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.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

Alive again

Jesus’ ability to raise someone from the dead was demonstrated three different times during his ministry. The first occasion is recorded in Luke 7:11-17. This miracle was performed by Jesus in the presence of many witnesses. Luke tells us, “And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her” (Luke 7:11-12). The circumstances of the situation were such that Jesus decided to act without any request or intervention from anyone that was involved. Jesus saw the dead man being carried out of the city and discerned within himself that his help was needed. Luke said, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13).

The focus of Jesus’ attention was the mother of the dead man, who also happened to be a widow. Because her only son was dead, and she no longer had a husband to take care of her, the woman would have quickly become destitute after her son’s death, and likely would have herself died within a short period of time. Jesus’ command to the woman, “weep not” indicated that the woman was deeply distressed. The Greek word translated weep, klaio (klah´-yo) means to sob that is wail aloud (2799). It is evident from Luke’s account that the dead man himself had nothing to do with Jesus’ decision to raise him from the dead. In fact, it can be assumed from his command, that Jesus was invoking his will upon the dead man. Luke states, “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14).

The Greek word Jesus used egeiro (eg -i´-ro), which is translated “arise” (Luke 7:14), is the same word he used in John 5:21 where it says, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” It is possible that Jesus intended his action of bringing the dead man back to life to be an object lesson for his disciples of what he meant by rising from the dead or being alive again after death. Even though this was the first time Jesus had performed this type of miracle, it was not the first time such a thing had ever happened. In the Old Testament, prophets had the ability to raise people from the dead (2 Kings 4:34). What Jesus was demonstrating was his authority to raise from the dead anyone he chose to. It is likely that the woman’s dead son was not a believer. After Jesus spoke the command, “Arise” (Luke 7:14), Luke tells us, “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (Luke 7:15).

A miracle

The completion of the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15) was viewed by those outside the city as a miracle of God. It says in Nehemiah 6:16, “And it came to pass, that when all our enemies heard thereof, and all the heathen that were about us saw these things, they were much cast down in their own eyes: for they perceived that this work was wrought of our God.” There is no evidence that God was actually involved in the rebuilding of the wall. The only mention of him was when Nehemiah said that God had put it in his heart to do the work (Nehemiah 2:12). What was more likely the cause of the Jews success was Nehemiah’s leadership and the collaboration of the people.

Nehemiah persevered in spite of all sorts of trouble and a concerted effort by three men; Sanballat, Tobiah, and Geshem, to stop him. Perhaps, the greatest tribute to Nehemiah’s accomplishment was his determined conviction that it was God’s will for the wall to be rebuilt. The first Jews returned from captivity in 538 B.C. and Nehemiah recorded that the wall was completed on October 2, 444 B.C. (Nehemiah 6:15), so close to a hundred years had passed and little was accomplished in the way of securing the city of Jerusalem until Nehemiah came on the scene. What probably differentiated Nehemiah the most from the other men that had attempted the difficult task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall was his belief that it was possible if everyone did their part, including himself.

A missed opportunity

The ambassadors of the princes of Babylon came to see Hezekiah king of Judah for a specific reason. They wanted “to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land” (2 Chronicles 32:31). A wonder is a divine act or a special display of divine power” (4159). In Hezekiah’s case, it was the healing of a sickness that would eventually cause his death. In other words, Hezekiah had a terminal illness and God cured him of it. The men that came to visit heard of Hezekiah’s illness and recovery and brought an offering as an act of worship.

The visit from the ambassadors of Babylon, was an opportunity for Hezekiah to share his faith with them. Their awareness of Hezekiah’s healing and their act of worship demonstrated their belief that Hezekiah’s God was real and could do things that no other god was capable of. In this situation, it says of Hezekiah in 2 Chronicles 32:31 “God left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.” God had shown Hezekiah mercy by responding when he prayed, “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” (2 Kings 20:3). Hezekiah’s claim of having a perfect heart meant that he had been totally obedient to God’s word (8003).

God’s testing of Hezekiah’s heart was intended to show whether he believed God’s mercy was responsible for all the prosperity of his kingdom or whether Hezekiah believed he had earned everything God had given him through his good behavior. When 2 Chronicles 32:31 said, God left Hezekiah, it was saying that God let him handle the situation on his own (5800). God didn’t tell Hezekiah what to do. When the men from Babylon came to visit, “Hezekiah hearkened unto them, and showed them all the house of his precious things” (2 Kings 20:13). The Hebrew word translated hearkened, shama means that he gave the men his undivided attention (8085). Hezekiah was listening to what the men had to say, following their directions, rather than the other way around.

A clue to Hezekiah’s motivation is found in 2 Chronicles 32:25. It says, “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up.” Seeing all of Hezekiah’s riches was not the purpose of the visit from the men from Babylon. They came because they had heard about the miracle God had done for him. Instead of taking them on a tour of his grand palace, Hezekiah should have been inviting the men to convert to Judaism.

Hezekiah didn’t understand that these men were not on his side. They were idolaters that needed to know how they could be saved. Hezekiah made it seem as if everything he had could be shared with the men from Babylon, but that wasn’t true. Only God’s people were under his protection and could share in the wealth of his kingdom. Because Hezekiah didn’t honor God and testify to his mercy toward his people, the men went away thinking God’s riches consisted only of silver and gold and it was theirs for the taking.