Loading...
Menu

The Novel Gospel with Commentary: The Reintroduction of Jesus, for Newcomers, Sk

p<>{color:#000;}.

[The Novel Gospel
**][with Commentary:
**]The Reintroduction of Jesus, for Newcomers, Skeptics, and Longtime Believers

“Connect the Dots”

with

Jamaal W.M. Fridge

Copyright © 2016

Copyright © 2016 Jamaal W.M. Fridge All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law. The white lightbulb logo and its blue alternative are property of Jamaal W.M. Fridge. Users are not permitted to use these symbols without prior written consent.

Dedication

This book is dedicated to the Church of Jesus Christ, and for all the laborers who care about the health of the Church, the love within the community, and the salvation of nonbelievers.

This book is also dedicated to the poor of the world, who have little power, who are the first maligned, who are the hardest hit, who do the hardest jobs, and who are readily disregarded. I stand with you.

Table of Contents

Foreword

Chapter 1: Creation

Chapter 2: Origins

Chapter 3: The Nation

Chapter 4: “We Want a King”

Chapter 5: Long Path to the Throne

Chapter 6: David Takes the Throne

Chapter 7: David’s Dynasty

Chapter 8: Promises, Promises

Chapter 9: The Messiah Has Arrived

Chapter 10: Early Years

Chapter 11: Tempted

Chapter 12: Who is This Guy?

Chapter 13: Ministry Takeoff

Chapter 14: Profound Words

Chapter 15: Introducing the Kingdom of God

Chapter 16: Secret Messiah

Chapter 17: A Contrast of Kings

Chapter 18: Bread of Life

Chapter 19: God’s People, But Not God’s Actions

Chapter 20: Feeding the People

Chapter 21: The Opposition Takes Notice

Chapter 22: A Brief Rewind

Chapter 23: Bible Duels

Chapter 24: “Blasphemy!”

Chapter 25: Faith and Forgiveness

Chapter 26: Legal, But Immoral

Chapter 27: Compassion

Chapter 28: Not Unity, But Division

Chapter 29: No New Friends

Chapter 30: Preparation for Judgment

Chapter 31: Saving the Best for Last

Chapter 32: When is the Kingdom Coming?

Chapter 33: The Beginning of the End

Chapter 34: Woe to You, Hypocrites!

Chapter 35: The Last Supper

Chapter 36: Kangaroo Court

Chapter 37: Dead and Buried

Chapter 38: Gone and Back Again

Chapter 39: Prove It

Chapter 40: Not Finished Yet

Chapter 41: The Early Church

Chapter 42: The End of the Age

Chapter 43: The Millennial Reign of Jesus

Chapter 44: Home, Sweet Home

Chapter 45: Buy In

Acknowledgements

Where would I be without my pastor, Dr. Danjuma Gibson, my mentor Pastor J. Eric Kelsie, or the faith community of Zion Faith Center? You all are a bright light in the community. Pastor Gibson, you are a premier theologian above many I’ve seen across the country, yet I can’t believe how blessed I was to live 3 miles from you. Every week you challenged me to think about my faith in unconventional ways. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without you.

Pastor Kelsie, you took me under your wing from Day 1. You taught me so much about life and faith. You have been a father to me, and I am eternally grateful to you. My Zion family, you showed me what community can really look like. Some people go to church for the good music, others go for good preaching, while others go for good community. I had all three with you, and being connected with you supercharged me in ways that preaching alone could never do. We worked together, we prayed together, we sacrificed together. I experienced God through you.

I also owe a great deal of gratitude to my alma mater, Calvin College. I don’t just thank God for this institution, but for the wonderful professors that made my experience thoroughly enriching. When I applied late for entry after being turned down by my school of choice, you took me in and supplied me with ample financial aid. I saw God’s hand guiding me to you. And when I got there, you treated me with love. I wasn’t sure what to expect being a young black man going to a mostly white school. But while I was with you, you made me feel welcome. And you followed it up with institutional education about the impact of race in America, and you instituted not just a policy of racial tolerance, but of anti-racism. I will love you forever for that.

The professors of the school, namely Tom Betts, Jason Stansbury, Peter Snyder, Leonard Van Drunen, Bob Medema, Becky Haney, Todd Cioffi, Pastor Aaron Winkle, Pastor Mary Hulst, Bonnie Speyers, Nicole Parker; you all contributed so much to my life and were sounding boards on any issue I could think of. Thank you for your time and patience with me, even though you had mountains of work to do. You all taught me what it meant to be a Christian in the world and how to be tactical in achieving my goals.

And what can I say about my mom and sister? Mom, I watched you work and sacrifice for me time and time again. My dream is to reward you with a comfortable retirement where you won’t have to work again, and won’t ever have to worry about money again. T, you were like a second mom to me so often, especially while mom was at work. I know I used to disappoint you frequently. But now behold your brother. Don’t be too proud of me, yet. I’m just getting started.

Precious Rafi, my wife. I’ve prayed and waited so long to finally find you. I never thought I would meet you in China. And I never thought you would have so much zeal for Christ. I watch you as you read the Bible and wonder how long it’ll be before you start teaching me. With you I can’t ask for anything more. You are God’s answer to my prayers, and I love you. It brings me joy to provide for you and make you happy. It makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

[The Novel Gospel
**][with Commentary:
**]The Reintroduction of Jesus, for Newcomers, Skeptics, and Longtime Believers

Foreword

There were prophecies in the Old Testament that said that when the Kingdom of God comes, you won’t need anyone to teach you about God, and that no one will say, “Know the Lord,” because the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord, from the lowest person to the highest. That day has not yet arrived, so that means we have work to do. This book is part of that work.

When I came to China 3 years ago, I made many observations about modern Chinese life and culture. In China, the government is officially Atheist. They drove religion out during the Cultural Revolution about 50 years ago. While there have always been groups of Christians who met in secret, the society trended towards Social Darwinism, where the vulnerable were not protected, and the term “human rights” really meant national rights.

Following the death of Mao Zedong, the new leadership of China set the nation on an upward economic trajectory. Yet they neglected the cultural and spiritual foundation. So as people’s living standards improved, unchecked materialism sprang up. Money became a means of control and power. Since there is no spiritual or moral foundation, the country is now searching for its soul, wondering if and how their rich tradition might help them in this modern world.

It made me wonder how the knowledge of Jesus Christ might help them, but I was torn, because I felt like my country also needed to know Jesus Christ. Many might object and say America indeed knows Jesus. We even have federal holidays commemorating his birth (Christmas), death (Good Friday), and resurrection (Easter). However, I have to question if this is real spirituality, or just the baked in Western culture we’ve been raised in.

How much of our culture did we really get from the Bible? Was our gun culture inspired by Scripture, or by the Second Amendment? Is our American Exceptionalism attributable to God really blessing us, or because we came out of World War II virtually unscathed while the rest of the world was rebuilding? I pose these questions because we often assume in America that our ways are by-and-large God’s ways. We assume we have a connection with God that I contend is really not there. And I can prove it.

Last year, I ran a test on Facebook that is also on my website, novelgospel.net. On the test, I asked 10 questions about Jesus. Not the entire Bible, just Jesus. Our Savior. Our Lord. Some might say Our Best Friend. Some questions were tricky, while others were easy. (And by easy, I mean if you’ve read the 4 Gospels and absorbed a good bit of it, you would do quite well on the test.) The average test result was 37%, and most of the people who took that test professed to be Christian.

