God’s power

The LORD’s deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt involved a unique display of what God described as “signs and wonders” (Exodus 7:3). He told Moses, “Then, I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment” (Exodus 7:4). “God’s ‘hand’ is another term for God’s ‘power'” (H3027). The signs and wonders that Moses performed in Egypt were meant to be evidence that God was directly involved in what was happening and that his power was superior to all others. The Hebrew word that is translated wonders, mopheth (mo-faith’) “signifies a divine act or a special display of divine power” (H4139). The first occurrence of mopheth in the Bible is in Exodus 4:21 where it says that the LORD transferred his power to Moses, making it possible for him to do miracles without any divine assistance.

The first two miracles that Moses performed were duplicated by Pharaoh’s magicians, but when “Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on man and beast…The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not…Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God'” (Exodus 8:17-19). The expression “the finger of God” was most likely meant to convey God’s handwriting or a signature that confirmed God’s identity. The magicians were letting Pharaoh know that Moses and Aaron were authentic representatives of a divine being with supernatural power. Exodus 8:19 states, “But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.” Pharaoh’s disregard of Moses’ miracle was based on the condition of his heart. The Hebrew word chazaq (khaw-zak’) means to be strong. “In reference to Pharaoh, it means to brace up and strengthen and points too the hardihood with which he set himself to act in defiance against God and closed all the avenues to his heart to those signs and wonders which Moses wrought” (H2388).

Psalm 67 links God’s saving power with his grace and indicates that God’s method of saving people was designed to make him known around the world. The psalmist states, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (Psalm 67:1-2). The Hebrew word that is translated way in Psalm 67:2, derek (deh’-rek) means a road and is used figuratively of “a course of life or mode of action” (H1870). Jesus’ life was not filled with a random set of events, but a fixed course that he was expected to follow that would end with his crucifixion. Several times, Jesus warned his disciples of what was ahead. Matthew’s gospel states, “When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that after two days the Passover is coming and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:1-4).

On several different occasions, Jesus was asked to perform miracles as an indication of his divine authority and power. Matthew recorded one such incident this way:

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. (Matthew 12:38-42)

Jesus was eluding to his death and resurrection when he said the Son of Man would be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. On another occasion he likened his body to the temple of God and said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). Jesus indicated that he would raise himself from the dead and likely specified when his resurrection would occur as additional validation that he was able to control the circumstances that were involved in his death. The chief priests and the Pharisees seemed to think they could prevent Jesus from exiting his tomb by sealing it and placing a guard there. Matthew tells us:

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. (Matthew 27:62-66)

The purpose of sealing Jesus’ tomb and setting a guard outside was supposedly to make sure that no one could get in or out, but really the only thing that it guaranteed was that it would be impossible for someone to enter the tomb without the guards knowing about it. According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus exited his tomb while the sealed stone was still intact. Matthew said:

Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” (Matthew 28:1-7)

The fact that no one was present when Jesus was resurrected suggests that he didn’t want there to be any confusion about the source of his miraculous reanimation. Whether it was God the Father or God the Son or a combined effort between the three persons of the trinity that caused Jesus to come back to life, the thing that is clear about Jesus’ resurrection is that there was no human involvement and the miracle itself was performed behind closed doors so to speak, somewhat like God’s creation of the universe which was witnessed only by angels (Psalm 148:1-2).

The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians indicates that God’s plan of salvation began before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4) and resulted in Christ being seated at God’s right hand after he was raised from the dead (Ephesians 1:20). Paul indicated that believers benefit from the working of God’s power that was exercised when Christ was raised from the dead. Paul prayed that the Ephesians would know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:19) as a result of Christ being seated at the right hand of God “in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:21). Paul went on to say, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Paul’s reference to the immeasurable greatness of Christ’s power and the fact that he is far above all rule and authority and power and dominion was intended to make it clear that there is no longer any competition between Christ and Satan. Jesus’ victory over death put an end to Satan’s attempt to overtake God’s kingdom.

