God’s supernatural ability

It’s not unusual for everything that God does to be considered a miracle because he is a supernatural being. On the other hand, humans have a limited amount of strength and ability that they can rely on and therefore do not typically do extraordinary things on a regular basis. The 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert after they were delivered from slavery in Egypt demonstrated that it is possible for people to live miraculous lives by relying on God’s power to accomplish things that they cannot do themselves. Most of the miracles that happened in the desert were a result of God working through Moses to perform supernaturally feats (Exodus 15:25; 17:6, 11), but the construction of the tabernacle where the Ark of the Covenant was kept was a collective effort that showed God’s supernatural ability could be distributed among the people in such a way that everyone could play a part in getting the job done. Moses started by asking everyone to “take from among you a contribution to the LORD. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the LORD’s contribution: gold, silver, and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twisted linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece” (Exodus 35 5-9). Basically, everything that was needed to construct the tabernacle and its contents had to come from the Israelite’s personal belongings. Moses asked everyone who had a generous heart to give up their possessions so that their material wealth could be used to benefit the LORD’s work.

A generous heart is not something that comes naturally to human beings. For the most part, the Israelites were selfish with their possession just like most people are today, but Exodus 35:20-29 tells us:

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord. And every one who possessed blue or purple or scarlet yarns or fine linen or goats’ hair or tanned rams’ skins or goatskins brought them. Everyone who could make a contribution of silver or bronze brought it as the Lord’s contribution. And every one who possessed acacia wood of any use in the work brought it. And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair. And the leaders brought onyx stones and stones to be set, for the ephod and for the breastpiece, and spices and oil for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the fragrant incense. All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord.

The freewill offering to the Lord was characterized by spontaneity. “This term can denote that state of being which allows a person to offer a gift or a favour to someone else without any thought of return or payback. The favour is not given out of any obligation owed by the giver; rather, it is the result of an overflow from an abundance within the heart” (H5071).

In addition to the materials that were needed for the tabernacle to be constructed, there was a need for laborers as well. Moses asked the people to give up their time and talent too. He said, “Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the LORD has commanded” (Exodus 35:10). Exodus 36:2-7 states:

And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every craftsman in whose mind the LORD had put skill, everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work. And they received from Moses all the contribution that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work on the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, “The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.” So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp, “Let no man or woman do anything more for the contribution for the sanctuary.” So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.

Moses indicated that the Lord had put skill into the minds of every craftsman, “everyone whose heart stirred him up to come to do the work” (Exodus 36:2). The Hebrew word that is translated stirred up, nacah (naw-saw’) “is used of the undertaking of the responsibilities for sins of others by substitution or representation” (H5375). This seems to suggest that the people whose hearts were being stirred up were believers that wanted to participate in the process of salvation that God was enacting.

Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians was focused on his ministry of spreading the gospel which God had entrusted to him by way of supernatural revelation (Ephesians 3:3). Paul said, “Therefore having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose hart. But we have renounced disgraceful underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:1-4). Paul emphasized the fact that God’s word was able to affect the minds of believers because it was the truth. The Biblical definition of truth is something that is real, it conforms to the nature and reality of things, therefore it is credible and not to be rejected (G227). An open statement is an expression of truth that makes something visible or observable to you that might otherwise go unnoticed (G5321). Paul’s mission of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles was necessary because it was a mystery that they were “fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6). Paul said that he had “commended himself to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he was leaving it up to God to convict and convince the people that he was preaching to that his gospel message was indeed the truth.

The conscience enables people to see things from God’s perspective. It is a “faculty of the soul which distinguishes between right and wrong and prompts one to choose the former and avoid the latter” (G4893). Paul said that his gospel message was veiled to those who were perishing because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Paul referred to Satan as the god of this world because everyone that has not accepted Jesus as their Savior is under his dominion. Paul told the Ephesians that “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” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Paul encouraged the Ephesian believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you might be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 5:10-11) and identified the word of God as a sword that can be used offensively to defeat Satan’s army (Ephesians 5:17). The Greek word that is translated strong, endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’) means “to empower” and is used metaphorically of the mind being strengthened by God (G1743). Endunamoo is derived from the Greek words en and dunamoo. Dunamoo comes from the Greek word dunamis (doo’-nam-is) which refers specifically to God’s ability to do miracles (G1411).

