Ministering to God’s people

Moses was selected by God to act as an intermediary between the children of Israel and Pharaoh, an Egyptian king that was afflicting them through forced manual labor (Exodus 3:7). God gave Moses a specific message to deliver to his people. He said:

“Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”‘” (Exodus 3:16-17)

Moses didn’t think the children of Israel would listen to him and so he responded, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The LORD did not appear to you'” (Exodus 4:1).

The challenge that Moses faced was that the Israelites hadn’t heard from God in more than 400 years. The long period of silence may have been due to the children of Israel being content with their circumstances and determined to stay in Egypt in spite of the oppression that they were experiencing there. Moses’ objection to delivering God’s message was centered around the people’s lack of faith, which was evident to him when he tried to intervene in a physical dispute between two Hebrew slaves (Exodus 2:14). In order to bolster Moses’ confidence and to strengthen his influence with the Israelites, God gave Moses the ability to perform three signs or you might say marks of authenticity (H226) that would make his divine authority evident. Exodus 4:8-9 states, “‘If they will not believe you,’ God said, ‘or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.'”

Moses argued that he couldn’t accept the assignment God was giving him because he wasn’t qualified to express divine communication (Exodus 4:10). This led to his brother Aaron being designated his spokesman to the children of Israel. Exodus 4:14-17 states: “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth, and I will be with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.'” The King James Version of the Bible states Exodus 4:16 this way, “And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people: and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” The idea that Aaron could be to Moses instead of a mouth and Moses could be to Aaron instead of God had to do with their spiritual interaction with each other and the children of Israel. What God was saying was that Moses’ responsibility as the deliverer of God’s people could not be abdicated to anyone else, but he could use Aaron as a spokesman or more literally his voice (H6310) instead of delivering God’s message himself.

Even though Moses was able to receive assistance from his brother in conveying the message God wanted him to the children of Israel, Moses was specifically instructed to perform the miracles that God intended to use to convince Pharaoh to let his people go. Exodus 4:21 states, “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'” The Hebrew word that is translated miracle, mopeth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4159). God said that he had put these miracles in Moses’ power. In other words, Moses had the ability to perform miracles without God’s assistance. The Hebrew word that is translated put, siym (seem) “means to impute” (H7760). In the King James Version of the Bible, James 2:23 is stated this way: “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” Imputation is an accounting term that is used to designate that an account has been reconciled. “Imputation has three steps: the collecting of all charges and remissions; the totaling of these debits and credits; the placing of the balance or credit on one’s account” (G3049).

God credited Moses’ account with a specific amount of divine power that enabled him to perform the miracles that God wanted him to. Moses’ special role in God’s deliverance of the children of Israel was noted during Jesus’ transfiguration when Moses along with Elijah appeared “talking with him” (Matthew 17:3). Elijah was also know for performing extraordinary miracles including raising a widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:22). At the time of his death, Elijah’s successor Elisha requested from him, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me” (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha’s reference to a double portion suggests that Elijah’s miraculous ability was measured or you might say portioned out and could be transferred from one person to another. The purpose of the miracles that Elijah and Elisha performed was similar to that of Moses’, to convict the Israelites of their sins and cause them to repent. Matthew often referred to the miracles Jesus performed as mighty works and also associated them with people being brought to a point of repentance. Matthew stated this about Jesus’ ministry. “Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you” (Matthew 11:20-22).

Jesus referred to the day of judgment in his Olivet Discourse when he said, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:36-39). Jesus used a parable to illustrate the reason why people would be unaware of his return. He said:

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)

Jesus’ portrayal of the virgins as being wise and foolish meant that they were depending on their cognitive abilities to discern the bridegroom’s arrival. The Greek word that is translated foolish, moros (mo-ros’) indicates that the mind is “dull or stupid (as if shut up)” (G3473). Moros is derived from the word musterion (moos-tay-ree-on) which “denotes, not the mysterious (as with the English word), but that which, being outside the range of unassisted natural apprehension, can be made known only by divine revelation, and is made known in a manner and at a time appointed by God, and to those only who are illumined by His Spirit” (G3466).

