The harvest

In spite of Jesus’ attempts to keep his supernatural work under wraps, his fame was spread abroad throughout the countries surrounding Jude’s during his short three-year ministry by those who were healed of their various diseases, disabilities, and demon possessions. It says in Matthew 9:30-31 that on one occasion, after Jesus restored the sight of two blind men, he “straitly charged them, saying, See that no man know it,” but, instead these men departed and “spread abroad his fame in all that country.” According to Matthew’s record of Jesus’ ministry, “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matthew 9:35). It’s not surprising that Jesus became famous since there were no sickness or disease he couldn’t heal, but that wasn’t the purpose of his ministry. Jesus wanted people to get saved. He wanted them to believe his message about God’s kingdom and receive eternal life.

Jesus referred to the end of the world, or the time when the saved and unsaved would be separated for eternity, as the harvest. Speaking of this, it says in Matthew 9:37-38, “Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth labourers into his harvest.” The Greek word translated labourers, ergates (er-gat’-ace) means a toiler and is used figuratively to describe someone that teaches God’s word (2040). Referring back to Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-8), God’s word is like seed that is scattered throughout a field and lands on different kinds of soil. The seed that lands on good soil brings forth fruit, “some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold” (Matthew 13:8). The connection between the fruit and the labourers is that fruit cannot harvest itself. God’s word needs to be studied and discussed in order for it to become or stay alive within us. It seems as though the harvest could be an ongoing process that continues until we enter into eternity. Otherwise, there would have been no need for labourers when Jesus was still on earth.

One of Jesus’ primary objectives in spreading the gospel was that it taken to the whole world. There seems to be a connection between his message being fully dispersed and the timing of the harvest. In his explanation to his disciples of the parable of the tares of the field (Matthew 13:36), Jesus said, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end this world” (Matthew 13:37-40). The Greek word translated end, sunteleia (soon-tel’-i-ah) means entire completion (4930). When the effect of Jesus’ message (salvation) has spread throughout the entire world, then Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth will be completed and the opportunity for people to be saved will no longer exist, and as Jesus stated, “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew13:42) by those that rejected him.

Follow me

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

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

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

Good news

The birth of Jesus came suddenly and unexpectedly, at a time when there was little hope left that God would fulfill his promise to bring a Messiah to his chosen people, the Jews. Luke made a specific reference to a historical event, so that the date of Jesus’ birth would be accurately recorded. He said, “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed (and this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria)” (Luke 2:1-2). The Roman government was at the height of its success in dominating the world and wanted to take advantage of its opportunity to collect taxes from every person that fell under its jurisdiction. God used the decree of a pagan emperor to fulfill an important prophecy recorded in Micah 5:2. It says, “But thou, Beth-lehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”

The location of the Messiah’s birth wouldn’t have been as critical if the Jews had remained in the Promised Land and their population kept in tact. Because the Jews had been scattered throughout the world during their captivity, and their geographical footprint altered by Roman occupation, the only way to know for certain that Jesus was actually a descendent of King David was to have his birth occur during the Roman census. Luke recorded, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child” (Luke 2:4-5). Joseph’s residence in Nazareth indicated that his relationship to King David was of no benefit to him. Most likely, it was unknown to everyone around him, and perhaps even to Joseph himself, that he was of royal descent until the Roman census occurred.

The shepherds that were keeping watch over their flocks the night that Jesus was born may have been the only group of people that were collectively willing to believe the good news they were told about their Messiah’s birth. The fact that the shepherds were given a sign to assure them that what the angel said was true suggests that even they were skeptical about the message they received (Luke 2:12). After seeing and hearing “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God,” (Luke 2:13) it appears that the shepherds were still unconvinced. At the conclusion of this amazing worship event, Luke 2:15 tells us, “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.” It wasn’t until the shepherds saw the sign promised them, the babe lying in a manger, that their belief became evident. Luke said, afterwards “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” (Luke 2:20).

A sign

Isaiah’s first assignment was to speak to a king of Judah named Ahaz who did not believe in God. The nation of Judah was about to be invaded by a coalition of armies formed to oust king Ahaz and replace him with a puppet king referred to as “the son of Tabeal” (Isaiah 7:6). When Isaiah meets up with king Ahaz, he was checking his water supply to see if he could survive a long siege. It says of king Ahaz in Isaiah 7:2, “And his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind.”