What does this say about Christianity in America? It says that this faith is widespread, but underappreciated and unexplored by many. It says that a lot of people know a few things about Christ, but are wrong more often than they are correct. It says that when many people speak about Jesus, they are speaking what they heard, not necessarily what they know. The impact this has is that when God’s people go out to preach the Gospel in America, everyone thinks they know the gist of it, and don’t pay it much attention. They think that as long as they pray and try to be good people, they think they’re all set to go to Heaven whenever that time comes. Except they’re not ready.

This phenomenon is called Biblical Illiteracy. It means people don’t know how to understand the message of the Bible, including Christians. This has created a bad reputation for Christians today. The world sees when we are not behaving as Christ would behave. Even when they don’t know the full details about Jesus, they have a reasonable approximation of what he would accept, and they see our bad behavior for what it is.

Tragically, it doesn’t stop there, some people see Jesus as good and the Church as bad. Other times, people see Jesus as irrelevant and the Church as corrupt. When I go and talk to people about Jesus, many times they have a warped understanding of who he is and what he’s about, and because of that misunderstanding, they reject my words almost reflexively. They think I came to impose a rigid way of life on them, to con them into giving me their money, and/or to force them to conform to outdated, unproven beliefs.

These are my obstacles as an evangelist from the city of Chicago. This is why even churches that teach profound, healing truths about God, have trouble growing their churches. This is why when I go out, I have to sometimes give people something for free so that they can see that I’m not trying to take from them and use them. This is why when I develop a friendship with someone, I may deliberately hold back talking about Christ so that they know I am a friend first.

When I work with churches and Christians from all walks of like, I find very diverse ways of thinking. There are thoughtful, open, and loving people who are all too quiet and stand in the background when they are needed to show the world who God wants us to be. There are also those who are boastful and set in their ways who would benefit from self-reflection, empathy, and an open mind. These people often boast of their relationship with God, but do not truly understand what that relationship means or should be.

I come to you as a man who is determined to change the way you think about God. I want to show you how to have a conversation about Jesus that is open, honest, and deep. I want to teach you how to emulate Him in a way that shows the world what he’s really like. I want to help you see the difference between fact and myth so that we can restore the image of God and build a thriving society through our knowledge of Him. I came to destroy Biblical Illiteracy. My name is Jamaal Fridge. I’m a 28-year-old African-American man from the Southside of Chicago. I received my Business degree at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, and currently teach English in China. My mission with this book is to reintroduce you to Jesus. It doesn’t matter what your background is; you will learn at least 5 new things about God and life through this book. Those five things could change your life. Whether you are a new believer who doesn’t know much about the Bible, or a seasoned veteran in the faith, who has probably read the Bible backwards and forwards, or a skeptic, who knows some things about the Bible, but doesn’t quite buy it, I’ve got things for you to chew on.

I wrote this book a different way than most books you see about Jesus. First, I organized the story of Jesus’ life into one chronological story. There are four Gospel accounts. (Gospels are the books of the Bible that talk about the life of Jesus.) Each Gospel has different points of emphasis, which change how the author positioned the stories. So the events of Christ’s life are not exactly chronological. I arranged it into a reasonable order so that you can follow along easier. Why did I do it this way? Because we are westerners, and our culture is more centered on chronology. We want the first things to be first and the last things to be last.

But there’s a second reason: I want you to begin to see Jesus as he reveals himself to his disciples and to the world. I want you to reflect on these events as if you lived in that time and were seeing this firsthand, and I want you to honestly ask if you would have believed in him then.

Third, I don’t just give you the story of Jesus, I give you the commentary. Some things he says and does are difficult to explain. I studied about these things, and I will clarify what he was doing or saying, and why.

Lastly, I want you to see how my experience has been shaped by applying and misapplying his words. It’s one thing to explain a verse, but it’s another to put it into practice, and it’s another thing entirely to go back and review the tape and see what went wrong. What happens when you take a doctrine and apply it the wrong way? How many people have made that same mistake? How many denominations have sprang up as a result? How deep can the rot go?

I bring this book to you from the perspective of a Black man. I don’t ignore race, I don’t ignore class, I don’t ignore sex. There are no sacred cows here, no third rails. Everything is up for discussion. Why? Because God has something to say about everything. We will open up the entire situation to Him and let Him speak. Whoever has ears to hear will listen to what the Holy Spirit has to say.

When I started writing this book, it was geared towards the Chinese audience first. It was a daunting task trying to figure out how to approach my Chinese friends with the Gospel. Instinctively, I knew that God, being the creator of all men and subsequently all cultures, would have an entry point into any society. Why? Because God is already there, upholding all societies and working in their society even before they realize who He is. Because He is already here in China, there is an aspect of His character that is attractive to people from Chinese culture, but my challenge was to find out what those entry points were. I have heard stories of missionaries who went to countries and regions where they could not minister effectively until they first got a feel for that given culture. In fact, no missionary is successful without first knowing where he or she is and what makes that culture tick. As I started writing this book for my Chinese audience, I also had to do some self-evaluation. I had to learn what made me tick as an American, and even more as an African-American. I had to account for my dual mindsets.

I approach my theology from a Calvinist perspective. Also called “Reformed Theology,” Calvinism is the school of thought within Christianity that emphasizes God’s control over the world and over everything in it. God even has so much control that He chooses who will open their hearts to Him and be saved. Calvinists do not believe that people are able to willingly choose God, but rather that God has to reveal Himself to them in order for them to open up to Him. Calvinists also believe that once a person has been transformed by God, that they will never leave Him.

Those doctrines are important, and I do believe them, but what drew me to Calvinism was the thought that God is active in this world, and that He has something to say about everything. He has something to say about our careers, our house, our life choices, our marriage, our education, our recreation, and so on. For me, that was important because my dream of making video games about God is something that God both embraces and encourages, whereas church members can’t fathom it, and often see it as part of a corrupt world system.

My Calvinist leaning, however, is not the result of my Reformed college, which was mostly white. No, my Calvinism came from my black Reformed church on the Southside of Chicago. And the differences between the two are visible, though subtle. For instance, if you are sick, you could go to a white Calvinist church, and they will pray for you communally. They may lay hands on you, but the experience will be quiet. In my black Calvinist church, for sure they will lay hands on you, and maybe put oil on your head as they do it. The prayer will not be quiet, nor will it be short. This small example is just one of the ways I see the difference between my white-influenced American identity and my Black identity.

As I thought about how I could reach out to my friends in China, I needed to ask these kinds of questions:

Where do I fall on the spectrum between Individualism and Collectivism?

How would that affect my witness and my interpretation of Scripture?

What is the importance of face in America versus in China?

What is their understanding of sin?

On top of these, what if my friends shared my book with others? Then I would have to contend with the prospect of racial prejudice.

Would I be looked down on for being black? (Short answer: It depends.)

How would their perception of me affect my witness?

Would it produce more genuine converts if the prejudiced tuned me out from the beginning?

Had I been an older, white missionary, I would probably be respected more, which could have affected my approach to evangelism. However, being a young black man, I have a greater burden of proof, because of race-based and age-based prejudice. For Chinese people, I have found that they equate Christianity with the West, and they equate the West with power and wealth. So some Chinese people look at Christianity as a vehicle to greater wealth. So if I were white, they would listen to me. But I’m not. When they see me, they think of turmoil in Africa, poverty, and war. They say, “Africa is more backwards than China, so what can a Black man really tell me?”