God’s supernatural ability is transferred to believers, at least in part, through our minds and in particular through our understanding of his word. Paul told the believers in Corinth that he had not tampered with God’s word (2 Corinthians 4:2), meaning that he hadn’t mingled the truths of God’s word with false doctrines (G1389). Paul had kept his opinions to himself and only conveyed to the Corinthians what God’s Spirit had prompted him to. Paul said, “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:5-6). Paul used the metaphor of light shining out of darkness to show that God’s word is not constrained by the limitations of our human comprehension. Paul went on to say, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us’ (2 Corinthians 4:7). The surpassing power that Paul was referring to was dunamis. “Dunamis 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 or thing” (G1411). Paul thought of his gospel message as a treasure that had been placed in jars of clay in order to show that its effectiveness was linked to God’s supernatural ability rather than Paul’s preaching.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked a lot about the foolishness of preaching the gospel. He said, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul used the word dunamis to describe the power that God uses to save people. The word of the cross is basically the gospel message which states that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Paul indicated that this message was considered to be folly or an absurdity (G3472) to those that were destined for destruction (G622). Paul explained that “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Spiritual discernment is the ability to understand that which is non-physical by nature (G4153). Paul went on to say, “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). Paul’s statement corresponds to Jesus’ teaching about the vine and the branches. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:1-2). Then Jesus stated:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

Jesus bracketed his teaching about the power that is available to believers through God’s word with a commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). This seems to suggest that we are expected to refrain from using God’s word as a tool to hurt others, but rather as an instrument of encouragement and support. Paul eluded to this in his explanation of why he was suffering even though he was doing God’s will. Paul said:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Corinthians 4:8-12)

Paul hinted at that fact that God’s supernatural ability was at work in his life when he said that even though he was afflicted in every way, he was not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). The contrasting language that Paul used made it clear that his ability to preach the gospel had not been diminished by the trouble he had gone through. Paul wanted the Corinthians to know that he was still strong in his faith and was determined to accomplish the mission that was entrusted to him. Paul’s statement that death was at work in him (2 Corinthians 4:12) was meant to convey the idea that there was a cost associated with undertaking the responsibilities for the sins of others. Paul encouraged the Corinthians by stating:

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 momentary affliction is preparing for us 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)

The outer self and the inner self that Paul was referring to were the physical and spiritual aspects of mankind. The Greek word that is translated self, anthropos (anth’-ro-pos) is generally used to designate a human being without reference to sex or nationality and in distinction from God and animals. In this phrase, “the inner man means the regenerate person’s spiritual nature personified, the inner self of the believer…as the sphere of the renewing power of the Holy Spirit” (G444). Paul’s prayer for spiritual strength included a petition for power through the Holy Spirit. He said:

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Being filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19) has to do with the process of sanctification which leads to our oneness with Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Paul indicated that this process is driven by the power of the Holy Spirit who strengthens us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16). Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit as the Helper and said, “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:25-26). Thus, the role of the Holy Spirit is to help us remember God’s word and to teach us spiritual lessons.

Paul’s prayer concluded with an acknowledgement of God’s supernatural ability. Paul stated, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21). Paul used the superlative “far more abundantly” to express the infinite degree to which God is able to do what we ask of him. The point Paul was trying to make was that we can’t deplete God’s resources. His supernatural ability is beyond what humans can even think or imagine him doing. Paul made it clear that believers can access God’s supernatural ability through the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work within us. What Paul likely meant by the statement “according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20) was that dunamis, miraculous power and/or ability, is not available to believers on an as needed basis, but it can be stored up or put to use at any time. An example of this is the parable of the talents which Jesus told his disciples not long before he was crucified. In this parable, the servant that received five talents was commended for using them to gain five more talents by putting them to work (Matthew 25:21). The servant that received one talent was rebuked because he didn’t even bother to invest his talent so that his master could gain something from the resources that had been entrusted to him (Matthew 25:26-27). Afterward, the talent was taken away from him and given to the servant that had ten talents (Matthew 25:28). Jesus concluded his parable by stating, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29)

Compassion

One of the essential characteristics of God’s plan of salvation is its impartial treatment of sinners. God’s word makes it clear that every person has sinned and fallen short of God’s standard of living and that we are all “justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23). Beginning with Abraham, God counted righteousness to mankind based on each individual’s belief in his ability to take away the effects of sin. Through justification, God declares believers to be innocent of all charges that are brought against them in his heavenly court of law (G1344).

