God’s protection

King David revealed some of his most intimate moments with the LORD in the psalms that he wrote which were both songs and prayers. Psalm 61 in particular contained a heartfelt plea for God’s protection and blessing on David’s life. David wrote:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy. (Psalm 61:1-3)

The Hebrew word that David used that is translated hear in Psalm 61:1, shamahʿ (shaw-mahˊ) means to hear intelligently and conveys the idea of discernment or a comprehension of the spiritual meaning of a message. David said that he called to God from the end of the earth, suggesting that there was a long distance between them or perhaps that they were spiritually separated from each other. The Hebrew word that is translated end, qatseh (kaw-tsehˊ) means an extremity (H7097) and is derived from the word qatsah (kaw-tsawˊ) which means “to cut off; (figurative) to destroy” (H7096). David may have thought that the end of the earth was a place where God wasn’t present with him or at least that God’s presence couldn’t be felt by him and so David needed to call out to the LORD to make him aware of his situation.

David described his heart as being faint. In the Hebrew context, the heart was not an organ that pumped blood through one’s body, but referred to “some aspect of the immaterial inner self or being since the heart was considered to be the seat of one’s inner nature as well as one of its components. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). When David said that his heart was faint, he meant that it was disconnected from the spiritual source of its strength. David may have been experiencing spiritual warfare and was seeking God’s protection from his spiritual enemy, the devil.

David’s statement, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2) was likely connected to the Israelites’ experience in the desert when Moses brought water out of a rock for them (Exodus 17:6).  The Apostle Paul explained in his first letter to the Corinthians that this rock spiritually represented Christ. Paul said:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

David indicated that the rock was higher than he was. The Hebrew word ruwm (room) means to be high in the context of being exalted or to be brought to a position of honor (H7311). The Hebrew word that is translated lead in Psalm 61:2, nachah (naw-khawˊ) means “to lead, to guide, usually in the right direction or on the proper path…This term is also used metaphorically to represent spiritual guidance in righteousness (Psalm 5:8[9]; 27:11; 139:24)” (H5148).

David’s petition went beyond physical protection and dealt with an eternal state of well-being that he knew only God could provide. David said:

For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

Prolong the life of the king;
    may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
    appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him! (Psalm 61:5-7)

A vow is a voluntary promise that is made to God which cannot be annulled (H5088). Numbers 30:2 states, “If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” To a certain extent, a vow is the equivalent of a covenant except that it is initiated by a human being instead of by God. A vow is like a legal contract in that it cannot be broken without some penalty. David said that God had heard his vows. In other words, David’s vows had been executed and were considered to be in effect. As a result, David had been “given the heritage of those who fear your name” (Psalm 61:5).

The heritage that David was referring to was most likely connected to the birth of Israel’s Messiah. David seemed to be talking about an eternal kingdom that he would be the leader of. David asked the LORD to “prolong the life of the king” and David wanted his life to “endure to all generations” (Psalm 61:6). His request that “he be enthroned forever before God” suggests that David was talking about an eternal kingdom that does not yet exist.

Jesus was referred to as “the Son of David” on numerous occasions (Matthew 9:27; 12:23; 15:22; 20:30; 21:9) and Matthew’s genealogical record of Jesus birth showed that he was a direct descendant of King David (Matthew 1:1). Surprisingly, Jesus never talked about his royal heritage and he seemed reluctant to take on the role of a king. Jesus’ title of “King of kings and Lord of lords” is only mentioned in the book of Revelation in connection with his second coming (Revelation 19:11-16) and it marks an important shift in the power structure on earth. After Jesus returns to earth, there will be a world war that will end in the destruction of Satan’s armies and “the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan” will be bound in a bottomless pit for one thousand years (Revelation 19:19-20:2). During that thousand years, there will be a kingdom on earth that will be ruled by Jesus and his followers (Revelation 20:4), but it doesn’t seem to be associated with the nation of Israel. Therefore, it seems likely that David’s petition to be enthroned forever before God had something to do with the New Jerusalem that will come down out of heaven after the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-21:2).

David concluded his prayer to God with this statement:

So will I ever sing praises to your name,
    as I perform my vows day after day. (Psalm 61:8)

David connected never ending worship of God with the daily performance of his vows. This seems to suggest that vows had an eternal significance in the Hebrew culture and that David saw his worship of God continuing after his death.

A religious group called the Sadducees expected Jesus to clarify the eternal nature of marriage vows when they asked him a hypothetical question about a woman that had married seven brothers, but had no children from any of them. Matthew’s gospel tells us:

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.” But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33)

Jesus made it clear in his response to the Sadducees that it is not our relationship to others that matters after the resurrection, but our relationship to God. Jesus’ comment that God is not the God of the dead, but of the living, pointed out that the resurrection of the dead does not result in everyone receiving eternal life. The reason why the crowd was astonished when Jesus said this was because they believed that all of Abraham’s physical descendants would receive an eternal inheritance from God. The fact of the matter was that the Jews would be judged along with everyone else and some would experience a second and final death after the resurrection (Revelation 20:11-15).

Jesus’ instructions to his twelve disciples before he sent them out to preach the gospel contained an admonition that focused their attention on the kind of personal protection that was necessary for their work and who it was that could provide it. Jesus said:

“So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:26-33)

The Greek word that is translated acknowledges in Matthew 10:32, homologeo (hom-ol-og-ehˊ-o) means “to ascent, i.e. covenant” and “to speak the same with another, e.g. to say the same things” (G3670). Jesus said that everyone that acknowledges him here on earth will be acknowledged by his Father who is in heaven and whoever denies him will likewise be denied by his Father. Therefore, there is a type of covenant that is initiated by us while we are still alive that involves God and that covenant will have an eternal effect.

David’s final statement in Psalm 61, “So will I ever sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day” (vs. 8), seems to suggest that the performance of David’s vow was a continuous action that transcended time, meaning that David’s covenant with God began at a specific point in time while David was still alive and then continued throughout eternity. The Hebrew word that David used that is translated perform in Psalm 61:8 is shalam (shaw-lamˊ). Shalam means “to be safe, to be completed. The primary meaning is to be safe or uninjured in mind or body (Job 8:6; 9:4). This word is normally used when God is keeping his people safe. In its simple form, this verb also means to be completed or to be finished” (H7999). Given this context, it seems unusual that David would say that he would perform his vows, but one aspect of the meaning of Shalam is that of reciprocity. David may have actually been saying that he would reciprocate God’s vow to him on a continual basis until it reached a point of completion;  perhaps when David received eternal life or was resurrected from the dead.