Jesus indicated that the five wise virgins took flasks of oil with their lamps. When the five foolish virgins asked them to share their oil with them, “the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves'” (Matthew 25:9). The dealers that the five foolish virgins were instructed to go to appear to have been authentic sources of divine wisdom, but the foolish virgins missed the opportunity to attend the wedding feast because “the door was shut” when they returned (Matthew 25:10). Afterward, they were told “I do not know you” (Matthew 25:12). A clue to the five foolish virgins rejection might be the statement, “those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast” (Matthew 25:10). The Greek word that is translated ready, hetoimos (het’-oy-mos) “denotes ‘preparation’; it is found in Ephesians 6:15, of having the feet shod with the ‘preparation’ of the gospel of peace; it also has the meaning of firm footing (foundation); if that is the meaning in Ephesians 6:15, the gospel itself is to be the firm footing of the believer, his walk being worthy of it and therefore a testimony in regard to it” (G2092).

Jesus followed up his parable of the ten virgins with the parable of the ten talents to further clarify the connection between his gospel message being presented and God’s qualifications for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. He said, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted them with his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away” (Matthew 25:14-15). The phrase “to each according to his ability” points to a distribution of miraculous power that was meant to be used for increasing the master’s wealth. The Greek word that is translated “according to” in Matthew 25:15, kata (kat-ah’) is used in Philippians 3:20-21 to link the believer’s transformation with Christ’s ability to subdue all things to himself. Paul also used kata to link God’s riches with his ability to supply all of the believers needs. Paul promised, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19, emphasis mine).

The fact that the master’s servants were given different amounts of resources according to their ability suggests that the master knew what his servants were capable of and wanted to capitalize on it. The Greek word that is translated ability, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) “almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours. It is ‘power, ability,’ physical or moral, as residing in a person” (G1411). Therefore, the ability Jesus was referring to was most likely a result of the indwelling and/or filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them” (Matthew 25:19). The settling of accounts most likely had to do with the profit that was gained from the use of the talents that had been given to each servant. Jesus said, “he who had received five talents came forward, bringing five talents more” (Matthew 25:20). It could be that the talents in Jesus’ parable were meant to represent spiritual truths. For example, if the servant was given five talents or spiritual truths (perhaps through someone else’s instruction) and then, built on that knowledge by gaining insight into five more spiritual truths, the servant was given credit for the additional knowledge he had gained and was able to pass on to others.

The servant that received only one talent may have been entrusted with a single foundational truth such as John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” When he was asked to account for his activities while his master was away, he stated, “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, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours” (Matthew 25:24-25). The master’s outrage that his resource had been wasted may have been due to the fact that his servant had likened him to a harsh, even inhuman character (G4642) when said, “I knew you to be a hard man.” Evidently, the servant didn’t know his master very well and demonstrated that he was not equipped to handle even the most basic responsibility of his master’s work. The servant said he was afraid and “hid” his talent in the ground. His master responded, “You wicked and slothful servant!” (Matthew 25:26), suggesting that his servant’s behavior was a disgrace to him.

Jesus talked about the final judgment of mankind in terms of a separation and elimination of anyone that did not display certain characteristics. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-32). Jesus indicated that the sheep would inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world because “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36). Jesus’ use of the terms sheep and goats indicated that he was using figurative language and wasn’t referring to actual food, drink or clothing being given to him. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:3, 6). The Greek word that is translated naked, gumnos (goom-nos’) is used figuratively of being destitute of spiritual goods (G1131) and sick or astheneo (as-then-eh’-o) of being not settled in the faith (G770). Therefore, the remedies would have needed to be spiritual nourishment i.e. the gospel.

Jesus contrasted the responses of the sheep and the goats to show that they were both unaware of their spiritual service to the King. The sheep asked, “And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” (Matthew 25:38-39). The sheep’s lack of awareness seems to confirm that the activities identified were spiritual rather than physical because they didn’t remember ever doing the things they were credited with. On the other hand, the goats replied, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?” (Matthew 25:44). The goats claimed to have taken care of every needy person and may have actually done so from a physical standpoint, but they clearly misunderstood what was expected of them. The Greek word that is translated minister, diakonia (dee-ak-on-eh’-o) technically means to act as a Christian deacon (G1247). Diakonia is used in Matthew 20:28 where it says, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (KJV). The Apostle Paul used the word diakonia when he said, “But now I go unto Jerusalem to minister unto the saints” (Romans 15:25, KJV).