I say all of this to say, I had to study and become more and more aware of the situation I found myself in, and I had to adjust according to my reality. I couldn’t just study the Bible and call it a day. I had to know Chinese history and culture. I had to know international relations between China, America, and Africa, just so that I knew how I’d be perceived. I had to also look inside myself to remove the cultural blinders from my eyes, all so my sharing of the Gospel would be as unobstructed as possible. I didn’t want to get in God’s way.

I feel a responsibility to the people of China and America. When you see a need, and you have what it takes to meet the need, you have the moral obligation to help. That’s how I feel. During my two years in China, I have been to the funeral of a 22-year-old boy who died from cancer. I have heard of high school students committing suicide because of bad test scores. I have heard of businessmen, who love their wives, committing adultery with young hostesses at karaoke bars just so they could get a lucrative business deal. I heard of a man who stabbed his ex-girlfriend and then killed himself not far from my apartment. I see a lot of needless suffering. I know I can’t solve every problem of suffering in China, but I do see one area I can help. Because religion is not really on people’s minds here, a lot of people have placed their hope in money or careers or relationships. The problem is that all of these things can be taken away. I see a lot of misplaced hope, so the best thing I can do for the people of China is to show them a better person to put their hope in: Jesus Christ.

However, I don’t want you to meet the Jesus in the paintings, or the Jesus on the billboards, and not the Jesus statue. I want them and you to meet, as if for the first time, the real Jesus of Nazareth. The One we must emulate. The One we must trust in. The One who is exactly like God the Father.

Let’s jump into the full story of Jesus and who he is. But before we start, I have just one request: Share this book and this website, novelgospel.net, with at least 3 friends and family members, along with others you care about. I am certain you will find valuable things in this, and your loved ones will, too. So send them to novelgospel.net. Though this ebook is hosted for free on Amazon and other ebook sites, I do not host the audio book on Amazon. The audio book can only be found on novelgospel.net. Let it bless you. Thanks for your cooperation. Let’s get to it.

Chapter 1

Creation

To understand who Jesus is, I need to take you all the way back to the beginning of time…

Before creation ever was, there existed only God. But He wasn’t just a single person sitting in a room alone, shouting “Hello” as His voice echoed. Quite the contrary, this God was a union of three persons. Each person was equally powerful, but there was a hierarchy among them. The Father was the chief. The Son submitted to the Father, while the Holy Spirit submitted to both the Father and the Son. The love and community between them was perfect, even though it could be speculated that they have their differences. (Imagine that, that three all-knowing beings could have differing thoughts and wills, yet could still live together in perfect harmony.) Nevertheless, each person made room for each other. They gave of themselves to facilitate the others. Such was the tightness of their bond.

Each person was all-knowing, all-powerful, and each person was everywhere. Each was eternal, having no beginning or end. Time itself was their creation. They were not three gods but one. The Son even described Himself as being born from the Father, His One and Only. And the Spirit is described as coming from the Father and even the Son. Yet each existed eternally. Even today, the mystery of the Tri-unity or Trinity is still difficult to entirely grasp. And even the things we do know about God are only because God reveals Himself to us.

It came to pass during eternity that God created angels as ministers, as well as the universe, and the earth within it. (We don’t know when He made the angels, but we know it was before the creation of the universe.) His approach to making everything was along a permissive basis. “Let there be” was a phrase He often used as He created, as opposed to trying to force creation to happen by extraordinary force. Such was His power. Everything that He ever made He looked at once He was finished and said, “This is good.”

The highlight of His creation was humanity.

In the council of the Trinity, they said, “Let’s make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over everything.”

So God made man and woman in His image. This meant that not only would humanity look like God, but they would also have many of the same attributes of God, like creativity, reasoning ability, and other traits. One big trait they had was they would have an active relationship with God. They—we—were designed to respond consciously to Him.

After blessing them and commanding them to multiply and fill the earth, God rested from all His work and marveled at His creation. When He looked at the people He made, it was His goal for humanity to live with Him and enjoy Him and all He created forever. It was His goal for us to discover all He made and see the many uses of the things He made. For though the creation He made was perfect, it wasn’t mature. It was perfect like a baby is perfect, but the maturity of His creation was to be like a full-grown man. So it would not be fitting for a civilization of millions to still be living in a garden centuries later. Cities would be expected. Progress was expected.

However, conflict emerged, perhaps long before the creation of earth and man. One of the angels God created became very arrogant and thought that because of his high position among the angels and his splendid beauty and special talents, that he deserved to be worshipped and honored just like God! He amassed about a third of God’s angels in his rebellion, and war broke out in Heaven. This angel was defeated and expelled, along with his army of angels. They could no longer dwell in the presence of the holy God. These angels became demons, and the lead rebel, Lucifer became known as Satan because he was God’s enemy.

Satan came down to earth, and upon taking the form of a cunning snake, deceived the man and woman into disobeying God. Accusing God of withholding something good from them, he told them that a specific fruit, the only one they were commanded not to eat, was going to make them wise like God. Once they ate, though, they found that they had made a terrible mistake, and only saw that they were naked. At the customary time of day when God came calling for them, they hid because of their nakedness. When God saw that they disobeyed His order not to eat the fruit, He punished the man, the woman, and the snake who deceived them, and banished them from the paradise He created for them. As punishment, their food would be hard-earned, childbirth for the woman would be excruciating, and though originally meant to live forever, they would die.

There are many who read this introduction and think that I am pushing this story as scientific. I am not. There are many Christians who don’t take the creation story as literal, but think of it like an allegory, while others trust the story just as it’s written on the paper, even if they have questions about it. In my school, a Christian college, we were challenged to think about more than just the words on the page, but also about the culture and even linguistics of the text. I remember my professor describing the creation story as a poem to shape the identity of the people. He also compared the creation story of the Bible to other creation stories from Mesopotamia, and when we read them, we thought they were ridiculous, but these same people were masters of math. They knew things about how the world worked, and likely didn’t believe their own creation stories as literal, but still shaped their lives around it.

But he didn’t stop there. One thing my professor mentioned about the story as it was recorded in the Bible is that there are actually two creation stories side by side. As a literary device, when there are two stories side by side, it means that the authors don’t really know what happened. Yet Scripture is still given by inspiration of God. There are Christians who believe that the people in those days were primitive and did not need to be given a scientific lesson about the creation of the earth or the origin of man. They were farmers, shepherds, peasants, etc. So why give them the details? I understand this view, but I think it underestimates the intelligence of the people back then. They may not have had our technology, but their brains were just as good as ours.

What can I say about the creation of the earth and the origin of man? Simple: “The secret things belong to God. What He has revealed to us belongs to us and our children forever” (Deuteronomy 29:29). I may not know the details of the earth’s creation, and even astronomers still have many questions. But I have peace about the creation story in the Bible, and operate according to it. We are still sinners. The earth is not what it should be, and life is far short of what God intended it to be.

I’m telling you this because the creation story in the Bible is a controversial topic for many, and I would not be serving you properly if I didn’t give you a fuller picture of the debate. I don’t have all the answers, but if I am going to do a good job of introducing Jesus to you, I must disclose everything. I believe this saying from my chaplain, Pastor Mary Hulst: “Everything that is true is from God.” This may cause some people to immediately put down the book and never return. It may cause others to dig deeper on their own. But my hope is that by disclosing these things, I can earn your trust as you continue to read, because you can now be certain that I won’t hide inconvenient details.

