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.

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.

Why did this happen?

As Jesus was leaving the temple in Jerusalem, “he saw a man which was blind from birth” (John 9:1). Most likely, this man was begging by the roadside. Because he had been blind since birth, his condition would have been considered to be the result of a sin his parents had committed or perhaps, punishment for a sin that he had committed while he was in his mother’s womb or even while he was in a preexistent state (note on John 9:1). Most people would have shunned this man and treated him as if he were a nuisance to society. As they passed by, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). In other words, the disciples wanted to know, why did this happen to him?

Jesus’  response to his disciples question revealed that the man’s blindness was not some sort of punishment, but an opportunity for God to work in his life. Jesus said, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in his life” (John 9:3). The Greek term translated manifest, phaneroo (fan-er-o’-o) is derived from the word phaneros (fan-er-os’) which means “shining that is apparent” (5318). Jesus went on to say, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9:4-5). The Greek term translated light, phos (foce) means “to shine or make manifest especially by rays” (5457). A similar term, phemi (fay-mee’) means “to show or make known one’s thoughts that is speak or say” (5346).

A primary objective of Jesus’ ministry was to make the truth known about God’s character and his attitude toward sinners. The Jewish religious leaders tried to convince people that a sinless life was possible and that their behavior was the perfect example of how to live a godly life. In reality, Jesus was the only sinless person ever to exist and he was continually harassed by the Pharisees and scribes because he wouldn’t do things the way they wanted him to. When Jesus healed the man that was born blind, he did it in such a way that it was obvious that the man’s faith was involved or the healing couldn’t have taken place. It says in John 9:6-7 that Jesus, “spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, and said to him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is interpreted, Sent).”

The blind man demonstrated his faith or belief that his blindness was not a permanent condition when he did what Jesus told him to. The light that Jesus shed on this man’s situation was that he had the ability to see even though he was born blind. The truth of the matter was that God didn’t want to punish this man, but to make him whole. As a result of his healing, the man was questioned by the Pharisees in order to get some evidence against Jesus because in order to heal the blind man he made clay on the Sabbath, something they considered to be against the law. The man that was healed said this about Jesus, “Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, he could do nothing” (John 9:32-33).

Unbelief

The day after Jesus’ mountaintop transfiguration experience, he and his three disciples, James, John, and Peter returned to find the remaining disciples in the midst of a conflict with the Jewish scribes and a man whose son was demon possessed. The man told Jesus he had asked his disciples to cast out the demon, but they couldn’t do it (Luke 9:40). The implication being that it was impossible for his disciples to perform such a miracle. Jesus’ response to the man indicated that the reason the healing didn’t take place was not because his disciples lacked the ability, but because of the man’s unbelief (Luke 9:41). Jesus told the man, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth” (Mark 9:23). In other words, Jesus was telling this man that he had to have faith, reliance upon Jesus for salvation, in order for his son to be healed.

Jesus himself was limited by the unbelief of the people he was ministering to in his hometown of Nazareth. The people rejected Jesus because they knew him as the son of Joseph and Mary. It says in Matthew 13:54-58:

And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house. And he did not many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

It appears that even some of Jesus’ own disciples didn’t believe he was their Messiah. After casting the demon out of the man’s son, it says in Matthew 17:19-20:

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, 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.

Apparently, the amount of faith it takes to receive salvation is miniscule compared to the power that one receives as a result of having it. The Greek word Jesus used when he told his disciples they needed to have “faith” was pistis, which means persuasion (4102). “It is related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ.” One of the reasons some of Jesus’ disciples may not have believed in him at this time was because their faith was being blocked by Satan. After he had explained to them the necessity of faith, Jesus told his disciples “Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men. But they understood not this saying, and it was hid from them, that they perceived it not: and they feared to ask him of that saying” (Luke 9:44-45).

 

Great faith

Jesus focused his attention primarily on the population of Jews that lived in the areas of Israel that were occupied by Rome. These areas were known as the Decapolis, Tetrarchy of Phillip, and Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas. Among the Jews were numerous Roman soldiers that enforced the laws of Rome and kept the Jewish people from rebelling against the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar. Some of these Roman soldiers were influenced by Jesus’ teaching and came to believe that he was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54). One of the incidents, when Jesus interacted with a Roman soldier, is recorded in Matthew 8:5-13. In Matthew’s account, the man, who was called a centurion because he was an officer in charge of 100 soldiers, came to Jesus asking him for a favor, “And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” (Matthew 8:6). Although it is not stated, it is very likely that the centurion’s servant was a Jew. Jesus responded to this man’s request by stating, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7).

The centurion didn’t want Jesus to come to his house. He went to Jesus to ask him to do a miracle for him, but this Roman soldier understood something that no one in the Jewish population seemed to get. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” (Matthew 8:8). Jesus’ authority as the Son of God made it possible for him to command the spiritual realm by merely speaking a word. The apostle John described Jesus as the living word of God and testified that, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Because the centurion was a man with authority and was able to command others to do what he wanted them to, he realized that it was possible for Jesus to heal his servant without even seeing him. The centurion explained, “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth: and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Jesus’ reaction to the centurion’s profession of faith demonstrated that he was not concerned about who asked for help, but only that there was a genuine belief that he was capable of doing what was being requested of him. Jesus said of the centurion, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). Jesus’s criticism of his own people was followed by an indictment against them that their inheritance as descendants of Abraham would be given to those that truly believed in him. Jesus declared to the Jews, “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12). Afterward, Jesus concluded the incident by rewarding the centurion for his great faith, and said to him, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (Matthew 8:13).