God’s representative

The Old Testament prophets were considered to be inspired spokesmen for God. “Moses was the greatest prophet of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 34:10) and the example for all later prophets. He displayed every aspect of a true prophet, both in his call, his work, his faithfulness, and, at times, his doubts. Only Abraham is called a prophet before Moses (Genesis 20:7)” (H5030). A prophet was someone “who was raised up by God and, as such, could only proclaim that which the Lord gave him to say. A prophet could not contradict the Law of the Lord or speak from his own mind or heart.” When Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam and asked him to curse the people of Israel, Balaam refused to do it (Numbers 22:14). “Balaam lived a long distance away from Moab, yet he must have been quite famous for Balak to have known of him and have sent for him. Archeological evidence from Deir Alla indicates that Balaam was highly regarded by pagans five hundred years after his death. His activity is described as divination and sorcery (Numbers 22:7, cf. Numbers 23:23; 24:1)” (note on Numbers 22:5). The fact that Balaam was known as a false prophet, a sorcerer if you will, didn’t stop him from being under God’s authority and control. After Balaam refused to go with the elders of Moab, Numbers 22:15-21 states:

Once again Balak sent princes, more in number and more honorable than these. And they came to Balaam and said to him, “Thus says Balak the son of Zippor: ‘Let nothing hinder you from coming to me, for I will surely do you great honor, and whatever you say to me I will do. Come, curse this people for me.’” But Balaam answered and said to the servants of Balak, “Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more. So you, too, please stay here tonight, that I may know what more the Lord will say to me.” And God came to Balaam at night and said to him, “If the men have come to call you, rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” So Balaam rose in the morning and saddled his donkey and went with the princes of Moab.

God allowed Balaam to go with the princes of Moab, but he also made it clear that Balaam had to obey his instructions. Balaam referred to the LORD as “my God” (Numbers 22:18) even though he was not an Israelite and had not been called to be a prophet. Balaam told Balak the king of Moab, “Behold, I have come to you! Have I now any power of my own to speak anything? The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak” (Numbers 22:38).

Balak’s attempt to get Balaam to curse the people of Israel was driven by fear (Numbers 22:3) and the hope that he could stop God’s chosen people from overtaking the land of Moab (Numbers 22:6). After Balaam delivered his first discourse, Balak realized his plan wasn’t working. “And Balak said to Balaam, ‘What have you done to me? I took you to curse my enemies, and behold, you have done nothing but bless them.’ And he answered and said, ‘Must I not take care to speak what the LORD puts in my mouth’” (Numbers 23:11-12). Balaam’s second discourse made it even clearer that Balak’s attempts to curse the Israelites were futile. Balaam stated:

Rise, Balak, and hear;
    give ear to me, O son of Zippor:
God is not man, that he should lie,
    or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
    Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
Behold, I received a command to bless:
    he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.
He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob,
    nor has he seen trouble in Israel.
The Lord their God is with them,
    and the shout of a king is among them.
God brings them out of Egypt
    and is for them like the horns of the wild ox.
For there is no enchantment against Jacob,
    no divination against Israel;
now it shall be said of Jacob and Israel,
    ‘What has God wrought!’
Behold, a people! As a lioness it rises up
    and as a lion it lifts itself;
it does not lie down until it has devoured the prey
    and drunk the blood of the slain.” (Numbers 23:18-24)

Balaam indicated that there was no enchantment or magic spell that would work against the descendants of Jacob and Balak’s attempts to use divination against them were useless (Numbers 23:23). The reason Balaam gave for Israel’s special treatment was that “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). Balaam also specified that God’s word was linked to his covenant with Jacob and he could not revoke it (Numbers 23:20).

The Hebrew word qesem (kehˊ-sem), which is translated divination in Numbers 23:23 describes the cultic practice of foreign nations that was prohibited in Israel (Deuteronomy 18:10) and was considered a great sin. “False prophets used divination to prophecy in God’s name, but God identified them as false (Jeremiah 14:14; Ezekiel 13:6); and pledged to remove such practices from Israel (Ezekiel 13:23)” (H7081). One of the last mentions of divination in the Old Testament appears in Zechariah 10 which deals with the restoration of Judah and Israel and makes mention of God’s concern for his people. Zechariah 10:2-5 states:

For the household gods utter nonsense,
    and the diviners see lies;
they tell false dreams
    and give empty consolation.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
    they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.