There are many Christians who are easily shaken when their beliefs about the Bible are questioned. The creation story is the first one that many critics turn to. However, I believe the real problem is a lack of disclosure and debate in the Church. If I was a pastor, and I went over a confusing text, would it really be okay for me to say “I don’t know what all this means, but yada yada yada”? In the moment, yes, but not in the long run. People want answers. Good answers. They want to be able to discuss their questions without being accused to turning from their faith. Leaders in churches frequently fortify their own beliefs instead of exploring the rationale of the other beliefs rather than tackling the tough questions. That may work for a while, but the moment their members step outside and someone gives them the other side of the story, that member will feel conflicted, and even worse, betrayed, because they were left out of an important discussion. This is why so many college students have a crisis of faith when they go away to school because they get exposed to something they should’ve learned in church. It helped me a great deal to learn what I learned in a Christian college from a professor who is a church elder. I shudder to think what would’ve happened if I learned this from an Anti-theist professor at a secular university.

There is yet another problem with the creation story debate: The creation story itself is not the basis of faith in the existence of God. Rather, the Resurrection of Jesus is the proof that God is real, and that He loves mankind. For those who read my views about the creation story and think that Christianity is baseless, I will point you to the evidence of the Resurrection of Jesus in Chapter 39. It was actually my study of the Resurrection that reassured me of God’s existence during the times when I questioned the Bible. So don’t scoff; the evidence is real.

But for Christians reading this book, consider the possibility that we don’t understand the Bible as well as we like to think. We are separated by language, geography, culture, and time. Learning the Bible’s text is only one part of understanding it completely. But if you put your faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, you will be on solid ground, because the Bible hinges itself on that. “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:17).

Chapter 2

Origins

God, who made man to rule over the earth with Him, was not happy to have people, left out in the cold. He knew before he created the world and man, that we would disobey Him and had already planned a way to rescue us from our own sin because by nature He demanded purity and righteousness. No moral imperfection could stand in His presence. He is like a blazing fire, while we are like dry leaves. While His justice called for the death of humanity, His mercy and love prompted Him to make a way to restore humanity back to good standing with Him.

As humans began to multiply, God was working out a process to create a group of His own people who would follow Him instead of constantly disobeying Him. Such people were few and far in between. In fact, it got so bad that at one point, God wiped out all of humanity except for 8 people by a global flood. He had lamented that the thoughts and doings of man were continuously evil.

After some time, God called a man named Abraham (Genesis 12) from present-day Kuwait, and told him to leave his household and family, and go to a land God would show him (present-day Israel). God would give this man—an old man with no children—descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Abraham believed God was able to do this, and so God credited him as righteous, creating a model of faith for all his future descendants to follow. Abraham was by no means a perfect man, and sometimes created problems that carried on long afterward, but he relied on God, and God called Abraham His friend. God blessed him with the promised son Isaac, but then later tested Abraham by telling him to sacrifice Isaac.

As harsh as it might sound, it would not have been the first time Abraham sacrificed a son, because he did it before when he expelled his wife’s servant Hagar and her son Ishmael at the request of his wife. They were given a meager canteen and sent out into the desert. If not for God’s rescue, the two would have died. It could be speculated that God was testing if Abraham was still that kind of person to kill in order to get what he wanted. It was easy for him to drive out his illegitimate son, but what about his cherished son, the son of the promise? How much does he value life now? There may be more to this story…

A few generations later, God’s people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were forced to take shelter in Egypt during a severe famine. Jacob’s son Joseph had been treacherously sold by his own brothers into slavery in Egypt, and then he was imprisoned on a false rape charge. God gave Joseph the ability to interpret dreams, and the Pharaoh had nightmares that no one but Joseph could interpret. This created an opportunity that led to Joseph being freed from prison and installed into a high position in the Egyptian government. Joseph was the one who predicted the famine was coming, and this enabled Egypt to prepare for it, saving many lives, including Joseph’s treacherous brothers.

Hundreds of years after the Pharaoh and Joseph died, the descendants of Abraham, now known as the Hebrews or Israelites, were now several million people. This was a sizeable minority within Egypt, which caused the new Pharaoh to seek to weaken them before they overtook the native Egyptians. So he enslaved them and brutally oppressed them. He went as far as to demand newborn males to be thrown into the river, but there was one boy that survived. Instead, he was placed into a floating basket and left to float among the reeds, under the watchful eye of his sister. The daughter of the Pharaoh found the boy and adopted him as her own, naming him Moses. It was funny the way God worked in Moses’ life, because the Pharaoh’s daughter had the boy raised for her by a Hebrew woman—the boy’s mom—and she was paid to do it! The mom got paid to raise the baby that she was supposed to have killed!

Moses grew up knowing he was Hebrew, though that fact may have escaped the Pharaoh. Moses was inclined to his people, not letting the royal lifestyle separate him from their suffering. It came to pass that when he went to look at his people’s suffering, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, and when he saw that no one was around, Moses killed that Egyptian and buried him. Problem solved, right? Wrong. Another time he came out and saw two Hebrews fighting each other, and once he tried to stop them, one said that Moses was not their ruler, and thought he would kill them just like he did the Egyptian. Word of Moses killing the Egyptian got back to the Pharaoh, who immediately sought to kill Moses. This caused Moses to flee the country into what is now northwest Saudi-Arabia. There he lived for 40 years, married, had children, and lived as a shepherd. In that time, God was hearing the cries of His people, and so He appeared to Moses and told him to go back to Egypt to liberate his people.

Moses had a lot of trepidation about going back, so God showed him His power by giving Moses leprosy (a horrifying, debilitating, contagious disease) and immediately healing it, as well as turning Moses’ staff into a snake and back again. Still Moses asked God what name he should tell the people when they ask who sent him. God’s answer was a bit strange: “I am who I am. Tell them ‘I Am’ sent you.” It was kind of an answer/non-answer. “I just am.” It was fitting for such a mysterious God. In a way, the name ‘I Am’ points to His self-existence, His eternal nature. He indeed was the Living God, who kept His promise to give His friend Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky.

Armed now with the makeshift name for the true God, Moses set off to Egypt, where he met his brother Aaron. Because Moses had a stuttering problem, Aaron would speak for him. Together, they went to the new Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Hebrews so they could go out into the desert to worship. The Pharaoh was unwilling, just as God told Moses he would be. God wanted the Pharaoh to harden his heart, to think himself a god, so that God could make an example of him. Over the course of repeated demands, the Pharaoh was unrelenting. Moses displayed God’s power with 10 consecutive plagues, like lice in people’s hair, locusts devouring crops, rivers turning into blood, and many others. However, the Pharaoh himself had sorcerers who could pull off miraculous signs too, so he remained unconvinced, even though at some point even the sorcerers were persuaded.

The final straw came when Moses predicted the death of every firstborn boy in Egypt. In preparation for this, the Hebrews were told to put the blood of a lamb over their doorposts as a sign for the death angel to pass over their house. This final plague took the life of Pharaoh’s son, breaking him at last. He told the Hebrews to leave immediately, and the Egyptian people, who had compassion on the Hebrews, gave them gifts on their way out.

