God’s will

There are two components of God will that work together to accomplish the things that God wants to do, the part that God does and the part that we do. We usually know what God is doing or has already done because he tells us. Prophecy is when God tells us what he is going to do before he does it. God also tells us what he wants us to do through commands or instructions. An example of how this works can be found in Genesis 12:1-3 which records God’s promise to Abraham. It states:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:4 tells us that “Abram went, as the LORD had told him.” Abraham’s obedience instigated the work that God intended to do in his and his descendants lives for hundreds of years and paved the way for a covenant that secured their participation in his eternal kingdom.

Abraham’s grandson Jacob was not as cooperative as he was and made it more difficult for God to continue working in the lives of Abraham’s descendants. After Jacob increased greatly in the land of Paddan-aram, “Then the LORD said to Jacob, ‘Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3). Jacob left Paddan-aram (Genesis 31:17), but stopped before he reached his father’s house. Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, but after his daughter Dinah was raped and his sons killed all the men of the city in retaliation, Jacob said to his sons Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household” (Genesis 34:30).

Jacob’s doubts and fears seemed to continue the rest of his life. When his son Joseph told him and his brothers about a dream that he had, Jacob “rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?'” (Genesis 37:10). Jacob’s lack of faith seemed to reach its pinnacle when he was presented with his son Joseph’s coat after his brothers had dipped in the blood of a goat. Jacob “identified it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces'” (Genesis 37:33). The Hebrew word that is translated “without doubt,” taraph (taw-raf’) refers to the evidence that was presented to Jacob. It appeared that Jacob had been eaten by a wild animal, but “the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:38).

God continued to work in Joseph’s life in spite of Jacob and his other son’s resistance and even outright rebellion against God’s will for them. Joseph’s position as the governor of Egypt made it possible for Jacob’s family to receive food and remain alive during a severe famine. After Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, “They went up out of Egypt and came to the land of Canaan to their father Jacob. And they told him, ‘Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart became numb, for he did not believe them” (Genesis 45:25-26). When Jacob finally learned the truth about Joseph’s disappearance, he was unable to believe it. The King James Version of Genesis 45:26 states that “Jacob’s heart fainted.” The Hebrew word that is used, puwg (poog) means to be sluggish (H6313). A word that is derived from puwg, puwgah (poo-gaw’) means intermission (H6314), suggesting that Jacob had a heart attack or went into shock because the good news that Joseph was still alive was not at all what he had expected to hear when his sons got back from Egypt.

Before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he sent two of his disciples ahead of him, and told them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them, and he will send them at once.’ This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”‘” (Matthew 21:2-5). It was God’s will for Jesus to enter the city at that exact moment in time and in the exact way that he did, riding on the colt of a donkey. Jesus, the two disciples that obeyed his instruction and the owner of the donkey and its colt all played a part in making it happen just as it had been foretold hundreds of years earlier. And yet, “when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee'” (Matthew 21:10-11). The crowds witnessed what happened, but interpreted it incorrectly. Jesus was not just a prophet, but the “Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9), Israel’s Messiah.

After he recovered from the shock of hearing that Joseph was still alive, Jacob went to Beersheba, “and offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac” (Genesis 46:1). The fact that Jacob offered sacrifices to the God of his father, rather than his own God seems to suggest that Jacob had still not done his part of God’s will, which was to accept the Lord as his Savior. Jacob had many years earlier left Beersheba and went toward Haran (Genesis 28:10) to live with his uncle Laban and promised, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house” (Genesis 28:20-22). Jacob’s stipulation that God keep him in the way he was going suggests that he wanted God to do his will instead of the other way around. It seemed that Jacob never got to a place where he was willing to submit himself completely to God’s will. And yet, God continued to do what he said he would. He told Jacob, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I myself will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up again, and Joseph’s hand shall close your eyes” (Genesis 46:3-4).