Jesus concluded his lesson on the final judgment by stating about the goats, “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46). It might be easy to assume from this lesson that ministering to God’s people is a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, but the point I believe Jesus was making in his parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the talents was that the indwelling and filling of the Holy Spirit was what made service possible and also made the virgins ready for the marriage feast when the bridegroom arrived. The presence of the Holy Spirit is what differentiates believers from unbelievers and may differentiate the sheep from the goats. Jesus’ description of the final judgment in Matthew 25:31-46 is similar to the Great White Throne Judgment mentioned in Revelation 20:11-15 which indicates that “the dead were judged…according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12). The Greek word translated dead, nekros (nek-ros’) refers to “the actual spiritual condition of unsaved men” (G3498). Therefore, ministering to God’s people could be a type of escape clause that enables the unsaved to enter God’s kingdom, but Revelation 20:15 indicates, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

Human nature

Isaac’s twin sons Jacob and Esau were both born with the same human nature that caused them to seek their own way of doing things rather than God’s. One thing that distinguished these two men from each other was Esau’s decision to marry women that lived in the land of Canaan rather than returning to his parent’s homeland to find a wife. It says in Genesis 26:34-35, “When Esau was forty years old, he took Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite to be his wife, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and they made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” After Isaac sent Jacob to Paddan-aram to take a wife from one of Laban’s daughter’s, Esau went to Ishmael and took as his wife, besides the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, the sister of Nabaioth” (Genesis 28:9).

The phrase “they made life bitter” in Genesis 26:35 has to do with the atmosphere in Isaac and Rebekah’s home. The Hebrew word that is used, morah (mo-raw’) is derived from mar (mar), which can be used to describe the results of continued fighting (H4751). It seems likely that there was constant friction, perhaps needless bickering between Esau’s wives and his parents about the way they did things. After Jacob returned to Hebron, it says in Genesis 36:6, “Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the members of his household, his livestock, all his beasts, and all his property that he had acquired in the land of Canaan. He went into a land away from his brother Jacob.”

The parting of Jacob and Esau’s families was attributed to their possessions being too great for them to dwell together (Genesis 36:7), but it could be that Jacob’s commitment to God made it impossible for the twin brother’s to live near each other. When God appeared to Jacob a second time in Bethel, he said, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name” (Genesis 35:10). The significance of God changing Jacob’s name was that is meant he had been given a new nature, one that superseded Jacob’s human nature. The Apostle Paul described the spiritual condition of person that is born in Ephesians 2:1-3. Paul said:

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

The phrase Paul used, “the prince of the power of the air” referred to the ability every person has to make conscious choices. The Greek word that is translated power, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) is “from the meaning of ‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases” (G1849). Esau’s decision to marry two Hittite women (Genesis 26:34-35) was a result of his natural inclination to do as he pleased. Esau wasn’t concerned about what anyone else thought and had no desire to please his parents by marrying someone from among his mother’s relatives.

One of the definitions of exousia is mastery and more concretely magistrate or someone with superhuman ability to influence others (G1849). Even though we might think we are exercising our own free wills, sometimes, Satan and his demons influence us to do things that we know we shouldn’t or under other circumstances wouldn’t want to do. An example of this is found in Matthew’s gospel where he talks about John the Baptist being beheaded. Herod had decided not to execute John because the people believed he was a prophet (Matthew 14:5), “but when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask” (Matthew 14:6-7). Herod was caught up in the moment and committed himself to doing whatever Herodias’ daughter asked of him. Even though Herod knew it was wrong and he didn’t want to, when Herodias’ daughter asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter, “he commanded it to be given” (Matthew 14:9).

Paul described “the prince of the power of air” as a “spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Paul may have wanted to emphasize the importance of the rational mind’s influence over human behavior. Herod most likely felt justified killing John the Baptist because of the promise he had made to Herodias’ daughter (Matthew 14:9). It might seem like Herod being a man of his word and not offending his guests by denying the request of Herodias’ daughter was a good thing, but what Herod was probably thinking was that he could kill John and not have to answer for it to the people. Matthew indicated that Herod wanted to put John to death, but “he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet” (Matthew 14:5).