However, upon realizing that he just lost his labor force, Pharaoh began a fierce pursuit to reclaim the Hebrews. He chased them to the Red Sea, thinking he had them cornered, but God sent a strong wind that created a path of dry ground in the sea for the people to cross. Once they got across, as Pharaoh and his army pursued them, the strong wind ceased, and the waves crashed back down on Pharaoh and his army, killing them. This created great fame for God among the surrounding countries. There was a new king that was even greater than the king of Egypt.

Earlier I talked about Yahweh or Jehovah as the Living God. He’s not some isolated Being from some ancient book. I see His hand daily in my life. He is the same Living God that me and my wife prayed to last week. We said to Him, “Lord, if you want my wife to quit her job and work from home, please send her more clients. Quickly.” Sure enough, three more clients came to her within a week asking for her service. We saw God’s answer to our prayer. For those who don’t believe God is real, these circumstances are among many reasons people believe in God. We don’t see Him physically, but we can see His actions. Jehovah is not locked in the past. Rather, He is the Living God who answers our prayers. He is the same Living God who watched over Joseph in Egypt and put him in position to protect his family during the famine. He is the same Living God who liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. He is the same Living God who liberated my people from slavery in America. He is the same Living God who liberated His people the Jews from Nazi Germany. The faithfulness of God can be seen across all generations.

Chapter 3

The Nation

God led the people through the desert to a mountain called Sinai, and called upon Moses to receive the law by which the people would live. These laws have come to be known as the Ten Commandments. While it has often been thought of as a list of rules, in reality, this code was a reflection of the character of God. Remember, during the Hebrews’ time in Egypt, not much was known about God at all, and what may have been known about God from his interactions with Abraham may have been long forgotten. After all, it had been over 400 years since they arrived in Egypt. So, with a thundering voice from heaven, God introduced Himself to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai. (This can be found at Exodus 20.)

“I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You will bring no other gods in My face. You shall not make any carved image of anything in Heaven or on earth or in the sea to worship it or serve it, because I am a jealous God, and I punish to the third and fourth generation for the wickedness of those who hate Me, but I show steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and obey My commandments. You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, as I will not hold him guiltless who does so. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall do your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord, and neither you, nor your children, nor your servants (including foreigners), nor your livestock, nor your visitors shall do any work. For in six days I created the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them, and on the seventh day, rested and made the day holy. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord is giving you. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not tell lies about others. Do not covet your neighbor’s house, spouse, servants, or property of any kind.”

In these commandments, God is showcasing His transcendence over the Israelites’ concepts of a god. Yahweh claims ownership and credit for the creation of all that exists, and shows His power in His ability to break and even destroy the Pharaoh. He shows His morality in what He finds acceptable among the people. These commandments were about showing the Israelites what it looked like to be in relationship with God. The commands were to establish a character model in God for the people to emulate. The commands also show His concern with how we treat other people. It has been said that the first four commandments had to do with our relationship with God, while the last six had to do with our relationship with others. Keeping the commandments meant preserving communion with God and people.

However, certain aspects of those commandments have been blurred with time. For instance, for one to bring another god before Yahweh means more than simply acknowledging another god. Monotheism is not the sticking point of that commandment as much as the idea that you should not impose the traits and standards of a different god on Yahweh. This would be like going to your parents and telling them they should let you do something because another parent allows their children to do it. In today’s terms, it might look like, “Don’t bring any opposing ideologies in God’s face.” It’s not saying don’t examine other ideologies, but that we are not to act as though God should do what that ideology says He should do.

For example, our culture values inclusiveness. That’s a great ideology, especially when we talk about racial inclusion, economic inclusion, etc. And God values inclusion as well. The importance of women is seen frequently throughout the Bible, contrary to popular opinion. The inclusion of non-Jews (also known as Gentiles) into the predominantly Jewish early Church is another example. However, God values truth above inclusion. This is one reason why some people view God as unfair, when He commands the Israelites to avoid their neighboring countries because of their idolatry. God does not put truth to the side to accommodate inclusiveness. It only leads to moral and spiritual corruption in the end. God sees that from the beginning.

Another commandment about taking God’s name in vain seems to outlaw phrases like “Oh my God”, as we often use in America, and I do believe that is one application of the commandment. However, in the Israelites’ time, using a god’s name was often used with incantations that manipulated the god into doing what the people wanted. God was establishing that He refused to be manipulated by anyone. He would not be used by people as if He was a puppet.

The final commandment not to covet your neighbor’s possessions is a commandment that shows that God is looking at the heart. Coveting something that belongs to someone else can lead to horrendous actions, like theft, murder, and adultery, but God wants to catch it while it’s still in the mind.

To the degree that the people would obey God’s commands, He would bless them with safety from neighboring countries, prosperity in their work, and health for their bodies. God would give them a kind of peace that would make other nations envious of them, inviting them to follow God just like the Israelites.

It came to pass that after the Israelites settled in the Promised Land of Canaan (now Israel), the people of God continued to display a wayward attitude, worshipping other gods that God told them not to follow. As a result, He pulled back His protection and allowed an enemy nation to overtake them and occupy them. When the people were tired of being occupied they cried out to God in repentance and God brought forth a leader who liberated them from their enemies and reinstituted the religious practices they were supposed to follow. However, after a time of peace, the people became complacent again and the cycle would repeat itself over and over again. The only difference was each time the debauchery got worse. Israel had established a reputation for being adulterous against the God who saved them. Still, God never withdrew His love and goodwill, even while He withdrew His protection and blessings. The people had to learn.

To me, the prospect of a righteous nation feels so out of reach, even among Christian nations, because the people take God for granted and truly do not grasp His wisdom or power. In America, political discussion rarely pays attention to God unless it is about abortion or gay marriage. Nothing is said about foreign policy or economics, as though God has nothing to say about these things, but we individually also confine Him to only religious topics. A friend of mine told me how he learned things about God from watching a Japanese anime called Naruto. I myself remember watching the hard work and dedication of Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, and was inspired to work hard and push through my difficult studies. God’s traits were visible all around, yet they are not acknowledged unless the name “Jesus” or “God” comes up.

During my time in China, I have seen the friendliness and hospitality of a lot of people, and have said to myself, “This is just how God intended it.” Likewise, I’m sure a Chinese person going to America would see how Americans value courageous people more, and say to themselves, “This must be how God intended it.” There will be something he or she will notice that will remind them of God’s nature. God’s light shines on all people, and we all readily accept some parts of His character, but we also ignore others. Part of the reason I shared with you the 10 Commandments is to give you a better sense of God’s character before we moved on, because this God is far different and far bigger than our imaginations of Him. I will readily admit that even my own view of God is inadequate. I still have too small a view of Him. Even as I introduce Him, I am reminded of many things about God that I forgot. Ultimately, I will never fully grasp the infinite God, but the beauty of it is that I don’t have to in order to be in good standing with Him. After all, Abraham didn’t know much about God. He just followed Him.

Chapter 4

We Want a King

Generations later, the Israelites decided they wanted a physical, human king like the other nations, even though God didn’t desire this, because He was their king. Nevertheless, God permitted them to have one, and He selected a tall, handsome man named Saul. His tenure wasn’t known for great highs and lows like future kings after him (that is to say he didn’t have egregious moral failures akin to future kings), but his reign began to unravel when he disobeyed God’s command to kill everything in a battle, cattle and sheep included. He kept the best livestock for himself after the battle, saying he was going to sacrifice them. The prophet Samuel announced that because Saul had rejected God’s command, God had rejected Saul as king.