God’s description of Jacob’s travels as going down to Egypt and coming back up again, may have been his way of assuring Jacob that he still planned to establish his family in the Promised Land, God’s will for Abraham’s descendants had not changed. God also said that he would go with Jacob to Egypt. In other words, God would continue to work in Jacob’s life even while he was living in a foreign land. After Jacob arrived in Goshen, “Then Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to meet Israel his father in Goshen. He presented himself to him and fell on his neck and wept on his neck a good while” (Genesis 46:29). When Joseph presented himself to his father, he was essentially proving that his father was wrong about the future. Jacob didn’t believe Joseph was alive until he saw him face to face (Genesis 46:30). The Hebrew word ra’ah (raw-aw’), which is translated presented himself, “can represent mentally recognizing that something is true” (H7200). When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, Matthew said, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 21:4). The Greek word that is translated took place, ginomai (ghin’-om-ahee) means to cause to be or “to become (come into being)” (G1096), the context being physical existence. When prophecy is fulfilled, it means that God’s will has been completed. Therefore, seeing Joseph’s face changed Jacob’s mind about God’s intention for his life.

Jesus gave his disciples a visual lesson in accomplishing God’s will. Matthew tells us, “In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once” (Matthew 21:18-19). When Jesus’ disciples observed the fig tree withering up as a result of what Jesus said, they marveled because of the immediate response he got (Matthew 21:20). Jesus explained to them that what happened was an outcome of having complete confidence in God. Jesus told them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what had been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive if you have faith” (Matthew 21:21-22). Jesus stipulated that you must have faith and not doubt because these two aspects of our human nature contradict each other. Doubt is not the absence of faith, but an opposing viewpoint. The Greek word that is translated doubt, diakrino (dee-ak-ree’-no) means “to withdraw from, or (by implication) oppose” (G1252). Figuratively, diakrino means to discriminate or decide. The two words that diakrino are derived from, dia (dee-ah’) which denotes that channel of an act (G1223), and krino (kree’-no) which means to be of opinion as in deciding if something is right or wrong (G2919), suggests that doubt is a determination that God’s will is wrong and should not be acted on.

It might be easy to think that Jesus cursing a fig tree because it had no fruit on it was unfair of him or perhaps, even a cruel act of revenge, but the purpose of the fig tree was to provide fruit for its master and it had failed to do that. Jesus had the authority to determine its fate and the fig tree was unable to oppose him. Jesus’ authority was the key that unlocked God’s ability to do things for him. The chief priests and elders of the people asked Jesus, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (Matthew 21:23). The Greek word exousia (ex-oo-see’-ah) refers to the liberty of doing as one pleases (G1849). Exousia is derived from the word existi (ex’-es-tee) which essentially means “it is right” or lawful (G1832). Jesus didn’t answer the priest’s question about his authority, but went on to tell a parable about two sons that were expected to work in their father’s vineyard.

“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

Jesus focused on the connection between obedience and believing what one has been told to do. Jesus said that the son that refused to work in his father’s vineyard changed his mind and did what his father told him to. The Greek word that is translated changed his mind, metamellomai (met-am-el’-lom-ahee) means to care afterward, i.e. regret and “stresses a change of the will which results in change in single individual actions and is translated ‘to repent'” (G3338). John the Baptist’s primary message was, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). The problem that Jesus pointed out was that the religious leaders didn’t think they needed to repent. They thought they were doing what was right, but the tax collectors and prostitutes knew they were sinners.

Jacob’s departure from the Promised Land may have felt like a demoralizing defeat to him, but God assured him that he would be blessed no matter where he went. God said, “Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation” (Genesis 46:3). In the same way that God had made Joseph the lord of all Egypt, he intended to transform Jacob’s family into a great nation through difficult circumstances and suffering. Jacob’s life was somewhat of a precursor to the bondage that all of his family would eventually have to endure. When Pharaoh asked him how many years he had lived, Jacob told him, “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” (Genesis 47:9). Jacob’s description of his years as being few and evil probably had to do with his realization that God’s will for his life was not what he thought it was. It was almost as if Jacob thought he had been cursed by God rather than having received his blessing. The Hebrew word that is translated evil, ra’ (rah) “Combines together in one the wicked deed and its consequences. It generally indicates the rough exterior of wrongdoing as a breach of harmony, and as breaking up of what is good and desirable in man and in society. While the prominent characteristic of the godly is lovingkindness (H2617), one of the most marked features of the ungodly man is that his course is an injury to both himself and to everyone around him” (H7451).