The goal of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was to bring unity to mankind and to reconcile everyone to God. Speaking directly to the Ephesians and indirectly to all non-Jewish people on earth, Paul stated:

Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 4:17-19)

Paul described non-Jewish people as those who have no hope and are without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). The Greek word that is translated without God, atheos (ath’-eh-os) means atheist, an individual that is void of any true recognition of God and is therefore excluded from communion with God (G112). Paul further clarified this by stating, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:17-19).

Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel so that everyone would know the truth about God and would have an opportunity to accept Christ as their Savior. He told them:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Jesus said that he had been given “all authority” (Matthew 28:18). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) has to do with privileges that one has obtained through delegation of power. “From the meaning of ‘leave or permission,’ or liberty of doing as one pleases, it passed to that of ‘the ability or strength with which one is endued,’ then to that of the ‘power of authority,’ the right to exercise power, e.g. Matthew 9:6;21:23; 2 Corinthians 10:8; or ‘the power of rule or government,’ the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g. Matthew 28:18; John 17:2; Jude 25; Revelation 12:10; 17:13; more specifically of apostolic ‘authority,’ 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10” (G1849).

Paul described Satan as the prince of the power of the air and indicated that everyone that is not committed to Christ is under his influence. Paul told the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3). The Greek word pneuma (pnyoo’-mah), which means a current of air and is translated spirit in Ephesians 2:2, is rarely used of wind, but when so used it is known for its strength, vigor, and force” (G4151). Paul used the word pneuma figuratively to represent the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience because Satan’s demonic forces have the ability to affect the inner workings of people’s minds and can cause us to act in ways that we might not want to due to our sinful human nature.

Paul learned through experience that spiritual warfare was a part of doing God’s will. Paul encouraged the Ephesians to “take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13). Paul’s instruction to take up the whole armor of God implies that it is up to us to protect ourselves from Satan’s spiritual onslaught, but it could be that Paul was talking about something that is available to us and yet, deemed to be unnecessary. Paul may have been referring to the power that is at believers’ disposal, but rarely accessed because of our tendency to try and do things in our own strength rather than in God’s power. Paul said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10-12).

In the same way that Christ was raised from the dead and seated at the right hand of God in the heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, we can stand against the schemes of the devil by exercising God’s power. Paul said that we are to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Ephesians 6:10). The Greek word endunamoo (en-doo-nam-o’-o) which is translated strong means to empower (G1743). Dunamoo is derived from the word dunamis (doo’-nam’is) which refers specifically to miraculous power. “Dunamis almost always points to new and higher forces that have entered and are working in this lower world of ours” (G1411). The Greek word translated strength, kratos (krat’-os) generally refers to might or power and is spoken of God with regards to his ruling control and dominion (G2904). The Greek word that is translated might, ischus (is-khoos’) refers to forcefulness of both body and mind (G2479) and is used to describe Christ’s potency and preeminence in Ephesians 1:19 where Paul talked about the immeasurable greatness of God’s power toward us who believe “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.”

Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” was followed by this assuring statement, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus’ reference to being “with” his disciples might seem like he was assuring them of his constant presence because the Greek word meta (met-ah’) denotes accompaniment, but meta is “often used in composition, in substantially the same relations of participation or proximity, and transfer or sequence” (G3326). It could be that what Jesus meant by being “with” his disciples was that it would seem like he was still doing all the things that he had been when he was living on earth. The same power that Jesus used to perform miracles, including being raised from the dead, would be at work in and through his disciples. God’s power was transferred to Jesus’ disciples so that they could carry on with his ministry. Paul eluded to this when he said that God put all things under Christ’s feet “and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23).

