What Is the One Thing Jesus Spoke Plainly?

TODAY’S READING: MARK 10-11

“And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.'” – Mark 10:32-34

This is the third and final time in Mark that Jesus tells the twelve disciples that he was going to be delivered to his death and rise three days later. Mark writes something very interesting the first time Jesus speaks about his death and resurrection.

Mark 8:31-32 says, “And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.”

“And he said this plainly.”

The Greek word for plainly is parresia. It means boldness, confidence, plainly, frankness. According to the Theological Lexicon of the New Testament parresia means freedom of speech, candor, boldness, public speech, categorical affirmation. It was originally a political term, which was the sign of one’s political liberty. The very act of speaking with such freedom implied the truth of what was being said. But, speaking with such freedom exposed the speaker to significant danger.

So, when Jesus spoke of his death, he spoke boldly, confidently, plainly, frankly. He did not mince words. Jesus was clear. He was not trying to obfuscate what he was saying or making it hard to understand.

His suffering, death, and resurrection is the one thing that Jesus spoke about plainly.

Mark 4:2 says, “And he was teaching them many things in parables.”

Mark 4:33-34 says, “With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it. He did not speak to them without a parable, but privately to his own disciples he explained everything.”

Why would Jesus speak so plainly about his suffering, death, and resurrection with his disciples but only speak in parables to everyone else?

Mark 4:11 says, “And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.”

Jesus gave the secret, the mystery, of the kingdom of God to his disciples. He spoke to them plainly about it. The secret, the mystery, of the kingdom of God is that the Christ must suffer, die, and be resurrected three days.

Why did Jesus tell his disciples this one thing – his suffering, death, and resurrection – so plainly?

I believe because it is so antithetical, so opposite, to the way we naturally think.

Mark 8:29 says, “And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.'”

It was immediately after Peter’s confession, on behalf of all the disciples, that Jesus began to teach that he would, be killed, and rise three days later. But, even though Peter had just confessed Jesus as the Christ, this plain teaching of Jesus made no sense to him.

Mark 8:32 says, “And he [Jesus] said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.”

The one thing Jesus taught plainly, Peter said no way.

Jesus taught about his suffering, death, and resurrection a second time in Mark 9:30-32. Immediately after the second teaching, Jesus and the disciples journeyed to Capernaum. Along the way, the disciples argued, not about Jesus’ teaching that he would suffer, die, and rise even though they did not understand it, but about who would be the greatest in the kingdom. So, Jesus told them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

The third and final time Jesus teaches that he will suffer, die, and rise, James and John ask Jesus that he would grant them to sit on his right and left hand. Yet, again when Jesus teaches plainly the secret of the kingdom – that the Christ, the Messiah, the king would suffer, die and rise – the disciples are still trying to be great according to the way of the world. They want to rule.

The other disciples became indignant at James and John. They are still arguing about who is going to be the greatest. In Mark 10:42-45, Jesus responded, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus had to speak the secret, the mystery of the kingdom, plainly to his disciples because it was completely the opposite of everything they thought and believed about the way the world worked, who the Christ was, and what he would do.

Not only did Jesus speak plainly that he would suffer, die, and rise, but he acted plainly. In John 16:25, Jesus said, “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly [parresia] about the Father.”

Jesus would tell them plainly about the Father in the hour. The hour is a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. It was on the cross that Jesus’ actions would plainly reveal the Father just as he had spoken plainly to the disciples about his suffering, death, and resurrection.

Colossians 2:13-15 says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to an open [parresia] shame, by triumphing over them in him.

The crucifixion of Jesus was God disarming the rulers and authorities, those that had all mankind bound in sin and death. The crucifixion was Jesus plainly showing us who God is.

Did you catch the significance of this plain speaking about the Father in Colossians 2:13-15?

“Having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

Jesus taught his suffering, death, and resurrection clearly because he wanted to boldly, confidently, frankly tell us that God forgives us.

Why did Jesus speak clearly to the disciples the secret of the kingdom yet in parables to those outside?

Mark 4:11-12 says, “and he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.'”

Here Jesus links his plain speaking as opposed to his teaching in parables with forgiveness.

When Jesus was on the cross, when his actions most plainly told us about the Father, what did Jesus say?

Luke 23:34 says, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

The secret, the mystery, of the kingdom is so foreign to us that despite Jesus’ plain teaching and acting out his teaching on the cross, the disciples still did not understand.

Luke 24:25-27 says, “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

So, Luke 24:44-48 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled,’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for [the correct word is and] the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

Why did Jesus speak plainly about his suffering, death, and resurrection?

So, that repentance and forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed.

How did you Jesus start his ministry?

Jesus first words in the gospel of Mark are, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Repentance is the first message of the kingdom.

How did Jesus end his ministry?

Luke 23:34 says, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'”

Forgiveness is the last word of Jesus’ ministry.

So, Jesus told the disciples to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to the whole world. This was the evidence that the disciples had been transformed. See yesterday’s post.

Proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins to the world is just what the disciples did. And, they did it plainly.

In the first sermon, Peter preached “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raise him up.” Peter preached that the Christ must suffer, die, and be resurrected. Peter did not preach, “Believe in Jesus, get saved, or you are going to burn in hell forever.”

The disciples never once preached hell. They preached the secret, the mystery, of the kingdom – Jesus Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected. They preached the gospel.

In acts 2:29, 32, Peter said, “Brothers, I may say to you with confidence [parresia] about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb us with us to this day…This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses.”

When confidently, boldly, plainly taught the secret of the kingdom, the gospel, those who were gathered were cut to heart and asked what should they do?

“And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)

The disciples knew the secret of the kingdom, the gospel – Jesus Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected. Therefore, they proclaimed repentance and the forgiveness of sins to all.

Acts 4:13 says, “Now when they saw the boldness [parresia] of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4:29-31 says, “‘And now, Lord, look upon their hearts and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with boldness [parresia], while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.’ And when they had prayed, the place in which there gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness [parresia].”

Acts 28:30-31 says, “He [Paul] lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness [parresia] and without hindrance.”

To speak the word with boldness is not

  • proclaiming the ten commandments
  • quoting the law and the prophets literally
  • telling people to obey rules and moral commands
  • preaching get saved or burn in hell forever.

To speak the word, the word of God, Jesus Christ with boldness is to proclaim that Jesus is the Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. And, as the Christ, the true king of the world, Jesus became the least of all, a servant, a slave. He willingly suffered and was crucified at your hands. But, God raised Jesus up. Jesus did this so that you could repent of your violence, your desire for vengeance, and receive God’s forgiveness for your sins and proclaim God’s forgiveness to the world.

