Escalation

The Israelites crossing of the Jordan River initiated a series of military conflicts that escalated over time. At first, the people of Canaan hunkered down and waited for the Israelites to attack them (Joshua 6:1), but as time went on, the kings of the nations joined forces and waged war against Israel (Joshua 9:1-2). Joshua 11:1-5 tells us:

When Jabin, king of Hazor, heard of this, he sent to Jobab king of Madon, and to the king of Shimron, and to the king of Achshaph, and to the kings who were in the northern hill country, and in the Arabah south of Chinneroth, and in the lowland, and in Naphoth-dor on the west, to the Canaanites in the east and the west, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites in the hill country, and the Hivites under Hermon in the land of Mizpah. And they came out with all their troops, a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots. And all these kings joined their forces and came and encamped together at the waters of Merom to fight against Israel.

Joshua described the armies that were coming together to fight against Israel as “a great horde, in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4). We know that Joshua was afraid because the LORD said to him, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel” (Joshua 11:6).

Joshua and all his warriors came against the great horde that was encamped against them suddenly and fell upon them (Joshua 11:7). The way that Joshua dealt with the situation was to launch an immediate attack with the intention of overthrowing his enemies as quickly as possible. His strategy was consistent with the message he received from the LORD, indicating that Joshua believed what the LORD had told him. “And the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel, who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining. And Joshua did to them just as the LORD said to him: he hamstrung their horses and burned their chariots with fire. And Joshua turned back at that time and captured Hazor and struck its king with the sword, for Hazor formerly was the head of all those kingdoms” (Joshua 8-10). Unlike the battle of Jericho, the Israelites had to engage in hand to hand combat when they attacked the great horde that came up against them in order to overthrow their enemies. The key thing to note was that even though their opponents’ army was “in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4), “they struck them until he left none remaining” (Joshua 11:8). Afterward, there was no one left in the enemy’s army.

The relief that the Israelites felt as a result of the great horde of soldiers being completely wiped out is captured in Psalm 149. It states:

Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
    let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise his name with dancing,
    making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
    he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
    let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
    and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
    and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
    and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
    This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the Lord!

The Israelites’ excitement caused them to want to spontaneously praise the LORD, sing to the LORD, be glad, dance, and make melodies to him with their musical instruments. The people of Israel were literally overjoyed because of the great victory they had gained over their enemies.

A statement that is made in the middle of Psalm 149 emphasizes the connection between warfare and worship of God. Psalms 149:6 states, “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands.” The word of God is likened to a two-edged sword in Hebrews 4:12, which states, “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.” The writer of Hebrews went on to connect God’s word with judgment by stating, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account” (Hebrews 4:13). The two-edged sword is also used symbolically in the book of Revelation to depict Christ’s gospel (Revelation 1:16). It says in Revelation 19:15 that Christ’s sword will be used to “strike down the nations.” With this in mind, it seems that Psalm 149:6 might by referring to spiritual warfare rather than physical warfare, but it is more than likely both. The psalmist continued, “Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples, to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron, to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 149:6-9). These verses correlate with God’s stated purpose for the Israelites entering the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 9:4-6) and the outcome of the Israelites’ battles with the armies of the northern kingdoms (11:16-20). The final statement, “This is honor for all his godly ones. Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 149:9) indicates that our desire to praise God is linked to the effect that a victory over our enemies has on us personally.

God’s use of his saints to execute judgment on the people of the world that had rejected him is said to have resulted in “honor for all his godly ones” (Psalm 149:9). The Hebrew word that is translated honor in Psalm 149:9, hadar (haw-dawrˊ) means “magnificence” and is a counterpart to Hebrew words for “glory” and “dignity.” “Thus hadar means not so much overwhelming beauty as a combination of physical attractiveness and social position” (H1926). One of the things that honor is associated with in the Bible is weight. The Hebrew word kabed (kaw-badeˊ) means “to be heavy” (H3513) and is translated honor in the Fifth Commandment which states, “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12). The idea behind the Bible’s concept of honor was likely precious metals which were valued by their weight and were an indicator of wealth. Therefore, the more honor a person received, the heavier he was considered to be from a measurement perspective.