The Greek word that is translated fullness in Ephesians 1:23, pleroma (play’-ro-mah) refers to God, in the completeness of His Being and “the church as the complement of Christ, Ephesians 1:23” (G4138). The Greek word pleroo (play-ro’-o) which is translated fills means “to make replete, i.e. (literally) to cram (a net), level up (a hollow), or (figuratively) to furnish (or imbue, diffuse, influence), satisfy, execute (an office), finish ( a period or task)” (G4137). Paul said that the fullness of Christ fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23) with regards to the church acting as his body to carry out his will on earth. From that standpoint, all of the power that was available to Christ while he was living on earth is available to Christians that are making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded us. The way that we access God’s power is to “take up the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:13). In other words, we have to rely on Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross and believe that it applies to us.

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).

Persecution

The rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem reached a point where the number of people joined together couldn’t be counted. Luke simply said, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). The growth of the church in Jerusalem was so expeditious that word of what was going on there began to spill over into neighboring cities. Luke recorded that “there came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one” (Acts 5:16). The scene probably resembled the early days of Jesus’ ministry. After he was rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus went to Capernaum, a city of Galilee, where he cast out demons and Luke reported, “the fame of him went out into every place of the country round about” (Luke 4:37).

Along with the rapid growth of the church, came the persecution that Jesus experienced when he was on Earth. Peter’s boldness in preaching the message of Jesus’ resurrection against their warning upset the religious leaders and made them intent on stopping his ministry. When they were found preaching in the temple after their escape from prison, Jesus’ disciples were asked, “Did not we straitly command you that you should not teach in this name? and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us. then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, we ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:28-29). Peter and the other apostles’ bold declaration that their allegiance belonged only to God stirred up the wrath of the religious leaders that were questioning them. Their emphatic statement that, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree” (Acts 5: 30) made it obvious that the apostles intended to work in direct opposition to the religious authority they were being challenged by.

Luke reported that when the religious leaders heard Peter and the other apostles’ declaration of independence, “they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them” (Acts 5:33). Although the apostles were only physically beaten and then released (Acts 5:40-41), the atmosphere in Jerusalem most likely returned to one of hostility and resentment toward Jesus. A more pronounced situation of conflict arose within the church and Luke said, “there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration” (Acts 6:1). As a result of this conflict, seven men were identified to oversee the activities of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 6:3). Among those chosen, was a man named Stephen (Acts 6:5). Luke said, “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people” (Acts 6:8). Because of his immediate fame, Stephen was falsely accused of speaking blasphemy and brought before a religious council to be judged. False witnesses that testified against Stephen, stated, “For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:12-14).

Faith in action

Jesus’ departure from the world presented a problem for his ministry to be carried on because his followers were used to him doing most of the work. As his death approached, Jesus began to prepare his disciples to continue on without  him. One of the significant issues was performing miracles. Jesus taught that faith in him was the key to receiving God’s power. In addition to that, Jesus said, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you” (Matthew 17:20).

Jesus taught his disciples that unbelief was the opposite of faith (Matthew 17:17) and warned them that their exposure to false teaching had damaged their ability to trust him and would therefore, hinder their spiritual growth (Matthew 17:20). Jesus used the limited time he had on Earth to correct doctrinal errors in the Jews’ belief system and taught his disciples the truth about God’s kingdom. On at least one occasion, Jesus gave his disciples an opportunity to exercise their faith by sending them out to minister on their own (Luke 10:17).

When Jesus was told that his friend Lazarus was sick, he intentionally waited two days to go to his home in Bethany (John 11:6), “Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judea again” (John 11:7). Jesus already knew Lazarus was dead (John 11:14), so there was no need for him to go right away, but there was also no need for him to wait two days if his plan was to raise Lazarus from the dead. The delay in Jesus’ departure was probably due to everyone’s expectation that he would fix things for Martha and Mary, rather than them doing something about it on their own.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him. “Then said Martha unto Jesus, Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21). Essentially, what Martha was saying was that it was Jesus’ fault that Lazarus had died. She was blaming him for not being there. Jesus’ response was meant to ignite Martha’s faith. “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day” (John 11:23-24). Martha knew Lazarus was saved and was a believer herself, but she wasn’t using her faith to deal with her difficult circumstance.