God’s personal protection of David’s mind and body was linked to two of God’s characteristics that were also associated with Jesus’ ministry. David said of himself, “May he be enthroned forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him” (Psalm 61:7). The Hebrew word that is translated steadfast love, cheçed (khehˊ-sed) is one of the most important terms in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics. “In general, one may identify three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: ‘strength,’ ‘steadfastness,’ and ‘love.’ Any understanding of the word that fails to suggest all three inevitably loses some of its richness. ‘Love’ by itself easily becomes sentimentalized or universalized apart from the covenant. Yet ‘strength’ or ‘steadfastness’ suggests only a fulfillment of a legal or other obligation. The word refers primarily to mutual and reciprocal rights and obligations between the parties of a relationship (especially Yahweh and Israel). But cheçed is not only a matter of obligation; it is also of generosity. It is not only a matter of loyalty, but also mercy. The weaker party seeks the protection and blessing of the patron and protector, but he may not lay claim to it. The stronger party remains committed to his promise, but retains his freedom, especially with regard to the manner in which he will implement those promises. Chesed implies personal involvement and commitment in a relationship beyond the rule of law” (H2617).

The characteristic of faithfulness crosses over the boundary between human and divine capability. The Hebrew word that is translated faithfulness in Psalm 61:7, ʾemeth (ehˊ-meth) which means stability (H571) is derived from the word ʾaman (aw-manˊ). Aman means to trust or believe and also signifies the element of being “trustworthy.” “Considering something to be trustworthy is an act of full trusting and believing. This is the emphasis in the first biblical occurrence of aman: ‘And [Abram] believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6). The meaning here is that Abram was full of trust and confidence in God, and that he did not fear Him (v. 1). It was not primarily God’s words that he believed, but in God Himself. Nor does the text tell us that Abram believed God so as to accept what he said as ‘true’ and ‘trustworthy’ (cf. Genesis 45:26), but simply that he believed in God. In other words, Abram came to experience a personal relationship to God rather than an impersonal relationship with His promises” (H539).

The connection between God’s personal protection and our belief in him was often the focus of Jesus’ attention in the miracles that he performed. On one occasion, Jesus asked two blind men that wanted to be healed, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” After they answered, “Yes, Lord,” Matthew tells us, “Then he touched their eyes, saying. ‘According to your faith be it done to you’” (Matthew 9:28-29). The Greek word that is translated according, kata (kat-ahˊ) expresses the relation in which one thing stands toward another and speaks of a standard of comparison or something that is conformable to something else (G2596). From that perspective, Jesus was saying that his ability to heal the blind men was dependent on their faith. In other words, the blind men’s faith was dictating what Jesus could or couldn’t do for them.

Numbers 5:5-8 deals with the issue of breaking faith with the LORD. It states:

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, When a man or woman commits any of the sins that people commit by breaking faith with the Lord, and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong, adding a fifth to it and giving it to him to whom he did the wrong. But if the man has no next of kin to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution for wrong shall go to the Lord for the priest, in addition to the ram of atonement with which atonement is made for him.

According to this passage, breaking faith with the LORD occurs when a person commits any sin against God or another person. When this happens, the sin has to be atoned for so that the relationship can be restored.

The Hebrew word that is translated restitution in Numbers 5:7-8, shuwb (shoob) means to return or go back. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). Numbers 5:6-7 indicates that when a person breaks faith with the Lord, “and that person realizes his guilt, he shall confess his sin that he has committed. And he shall make full restitution for his wrong.” The requirement of making full restitution was likely intended to signify a complete change of heart, something similar to being born again in that the sinner was expected to demonstrate a different type of behavior than what that person had previously displayed.

Aaron and his sons were instructed to say a blessing to the people of Israel that reflected the ideal state that God wanted his people to experience as a result of having a relationship with him. Moses told Aaron, “Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:23-26).

The Hebrew word that is translated peace in Numbers 6:26, shalom (shaw-lomeˊ) means safe and “signifies a state in which one can feel at ease, comfortable with someone. The relationship is one of harmony and wholeness, which is the opposite of the state of strife and war” (H7965). Peace is a key characteristic of the New Covenant that Jesus established shortly before he died on the cross. Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus linked the peace that he was giving his disciples to the condition of their hearts. He told them not to be troubled or afraid because he knew their hearts were prone to that type of condition and the only way that it could be prevented was by having a harmonized relationship with God (G1515).

Forgiveness

Jesus warned his disciples of a future day of judgment and said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37). The Greek word that is translated give account, logos (log’-os) refers to something said including the thought, “also reasoning (the mental faculty) or motive; by extension a computation” (G3056). What this seems to suggest is that everything we say is somehow being recorded and when we stand before God to be judged he will use our own statements to determine our innocence or guilt in the things we have done during our lifetimes.

Jesus indicated that people who are bound in sin are loosed by the preaching of the gospel (Matthew 16:16-19) and said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:24-27). The Greek word that is translated save, sozo (sode’-zo) speaks “specifically of salvation from eternal death, sin, and the punishment and misery consequent to sin” (G4982). The point Jesus was making was that it is impossible for someone to save himself. Our sins must be forgiven or we will be separated from God for eternity.

Jesus taught his followers to ask God for forgiveness (Matthew 6:12) and promised them, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Peter asked Jesus, “how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22). Jesus’ response was meant to indicate that there is no limit to the amount of forgiveness that we can give or receive because God’s grace is sufficient to cover all sins. Jesus used the parable of the unforgiving servant to illustrate his point. He said:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

Jesus explained that forgiveness was not based on the amount of debt one owed, but the creditor’s willingness to show compassion to another human being. Jesus said that we must forgive our brother from the heart. In other words, we need to be a compassionate person in order to express compassion to others.