“My anger is hot against the shepherds,
    and I will punish the leaders;
for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,
    and will make them like his majestic steed in battle.
From him shall come the cornerstone,
    from him the tent peg,
from him the battle bow,
    from him every ruler—all of them together.
They shall be like mighty men in battle,
    trampling the foe in the mud of the streets;
they shall fight because the Lord is with them,
    and they shall put to shame the riders on horses.

In this passage, Jesus is referred to as the cornerstone. After he told the parable of the tenants (Matthew 21:33-40), in which the chief priests and the Pharisees perceived that Jesus was talking about them (Matthew 21:45), Jesus asked the Jews in the temple that had gathered to listen to him:

“Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:42-44).

John’s gospel opens with a description of Jesus as “the Word” (John 1:1). John said, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). John went on to say, “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own and his own people did not receive him” (John 1:10-11). John connected the Word of God to God’s creative acts and said, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known” (John 1:18). The Greek word that is translated known, exogeomai (ex-ayg-ehˊ-om-ahee) means “to consider out (aloud)” and also “to bring out or lead out, to take the lead, be the leader” (G1834). One of the primary reasons Jesus came into the world was to make God known and he did it in a way that had never been done before. Hebrews 1:1-4 states:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

The phrase “exact imprint” (Hebrews 1:3) refers to the representation of God’s nature being stamped on Jesus as if it was being permanently engraved on a stone. With respect to the Ten Commandments which were written on stone tablets with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18), you might say that Jesus was the embodiment of the Ten Commandments in that through Jesus, the words that God wrote were being brought to life, enacted by way of Jesus’ sinless human nature.

Jesus’ encounter with an invalid man at the pool of Bethesda illustrates the effect that God’s word has on sinners. Jesus began by posing the question, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6). The King James Version of the Bible translates Jesus’ question “Wilt thou be made whole?” This suggests that one of the effects of sin is that it makes us to feel like there is something missing in our lives. Jesus wanted to know if the man had a desire for his life to get better. That might seem like a stupid question except that the man’s response showed that he didn’t believe it was possible for him to do what was necessary for his healing to take place (John 5:7). Jesus then commanded the man, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” (John 5:8). The Greek words that are translated get up, egeiro (eg-iˊ-ro); take up, airo (ahˊ-ee-ro); and walk, peripateo (per-ee-pat-ehˊ-o) all have a spiritual connotation that indicate Jesus was expecting the man to acknowledge his divine authority. John 5:9 states, “And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.” Later, when Jesus encountered the man a second time, he told him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ statement made it clear that doing what God tells us to can restore us to health, but we must change our behavior if we want to avoid getting into trouble in the first place.

When the Jews criticized Jesus for healing the invalid man on the Sabbath, Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working. This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:17-18). Jesus’ equality with God was evident in both his actions and the things that he said. In the Old Testament, when a prophet spoke on behalf of God, he would typically preface his statement with “thus says the Lord” (Isaiah 7:7), but Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus talked as if he was God, as when he commanded the man he healed, “Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you” (John 5:14). Jesus’ comment about the ongoing work of God (John 5:17) had to do with God’s plan of salvation, which had yet to be completed. Jesus indicated that his ministry was a part of God’s plan of salvation and that the things he was doing, like healing the invalid man, were connected to what God wanted to accomplish. Jesus went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19). Even though Jesus was equal with God, he said that he couldn’t do anything of his own accord, meaning that he could not act independently and decide on his own what he should do in any given situation. In that sense, Jesus was merely God’s representative on earth. The Greek word poieo (poy-ehˊ-o) is used four times in John 5:19 to emphasize the importance of action in the spiritual realm. Poieo is “spoken of any external act as manifested in the production of something tangible, corporeal, obvious to the senses, i.e. completed action” (G4160). Jesus said, “The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing” (John 5:19). The word sees in this verse refers to spiritual perception and suggests that Jesus had to rely on spiritual discernment in order to carry out his assignment of dying for the sins of the world. The phrase can do nothing means that Jesus in an absolute sense had no power of his own to rely on. Jesus could only do that which he was able to discern through spiritual perception was the will of his Father. Jesus spoke of himself as being sent by his Father (John 5:23). The Greek word that is translated sent, pempo (pemˊ-po) means to dispatch “especially on a temporary errand” (G3992) and does not necessarily denote any official capacity or authoritative sending. Jesus came into the world as a servant (Matthew 20:28) and as a human was limited in his ability to do things, just as we are.