In his parable of the vineyard, Jesus associated the contradiction of God’s will with a desire to usurp his authority. Jesus likened the Jewish religious leaders to tenants of a vineyard that refused to pay their rent and asked, “When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” His disciples responded, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:40-41). Jesus concluded by stating, “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 21:43-44). Jesus’ differentiation between being broken to pieces and crushed by God’s authority might likely have to do with a person’s willingness to change his mind. To a certain extent, repentance is just admitting that you have been wrong. It seems that Jacob was broken to pieces by his disobedience, but he and his family were not abandoned by God. In fact, God made a way for them to move into the land of Goshen and thrive for hundreds of years so that his prophecy that they would become a great nation could be fulfilled.

Obedience

Paul’s letter to the Philippians focused on the result of being born again. Aside from the hope that every Christian has of going to heaven when we die, there is a practical side to having put our faith in Christ. Paul told the Philippians that he was “confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). Paul didn’t explain what the good work was that God was doing in the lives of the believers at Philippi, but the context of his letter showed that the Philippians were being obedient to God’s word. Paul was writing to the Philippians to thank them for a gift they had sent him upon learning of his detention in Rome (Introduction to The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, p. 1705). Rather than abandoning him in his time of need, the Philippians stood by Paul and encouraged him to keep preaching the gospel and fighting the good fight of faith.

Paul used the example of Christ to explain why suffering was necessary and told the Philippians, “You are not only to put your trust in Him, but you are to suffer for Him also. You know what the fight is like. Now it is time for you to have a part in it as I have” (Philippians 1:29-30, NLV). Paul pointed out that obedience was necessary for Christ to win the battle against Satan and instructed the Philippians to:

Let this mind be in you, which as also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of a men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:4-8)

The Greek word Paul used that is translated obedient, hupekoos (hoop-ay’-ko-os) means to listen attentively and by implication submission (G5255). Hupekoos is derived from the word hupakouo which comes from the words hupo indicating an inferior position or condition (G5259) and akouo (ak-oo’-o), a verb that denotes both the sound and meaning of what is spoken (G191). Akouo is used in John 1:40 where it says, “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.” Akouo in this verse means literally “‘heard from beside John,’ suggesting that he stood beside him.” In other words, Andrew’s obedience (he followed John) was the result of an intimate conversation he had with him.

Paul’s explanation of obedience suggested that it was a dual or combined effort between God and believers. He said, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, NKJV). The Greek words that are translated work and works, have to do with the results or effect of an intentional effort to accomplish a supernatural task (G2716/G1754). One way to look at our obedience to God’s will is to see that the Holy Spirit (God’s supernatural power in us) is activated when we do what God’s wants us to and the result is the accomplishment of a supernatural task that we could not have accomplished on our own.

Abiding in Christ

Jesus used the analogy of a vine and branches to describe his relationship with his followers. The main point Jesus was trying to communicate was the importance of sticking together. Jesus used the words abide and remain to convey his message, as well as the term husbandman to describe God’s role in the process. In the second and third verses of John 15, Jesus said, “I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away, and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.”

The word translated purgeth in John 15:2 is representative of the pruning process, but it actually means to cleanse and metaphorically, Jesus spoke of purging his worshippers of guilt (G2508). To be clean means that we are free from guilt. Jesus said in John 15:3, “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” In other words, reading our Bibles and hearing its content preached to us takes away our guilt. We grow closer to Jesus and show visible signs of spiritual health when we spend time studying the Bible.

Jesus linked our ability to abide in him with love and obeying his commandments. He said in John 15:10, “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” The word translated love in this verse is agape (ag-ah´-pay), which is sometimes referred to as Christian love. “Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments. Self-will, that is, self-pleasing, is the negation of love to God” (G26).

If you think of agape love as doing what God wants us to do rather than what we ourselves want to do, then abiding in Jesus’ love means that we are always doing the will of God. Jesus said, “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12-13). Jesus did God’s will by dying on the cross for us, so we should show our love for others by doing God’s will for them. This could be as simple as praying for a friend that is sick or giving away our time by serving in a church ministry.