The life of Jacob clearly portrays justification by faith. You might conclude that Jacob did everything wrong and yet, he ended up on the right side of God’s concern for the suffering and misfortune of others. God helped Jacob to overcome the circumstances that threatened to ruin his life. Jacob was the younger and weaker of Isaac’s twin sons, but he managed to steal his brother’s birthright and tricked his father into blessing him. Jacob also obtained the blessing of Abraham which entitled him to possession of the Promised Land (Genesis 28:13-14). With all of these advantages going for him, you would think Jacob would be content, but he continued to pursue prosperity and wound up with two wives that were just as discontent with the status quo as he was.

Jacob’s uncle Laban had two daughters. “The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance” (Genesis 29:16-17). Both of these women became Jacob’s wives, but Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah (Genesis 29:30). “When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). The Hebrew word that is translated hated, sane (saw-nay’) is an antonym of the Hebrew verb ‘ahab (H157), meaning to love. The reason why Jacob hated Leah may have been because she reminded him of the sin he committed against his father Isaac (Genesis 27:19). Jacob had to serve Laban for seven years in order to get Rachel as his wife, but on the evening of his wedding, Laban deceived Jacob and substituted his daughter Leah for Rachel in the consummation of their marriage (Genesis 29:25).

Leah may not have had the affection of her husband, but she gained an initial advantage over her sister Rachel by giving Jacob four sons to carry on his legacy. After Leah’s fourth son was born, Rachel envied her sister and decided to give her servant Bilhah to Jacob as a wife so that she could give birth on her behalf (Genesis 30:3). “And Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a son. Then Rachel said, ‘God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son” (Genesis 30:5-6). God’s vindication of Rachel showed that he was being impartial toward each of Jacob’s wives. God could see that both Rachel and Leah were suffering from the disadvantage of having to share their husband. Rachel said God had heard her voice, in other words God understood Rachel’s situation and showed her compassion.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that when some people brought a paralytic to him lying on a bed, “Jesus saw their faith” (Matthew 9:2). Another way of describing what happened would be to say that Jesus was moved with compassion or you might say affected by the people bringing a paralytic to him to be healed. Jesus said, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2) indicating that he saved the paralytic man. Jesus then explained to the cynics who were watching him that salvation and physical healing were essentially the same thing. Matthew 9:4-7 states:

But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he then said to the paralytic — “Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home.

The critical point that Jesus wanted to make clear was that the paralytic’s well-being was dependent on both his physical and spiritual health. The paralytic wouldn’t benefit from being saved if he had to continue living as a cripple and he wouldn’t be satisfied being able to walk if the guilt of his sins continued to torment him.

Jesus asked the question, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” (Matthew 9:5). The Greek word that is translated easier, eukopoteros (yoo-kop-o’-ter-os) suggests that it was Jesus’ intention to eliminate the paralytic’s grief or perhaps to improve his mental health (G2123). It seems likely that the paralytic’s situation had caused him to become depressed and he may have even thought about suicide in order to escape his unbearable circumstances. Jesus’ command to “Rise, pick up your bed and go home” (Matthew 9:6) meant that Jesus expected the paralytic to immediately start living a normal life.

Rachel viewed her moral struggle with her sister Leah as being linked to her physical ability to give her husband a son. After Rachel’s servant Bilhah conceived and bore Jacob a second son, “Then Rachel said, ‘With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed'” (Genesis 30:7-8). The Hebrew word that is translated wrestled, pathal (paw-thal’) means to struggle or figuratively to be morally tortuous (H6617). The Hebrew word Yakowl (yaw-kole’) or prevailed in English refers specifically to physical ability (H3201). Even though Leah had given Jacob four sons and Bilhah had given birth to the two she claimed as her own, Rachel saw herself as having won the moral victory over her sister.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of Rachel and Leah’s battle. Leah’s servant Zilpah bore Jacob two more sons and then Leah herself conceived and bore Jacob two more sons, bringing the total of Jacob’s sons to ten. “Then God remembered Rachel, and God listened to her and opened her womb. She conceived and bore a son and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach.’ And she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the LORD add to me another son!'” (Genesis 30:22-24). The Hebrew word that is translated reproach, cherpah (kher-paw’) denotes a state of disgrace. “The disgrace found in a person or a nation become the occasion for taunting the oppressed. The disgraced received abuse by the words spoken against them and by the rumors which were spread about them” (H2781).