This is what Jesus spoke plainly.

How Are We Transformed by the Renewing of Our Mind?

TODAY’S READING: MARK 8-9

“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them…And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.'” – Mark 9:2-3, 7

In Romans 12:2, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”

This is arguably one of the most famous verses in the Bible. It is quoted all the time.

But, exactly how is our mind renewed so that we can be transformed?

And, what is the evidence that we are transformed by the renewing of our mind?

The Greek word for renewal in Romans 12:2 is anakainosis. It means a making new, a renewal, a renovation. Paul is talking about an overhaul of our mind.

The only other use of anakainosis is in Titus 3:4-5, which says, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” So, the Holy Spirit plays a role in the renewal of our mind.

Just what does the Holy Spirit do though to renew our mind?

In John 14:26, Jesus says, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The Holy Spirit renews our minds by reminding us of what Jesus said.

The Holy Spirit speaks to us the words of one person, and one person only, Jesus. When the Holy Spirit speaks to us the words of Jesus our minds are renewed and we transformed.

The Greek word for transformed is metamorphoo. This is where we get our word metamorphosis. So, we can instantly understand the word by calling to mind the complete change of appearance of caterpillar goes through in becoming a butterfly.

Metamorphoo is not used often in the Bible. In fact, it is used only four times. We’ve seen one in Romans 12:2. We are to be transformed, to completely change appearance.

One of the other four uses in found in today’s reading. Mark 9:2 (and Matthew 17:2) says that Jesus was transfigured, or transformed. When Jesus was transformed he was clothed in light. Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus when he transformed.

When Peter saw Elijah and Moses with Jesus, he thought that three tents, or tabernacles. The tabernacle was where the presence of God dwelt among Israel as they journeyed through the wilderness. So, Peter thought he would build a tabernacle for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses because he, James, John, and the other disciples could meet God through each one of them.

But, a cloud overshadowed them. And, a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

What happened after this voice spoke?

“And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.” (Mark 9:8) Elijah and Moses disappeared.

So, Jesus was transformed. Elijah and Moses appeared. A cloud, the Holy Spirit, showed up. God said from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” And, Elijah and Moses disappeared.

So, Jesus’ transformation resulted in only his voice being left. The voice of Elijah was gone. The voice of Moses was gone.

And, we are transformed when the Holy Spirit speaks the words of Jesus, and Jesus only, in our minds.

So, how are we transformed by the renewal of our minds?

We are transformed when we listen to only the voice of Jesus.

This cannot be stressed enough.

If we do not want to be conformed to the world but transformed, then we can only listen to Jesus.

We are not to listen to Moses. This means we do not listen, or take heed, to the law.

We are not to listen to Elijah. This means we do not listen, or take heed, to the prophets.

Moses and Elijah have disappeared. They are gone.

Moses and Elijah are only useful to the extent that Jesus translates, or interprets, them into his voice. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Luke 24:44 says, “Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.'”

Jesus said “my words that I spoke to you.” We are to listen to his voice. And, the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance what Jesus said.

Does Jesus say that everything in the law, the prophets, and the psalms would be fulfilled?

No, he does not.

Jesus said, “Everything written about me…must be fulfilled.”

What was written about Jesus in the law, the prophets, and the psalms?

“Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.'” (Luke 24:45-47)

The writing of the law, the prophets, and the psalms that need to be fulfilled, that Jesus had to open our minds to understand, was that Jesus should suffer and rise from the dead the third day.

Therefore, repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed. The word for is not in the Greek, but the word and is there.

So, we are transformed when we listen to Jesus only.

We are transformed when the Holy Spirit renovates our minds to only hear Jesus in the Old Testament.

We only hear Jesus in the Old Testament when we understand the Old Testament to reveal that the Christ would suffer and be resurrected three days later.

We know that we are transformed and only hear Jesus when we proclaim repentance, the call for changed minds, and the forgiveness of sins.

Therefore, if we are proclaiming eternal damnation, eternal torment, and hell, then our minds have not been renewed and we have not been transformed.

If we are proclaiming eternal damnation, eternal torment, and hell, then we are still conformed to the world.

Jesus proclaimed forgiveness from the cross even as we crucified him. And, if we have been transformed then we will proclaim forgiveness too. This is the glory of the Lord, the forgiveness of sin.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

We are transformed into light just like Jesus. We partake of his glory. We proclaim forgiveness of sins as he did.

Colossians 1:13 says, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”

We are transformed by the renewing of our minds when we listen to Jesus, and only Jesus.

The evidence of our being transformed and no longer conformed to this world is that we proclaim the forgiveness of sins just as we have heard from Jesus.

How Do We Negate the Power of the Word of God?

TODAY’S READING: MARK 6-7

“And he said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.'” – Mark 7:6-8

The Pharisees and the scribes saw that some of Jesus’ disciples did not wash their hands before eating. According to the traditions of the elders, this meant that these disciples of Jesus were unclean. Therefore, the Pharisees and the scribes asked Jesus why some of his disciples did not follow the tradition of the elders and ate with defiled hands.

So, Jesus answered with the words above from Mark 7:6-8. Instead of answering the question directly by addressing why his disciples ate without washing their hands, Jesus answered the question by addressing why the Pharisees and the scribes were even asking the question.

The Pharisees and the scribes asked about eating with unclean hands which defiles you because they only honored God with their lips yet their heart was far from him. The Pharisees and the scribes asked about eating with unclean hands which defiles you because they worshiped God in vain by teaching the commandments of men.

How were the Pharisees and the scribes appearing to follow, honor, and worship God but merely do it with their lips and in vain?

By leaving the commandment of God and holding to their own tradition.

Jesus gives a very specific example. He says that they rejected God’s command to honor their father and mother and that whoever reviled their parents would surely die.

How did they reject these commandments from God?

The Pharisees and the scribes told their parents, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban.” (Mark 7:11) In effect, the Pharisees and the scribes said, “Sorry mom and dad. We have nothing to give you because we have given everything to God.”

But this wasn’t really true.

To say something was corban meant that you had given it as an offering to God and put it in the treasury of the temple. Because it had been given to God, it was not allowed to be used for anything else.

However, who was the beneficiary of the treasury of the temple?

The Pharisees and the scribes.

Therefore, what the Pharisees and the scribes were really doing was claiming that couldn’t honor their parents because they had given everything to God, but they were still maintaining the use of their offerings for themselves. So, the Pharisees honored God with their lips and worshiped him in vain.