One of the keys to abiding in Christ and bearing fruit is the realization that we have been chosen by God and appointed to serve him (John 15:16). We are knit together by close spiritual bonds that form us into the family of God and separate us from the world (John 15:19). The separation we experience is actually evidence that we belong to God. The farther we get from the world, the adornment and decoration of temporal possessions, the closer we get to Jesus and the will of God.

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.

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).

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 law of love

Jesus’ teaching provided a sharp contrast to the laws of Moses which were intended to keep the Jews from defiling themselves and preventing them from entering the temple in order to worship God. Perhaps the most controversial statement Jesus made was directed at the multitude of followers that flocked to him for healing of their diseases. He told these believers, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you” (Luke 6:27). This clear direction was probably intended to thin the crowd and impressed upon the people that sought fellowship with Jesus that his way of living was not about an easy way of life, but actually involved the hardest choice that anyone would ever have to make. Jesus didn’t say, forgive your enemies, or forget about the wrongs that they have committed against you, but he commanded his followers to love their enemies in the same way that God loved them.

The Greek word Jesus used that is translated love is agapao. The Greek word agape, which describes the attitude of God toward his Son (26), is derived from the word agapao. Agapao expresses love in a social or moral sense and is sometimes translated as “beloved” in reference to believers (25). Within Jesus’ explanation of this agapao type of love is what is sometimes referred to as the golden rule, Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31). Afterward, Jesus stated, “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them” (Luke 6:32). Jesus was telling his disciples that they had to live a completely different way if they wanted to be members of God’s kingdom. The first criteria for gaining access to God’s kingdom was a genuine love for all of mankind.

Digging deeper into his law of love, it could be seen that a principle of sowing and reaping or reciprocity was the basis of Jesus’ new way of life. Jesus told his disciples, “Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven: give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom, For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again” (Luke 6:36-38). Comparing his followers to the religious hypocrites that had condemned him for breaking the sabbath, Jesus’ warned his disciples against judging others (Luke 6:42) and told them, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).

After defining his remarkable law of love, Jesus encouraged his disciples with an example of what they could expect if they chose to follow his difficult teaching. He said:

Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: he is like a man which built a house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon the rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built a house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great. (Luke 6:47-49)

True identity

Although Jesus was born with the divine authority of God, he did not as a child have all of the capabilities he needed to minister to God’s people. As a human, Jesus had to mature spiritually and gain experience in life. It says in Luke 2:40 that his parents did everything required of them according to the law of the Lord and then, “the child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” In other words, Jesus was raised like any other Jewish child. He did not immediately have an understanding of how the world worked, nor did he glow, or have a halo above his head as some people may imagine him. Jesus looked and acted like a normal child. Apparently though, Jesus did have supernatural intelligence. His IQ was probably the highest of any person that has ever lived. When Jesus was twelve years old, his parents found him in the temple of God, “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).

Today, we might refer to Jesus as a child prodigy, a genius of the most extreme sort. It says in Luke 2:47, “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” The Greek word translated understanding, sunesis (soon´ – es – is) refers to “a mental putting together, i.e. intelligence or (concretely) the intellect” (4907). Sunesis is derived from a primary preposition denoting union; with or together, in the sense of an association gained through the process of learning (4862). Even his own parents, couldn’t fully comprehend the things that Jesus said. In a moment of frustration, when she found Jesus arguing with the priests in the temple, Mary said to her son, “Son why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing” (Luke 2:48). What Mary was implying was that she and Joseph didn’t have the same kind of supernatural intelligence that Jesus had. They had been looking all over for him and had no idea that he had stayed behind in Jerusalem after they had left the city to return home to Nazareth (Luke 2:43).

Jesus’ response to his mother’s frustrated comment was meant to distinguish not only his true identity, but also his primary responsibility as child of God. He said, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49). This brief statement revealed that at the age of twelve, Jesus no longer associated himself with his earthly parents. Jesus understood that God was his actual father, in every sense of the word. The Greek word translated “Father’s business” is pater. This word is usually used to designate the nearest ancestor or male relative in a family, but metaphorically it can refer to “the originator of a family or company of persons animated by the same spirit as himself.” Pater is also used “of God in relation to those who have been born anew” (3962). Although Jesus did not become a believer, he may have reached a point at the age of twelve where he completely transferred his trust or loyalty from Joseph to his Father in heaven. From that point forward, everything Jesus did was due to his obedience to God.