Psalm 149:4 explains that the way God bestows honor on his people is through salvation. It states, “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he adorns the humble with salvation.” The Hebrew word that is translated adorns, paʾar (pawˊ-ar) means to beautify or to embellish. In a figurative sense paʾar can mean “to boast” (H6286). Salvation was initially a way for God to differentiate between the Israelites, his chosen people, and everyone else. God’s deliverance of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt was considered to be salvation in a similar way to what we think of it because it kept the descendants of Jacob from becoming extinct as a people group. “’Salvation’ in the Old Testament is not understood as a salvation from sin, since the word denotes broadly anything from which ‘deliverance’ must be sought: distress, war, servitude, or enemies…The worst reproach that could be made against a person was that God did not come to his rescue” (H3444). The fact that God adorns only the humble with salvation has to do with the way that he works in people’s lives. The primary root of the Hebrew word that is translated humble is ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) which means “to be afflicted, be bowed down, be humbled, be meek…Frequently the verb expresses the idea that God sends affliction for disciplinary purposes” (H6031). ʿAnah is identical with ʿanah (aw-nawˊ) which is properly translated as “to eye or (generally) to heed, i.e. pay attention; by implication to respond; by extension to begin to speak; specifically to sing, shout, testify, announce” (H6030).

God often escalates the conflict or affliction in our lives in order to draw us closer to him. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory, beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Paul spoke of an eternal weight of glory that is beyond all comparison that believers are being prepared for through affliction. The Greek word that Paul used that is translated glory, doxa (doxˊ-ah) is where the English word doxology comes from. “Doxa, ‘glory’ primarily signifies an opinion, estimate, and hence, the honor resulting from a good opinion” (G1391). An example of this expression is the saying, “He’s worth his weight in gold.” “This refers to a person’s subjective mental estimate or opinion about something. A person’s doxa (G1391) may be right or wrong since it always involves the possibility of error [except when used of Jesus]. It always signifies a subjective estimate of a thing, not the objective appearance and qualities the thing actually possesses” (G1380). The point that Paul was likely trying to make when he said that our eternal weight of glory would be beyond all comparison was that our reputation in heaven would be blown way out of proportion, extremely overstated, compared to our actual accomplishments on earth, because of God’s grace and mercy in our lives (2 Corinthians 4:15).

Joshua 11:21-23 tells us:

And Joshua came at that time and cut off the Anakim from the hill country, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the hill country of Judah, and from all the hill country of Israel. Joshua devoted them to destruction with their cities. There was none of the Anakim left in the land of the people of Israel. Only in Gaza, in Gath, and in Ashdod did some remain. So Joshua took the whole land, according to all that the Lord had spoken to Moses. And Joshua gave it for an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal allotments. And the land had rest from war.

Joshua was credited with cutting off the Anakim from the hill country and taking the whole land even though he likely had little to no direct involvement in determining these outcomes. When the situation escalated and a great horde of troops encamped to fight against Israel (Joshua 11:4-5), the LORD told Joshua, “Do not be afraid of them, for tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel” (Joshua 11:6). The LORD indicated that he would give over all of them, slain, to Israel. In other words, the LORD was going to kill everyone and then, transfer possession of the dead bodies from his army to Joshua’s, so that, essentially, Joshua didn’t have to do anything except show up for the battle. Afterward, Joshua recorded, “And these are the kings of the land whom Joshua and the people of Israel defeated on the west side of the Jordan…in all, thirty-one kings” (Joshua 12:7-24). The reason why Joshua was able to take credit for the defeat of the thirty-one kings on the west side of the Jordan was because his army was present when the LORD’s spiritual battles were taking place.

