell him that he was Jesus, the Son of God.
The disciples ask Jesus whether the man's blindness was the result of his own or his parents sin. Jesus tells his disciples that neither is the case. We note again that ultimately all suffering is the result of sin and opposition to God but this is a general principle and for this man, and the vast majority of cases, there is no direct personal link. However, Jesus does not continue to answer the question that the disciples raise - he is now engaged in a work that is putting an end to sin and an end to suffering.
Jesus continues to say "but that the works of God might be revealed in him. I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. The night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." There have been different views on the interpretation of this remark but it seems that it is best understood without the full-stop after 'him'. In other words, Jesus is NOT saying that the man is blind to give God an opportunity to show his miraculous healing power, but rather IS saying that the man is blind so I must do the work of him who sent me and heal the man, revealing the work of God in him.
Jesus continues to say in effect that the time for doing good and preaching the Kingdom is short: a time is coming when it will be too late for anyone to do this work.
Turning then to the blind man, Jesus, makes mud with saliva and anoints the man's eyes. No other words are recorded than "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam". One wonders what the man was thinking - did he know what was Jesus doing and what would happen? Anyway he obeys immediately and returns able to see.
The continuation of this account reveals the controversy with the neighbors and Pharisees, some of whom question whether the man was actually the same man who was blind, some voice their prejudice that Jesus is not from God because he does not keep the Sabbath, whilst others ask how can a sinner do such signs? The Pharisees call for his parents who confirm he is their blind son and now he can see but the hesitate to say more because they fear being put out of the synagogue.
So the Pharisees ask the man again. He replies with insight and satire suggesting whether they might be interested in becoming disciples. They insult him and throw him out indicating that he is put out of the synagogue.
There is then a second meeting with Jesus who asks him "Do you believe in the Son of God?" leading to the man exclaiming "I believe."
Jesus says then to the man in the hearing of, and for the benefit of, the Pharisees "I came into this world for judgement, that those who don't see may see; and that those who see may become blind" clearly indicating the difference between those who 'see Jesus' and receive forgiveness and those who don't 'see Jesus' and remain with their sins.
Conclusion: Do we have the 'spiritual' sight to see Jesus is the Son of God?
Throughout the story we get the impression that light is gradually dawning on this man and to some extent it appears to be the questioning of the Pharisees that helps this happen:
- He accepts what Jesus does to him and obeys Jesus instruction to wash in the pool of Siloam
- He recognises that Jesus is a prophet.
- He rightly says since the world began it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind and therefore concludes Jesus must be from God.
- He meets Jesus again and comes to faith in him as Son of God.
- Finally he worships Jesus.
We are not told why Jesus used mud and told the man to wash but we can say that this had some unknown significance for the man and perhaps helped him come to belief. For us however there is a significant picture in the symbolism of:
- Receiving sight and believing that Jesus is the Son of God
- Washing away of mud and forgiveness of sins
- Being put out of the synagogue and entering a new order of life through faith in Jesus
25. The Covetous Man and Brother
The Person Before
- This meeting concerns an unamed man and his brother.
- The issue is that one brother is unwilling to divide an inheritance.
This meeting occurs, it appears, as an interjection whilst Jesus was teaching many people. One of the crowd says to Jesus "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." The request is perfectly reasonable and quite possibly was a legal requirement under Jewish law. Jesus' replies with "Man, who made me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" There is a sense of sternness in the language but it is hard to be sure since we don't know the spoken tone or emphasis. Still, the meaning is clear, Jesus is saying in effect that he was not sent to preside over family disputes. This would have been the concern of the scribes and lawyers.
Jesus then addresses the man and the crowd, and proceeds to highlight the sin of covetousness, of which these two brothers were in danger of falling into. Jesus continues "a man's life doesn't consist of the abundance of the things which he possesses." which teaches the principle that the true value, meaning, fulfillment and sanctity of life is not measured in terms of any physical asset.
The sin of covetousness and its terrible consequences are revealed in the Bible particularly in the following passages:
- The tenth commandment "You shall not covet" Exodus 20:17
- Achan's sin (Joshua 7:1-25)
- Gehazi's sin (2 Kings 5:20-27)
- Judas' sin (John 12:6 and Matthew 26:14-16)
- Ananias and Sapphira's sin(Acts 5:1-10)
Jesus then tells the crowd the familiar parable of the rich man. The man's prudence, hard-work and planning are not the problem but his foolishness is to assume future ease and security based on material possessions.
What happened to the two brothers is unknown. Perhaps the parable was sufficient to bring them understanding of life's true worth and perhaps even solve their dispute.
Conclusion: Life is not measured by possessions
The key lessons of this account are (i) to warn of the sin of covetousness and (ii) that life is not measured by material things but by spiritual things.
We may think of covetousness as a 'small sin' if there is such a thing, but allowing it to have power over us can lead on to many other sins and much loss of love and peace. Its root is dissatisfaction with what God has given us.
Being rich towards God means investing in what God values. Not silver and gold but love, mercy and righteousness. It is love, mercy and righteousness which have eternal value in God's economy.
The Person Before
- Martha and Mary her sister were close friends and disciples of Jesus.
- Martha owned a house in Bethany which Jesus used as a home base.
- Martha's brother was Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead.
Martha is not mentioned by name in Matthew or Mark and we have only three mentions of her by name, one in Luke and two in John. On all these occasions she is mentioned with her sister Mary.
The first occasion is at Martha's house where Jesus is a guest. It is a very familiar situation, Martha and Mary are serving the guests and then Mary leaves off helping, to listen to Jesus teaching. Martha voices her complaint that she is left alone to serve, appealing to Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus replies "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her." Jesus is not saying forget about the many things and just have one thing to focus on but rather to have one more central thing which will bring peace, calm and a sense of right relationship to the many things. The one thing, which Mary her sister had now chosen, was discipleship, and to do that she was listening to Jesus. That Martha understood and learned this lesson is shown in the last picture we have of her in John 12:1-8 where she is again serving and providing hospitality in her house for her Lord (and more than a dozen others) but there is no mention of any distress.
In the account of the raising of Lazarus, Martha and Mary send a message to Jesus saying their brother Lazarus is sick no doubt expecting Jesus to come straight away. However Jesus delays and when he does arrive Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. Martha went out to meet Jesus, whilst Mary stayed in doors as would have been the custom. It is evident Martha is distraught and almost blames Jesus for not being present, though she submits to him, saying: "Lord, if you would have been here, my brother wouldn't have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you." Jesus said to her, "Your brother will rise again." Martha clearly understands this remark in a theological way and she says "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" as if to say "I know that, but I want my brother back."
Jesus, knowing that sympathy is not enough for Martha - she needs further enlightenment - reveals to her a sublime truth; he says "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will still live, even if he dies. Whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"
In other words, Jesus says to Martha that Lazarus is not dead and neither can anyone who believes in him really die. Jesus is saying to his believers that our bodies will come to their end but we will remain alive because he has the power of resurrection and life himself. Martha believes but is probably yet to fully understand. Mary is called for and she is weeping. Jesus, although he knows what he is about to do, shares their grief and weeps. It is significant for us to note that here is God, in his Son, weeping over human suffering revealing God's sorrow and compassion. Jesus says for them to take the stone away from the tomb. Martha hesitates to agree but Jesus graciously reassures her "Didn't I tell you that if you believed, you would see God's glory?"
Jesus thanks his father in the hearing of those round about and calls out "Lazarus, come out!" Lazarus is raised and comes out of the tomb.
Conclusion: I am the resurrection and the life
Martha had her beliefs and her doubts. She was open and honest enough to express her doubts to Jesus and he, as he always will be, was gracious in helping her deal with them.
To Martha, Jesus revealed an amazing truth which has become a famous and favourite verse of any suffering the grief of bereavement. This is the mystery that for the Christian death is not the end, but a milestone in life. Jesus proved his statement by calling Lazarus back after 4 days.
Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46; John 12:1-8
The Person Before
- Mary and Martha her sister were close friends and disciples of Jesus.
- Mary was from Bethany.
- Mary's brother was Lazarus who Jesus raised from the dead.
Mary is not mentioned by name in Matthew or Mark and we have only three mentions of her by name, one in Luke and two in John. On all these occasions she is mentioned with her sister Martha.
The first occasion is at Martha's house where Jesus is a guest. We read how that Mary and Martha were attending to the serving of the guests but Mary leaves off helping to listen to Jesus teaching, resulting in Martha's complaint. Jesus says that Mary has chosen well and she stays to listen.
In the account of the raising of Lazarus, Martha and Mary send a message to Jesus saying their brother Lazarus is sick no doubt expecting Jesus to come straight away. However Jesus delays and when he does arrive Lazarus has been dead and buried for four days. Martha went out to meet Jesus, whilst Mary stayed in doors as would have been the custom.