I believe there is an irony in the Pharisees and the scribes cry of “Corban” that just Jesus is calling out. Corban, or qorban, is actually a Hebrew word that means offering, gift, oblation. It is used 79 times in the Old Testament, almost exclusively in Leviticus and Numbers where it is translated offering.

Qorban comes from the Hebrew root word qarab, which means to get or come closer, approach, come forward, to step up to. So, a qorban, an offering, was something that was brought near the altar. And, it was meant to symbolize the drawing near of our hearts to God.

Yet, all the while the Pharisees and the scribes were crying “Corban,” honoring God with their lips, their hearts weren’t coming any closer to God. Just like the Pharisees thought external washings would make them clean and undefiled, they thought the external presentation of gifts and offerings to God would bring their hearts close to him.

Luke 11:37-41 says, “While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And, the Lord said to him, ‘Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.”

Why were the Pharisees crying “Corban,” worshiping God in vain by appearing to give him their goods, yet maintaining access to them, so they could not give them to their parents?

Because of their greed.

What should they have done?

Instead of giving offerings of external, material things, they should have given the things that are within, specifically love. And, if we give love from within, then our material things will follow.

The Pharisees and the scribes knew that Moses said “Honor your father and your mother,” (exodus 20:12) and “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die” (Exodus 21:17).

Why were the Pharisees and the scribes to obey the commandment of Moses to honor their father and mother?

Jesus said that the two greatest commandments were to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. In fact, everything in the law and the prophets hung upon, came out of, these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40) So, when he was asked what good deed needed to be done to have eternal life, Jesus first answered, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthews 19:18-19)

The Pharisees and the scribes were to honor their father and mother because to do so was to fulfill Jesus, and God’s, command to love your neighbor as yourself. So, they rejected the command to honor father and mother by failing to love their parents as themselves. They did so by keeping their possessions for themselves.

But, what about the commandment “Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die?”

How were the Pharisees and scribes rejecting this command?

First, we must understand that this command is not saying that God will kill those who do not honor their father or mother. Nor, is Jesus saying that those who do not honor their father and mother should be stoned to death.

A more literal translation of this commandment might say, “Whoever reviles father or mother will die the death.” Indeed, in the Hebrew of Exodus 21:17, the wording is the same as what God spoke to Adam. That if Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil he would die the death.

Therefore, second, we should understand this commandment as a warning. If we revile, curse, fail to honor, our parents, then we are going to die.

How?

Not because God is going to strike us down. But, because failing to live by love brings death to our hearts. God is love. God is life. And, where there is no love there is no life, only separation and death.

And, if we don’t love our brother, our parents, then we don’t love God. As 1 John 4:21 says, “And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”

If this commandment isn’t about stoning someone, putting them to death, for breaking the command, then how were the Pharisees and the scribes rejecting it?

They rejected it by believing that it did not apply. They rejected it by believing they could live without loving. They rejected it by believing that without loving they could go on living.

So, Jesus says that by holding to our traditions, observing what we have been taught by men, we are “making void the word of God.” (Mark 7:13)

Holding to traditions and observing what we have been taught by men keeps us focused on the external, the washing of hands and the material gifts to the Lord, instead of allowing Jesus to create in us a new heart from which we give love to God and our brother.

Traditions make void the word of God.

The Greek word for make void is akyroo. The Greek prefix a means without. The root word is kyrios, which means authority or power. So, akyroo means without power or authority. Kyrios is also the Greek word that is translated Lord in reference to Jesus hundreds of times in the New Testament. So, making void is to make something without power, without authority, even without the Lord.

What is being made without power, without authority?

The word, the logos, of God.

When we hold to traditions and observe them, we negate the power and the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in our hearts. By holding to traditions, by failing to examine what we have been taught by other men, we strip the Lord Jesus of his power to change our hearts. We quench the Spirit from doing is work in us and fail to understand the book he is writing on our hearts.

Why do I say we fail to read the book the Spirit is writing on our hearts because of traditions that we keep?

Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13 in Mark 7:6-8 in response to the Pharisees and the scribes question about washing hands. But, Isaiah 29:11-12 says, “And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, ‘Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, ‘Read this,’ he says, ‘I cannot read.'”

You can’t read the book either because it is sealed or you cannot read because you draw near with your, honoring God with your lips, keeping your heart far from him, worshiping him in vain.

Examine your traditions very, very carefully. Do not hold any of them so dear that the you cannot read what the Spirit is writing on your heart. For, observing your traditions just might negate the power and authority of Jesus, the Lord, the Word of God, in your life.

What Is Bearing Fruit 30, 60, and 100 Fold?

TODAY’S READING: MARK 4-5

“But those that were down on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and hundredfold.” – Mark 4:20

According to Mark, Jesus said that the seed, which is the word of God, that was sown into good soil, the hearts of men who would hear, would bear fruit and produce a harvest that was thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and a hundredfold.

What did Jesus mean that the harvest would be thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold?

Did Jesus mean we should expect a harvest that is 30 times, 60 times, and 100 times larger than what was planted?

How would we even measure that?

If it is the word of God, Jesus Christ himself, that is planted in our hearts, then how would we measure that he produced fruit that 30 times, 60, times, or 100 times more?

I think sometimes people assume the fruit, the harvest is other people that are brought to Christ. But, that is not fruit in the Bible. Fruit in the Bible is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. How would you know the word of God planted in you produced 30 times more love? 60 times more goodness? 100 times more self-control?

Why does Matthew reverse the order of the increase of the fruit of the word in you?

In Matthew 13:8, Jesus said, “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.”

And, why does Luke only mention the hundredfold increase?

In Luke 8:8, Jesus said, “And some fell into good soil and grew and yielded a hundredfold.”

The following is one way to understand what Jesus was meant by the word of God, Jesus himself, in our hearts bearing fruit of thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold.

The number 30 in the Bible represents dedication to authority, leadership, or rulership.

The number 60 in the Bible has the idea of help, support, or being upheld.

The number 100 in the Bible means promise, specifically the promised son who came from one, Abraham, who was as good as dead. So, 100 also has the idea of life from death, or resurrection.

When we receive the word, Jesus, in our hearts, he produces within us a dedication to his authority, his leadership, his rulership.

When we receive Jesus into our hearts, when we truly hear him, we know that he is our help, our support, our strength.

Finally, when we receive Jesus, the word of God, in our hearts, we become sons of God, children of the promise. We go from life to death. We are resurrected.