The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into what will take place when the world’s rebellion against God escalates into a final conflict referred to as the battle of Armageddon. Similar to the war between Israel’s army and the kingdoms of the north, the kings of the earth and their armies will gather together to fight against the LORD. The scene begins with the entrance of a rider on a white horse. John says:

Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Then I saw an angel standing in the sun, and with a loud voice he called to all the birds that fly directly overhead, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, to eat the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of mighty men, the flesh of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all men, both free and slave, both small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh. (Revelation 19:11-21)

We know the rider on the white horse is Jesus because he is called “The Word of God” and “He is clothed in a robe dipped inblood” (Revelation 19:13). At this point, Jesus has returned to earth in his resurrected body and brings with him the armies of heaven who are “arrayed in fine linen, white and pure” (Revelation 19:14). “Their robes of white indicate this to be the redeemed church—bride of Christ—returning in triumph with her heavenly Bridegroom (cf. 19:8; 17:14)” (note on Revelation 19:14, KJSB), who are prepared to fight with the Lord.

The most interesting thing about the battle of Armageddon is that no fighting actually takes place. John’s account of the battle indicates that the beast and the false prophet “were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse” (Revelation 19:20-21). The Word of God, Jesus was able to kill outright those who were gathered to make war against him. Zechariah’s prophecy provides more detail about what happens to the people that are slain. Zechariah states, “And this shall be the plague with which the LORD will strike all the peoples that wage war against Jerusalem: their flesh shall rot while they are still standing on their feet, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths” (Zechariah 14:12). Zechariah describes what happens as a plague and says that their flesh, eyes, and tongue will rot away. The Hebrew word that is translated rot, maqaq (maw-kakˊ) means “to melt; figuratively to flow, dwindle, vanish” (H4743). The power that is displayed by the Word of God (Jesus) is His ability to dissolve that which exists in the material world.

The LORD’s instruction to Joshua when he was confronted by a great horde of troops that was “in number like the sand that is on the seashore” (Joshua 11:4) was “Do not be afraid of them” (Joshua 11:6). “This is not simple fear, but reverence, whereby an individual recognizes the power and position of the individual revered and renders him proper respect” (H3372). Proverbs 23:17-18 provides an explanation of why Joshua’s trust needed to remain in the LORD when the situation he was dealing with escalated to the point that he was willing to accept defeat. It states:

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.
Surely there is a future,
    and your hope will not be cut off.

In this instance, the phrase all the day has to do with a period of time of unspecified duration (H3117). It could be an entire lifetime or a season of testing or the length of a specific trial you are going through. The Hebrew word that is translated future, ʾachariyth (akh-ar-eethˊ) means “the last or end” and may refer to the outcome of something (H319). The statement “your hope will not be cut off” (Proverbs 23:18) is intended to reflect God’s involvement in the lives of believers. Hope is an important aspect of faith or believing in Christ. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV). The Hebrew word that is translated hope in Proverbs 23:18, tiqvâh (tik-vawˊ) literally means “a cord (as an attachment)” (H8615) and is comparable to the word qaveh (kaw-vehˊ) which refers to “a (measuring) cord (as if for binding)” (H6961). Figuratively, tiqvâh is used to refer to expectancy in the sense that you are attached to an outcome and you believe that it is only a matter of time until you achieve it. In Jacob’s case, God told him “tomorrow at this time I will give over all of them, slain, to Israel.” Joshua had to adjust his thinking and do his part in order for this to happen. Joshua 11:7-8 tells us, “So Joshua and all his warriors came suddenly against them by the waters of Merom and fell upon them. And the LORD gave them into the hand of Israel who struck them and chased them as far as Great Sidon and Misrephoth-maim, and eastward as far as the Valley of Mizpeh. And they struck them until he left none remaining.”

A different form

Perhaps, the most remarkable thing that happened during Jesus’ three-year ministry was his transfiguration. Only three of Jesus’ disciples were allowed to witness this amazing event. Following his disclosure to his disciples that he would suffer many things and be killed and on the third day be raised from the dead (Matthew 16:21), Matthew tells us Jesus took Peter, James and John “and bringeth them up into a high mountain apart” (Matthew 17:1). The private place he took these men to may have been somewhere Jesus went to on a regular basis. After Jesus had fed the five thousand and sent his disciples away in a ship, Matthew tells us, “And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was alone there” (Matthew 14:23). It could be that on this particular occasion Jesus didn’t want to leave Peter, James and John alone. They were most likely disheartened by the reminder that Jesus would soon be killed and needed this beneficial experience of seeing the end result of Jesus’ death and resurrection to get them over their discouragement.