Mary is called for and her first remark to Jesus is identical to her sister's - "Lord, if you would have been here, my brother wouldn't have died." However it seems that Martha had in her tone a sense of complaint whilst Mary's attitude was more in lament. This is revealed by the fact that Mary fell at Jesus feet, weeping to express her feeling.
Jesus, although he knows what he is about to do, shares their grief and weeps. It is significant for us to note that here is God, in his Son, weeping over human suffering revealing God's sorrow and compassion. Jesus says for them to take the stone away from the tomb. Jesus thanks his father in the hearing of those round about and calls out "Lazarus, come out!" Lazarus is raised and comes out of the tomb.
On the third occasion Jesus and his disciples are again at Martha's house having a meal. Like on the first occasion, we read that Martha is serving the guests. Mary however takes a large quantity of expensive spikenard an anoints Jesus feet, wiping them with her hair. The disciples cannot understand this action and Judas voices his view that this is a waste. Again Jesus rises to defend Mary, rebuking Judas, accepting that this was done in anticipation of his burial.
Conclusion: Safety and security at the feet of Jesus
It is an interesting and significant fact that in all these three instances Mary is seen at Jesus feet. No doubt this expresses her love, submission and desire to be taught. To sit at Jesus feet is certainly an expression of discipleship. Mary was at Jesus feet first on an occasion of happiness, secondly on an occasion od sadness and thirdly an occasion of perplexity. It was always where she wanted to be.
It is significant also that her beautiful action of anointing Jesus feet was in anticipation of his burial. She had obviously been listening to Jesus and she understood him when he spoke of his death and burial - which other disciples were much slower to grasp.
Luke 10:38-42; John 11:1-46; John 12:1-8
28. The Young Ruler
The Person Before
- This man, unnamed, was probably a man of about 30 years old holding an official position in some local governmental capacity.
- The man was upright and righteous and also rich.
Firstly we notice that the Ruler comes running up to Jesus and kneels down. It would certainly be rare for a Ruler to kneel before a 'commoner'. Secondly the man addresses Jesus as "Good teacher." This was not the prevailing view of the Jewish leaders and would potentially have had consequences for him. But this is his approach, with high regard for Jesus and in genuine humility, and then he asks his question "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
The actual question raised is the almost the same as that asked by the lawyer in Luke 10:25-37 and Matthew 22:36-47 and again we note that this is the most important question that can be asked. It is interesting that Jesus does not first answer the question but responds to the way he had addressed Jesus - "Good Teacher". Jesus asks "Why do you call me good? No one is good but one, that is, God". We cannot be certain what the Ruler made of this remark but presumably Jesus was prompting the man to contemplate if Jesus is good, then he is God also. Perhaps that conclusion was to become significant in his subsequent decision?
Jesus continues to address the question raised, saying "Keep the commandments" but Jesus only highlights the commandments which deal with man's relationships to man (the commandments 1 to 4, in some respects the more difficult, dealing with man's relationship to God are not mentioned). The man says that he has kept these but recognises that he still lacks something. We must conclude he has answered honestly since Jesus does not challenge him on keeping the commandments mentioned, but Jesus, looking at the man with love, does agree he lacked one thing. Jesus then says to the man "Go, Sell all that you have, and distribute it to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."
From this reply it seems that Jesus is identifying that for this man, his great possessions have become an idol to him and are preventing him from having the right relationship of love and total dedication and devotion to God. What exactly did this person lack? Some have said he lacked poverty but Jesus never advocated poverty as a virtue, so it seems what he lacked was devotion to God and his possessions were the barrier preventing him correcting this situation.
Jesus says to the man go and sell your possessions (or at least the prized possession that was the problem), give the proceeds away, have your treasure in heaven and come and follow him. We read the man was saddened at this saying for he had great possessions. We do not know what became of the man but it is at least suggestive that the man went away sad rather than angry.
After the man has gone, Jesus says to his disciples "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter into God's Kingdom!" but in Mark's account we also have Jesus saying "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter into God's Kingdom!" which seems to confirm that this man had the wrong attitude towards his wealth.
Jesus did not say to this man keep your possessions but stop trusting in them or loving them, which in the man's view may have been a more favourable option. It seems Jesus wanted more for the man - to have treasure in heaven by using his resources to help others so winning God's favour and the eternal thankfulness of any who through his generosity might have entered the kingdom.
Conclusion: Love and trust is for God, not money.
This instance is perhaps not an easy one from which to learn the general lessons and applications. Are we also to sell possessions and to what extent? It is suggested that we consider:
- Jesus general teaching on money is given in Matthew 6:24 (and Luke 16:13) "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other; or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You can't serve both God and Mammon."
- Seeking wealth is a great danger and has the potential to draw us away from God.
- Money used to further the kingdom is invested in heaven where the return goes beyond the grave.
Matthew 19:16-26; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30
The Person Before
- Zacchaeus was a chief publican. This means he was a chief tax-collector under the Roman system. He and his subordinates were responsible to Rome for collecting tax based on population and they had freedom as to how they did it.
- Zacchaeus was probably disliked for two reasons (i) he was a Hebrew working under the Roman system and (ii) tax collectors often became rich by collecting more than Rome demanded.
This encounter took place as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and the cross. We read Zacchaeus was trying to see who Jesus was, suggesting he had heard about Jesus and was curious to see him. But because he was short and could not see because of the crowd, Zaccaeus climbed a tree along the way Jesus would take to get a good view.
When Jesus came to the tree he called out "Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house." It is interesting to observe the contrast: Zacchaeus did not know who Jesus was, but Jesus knew who Zacchaeus was.
Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus as a guest, to his house. It is evident that there must have been a conversation at the house between Zacchaeus and Jesus but we are not given any details except the effect on Zacchaeus. He says, "Behold, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. If I have wrongfully exacted anything of anyone, I restore four times as much." The effect is dramatic; Zacchaeus accepts Jesus as his Lord and willingly gives to the poor and reimburses four-fold any who he has exacted money wrongfully.
Jesus announces "Today, salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham" confirming Zacchaeus's faith.
Jesus continues "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost." It is remarkable that Jesus reveals this fundamental principle of his life and work as if in a passing personal conversation. Jesus did the same with Nicodemus when he said "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." It is not recorded that Jesus made these same remarks again. Any ordinary human preacher would surely have continually repeated these key statements!
It is also interesting to observe what Jesus meant by the expression "seek and to save that which was lost". Clearly Jesus is including Zacchaeus in the remark, in other words that he was "lost" and is now "found and saved". In what sense was Zacchaeus lost? It seems that the best way to understand this is "lost to God". All human beings and all creation belong to the God, our Maker. But when we are not living in God's Kingdom he has "lost us" to another kingdom. If we are not in God's Kingdom he cannot use us and we cannot serve him. It is only when he finds us and we enter his Kingdom that was are "saved", and no longer lost.
Conclusion: Found and saved brings an ethical transformation.
We see here the remarkable and complete transformation of someone who before would not have had a problem charging more tax than was due, now giving away half of his money and paying back fourfold. It seems he suddenly went from dishonesty to righteousness. This ethical reversal is a consequence of a changed heart towards God and evidence of a spiritual regeneration by grace. Zacchaeus was lost to God; inert in the Kingdom of God but now he is found, he is active for God's Kingdom and relieving suffering through generosity motivated by love for God.
30. The Widow at the Treasury
The Person Before
- This woman is widowed and very poor.
- She is living by faith in God and her personal relationship to him.
- She was faithful to the covenant of the Old Testament.
The inclusion of this widow at the treasury is slightly out of keeping with the other people Jesus meets because here there is no interaction between Jesus and the woman. In fact it seems unlikely that the woman was even aware Jesus was there. But it is instructive to learn from this account. Jesus knew this woman's heart, loved her and judged that he did not need speak to her at that time. She is remembered today as we sing Frances Ridley Havergal's hymn: "Take my silver and my gold, Not a mite would I withhold."
The treasury was in the Temple courts and there would be a number of receptacles where worshippers would place gifts for the priests and the poor. Jesus sat watching the people making their gifts and then drew his disciples to him to tell them how this widow had put everything she had into the treasury whereas others gave only what they could easily afford, out of their abundance: their gift would hardly be noticed.
The widow gave two coins equaling a quadrans which is about 1/64 of day's wage for a labourer. We are told that this was all she had to live on. She was in extreme poverty but gave the little she had putting her entire future existence into the hands of God. Had she given this every week? we do not know. What happened to her afterwards? we do not know. The only thing we really know is that God was watching her devotion and dependency, and her faith in God. How God dealt with her beyond her gift we do not know, and only in heaven may this be revealed.