This is the effect of the seed, the word of God, Jesus, that is sown into good soil, hearts that are soft and willing to listen to Jesus. We bow to the lordship of Jesus. We receive everything we need from him. And, we become like him.

In Mark, I think we could see the yield of the harvest increasing because MArk is the gospel of the servant. A servant is raised up. Servants are exalted by God.

In Matthew, I think we could see Jesus starting with the hundredfold increase and going down because Matthew is the gospel of the king. Kings cannot go higher. They must go down. Instead of being humbled, they must be humbled.

In Luke, I think only the hundredfold increase is mentioned because Luke is the gospel of the son of man. Jesus is the man of God (see Luke’s lineage). Luke has an emphasis on the inclusion of Gentiles in his gospel. So, we could see only the hundredfold increase being mentioned by Jesus as the emphasis on the word bearing fruit in all of mankind to become children of the promise one day. This is the ultimate goal of the word in us – to make us like Christ. Nothing else really matters.

So, there is just one possible understanding of bearing fruit thirtyfold, sixtyfold, and hundredfold that the Spirit showed me this morning.

Why Is Immediately Used So Much in the Gospel of Mark?

TODAY’S READING: MARK 1-3

“And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.” – Mark 1:10

As you read just the first three chapters of the gospel of Mark, the English word immediately jumps off the page. It is used over and over again. The English word immediately is only found four times in the Old Testament. It is found 79 times in the New Testament. It is used only once outside of the gospels and Acts. And within in the gospels and Acts it is far and away found the most in the gospel of Mark.

Why do we find the word immediately so much in the gospel of Mark?

Well, on a surface level, we know that the gospel of Mark presents Jesus as the servant, the ox. A good servant, which Jesus is, takes immediate action when they are given a task or an order. A good servant does not delay. In that way, it makes sense the English word immediately is overwhelmingly found in the gospel of Mark.

But, when we look at the Greek word for translated immediately in Mark, we perhaps come to a deeper understanding of what Mark is saying.

The Greek word for immediately is euthys. It is used 59 times in the New Testament. Only once is euthys used outside of the gospels and acts. Of the 58 times it is used in the gospels and Acts, euthys is used 41 times in the gospel of Mark. So, almost 70 percent of the time that euthys is used it is used in the gospel of Mark. And, if we account for the fact that Mark is much shorter that the other gospels and Acts, euthys is 15 times more likely to be found in Mark than the other gospels or Acts.

We could say the gospel of Mark is the gospel of euthys.

Mark 1:10, which I quoted above, is the first time the word immediately appears in the gospel of Mark. However, it is not the first time the word euthys appears in the gospel. Euthys first appears in Mark 1:3.

“As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight [euthys].”‘” (Mark 1:2-3)

The first time the word euthys appears it is translated straight. Common meanings of euthys are at once, immediately, and straight. It can even mean direct, by the straight road, of going straight forward, level ground, right, upright.

In regards to time, euthys does mean immediately or at once. But, euthys has an underlying moral meaning – straight, right, upright, level – as well. In fact, euthys is a compound word. Euthys is made of eu, which means good or well, and theo, which means to place. So, in its most literal sense, euthys means well placed.

Perhaps somewhat interestingly, theo means placed in a passive or horizontal posture. However, there are other Greek words that are similar but different to theo. If stao were used, then it would give the idea of something placed in an upright and active position. And, if keimai were used, then it would give the idea of something placed in a reflexive and utterly prostrate position. (All of this is according to the Concise Dictionary of Words in the Greek Testament and the Hebrew Bible.)

Why is this important?

In Mark’s use of euthys, something immediate or straight, there is the idea the thing is well placed or straight because it is passive or being acted upon. The thing that is well placed is horizontal or level or on the same playing field as everything else.

This is in contrast to something that is active, taking the action upon itself. This something is vertical, perhaps standing taller than the other things.

And, this is in contrast to something that is reflexive and utterly prostrate. This something ponders and contemplates, is reflexive, instead of something that acts.

So, given all of this, what is Mark saying about Jesus as the servant?

Jesus didn’t just ponder things in his mind and worship God in his thoughts. A servant would never do that. A servant needs to act.

But, Jesus did not take action on his own accord. Nor did Jesus elevate himself above others. He was a lowly and humble servant.

So, Jesus was a horizontal and passive servant. Horizontal in the sense that he did not elevate himself above anyone. And, passive not in the sense that he did not act, but passive in the sense Jesus was acted upon or through. In the case of Jesus, he was the servant of God because he was acted upon and through by the Holy Spirit.

It was the Holy Spirit that made Jesus the servant that was well placed. It was the Holy Spirit that made Jesus the servant who was straight. It was the Holy Spirit that made Jesus the servant who acted immediately.

All because Jesus humbled himself and made himself passive to the Holy Spirit so that the Holy Spirit could be active through him.

Knowing this, consider how Mark is starting his gospel.

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'”

What is not apparent is this passage is that Mark uses two different Greek words for prepare. The first prepare has the idea of an external preparation. This external preparation is done by the messenger that is sent before the face of the Lord. This preparation is done by John the baptist.

The second prepare has the idea of an internal preparation. The messenger is crying out that the way of the Lord needs to prepared. The way of the Lord is an internal way that needs internal preparation. The Lord’s paths, this internal way, needs to be made straight, euthys. It needs to make us passive and humble so that the Holy Spirit can work through us.

Now consider what Mark tells us in verses four through eight.

“John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John baptizing in the wilderness is an external preparation. It was a baptism done with water. It was an external sign. And, it was a baptism of repentance. John’s baptism of water was a baptism of changing the mind preparing it for the inward reality that was to come.

“And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Jesus baptizes, or immerses, us in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was how, the manner in which, Jesus was the good servant. The Holy Spirit is the way of the Lord that needs to be internally prepared within us. Jesus does this. He makes us well placed, straight, passive, humble, ready to receive the Holy Spirit who acts through to do God’s work.

All of this gets played out in the life of Jesus. Mark 1:9-10 says, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately [euthys] he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove.”

Jesus was baptized in the water, externally prepared, so that he was baptized by the Spirit. For when he came out of the water he was immediately internally prepared. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus. He was filled with the Spirit.

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.'” (Mark 1:11)

These same events are recorded in Matthew 3:3-17. Matthew adds the additional detail of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming out for his baptism. John calls them a brood of vipers and asks who warned them to flee.