Matthew’s description of his transfiguration indicated that Jesus became like a shining star, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light” (Matthew 17:2). Since Matthew wasn’t present at the time, it is likely his description of the transfiguration was based on his interpretation of what he heard Jesus looked like. Luke said of Jesus’ transfiguration that “the fashion of his countenance was altered” (Luke 9:29), meaning literally, Jesus became a different person. A deeper understanding of the words used by Matthew and Luke to describe what happened to Jesus show that the change that took place was an inward and real change of Jesus’ character and likely had nothing to do with his physical appearance. The root word morphe (mor-fay’) has to do with the nature or essence of a person, “not in the abstract, but as actually subsisting in the individual, and retained as long as the individual itself exists (3444). From this standpoint, it appears that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different identity.

An interesting aspect of Jesus’ transfiguration is recorded in Matthew 17:5 where it says, “a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” As if there might have been some confusion as to who he was at this point, his Father made it clear that Jesus was still the same person he was when he was baptized (Matthew 3:17), the Son of God. In other words, Jesus didn’t or wouldn’t become God at some point in time. Jesus was and always would be God’s son. From this standpoint, you could say that when Jesus was transfigured, he took on or was given a different nature, not identity, meaning he changed from who he was in the form of a man into who he was in the form of God. An example of this is water turning into steam or ice. It still has the same chemical makeup, but looks completely different. Another way of looking at it would be a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. They are one and the same creature, but look nothing like each other.

Walking on water (part 2)

Mark’s account of Jesus walking on water showed that he did not intend for his disciples to know what he was doing. Mark said, “about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them” (Mark 6:48). It appears that Jesus’ intention was only to get to the other side of the sea ahead of his disciples. “But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: for they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:49-50). Apparently, Jesus had transformed himself into a form that may have been somewhat ghostlike or transparent. A clue as to what this form was like can be found in John 6:19 where it states the disciples saw Jesus “walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.” The Greek term translated drawing, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means “to cause to be (generate) that is (reflexively) to become (come into being)” (1096). What may have happened was that Jesus transformed himself back into a physical state because his disciples were fearful he was dead when they saw him walking across the sea as a spirit.

Whether or not Jesus walked across the sea of Galilee in a spiritual or physical state is not completely clear, but it is evident that at the time when Jesus arrived at the boat in which his disciples were traveling, he appeared to be normal as he stood upon the water talking to them. His salutation, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50) suggested that Jesus was calming the disciples and making them aware that everything was fine. It was at this point that Peter spoke up and said, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Essentially, Peter’s remark was a confession of faith. Another way of stating what Peter said would be, “because it is you, bid me come unto thee on the water.” In other words, Peter wanted to do what he saw Jesus was able to. Perhaps, Peter thought it would be cool to walk on the water, or he may have been trying to impress Jesus with his exuberant act of faith, but Matthew said, when Peter “saw the wind boysterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). The difference between Jesus walking on water and Peter walking on water was that Peter didn’t have authority over the wind as Jesus did. Peter’s disadvantage was that he couldn’t keep the wind from knocking him around; and he was most likely fearful because once he was out of the boat, he realized the wind’s powerful force could cause him to crash into the water like a tomato on a hardwood floor. Matthew tells us that Peter began to sink and cried out to Jesus, saying, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30), meaning, he acknowledged Jesus’ deity and his ability to do more than Peter was able to.

How much?

Jesus paid tribute to John the Baptist and said of him, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28). Jesus’ acknowledgment of John was meant to be understood in the context of all the Israelites that lived under the Old Covenant, or more specifically, the promises God made that were fulfilled prior to his birth. Jesus’ association of John with those that are “born of women” suggested that he was comparing John with unbelievers. Jesus followed up his comment about John with this statement, “but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28). Perhaps, the best way to interpret Jesus’ commendation of John the Baptist would be to see it as a way of explaining John’s doubts about who Jesus was. It says in Luke 7:19, “And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” John didn’t know for certain that Jesus was the Messiah because he wasn’t born again.