It is useful to be aware of the context of this incident. Friction had been building between Jesus and the religious leaders and Jesus had just said "Beware of the scribes, who like to walk in long robes, and to get greetings in the marketplaces, and the best seats in the synagogues, and the best places at feasts: those who devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation." This was his judgement on those who seek man's recognition for themselves rather than truly worshipping God. Immediately after, as if to give example to his teaching, this poor widow is more honourable to Jesus than any of the others who draw attention to themselves by casting in many coins.
Conclusion: Faith is always seen by God.
This woman made no provision for tomorrow, she threw the problem onto her God. By all the standards of human wisdom it was a foolish action. We are not all called to follow her in giving everything away but in the sense that her action was a symbol of her faith we may encounter a situation where we too are called to make a sacrificial act of devotion and so reach a higher level of faith.
We note from this story that no true act of faith is unnoticed by God.
Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4
31. Annas and Caiaphas
The Persons Before
- With the help of some references external to the Bible we know that Annas was high priest from AD7 to AD15. Caiaphas, who was the son-in-law of Annas was high priest from AD18 to AD36. During the 3 years between, other sons of Annas presided as high priest.
- Although Annas lost the official position of high priest in AD15, he retained great influence and was still known as a high priest throughout the tenure of Caiaphas.
- During these times the high priest was appointed by Roman procurators.
- Both Annas and Caiaphas were Sadducees, that is they believed in God but not angels, spirit or resurrection.
- Sadducees and Pharisees opposed each other theologically, religiously and politically but in the matter of opposition to Jesus they were united.
- Annas and Caiaphas were particularly wealthy having gained this wealth through the business of selling that which was required for the Temple sacrifices. It was largely this activity which Jesus denounced when he said "Is it not written that My house shall be a house of prayer for all the nations? but ye have made it a den of robbers".
- All this accounts for the references we see in the New Testament to the priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.
Annas and Caiaphas are first mentioned in Luke 3:2 where it is noted that they were the high priesthood when John the Baptist started his ministry.
Caiaphas is referred to in John 11 where we find him addressing the Sanhedrin concerning Jesus. They believed that if Jesus were allowed to continue then the whole nation would be broken up by Rome. To keep the status-quo, Caiaphas recommends one man's death as preferable to the loss of the nation and so the intention to bring about the death of Jesus was conceived. He insinuates that welfare of the community should be preferred over one man's death, thus casting aside reason and justice for imprisonment would have been ample for their purposes. John, the writer, adds a comment that unknowingly, the illegal and evil plot that Caiaphas has proposed would become prophetically true - Jesus would die to gather the children of God!
Next we see Jesus arrested and bound, led before Annas, who questions Jesus concerning his disciples and teaching. To which Jesus replies "I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues, and in the temple, where the Jews always meet. I said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them. Behold, they know the things which I said." In other words Jesus tells Annas; why do you need to ask - nothing has been done in secret and you must already know. Evidently one of the officials thought this reply was impolite and slapped Jesus.
So Annas sends Jesus to Caiaphas, his son-in-law who was the official high priest. There follows an illegal, mock trial. Witnesses were called but they could construct no consistent accusation. So Caiaphas then asks of Jesus "I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God." This was a legal form of question that Jesus should declare on oath whether he was the Son of God or not. The answer Jesus gave "You have said it", was also of a legal form and meant that the oath was accepted and the accusation was affirmed. Thus Caiaphas claimed the blasphemy and pronounced "He is worthy of death!"
Jesus had added to his reply "Nevertheless, I tell you, after this you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of the sky." The word "nevertheless" is interesting and may suggest the dismissive reaction of the council when Jesus said he was the Son of God. Thus Jesus even reaffirmed the claim by saying that he will be seen sitting at the right hand of God.
After this Caiaphas sends Jesus to Pilate.
Annas and Caiaphas are mentioned again in Acts 4:6 where the disciples are arrested and brought before them.
Conclusion: Beware saying "no" to the Son of God.
In many of the encounters between Jesus and the people he meets, he brings healing, forgiveness, restoration. Here however there is an encounter where we see humanity incapable of being healed, forgiven, or restored. Annas and Caiaphas came into contact with Jesus but would not listen, would not believe, would not change. They were the priests of Israel, believing in the living God, yet were blind when he stood before them in his Son Jesus. It is a remarkable condemnation that humanity can become so corrupted. Their earthly interests were too powerful for them to recognize heavenly treasure.
John 11:47-53; John 18:12-24; Matthew 26:57-68
The Person Before
- Pilate was the Roman procurator which means he represented Rome and had civil and military authority.
- From Bible and external references it seems that he was an astute politician, generally unsympathetic to those for whom his actions might disadvantage, unfavourable to the Jews, yet having a definite sense of justice, legality and fairness.
- Pilate is seen in all the Gospels during the trial of Jesus but most clearly in the account of John. We gain another insight in Luke 13:1 where we read "Now there were some present at the same time who told him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices." In other words Pilate had ordered a punitive force upon some Galileans who presumably were causing a political disturbance involving religious sacrifices. They were slain and their blood spilt along with that of the sacrifices. So Pilate was a man having authority, willing to take action and generally having little concern for the consequences.
Jesus is brought before Pilate by the Jews and the first thing Pilate says is "What accusation do you bring against this man?" The defensive reply "If this man weren't an evildoer, we wouldn't have delivered him up to you" is suggestive that Pilate was in some measure annoyed with the high priestly deputation bothering him. He says "Take him yourselves, and judge him according to your law" confirming his disinterest.
The Jews say "It is illegal for us to put anyone to death" and Pilate realises that the Jews had already made up their mind that Jesus should die. Pilate was obliged to intervene, so he went into the Praetorium to interview Jesus. Pilate first asks Jesus "Are you the King of the Jews?" To this rather strange initial question Jesus gives a rather strange reply "Do you say this by yourself, or did others tell you about me?". We know that Herod had adopted the title "King of the Jews" and Pilate may have been intrigued that the title was disputed.
Was Pilate asking to genuinely seek an answer for himself, or was he uninterested in the answer and only asking because he heard others saying as much, or was he interested in a potential dispute between Jesus and Herod? If Pilate had been asking genuinely to know for himself the identity of Jesus then surely Jesus would have explained; or if Pilate's motives were otherwise probably he would have had no explanation. But it seems Jesus question annoys Pilate and he loses his first opportunity to hear the words of wisdom and salvation, and he changes his approach.
Pilate answers "I'm not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered you to me. What have you done?" so now he asks Jesus for an explanation. Jesus reply "My Kingdom is not of this world. If my Kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight, that I wouldn't be delivered to the Jews. But now my Kingdom is not from here" is again a little strange but actually Jesus answers Pilate's first question; yes Jesus, is a King but not of any place on earth, his Kingdom is something else. Pilate must surely have been bemused at this reply and he asks "Are you a king then?"
Jesus again gives a strange reply "You say that I am a king. For this reason I have been born, and for this reason I have come into the world, that I should testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." In other words Jesus claimed Kingship over the realm of truth. Now this was certainly not a capital offense, but what does it mean? Pilate asks "What is truth?" This seems to be another lost opportunity for Pilate; he could have heard a sublime answer to that ultimate question, but he did not wait for an answer and went out.
Pilate has found no cause for Jesus to be held, so wanting to release Jesus, he offers the crowd Barabbas, a notorious criminal or Jesus who has openly done good. He is expecting the most obvious decision to keep the criminal locked-up! Most likely to his great surprise the crowd shout "Not this man, but Barabbas!"
So Pilate has Jesus flogged and then brings Jesus out saying to the crowd "Behold, I bring him out to you, that you may know that I find no basis for a charge against him." This constituted a legal verdict. However the priests reply "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" so Pilate questions Jesus again saying "Where are you from?" But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate is astonished at Jesus silence and says, "Aren't you speaking to me? Don't you know that I have power to release you and have power to crucify you?" Jesus replies with dignity and wisdom, "You would have no power at all against me, unless it were given to you from above. Therefore he who delivered me to you has greater sin."
It seems now that Pilate is somewhat in confusion. On one hand he is satisfied that Jesus has committed no crime and he himself is astonished by the peace and purity of Jesus and perplexed about who Jesus really is, yet on the other hand the Jews are uprising and there is a possibility that the priests might report him to Rome saying he set free someone who claimed to be a King. However Pilate decides to release Jesus, but as he brings him out again the Jews say "If you release this man, you aren't Caesar's friend! Everyone who makes himself a king speaks against Caesar!" This confirms his fear of trouble with Rome.
The crowd continue to cry out "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" Pilate makes the other choice and consents to the death penalty. This was his last opportunity and he made the wrong choice, perhaps we might say against his own judgement. Pilate attempts to relieve his conscience by symbolically washing his hands and placing the sign above Jesus saying "This is Jesus, The King of the Jews."