Matthew uses euthys in the same places as Mark. So, perhaps we can now understand John’s reaction to the Pharisees and Sadducees. They did not come to be passive and humble, to be worked through by the Holy Spirit. Their spirits were active and vertical. They wanted to take action and be elevated above others.

Luke records these events in Luke 3:4-22. I think this understanding of euthys, something well placed, one who is passive, horizontal, on level ground, straight, gives insight to Luke’s additional quotation from Isaiah.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight [euthys]. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight [euthys], and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” (Luke 3:4-6)

Or, consider where the Lord told Ananias to find Saul/Paul after he had blinded by the light of the Lord and knocked off his high horse while he was on his way to persecute the church.

“And the Lord said to him, ‘Rise and go to the street called Straight [euthys], and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying.” (Acts 9:11)

Paul was to be found at euthys. He had been made straight and put on level ground by the Lord. Paul was now passive and humble, ready to be acted upon and through by the Holy Spirit.

We should know that there is another Greek word translated to the English word immediately. It is parachrema. But, in my study, it more literally means instantly or immediately and does not carry the connotation of morally straight or upright that euthys does.

Therefore, Mark’s use of the word immediately, of euthys, is highly significant to what he has to say about Jesus as the servant of God. Beyond the surface of a servant taking immediate action in response to an order, Mark is telling us about the inward nature of Jesus that was passive and humble so that the Holy Spirit could upon and through him. This was necessary for Jesus to truly be the servant of God. And, it’s necessary for us to be servants of God too.

Did God Forsake Jesus?

TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 27-28

“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'” – Matthew 27:46

Most people read these words of Jesus from the cross and say, “Yes, God forsook Jesus.”

Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that God forsook Jesus? Do you really believe that God left Jesus for dead?

If you really believe that God forsook Jesus, then why would you ever worship God? How could you ever worship a father that forsook his son, left him for dead, abandoned him, at the most critical moment of his life?

The answer is that you could not worship a father that forsook his son in the most critical moment of his life.

If you really believe that God forsook Jesus, his only begotten son, then how could you ever trust God not to abandon you?

The answer is that you could never fully trust a God who forsook his only begotten son.

We must remember that these words of Jesus are a question. Jesus asks, “Why have you forsaken me?” It’s a question, not a statement of fact. Jesus did not say, “God has forsaken me.”

Have you ever asked a question and received an answer to your question that proved you were wrong?

Of course you have.

Jesus asked, “Why have you forsaken me?” But, the answer came back from his Father had not forsaken him.

How do we know this was the answer from God to Jesus? How do we know God told Jesus that he was not forsaking him?

We could read Psalm 22, which Jesus is quoting when he asks why God has forsaken him. The question is the first verse of the psalm. But, the entirety of the psalm answers the question negatively. The answer to the question “Why have you forsaken me?” is “No, you have not forsaken me.” Just read the psalm.

But, there’s another way to know that God did not forsake Jesus.

In Matthew (and Mark), “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” are the only words that Jesus speaks from the cross. But, Luke and John both record additional things that Jesus said while he was on the cross.

Let’s focus on what Luke has Jesus saying.

Luke does not record Jesus’ question, “Why have you forsaken me?” But, the words of Jesus that Luke records prove that Jesus was not forsaken.

Luke 23:34 says, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I find it unlikely that Jesus would ask the Father to forgive his enemies for crucifying him if he had been forsaken by God. For, if Jesus had been forsaken by God, then from whence would have he have drawn to utter those words?

Luke 23:43 says, “And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.'” Jesus said this to one of the robbers he was crucified with. Jesus’ real question was, “God why have forsaken me to the land of the dead?” The tense of the Greek verb forsaken in Jesus’ question indicates that the action of forsaking need not be a singular moment in time but that the action of forsaking could be over a period of time and just stated as a singular moment of time. And, ultimately, being forsaken by God would be to be left for dead in the land of the dead, Hades.

Jesus tells the robber that he can join Jesus in paradise that very day. If Jesus was forsaken by God, then would he consider where he was going that very day to be paradise? I highly doubt it.

But, Jesus’ last words from the cross in Luke are the most important. Luke 23:46 says, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father into your hands I commit my spirit!'”

Would Jesus say he is commending his spirit into the hands of his father if his father had forsaken him?

No way.

In fact, these words of Jesus reveal that God had answered Jesus’ question, “Why have you forsaken me?” And, God’s answer was “I have not forsaken you.” Therefore, Jesus put his spirit in the Father’s hands. He trusted the Father to deliver him from death. Jesus knew that he was not forsaken.

There’s an interesting verse in Hebrews that reveals this. Hebrews 5:7 says, “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.”

Do you see what that is saying?

When was Jesus in his flesh?

Before he was crucified and resurrected. For after he was resurrected, he had a glorified body not a fleshly body.

So, in his flesh, on the cross, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications.

What was that prayer?

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

He offered up his prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears. We just read that Luke said, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!'” We know that this declaration from Jesus comes after Jesus’ question, “Why have you forsaken me?” We know this because after Jesus’ question in Matthew, Matthew 27:50 says, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.”

Jesus yielded his spirit to his father, he laid down his life, because he knew his father would not forsake him to the land of the dead. As Hebrews 5:7 says, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications “to him who was able to save him from death.”

Jesus was willing and able to yield up his spirit because he knew his father would save him from death. Jesus knew he had not been forsaken.

Hebrews 5:7 says that Jesus “was heard because of his reverence.”

Therefore, Jesus was not irreverent and lacking faith to ask his father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s not irreverent to ask the question. This is exactly what we see in Psalm 22. The psalmist asked the same question as Jesus. But, the remainder of the psalm is filled with words of trusting in and fearing (in awe) God.

Jesus’ prayer was answered.

His father would save him from death.

God did not forsake Jesus.

What Is Your View of God – A Giver or a Taker?

TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 25-26

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property…And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents’…And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents’…He also who had received one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid.'” – Matthew 25:14, 20, 22, 24-25

In Matthew 25:14-30, Jesus tells the familiar parable of the talents. Verse 14 says the parable is about “it.” It refers to the kingdom of heaven. We know this because in Matthew 25:1-13, Jesus tells parable of the ten virgins, saying, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like…” So, the parable of the talents is another example of what the kingdom of heaven is like.

The basic gist of the parable is a man that is going on a long journey who gives his property, talents or money, to his servants to use while he is gone. After a long time, the man comes back to find out what his servants did with the property he gave them.

Who is this man that is going on a long journey?