Jesus’ disciple Matthew who had been a tax collector for the Roman government was among the class of citizens that we might refer to today as low life or the scum of the earth. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

A sinner is a person that practices sin as a lifestyle. This category of people would most likely include prostitutes, thieves, and murderers. Jesus referred to these people as being sick and in need of a physician. The Greek word that is translated physician, iatros (ee-at-ros’) refers to physical treatment, but figuratively it speaks of spiritual healing (G2395/G2390).

Jesus’ quote, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” came from the book of Hosea which focused on the unfaithfulness of God’s people. Hosea was instructed to “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). Hosea’s message was one of mercy and redemption and indicated that God was “concerned with the attitude of the hearts of men rather than the ritualistic performance of religious acts, and he values a relationship with his people more than outward ceremonies” (note on Hosea 6:6). Hosea 6:6 states, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The words steadfast love and mercy are often used interchangeably in the Bible and refer to God’s compassion toward sinners (G1656).

Mercy is God’s attitude toward those who are in distress. The Greek word eleos (el’-eh-os) “is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sins brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it — efforts that are hindered and defeated only by man’s continued perverseness. Grace removes guilt, mercy removes misery. Eleos is the outward manifestation of pity; it assumes need on the part of him who receives it, and resources adequate to meet the need on the part of him who shows it” (G1656).

Jesus used the example of new wine being put into fresh wineskins to explain how regeneration makes it possible for believers to rejoice in the midst of unpleasant circumstances. He said, “No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wine- skins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved” (Matthew 9:16-17). The Greek term that is translated preserved, suntereo (soon-tay-reh’-o) has to do with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and his ability to keep us from being separated from God.

Jesus used the phrase, “take heart” (Matthew 9:2, 22) to signify the effect of being saved. The King James version of the Bible translates the phrase take heart as “be of good cheer.” The Greek word tharseo (thar-seh’-o) means to have courage (G2293) and is derived from the word tharsos (thar’-sos) which means to be daring or to have boldness (G2294). It could be that Jesus used the word tharseo in order to communicate the idea of activating one’s faith by making a bold move or what we might call today taking a leap of faith. Jesus seemed to be encouraging the recipients of his grace to act out the amazing transformation that was taking place inside of them.

Genesis 30:25 indicates that “as soon as Rachel had borne Joseph, Jacob said to Laban, ‘Send me away, that I may go to my own home and country.'” It was somewhat of a daring move for Jacob to attempt to separate himself from Laban when he had 12 children to feed and no means of supporting them. Thus far, the only wages Jacob had received from Laban were his wives Rachel and Leah. When Laban tried to convince him to stay a little longer, “Jacob said to him, ‘You yourself know how I have served you, and how your livestock has fared with me. For you had little before I came, and it has increased abundantly, and the LORD has blessed you wherever I have turned. But now when shall I provide for my own household also?'” (Genesis 30:29-30). Jacob realized that he had been blessed by God, but the benefit had gone to Laban instead of himself because of his agreement to work for Laban in exchange for his wives. Jacob wanted to gain his independence, but he agreed to continue working for Laban, probably because he lacked the courage to try and make it on his own.

After Jacob made a deal to continue serving him, Laban cheated Jacob out of his wages (Genesis 30:35-36), so Jacob resorted to unusual methods of producing speckled and spotted livestock in order to gain an advantage over his adversary (Genesis 30:37-39). It seems likely that Jacob’s tactics were not only unconventional, but also involved some type of sorcery. Jacob may have thought he needed to fight fire with fire so to speak, but the bottom line was that God’s blessing was all that Jacob needed to succeed and yet, he continued to do things his own way and managed to get ahead in spite of his lack of faith (Genesis 30:43).

Jesus confronted two blind men when they came to him to be healed. He asked them directly, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). Jesus wanted to know if these two men were willing to entrust their spiritual well-being to him as their Savior. The two blind men replied, “Yes, Lord” (Matthew 9:28) indicating that they recognized Jesus’ deity (G4962) and wanted to be saved. Jesus responded, “According to your faith be it done to you” (Matthew 9:29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ah’) suggests that the blind men’s faith in Christ was necessary for them to be healed. By putting their trust in Jesus, the blind men were giving their Savior permission to do a miracle on their behalf.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that Jesus “went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 9:35). Proclaiming the gospel meant that Jesus was telling everyone how to be saved. The fact that Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages suggests that he was leaving no stone unturned in his effort to inform the masses that God’s kingdom was open for business. Matthew indicated Jesus was healing every disease and every affliction and “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:35-36).