Conclusion: It was really humanity that was on trial at the trial of Jesus.
As we follow this story in many ways it was not Jesus on trial but Pilate. What would he make of Jesus? Through all the eventful exchanges of that day it was Pilate who had the critical decisions to make and it seems that the significance of them were growing on him. He had several critical opportunities to make the right choice but eventually and it appears reluctantly, consented to the crucifixion. In the end he chose expedience over obedience and that was his sin.
We do not know what became of Pilate but it is to be hoped that he reflected upon the immense purity and dignity of Jesus that he witnessed and this brought him to repentance and faith. We can be sure that Jesus would then have welcomed him.
John 18:28-40; John 19:1-16
The Person Before
- Herod Antipater was the son of Herod the Great (who died around the time of Jesus birth) and Malthake, a Samaritan woman. He was commonly called King of the Jews, and Antipas, and Herod the tetrarch.
- References outside the Bible refer to him as cruel and utterly evil.
- Herod divorced his first wife in favour of Herodias who had previously been married to his half-brother.
Jesus dealings with Herod are unique. In all other cases Jesus is seen as compassionate, willing to help, bringing healing and enlightenment but in the case of Herod, Jesus avoided him, sent him a message of rebuke and when they did finally meet, refused to speak to Herod. Such an unusual reaction by Jesus must surely teach us some important lesson.
Herod appears in four passages: one in Matthew, one in Mark and two in Luke.
From Mark's account we find that Herod had heard the preaching of John the Baptist and had been convinced that John was a righteous and holy man and had gladly listened to his preaching. However, although Herod was impressed by John he became angered against John's condemnation that he should not have married his half-brother's wife. However, It was Herodias that reacted more strongly against John and she wanted him put to death. So Herod had imprisoned John for his own safety. Having done this we read the familiar story how Herod makes his rash promise to the daughter of Herodias who asks her mother, and then asks for the head of John the Baptist. Having made the foolish oath, Herod enacts it and has John executed. So despite an inner conviction that John's preaching was right, Herod shuts out the voice that was calling him to amend his ways and so he became hardened.
We then read that Herod heard of Jesus and supposed him to be John risen from the dead. From Luke's account we know that Herod was seeking to put an end to Jesus as well. Jesus sends Herod a message "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I complete my mission. Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, for it can't be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.' In other words so much as to confidently declare that he (Jesus) would continue his work and finish it at the appointed time.
Lastly we see Jesus sent to Herod by Pilate and it is here that the first and only meeting takes place. Herod, now hardened and corrupted is pleased to see Jesus hoping to see some miracle. Despite many questions, Jesus gives no answers and we read that Herod and his soldiers mock Jesus and humiliate him. Jesus is sent back to Pilate.
Conclusion: Light rejected means darkness is chosen.
Despite recognising right and purity in John the Baptist's message of repentance, Herod appears to have deliberately put aside any initial conviction and adopted a path of opposition to righteousness. Such a position was one to which Jesus would not speak.
Matthew 14:1-4; Mark 6:14-29; Luke 13:31-33; Luke 23:8-12
34. The Dying Thief
The Person Before
- All that is known of this man is that he was a criminal, caught and condemned and crucified.
Jesus was crucified with two criminals. Both these men along with the watching scribes, elders, priests, soldiers and crowds mocked Jesus.
But then we see one of the criminals have a radical change of heart. One criminal is hurling insults "If you are the Christ, save yourself and us!" But then the other criminal rebukes him saying, "Don't you even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said to Jesus, "Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom."
Exactly what brought about this change of heart we cannot be certain but surely it must have been through witnessing Jesus silent in his agony, not reacting to the insults, seeing the title "King of the Jews" above Jesus, and hearing his prayer "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing."
It seems he now realised his own guilt, Jesus sinlessness, God as judge, but also the possibility of forgiveness. He realises Jesus is a King and he has some recognition of a Kingdom beyond death. His words "Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom" are a remarkable confession of faith. While most were mocking and his disciples fled, this criminal is a lonely voice of confidence in Jesus. It is perhaps all the more remarkable since the disciples had been expecting Jesus to establish his earthly Kingdom, yet this criminal seems to see beyond death, and realise that despite his death, Jesus would have his Kingdom.
Jesus says to the criminal to "Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise" or, we may say "in heaven". There is no more conversation but it seems most certain that the criminal in his suffering would have watched his King and heard him say "My God, My God why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and then "It is finished" and then "Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit". Perhaps he made some connection between these sayings and the transaction between God and Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Perhaps he prayed.
We note as we consider this man, that the other criminal who experienced the same situation, remained unaffected.
Conclusion: A remarkable faith.
This story proves that nothing more than faith is necessary for salvation. This criminal had no baptism, no religious observances, no good works, no service, no period of holy living. This story also proves that on death the believer in Jesus goes immediately to be with his Lord and Saviour. As well, this story proves the possibility of salvation in the last moment of life. And finally, this story shows that Jesus did not promise to the other criminal who showed no change of heart, that he would be with him in Paradise.
Matthew 27:38-44; Luke 23:39-43
35. Mary of Magdala
The Person Before
- Mary of Magdala (or Mary Magdalene - and meaning from the town of Magdala) had been healed from demon possession by Jesus but the details are not given.
- Mary had some wealth and after her healing, used this money to help support Jesus and the apostles.
We read in Luke concerning Mary Magdalene that she followed and helped support Jesus but she comes into the clearest picture in the accounts of Jesus death and resurrection.
Mary Magdalene was among the small group of women that watched at the crucifixion. We also read the Mary Magdale watched during the burial, noting where Jesus was laid. From Matthew's account we find that Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James actually remained alone at the tomb all that night. It was not until the next morning that the Roman guard was placed at the tomb.
Then after the Sabbath, very early in the morning, it is the two Mary's that bring spices to anoint Jesus' body. Then these two women came to the tomb wondering how they would roll the stone away when they witness an earthquake, the angel of the Lord descending like lightning the stone rolling away and the guards becoming like dead men. The angel announces to the women that Jesus is risen and the women run to fetch Peter and John.
It is after Peter and John have left the tomb that Mary remains and Jesus meets her. Mary does not recognise Jesus until he calls her name. So Mary was the first to see the risen Lord. Jesus says to her "Don't hold me, for I haven't yet ascended to my Father" meaning the time was past for any relationship of touch, and the time for a future relationship through the Holy Spirit could not start until after the ascension (Pentecost). (This saying was for the benefit and teaching of Mary, it was not something to do with the nature of Jesus body, for to Thomas, Jesus invited him to touch and this was because his teaching need was different.)
Lastly, Mary Magdalene was with the company of women in Jerusalem waiting for and receiving, with the other disciples, the promised Holy Spirit.
Conclusion: A remarkable devotion.
The story of Mary is a beautiful story, first her healing and then her devotion. She showed her devotion by caring for Jesus in his life, standing by him in his death, watching over his burial, guarding his tomb all night, preparing to anoint his body with spices, worshipping him after his resurrection, joining with the disciples in waiting for and receiving the Spirit at Pentecost.
Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40,41,47; Matthew 27:55-66; John 20:1-18
36. Cleopas and Another
The Persons Before
- Cleopas and his un-named companion were two of the disciples or followers of Jesus but not of the twelve apostles.
The story of Cleopas and another appears in Mark and Luke. Cleopas only is named in Luke and in Mark, both are un-named. They were disciples and had been in Jerusalem and witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus. On the day of the resurrection we see these two leaving Jerusalem and travelling to Emmaus, about seven and a half miles. Although they had heard the account of the empty tomb, they had not heard or believed, that Jesus had been seen risen and alive. Along the way they are discussing everything that had happened but saw it as a great tragedy: their prophet had been crucified and with that, their hopes of restoration for Israel were gone. Like most of the disciples, their understanding concerning the Kingdom that Jesus was establishing was in error because they thought in terms of physical restoration for the Nation of Israel.
Then we read that the risen Lord Jesus came near and walked with them but they were kept from recognizing him. Jesus asks them what they are discussing and why they are sad. They were astonished that this stranger did not know what had happened in Jerusalem and they give their explanation.