Jesus went on to explain that forgiveness was a byproduct of faith, not the other way around. He used an example of forgiveness to explain that faith was the determining factor of genuine belief and that love for Jesus was the measure of how much someone had been forgiven. The only way that someone could know for certain that Jesus was who he said he was; Israel’s Messiah, the Son of God, was to demonstrate faith. Speaking to a Pharisee named Simon that had invited him to have dinner at his house, Jesus said:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one ought five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. Mine head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. (Luke 7:41-47)

According to Jesus’ story of the creditor with two debtors, both the Pharisee and the woman’s sins were forgiven. The difference between these two sinners was that the Pharisee only had his sins forgiven, whereas the woman was justified in the eyes of God. Jesus’ statement to the woman, “Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:50) indicated that she had obtained much more than just the forgiveness of her sins. The Greek word Jesus used that is translated peace, eirene (i-ray´-nay) indicated she had a harmonized relationship with God. In other words, she was fully restored to prosperity and was a blessed child of God.

Forgiveness of sins

The link between sin and disease in the minds of the Jews made it necessary for Jesus to deal with the topic of sin while he was in the process of healing those that came to him for restoration of their health and well-being. One of these instances was when a man described as “sick of the palsy” (Mark 2:3) was brought to Jesus as he was teaching in a home in Capernaum. Mark said of this event, “And when they could not come nigh unto him for the press, they uncovered the roof where he was: and when they had broken it up, they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee” (Mark 2:4-5).

Nothing is know about the condition of the man with the palsy except that he was unable to walk. The Greek word translated palsy, paralutikos means to loosen beside that is relax and is a term associated with being paralyzed or enfeebled (3885). Mark’s reference to the man being sick suggests that this man had an illness that caused his paralysis, perhaps something like what we know today as Lou Gehrig’s disease where the body’s muscles cease to function properly. An interesting aspect of Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is that in around 90-95% of the cases, the cause for ALS in not known. In about 5-10% of the cases, the condition was passed on from parents. If the man sick of the palsy had ALS, the mysterious aspect of the onset of his disease might explain why it was associated with sinful behavior and assumed that he was being punished by God.

It says in Mark 2:5, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” The faith that Jesus saw was probably that of the four men that broke open the roof and let the man down on his bed so Jesus could heal him. The Greek word used here for faith, pistis refers to reliance upon Christ for salvation (4102). Most likely, the four men were known by Jesus and their belief in him is what caused him to deal with the issue of the sick man’s sins before or rather than just healing him. By forgiving the man’s sins, Jesus guaranteed that when he died, the man sick with the palsy would go to heaven and one day be reunited with his believing friends. Afterward, when he commanded the man to, “Arise, and take up thy bed and walk, and go thy way into thy house” (Mark 2:11), Jesus demonstrated his willingness to give this man a second chance at living his life according to God’s laws.

The Greek word translated sins, hamartia literally means “a missing of the mark” (266). Sin should be viewed as a principle or source of action. From God’s perspective, sin is seen as a governing principle or the power behind our actions. When we choose to go our own way rather than the way that God directs us to, we are sinning against God and will be punished for our disobedience. Forgiveness of sins is when God removes or takes away the effect of the wrong things we have done. An illustration that is used to explain forgiveness is that of a husband divorcing his wife. In that situation, there is no longer a legal claim to assets or an inheritance. The divorced person is freed from all legal obligations. Behind the concept of forgiveness is the idea of abandonment. Whereas sin once had a claim to our life and our possessions, forgiveness allows us to abandon sin and also takes away sin’s ability to claim anything from us in the future.

Living water

Jesus used an everyday experience to teach an important lesson to a woman that no one else would have dared to interact with. She is identified only as “a woman of Samaria” (John 4:7). Samaria became the capital of Israel after the nation was split into two separate kingdoms (Israel in the north and Judah in the south) following the death of king Solomon (1 Kings 16:29). Samaria was later destroyed when Shalmaneser king of Assyria defeated Israel and took its people into captivity (2 Kings 18:9-11). It says in 2 Kings 17:24, “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.” The animosity between the Jews and Samaritans was evident in the Samaritan woman’s response to Jesus’ request for a drink of water. She said, “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (John 4:9).