The Greek word that is translated compassion in Matthew 9:36, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) is derived from the word splagchnon (splangkh’-non). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of the tender affections. It is used always in the plural, and properly denotes ‘the physical organs of the intestines’…the word is rendered ‘tender mercy’ in Luke 1:78…and ‘inward affection’ in 2 Corinthians 7:15” (G4698). The primary connection between compassion and God’s mercy is that compassion expresses the motivation behind God’s plan of salvation. The King James version indicates that Jesus was “moved with compassion” (Matthew 9:36). In other words, the compassion Jesus felt inside himself prompted him to heal the people of their diseases and afflictions.

Jesus used the analogy of sheep without a shepherd to express the unbeliever’s need to be taught the word of God. The Greek definition of a sheep is “something that walks forward (a quadruped)” (G4263). Jesus may have chosen sheep to represent the multitudes that sought his help during his ministry on Earth because sheep were known for their tendency to go astray and had to rely on someone else to guide them to their destination. Jesus described the crowds as helpless and harassed (Matthew 9:36). The King James version indicates that Jesus had compassion “because they fainted, and were scattered abroad.” Another way of saying it might be that Jesus was moved with compassion because he saw that the fabric of the Jews’ society was being torn apart and he knew that they were in jeopardy of losing their political identity.

Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but he laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Jesus probably described the salvation of souls as a harvest because it was the result of someone’s intentional effort and occurred at a specific time each year. There was a certain amount of reliability and necessity to the process of agriculture that made it a desirable occupation. Jesus said “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” suggesting that there was an abundance of work to be done, even more than the labor market could handle. One of the reasons Jesus instructed his disciples to beg God to send out evangelists to preach the gospel was because there was a lack of faith on the part of the Jewish religious leaders (Matthew 9:34) and if the job was left to them, no one would be saved.

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’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believer 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 to me at calleen0381@gmail.com and let me know about your decision.

God bless you!

An unusual conversion

Philip, one of the other seven men besides Stephen who was selected to oversee the church in Jerusalem, was bold enough to go down to the city of Samaria and preach the gospel to them (Acts 8:5). Samaritans were despised by the Jews because of their unwelcome presence in the former capital of the nation of Israel. There were many opportunities for Philip to perform miracles in Samaria because of it’s pagan history and continued worship of idols. After the Israelites were expelled from this territory and taken into captivity by the Assyrians, Samaria was resettled by “men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim” (2 Kings 17:24). These men respected God, but did not serve him. They served their own gods by setting them up in the places where the Israelites had previously worshipped Jehovah (2 Kings 17:29-33).

The many miracles Philip performed in Samaria got the peoples’ attention and caused them to believe in Jesus. It says in Luke 8:9-13:

But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries. But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done.

Simon’s conversion appeared to be genuine, but he didn’t seem to understand that the power of God couldn’t be obtained by external means. After Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given to believers, he offered the apostles money in order to obtain the same ability (Acts 8:18-19).

Peter’s response to Simon’s request indicated there was a spiritual problem affecting Simon’s thinking. Peter said, “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, If perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23). The Greek terms that are translated gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity suggest that Simon was still in spiritual bondage even though he appeared to be saved. One way to describe what was going on would be to say that Simon’s mind had been poisoned, somewhat like a person that has been brainwashed. According to Peter, the answer to Simon’s spiritual problem was to repent and fully submit himself to God. It’s unclear whether or not Simon took that step because his final request made it seem as though his faith had not been genuine. Simon asked Peter, “Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me” (Acts 8:24).

Opposition

It wasn’t long after the church in Jerusalem got started that opposition arose against it. Peter and John were arrested shortly after healing a man that had been crippled his entire life (Acts 3:7). It says in Acts 4:1-3, “And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.” Peter and John were not discouraged by the opposition they received. In fact, Peter seemed to gain confidence in the fact that they were being treated like criminals. When he was asked how he was able to perform the miracle, Peter gave all the credit to Jesus and declared that the power of his name was responsible for the lame man’s healing (Acts 4:10).

Peter’s boldness didn’t stop with his proclamation of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. Peter went on to say there was no other name under heaven by which men could be saved (Acts 4:12). The religious leaders’ reaction is recorded in Acts 4:13-16 where it states:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.