Jesus then says "Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Didn't the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?" and then he explains how that all Old Testament scriptures spoke of the Christ. We are not given the details of this explanation but perhaps we can suggest that it was something along the lines of the following summary table:
|Book||The Messiah described as ... or typified in ...|
|Genesis 3:15||The Seed of the Woman|
|Exodus 12:1-51||The Passover Lamb|
|Leviticus 5:14-16||The High Priest|
|Numbers 24:7||His Kingdom shall be exalted|
|Deuteronomy 18:15-19||The Prophet|
|Joshua 5:13-15||The Commander and Captain of Salvation|
|Judges||The Judge and Lawgiver|
|Ruth||The Kinsman Redeemer|
|1 & 2 Samuel 2:23:1-4||The Rock of Israel|
|1 & 2 Kings||The Reigning King|
|1 & 2 Chronicles||The Glorious Temple|
|Ezra||The Faithful Scribe|
|Job 19:25||The Living Redeemer|
|Psalms 110:4||A Priest forever of the order of Melchizedek|
|Proverbs||The Wisdom of God|
|Song of Solomon 5:10; 5:16||The Bridegroom: "best amongst ten thousand"; "altogether lovely"|
|Isaiah 53:3-5||The Suffering Servant|
|Jeremiah 23:5||The Righteous Branch|
|Lamentations 5:21||The Renewer|
|Ezekiel 34:2; 34:23||The Son of Man; The Shepherd|
|Daniel 7:13-14||The Everlasting King|
|Hosea||The Faithful One|
|Joel 2:28||The Baptizer with the Holy Spirit|
|Amos 9:13||Bringing an abundance of good things (spiritual blessings)|
|Obadiah 1:17||Deliverance on Mount Zion|
|Jonah||The Sign of the Resurrected One|
|Micah 7:19||He will have compassion|
|Nahum 1:15||Bringer of good news and publisher of peace|
|Habakkuk 3:13||The anointed going forth for salvation|
|Zephaniah 3:9||Bringer of pure speech|
|Haggai 1:14; 2:23||The servant like Zerubbabbel, rebuilding the temple|
|Zechariah 14:20||There will be a day of Holiness to the Lord|
|Malachi 3:1-3||The Refiner, the Purifier|
At last they arrived at Emmaus, and still not knowing the stranger's identity they urge him to stay with them even though he seemed to intend travelling further. They go in to the house and it is when the stranger shares bread with them that they realize it is the risen Jesus. Then we read Jesus vanishes from them, and they decide straight away to return to Jerusalem to tell the others.
Conclusion: Sadness turned into joy at the appearance of the risen Lord.
The resurrection accounts indicate the supernatural element of Jesus appearances. He would appear, sometimes withholding his identity, and then vanish. All this was to teach the disciples that they must start to relate to him in a different way. Previously they had been with him all the days of their discipleship but the time was coming when they had to learn that he was still with them but they could not see him.
We read of Cleopas and the other disciple that their "hearts burned within them" when they listened to Jesus. Before they met him they had lost hope and were dejected, but they are set "on-fire" after they meet their risen Master and he shines a brilliant light on the whole of the Scriptures, giving them understanding.
The Person Before
- We are not told anything of the background of Thomas or how Jesus chose him or appointed him as one of the twelve apostles. We do know that he was called Didymus which means he had a twin brother or sister.
The best known story about Thomas concerns his reluctance to believe the reports of the other disciples that Jesus had risen and appeared to them. This is the reason for Thomas being often associated with doubt. Perhaps though, he may have been somewhat misunderstood. Perhaps his problem was not so much as what we might think of as disbelief but rather a desire to examine the facts for himself in order to be completely sure. Irrespective of his exact reasons, the incident is a blessing to all who have come after Thomas because we now have indisputable evidence from the appearance of the wounds, that the Jesus that was seen risen, was the same Jesus that was crucified. The identity of the risen Jesus is thus all the more strongly confirmed through Thomas's initial disbelief and his desire to see for himself.
If any criticism is to be levelled at Thomas it is possibly his absence from the other apostles at the time of Jesus first appearance to them. The circumstances are however unknown. Perhaps there was a specific reason, perhaps Thomas in the great fear, sadness and perplexity of what had happened, just withdrew to be on his own.
What is of note is Thomas's great declaration when he did see the risen Jesus; he exclaims "My Lord and my God!" worshipping the risen Jesus as his Master and the Living, Eternal God.
We note too that Jesus did not have to appear again for the benefit of Thomas, but graciously did so; we also see that Jesus pronounced a blessing for all who coming later, believe in the risen Lord Jesus "Blessed are those who have not seen, and have believed."
Two earlier occasions involving Thomas are recorded and both are times of impending sadness. The first is in the context of the report of the sickness of Lazarus and the disciples were rightly fearful of returning to Judea because the Jews were wanting to kill Jesus. Thomas displays his loyalty and devotion by saying "Let's go also, that we may die with him."
The second occasion is during Jesus teaching to the disciples shortly before his death. Jesus says "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also. You know where I go, and you know the way". Thomas actually contradicts Jesus saying "Lord, we don't know where you are going. How can we know the way?" Evidently Thomas, and no doubt other disciples, were perplexed - if Jesus was gone how would they follow? Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him." There is a mild rebuke in the words "if you had known me". The disciples did know Jesus, but they had yet to know him as equal and as one with the Father and they were still confused about the nature of Jesus Kingdom.
Conclusion: The risen Jesus is Lord and God.
In his reply to Thomas's question of perplexity, Jesus replies with words of infinite revealing light, summarising his own unique identity as the way of reconciliation with God: "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me".
The story of Thomas encourages those who, needing evidence before faith, investigate and search things for themselves. Jesus will meet with those who do this in honesty and will reveal himself in clarity such that they are able to say with Thomas "My Lord and my God!"
John 11:16; John 13:36-38; John 14:1-7; John 20:24-29
38. The Ethiopian Eunuch
The Person Before
- The man in the story is from Ethiopia and a nobleman of the Queen of Ethiopia and responsible for her treasure.
- The man was clearly educated and religious and having some wealth. He had travelled to Jerusalem by chariot for worship and was returning, reading the Hebrew Scriptures and in particular, the prophet Isaiah.
In this illustration of a person meeting Jesus we are considering a meeting with the ascended Jesus through his Spirit and in the age of the activity of his church. The Lord is seen continuing his work through these agents and it is significant for us today because this is the way Jesus meets us.
The story of the Ethiopian Eunuch is also pivotal in another way because it represents the first steps of the church to reach people outside Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. This is the beginning of the message reaching the "uttermost parts of the earth" referred to in Acts 1:8 and continuing today.
The man had gone to Jerusalem to worship. He possessed or obtained a portion of Scripture and was reading from Isaiah on his return journey. But evidently he was perplexed as to its interpretation. Meanwhile an angel of the Lord had spoken to Philip, possibly in a dream or vision, instructing him without any explanation to travel south to a desert! As Philip went he sees the Ethiopian and the Spirit again says to Philip "Go near to the man in the chariot." Philip asks the man "Do you understand what you are reading?"
The man's confusion concerns the identity of the person referred to in Isaiah 53:7,8. Philip opened the scriptures to this man explaining about Jesus and no doubt how this prophesy from Isaiah was perfectly fulfilled in Jesus and his death and resurrection.
It is clear that the man heard, understood and believed. Therefore at his own suggestion he proposed to make that confession in baptism. Baptism by water was, as always, an outward and visible sign that this man had repented, believed and been baptised with the Holy Spirit and entered into a living membership with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philip was then taken by the Holy Spirit to Azotus for clearly he was needed for another purpose. Philip had inexplicably left the eunuch but we are told he rejoiced - he had met Philip's Master.
Conclusion: Christ in the Last Days: the Spiritual Healer.
In this story we have a wonderful unveiling of Christ's work in the last days. We can learn from this story:
- Philip's obedience to the Spirit.
- The Spirit's use of Philip to fulfill his purpose.
- The Church's responsibility to carry the message and shine enlightenment on Scripture and Christ's mission.
- The Spirit's work in the world to prepare those who seek Jesus.
- Jesus will find those who seek him.
- The work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to bring healing of a spiritual kind and eternal life through faith.
39. Saul of Tarsus
The Person Before
- Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew of Hebrew parents of the tribe of Benjamin but he was born and grew up in Tarsus which was strongly Greek in its thinking and culture. He was therefore a Jew and a Greek, having Roman citizenship.
- His religious education was in the Pharisaic School of Gamaliel in Jerusalem.
- As to his moral outlook and practice under the Pharisaic and Rabbinical law he says of himself that he was blameless.
- He was a member of the Sanhedrin, therefore in leadership over the people of Israel in regards to the law.
- It is clear from his own writings that Saul was passionate, honest, and a man of great intelligence and influencial personality.
The familiar story of Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus is told three times in Acts; firstly by Luke (Acts 9) and then related again by Paul himself in his defense first against the Jewish leaders (Acts 22) and secondly against King Agrippa (Acts 26).