The night before he died, Jesus said to his disciples, “If it were not so, would I have to you that I go to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2) Jesus is the man who goes on a long journey. When, Jesus died he left us to go prepare a place for us. His journey is long. He seems to still be on it, and we don’t know how long it will be.

So, Jesus is the man that went on a long journey who has entrusted his property, his talents, his money to us. I find Jesus’ use of money to be a very interesting analogy in this parable.

At its most basic level, money is a medium of exchange. Money is the means by which things change hands.

So, what is the money, the medium of exchange, the property that Jesus entrusts to his servants?

The Greek word for entrust is paradidomi. We looked at this word earlier in Matthew in my post “Who Delivered Jesus? Who Killed Jesus?” It’s primary use in the New Testament is in regards to the delivering over and betraying of Jesus. But, the basic meaning of the word is taking something and putting it in the hands of another for their own use, which is just what Judas did with Jesus.

Paradidomi is also used in the sense of entrusting a teaching, specifically the gospel, to others. For example, Luke 1:2 says, “Just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered [paradidomi] them to us.”

And, we read in this parable of the talents that property or money can be delivered, or entrusted, to another. That is, someone gives the power and authority to use their property or money. Interestingly, there is one time, and only one time that I can find, where paradidomi is used in connection with something Jesus delivered over or gave.

What did Jesus deliver over or entrust to another? And, when did he do it?

John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up [paradidomi] his spirit.”

So, when Jesus was crucified, just as he was going away on his long journey, he gave up, delivered over, entrusted, his spirit.

Who did he entrust his spirit to?

The Father.

Why?

In John 14:16-17, Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.”

Here, the word Jesus uses for give is didomi, which is obviously the root of the word paradidomi. Jesus delivered over or entrusted his Spirit to the Father so that the Father could give the Spirit to us forever.

Therefore, we see that the Holy Spirit is the money of the kingdom of heaven. He is the medium of exchange. Indeed, it is the Holy Spirit that brings the things of heaven into reality on the earth. The Holy Spirit truly is the exchange between heaven and earth.

Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy. It is these things in, or by means of, the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual gifts are given for the manifestation of God on the earth. The Holy Spirit is the medium of exchange for this. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 11 says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;  and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone…All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.”

In the parable of the ten talents, we should understand that the property, the money, entrusted to us is the Holy Spirit. Jesus has entrusted us with his Spirit. He has given to us the Spirit to use with power and authority to manifest more of the Spirit, more of the Spirit’s fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. This is the business we are to be conducting while Jesus is on his long journey.

What I find interesting in this parable is the response of three servants to the man, the master, when he comes back.

The two servants who were successful, who took what had been entrusted to them and made more of it, both said, “Master you delivered to me.” The two successful servants used the word delivered or entrusted, paradidomi, of the master. In other words, successful servants of God see him as giving. Successful servants of God know he gives his Spirit to them to manifest heavenly things in the earth. Importantly, the only thing the successful servants say is that the master is giving. Successful servants of God see him as giving. Period.

But, what about the third servant who was called wicked and slothful?

The third servant never says the master was giving. He never uses the word paradidomi. The third servant does not acknowledge he has been entrusted with something. Instead, the third servant says, “I knew you to be hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed.”

The third servant, the unsuccessful servant, sees God as hard. The Greek word for hard here means harsh, hard, difficult, violent, strong, demanding, hard-hearted, dry, stiff, inflexible, and rigid.

In addition to see God as violent, demanding, and hard-hearted, the unsuccessful servant sees God as a taker. God takes what is not his. This is what the unsuccessful servant means when he says God reaps where he hasn’t sown and gathered where he did not scatter seed.

So, the unsuccessful, the wicked and slothful, servant of God sees God as violent, demanding, and harsh. He sees God as who takes what isn’t his. Of course, all of us know that someone who takes what isn’t is his is wrong and immoral.

So, it is the view of God that the three servants had that stood out to me.

Do you view God as giving?

Period. End of story.

Or, do you view God as harsh and hard? A God who is demanding of you? A God who will take from you?

Ultimately, the question becomes do you see God as good and only good or not?

Based on this parable, your view of God is critical for the success of your service to him.

You Have One Teacher: Jesus Christ

TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 23-24

“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” – Matthew 23:8-10

Jesus identified that the scribes and Pharisees loved a special place of honor. One such honor was to be called rabbi, or my master, my teacher.

While it is true that all mankind loves the honor that comes with these titles and many are willing to give it to them, the ultimate point of Jesus’ teaching is not the simple fact of calling someone your teacher. This merely focuses on the external reality instead of the inward truth, which ironically is the whole point of Jesus’ teaching here.

The inward truth is that we have just one teacher. Our one and only teacher is Jesus Christ.

But, why is Jesus Christ our one and only teacher?

Jesus starts this teaching by saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you.” To sit on Moses’ seat was to act as a judge. Jesus was likely referring to Deuteronomy 17:8-11, which says, “If any case arises requiring decision between one kind of homicide and another, one kind of legal right and another, or one kind of assault and another, any case within your towns that is too difficult for you, then you shall arise and go up to the place that the Lord your God will choose. And you shall come to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office in those days, and you shall consult them, and they shall declare to you the decision. Then you shall do according to what they declare to you from that that the Lord will choose. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they direct you. According to the instructions that they give you, and according to the decision which they pronounce to you, you shall do. you shall not turn aside from the verdict that they declare to you, either to the right hand or to the left.”

But, there was a problem with teaching of the scribes and pharisees as they sat on Moses’ seat. Jesus said, “For they preach, but do not practice.” They teach, but don’t do. They believe one thing, but do another. The external does not match the internal.

Therefore, seven times Jesus says, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!” Each one of these woes relates to a way in which the teaching of the scribes and pharisees does not line up with they actually do.

We know the failure of our actions to line up with our beliefs as hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not. It is the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion. So, a hypocrite is simply a person who practices who hypocrisy.

Indeed, we get our words hypocrite and hypocrisy from the Greek word Jesus calls the scribes and pharisees. The Greek word is hypokrites. It means a pretender or an actor under an assumed character, to play a role. The scribes and Pharisees were certainly guilty of doing this.

But, given the context of Jesus’ teaching, sitting on the seat of Moses as a judge, I think there may be another subtle meaning of hypokrites being used by Jesus.

The Greek word krites means judge. The Greek prefix hypo means below, under, beneath, defective or inadequate. Jesus said the scribes and pharisees were acting as judges, those who sat on the seat of Moses to decide especially hard cases of legal rights and justice. But, Jesus repeatedly calls the scribes and pharisees defective or inadequate judges.