Jesus told the Jews:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:25-27)

Jesus indicated that he had been given authority to execute judgment. An example of Jesus exercising this authority is given in Matthew 9:1-8 where it states:

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city. And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.” And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, “This man is blaspheming.” But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And he rose and went home. When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Jesus used the authority that he had been given to execute judgment to forgive the sins of people that were suffering from various illnesses and physical defects. Also, Jesus gave his disciples the ability to do the same. Matthew 10:1 states, “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.”

Jesus explained to the Jews that he was been given the power to release people from the penalty of their sins because he wasn’t doing it for his own benefit. Jesus said, “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear I judge, and my judgment is just because I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30). And then, Jesus went on to say, “For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me” (John 5:36). Jesus wanted to make sure that the Jews understood that it wasn’t because he was a nice guy that he was going around forgiving peoples’ sins. God wanted his people to be healthy and happy. The Apostle Peter wrote in his second epistle, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The problem that the Jews had with God’s plan of salvation was not that his grace was sufficient to remove their sins, but that God’s grace was capable of getting rid of the sins of everyone. Peter said that God is not willing that any should perish and that all would repent of their sins. Jesus made God’s will perfectly clear to the Jews during his ministry by associating with the outcasts of society and by becoming the friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Three perspectives

The four gospels; Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John contain a great deal of information about what went on during Jesus’ three year ministry on Earth. Each of these accounts focuses on a particular aspect of Jesus’ ministry that stood out to the authors. For instance, Matthew, one of the original twelve apostles, saw Jesus as the Messiah of the Jews and wrote his gospel from the perspective of Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Luke, a companion of the Apostle Paul (2 Timothy 4:11), wrote his gospel message to a specific person named Theophilus who was likely a Roman official that had become a Christian during Paul’s ministry. Mark, a member of the Apostle Peter’s church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), probably wrote his gospel based on details that came from Peter’s messages to his congregation.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke are referred to as the synoptic gospels because they are noticeably similar, while John is quite different. Although much of their content is the same, Matthew, Mark, and Luke wrote from different perspectives and each included details that the others may have missed. One incident in particular, the healing of the blind man Bartimeus stands out as a situation in which these three men viewed the outcome as being distinctly different. Matthew focused on the physical restoration of Bartimeus’ sight (Matthew 20:34), whereas Luke said Bartimeus was saved (Luke 18:42) and Mark recorded that Jesus had made the blind man whole (Mark 10:52). The reason these accounts differ could be because Jesus’ miracle was perceived to be motivated by different objectives.

Matthew’s view of Bartimeus’ healing seemed to be focused on his being restored to a normal life. Matthew said of Bartimeus and his companion, “Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes: and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him” (Matthew 20:34). The Greek word translated compassion, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid´-zom-ahee) means to feel sympathy or to pity someone that is suffering (G4697). Matthew may have viewed Bartimeus’ condition as a disadvantage that Jesus’ wanted to eliminate. It seems likely that Matthew thought Bartimeus would prefer to be like everyone else and his request to have his eyes opened (Matthew 20:33) was directly related to his physical eyesight being restored.

Mark’s account of Bartimeus’ healing showed that the blind man was interested in more than just having his eyesight restored. As Jesus passed by, Bartimeus called out to him repeatedly trying to get Jesus’ attention (Mark 10:48). Mark recorded, “And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. And he casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:49-50). Bartimeus’ response showed he was eager to meet Jesus. Even though he couldn’t see where Jesus was standing, Bartimeus may have walked (or perhaps even ran) directly toward him. Although, Luke’s gospel states Jesus commanded that Bartimeus to be brought to him (Luke 18:40). After he requested to have his sight restored, Jesus told Bartimeus, “Go thy way; they faith hath made thee whole” (Mark 10:52).