Before the risen Jesus met Saul on the road to Damascus, as a leading Pharisee, he had been passionately trying to silence the disciples of Jesus by persecuting them, punishing them, imprisoning them and promoting their execution. He is travelling to Damascus with papers from the high priest authorising that any disciples found in Damascus were to be arrested and brought to Jerusalem. On the journey he witnesses a great light and a voice from heaven saying "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." Unsure what this means yet realising this was a divine vision of some kind, Saul says "Who are you, Lord?". The reply from heaven is "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Saul asks what shall he do; and he is told by the voice from heaven to rise up and enter into the city, and there he will be told what to do. Saul arose, blinded, and was led to Damascus.
The voice had said "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." This suggests Saul was in a troubled state of mind. Immediately before this vision, Saul had re-invigorated his persecution, obtaining the letters and travelling to Damascus but before that, Saul had witnessed the death of Stephen by stoning. In actual fact, he had actively consented to it. He would have heard Stephen's defense, not of himself but defending Jesus as the Messiah; he would have seen Stephen's face "as that of a angel"; he would have witnessed his death and his prayer for the forgiveness of the men that were stoning him. Such events appear to have weighed heavily on Saul, challenging his own convictions. But instead of believing in Jesus, he re-doubled his opposition. It is in this state of Saul's conviction yet rebellion that Jesus appeared to him and asked, and it seems almost as if it could be taken sarcastically, "You must be finding it hard to resist the prompting to believe that I am risen!" Saul then surrenders himself, his opinions, his old life and work, and accepts that Jesus has risen and must now be his Master.
On arrival at Damascus, Jesus through his Spirit has prepared Ananias. As Ananias prayed, we are told that his sight was regained and Saul was filled with the Holy Spirit. From that time forward, Saul preached Jesus Christ and people were astonished exclaiming "Isn't this he who in Jerusalem made havoc of those who called on this name? And he had come here intending to bring them bound before the chief priests!".
Lastly we have a glimpse of another appearance of our Lord to Saul when he was under arrest by the Pharisees and Sadducees. On this occasion the Lord came to Saul giving a word of encouragement, continuation and direction saying "Cheer up, Paul, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must testify also at Rome."
Conclusion: The excellency of the knowledge of the risen Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:8).
Paul stands out as a pioneer missionary, a fundamental theologian and a chuch statesman to a greater extent than any of the other apostles. Yet before this he was "breathing threats and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord". What brought about such a dramatic change? It was surely his overwhelming conviction of the fact that Jesus was alive. At the start of his epistle to the Romans Paul declares this Jesus ... "who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord". Such a conviction remains central to Christianity, and the whole age of the Christian church is itself a witness to this timeless fact.
Later in the same epistle (Rom. 10:9) Paul writes "the word of faith which we preach: that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." That is exactly what happened to Paul, his whole life became a confession of Jesus because he believed in his heart that God had raised Jesus from the dead.
Acts 7:58-8:4; Acts 9:1-22; Acts 22:3-10; Acts 23:11; Acts 26:9-20
The Person Before
- Cornelius was a Roman Centurion.
- He believes in and fears, one God (unlike the prevailing Roman culture).
- He is a man who is devout, prayerful and motivated to give money to the needy, but also he himself is seen as needy. He recognizes that he is in need of further enlightenment.
Like the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch, in the story of Cornelius the Holy Spirit separately prepares both the recipient and the giver of the message. Whilst both were Gentiles, the Ethiopian Eunuch was converted to Judaism, Cornelius was not. Therefore the account of Cornelius is significant in that he is the first recorded Gentile, clearly with some knowledge of and belief in, but with no previous conversion to Judaism and then to be converted to Christianity.
The story starts with two visions, one received by Cornelius in Caesarea and another by Simon Peter who at the time was some thirty miles away in Joppa.
In the vision of Cornelius he was told by an angel that "Your prayers and your gifts to the needy have gone up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and get Simon, who is also called Peter. He is staying with a tanner named Simon, whose house is by the seaside." This declaration was a confirmation that the attitudes and activities of his life were pleasing to God and on the basis of this, he was instructed to fetch the apostle Simon Peter from Joppa to receive instruction. Cornelius immediately sent three men to carry out this task.
The story of Simon Peter's preparation occurred the next day and it happened when he was hungry. In the vision he saw something like a sheet let down in which were all kinds of four-footed animals. A voice came to him, "Rise, Peter, kill and eat!" Peter objects to eating anything common or unclean. A second voice is heard "What God has cleansed, you must not call unclean."
No doubt Simon Peter was at that time somewhat baffled by the meaning of the vision he saw and shortly after was probably surprised and perhaps fearful to be then requisitioned by this Roman centurion but the Spirit confirms to him that he is to go without any doubt.
On the arrival of Simon Peter and the others at Cornelius's house, Cornelius describes the vision he had received and asks to hear from Simon Peter all the things that God has commanded him.
Realising the significance of his vision and that the gospel was for all nations, Simon Peter under the direction of the Holy Spirit describes to this Roman centurion and his friends the cardinal facts of the gospel:
- Jesus Christ - he is Lord of all
- Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit and with power
- Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil
- We, his disciples, are witnesses of everything he did both in the country of the Jews, and in Jerusalem
- Jesus was crucified and killed
- God raised him up the third day, and he was seen by many witnesses
- Jesus commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that this is he who is appointed by God as the Judge of the living and the dead
- All the prophets testify about him
- Through his name everyone who believes in him will receive remission of sins.
While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell on all those who heard the word indicating that they believed as Peter was preaching. Thus they were baptised by the Spirit and were then baptised by water as a symbol and sign of their repentance, belief and the receiving of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
In the first 18 verses of Acts 11, Peter recounts this story of Cornelius and how Peter was shown that the gospel was also for Gentiles, to the other apostles and brothers.
Conclusion: The Gospel is for everybody but only by believing on the name of Jesus.
The story of Cornelius reveals a number of important lessons:
- A moral life, much prayer and the giving of much in charity, and even the recognition and fear of God, though valuable and pleasing to God, is not enough to be saved.
- It is only through belief in the name of Jesus that there is forgiveness of sins.
- The Gospel is for everybody.
- Again we see the Holy Spirit using those who believe in Jesus to reach out to others enabling them to meet the risen Jesus for themselves.
- The Holy Spirit coming in the same way as at Pentecost.
The Person Before
- Lydia was a business woman, a seller of purple, indicating she was probably selling exclusive cloth.
- She lived in Philippi which was a Roman colony.
- She would have possessed some wealth since she owned a house, ample enough to entertain Paul and the group associated with him.
- She was a convert to Judaism and since there was no synagogue in Philippi, she was found praying on the Sabbath at a special place of prayer.
The background to the story of Lydia is interesting for a number of reasons.
Earlier in Acts Chapter 16, we read that Paul and the missionary group with him were prevented and even forbidden from preaching in Asia by the Holy Spirit and were re-directed to Europe through a vision appearing to Paul. They obeyed immediately and travelled towards Macedonia and to Philippi. It is interesting to observe how the Spirit guided them: first an intention was thwarted; second a call was received; thirdly obedience was rewarded by a safe and speedy journey to the destination given by the Spirit. All such factors serve to give confidence of the Spirit's leading.
Furthermore we may say that from a human perspective, the working of the Spirit is often a mystery. We cannot always see the purposes and they may seem unprofitable to us, but our responsibility is to obey, not query or expect to understand, except perhaps with hindsight, but not always. This is characteristic too, of Jesus earthly ministry; he was led by the Spirit to engage with individuals and deal with their issues and uttered his sublime wisdom often to them alone: "I am the resurrection and the life" was said to Martha; "I am the way, the truth, and the life" was said to Thomas and the most famous verse of all "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life" was said to Nicodemus. Jesus did not write such things down, organise meetings or formally present any systematic theology. But he was full of the Spirit and he obeyed the Spirit. Having ascended, he continues the same work through another body which is his church. He is no longer physically confined to Jewish territory and nearby but through the church is able to work in the furthest places in the world. It is the duty of the church to hear the voice of the Spirit and obey, especially when we understand it not.
In the case of Lydia, she was the first convert to Christianity in Europe, the first in Philippi. Of her and her brothers and sisters in Philippi, Paul writes "I thank my God whenever I remember you, always in every request of mine on behalf of you all, making my requests with joy, for your partnership in furtherance of the Good News from the first day until now; being confident of this very thing, that he who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ" and again "You yourselves also know, you Philippians, that in the beginning of the Good News, when I departed from Macedonia, no assembly shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving but you only. For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again to my need." Thus we can see that in the Spirit's wisdom, Lydia's conversion was the door opening to great things for the Gospel in Europe.