Joseph’s encounter with his brothers when they came to Egypt to buy food during the famine showed that he was initially hard hearted toward them and treated them cruelly (Genesis 42:7-17), but his attitude changed when he saw their remorse. Genesis 21-22 states:

Then they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has some upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”

Reuben and the others realized they were guilty of a sin against their brother and they believed God was holding them accountable for it, but they didn’t know that Joseph was the Egyptian governor they were talking to and that he understood everything they were saying because he was using an interpreter to speak to them (Genesis 42:23). After hearing their confession of guilt, it says in Genesis 42:24 that Joseph “turned away from them and wept.”

Joseph’s lamentation for his brothers demonstrated that he felt compassion for them. Instead of making them all stay in prison until their brother Benjamin was brought to Egypt, Joseph only took one of the brothers. “And Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, and to replace every man’s money in his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey” (Genesis 42:25). Joseph’s change of heart was a result of him seeing and hearing the misery of his brothers’ guilt. In his parable of the unforgiving servant, Jesus said, “out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt” (Matthew 18:27). The Greek word that is translated pity, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy (G4697). “Splagchnon are the bowels which were regarded by the Hebrews as the seat of tender affections” (G4698).

The Greek word that is translated mercy in Matthew 18:33, eleeo (el-eh-eh’-o) “means to feel sympathy with the misery of another, especially such sympathy as manifests itself in act (G1653). Eleeo is derived from the word eleos (el’-eh-os). “Eleos is the free gift for the forgiveness of sins and is related to the misery that sin brings. God’s tender sense of our misery displays itself in His efforts to lessen and entirely remove it…It is used of men; for since God is merciful to them, He would have them show mercy to one another” (G1656). After the servant who owed ten thousand talents refused to forgive his fellow servant, Jesus said, “Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailors, until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:32-34).

Jesus talked about forgiveness in the context of salvation. The Greek word eleos “is used of God, who is rich in mercy, Ephesians 2:4, and who has provided salvation for all men” (G1656). The act of salvation is sometimes described as being converted. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word that is translated turn, strepho (stref’-o) means to turn quite around or reverse (G4762) and is similar to the Hebrew word shuwb (shoob). The basic meaning of the verb shuwb is movement back to the point of departure. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725).

The Hebrew word shuwb is used in Genesis 42:24 where it says of Joseph, “Then he turned away from them and wept. And he returned to them and spoke to them.” It seems likely that when Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept he was converted; his heart was changed and he was able to forgive his brothers. After that, Joseph showed his brothers mercy by letting them go back home, returning the money they paid for their grain, and giving them provisions for their journey (Genesis 42:25-26). Joseph’s merciful actions prompted his brothers to fear that God’s involvement in their situation would lead to their undoing. When one of the brothers saw that his money was in the mouth of his sack, “He said to his brothers, ‘My money has been put back; here it is in the mouth of my sack!’ At this their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?'”

Joseph’s brothers were fearful because they knew they were not being treated the way they should have been. The unusual circumstances of their attempt to buy food in Egypt caused these men’s hearts to fail them. In other words, Joseph’s brothers were caught off guard or you might say tripped up by what was happening to them. Joseph’s course treatment and then his reversal by sending them back home with their money hidden in their bags was not only confusing, but also detrimental to his brothers’ spiritual well-being because they were unaware of what was going on and didn’t know why the Egyptian governor (Joseph) was treating them the way he did.

Jesus warned his disciples about causing others to sin. He said, “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). One of the definitions of the Greek word that is translated sin in this verse is “to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey” (G4624). Joseph’s brothers and their families were suffering because of the famine in the land of Canaan and needed food to sustain their lives. Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers and his demand that they bring their brother Benjamin to Egypt to prove they weren’t lying to him made it more difficult for them to return to Egypt when their food ran out a second time (Genesis 42:38).

Jesus’ reference to little ones who believe in him in Matthew 18:6 was meant to point out that any person who has faith in God is considered to be just as important and valuable to God as Jesus is. Even though Jesus used the example of a child when he talked about little ones who believe in him (Matthew 18:2, 5), it’s possible he was talking about new or immature believers. He said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10-11) and then he went on to say:

What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18_12-14)

Jesus instructed his disciples to not go among the Gentiles, “but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6) and told the Canaanite woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Therefore, it seems likely that the little ones Jesus was talking about when he warned his disciples not to cause them to sin were the Jews that were supposed to inherit God’s kingdom.

In his parable of the lost sheep, Jesus asked, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them had gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” (Matthew 18:12). The Greek word that is translated gone astray, planao (plan-ah’-o) has to do with deception and is used in Revelation 12:9 with a definite article “as a title of the Devil” (G4105). One of the reasons believers go astray is because the devil deceives them and makes them believe a lie (Ephesians 4:14). Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:25-32).

Joseph’s harsh treatment of his brothers may have been warranted, but it wasn’t helpful and caused a situation that was already difficult to become even worse. Joseph could have revealed his identity to his brothers when he first saw them and let them know that he was put in his position to take care of their physical needs, but instead Joseph took advantage of his brother’s guilty consciences and tortured them into thinking they were unworthy of God’s mercy. Jesus told his disciples, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Gaining your brother meant that you had won him to Christ or that he had been saved (G2770). Jesus went on to say, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).

Spiritual bondage seems to be associated with a lack of forgiveness, except that the person that suffers is not the one who has committed the sin, but the one who was sinned against. Like the unforgiving servant in Jesus’ parable, Joseph was unwilling to forgive his brothers after God delivered him from prison and placed him a powerful position in Egypt. Instead of forgiving them, Joseph used the position God gave him to torment his brothers and to capitalize on their guilty consciences. Even though he didn’t change his behavior immediately, Joseph did begin to show signs of tenderheartedness when he “turned away from them and wept” (Genesis 42:24) after he overheard his brothers admitting, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother” (Genesis 42:21).

The mission

Jesus associated the salvation of souls with a harvest that required laborers to reap the crop and he told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37). The laborers that Jesus was referring to were men that were called to preach the gospel. Jesus chose twelve apostles that were given the mission of informing “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” that the kingdom of heaven was approaching (Matthew 10:6-7). According to Matthew, the names of Jesus’ apostles were, “Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector, James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him” (Matthew 10:2-4).