The Greek word that is translated disobedience in Ephesians 2:2, apeithes (ap-i-thace’) signifies “unwilling to be persuaded, spurning belief” (G545). Paul explained that we were all like that to start off with. He said, “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and mind” (Ephesians 2:3). The flesh refers to the body as opposed to the soul or spirit of a person and is the symbol of what is external or by implication human nature (G4561). A unique characteristic of Jesus was that even though he was God, he had a human body. Jesus had passions and desires like everyone else, but he didn’t let them control his behavior.

When Jesus heard that his cousin John had been beheaded, “he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). Jesus may have been in shock and was hoping for some privacy to think through what had just happened. “But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:13-14). Jesus’ reaction to the crowd was not what you would expect from someone that had just suffered a devastating loss. Jesus forgot about what he wanted to do and focused on the needs of his followers.

The Greek word that is translated followed in Matthew 14:13, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-theh’-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with, i.e. to accompany (specifically as a disciple)” (G190). The large group of people that were waiting for Jesus when he arrived on the desert shore were all believers. The people may have also been grieving John the Baptist’s death or they might have just wanted to be with Jesus because they were overwhelmed by John’s execution. What is clear is that the people had such a strong desire to be with Jesus that it outweighed their concerns about their own physical well-being. Matthew recorded, “Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves” (Matthew 14:15).

The people were content to stay in the desolate place where Jesus was ministering to them even though they didn’t have any food to eat. Jesus’ disciples urged him to send the crowds away (Matthew 14:15). In other words, Jesus’ disciples wanted him to break up the meeting so the people would feel free to go home, but Jesus rebuked them, stating, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16). Jesus wanted his disciples to look at the situation from a different perspective. Instead of seeing the problem of not having any food, Jesus wanted his disciples to see the need of the people and for them to do something about it. The excuse his disciples made showed that they were still looking at things from a human perspective. “They said to him, ‘We have only five loaves here and two fish'” (Matthew 14:17).

Matthew indicated there were “five thousand men, besides women and children” (Matthew 14:21) with Jesus in the desert. It’s understandable that Jesus’ disciples didn’t think they could feed the crowd with five loaves of bread and two fish, but there was more to their lack of enthusiasm than just not having enough food to go around. The disciples didn’t know how they could meet the people’s physical needs without adequate resources. Jesus’ command, “you give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16) meant that he didn’t wanted his disciples to rely on their resources. The Greek word that is translated give, didomi (did’-o-mee) has to do with power and suggests that Jesus wanted his disciples to exercise their spiritual authority over the situation.

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to want to take charge of their situation and do what was needed to fix the problem of not having enough food to eat. It isn’t natural for people to want to be responsibility for other’s physical well-being. Many people were drawn to Jesus because he was not only able, but also willing to meet all of their needs. One of the parables Jesus used to describe the kingdom of heaven was a mustard seed. He said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13:31-32).

The 5,000 plus men, women, and children that flocked to the desert to be with Jesus were a huge responsibility if you think of it from the perspective of meeting their physical needs. It’s possible that Jesus’ disciples were overwhelmed by thought of feeding such an enormous crowd. The way that Jesus handled the situation seems to indicate that he was at that point in his ministry beginning to shift the responsibility of managing God’s kingdom on earth away from himself and onto the shoulders of his twelve apostles. Jesus acted as a middle man as the pieces of bread and fish were distributed to the people. Matthew tells us, “Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds” (Matthew 14:19).

One of the challenges of dealing with human nature is that the “passions of our flesh” (Ephesians 2:3) tend to be insatiable. Matthew said of the crowd that had gathered in the desert, “they all ate and were satisfied” (Matthew 14:20). The Greek word that is translated satisfied, chortazo (khor-tad’-zo) generally means “to gorge (supply food in abundance)” (G5526). Chortazo is derived from the word chortos (khor’-tos) which denotes a feeding enclosure especially grass for feeding cattle (G5528), suggesting that the crowd of 5,000 plus people were allowed to continue eating as long as they wanted to and stuffed themselves with enough food to last them for an extended period of time. Eventually, the uneaten food was gathered up and Matthew said there were “twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over” (Matthew 14:20).