Returning to the story of Lydia, she is found by Paul and the others, praying by a river. What Paul said is not recorded but there can be no doubt it was that Jesus was the Son of God, how he had lived, how he had died and risen from the dead and was now at God's right hand, anointed as the only name under heaven by which there is forgiveness of sins. As Paul spoke we read that the Lord Jesus "opened her heart." The meaning of this is that the Lord thoroughly sorted out her thinking, putting everything in place. She was a convert to Judaism, now she understood the Scriptures and believed that everything they spoke of, and everything she once saw unclearly, was fulfilled in Jesus. She entered into a living relationship with the living Lord Jesus and was baptised by Spirit and water.
Lydia entreats them to stay at her house. Subsequently they are arrested and we read this story in Acts 16:16-40. After their release they again go to Lydia's house.
Conclusion: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies.
The story of Lydia is full of grace and beauty. We do not read of any faithful men in Philippi: it was the women who were at prayer. The Spirit answered their prayer, sent Paul, and opened their hearts to Jesus. The Gospel in Europe started with one woman's heart opened, she opened her house and before long a whole continent was beginning to open.
Acts 16:11-15; Acts 16:40
42. The Philippian Jailor
The Person Before
- This man was a Philippian jail keeper, responsible under the Roman system for the imprisonment of criminals.
- This was not a sensitive or compassionate man; he showed no concern for the severity of physical punishment or the poor conditions in the prison cells.
- However we must also conclude this man had considerable courage and diligence in his duty as he was intending killing himself when he thought his prisoners had escaped rather than face the Roman authorities and execution.
- Also this man appears to be a family man as his whole household is mentioned.
Paul and Silas had been flogged and thrown into prison and secured with their feet in stocks. This had happened because they had cast an evil spirit out of a girl who had been used by her masters for much profit in fortune telling. Due to their loss of income, these masters had brought Paul and Silas before the magistrates accusing them of causing trouble in the city.
During the night in prison, we are told that Paul and Silas are singing hymns and praises to God and the other prisoners were listening. Then came a great supernatural earthquake shaking the prison violently so that the doors were opened and the shackles were unfastened. The jailor wakes and seeing the prison open thinks the prisoners have escaped and is about to fall on his sword.
But Paul cries out "Don't harm yourself, for we are all here!" The jailor goes in with lights and sees the prisoners still in the jail. He then cries out "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
Many sermons have been preached on the jailors exclamation and it is a natural response of man when brought into the presence of a greater power and authority. Exactly what was in his mind or the nature of what it was he wanted to be saved from we cannot be sure. We can perhaps, observe what caused this reaction and it appears to be Paul shouting out to stop him killing himself: no-one had escaped. It seems this convinced the jailor he was in the presence of some higher way of life, outside his experience. He fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.
Paul's answer was immediate "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Then they were invited to the jailors house and spoke the word of the Lord to all in the house. It is noted that Paul did not first say "Repent and believe". The jailors cry "What must I do to be saved?" and his submission before Paul and Silas were evidence of repentance. Paul's further explanation to the jailors household would, no doubt, describe the life and work of Jesus, his Lordship, his atoning death and resurrection and that spiritual healing is through believing on the name of Jesus. All this man's household believed, were saved and then were baptised.
The jailors response to salvation is to dress the wounds of Paul and Silas and set food before them.
Conclusion: He and his household rejoiced greatly, having believed in God.
Lydia was found in the place of prayer and the Holy Spirit sent Paul to her to tell her the news of Jesus. The Philippian jailor was found fast asleep and the Holy Spirit sent an earthquake so he could hear the news of Jesus. The evidence of the change brought about in this jailor by Jesus is dramatic: from brutal Roman authority, he is found tending and caring for Paul and Silas, believing and rejoicing in God. The transformation is not limited to himself only but extends to his whole household. The Gospel which had started in Philippi with one woman's heart opened, continued with this hard Roman man changed into a man of compassion and tenderness.
The Person Before
- Felix was a governor and Paul was sent to appear before him by the Roman commanding officer after the Jews accused him on account of his witness to Jesus.
- Felix only appears in the Bible in connection with the examination of the accusations made of Paul by the Jews.
The story of Felix is both instructive and disturbing. Many of the lessons to be learned are of general application. Felix came close to becoming converted but hesitated and concerning his ultimate decision we are not told. There are four facts given which clearly reveal the stages of his experience:
- Felix, having more exact knowledge concerning the Way (i.e. more exact knowledge about Christianity and the Gospel, than Paul's accusers)
- Felix came with Drusilla, his wife, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus.
- Felix was terrified
- Felix left Paul in bonds
When Paul appeared before Felix he was not heard immediately because Felix wanted to wait until Paul's accusers had arrived. For five days Felix kept Paul in Herod's palace and then the high priest Ananias and other elders arrived and accused Paul of being a plague, an instigator of insurrections, and a ringleader of a sect and a profaner of the temple. Paul made his defense, denying the charges and claiming his accusers have no proof. Paul does admit that he serves God, believing the law, and the prophets and that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.
Felix however, understanding more about the message Paul was preaching than his accusers defers again, adjourning matters until the arrival of the Roman commanding officer. Paul was not freed, but kept in good conditions with friends permitted to visit.
The arrival of the commanding officer is not mentioned, but after a few days Felix sent for Paul to hear him, with his wife, concerning the faith. We read that Paul reasoned with Felix about righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come.
Firstly, Paul spoke about righteousness: in other words there is an absolute standard of conduct which God has imposed upon man and it is to do what is right as God has revealed to man through word and conscience.
Secondly, Paul spoke about self-control: in other words recognising that desire works against righteousness so there is a conflict between them. Desire must be mastered to do what is right.
Thirdly, Paul speaks about judgment: in other words it is the right of God to demand an examination of the life of a man to review conduct against God's standard.
We then read that Felix was terrified. It is evident that what Paul reasoned had touched Felix to the extent of confirming his conviction that God's standard was righteousness; challenging his personal habits and conduct of life; and setting before him a future and final Tribunal before God himself from which there is no appeal. For a moment this governor was terrified: the veil of earthly distractions and desires was lifted and he saw his life from the perspective of eternity. His terror was God's touch of grace upon his life and his opportunity to ask "what must I do to be saved?" Had he asked this no doubt Paul would have explained that faith in Christ does not lower God's standard of righteousness but imparts the righteousness of Christ and also the power through the Spirit to gain mastery over desire. But such a question Felix did not ask. He deferred any decision and sent Paul away saying "Go your way for this time, and when it is convenient for me, I will summon you."
Subsequently, Felix heard Paul again many times. He had further opportunities to believe on Jesus but we do not know what happened. All we are told is that Felix left Paul in bonds.
Conclusion: Grace declined: here procrastination is the thief not only of time but eternity.
The account of Felix reveals one who knew much about the Gospel, listened to the preaching of Paul the apostle, was convicted to the point of terror but then did nothing. Such an example highlights the danger of postponing a decision. Jesus met Felix in his Spirit but the Spirit was resisted and the possibility of spiritual healing was lost.
The story reveals that Christ not only saves but terrifies. Christ is the friend of sinners but the judge of all. Fear is the only emotion when a man stands before the presence of perfect light which exposes every imperfection. But it is also an open door of hope when the sinner asks for mercy and cries "what must I do to be saved?" This is where wisdom begins.
Acts 23:23-35; Acts 24:1-27
The Person Before
- Herod Agrippa, like Felix, only appears in the Bible in connection with his connection with Paul.
- Agrippa was an educated man and of great ability, he is mentioned in writings outside the Bible and lived from AD27 to AD100.
- He was well acquainted with the Jewish scriptures and held to their truth.
- He was the great-grandson of Herod who had the babies killed at the birth of Jesus. He was the great-nephew of Herod who had John the Baptist killed. And he was the son of Herod who killed James (Acts 12:2).
- He married his sister Bernice.
Festus succeeded Felix as the Roman governor and therefore inherited the situation of Paul under confinement and in chains. Probably seeking to resolve this matter he enlists Agrippa (or King Herod Agrippa II to give him his full title although he wasn't really a King) to interview Paul. This was due to the fact that Paul had appealed to Caesar, an irrevocable request, but he could not be sent without a valid criminal charge and there was no charge. Agrippa was pleased as he also had wished to hear Paul and like Felix, was also very familiar with the Jewish Scriptures and the beginnings of the Christian church.
So Paul was brought in before Agrippa and his wife Bernice (who was also Agrippa's sister), Festus and various Roman dignitaries, they in their grand garments of office and Paul in chains.
Paul did not give them a theological argument for salvation but instead gave them his testimony - of which there could be no challenge for it was what had happened. He tells them that he was brought up as a Pharisee and strongly opposed those who followed Jesus of Nazareth. Then he describes meeting Jesus on the Damascus road and since then he has testified to Jesus as the risen promised Messiah. Festus dismisses this testimony believing Paul to be crazy. Agrippa mocks Paul for trying to make him a Christian.