While the scribes and pharisees sit on the seat of Moses, acting as judges, playing the role of judges, they aren’t really able to fill the role. Jesus says that he is the only one that can fill that role. He is the only teacher.

Why?

Jesus already clued us in to one reason. The scribes and pharisees teach but do not do. But, read what Luke says about Jesus in Acts 1:1, “In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach.” Unlike the scribes and pharisees, Jesus is our only teacher because he both does and teaches. What Jesus teaches lines up with what he does and what he does lines up with what he teaches. He’s not pretending or playing a role. Jesus is not a defective judge.

As defective judges, the scribes and pharisees could not see beyond the external reality to the internal truth of themselves, let alone others. And, because they could not see the internal truth, they could not judge any situation correctly.

But, Jesus is the word of God. And, Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

Unlike the scribes and pharisees, Jesus is able to discern our internal truths and realities. Therefore, he can judge every case, no matter how hard.

Like no other man, Jesus can see the heart. He knows us better than we know ourselves. Therefore, he is the only one qualified to be our teacher.

Why Did Jesus Cleanse the Temple?

TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 21-22

“And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you make it a den of robbers.’ And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.” – Matthew 21:12-14

The temple was the dwelling place of God, the place of God’s presence. It was also the place that all male Jews were required to come three times a year to present their sacrifice.

Why did Jesus drive out all those that bought and sold, those who sold pigeons?

Why did Jesus say those who bought and sold, specifically those who sold pigeons, had made the temple a den of robbers?

The chief priests, the scribes, the leaders of Israel, required sacrifice to be in communion with God. Even worse, they required sacrifice from those that could least afford it.

This is the account specifically calls out those who sold pigeons. A pigeon was the animal offered by the poor because they couldn’t afford a lamb. Leviticus 5:7 says, “But if he cannot afford a lamb, then he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed two turtledoves or two pigeons.” And, Leviticus 12:8 says, “And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons.”

Leviticus 12 details the offering required for a woman to be cleansed after shedding blood in childbirth. When, Jesus and Mary came to temple after his birth for their purification, Luke says that they offered pigeons, according to the law of Leviticus 12. So, Jesus was quite familiar with the sacrifices required of the poor.

It was this requirement of sacrifice by the poor, those that could not afford it, that caused Jesus to say the chief priests and leaders of Israel had made the temple into a den of robbers. By requiring sacrifices to commune with God from those that couldn’t afford it, the chief priests and leaders of Israel were robbers, stealing from the poor.

When Jesus said they had made the temple a den of robbers, he was quoting Jeremiah 7:11. It says, “Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.”

Why did Jeremiah write that? Why did he say they were making the temple a den of robbers?

Jeremiah 7:3-4 says, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.'”

The temple was the place of sacrifice. By offering sacrifices, Jews could be cleansed of their sins.

But, Jeremiah continued in verses 8-10, “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’ – only to go on doing all these abominations?”

By saying, “This is the temple.” the Jews were trusting in their sacrifices. They would sacrifice and says, “We are delivered.” Their sacrifices would cleanse them. But, they wouldn’t change anything they were doing. They would keep on stealing, murdering, committing adultery, lying, etc.

But, God said they needed to amend their ways. God wanted them to stop trusting in sacrifices.

How then did God want them to amend their ways?

Jeremiah 7:5-7 says, “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not after other gods to your own harm, then I will let dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

God was not requiring sacrifice. Instead, God wanted them to not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow and he didn’t want them to shed innocent blood. In other words, God wanted them to take care of the poor, the downtrodden, the other. God wanted them to show mercy and not require sacrifice.

This is just what Jesus. He called out those who were requiring sacrifices, those selling pigeons and abusing the poor, and drove them out of the temple because they had made it a den of robbers. Instead of requiring sacrifice, Jesus showed mercy, healing the blind and the lame that came to him in the temple.

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said to the pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'”

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus again said to the pharisees, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have have condemned the guiltless.”

Desiring mercy and not sacrifice made the chief priests and pharisees indignant.

Why?

Because they could control and have power over the poor, the weak, the downtrodden, the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, and the needy by requiring sacrifices from them.

This still goes on today.

How so? If we don’t require animal sacrifices anymore, then how are we still making the temple, access to God’s presence, a den of robbers?

Many Christians, many churches have simply replaced animal sacrifices with the giving of money, with tithing.

They say you must tithe to have God open up the windows of heaven, to have access to God’s favor.

Just the like selling of pigeons, tithing most hurts those that can least afford it. Tithing requires a sacrifice of those who are in no position to give it. Instead of being required to sacrifice, they should be receiving mercy.

And, let me assure you, if you start telling people to stop tithing and telling the leaders to stop requiring sacrifices and start showing mercy, then you see plenty of pastors and church leaders get indignant with you.

Tithing is just one way sacrifices that are still demanded. Others are still required too. Those are being demanded to sacrifice instead of receiving mercy could tell you what they are.

So, why did Jesus cleanse the temple?

Because God desires mercy and not sacrifice.

Who Is the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?

TODAY’S READING: MATTHEW 18-20

“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times [or, up to seventy times seven].'” – Matthew 18:21-22

In The Proclamations of the King, I wrote how Matthew structured his gospel of the king around five discourses or proclamations of Jesus. Matthew 18 is the fourth of the five proclamations. This proclamation starts with the disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It ends at the close of chapter 18 as Matthew 19:1 says, “Now when Jesus had finished these sayings…” Therefore, all of Matthew 18 is Jesus’ answer to the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

As is often the case with Jesus, he does not directly answer the disciples’ question. In fact, Jesus’ initial reply to who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven had nothing to do with being great in the kingdom. At first, Jesus replied that instead of worrying about who was the greatest in the kingdom the disciples should simply be concerned about entering the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 18:2, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Once Jesus has established the importance of merely entering the kingdom of heaven, which only happens if you turn and become like a child, Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

I believe the rest of Jesus’ answer explains what it means to be humble like a child.

First, Jesus talks about the temptation to sin. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin!” Is there anyone immune to the temptation to sin? Is there anyone who hasn’t fallen to the temptation to sin? Jesus uses imagery of parts of our body causing us to sin. This brings to my mind that we are the body of Christ, many members in one. Therefore, we each impact the other in our temptation to sin.

Second, Jesus talks about lost sheep and how a shepherd will leave all of his other sheep to find his one lost sheep. If we have all sinned and participated in causing others to sin, then aren’t we all that one lost sheep? The Father does want even one of his sheep to be lost.