.The Greek word that is translated faith in Mark 10:52 and Luke 18:42 is pistis. Pistis is “related to God with the conviction that God exists and is the creator and ruler of all things, the provider and bestower of eternal salvation through Christ” (G4102). The Greek word pistis is derived from the word peitho (pi´-tho), which in the active voice, signifies “to apply persuasion, to prevail upon or win over, to persuade,” bringing about a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations (G3982). Apparently, God granted Bartimeus eternal salvation immediately because he believed on the Lord Jesus Christ (G4982). Luke’s account of the incident verifies this. He recorded, “Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee” (Luke 18:42). Afterward, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all agreed that Bartimeus followed Jesus to Jerusalem (Matthew 20:34, Mark 10:52, Luke 18:43), and as a result of having his eyesight restored, probably saw Jesus die on the cross.

Why did this happen?

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

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

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

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

The physician

In his parables, Jesus often portrayed himself as a person or thing that was necessary for spiritual health. The Pharisees who were identified as separatists, that is exclusively religious (5330), criticized Jesus for associating with people that were notorious sinners (Matthew 9:11). In his response to their criticism, Jesus compared people that were sinful to those that suffered from a physical disease. He said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). The word Jesus used that is translated whole, ischou (is-khoo’-o) means to have (or exercise) force (2480). Ischou is sometimes translated as “can” or “be able.” On the other hand, the word sick or in the Greek, kakos (kak-oce’) refers to someone that is associated with evil (2560). It could be assumed that a person that was kakos had degenerated to such a low level of bad behavior that her physical health was affected by it. For example, a heroin addict that resorts to prostitution in order to support her habit.

In describing himself as a physician, Jesus was implying that a cure for sin existed. Rather than rewarding those who were able to keep God’s commandments, and for the most part, lived moral lives, Jesus focused his time and energy on the needs of those who were spiritually destitute. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Greek term translated poor, ptochos (pto-khos’) refers to a beggar, someone that is penniless and solicits in the street for money or food (4434). Perhaps, the reason Jesus used such an extreme example of poverty to identify those that would inherit the kingdom of heaven was so that there would be no mistaking the impossibility of people being able to do it on their own. The spiritual need that existed in those who sought help from Jesus was much greater than anyone could possibly describe in physical terms. It was comparable to a dead person being brought back to life, which is probably why Jesus performed that type of miracle on more than one occasion.

Looking at his healing ministry as an object lesson in the effects of sin, Jesus’ identification of himself as the physician was meant to encourage those that were “sick” (Matthew 9:12) to admit their failures and come to him for help. Jesus explained to the Pharisees, “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). In other words, if everyone was following the Mosaic Law and obtaining God’s forgiveness through the sacrifices that were prescribed, there would have been no need for Jesus’ ministry. It was only because the Mosaic Law failed to reform people that God sent his son, Jesus, to be the propitiation or atonement for the sins of his people. Mercy or compassion (1656) was an earmark of Jesus’ ministry and the defining characteristic of him in his role as the physician that came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Desperate measures

Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, came to Jesus for help when his daughter was at the point of death. Even though Jairus fell at Jesus feet when he greeted him, it is unlikely that Jairus was a believer. It was customary at that time, when someone wanted to show reverence to another person to bow down as he greeted him. What Jairus was doing was acknowledging Jesus’ authority and rank as a spiritual leader. Jairus’ public display of humility was probably what prompted Jesus to accompany him to his home. On their way, a woman that had heard about Jesus’ ability to heal the sick came up behind him and touched his robe or outer garment because she thought, “If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole” (Mark 5:28). Rather than continuing on, Jesus decided to stop and use this woman’s example of faith to teach Jairus an important lesson about the desperate measures she was willing to go to in order to be rid of her disease.

It says in Mark 5:25 that the woman that touched Jesus had an issue of blood twelve years. This meant she was ceremonially unclean and was not allowed to enter the temple or to have close contact with anyone associated with God’s work. She was probably filled with shame and was hesitant to approach Jesus while Jairus was present. In spite of this, she made her way through the crowd that surrounded Jesus and got close enough to grab ahold of his robe long enough to experience his miraculous power flow into her body and stop the bleeding. It says in Mark 5:30, “And Jesus immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?” The woman, who was trying to escape without being noticed, came back “fearing and trembling” (Mark 5:33). The woman’s reaction may have been due to the fact that she had been healed without Jesus’ permission. It says that she “came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth” (Mark 5:33). The truth probably being the sin she had committed that she believed was the cause of her flow of blood for twelve years.