The consultation ends: it is clear Paul has done nothing criminal but cannot be released because of his appeal to Caesar.
Conclusion: Salvation offered to a King but declined.
Paul's education as a Pharisee meant that he was an expert on Mosaic law and the prophets. He himself says that he knows Agrippa also was well acquainted with the Jewish scriptures and believed them to be true. Paul shared his experience of Jesus on the Damascus road as an invitation to share in his conversion by believing on Jesus. It was a dramatic appearance, a dramatic conversion and a dramatic change was evident in Paul and everything about his life. Was Agrippa convinced? He could not argue about the change in Paul's life because that was self-evident.
The story is a very solemn one. Agrippa was familiar with Jewish history, knew of Jesus and what his followers were speaking about. Jesus met with Agrippa though his chief Apostle. He was offered salvation, Jesus wanted him for higher and eternal purposes but as far as we know he said no. If he was convinced of Paul's account, it was not enough unless he also submitted to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.
Acts 25:13-27; Acts 24:1-27
The Person Before
- Demas is mentioned briefly in just three verses, nothing more is known of the man.
In Colossians and Philemon, Demas is mentioned among Paul's fellow workers but in 2 Timothy he is mentioned as having left Paul, having loved the present world and gone to Thessalonica. Here then we have someone who either met Jesus, submitted to him as Saviour and Lord, was active in supporting the work of the proclaiming Gospel but then relapsed, forsaking Paul and Christ, or, had met Jesus but not fully submitted to him as Saviour and Lord, and was active in supporting the work of the proclaiming Gospel because he was carried along perhaps by the attraction of something new but then decided it was not for him. As mentioned, Paul refers to Demas as a fellow-worker and it does seem unlikely that Paul could be deceived by someone who was not genuinely converted suggesting that it was more likely that Demas was a Christian. Presumably, the fact that this is apparently not explicitly evident in the Biblical record is that both options are instructive.
If Demas was a Christian, then the warning is that if we neglect our relationship with the Lord we are easily tempted back to worldly affairs. Perhaps Demas was in fear of suffering (because Paul was now a prisoner) or perhaps he became more interested in secular affairs and he lost his first love to Christ and the Gospel was forsaken and forgotten.
If Demas was not a Christian, then the warning is that we can be in the place of Gospel service, even active in supporting the church yet missing out on a living and saving relationship with Jesus. We may think we are saved but if there is no genuine membership of Christ's people separation will eventually come.
We are not told what happened to Demas after he forsook Paul and went to Thessalonica. If he was a Christian, then we can know that even if he forsook his Lord, Jesus would not forsake him.
We are told that Demas "loved this present world". Thus it seems he was allured by what this present age offers, over the hope of what is offered by Christ in the age to come. Exactly what attracted Demas is not mentioned but perhaps it will be generally helpful to contrast the nature of the present world with God's way. The following table is an attempt to do this:
|Way of the World||God's Way|
|Nature of Life||Material||Spiritual|
|god(s)/ Idols||You choose||Keep away|
|Morality||Man's opinion||God's opinion|
|Bible||No value||God's Word|
|Future||Man made||God is sovereign|
|Wealth||To own||To be used|
|Health||To desire||To thank God|
|Pleasure||Why not?||Be Thankful|
In this connection we may ask how we can avoid becoming influenced away from God's way to that of the world. This is by growing and developing in our relationship through faith with Jesus by God's Word, prayer, meeting and service. 2 Peter Chapter 1:5-8 is a significant passage on the subject of Christian growth:
Summarising this sequence we are to be diligent with:
- Brotherly affection
Conclusion: Lack of growth means deterioration.
The key lesson from this study is that lack of growth and development in faith leads to deterioration and to a greater or lessor extent a return to worldly thinking. In Demas's case it would appear that lack of growth allowed the allure of the present age to gain his affection. On the other hand growth and development in faith leads to love.
Colossians 4:12-14; Philemon 23,24; 2 Timothy 4:9-11
The Person Before
- Onesimus was the brother of Philemon but through some circumstance was also the slave of Philemon.
- Perhaps Onesimus had fallen into difficulty and Philemon took him on as a slave. However we read that Onesimus was not a profitable slave - in fact it is said that he was useless.
- It appears that Onesimus stole from Philemon, before or after he became a slave, and he ran away from his master, Philemon.
Onesimus is mentioned in Colossians and Philemon, both written by Paul while he was in prison in Rome.
Onesimus was a slave and belonged to Philemon but he ran away to Rome. Somehow he met Paul there and was converted to Christianity. He ministered to Paul in his imprisonment and Paul describes him as a faithful and beloved brother.
It seems that Paul decided, even though he wanted to keep Onesimus, that he really should go back to his former master and be reconciled to Philemon. Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother because of the change in his life. Paul writes concerning Onesimus that formerly he was useless but now he is very useful. He was "unprofitable" but is now "profitable".
This change in the life of Onesimus is the key to his story and it is brought about when, through Paul's ministry, he met with the risen Jesus and submitted to him as Saviour and Lord. The claim then is that Christ made the transformation in him from an unprofitable man into a profitable man. Before he was a thief and useless, now he is helping Paul while in prison and then taking Paul's letter to the Colossians from Rome to Colossae (a distance perhaps over 2000km).
Conclusion: We are all worthless until meeting Jesus.
This story shows that when someone meets Jesus and accepts him as Saviour, their life is transformed. The miracle of new birth is evident in a changed life. The man's spirit is brought to life, his attitudes are changed, there is a new start along a new path. In submitting to Christ, the Christian must seek to embrace the attitudes and teaching of Christ, such as service, mercy, forgiveness, love, righteousness, truthfulness. Such virtues are profitable to God and profitable to our fellow man. This is the nature of the healing that the Great Physician administers.
Colossians 4:7-9; Philemon 10-21
|John the Baptist||The Identity of Jesus - The Lamb of God|
|Andrew||Seeking and Finding|
|John the Apostle||Come and SEE|
|Simon Peter||Strength through Christ|
|Philip||Those who man overlooks, Christ seeks|
|Nathanael||Even the most devout person needs Jesus|
|The Virgin Mother||Family relationship is secondary to Spiritual relationship|
|Nicodemus||Spiritual Birth or Perish|
|The Samaritan Woman||The Source of Living Water and a new insight into Worship|
|The Nobleman||Power and Authority|
|The Impotent Man||Salvation Unveiled|
|The Leper||Able and Willing|
|Matthew||Jesus found him - for a purpose|
|The Paralysed Man||Be of good courage - your sins are forgiven|
|The Man with a Withered Hand||With Jesus impossible things become possible|
|The Centurion||Faith from an understanding of the Authority of Jesus|
|Simon and the Woman||Forgiveness of sins brings love and peace|
|Three Would-be Followers||Follow without delay and without distraction|
|The Demoniac||No terror is beyond the ability of Jesus to destroy|
|Jairus||Don't be afraid. Only believe.|
|The Woman who Touched||Touching Jesus in faith brings spiritual healing and restoration.|
|The Syrophoenician Woman||Faith transcends nationality|
|The Father and Son||All things are possible to him who believes|
|The Condemned Woman||God alone has the right to exact penalty for sin, but also has the grace to forgive the penitent|
|The Lawyer||Love God and be a neighbour unconditionally|
|The Man Born Blind||Do we have the 'spiritual' sight to see Jesus is the Son of God?|
|The Covetous Man and Brother||Life is not measured by possessions|
|Martha||I am the resurection and the life|
|Mary||Safety and security at the feet of Jesus|
|The Young Ruler||Love and trust is for God, not money|
|Zacchaeus||Found and saved brings an ethical transformation|
|Bartimaeus||Jesus heals spiritual blindness today|
|Widow at the Treasury||Faith is always seen by God|
|Annas and Caiaphas||Beware saying "no" to the Son of God|
|Pilate||It was really humanity that was on trial at the trial of Jesus|
|Herod||Light rejected means darkness is chosen|
|The Dying Thief||A remarkable faith|
|Mary of Magdala||A remarkable devotion|
|Cleopas and Another||Sadness turned into joy at the appearance of the risen Lord|
|Thomas||The risen Jesus is Lord and God|
|The Ethiopian Eunuch||Christ in the Last Days: the Spiritual Healer|
|Saul of Tarsus||The excellency of the knowledge of the risen Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:8)|
|Cornelius||The Gospel is for everybody but only by believing on the name of Jesus|
|Lydia||He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies|
|The Philippian Jailor||He and his household rejoiced greatly, having believed in God|
|Felix||Grace declined: here procrastination is the thief not only of time but eternity|
|Agrippa||Salvation offered to a King but declined|
|Demas||Lack of growth means deterioration|
|Onesimus||We are all worthless until meeting Jesus|