Third, Jesus talks about brother sinning against brother. He gives us the process of reconciling with that our brother that most Christians have heard about. We even call this process Matthew 18. “Let’s do Matthew 18.” In the context of Jesus’ fourth proclamation, the Matthew 18 process is ultimately about forgiveness.

So, we come to Peter’s question about how many times he needs to forgive his brother that sins against him. Peter asks if he should forgive seven times. Jesus answers not seven times but seventy-seven, or 70 times seven, times. Jesus, either said to forgive 77 times or 490 times.

I started the post quoting this exchange between Jesus and Peter because I believe it is the real answer to the disciples’ question about who is the greatest in the kingdom.

The most common interpretation I have heard about this exchange is that Peter asked if he needed to forgive his brother a number of times that he could count. Someone could remember forgiving someone seven times. But, Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother a number of times that no one could keep track of, either 77 or 490 times.

While there is some truth to that, and it does get to Jesus’ point that the Father forgives everything and so should we, the most common interpretation gets there by missing all of theological subtexts and undertones that are taking place.

How so?

Let’s start by assuming that Jesus really told Peter to forgive his brother 70 times seven times. That seems to be the most common translation. And, I think it is most likely based on the history of Israel as we will see below.

70 times 7 is 490. So, Jesus is telling Peter that he needs to forgive his brother 490 times. Remember, this is in the greater context of Jesus answering who is the greatest in the kingdom.

Why did Peter ask if he needed to forgive his brother seven times?

Seven is the number of spiritual perfection. So, if I forgive my brother seven times, then I have achieved spiritual perfection. And, if I am spiritually perfect, then I am the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Well, not so much according to Jesus’ response to Peter.

Why would Jesus tell Peter to forgive his brother 490 times?

According to Daniel’s interpretation of prophecy, there would be seventy weeks of years, or 490 years from the decree to restore the temple to Jesus’ crucifixion. While Ezra and Nehemiah did rebuild the temple after this decree, the ark of covenant was never put in this temple. In other words, God’s presence was not in the temple. God’s presence didn’t show up until Jesus arrived 490 years later.

In addition to this 490 year period, there are three other 490 year periods in Israel’s history – from Abraham to the exodus, from the exodus to Solomon’s temple, and the Babylonian captivity (from the destruction of Solomon’s temple to the decree to rebuild the temple). It’s too complicate to explain in this post, but you can find websites that explain these time periods.

What’s interesting to me is that in each of these 490 year periods, there is a sense of Israel being without the fullness of God’s presence and then coming into the fullness of his presence at the end of the 490 years (although the Babylonian captivity is the reverse of that).

So, when Jesus tells Peter to forgive 490 times it is as if Jesus is saying that God forgives Israel of everything that it either did or failed to do during those 490 years. Beyond forgiving an individual sin, God forgives the entirety of the time all of his people were trying to live without him. In a way, Jesus is telling Peter that to be the greatest in the kingdom you have to forgive your brother for everything not just an isolated incident because that is what God does.

This is the point of the parable of the wicked servant that Jesus tells after his exchange with Peter. The master forgives the servant a debt that would have been impossible for the servant to pay off in hundred, if not thousands, of lifetimes let alone his own life. Yet, the servant would not forgive the debt of another servant that could have been repaid in a matter of months. The scale of forgiveness between the master and the servant was entirely different. So, the master says, “And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

That’s an interesting question for several reasons.

First, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, part of his answer was, “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:12, 14-15) Do we want God to forgive us of everything? Then, we need to forgive others of everything.

Second, when Jesus taught that we should love our enemies, he closed by saying, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) That sounds just like the master in Jesus’ parable of the wicked servant.

But, while Luke has saying talking about mercy, Matthew records the same words differently. In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

How are we to be perfect like God?

By being merciful as God is merciful.

How are we merciful as God is merciful?

By forgiving everything as God forgives everything.

Remember, Jesus is answering the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom. And, he is saying to forgive everything, even in the context of loving your enemies, which of course means forgiving your enemies.

Genesis 17:1 says, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.'”

The Hebrew word for blameless here is tamim. It means complete, whole, sound, blameless, and, yes, perfect. In fact, other translations use the word perfect instead of blameless.

Why do I bring up this seemingly random passage?

First, God told Abram to walk before him and be perfect, which is just what Jesus told us to do.

Second, the numerical value of tamim is 490.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Abram is to be perfect or blameless before God. We are told by Jesus to be perfect as God is perfect. We know this also means to be merciful as God is merciful. And, Jesus told Peter to forgive 490 times, which is equivalent to God forgiving everything Israel did, which culminated in Jesus from the cross asking the Father to forgive them everything for they did not know what they were doing.

Are you seeing the picture here?

To be perfect or blameless is not to be sin free, to be perfectly moral in all your actions.

To be perfect or blameless before before God is to forgive as he forgives.

That, complete and total forgiveness for our brothers, even our enemies, not perfect sinless morality, is what makes us the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

When is the first time the word tamim is use in the Bible?

Genesis 6:9 says, “These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless [tamim] in his generation. Noah walked with God.”

God told Abram to walk before him and be blameless.

Noah was blameless and walked with God.

Why was Noah blameless in his generation?

I don’t think it was because he was without sin.

Genesis 6:11-12 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”

Why was the earth corrupt and filled with violence?

Because everyone was out for vengeance. Everyone was repaying everyone violence for violence and evil for evil. But, Noah was different. He was blameless before God. He forgave everyone everything, even his enemies, even those who had done violence to him. That’s why Noah was saved.

And, that’s the point Jesus made throughout his life and on the cross. Forgiveness saves us from violence. If we don’t forgive, then we will die in a blazing fire of violence, just as Jerusalem was burnt down by the Romans because Israel refused to be perfect, merciful, forgiving, as their Father was merciful.

Quickly, what if Jesus told Peter to forgive 77 times?

Luke’s genealogy of Jesus, which goes from God all the way to Jesus, has Jesus as the 77th son of God. Jesus was the Son of Man, second man, the last Adam, the spiritually perfect son of God. Jesus forgave everyone everything. For Jesus to tell Peter to forgive 77 times would have been to tell Peter to forgive like me. And, in another sense, it could be thought of as God forgiving everything man had done between the first Adam, the first man, and Jesus, the last Adam, the second man, who was ushering in the new creation.

So, who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

The one who forgives like God. The one who forgives like Jesus. The one who forgives everyone, even his enemies, of everything.