God later commanded Samuel to go and anoint a new king whom God would show him. He was directed to the house of a man named Jesse. When he explained what he was there for, Jesse brought his sons to stand before Samuel to see if God had selected one of them, but after looking at all of them, Samuel concluded that the one God chose was not there. “Do you have any other sons?” Samuel asked, to which Jesse responded, “I do, but he’s out watching the sheep.” This young man, David the shepherd, was the youngest of the group, and was not seen by his father as being king-material, but it turned out he was exactly the one God chose, so Samuel poured the oil on David’s head and soon departed.

During David’s time as a shepherd he had developed the ability to play the harp and became a skilled minstrel. Saul came under demonic attack and was tormented mentally by an evil spirit, so an adviser recommended for a musician to be summoned to play for him to alleviate his pain. David was chosen, and whenever he played for Saul, the evil spirit left him. Sometime later, a warrior from present-day Gaza came and challenged the armies of Israel, known as Goliath. He was a giant who was trained to kill from his youth. For over a month he came out challenging Israel to fight him, saying they should send down a fighter to battle with him, and whichever side won would have the others as their slaves. Israel cowered in fear. When David was sent to bring supplies to his brothers in the camp (and gifts to the commander to keep the brothers off the front lines), he heard the challenge from Goliath and began to inquire what would be done for the one who could kill the giant. His brothers were mad at him and told him to get back to the sheep, assuming he was only there to be nosy.

What his brothers, and even his father, didn’t know was that being a shepherd gave David a lot of experience taking down oversized opponents like lions and bears, and he said this giant would be no different. He refused to wear the king’s armor not out of arrogance, but because it was untested and learning the armor is not something one should do in the heat of battle. His preferred method of fighting this opponent was a slingshot with a smooth stone, not a sword or bow-and-arrow. When he came to meet the giant, Goliath scoffed at him and felt insulted to be matched up against him, but David announced he was fighting in the name of the Lord. He swung his slingshot and drilled Goliath in his forehead, killing him. The Israelite army then routed the Philistines and the nation glorified David for his victory. Saul became jealous, and on several occasions going forward he tried to kill David in fits of rage.

I wanted to pause here to make mention of something my pastor said when he spoke on the story of David and Goliath, and how it is preached wrongly in America. In the way we present the story of David, we often say that David won because he was doing it in God’s name, leading Christians to believe if they do anything in God’s name, it will work. No one mentions the preparation David had as a shepherd, fighting lions and bears. We often come away with the impression that all we need is belief in God to accomplish good things for Him, but neglect the work that goes into being ready to fight when the time comes.

On a second note, my pastor spoke on the development of David, and asked this question: “What if God came to Jesse and told him his son David would become king? What do you think David’s developing years would have looked like? Would he have been learning economics and political science? Would he have been training with warriors and learning fighting styles from all over? We can be sure of this: He wouldn’t have been left to tend the sheep.”

Also of note, David’s fighting skills did not get him summoned to Saul’s palace, but his musical skills. My pastor went on to say that we must honor the gifts God gave us and cultivate them. We never know where our skills and talents may take us. However, we will go where we need to be if we use them the best way we can, and follow God wherever we think He is leading us. That is our best bet. We cannot be ashamed of our natural abilities. A young boy who loves dance might be called gay in the United States and be made fun of, and thus abandon it. Society suffers when people do not use the gifts God gave them to use. Our societies become disjointed and function poorly and suffers from lack when we don’t exercise our gifts and abilities. We must make sure not to be ashamed of ourselves or of our children who possess seemingly abnormal abilities.

Not everyone should be a doctor or lawyer, nor should everyone only pursue the highest paying jobs. Chasing money may push you out of the way God wants you to follow. Everyone should pursue the path of life that brings them the most fulfillment. No one wants to wake up at age 40 and ask “What have I done with my life?” That is not a worthwhile life, and often our jobs frustrate us because we were not created to do the job we are currently doing.

During the time of writing this, it is election season, and I often hear politicians talk about jobs, jobs, jobs. But what I never hear them talk about is purpose. I never hear them focus on helping people find who they are and how best to use their talents and abilities to make their lives better and put food on the table. Indeed it’s harder for them to do this, because they are fundamentally unequipped for this, and that is why I believe the Church can be of assistance. The government can’t do for us what the Church can; the Church is both physical and spiritual. The government is strictly physical, so its hands are tied and its range is limited. The Church, because of its connection to God, is able to help people find their purpose. I hope this book can help churches see yet another area of strength, another way it can help build the Kingdom of God, so that His will is done on earth, as it is in Heaven.

When I say I want you to find and pursue your purpose, I’m not strictly talking about finding or creating jobs that put food on the table. I’ve been writing for years, developing this talent, and only now am about to receive pay for it. However, I have received joy through improving my abilities and by expressing my creativity. Yet I do my job to enable me to follow my purpose, and by doing my job, I have also picked up more skills that strengthen abilities that I will use again in the future. This is all part of God’s plan. My encouragement to you is to do the job you are wired for, and if it will take you a while to get where you are trying to go, begin cultivating your talents and learn what you need to do so you can succeed when you get there. Begin taking steps to your goal. Start now. Start somewhere.

Before I move on, I want to point out a profound beauty in David’s story. Because of his experience as a shepherd, he picked up skills and battle strategies that no other warriors were even aware of. Had David only studied the usual fighting styles, he would have never learned what he needed in order to kill the giant. In the United States, I have seen companies and industries take off because they looked at other industries and companies. They observed the way they went about their business, and even though they may be entirely different in what they produce, certain aspects of their company or style translate very well into another company. For example, A clothing retailer is really only concerned about selling clothes, shoes, and accessories. A credit card company is more concerned about getting lots of customers who will pay interest on their loans.

The clothing retailer then looked at the credit card company and thought, “What if we have our own credit card? We would keep customers coming back because it’s easier to make purchases on the card and they have reason to come only to us, but we also collect interest money.” And that worked well for them. David’s innovation, much like the clothing retailer came from an unexpected source. All of this because Jesse didn’t know David would be king. As 1st Corinthians 1:25 says, “The foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” The wisdom of God is far above ours, just as the sky is above the earth.

Chapter 5

Long Path to the Throne

David’s story and his ascent to the throne was as follows…

After Saul’s repeated attempts to kill him out of envy, David fled the palace and the country, hiding among other nations and even posing as a lunatic so he wouldn’t be brought into the enemy king’s presence and killed. He hid in caves, and when people who were downtrodden found out where he was, they gathered around him and showed solidarity with him. When Saul found out where David was, he sent his army to kill him, scolding them for seemingly taking David’s side. He pursued David relentlessly, but God didn’t let Saul catch him. It came to pass that David and his men were deep inside a cave when Saul came in there to relieve himself. Seizing the opportunity, David slipped behind Saul unnoticed, and cut off a piece of Saul’s robe. David was grief-stricken and could not follow through with killing Saul, and even scolded his men who also wanted to kill Saul.

The king left the cave and started on his way when David came out and confessed his deed, asking Saul why he was so intent on killing him. Saul acknowledged that David spared his life, and that David was indeed more righteous for doing so. He acknowledged that David would become the king and that his kingdom would be established, but all he asked was that his family would not be killed when David came to power. Apparently, though, that sentiment didn’t last long, because some time later, Saul resumed his pursuit of David. And again, David had opportunity to kill Saul, but refrained, if only because Saul was God’s anointed king. And again, Saul acknowledged his wrongdoing and stopped pursuing David.