Jesus’ open discussion with the woman of Samaria showed that he was willing to invite into his kingdom anyone that recognized him as Israel’s Messiah and the savior of the world. Pointing out her ignorance of God’s plan of salvation, Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink, thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have have given thee living water” (John 4:10). The Greek words translated living water, zao (dzah´ – o) and hudor hudatos (hoo´ – dor hoo´ – dat – os) literally mean to live (2198) and water (as if rainy) (5204). What Jesus was referring to was the spiritual birth or eternal life that he associated with water baptism. In essence, Jesus saw God’s gift of salvation as an opportunity for everyone to experience a spiritual birth or as he explained it to Nicodemus, to be born again. In the same way that Jesus clarified the difference between a physical and spiritual birth to Nicodemus, he told the woman at the well, “Whosoever drinketh this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).

The concept of eternal or everlasting life was not new to the Israelites, but Jesus’ description of this kind of life as a well of water springing up inside the person was meant to convey eternal life as something that was a continual, ongoing gift from God that never ran out or dissipated. Rather than seeing salvation as a one-time transaction that merely entitled the recipient to entrance into heaven, Jesus wanted the woman of Samaria to understand that the gift that God wanted to give her was something that was available to her immediately and it could be replenished without limit. Jesus also revealed that the key that unlocked this everlasting fountain of life was worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Jesus’ reference to spiritual activity in the physical realm linked together the gift of eternal life and its source, the Holy Spirit. Although the Holy Spirit was not available to believers until after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus was preparing the way for his arrival and also letting his followers know that there was another person (Holy Spirit) involved in God’s plan of salvation.

Miracles

Jesus’ ministry began with a great display of the power he possessed as the Son of God. This supernatural activity drew a lot of attention to Jesus’ ministry and resulted in both good and bad circumstances that he had to deal with throughout the rest of the three years he ministered to God’s chosen people. Matthew described the start of Jesus’ ministry this way.

And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had palsy; and he healed them. (Matthew 4:23-24)

Jesus’ ability to cure any and every disease by supernatural means was recognized as a sign of his deity. Not since the time of Elijah and Elisha, hundreds of years earlier, had God’s people seen such a display of God’s power. Mark’s account of the launch of Jesus’ ministry focused on the authority with which he worked his miracles. He said,”And they were all amazed, insomuch that they questioned among themselves, saying, What thing is this? what new doctrine is this? for with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him” (Mark 1:27).

One of the keys to understanding Jesus’ approach to his ministry was the connection made between sin and disease in the mind of God’s people. The Mosaic Law stated that disease was a consequence of sin. Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt, Moses told them “If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the LORD thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26).

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of Jesus power, authority, and compassion for the sick was displayed when he healed a paralyzed man who was let down through the rooftop tiling by his friends so that he could get close enough to Jesus to be healed. Luke’s gospel states:

And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason he in your hearts? Whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that he may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God. (Luke 5:20-25)

John’s account of the start of Jesus’ ministry provided a timeline of the first three days of his activities and recorded that only a few days into his ministry, Jesus declared his intent to rise from the dead after he was crucified. This final miracle was to be the ultimate sign to the Jews that Jesus was in fact their Messiah. After cleansing God’s temple, the Jews confronted Jesus about his unorthodox behavior. It says in John’s gospel, “Then answered the Jews and said unto him, What sign showest thou unto us, seeing that thou doest these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body” (John 2:18-21).

Follow me

At the start of his ministry, Jesus chose several men to accompany him as he traveled preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God. It seems likely that the first two men that followed Jesus were Andrew and John. It is recorded in John 1:35-37 that these men were originally disciples of John the Baptist, but began to follow Jesus after John declared him to be the Messiah. After spending only one night with Jesus, Andrew was convinced that he was who he claimed to be and invited his brother to become Jesus’ disciple also. John 1:40-42 states, “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, We have found Messias, which is being interpreted, the Christ. And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: Thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone.”