Jesus gave his twelve apostles specific instructions about how they were to conduct themselves while they were out preaching (Matthew 10:7-14). The apostles were thought of as ambassadors of the Gospel and were delegated miraculous powers that they were at liberty to use as they pleased (G1849/G652). Jesus instructed his apostles to, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). The mission the apostles received was primarily concerned with the well-being of God’s chosen people. God had promised to send the Jews a Messiah that would save their nation from its spiritual destitution (G622).

Jesus’ program of discipleship was not simply learning the doctrine of Christ, but getting to know Christ Himself and applying the knowledge so as to walk differently from the rest of the world (G3129). Jesus told his disciples to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” and said, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). Jesus made it clear that the supernatural powers that the apostles were given were not meant to be used as a means of gaining wealth. He told them, “Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food” (Matthew 10:9-10).

Jesus indicated that his apostles weren’t expected to benefit materially from the work they were doing for God’s kingdom. The principle that Jesus wanted his disciples to demonstrate to the Jews was the grace of God. Jesus said, “You received without paying; give without pay” (Matthew 10:8) in order to point out that salvation was a gift from God and should not be offered on the basis of merit or any other condition. Jesus said, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town” (Matthew 10:14-15).

One of the characteristics of the covenant that God made with Abraham was that it provided a means of judging the world. God told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Before he sent his son to Paddan-aram to get a wife, Isaac blessed Jacob and gave him this benediction, “God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). God confirmed his covenant with Jacob and told him, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:13-15).

God said he would bring Jacob back to the land, indicating that he would cause Jacob to return to the course that he had departed from when he left his father’s household for Paddan-aram. The Hebrew word that is translated return, shuwb (shoob) is associated with having a relationship with God. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (H7725). Jacob’s experience in Paddan-aram seems to suggest that he didn’t have a relationship with God. Three times Jacob agreed to serve his uncle Laban in exchange for possessions that he probably could have obtained much more easily if he had been willing to accept God’s help. It wasn’t until Jacob “saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before” that he took action to leave his uncle’s home (Genesis 31:2, 17-18).

Genesis 31:1-3 states: “Now Jacob heard that the sons of Laban were saying, ‘Jacob has taken all that was our father’s and from what was our father’s he has gained all this wealth.’ And Jacob saw that Laban did not regard him with favor as before. Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.'” One way of interpreting God’s message would be that he was telling Jacob to go back where he belonged. Jacob had been away from his hometown for 20 years and his behavior and mannerisms had likely changed quite a bit as a result of living with his uncle Laban. After gathering together his wives and children and packing up all of his belongings and it says that “Jacob tricked Laban the Aramean, by not telling him that he intended to flee. He fled with all that he had and arose and crossed the Euphrates, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead” (Genesis 31:20-21).

The Hebrew word that is translated tricked in Genesis 31:20 is leb (labe) which means the heart. In the Hebrew language,”The heart includes not only the motives, feelings, affections, and desires, but also the will, the aims, the principles, the thoughts, and the intellect of man. In fact, it embraces the whole inner man, the head never being regarded as the seat of intelligence. While it is the source of all action and the center of all thought and feeling the heart is also described as receptive to the influences both from the outer world and from God Himself” (H3820). Jacob’s action of fleeing Laban’s home without telling him suggests that he didn’t trust his uncle or was too weak to stand up to him. It could be that Jacob lacked confidence because he was riddled with guilt about having stolen his brother’s birthright (Genesis 25:31) and deceiving his father so that he would bless him instead of his twin brother Esau (Genesis 27:19).

The LORD’s instruction to “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred” (Genesis 31:3) implies that God wanted Jacob to go back to his father’s house and deal with the conflicts that he had left unresolved. Genesis 31:21 tells us that Jacob “set his face” toward the location of Isaac’s camp, indicating that Jacob intended to obey the LORD’s command, but as he was fleeing, “Laban overtook Jacob” (Genesis 31:25) and confronted him with a crime, putting Jacob on the defensive.

And Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done, that you have tricked me and driven away my daughters like captives of the sword? Why did you flee secretly and trick me, and did not tell me, so that I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre? And why did you not permit me to kiss my sons and my daughters farewell? Now you have done foolishly. It is in my power to do you harm. But the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to say anything to Jacob, either good or bad.’ And now you have gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house, but why did you steal my gods? (Genesis 31:26-30)

Jacob didn’t know that his wife Rachel had stolen her father’s idols and responded to Laban’s accusation by declaring, “Anyone with whom you find your gods shall not live” (Genesis 31:32).

Jacob’s rash behavior was compounded by the fact that he didn’t know how to control his emotions. Jacob became angry and berated Laban for chasing him down and falsely accusing him (Genesis 31:36). In the end, the only way Laban could save face was to make a covenant with Jacob. “Then Laban said to Jacob, ‘See this heap and the pillar, which I have set between you and me. This heap is a witness, and the pillar a witness, that I will not pass over this heap to you, and you will not pass over this heap and this pillar to me, to do harm” (Genesis 31:51-52). Even though Jacob and Laban agreed to live harmoniously with each other, the nations that they established, Israel and Syria were in constant conflict with each other throughout the Old Testament of the Bible and remain bitter enemies to this day.

When Jesus sent out his twelve apostles “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:6), he told them, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Mathew 10:16). The conflict that Jesus expected his disciples to encounter had to do with the deception of false prophets. Jesus had previously warned his followers to “beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15). In order to discern the motives of their adversaries, Jesus told his disciples to “be as wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). In other words, the apostles needed to keep mentally alert and use their cognitive faculties to outwit the false teachers that wanted to undermine their message of hope.

Jesus’ admonition to be “innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16) may have been a reference to the Holy Spirit’s involvement in the salvation of souls. The Greek word that is translated innocent, akeraios (ak-er’-ah-yos) means unmixed (G185) and is derived from the word kerannumi (ker-an’-noo-mee) which means to mingle (G2767). What Jesus may have meant by the phrase innocent as doves was that his disciples shouldn’t interfere with or try to take the place of the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s heart. The primary objective of the twelve apostles mission was to bear witness or more succinctly, to proclaim the truths of the gospel as revealed to them by Jesus Christ during his three-year ministry on Earth.