The Greek word that is translated left over, perisseuo (per-is’-syoo-o) means “to superabound” (G4052). Jesus used the word perisseuo in his explanation of why he spoke to the people in parables. He said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 13:11-12). The abundance Jesus was referring to was related to knowing the secrets of heaven and can be assumed to be connected with having faith. The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). It seems likely that the reason there were twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over after feeding more than 5000 people was because Jesus wanted each of his disciples to each have a basket to take with them as a reminder to them that faith results in an abundance of resources.

After all the people were fed, it says in Matthew 14:22-23, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.” Jesus didn’t ignore his human needs, he just put them behind the needs of others. As soon as Jesus finished feeding the people, he took some time to be alone and talked to his Father about what was going on. Matthew went on to say, “When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them” (Matthew 14:23-24). When Jesus realized his disciples were in trouble, he again went into action, but he didn’t intervene right away. Matthew said, “And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea” (Matthew 14:25).

Jesus’ objective in walking on the sea may not have been to get to his disciples as quickly as possible. There might have been another reason why he crossed the sea on foot. The Greek word that is translated walking in Matthew 14:25, peripateo (per-ee-pat-eh’-o) means to “walk at large (especially as proof of ability)” (G4043). The two Greek words that peripateo is derived from have to do with establishing a pathway through something (G4012/G3961), but can also refer to defeating an enemy. The primary verb paio (pah’-yo) means to hit (as if by a single blow) and specifically “to sting (as a scorpion)” (G3817).

Jesus’ demonstration of walking on the sea was at first thought to be a result of him dematerializing. Matthew indicated, “When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, ‘It is a ghost!’ and they cried out in fear” (Matthew 14:26). Matthew went on to say, “But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27). Jesus’ declaration, “it is I,” was meant to convey the fact that Jesus was not only still alive, but also that his spirit, soul, and body were all still intact. The reason why Jesus said, “Take heart,” may have been to activate his disciples’ faith. Jesus wanted his disciples to realize that walking on the sea was possible from a human standpoint. Peter seemed to make the connection and responded to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28).

Peter wanted to know if it was possible for him to walk on the water before he got out of the boat. Jesus’ command, “Come” (Matthew 14:29) was not an order that Peter had to obey, but an invitation for him to exercise his faith. Peter’s human nature caused him to want to stay in the boat, but Jesus’ invitation challenged him to go beyond what he thought he was humanly capable of. Matthew recorded, “So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus” (Matthew 14:29). Getting out of the boat was an important first step that Peter had to take in order to do what he thought was impossible. It took an incredible amount of courage for Peter to overcome that initial barrier.

Matthew said, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me'” (Matthew 14:30). Peter’s experience of walking on the water didn’t stop him from seeing things from a human perspective. The Greek word that is translated saw, blepo (blep’-o) “is used of bodily, mental vision, and also, ‘to perceive'” (G991). Peter’s perception of the situation was that the wind was too strong for him to remain on the water. As an experienced sailor, Peter recognized the severity of the storm and was probably overcome by fear because he knew how dangerous it was for him to be outside of the boat. Rather than commending Peter for his accurate perception of the situation, Jesus rebuked Peter stating, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

Jesus’ rebuke pointed out that Peter’s human nature and his faith were contradictory to each other. The Greek word that is translated doubt, distazo (dis-tad’-zo) “means to stand in two ways implying uncertainty which way to take” (G1365). Unlike the believers who followed Jesus into the desolate place and were not concerned about having something to eat, Peter began to sink because he thought about the waves overtaking him. Jesus said Peter had little faith or more specifically that he lacked confidence in Christ (G3640). Peter’s exclamation, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30) suggests that at that point in time he was still undecided about committing his life to Christ. Apparently, Peter had not yet received salvation when got out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus (G4982).

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

The Test

Abraham’s spiritual development included an important step that no one else in the Old Testament was asked to take on an individual basis. It says in Genesis 22:1 that God tested Abraham. Temptation is when a person’s faith or belief in God is put to the test to see if it will hold up under the pressure of moral conviction. We know that Abraham had reached spiritual maturity before God tested him because it says in Genesis 21:11 that when Sarah told Abraham to divorce Hagar and drive her and her son Ishmael out of their camp, “the thing was very displeasing to Abraham.” The Hebrew word that is translated very displeasing, ra’a (raw-ah’) means bad in a moral sense (H7489). A word that is derived from ra’a, ra (rah) “combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up what is good and desirable in man and society” (H7451).