Jesus refreshed Martha’s faith by giving her a quick lesson on the topic of life after death:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whosoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” (ESV)

What Jesus wanted Martha to understand was that her brother Lazarus was still alive, he just wasn’t living in his body. Apparently, Martha didn’t fully grasp the concept of life after death, but she did believe Jesus was who he claimed to be, Israel’s Messiah.

When they arrived at Lazarus’ grave, which was a cave with a stone blocking the entrance, “Jesus said, Take away the stone” (John 11:39, ESV). Martha’s reaction revealed the barrier to her belief. “Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?'” (John 11:39-40, ESV). Jesus’ statement showed there was an element of Martha’s faith that was missing. She was not willing to do what he told her to. In order to be truly committed to Christ, Martha had to act, she had to demonstrate her faith through obedience.

After the stone was removed, Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus come forth” (John 11:43). Another way of saying this would be, Lazarus, get out here! When Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, he was not calling him back from the dead. It is likely that Lazarus had already been revived by God at the time the stone was rolled away from his grave. The reason why Jesus cried out with a loud voice was so that everyone would know he wasn’t calling Lazarus out of the grave; he wanted him to come out of the cave. The miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection was not the result of Jesus’ supernatural ability to bring him back to life. It was the result of Martha’s faith filled obedience to roll away the stone.

Unbelief

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

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

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

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

Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, Why could not we cast him out? And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place: and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

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

 

Famous

In the first century A.D., news traveled primarily by word of mouth, and walking was how most people got from one place to another. Therefore, you wouldn’t expect someone to become famous overnight like sometimes happens today with the internet and satellite TV spreading information around the world instantaneously. Although Jesus didn’t become famous overnight, news of his miracles spread very quickly, and it wasn’t long before he couldn’t go anywhere within the region of Judea and Jerusalem without being recognized. Even in the areas of wilderness where there were no residents, multitudes of people flocked to hear Jesus teach (Matthew 14:15, 15:33). After a second incident in which Jesus fed thousands of people that had come to hear him preach, Matthew tells us, “Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon” (Matthew 15:21). These two pagan cities were located outside the boundaries of the territory settled by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land, and would have most likely not had anyone living there who worshipped God. And yet, Matthew said after Jesus arrived, “And behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil” (Matthew 15:22).

Mark’s account of the incident indicated the woman who came to Jesus was not Jewish, but “a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation” (Mark 7:26). Of course, there is no way of knowing how this woman actually heard about Jesus or came to believe that he could expel the demon that possessed her daughter, but it is likely that this Canaanite woman knew someone that had been to Galilee and had witnessed Jesus do the very same thing. Afterward, Jesus left the area and returned to the sea of Galilee by way of the coasts of Decapolis, suggesting he elected to travel by ship in order to avoid any further interruptions. Upon his arrival, Mark reported, “And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him” (Mark 7:32). Clearly, Jesus’ fame was spreading so quickly that he could no longer avoid interruptions, no matter where he went or what mode of travel he chose. Mark reported, “And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; and were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak” (Mark 7:36-37).

Compassion

One of the reasons Jesus came to live on earth was to demonstrate God’s love for his people. Many misconceptions about God’s character and lies about his plan of salvation had crept into the traditions that were taught to the remnant of Israelites that returned to the Promised Land after their time of captivity in Babylon was completed. In particular, the religious leaders known as the Pharisees taught the Jews that a person was considered defiled or separated from God by simply not washing his hands before eating a meal (Matthew 15:2). The rules and regulations that governed activities in God’s temple were so outrageous that it wasn’t surprising the people flocked to hear Jesus teach the simple truth about salvation and the kingdom of heaven.