Matthew’s account of Andrew and Peter’s calling focused on the forsaking of their work as fisherman. He said, “And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him” (Matthew 4:18-20). The Greek word translated followed, akoloutheo is used as a particle of union and refers to a road. Akoloutheo is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” or to accompany on a road. In other words, Andrew and Peter went with Jesus on his road trip. Matthew went on to say that Jesus also called James and his brother John, “And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him” (Matthew 4:22). Matthew, who was a tax collector, later recorded his own calling by Jesus, and said of himself, “he arose, and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).

Jesus’ calling of Philip and Nathanael didn’t focus on the forsaking of their occupations, but merely showed that they were available and interested in God’s kingdom. The only thing John told us about Phillip was that he was from Bethsaida, the same city where Andrew and Peter lived (John 1:44). After Jesus said to him “Follow me” (John 1:43), it says in John 1:45-47, “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jesus comment was intended to show that Nathanael’s skepticism was appropriate and that his followers needed spiritual discernment in order to identify him as their Messiah. After this revelation, Nathanael proclaimed, “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Mixed Reactions

At the start of Jesus’ ministry, it became evident that there were some people among the Jews that did not welcome the good news that their Messiah had finally arrived. In particular, those who knew Jesus as a child questioned whether or not someone like him could actually be the savior God had promised to bring to his people. In Luke 4:16 it says of Jesus, “And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.” Jesus read Isaiah 61:1-2 to the people and then stated “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21). After declaring himself to be their long awaited Messiah, Jesus foretold of his rejection and eventual ministry to the Gentiles. It says in Luke 4:28-29, “And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill where on their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.”

Following this incident, Jesus went to a seaside fishing village called Capernaum which became a sort of home base for his ministry. It was there that Jesus called four fishermen; Simon, whom he renamed Peter, his brother Andrew, and their business partners, James and John to be his disciples. The story of Peter’s conversion showed that Jesus understood this man’s reluctance to give up his independent way of life.

Now when he had left off speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both ships, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. (Luke 5:4-8)

Peter’s awareness of his need for a savior was a result of the conviction he felt about his lack of faith when Jesus told him to let down his nets for a draught (Luke 5:4). Peter thought there were no fish in the sea, but in reality there were so many fish, his ship couldn’t hold them all. After Peter’s perception of the situation had changed, Jesus said to him and his fishing partners, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him” (Luke 5:10-11).

Temptation

Before he began his public ministry, Jesus was “led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matthew 4:1). The phrase led up of the Spirit tells us that it was God’s will for Jesus to go through this 40 day temptation experience which began in the desert region of the lower Jordan Valley. Jesus’ personal encounter with Satan involved three temptations or tests that proved his ability to defeat his enemy in the most extreme type of spiritual warfare. Jesus had no inward desire or inclination to sin. “Because he was God He did not sin in any way, whether by actions or word or inner desire (2 Cor 5:21; Heb 7:26; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 John 3:5). Yet Jesus’ temptation was real, not merely symbolic. He was ‘in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin’ (Heb 4:15)” (note on Matthew 4:1-11).

Through his encounter with the devil in the wilderness, Jesus gave us an example of how to successfully deal with temptation and overcome the spiritual forces that entice us to sin against God. Each time Jesus was confronted by Satan, he used “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). One of the key tactics Satan used to tempt Jesus was to question his identity. He said, “If Thou be the Son of God, command these stones be made bread” (Matthew 4:3). Jesus was declared the Son of God when he was baptized by John in the Jordan river (Matthew 3:17) and he was capable of transforming the stones into bread, but Jesus didn’t do what Satan asked him to, instead he responded by quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Jesus’ declaration of spiritual truth showed that he was able to defeat his enemy, Satan without using any of his supernatural powers. The weapon Jesus used, the word of God, is available to everyone and the scriptures he quoted were taken from a single book of the Bible, Deuteronomy, so an extensive knowledge of the Bible wasn’t necessary. In his temptation, Jesus demonstrated to us that his human nature wasn’t subject to the devil, but was transformed by the word of God into a weapon more powerful than the strongest of all evil forces. After passing his spiritual test in the wilderness, Jesus immediately began his public ministry and continuously used his spiritual authority to cast out demons and to heal people of all kinds of diseases (Mark 1:34).