Abraham didn’t want to send Hagar and Ishmael away, “But God said to Abraham, ‘Be not displeased because of the boy and because of the slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.'” God dealt with the situation according to his original plan for Abraham and Sarah, which was to bless them and all the families of the earth through their only child Isaac (Genesis 12:2-3, 17:16). But, even though Hagar was divorced from Abraham, God took care of Ishmael and treated him as if he was still under the covenant that God established with his father (Genesis 15:18-21).

The conversation that took place between God and Abraham after he made a covenant with Abimelech king of Gerar at Beersheba (Genesis 21:23-24) is recorded in Genesis 22:1-2. It states:

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

God’s reference to Isaac as Abraham’s only son was intended to point out that Abraham had a unique, special relationship with his son Isaac. The Hebrew word translated only in Genesis 22:2, yachiyd (yaw-kheed’) is properly translated as united and can be used as meaning “self, my soul” (H3173). You could say that Abraham and Isaac’s hearts were knit together or united in such a way that they were like one person. Their thoughts and feelings were in unison with each others’.

God acknowledged Abraham’s love for his son Isaac before he told him to sacrifice him as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). This suggests that Abraham’s spiritual test had to do with his affection for the child that God had promised him. The Hebrew word that is translated love in this verse, aheb (aw-habe’) “is equivalent to the English ‘to love’ in the sense of having a strong emotional attachment to and desire either to possess or to be in the presence of the object” (H157). You might say that Abraham was in love with his son Isaac or even that he was obsessed with him in that he spent all of his time with Isaac and couldn’t think of anything else. In a way, you could say that God was asking Abraham to give up the one thing that really mattered to him, his relationship with his son.

When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, it says in Matthew 3:16-17, “immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” The Greek word translated beloved, agapetos (ag-ap-ay-tos’) is an expression of God’s divine will in choosing to love his son and to give him as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. John 1:29 states that as Jesus approached John to be baptized by him, John said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!” The title Lamb of God could also be translated as God’s Lamb or God’s sacrifice, the one who is able to take away the sins of the world.

As Abraham and Isaac hiked up Mount Moriah, Isaac asked his father, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Abraham’s response, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering” (Genesis 22:8) indicated that Abraham believed God would substitute a lamb for his son when it came time for him to make the sacrifice, and yet, “When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son” (Genesis 22:9-10).

Abraham’s actions demonstrated that he intended to do what God instructed him to, offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering (Genesis 22:2). The burnt offering or owlah (o-law’) in Hebrew symbolized the transferring of one’s guilt to the sacrificial victim in order to make atonement, a covering for sin or expiation of sin for purification. “The central significance of owlah as the ‘whole burnt offering’ was the total surrender of the heart and life of the offerer to God” (H5930). As Abraham raised the knife to slaughter his son, “The angel of God called to him from heaven and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me'” (Genesis 22:11-12).

The initial basis for Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross was Abraham’s need for atonement. God spared Abraham from having to give up his son, but a sacrifice still had to be made because the ram that Abraham offered in place of his son Isaac (Genesis 22:13) was insufficient to permanently remove the effects of Abraham’s sins. “The only human sacrifice approved by God was that of his Son, the sinless Lamb of God (John 1:29)” (note on Genesis 22:12). God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). The Greek word translated well pleased, eudokeo (yoo-dok-eh’-o) has to do with a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something (G2106). Another way of expressing what God said would be my beloved Son, with whom I am satisfied.

After he was baptized, it says in Matthew 4:1, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus’ experience in the desert was different from Abraham’s testing in that his faith was not the issue that God was concerned with. The Greek word translated tempted, peirazo (pi-rad’-zo) means to test, but this kind of “testing will cause its recipients to appear as what they always have been” (G3985). In other words, Jesus’ test was designed to show what he was capable of, to prove his abilities as the Son of God. The fact that Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness showed that he was doing what God wanted him to. It was not something that he wanted to do, but Jesus was willing to subject himself to the devil’s test in order to prove his devotion to God.