On more than one occasion, a multitude of people went to hear Jesus preach in a remote location where food was unavailable. The second of these incidents is recorded in both Matthew 15:32-39 and Mark 8:1-9. Matthew and Mark’s accounts are very similar, suggesting either that both of these men were present when it happened or the facts of the incident were transferred from one man to the other. Both stories begin with a statement from Jesus about his concern for the people. Matthew recorded, “Then Jesus called his disciples unto him, and said, I have compassion on the multitude, because they continue with me now three days, and have nothing to eat: and I will not send them away fasting, lest they faint in the way” (Matthew 15:32).

The Greek word translated compassion, splagchnizomai (splangkh-nid’-zom-ahee) means “to have the bowels yearn that is (figuratively) feel sympathy to pity” (4697). Jesus’ inward affection for the multitude may have been prompted by their willingness to go three days without food in order to not miss anything he had to say to them. You could say that the people were so hungry spiritually to hear the truth of his gospel that they forgot all about their physical hunger. Jesus’ decision to not send the people away without feeding them first showed that his compassion for them was so intense, he was compelled to do something about it. The miracle he performed was merely a matter of exercising his supernatural ability, rather than faith, as was typically needed for Jesus’ power to be released.

The surprising thing about the repeating of Jesus’ supernatural feeding of the multitude was that his disciples didn’t seem to think it was possible, even though a similar miracle had already been performed. After Jesus stated his intention, Matthew recorded, “And his disciples say unto him, Whence should we have so much bread in the wilderness, as to fill so great a multitude?” (Matthew 15:33). It seems unlikely that his disciples could have so quickly forgotten the time when Jesus fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes (Matthew 14:20). Therefore, it is possible Jesus’ disciples didn’t think he could do the same thing twice. In other words, Jesus wasn’t allowed to repeat a miracle he had already performed, but his compassion for the people made him do it anyway.

Walking on water (part 2)

Mark’s account of Jesus walking on water showed that he did not intend for his disciples to know what he was doing. Mark said, “about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them” (Mark 6:48). It appears that Jesus’ intention was only to get to the other side of the sea ahead of his disciples. “But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: for they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:49-50). Apparently, Jesus had transformed himself into a form that may have been somewhat ghostlike or transparent. A clue as to what this form was like can be found in John 6:19 where it states the disciples saw Jesus “walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid.” The Greek term translated drawing, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means “to cause to be (generate) that is (reflexively) to become (come into being)” (1096). What may have happened was that Jesus transformed himself back into a physical state because his disciples were fearful he was dead when they saw him walking across the sea as a spirit.

Whether or not Jesus walked across the sea of Galilee in a spiritual or physical state is not completely clear, but it is evident that at the time when Jesus arrived at the boat in which his disciples were traveling, he appeared to be normal as he stood upon the water talking to them. His salutation, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50) suggested that Jesus was calming the disciples and making them aware that everything was fine. It was at this point that Peter spoke up and said, “If it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water” (Matthew 14:28). Essentially, Peter’s remark was a confession of faith. Another way of stating what Peter said would be, “because it is you, bid me come unto thee on the water.” In other words, Peter wanted to do what he saw Jesus was able to. Perhaps, Peter thought it would be cool to walk on the water, or he may have been trying to impress Jesus with his exuberant act of faith, but Matthew said, when Peter “saw the wind boysterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). The difference between Jesus walking on water and Peter walking on water was that Peter didn’t have authority over the wind as Jesus did. Peter’s disadvantage was that he couldn’t keep the wind from knocking him around; and he was most likely fearful because once he was out of the boat, he realized the wind’s powerful force could cause him to crash into the water like a tomato on a hardwood floor. Matthew tells us that Peter began to sink and cried out to Jesus, saying, “Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:30), meaning, he acknowledged Jesus’ deity and his ability to do more than Peter was able to.