The problem the religious leaders faced was that word had already gotten out about what had happened at the temple that day. In fact it says in Acts 4:4, “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” As a result of the Holy Spirit’s involvement in what was going on, things were happening very quickly and there didn’t seem to be any way to stop the church’s rapid growth. The religious leaders decided the best thing they could do at that point was to threaten Peter and John and hope they would take their warning seriously (Acts 4:17).

Unfortunately, Peter and John paid no heed to the warning they were given. It says in Acts 4:19-20, “But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye, for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” In other words, Peter and John felt obligated to tell people about Jesus. Their experience was so important to them that these two men were willing to risk being barred from the temple in Jerusalem. After they were released, Peter and John went back to their congregation and shared what happened to them. Then they prayed to God, “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).

The first miracle

Not only did Peter, the apostle that denied he knew Jesus three times (Matthew 26:69-75) get the privilege of preaching the first sermon after Jesus was resurrected, but Peter also got to perform the first miracle of healing. As Peter and John were entering the temple in Jerusalem, a man that Luke described as “lame from his mother’s womb” (Acts 3:2) begged the two apostles to give him some money. Then, Luke said, “And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us. And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them. Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk. And he took him by the right hand, and lift him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength, and he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:4-8).

His confidence in grabbing the lame man by the hand and lifting him to his feet suggests that Peter was operating under the influence of the Holy Spirit. Although he seemed to be acting impulsively, Peter may have been directed by God to seek out the lame man and to perform this miracle of healing ahead of time. His remark, “such as I have give I thee” was an indicator that Peter knew God wanted him to heal the lame man even though the lame man had not asked him to. The astonishing thing about this miracle of healing was that the lame man’s belief in God didn’t seem to be a factor. Luke said when Peter took the man by the right hand and lifted him up, “immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength” (Acts 3:7). Apparently, the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit was all that was needed to make it possible for the lame man to do something he never had before, walk on his own two feet.

Peter used the healing of the lame man as a springboard to launch his second sermon to the people of Jerusalem. In his follow-up message, Peter emphasized Jesus’ deity by referring to him as the “Holy One” and the “Prince of life” (Acts 3:14-15). Peter also pointed out that it was faith in the name of Jesus that caused the lame man to be able to walk. He said, “And his name through faith in his name hath made this man strong, whom ye see and know: yea, the faith which is by him hath given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:16). Peter’s identification of the source of his miraculous power as the name of Jesus makes it seem as if the mere mention of Jesus’ name made it possible for the lame man to be converted. It’s possible, the lame man put his trust in Jesus at the moment Peter said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

Preaching the gospel

The arrival of the Holy Spirit was marked by an unusual display of spiritual capability. Luke said, “And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1-4). Luke’s phrase “as the Spirit gave them utterance” meant that their spirits were completely under the control of the Holy Spirit; the words they spoke were His words, not their own (note on Acts 2:4). The fact that the Holy Spirit enabled these men to speak in languages they had not previously learned might not seem all that impressive, but it had particular relevance here because as a result of this miracle there were numerous people of different nationalities and languages that gathered together afterward who were able to pass on the gospel message they heard more effectively (Acts 2:5-12).

Peter’s Pentecostal sermon was the first instance of anyone preaching the gospel after Jesus’s death and resurrection. His message, which was probably delivered to an audience of at least ten thousand people, focused on the fulfillment of prophecy and the bold declaration that “Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:32). Peter concluded his sermon with this statement, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). Although Peter’s cutting remarks may have been offensive to some of the people that were gathered together to listen to him preach, his message resulted in about three thousand people accepting Jesus as their savior (Acts 2:41) and a remarkable transformation began to take place in Jerusalem. Luke described what was happening with a simple formula that is still followed today by some fundamentalist churches. Luke indicated the body of believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). In other words, they gathered together regularly to hear the gospel preached to them, they celebrated communion, and collectively prayed for each other.

An unusual aspect of the early church’s behavior was their communal living. Luke said, “all that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:44-45). The purpose of this type of living arrangement may have been to facilitate the preaching of the gospel. Since men were typically the only members of the household to earn a living and they had the primary responsibility of preaching the gospel in the early days of the church, sharing resources enabled more families to survive with less income coming in. Even though people weren’t forced to sell their homes and give the money to the church (Acts 5:4), there may have been a collective movement that made it seem like everyone was expected to. Luke’s account of the situation pointed out that everyone “did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,” meaning one of the side effects or end results of preaching the gospel was thankfulness and unity among believers.