And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:2-4)

Jesus ability to abstain from food for forty days and forty nights was not a sign of his divine character, but his hunger afterward was a sign of his humanity. The Greek word translated was hungry, peinao (pi-nah’-o) has to do with starvation and indicated that Jesus was probably close to death when the tempter approached him. The first thing the devil tried to do was to get Jesus to perform a miracle to save his own life. The devil wanted him to focus on his physical needs, but instead, Jesus referred to a passage in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 8:3) that pointed out man’s need for spiritual sustenance.

The Greek word that is translated live in Matthew 4:4 which states, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” is zao (dzah’-o). Zao refers to spiritual life and more specifically to the resurrection of believers, but also to the way of access to God through the Lord Jesus Christ and the manifestation of divine power in support of divine authority (G2198). Jesus had the divine authority to turn the stones into bread, but he didn’t do it because he knew that as a man, his life was in God’s hand and his physical life would be sustained as long as it was God’s will for him to continue living.

Abraham knew that it wasn’t God’s will for his son Isaac to die on Mount Moriah because he had already told him “Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him” (Genesis 17:19). Essentially, it was this word that came from the mouth of God that gave Abraham the confidence to obey the LORD’s command to sacrifice Isaac as a burnt offering. When Abraham saw the place that he was to sacrifice his son, “Abraham said to his young men, ‘Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you'” (Genesis 22:5) indicating that he believed God could bring Isaac back to life if need be (Hebrews 11:17-19)” (note on Genesis 22:12).

The devil’s temptation of Jesus was built on the assumption that he needed to stay alive in order for him to fulfill his destiny of saving the world. After Jesus refused to make bread to keep himself from starving, the devil tempted him to kill himself. Matthew’s gospel states:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you’ and ‘On the their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone'” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:5-7)

Jesus was free to throw himself off the pinnacle if he wanted to, but he knew that God wasn’t obligated to keep him from dying.

One of the unique aspects of Jesus’ humanity was that he was able to keep himself from sinning. No matter how much he may have wanted to do one thing or another, Jesus always chose to do his Father’s will rather than his own. Jesus understood that in order for him to die for the sins of the world he had to be killed in a prescribed manner, at an appointed time, and in a particular place. Therefore, Jesus refrained from doing anything that might cause him to die another way. The devil’s instruction to throw himself down, implied that Jesus would be putting his trust in God, but in reality, Jesus could have and probably would have had to rely on his own supernatural ability to defy gravity (Matthew 14:25) in order to keep himself from hitting the ground if he did what the devil told him to.

Abraham’s obedience to God’s instruction to sacrifice his son Isaac was an act of faith in that what he was being told to do made absolutely no sense to him and contradicted what God had already revealed to him about his son’s future. Abraham could have easily justified his disobedience, but didn’t seem to waiver at all in his commitment to do what he was being asked to do. When he heard the voice of the angel calling to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” (Genesis 22:11), Abraham could have ignored the voice and went on with what he was doing. It was only because Abraham was completely committed to his relationship with the LORD that he was able to immediately stop what he was doing and change his course midstream (Genesis 22:13).

The final test that Jesus was presented with had to do with his future reign over the kingdoms of Earth. It says in Matthew 4:8-10:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'”

Jesus recognized that his adversary Satan was the ruler of all the kingdoms of the world and didn’t try to argue with him about whether or not he had the ability to turn them over to him. Jesus’ response merely pointed out that God who was the creator of the world was entitled to the worship and service of his creatures.

Jesus’ command “Be gone, Satan!” was a sign of his authority over the being that was trying to tempt him. The Greek word that is translated be gone, hupago (hoop-ag’-o) could also be translated as go away or get out of here. Jesus seemed to be expressing his frustration with the situation and was in essence saying, I’m done, I’ve had enough of this. Jesus appeared to be in complete control of himself and the situation and was not bothered by the fact that Satan was trying to keep him from doing God’s will.

After Abraham discovered a ram caught in a thicket by his horns, he sacrificed it instead of his son and called the name of the place where he was “The LORD will provide” (Genesis 22:13-14). The Hebrew name Yehovah Yireh speaks to Gods ability to provide that which he requires of us (H3070). Abraham understood that he didn’t need to atone for his own sins, that God would take care of it. Abraham may or may not have understood that God was going to sacrifice his own son at some point in the future. To a certain extent, it was a joint effort because Jesus was not only God’s son, but also a descendant of Abraham.