While Jesus was interacting with the woman that touched him, Jairus received word that his daughter was dead. It says in Mark 5:36, “As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe.” It almost seems as if Jesus intentionally waited for the news of the girl’s death to come before he interacted with Jairus. Jesus’ warning to not be afraid could mean that Jairus was suddenly made aware of his own spiritual failure. Like the woman with an issue of blood for twelve years, Jairus was no doubt guilty of some sin that he likely blamed for his daughter’s death. Jesus wanted Jairus to see that his need involved more than just a physical healing of his daughter. The desperate situation Jairus was faced with required an act of faith, something he probably didn’t have until after he saw the woman healed who had touched Jesus’ garment. When he said, “only believe” (Mark 5:36), Jesus was telling Jairus to give up on his own method of obtaining righteousness. The only way for his daughter to be healed was for Jairus to entrust his spiritual well being to Jesus (4100).

Mercy

One of God’s primary objectives in sending his son Jesus to live on earth was to give his people a chance to see him face to face and understand what he was really like. For hundreds of years the Jews had been performing rituals to try and make themselves more like God, but they had completely missed the point of why they were doing it: so they could have a personal relationship with the God who created them. In addition to performing many miracles, Jesus did other things that provided evidence to the Jews that he was equal with God. In particular, Jesus showed them that he was Lord over everything in creation, including the demons that possessed his people (Luke 4:35). The religious leaders known as the Pharisees often criticized Jesus because he didn’t follow their rules and were offended because Jesus refused to stop performing miracles on the sabbath, a day in which they claimed no activity that could be considered work, including carrying your bed across town (Mark 2:11), could take place.

In order to demonstrate that he was Lord even of the sabbath, it says in Matthew 12:1, “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were a hungred and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.” The Greek word translated hungred, peinao (pi – nah’ – o) is derived from the root word peno, which means to toil or work for daily subsistence (3993). Jesus’ disciples were starving and literally had no food available to them besides the corn in the field they were walking through. Rather than seeing that Jesus was taking care of the needs of his disciples, when the Pharisees saw what he was doing, “they said unto him, “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:2). Jesus explained to the Pharisees that his disciples were not breaking the sabbath because they were doing what was necessary to sustain their lives. As an example, Jesus asked them, “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11).

Jesus’ rhetorical question was intended to show the Pharisees the absurdity of their remark that Jesus’ disciples were breaking the law by pulling ears of corn from the stalks as they walked through the corn field. In order to convict them of their own sin, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7). In other words, Jesus was stating that the Pharisees were misrepresenting God by condemning the innocent according to his laws. Jesus’ quoted the prophet Hosea who was told by God to, “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). The central theme of Hosea’s prophecy was God’s mercy and his enduring love for his people in spite of their infidelity to him. After drawing the Pharisees attention to God’s mercy, Jesus went into their synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:13). As a result, it says in Matthew 12:14, “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”

Spiritual health

Some of the people Jesus healed were suffering from spiritual afflictions. During one of his visits to Jerusalem, Jesus went by a pool of water where miraculous healings were taking place. The Apostle John said of this incident:

Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt Thou be made whole?

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated whole, hugies (hoog – ee – ace’) means healthy (5199). The base of this word indicates growth or enlargement (837). The way that we know that Jesus was dealing with this man’s spiritual condition rather than his physical condition is the command he gave him after he was healed. Jesus said to the man, “Behold thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

The Hebrew term for whole, raphah (raw – faw’) means to mend(7495). Raphah is used figuratively to refer to someone being cured and is also translated as heal and physician in association with spiritual sicknesses identified in the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 13 -14). Raphah as a primitive root word means to slacken and is translated in various passages in the Old Testament as feeble, fail, weaken, and faint (7503). In Job 5:17-18 it says, “Behold, happy is the man whom God correcteth: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: for he maketh sore, and bindeth up: he woundeth, and his hands make whole.” Psalm 119 uses the phrase “whole heart” several times in reference to a believers relationship with God and a healthy desire for his word. This might suggest that the healing that took place when Jesus made the man at the pool of Bethesda whole was a healing of his heart. Jesus made the man’s heart whole again.