Walking on water

It was obvious from the miracles Jesus performed that he had supernatural ability to do things that no one had ever seen done before. What was less obvious, but just as true, was that Jesus’ disciples had the same supernatural ability. When Jesus was about to send his disciples out to preach the gospel, it says in Luke 9:1, “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.” The Greek word translated power, dunamis (doo’-nam-is) specifically refers to miraculous power (1411), but the Greek word dunamis is derived from, dunamai (doo’-nam-ahee) suggests that the twelve apostles had limitless power, the ability to do everything that Jesus was able to. An example of this is found in Matthew’s gospel where it is recorded that Peter walked on the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:29). After Peter was come down out of the ship, Matthew said, “he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me” (Matthew 14:29-30). Jesus reached out and grabbed Peter by the hand in order to keep him from sinking, and then rebuked him stating, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt” (Matthew 14:31).

The problem with Peter’s faith was that it lacked confidence. The term Jesus used to describe it, “little faith” could also be translated “puny argument” (3641/3982). In other words, Peter’s demonstration of his faith was unconvincing. Even though he got out of the boat, Peter wasn’t certain he wanted to walk across the sea as Jesus had just done (Matthew 14:25). Jesus pointed out that the reason Peter began to sink was because he doubted (Matthew 14:31) or mentally wavered from his original conviction (1365) about the possibility that he could do what Jesus had commanded him to, “come” to him on the water (Matthew 14:29). Matthew said the cause of Peter’s mental wavering was fear. He explained, “But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid” (Matthew 14:30). Although Peter may have been overcome by fear, it was not his fear that caused him to doubt. The Greek word translated doubt, distazo (dis-tad’-zo) means to duplicate (1365), the word distazo is derived from, dis (dece) which means twice (1364) or duo (doo’-o) to have two of something. At the moment when he began to doubt, it is likely that Peter thought twice about what he was doing and realized that walking on water was humanly impossible; but what is even more likely than that, is that at the moment his doubt got the better of him, Peter realized that he and Jesus were doing the same thing and that meant that, if Peter continued, he would no longer be able to excuse himself from doing whatever God commanded him to.

The supernatural

Merriam-Webster defines supernatural as that which is “of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe especially of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil; departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature.” Some people associate the supernatural with magic and believe that it involves incantations or requires some sort of special power beyond this world for it to occur. Jesus demonstrated that supernatural feats can be performed by human beings who merely believe they are possible. Jesus told his disciples the reason they could not perform miracles was their unbelief, and said to them, “If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20).

Only part of Jesus’ ministry involved performing miracles; his primary focus was teaching people about the kingdom of heaven. Sometimes the two were intertwined, but for the most part, Jesus performed miracles only on an individual basis for those who demonstrated belief in his ability to do such things. After John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod, Jesus took his disciples by boat to a place described as “a desert place” where they could “rest for a while.” Mark said the reason for their departure to an isolated location was because “there were many coming and going, and they had no leisure so much as to eat” (Mark 6:31). Tired, and most likely discouraged by the death of his cousin John, Jesus decided everyone in his company needed a break, and would benefit from a short period of isolation. Unfortunately, Mark tells us:

And the people saw them departing, and many knew him, and ran afoot thither out of all cities, and outwent them, and came together unto him. And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. And when the day was far spent, his disciples came unto him, and said, This is a desert place, and now the time is far passed: send them away, that they may go into the country round about, and into the villages, and buy themselves bread: for they have nothing to eat. (Mark 6:33-36)

From Mark’s account of the incident, we know there were at least 5,000 men there listening to Jesus preach (Mark 6:44). Matthew stated there were “about five thousand men, beside women and children” (Matthew 14:21). What is clear about the situation is that there was not enough food available to feed the people. One of Jesus’ disciples estimated that it would take “two hundred pennyworth of bread” (Mark 6:37) or the equivalent of 200 days of wages in order to feed them. After searching for available resources, the disciples found only five loaves of bread and two fishes (Mark 6:38). Mark’s account of what happened next showed no evidence of anything mysterious or mystical happening, only that Jesus “brake the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before them; and the two fishes divided he among them all” (Mark 6:41). From this meager portion, Jesus was able to supernaturally feed everyone, and afterward, “they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments, and of the fishes” (Mark 6:43).