David knew this cycle would continue, and figured it would be best to go to Gaza, hoping that Saul would finally stop pursuing him. When he got there, he found favor with the king of the Philistines, and he and his 600 men stayed there for over a year, going into battles and slaughtering everything and everyone he came against. He allied himself with the king of the Philistines, but when the time came for the Philistines to fight Israel, the king’s court told him David might switch sides and fight against them in order to win back favor with Saul. The king sent David and his band away, though he personally trusted them. (It seems strange to me that God gave David favor with his archenemies, but knowing God reigns over all things and all peoples, and holds the hearts and desires of kings in His hands, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.)

When Saul was preparing for this battle, he was very afraid, because he could not hear the Word of God. There was no oracle given to him by dream or by prophet, and he had already driven out all the spiritualists and mediums from the land. He fasted day and night, and dressed up in a disguise to go find any medium that was still in the land. He asked her to channel the spirit of Samuel, and when he came up, “Samuel” told Saul that his army was going to fall at the hands of the Philistines and that he and his sons would also die because he did not fulfill the command God gave him regarding the Amalekites, the people he spared and was supposed to kill.

Looking at that passage at times gives me pause, for three reasons, if not four. First issue: God instructed Saul to kill everything and everyone among the Amalekites. He wanted them totally wiped out, including property and livestock. It turns out this enmity between Hebrews and Amalekites went back hundreds of years, when they attacked the Hebrews as they came out of Egypt. They had been a ruthless enemy from that time forward. Knowing this makes the issue a little less controversial for me, but the same God who gave the command to kill them all is the same one who said “Vengeance is mine. I will repay” (Deuteronomy 32:35). He’s the same God who also said “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). It seems confusing at times, but it may be more nuanced than that. It may mean to resist vengeance on an individual level, but on a collective level, you have a responsibility to protect your people. That’s the best way I can understand it, but if there is better insight available out there, I’m open to hearing it.

For instance, my editor Kate gave this insight: “It is not up to us when or how to seek vengeance, it will happen in His time with His instruments. Our job is to either be the instrument if that is what we are called for, or the instrument of prayer and the example God wants us to be. His plans are bigger than our plans and we may never know the impact that we have in many cases, but in some, the view is immediate, but not complete. Our job is to follow God’s calling in all situations and show His mercy and love without forgetting that He is a vengeful God, and you never know when or where His vengeance will come from.” Thanks, Kate.

The second issue that gave me pause was this: “God, you’re still mad about that?” God already rendered judgment on Saul for not killing the Amalekites, that he would be stripped of the kingdom. Now came the time where this would happen and Saul was panicking, desperate for help, and he could not get any. The judgment was final. Ouch. This made me reflect back on a movie I saw called “Evan Almighty”. This movie showed me a piece of American culture when we think about God, and how far off from God our culture is. In the movie, Evan was a new Congressman in Washington DC. God started appearing to him and told him to build an ark, much like Noah, because a flood was coming. After a lot of resistance from Evan, he finally built the ark, but his reputation was starting to suffer as he frequently (and unwillingly) wore old shepherd’s clothes and grew long hair and a long beard. When the ark was completed, TV cameras were gathered all around, along with neighbors, all mocking and jeering him. Then it started to rain and the Washington area got a spring shower, but that was the end of it, and the mocking resumed. However, the poorly built dam later burst and the wall of water started flowing towards the DC area, causing everyone to panic and run unto the ark, where they were all swept away, but safe.

The problem I had with the movie was that it reflects our over-emphasis on the patience of God and the de-emphasis on the justice of God. In the movie, everyone was spared. There was not one recorded death. (I know it’s a comedy movie, I’m not dumb.) In the real-life flood, everyone who wasn’t on the ark, though, died. Noah and his family had already been on the ark and the doors were locked seven days before any rain fell. In our culture (and maybe this is true of all Western cultures, and maybe even Eastern cultures), when faced with justice or correction, we often only want someone to make their point and spare us the consequences. So a scare is okay, but not a lasting, damaging repercussion. In essence, don’t rock the boat too much, but we see in Noah’s case as well as Saul’s case, that God’s judgment was final.

This was the same case with Moses, whom God distinguished from other prophets, saying He talks with Moses face-to-face, and not in dreams or visions. The same would also be the case with David. God’s judgment is nothing to play around with, and we should not test His patience with us, because it may have irreversible consequences. For the people outside Noah’s ark, they all drowned. For Moses, he couldn’t enter the Promised Land, after leading God’s people through the desert for 40 years. For Saul, his kingdom would be stripped from him and he would die. For David, his kingdom would be split in two and he would not get to build the Lord’s temple. Do not be deceived by Evan’s ark and the lack of consequences for the scoffers. It is a healthy thing to consider what God may do to you if you rebel against His commands. There is a point of no return.

The third issue I have with Saul and “Samuel” is the fact that this is not the real Samuel talking, but rather something known as a “familiar spirit”, a demon that impersonates a loved one or friend that passed away. Scripture makes it pretty clear that the dead cease all contact with the physical world, but yet this demon does not give Saul faulty information. In fact, he tells Saul the absolute truth. It is a wise thing to never trust a demon or consult with one, but it is also not outside of the realm of possibility for God to demand a demon tell the truth. Even still, it’s best not to play with fire. If you have dreams about passed loved ones, I caution you to be very skeptical of whether this is really your loved one reaching out to you. God knows how to speak to you without putting you in spiritual risk.

The fourth issue I took with this encounter: What would the implications be for today? Seeing as I’m writing primarily towards a Chinese audience, maybe I can touch on the tensions with Japan. Both China and Korea have claims against Japan for their atrocities during World War II, but does that mean that China should now seek to repay Japan for the evils committed against it? Should the Chinese government see Japan like Israel saw the Amalekites? I will contend to you that the answer is no. Reason being, if there is a desire for peace, an effort should be made to build and maintain peace. (And there have been efforts to establish peace.) If one side is bent on another’s destruction, there can be no peace, and one would have to put down the other to protect its own people. With the Amalekites, they wanted Israel destroyed. There could be no truce with them, even after hundreds of years, no goodwill, no peace, no love, nothing. It stands to reason that God gave Saul the command to kill them all, but no such command is given against the historical enemies Israel had like Egypt and Syria, whom God, in Isaiah 19:25, promises to adopt as His very own.

If governments of any country ever read this, I would hope that temporary conflicts or provocations (or historical provocations) are never used as justification for genocide. I say this as a descendant of people whom vicious atrocities have been committed against. African-Americans have longstanding and current grievances against the United States, and conditions for justice and reconciliation have been put on the backburner. But even that wouldn’t be justification for retaliatory genocide! So I hope that readers and listeners will be mindful that not all Biblical commands are universal commands. What God says to one person in one context doesn’t mean we all need to apply those directions in our contexts. I am sure of this, though: “As much as is possible, so much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Create conditions for justice and reconciliation if you have done evil to someone. If you are the victim of evil, press your case against those who wronged you, and don’t let up. But don’t return evil for evil.

I believe this scripture and the topic of genocide is one area that Nelson Mandela got perfectly right when he came into power. The world lauds him today after his death as the man who prevented destruction and death following the Black seizure of power. I believe this is the wisdom of God in “turning the other cheek” when slapped. God recognizes that we as humans are unable to properly measure out justice against evildoers. So what happens is when one side offends the other, the other side retaliates beyond what is just, creating a Pendulum Effect, where the cycle of violence and retaliation never ends. Turning the other cheek stops the cycle of violence by giving up the right to retaliate. The wisdom of God tells us to seek to forgive, and thus create peace.