The Hebrew word translated moved, nûwa‘ (noo´ – ah) means to waver. The king of Judah and his people were shaken up because during king Uzziah’s 52 year reign they had gained strength and were enjoying prosperity similar to the days of David and Solomon. It seemed unlikely they would need to defend themselves, but the threats made against them were real enough that king Ahaz thought it necessary to check his water supply. As Isaiah approached “the conduit of the upper pool in the highway of the fuller’s field” he was instructed to tell king Ahaz to “take heed, and be quiet” (Isaiah 7:3-4).

Essentially, Isaiah was telling king Ahaz to take it easy and pay attention to what he was about to say. Isaiah had a message of comfort and encouragement to share with king Ahaz, but he wasn’t sure how his message would be received. King Ahaz was only 20 years old and likely had little or no military experience. His grandfather king Uzziah had only been dead about five years, and his father Jotham had done little to maintain Judah’s military strength.

After Isaiah told king Ahaz the plan to overthrow him would  fail, he said to the king, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (Isaiah 7:9). What Isaiah told king Ahaz was he needed to exercise his faith. More specifically, Ahaz needed to ask God for help and rely on God’s faithfulness, rather than trusting in his army to deliver him. Isaiah told Ahaz, “Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD” (Isaiah 7:11-12). Ahaz refused to give the LORD a chance to prove himself and earn Ahaz’s trust.

Following Ahaz’s rejection of God’s invitation to put him to the test, Isaiah delivered his first gospel message. “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah went on to say that judgment was ahead and God would use the king of Assyria to devastate his people and ruin their land.

The sign God intended to give his people, a Messiah, indicated he did not want his people to be destroyed, but saved from their sins. In spite of his many attempts to win their favor, the people of Israel and Judah refused to put their faith in the LORD. In a message that was to be sealed up and kept as a testimony against Israel, Isaiah stated:

For the LORD spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A  confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself: and let him be your dread. And he shall be for a sanctuary; but for a stone of stumbling and for a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, for a gin and for a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.

 

 

Good news, bad news

On the day David was told that Absalom was dead, two messengers greeted him. The first messenger said, “All is well” (2 Samuel 18:28). The word translated well is shalom which means peace (7965), indicating that peace had been restored to David’s kingdom. This was good news for David.

When the second messenger arrived, David was told, “the LORD hath avenged thee this day of all them that rose up against thee” (2 Samuel 18:31). And when asked specifically about Absalom, the messenger said, “The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is” (2 Samuel 18:32).

David’s reaction to the second message indicates he perceived it to be bad news. “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept” (2 Samuel 18:33). The word translated moved, râgaz (raw – gaz´) means “to quiver (with any violent emotion, especially anger or fear)” (7264).

Although it is possible that David was deeply saddened by Absalom’s death, it is more likely that David was angered by the news  because Joab had disobeyed his order. In 2 Samuel 18:5, it says, “And the king commanded Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, Deal gently for my sake with the young man, even with Absalom.”

The good news that peace had been restored to David’s kingdom was overshadowed by the bad news that David’s army was no longer under his command. Joab’s disobedience was the equivalent of treason and a sign that David’s authority had been greatly undermined by Absalom’s rebellion. Corruption was beginning to permeate David’s kingdom and there was little he could do to turn the tide.

In a state of despair, David said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom: would God I had died for thee” (2 Samuel 18:33). David may have been saying that he wished things had gone the other way, that Absalom had prevailed and taken his place as king, or David may have been expressing a desire to sacrifice himself, so that Absalom’s sins could be forgiven.

Because God had pardoned David when he sinned with Bath-sheba and killed her husband Uriah, everyone probably perceived that he got away with murder. David deserved to die for his sins like everyone else, but he didn’t, therefore, the people of Israel began to test the limits of the boundaries God had established for them, and like Joab, they were willing to sin because they thought the end justified the means.

In the New Testament of the Bible, a good message, or what was referred to in 2 Samuel 18:22 as tidings, is the word gospel (2098). When Jesus said he came to preach the gospel, it meant that he had good news to share with God’s people. The good news being that the Messiah had come and salvation was available to everyone.