Jesus warned his disciples that men would deliver them over to courts and flog them in their synagogues, “and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you” (Matthew 10:17-19). Jesus didn’t downplay the danger associated with his disciples mission, but encouraged them to stay one step ahead of their enemies. He said, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matthew 10:23).

Jesus’ reference to his return to Earth suggests that the mission he was sending his apostles on would not be completed in their lifetimes. It could be that Jesus wanted his disciples to focus on the bigger picture and was concerned about their willingness to stay at the task if their lives were in constant danger. Jesus said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:28-31).

One of the motivations Jesus gave his disciples for expending their lives for the sake of preaching the gospel was that it would result in special recognition from God. Jesus said, “So everyone who acknowledges me before men. I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but who ever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). The Greek word Jesus used that is translated acknowledge, homologeo (hom-ol-og-eh’-o) literally means “to speak the same thing” (G3670). What this seems to suggest is that a believer’s profession of faith needed to be validated by the things that he said to other people about God.

When the LORD told Jacob to return to the land of his fathers, God said that he would be with him (Genesis 31:3). What that meant was that Jacob would be protected from harm. God was assuring Jacob that he and his family would make it to their destination safely and he would take care of any problems they encountered along the way. God protected Jacob when spoke to Laban in a dream and warned him to “be careful not to say anything to Jacob either good or bad” (Genesis 31:24). Apparently, Laban was going to try and stop Jacob from leaving again and the LORD intervened so that he wouldn’t do that.

Jacob’s interaction with Laban seems to suggest that he didn’t believe God would protect him. Jacob told Laban that he fled without saying goodbye because he was afraid that Laban was going to take his daughters away from him by force (Genesis 31:31). Jacob referred to the LORD in an impersonal way when he said, “If the God of my father, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, had not been on my side, surely now you would have sent me away empty handed” (Genesis 31:42). Later, Jacob affirmed a covenant with Laban by swearing “by the Fear of his father Isaac” (Genesis 31:33), indicating that it was the authority of his father’s faith in God and not his own that made their agreement binding.

Jacob didn’t go so far as to deny God, but his behavior clearly demonstrated that he wasn’t trusting in the LORD. The Greek word that is translated denies in Matthew 10:33, arneomai (ar-neh’-om-ahee) means to contradict with regard to one’s speech (G720). When Laban confronted him, Jacob denied taking his uncle’s gods. Jacob even became angry and berated Laban for making a false accusation against him, but the idols were actually hidden in his wife’s saddle (Genesis 31: 34-35). Even though Jacob was unaware of what Rachel had done, he was responsible for her actions and deserved to be punished for the crime.

Jesus told his disciples, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:34-36). The Greek word that is translated to set, dichazo (dee-khad’-zo) means to cut apart or divide in two (G1369). Figuratively, dichazo means to alienate oneself, something that Jacob seemed to do on a regular basis.

The conflict between Jacob and Laban was inevitable because these two men stood on opposite sides of God’s kingdom. Jacob was the designated heir of God’s covenant with Abraham and Laban was doing everything he could to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. Even though Laban managed to delay Jacob’s return to his father’s household for 20 years, Jacob eventually broke free from Laban’s control and seemed to be determined to make a fresh start when he set his face toward the hill country of Gilead (Genesis 31:21). The only problem was that Jacob still wasn’t ready to submit himself to God’s will and thought he needed to stay on Laban’s good side and agreed to make a covenant with him (Genesis 31:53).

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

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

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

God bless you!

Destiny

Jacob wasn’t satisfied with his circumstance of being the youngest of Isaac’s twin sons. Therefore, when his brother was in a vulnerable position, Jacob took advantage of the situation and forced Esau to give him his birthright (Genesis 25:31). Afterward, Jacob tricked his father into blessing him instead Esau so that he could obtain the benefit of being his father’s favored son (Genesis 27:19). Even though Jacob used deceptive tactics, he did exactly what God expected him to and as a result became the next in line to inherit his grandfather Abraham’s eternal estate.

Isaac spoke these words to Jacob before he sent him to Padan-aram to get a wife. “God almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. May he give the blessing of Abraham to you and to your offspring with you, that you may take possession of the land of your sojournings that God gave to Abraham!” (Genesis 28:3-4). The Hebrew word that is translated take possession, yaresh (yaw-raysh’) means “to occupy (by driving out previous tenants, and possessing in their place); by implication to seize, to rob, to inherit; also to expel, to impoverish, to ruin” (H3423).

One of the things that differentiated Jacob from his brother Esau was that he was willing to do anything that was necessary to advance his position. Jacob’s dissatisfaction with his circumstances is what caused him to act in a way that changed his destiny. Isaac instructed his son Jacob to “Arise, go” (Genesis 28:2). The Hebrew words he used, quwm (koom) yalak (yaw-lak’) suggest that Isaac was kicking his son out of his house, but it is likely that there was a mutual understanding and agreement that Jacob needed to establish his own household in order to be independent of his parents’ influence.

The Hebrew word quwm can be used “in an intensive mood to signify empowering or strengthening…It is also used to denote the inevitable occurrence of something predicted or prearranged” (H6965). Yalak is derived from the Hebrew word halak (haw-lak’) which can be used to describe one’s behavior or the way one “walks in life” (H1980). Isaac’s use of these two words together in his command to Jacob could mean that he was sending his son on a spiritual journey in order to establish a relationship with God. Genesis 28:5 indicates Isaac “sent away Jacob.” The most frequent use of the Hebrew word shalach “suggests the sending of someone or something as a messenger to a particular place…Other special meanings of this verb include letting something go freely or without control” (H7971).

Genesis 28:10-17 states:

Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth,, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

The Hebrew word that is translated “a certain place” in Genesis 28:11 is maqowm (maw-kome’) which is properly translated as “a standing.” Maqowm is also used figuratively “of a condition (of body or mind)” (H4725). Maqowm may signify “a sanctuary – i.e. a ‘place’ of worship” and in this instance suggests that Jacob had discovered a portal to a spiritual realm that he identified as heaven.