An amazing turnaround

The night that Jesus was betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane Matthew reported, “Then all the disciples forsook him, and fled” (Matthew 26:56). The Greek word translated forsook, aphiemi (af-ee´-ay-mee) is used in 1 Corinthians 7:11-13 of a husband divorcing his wife and in Matthew 4:22 of James and his brother John leaving their ship and father behind to follow Jesus (G863). Therefore it seems likely, when Jesus’ disciples abandoned him in the garden of Gethsemane, they didn’t expect to ever see him again; but after several days of consecutive appearances, the disciples became convinced that Jesus was alive again, and that their mission to take his gospel to the whole world was once more their number one priority.

As the book of Acts opens, Luke describes the scene in Jerusalem as being completely turned around from the previous weeks when Jesus was arrested and crucified. After the apostles saw Jesus taken up to heaven, Luke said, “Then returned they unto Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is from Jerusalem a sabbath day’s journey. And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James, and John, and Andrew, Philip, and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James. These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Luke 1:12-14).

The phrase Luke used “continued with one accord” (Acts 1:14) means that everyone was in agreement about what they were going to do next. Today we might say, everyone was on the same page. Luke’s use of the Greek word homothumadon suggests there was an emotional element that connected the group of believers that were gathered together in the upper room. One of the components of the word homothumadon, thumos (thoo-mos´) denotes passion and can be translated as wrath. Thumos is described as “incipient displeasure fermenting in the mind” (G2372). It’s possible this group had banded together to formulate a plan of civil disobedience in order to turn the tide against the Jewish authorities that had plotted to kill Jesus.

One of the factors that changed the circumstances of Jesus’ followers was the arrival of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:7-8). Jesus used two different words to describe the power of his Father and the power that his disciples would receive through the Holy Spirit. The Father’s power, exousia means ability or the authority to do something (G1849). The power that would come upon the believers was dunamis which means force or more specifically, “miraculous power (usually by implication a miracle itself)” (G1411).

The connection between exousia power and dunamis power can be found in the root word dunamai (doo´-nam-ahee) which means “to be able or possible” (G1410). Jesus used the word dunamai when he asked two blind men that wanted him to show them mercy, “Believe ye that I am able to do this?” (Matthew 9:28). After they responded yes, Matthew reported, “Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you” (Matthew 9:29). On another occasion, Jesus told the father of a demon possessed boy, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5) meant that they had not yet received the power that was going to be available to them. As they sat huddled in their upper room, thinking about what they were going to do next, Jesus’ apostles probably had no idea that the Holy Spirit was about to turn their world upside down.

Thank you

The many miracles Jesus performed not only proved his deity, but also demonstrated his compassion toward those who suffered from various spiritual diseases. As he set out on his final trip to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee and entered into a certain village. It is possible this village was a leper colony because it says in Luke 17:12-13 that as Jesus entered the village, “there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” Jesus told these men to “Go shew yourselves unto the priests” and as they went they were healed of their disease (Luke 17:14).

There is no indication that the ten lepers Jesus healed were believers or did anything to warrant the miracle they received from him. In fact, it states in Luke 17:16 that only one of the ten men even bothered to thank Jesus for what he did. Jesus may not have been surprised that the man that did show him gratitude was not a Jew, but a Samaritan (Luke 17:18). Samaritans were hated by the Jews and considered to be half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Even though the Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility toward each other, Jesus showed that his love had no national boundaries (note on Luke 10:31-33). Jesus told the Samaritan, “Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:19).

Jesus’ statement, “thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:19) indicated the Samaritan was saved, meaning his sins were forgiven and he received eternal life. The Greek word translated whole, sozo (sode´-zo) is the same word Jesus used when he told Nicodemus, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world  through him might be saved” (John 3:17). The Samaritan’s faith was the cause or you could say driving force behind his spiritual transformation. Jesus didn’t withhold salvation from the Samaritan, even though he wasn’t entitled to it. Because the Samaritan understood he needed his sins to be forgiven and relied upon Christ for his salvation, he received eternal life.