If you would like to have a relationship with God, you can do so by simply praying this prayer and meaning it in your heart:

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust you and follow you as my Lord and Savior.

If you prayed this prayer, please take a moment to write me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

Acts of faith

The writer of Hebrews defined faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). This definition suggests that faith is a tangible substance that exists in the physical realm. The Greek word translated faith in Hebrews 11:1, pistis is derived from the word peitho (pi’-tho) which means to convince (G3982). “Faith is of the heart, invisible to men; obedience is of the conduct and may be observed. When a man obeys God he gives the only possible evidence that in his heart he believes God.” Jesus was able to perceive the faith of a man that was brought to him for healing. It says in Matthew 9:2, “And behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”

Chapter eleven of the book of Hebrews lists numerous examples of people whose faith was seen in their actions. It says in Hebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became the heir of righteousness which is by faith.” The intersection of the seen and unseen worlds through acts of faith may be the reason why believers are encouraged to do what God tells them to. If we only think about what God’s word says, our imaginations are left to run wild and we are unable to distinguish between the real and unreal aspects of what we believe to be true.

It says in Hebrews 11:6 that without faith it is impossible to please God, “for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6. NKJV). Everyone that has received something from God did so through an intentional effort. We do not receive things from God that we have no desire for or are unwilling to accept. The writer of Hebrews said that God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him. The Greek word translated diligently seek, ekzeteo (ek-zay-teh’-o) means to search out and figuratively can refer to craving or demanding something (G1567). What this seems to suggest is that faith is like a magnet that draws us to God. It is a divine force that God uses to accomplish will.

Interjected in the long list of acts of faith that are recorded in Hebrews chapter eleven are references to the fact that all of the Old Testament believers died without receiving the promises of God (Hebrews 11:13, 39). It says in Hebrews 11:40, “God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.” This statement separates those who had faith in Christ before he was born from those who have believed in him since. It seems likely that the better thing that was provided for us is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit which helps us to discern God’s will. Faith may be the thing that draws us to God, but the energy or supernatural force that causes us to act comes from the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that they would “receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you” (Acts 1:8).

The seam that holds Old and New Testament believers together in their acts of faith is the building up or edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). The Apostle Paul declared about the unity of the Spirit that, “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). I believe the writer of Hebrews used examples of Old Testament believers to inspire those who came into God’s family after Jesus’ death and resurrection to show us that our faith is a work in progress and that we have to finish what the Old Testament believers started. He stated “that they without us should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40). Jesus talked about his own perfection and stated in his prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, “I did the work You gave Me to do.” (John 17:4, NLV).

Lord of all

Jesus’ death and resurrection completed the necessary requirements for him to be appointed judge of all mankind. Paul stated in his letter to the Romans, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and the living” (Romans 14:9). Another way of stating “the dead and the living” would be the unsaved and the saved. Paul was referring to people that have not accepted Jesus as their savior as well those that have. The reason why Paul made this distinction was so that the Romans would understand that everyone falls under the same criteria of judgment. Jesus as the executor of God’s plan of salvation has been given the authority to determine what the will of God is when it comes to acts of faith. Paul emphasized this point when he declared, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

In addition to the free gift of salvation, there are additional benefits that believers may receive as a result of their acts of faith. Speaking of the foundation he had laid by preaching the gospel, Paul said in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burnt, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Paul basically told the Romans believers to mind their own business when he stated, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (Romans 14:10, NKJV).

Unbelievers that think they can escape God’s judgment by denying Jesus’ lordship over their lives might be surprised to find out that they will be held accountable for their acts of unbelief. Paul told the Romans, “For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12). The Greek word Paul used that is translated confess, exomologeo (ex-om-ol-og-eh’-o) has to do with the public acknowledgment or confession of sins (G1843). When Paul stated that every one shall give an account of himself, he was talking about a verbal assent to the lordship of Jesus Christ, an acknowledgment that he died for everyone’s sins and his substitutionary death on the cross was rejected by unbelievers. In other words, unbelievers will eventually have to admit that they were wrong, lacking in faith by not acknowledging Jesus as their savior.