In Jacob’s dream, there was a ladder “and the top of it reached to heaven” (Genesis 28:12). The ladder or stair case probably represented the pathway that Jacob had to travel in order to connect with God. It seems likely that Jacob viewed God as being distant, perhaps unreachable from his standpoint. Jacob saw the LORD standing above the stair case (Genesis 28:13) suggesting that he was in a position of authority and could grant or deny access into his kingdom. The fact that the LORD spoke to Jacob and confirmed his covenant with him suggests that the LORD was the one initiating a relationship and was trying to bridge the gap between himself and Jacob.

The LORD told Jacob that he would bring him back to the land and would not leave him until he had done all that he had promised (Genesis 28:15). The Hebrew word that is translated leave, ‘azab (aw-zab’) has to do with the severance of a relationship. “This word carries a technical sense of ‘completely and permanently abandoned’ or ‘divorced'” (H5800). Jacob had just abandoned his family and was determined to make his way in the world without the help of anyone else and yet, the LORD appeared to him in a dream and told Jacob that God was in control of his destiny and was determined to bring him back to the place that Jacob thought he was leaving behind.

Jacob’s reaction to his dream was that he was afraid (Genesis 28:17). The Hebrew word that is translated afraid in Genesis 28:17 is yare’ (yaw-ray’). “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). In spite of the huge impact his dream had on him, Jacob did not commit himself to the LORD immediately. It says in Genesis 28:20-21, “Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God.'”

The Hebrew word that is translated “come again” in Genesis 28:21 is the same word that is translated “bring you back” in Genesis 28:15. Basically, what Jacob was saying was that if God proved to him that he could do what he said he was going to, then Jacob would accept God’s divine authority over his life. In other words, Jacob would only submit himself to God’s will if he was forced to do so. Jacob’s promise to God was somewhat of a dare in that he didn’t believe the LORD could bring him back to a place that he didn’t want to go to. Jacob thought his free will trumped God’s sovereignty over him.

The Hebrew word translated “bring you back” in Genesis 28:15, shuwb (shoob) generally means to retreat. “The basic meaning of the verb is movement back to the point of departure (unless there is evidence to the contrary)” (H7725). “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption.” The LORD’s message to Jacob indicated that he was taking responsibility for his conversion and would not give up until he had accomplished what he had promised Jacob he would do (Genesis 28:15).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount focused on what happens after a person is converted. In other words, what a Christian’s life should look like. Jesus himself was the ultimate example of the life of a believer. When Jesus came down from the mountain, Matthew 8:1 tells us, “great crowds followed him.” The Greek word that is translated followed, akoloutheo (ak-ol-oo-theh’-o) is properly translated as “to be in the same way with” (G190). Essentially, the idea of becoming a follower of Jesus was to become like him, to be converted to his way of thinking and behaving. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).

One of the first people that approached Jesus after he finished his teaching about the life of a Christian was a leper who was forbidden to make contact with anyone to prevent the possibility of transmitting his disease. Matthew 8:2 states, “And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.'” The leper’s act of kneeling was a form of worship that indicated his submission to Jesus’ authority. “And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying I will; be clean” (Matthew 8:3). Jesus’ response showed not only his compassion for the man’s vulnerable state, but also his ability to change the leper’s circumstances.

Jesus told the leper to “go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded as a proof to them” (Matthew 8:4). The Greek word that is translated proof is also translated as testimony and refers to the evidence necessary to regain entrance into the temple that the leper had previously been banished from (G3142). The issue of course was whether or not Jesus had the power to overturn the decisions of the high priest. What Jesus did was demonstrate God’s ability to alter the destiny of a human being. Rather than being subject to the ravages of his disease and continuing to suffer, the leper was restored to health and was able to live a normal life.

One of the things that was revealed in Jesus’ interaction with the leper was that his will and the leper’s will were in agreement. The leper didn’t ask to be healed, he said, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). The Greek word the leper used that is translated clean, katharizo (kath-ar-id’-zo) refers to the effects of sin and in particular the guilt that one feels as a result of having offended God. It’s possible that the leper had been listening to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and realized that he was far from the standard of living that Jesus expected from his disciples. This man wanted to make things right and knew the only way he could do that was to ask for Jesus’ help.

Genesis 29:1 tells us that “Jacob went on his journey and came to the land of the people of the east.” The Hebrew words that are translated journey in this verse indicated that Jacob was not being guided by God as he traveled. You might say that Jacob was walking blindly into the future. Jacob’s experience started out in a similar way to Abraham’s servant when he went to Padam-aram to get a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24), but very quickly the situation turned into a fiasco that left Jacob at the mercy of his uncle Laban. Jacob wanted to marry Laban’s youngest daughter Rachel, so he agreed to work for Laban for seven years in order to obtain his wife, but on the night of his wedding, Jacob was tricked and given Rachel’s sister Leah instead.

Jacob was determined to have Rachel for his wife, so he agreed to work for Laban for another seven years (Genesis 29:26-28) and “when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren” (Genesis 29:31). God’s control over Jacob’s destiny was demonstrated by his ability to keep Jacob’s wife Rachel from producing his first born son and by determining which of Jacob’s sons would carry on his eternal legacy. Leah called her fourth son Judah because she said, “This time I will praise” (Genesis 29:36), meaning that she had made a profession of faith and was thanking God for her salvation (H3034).

The Hebrew word that is translated praise, yadah (yaw-daw’) is derived from the word yad (yawd) which signifies “a hand (the open one [indicating power, means, direction, etc.])” (3027). When a Roman soldier, who was the captain of one hundred men, approached Jesus, he admitted, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:8-9). The Greek word that is translated authority, exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) implies the liberty of doing as one pleases and the right to exercise power (G1849). The centurion was acknowledging Jesus’ freedom to handle the situation as he saw fit.

Jesus responded to the centurion’s request by stating, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith…And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go; let it be done for you as you have believed'” (Matthew 8:10-13). Jesus indicated that faith was the motivating factor behind the centurion’s request. He believed that Jesus was in control of the situation and was able to change the centurion’s circumstances if he wanted to. Matthew 8:13 states, “And the servant was healed at that very moment,” which indicated there was an immediate result from the centurion putting his faith in Christ.