 

Faith in action

Jesus’ departure from the world presented a problem for his ministry to be carried on because his followers were used to him doing most of the work. As his death approached, Jesus began to prepare his disciples to continue on without  him. One of the significant issues was performing miracles. Jesus taught that faith in him was the key to receiving God’s power. In addition to that, Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus taught his disciples that unbelief was the opposite of faith (Matthew 17:17) and warned them that their exposure to false teaching had damaged their ability to trust him and would therefore, hinder their spiritual growth (Matthew 17:20). Jesus used the limited time he had on Earth to correct doctrinal errors in the Jews’ belief system and taught his disciples the truth about God’s kingdom. On at least one occasion, Jesus gave his disciples an opportunity to exercise their faith by sending them out to minister on their own (Luke 10:17).

When Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was sick, he intentionally waited two days to go to his home in Bethany (John 11:6), “Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again” (John 11:7). Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead (John 11:14), so there was no need for him to go right away, but there was also no need for him to wait two days if his plan was to raise Lazarus from the dead. The delay in Jesus’ departure was probably due to everyone’s expectation that he would fix things for Martha and Mary, rather than them doing something about it on their own.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21). Essentially, what Martha was saying was that it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus had died. She was blaming him for not being there. Jesus’ response was meant to ignite Martha’s faith. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Martha knew Lazarus was saved and was a believer herself, but she wasn’t using her faith to deal with her difficult circumstance.

Jesus refreshed Martha’s faith by giving her a quick lesson on the topic of life after death:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (ESV)

What Jesus wanted Martha to understand was that her brother Lazarus was still alive, he just wasn’t living in his body. Apparently, Martha didn’t fully grasp the concept of life after death, but she did believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, Israel’s Messiah.

When they arrived at Lazarus’ grave, which was a cave with a stone blocking the entrance, “Jesus said, Take away the stone” (John 11:39, ESV). Martha’s reaction revealed the barrier to her belief. “Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?'” (John 11:39-40, ESV). Jesus’ statement showed there was an element of Martha’s faith that was missing. She was not willing to do what he told her to. In order to be truly committed to Christ, Martha had to act, she had to demonstrate her faith through obedience.

After the stone was removed, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43). Another way of saying this would be, Lazarus, get out here! When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, he was not calling him back from the dead. It is likely that Lazarus had already been revived by God at the time the stone was rolled away from his grave. The reason why Jesus cried out with a loud voice was so that everyone would know he wasn’t calling Lazarus out of the grave; he wanted him to come out of the cave. The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection was not the result of Jesus’ supernatural ability to bring him back to life. It was the result of Martha’s faith filled obedience to roll away the stone.

Justification

One of the advantages God built into his plan of salvation was a provision for all sinners to be acquitted of every charge brought against them when God judges the world. In other words, by their admission of personal wrong doing, sinners are by default guilty, but through the justification provided them, they are declared innocent by God (1344). In order to qualify for this justification, a person must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and accept his payment of their debt to God through his death on the cross. Once justification takes place, the sinner is awarded eternal life and entrance into God’s kingdom. The believer’s one-way ticket to heaven can only be redeemed on an individual basis and is thought to be irrevocable after salvation has been received.

As the Savior of the World, Jesus was given authority over demonic forces and enabled to accomplish certain tasks on earth that no mortal man was able to. For instance, Jesus rebuked a devil that possessed a lunatic boy and caused him to depart from him (Matthew 17:18) and he restored the sight of a man born blind (John 9:7). In addition to the many miracles he performed, Jesus also taught his followers about the kingdom of heaven and forgave the sins of people considered to be hardened criminals (John 8:11). In preparation for his departure, Jesus sent out seventy of his disciples to spread the good news that Israel’s Messiah had arrived. After they returned, the disciples reported, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name” (Luke 10:17).

Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand the significance of the justification that he was making available to everyone. Although they had the power to perform miracles because of Jesus’ authority in the spiritual realm, the primary purpose of justification was so that people could go to heaven when they died. Jesus explained, “I  beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall be any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20). The book of life that Jesus referred to is a permanent record of each person’s salvation (Revelation 3:5).

Following Jesus’ interaction with his disciples, a lawyer asked him the question, “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10:25). Essentially, what this man was asking was how he could get to heaven without being justified by Jesus. The lawyer understood God’s commandments and thought he had lived according to them. He basically stated that he needed to love God and his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:27). It says in Luke 10:29, “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). Jesus used the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) to show this man that it wasn’t enough for him to just refrain from harming others, he needed to demonstrate his love to anyone in need in order to earn his own way into heaven.