One of the illustration’s the prophet Jeremiah used to convey the unrepentant attitude of God’s people was an earthen bottle or jar made of clay that was broken because of it’s hardened state. God told Jeremiah, “Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee. And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again” (Jeremiah 19:10-11). It is possible that the man Jesus found lying by the pool called Bethesda was suffering from a broken heart that had caused him to become so weak that he was no longer able to get out of bed. Today we might say the man was suffering from depression or some other type of mental and/or emotional illness. When Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be made whole (John 5:6), he was essentially saying, Are you ready to let go and begin to live your life again? Perhaps, what this man really needed to do was forgive himself for some mistake he had made that had brought about the tragedy that happened to him 38 years earlier. When Jesus commanded the man, “Rise, take up thy bed and walk” (John 5:7). It says in John 5:9, “immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked.”

Forgiveness of sins

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

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

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

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

Miracles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of prayer

You may wonder, Can one person make a difference in the world? Is it possible to change the course of history? Hezekiah, king of Judah reigned from 715 B.C. to 686 B.C. during a critical time period when the Assyrian empire was spreading rapidly throughout the middle east. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered by Sargon II, king of Assyria and its people were taken into captivity. In 701 B.C., Sennacherib, king of Assyria attacked Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Judah. Shortly before this, Sennacherib led a campaign against the strongholds of Judah and took them (2 Kings 18:14).

It says in 2 Kings 20:1 that “in those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And the prophet Isaiah the son of Amoz came to him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die and not live.” Isaiah’s use of the words “thus saith the LORD” indicated that God had sovereignly ordained Hezekiah’s death. In response to the news, Hezekiah cried out to the LORD. It says in 2 Kings 20:2-3, “Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the LORD, saying, I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.”

In the early years of his reign, Hezekiah had instituted many reforms in Jerusalem in order to counteract the evil behavior of his father, king Ahaz (2 Kings 18:4). Much to his credit, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18:5, “He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him.” Hezekiah’s relationship with the LORD gave him the confidence he needed to ask God to change his mind. It says in 2 Kings 20:4-6:

And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, Thus saith the LORD, the  God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears:  behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the LORD. And I will add unto thy days fifteen years; and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.

Based on the LORD’s message to Hezekiah, “I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 20:6), it appears that the  LORD intended to give Sennacherib victory over Jerusalem after Hezekiah’s death. It could be that the LORD planned Hezekiah’s death in order to spare him from going into captivity in Assyria. Whatever his intent, the LORD saw Hezekiah’s sincerity and decided to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrian army instead.

An interesting aspect of Hezekiah’s situation was that he asked for a sign that the LORD would actually do what he said he would. “‘Signs’ are attestations of the validity of a prophetic message” (226). In essence, Hezekiah’s request for a sign meant that he doubted what Isaiah said was true. Perhaps, because he knew he could not defeat the Assyrian army. Isaiah gave Hezekiah two options. “And Isaiah said, This sign shalt thou have of the LORD, that the LORD will do the thing that he hath spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten degrees, or go back ten degrees?” (2 Kings 20:9).

The only miracle recorded in the Bible comparable to what Isaiah suggested the LORD would do for a sign to Hezekiah was when the sun stood still while Joshua and his army fought the Amorites. In that instance, it says, “the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hasted not to go down about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13). Since we know now that the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun, what actually happened was the earth stopped spinning for about 24 hours.

In Hezekiah’s case, what Isaiah was suggesting was that the LORD could make the earth rotate in the opposite direction, equivalent to 10 degrees of movement, so that the shadow would go backward instead of forward as it usually did. Based on what we know today, this was scientifically impossible. The amount of time that would have been gained or lost would have been about 20-40 minutes, a somewhat insignificant amount of time compared to the whole day that Joshua gained. Therefore, the evidence of the shadow made it possible to verify that is actually happened.

Hezekiah’s response indicated that he wanted God to do the impossible. “And Hezekiah answered, It is a light thing for the shadow to go down ten degrees: nay, but let the shadow return backward ten degrees. And Isaiah the prophet cried unto the LORD: and he brought the shadow ten degrees backward, by which it had gone down in the dial of Ahaz” (2 Kings 20:10-11).