One of the ways of looking at our destiny is to see it as a place that both we and God wants us to get to. It’s a destination that we haven’t reached yet that has obstacles along the way and only God can remove them effectively. When Jesus saw that his disciples were being overtaken by a mob, “he gave orders to go over to the other side” (Matthew 8:18). The disciples may have seen the storm that was approaching them and knew it would overtake them before they reached the other side of the Sea of Galilee, but Matthew 8:23 tells us, “And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.”

The Greek term that is translated “the other side” in Matthew 8:18, peran (per’-an) is sometimes translated beyond (G4008) and could mean a place that is beyond our reach or a place that we don’t think we can get to. When Jesus’ disciples were overtaken by a hurricane as they crossed the sea, they panicked and thought they were going to die. Matthew 8:24-27 states:

And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

Jesus’ question, “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew 8:26) revealed that his disciples didn’t handle the situation the way they should have because they were afraid. What the disciples needed to do in order to get to their destination safely was to exercise their faith.

Jesus’ remark, “O you of little faith” (Matthew 8:26) most likely meant that his disciples didn’t believe in or trust him at this point in his ministry. In other words, they didn’t recognize that Jesus was God and could do the impossible. The disciples question, “What sort of man is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (Matthew 8:27) indicated that they only saw Jesus as a man, not the creator of the universe. The Greek word that is translated sort of, pas (pas) means all or the whole (H3956) with regard to the human race. The disciples knew that Jesus was no ordinary man, but still couldn’t figure out why he was able to accomplish everything that he set out to do.

Matthew 8:26 tells us that Jesus rebuked the winds and the sea. The Greek word that is translated rebuked, epitamao (ep-ee-tee-mah’-o) indicates that Jesus had the authority to stop the storm because it was interfering with his desire to cross the sea (G2008). What this suggests is that it was God’s will for Jesus to go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and therefore, nothing, not even a hurricane, could stop him from getting there.

Called

Paul’s letter to the Roman’s is believed to have been written during a three-month stopover in Corinth on his way to Jerusalem. Paul hadn’t been to Rome yet and may have been laying the ground work for his intended preaching of the gospel there. Paul talked about many of the basics of his gospel message including God’s plan of salvation and righteousness for all mankind (The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Introduction pp. 1613-1614). In his elaborate theological essay to the Romans, Paul covered pretty much every doctrinal base by touching on such topics as: “sin, salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, death, resurrection and glorification.” Paul began his letter to the Romans by identifying himself as “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel” (Romans 1:1).

Paul often referred to himself as being called to be an apostle and noted that all believers are called into God’s kingdom. The Greek word Paul used in Romans 1:1 that is translated called, kletos (klay-tos’) means invited (G2822). Paul was pointing out that God is the initiator in the relationship and that we have to respond in order to be saved. Another word Paul used that is also translated called in Romans 4:17 is kaleo (kal-eh’-o). Kaleo means “to call (properly aloud but used in a variety of applications directly or otherwise)” (G2564). The Greek word kaleo is usually used to specify what something is called. For example, it says of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:21 , “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS.”

Paul’s conversion, which is recorded in Acts 9:4-5, indicated that Jesus called Paul by name when he confronted him on the road to Damascus. It states: “Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'” One of the unusual characteristics of Paul’s encounter with Jesus was that he didn’t recognize the voice of the person speaking to him. It is possible that Paul’s understanding of his conversion was that he was involuntarily recruited to be God’s servant. That may have been why Paul pointed out numerous times that he was called to be an apostle rather than choosing the position for himself.

Jesus described his attempt to convert Paul as a goad and said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). The picture Jesus was most likely painting for Paul was one of a donkey that bucks against his masters’ prompting to move forward. In other words, Jesus was implying that Paul was acting like a stubborn mule. The Greek word translated goads, kintron is used figuratively to signify divine impulse, “‘a prick,” Acts 9:5; 26:14, said of the promptings and conscience ‘stings’ which Saul of Tarsus felt before conversion, possibly at approving and witnessing the stoning death of Stephen” (G2759). Even though God prompts us to answer his calling, he doesn’t force us to be converted. We must respond voluntarily to the divine impulse that draws us into God’s kingdom.

Chosen by God

Saul of Tarsus, who later became known as the Apostle Paul, started out as a vicious enemy of the church that was located in Jerusalem. When Stephen was martyred for his candid preaching of the gospel, it says in Acts 7:58 that those who stoned him “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul.” Saul was thought of as the “arch-persecutor” of the church (Roman Damascus, p. 1572) because of his violent treatment of believers. Saul’s plan to stamp-out Christianity before it was spread abroad caused him to seek letters from the high priest to the synagogues in Damascus “that if he found any of this way; whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). Saul’s reference to Christianity as “the way” may have been meant as a derogatory comment against its gospel message. The night before he was crucified, Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). It is likely Saul had heard Jesus’ words repeated by his apostles and was determined to prove them wrong.

Luke’s account of Saul’s conversion showed that he was stopped dead in his tracks as he proceeded to carry out his plan of preventing the gospel from spreading through Damascus, the hub of a vast commercial network with far-flung lines of caravan trade reaching into north Syria, Mesopotamia, Anatolia, Persia, and Arabia (Roman Damascus, p. 1572). Luke said:

And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: and he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus, whom thou persecutes: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 9:3-5)

Jesus’ message to Saul was intended to make him aware of the fact that he wasn’t doing God’s work, he was hindering it. The statement “it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” could be simply translated as “Saul, you’re going the wrong way!” Saul’s immediate submission to Jesus’ authority is apparent in his question, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6).

Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus resulted in him being blind for three days until a man named Ananias came and laid his hands on him (Acts 9:9, 17). During that time, people may have wondered if Saul had lost him mind or was having a nervous break down. There was no apparent explanation as to why Saul suddenly changed his mind about arresting the Christians in Damascus. The only one who knew what was going on was a man named Ananias, who had received a message from the Lord about Saul’s conversion. Ananias was directed to go to Saul’s location and was told to put his hands on him so that he could recover his sight (Acts 9:11-12), but Luke indicated Ananias was reluctant to obey the Lord’s command because of Saul’s bad reputation. He said:

Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: and here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. (Acts 9:13-16)

 

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).