A deeper understanding

At the conclusion of their building project, all the Jews gathered themselves together as a congregation and requested that Ezra read to them from the book of the law of Moses. Nehemiah previously noted that the whole congregation together was 42,360 people (Nehemiah 7:66), so the crowd would have been similar in size to a packed baseball stadium, but they actually took up much less space because Nehemiah said all the people stood in the street, and Ezra spoke to them from a pulpit made of wood that was raised above them so that everyone could see him (Nehemiah 8:4-5).

In his opening prayer, Ezra blessed the LORD, which means he kneeled down before him in reverence (1288). In response, as a sign of their commitment and willingness to submit themselves to God, it says in Nehemiah 8:6 that, “all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.” Ezra’s reading of the law went beyond merely speaking it out loud so that everyone could hear it. His intent was to make sure that everyone clearly understood it. It says in Nehemiah 8:8, “So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”

You could say the gathering of the Jews was more like a Bible Study than it was a recitation of the law. It was important for them to have a deeper understanding of God’s word because the people were expected to actually do what the law said they were supposed to. The Hebrew word translated distinctly, parash means to separate or disperse. In a figurative sense, the word can be used to specify something or to wound someone as with a harsh word or saying (6567). The Apostle Paul said in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

One of the ways Ezra knew that the people truly understood what he was saying to them was “all the people wept, when they heard the words of the law” (Nehemiah 8:9). In other words, they were convicted of their sins and felt bad about all the things they had been doing wrong. Surprisingly, Ezra didn’t encourage the people to grieve or to be sorry for their sin, but told them they should celebrate because “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10), meaning, in their process of reaching spiritual maturity, it was more important for the people to convey the joy of God’s forgiveness than it was for them to express grief because they had sinned. “And all the people went their way to eat, and to drink, and to send portions, and to make great mirth, because they had understood the words that were declared unto them” (Nehemiah 8:12).

A second chance

The remnant of God’s people that returned to the Promised Land after their release from captivity in Babylon were given a second chance to be a part of the work that God was doing to save the world. The rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem was just the first step in getting his plan back on track. God wanted to completely restore his relationship with his people, but in order to do that, the Messiah had to be born. The prophet Haggai was sent to tell the people that things would get better if they would do what God told them to. Their first priority had to be God’s work (Haggai 1:9). In response to his message, it says in Haggai 1:12, “Then Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Joshua the son Josedech the high priest, with the remnant of the people, obeyed the voice of the LORD their God, and the words of Haggai the prophet, as the LORD their God had sent him, and the people did fear before the LORD.”

The significance of the people’s response was twofold. First, they took action. “They came and did work in the house of the LORD of hosts, their God” (Haggai 1:14). Work on the rebuilding project had probably been stopped for more than a decade. The only things that were in place were the temple’s foundation and an altar for making sacrifices (Ezra 3:3,11). If the people didn’t do something, the temple would never be completed. So, they started working again. Secondly, the people adjusted their attitudes. When it says “the people did fear before the LORD” (Haggai 1:12), it means that the people recognized the power and position of God and rendered him proper respect (3372). Another way of saying it would be that the people realized God was angry with them and they admitted that they were in the wrong. The people began to take responsibility for their future and do what was expected of them.

Something God’s people needed to understand was that it wasn’t enough for them to just live in the Promised Land. They had to cooperate with God in executing his plan of salvation. Whereas before, they could expect God to bless them because they were his people, now there were stipulations to God’s covenant. The second chance God was giving them did not entitle them to his blessing, but guaranteed they would receive it, if they did what he told them to. The guarantee being the birth of Jesus Christ, their Messiah. God told his people, “from this day will I bless you” (Haggai 2:19). Then he placed his seal, perhaps the Holy Spirit, upon Zerubbabel, who was a descendant of King David and likely the rightful heir to his throne. What we know from the genealogy of Jesus is that Zerubbabel was the missing link that reconnected the Messiah back to Abraham after the captivity in Babylon (Matthew 1:12).