One sinner

As Jesus passed through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, he came across a man that was eager to meet him (Luke 19:3-4). Luke identified Zaccheus as a chief tax collector and noted that he was rich (Luke 19:2). Zaccheus’ occupation is “referred to only here in the Bible, probably designating one in charge of a district, with other tax collectors under him. The region was prosperous at this time, so it is no wonder that Zaccheus had grown rich” (note on Luke 19:2). The problem with Zaccheus’ profession was that he worked for the Roman government and was probably perceived to be a traitor. It is likely that everyone hated Zaccheus except for those who worked in the same profession. When Jesus decided to stay at Zaccheus’ house, the crowd complained about it, saying, “That he has gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner” (Luke 19:7).

Tax collectors and sinners were often associated with one another (Matthew 9:10, 11:19, Mark 2:15, Luke 5:30); most likely because they were both perceived to be the outcasts of society. The assumption that Zaccheus was a sinner may have been based on him having a reputation for stealing money from his constituents. When Jesus told Zaccheus he was going to stay at his house, it says in Luke 19:8 that “Zaccheus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” Jesus responded to Zaccheus’ gesture by stating, “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he is also a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:9-10).

The Greek word translated lost in Luke 19:10 is apollumi. The idea apollumi conveys “is not extinction but ruin, loss, not of being, but of well-being” (G622). In Zaccheus’ case, it could have meant being separated from loved ones or isolated from the community because of his job as a chief tax collector. According to the Apostle Paul, the destruction of unbelievers is “not annihilation, but exclusion from the Lord’s presence (2 Thessalonians 1:9); thus the ruin of life and all its proud accomplishments” (note on 1 Thessalonians 5:3). In that sense, you could say that a sinner’s life is wasted because all that is accomplished is lost at the time of his death. The Greek term that is usually translated sin, harmartano is properly translated “to miss the mark (and so not share in the prize)” (G264).

Jesus likened his mission of seeking and saving the lost to a shepherd searching for his one lost sheep. He asked his listeners, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4). Jesus went on to say that repentance from sin was a cause for celebration and was witnessed by those who are in heaven. He told his audience, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth” (Luke 15:10). Zaccheus’ conversion is an important example of God’s unbiased desire to reverse the effects of sin in any and every person’s life that is willing to admit he had missed the mark and alienated himself from God. As a result of his repentance, not only was Zaccheus saved, but his entire family was also (Luke 19:9).

The lost sheep

Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep was set in the context of an argument that was going on between his disciples about who was the greatest among them. It is likely their argument was the result of an incident in which some of Jesus’ disciples were unable to cast out a demon because of their unbelief (Matthew 17:20). Perhaps, James and John who had just returned from a mountaintop experience in which Jesus was transfigured were taunting the other disciples because of their lack of spiritual experience or were boasting about having just seen Moses and Elijah with Jesus as his face shined like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light (Matthew 17:2). Jesus rebuked his disciples by setting a little child in the middle of them and saying, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

Jesus established that the first step in serving God was to be converted or renewed in one’s relationship with the LORD. Jesus’ disciples didn’t seem to understand that God wasn’t looking for miracle workers, but children that wanted to spend time with him. Jesus began his teaching about restored fellowship with the warning, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 18:10). The point Jesus was making was that a small child that was unable to do anything to impress God was so important to his Father that he kept himself constantly updated on their physical well-being and spiritual growth. Jesus then reminded his disciples, “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11).

The Greek word Jesus used to describe someone that was lost, apollumi (ap-ol’-loo-mee) is derived from two other words that depict separation and ruin, that is punishment by death (575/3639). Jesus was talking about someone that was going to hell for eternity, an eternal separation from God. After establishing his purpose and specific assignment from God, Jesus said, “How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? (Matthew 18:12). Jesus’ reference to going into the mountains may have been an indication that the lost sheep(s) he was referring to were the three disciples that were taken with him on the mountain to witness his transfiguration. The point being that James, John, and Peter were not more righteous than the other disciples, but more at risk of eternal damnation.

Jesus concluded his teaching about fellowship with an illustration of the benefit of working together with other believers rather than competing against them for God’s attention. He declared, “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:19-20). The lesson that may have been hidden or tucked away within Jesus’ teaching about fellowship was the way that we are able to do more for God’s kingdom. Although two people agreeing about something may not seem like that difficult of a task, the argument between Jesus’ disciples about who was the greatest showed that they were at odds with each other and didn’t want to admit that they were all lost, separated from God and in need of a savior.

 

Conversion

Jesus told his disciples, “Verily, I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become like little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). The Greek word Jesus used that is translated converted in this verse, strepho (stref’-o) is typically translated as turn or turned. Strepho means “to turn quite around or reverse” (4762). At the time when Jesus spoke these words, there was a little child standing in the midst of his twelve apostles and they were discussing who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. What Jesus likely meant by becoming like little children was the reversal of his disciples spiritual development. He wanted them to start from the beginning and learn all over again what they knew about God.

Jesus said emphatically, “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). The word humble had a specific connotation to God’s people because of their history as slaves in Egypt. The Greek word Jesus used, tapeinoo (tap-i-no’-o) is used figuratively to express humiliation and it suggests that he wanted his disciples to be willing to humiliate themselves in order to please God. Mark’s record of this conversation indicated a responsibility on the part of Jesus’ disciples to keep themselves from leading others into sin by way of their bad behavior (arguing about who was the greatest Mark 9:34). Jesus said, “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believeth in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea” (Mark 9:42). This may have been a picture of the typical burial of a worthless servant.

Jesus’ lesson about true discipleship was an extension of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) in which he warned against anger, adultery, and divorce. Jesus was intentionally reminding his disciples that the slightest infraction of the law was considered to be enough to bring judgment against an individual. Jesus said about the sin of adultery, “That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:28-29). Jesus’ repetition of this illustration (Matthew 18:9) of the drastic measures that needed to be taken in order to avoid sin in his lesson about true discipleship was no doubt meant to jolt his disciples back into reality and make them aware of the fact that their status in God’s kingdom was not based on spiritual accomplishments. Conversion, “turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us” (7725) is a lifelong process that ultimately brings us to the conclusion that our only purpose as members of God’s kingdom while we are alive on earth is to preach the gospel to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 9:16).