Mandela got this absolutely right by forming the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who brought to trial the evildoers and made them give up names of other cohorts. The committers of atrocities had to accept their punishment and renounce their deeds or be exiled. By no means was this reconciliation a painless process. However, confronting these evils and bringing them into the light was the only way to begin the healing process. This is something America has not done. Only a few years ago Congress passed a resolution apologizing to the Native Americans for stealing their land. An apology for slavery of African-Americans still has not been done, perhaps only because an admission of guilt would essentially require damages to be paid.

What should China and Korea do about the war crimes of Japan? I don’t know just yet. That would require me to know a lot more than I do right now. However, what I do know for sure is that the example of Israel and the Amalekites is not the same as East Asia’s troubles. I hope I made that abundantly clear.

Getting back to the story, Saul was battling the Philistines and was losing. His sons, including Jonathan, had been killed, and Saul himself was badly wounded. The battle around him was so fierce that he knew it was only a matter of time before they caught him. He feared they would have the satisfaction of killing him, and that they would also torture him while they killed him. So he requested his armor-bearer to kill him. The armor-bearer refused, so Saul took his sword out and did it himself, and once he was dead, the armor-bearer did likewise.

Here, things get confusing. A few days later, an Amalekite came to David’s camp with news of Saul’s death, saying he was a captured enemy who escaped after the battle. He reported that while he fled, he saw Saul leaning against his spear for support, and the Philistines in hot pursuit of him. He said Saul called him over and told him to kill him, because he was near death but still alive. So the Amalekite said he killed him, and that he took the king’s crown and arm band and brought it to David. This news caused David and his men much sorrow, and they mourned Saul’s death and the deaths of the Israelite army.

Later in the day, David came back to the young man and asked why he was willing to kill Saul, “the Lord’s anointed”. It would have seemed this would be relieving news for David, whom Saul had been trying to kill. However, David still respected Saul’s position as “God’s anointed king”, and would forever support him, even though Saul was immoral.

This is admirable loyalty, I suppose. But it’s hard for me to think I would not kill someone who tried to kill me—much less honor them—even if they are anointed by God. However, what confused me about this incident, was that we as readers, are given two completely different stories about the death of Saul. In the first, we are told that he killed himself, but in the second, that an Amalekite killed him. From what I understand about ancient texts, this is a literary device used when something is not entirely clear. We are given two accounts, side by side, as if to say, “Here’s our best guesses at what happened. Pick one.” So if that is the writer’s original intent, I guess the question comes down to which one really happened, which I’m not entirely sure even matters. Saul is dead. The second account, from others I’ve seen, seems to have a stronger theological lesson in mind. This normally happens when there are side-by-side stories: the second story has a theological “takeaway” for us to apply to our lives. For instance, in Genesis 12 we see a society after the great flood, and ask, “Why are there different languages?” Account #1. The people spread out according to their families. Account #2. They built a tower as a monument to themselves and God came down and destroyed it, confused their languages and then the people spread out according to their language.

It may be the same way here with Saul’s death. Either that or the Amalekite simply lied, thinking that taking credit for killing Saul would be good news to David and that he would be rewarded. (Now that I think about it, this seems more likely.) However, taking credit for killing Saul got the Amalekite killed. It was not long after that David, his men, and their families returned to southern Israel, in the region of Judah. Back in his home region, David was anointed king of the tribe of Judah. The 12 tribes of Israel were still divided, and one of Saul’s surviving sons was made king over the other tribes.

Soon after, war broke out for the control of all Israel. David’s side grew stronger, while Saul’s side grew weaker. After one of Saul’s administrators defected to David, there seemed to be peace, but one of David’s men later killed him, angering David. He was not one to take pleasure in the death of his former enemies. This was seen again when the surviving son of Saul (who ruled against David) was murdered by his own men. They brought his head to David, also thinking they brought good news. David had them killed just like the Amalekite who supposedly killed Saul.

Chapter 6

David Takes the Throne

David was anointed king of all of Israel, uniting the country. From there, David went on to conquer many of God’s enemies. A lot of it was territory reclamation. God gave him instructions for his battles and went into battle with them, but more than being just a skilled warrior, David also served God fervently. He brought the Ark of the Covenant (the ornate chest that contained religious relics, including the stone slabs of the 10 Commandments) to Jerusalem, and he even danced in the streets as the ark was brought in. During a time of peace, David rested in his palace and he called a prophet named Nathan. He lamented, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the Ark of God remains in a tent.” God later came to Nathan and told him to relay a message to David.

In 2nd Samuel 7, God said, “Are you the one who will built a house for Me? I haven’t dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt to this day. I’ve been moving from place to place with a tent as My dwelling. Whenever I moved with the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, ‘Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?’ I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over My people. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut down every enemy who came against you. Now, I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. I will provide a place for My people and I will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over My people. I will also give you rest from all your enemies. The Lord declares that He Himself will establish a house for you. When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for My Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be My son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But My love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from your presence. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before Me; your throne will be established forever.”

David replied to God, “Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that You have brought me this far? And as if this weren’t enough in Your sight, Sovereign Lord, You have also spoken about the future of the house of Your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!” David went on to praise the Lord for making this promise to him, and for making him aware of His intentions.

I marvel at the kindness of God, to give David emotional relief and security, simply because David cared about God’s feelings. For any fledgling nation, or any country that isn’t a regional power, there is a constant anxiety about national security. For Americans, Chinese, Canadians, Japanese, and others, those countries don’t have to worry that their country could end overnight. But if you ask South Koreans, Israelis, and other countries, they worry that their country could quickly end. Likewise, David did not know if an opposing army could defeat his and destroy his country.

He also didn’t know if he would be succeeded by his own children, or by someone who overthrew him. He didn’t know if his people would even have a permanent home. But because he cared about God’s feelings, God rewarded him with promises of a dynasty through his descendants, a stable, permanent home for his people, and peace on all sides. I can’t promise that God will reward you like He rewarded David if you start being thoughtful of God. He can see when people are just using Him to get what they want. He rewarded David because his concern for God was selfless, and he expected nothing in return. He honored God, so God honored him. Nevertheless, if you start to care about God’s feelings, you may be surprised when He does something for yours in return.

Most of David’s early reign was characterized by trying to show kindness to those who treated him well before he ascended to the throne. This included the son of his deceased best friend Jonathan, a lame man named Mephibosheth, whom David commanded to be provided for. He ate with King David like he was his own son. He also reached out to the Ammonites after their king died to express his sympathies. However, the Ammonite advisors suspected he sent that envoy to spy out the land and attack, so they drove out David’s envoy and shamefully treated them, bringing on his wrath.

The story of David was going much better as he had received ample relief and compensation from God for all his years fleeing Saul and fighting land reclamation battles. Then he messed up. Badly. At a season when David sent his men to fight another war, he stayed behind and happened to catch sight of a woman bathing from his roof. He sent for this woman, a married woman, and he slept with her. When she sent back word to him that she was pregnant, David had the woman’s husband, a non-Israelite mercenary, return to his palace. David feigned as if he wanted a battle report from this man, but really just brought him back so the soldier could sleep with his wife, in order to cover up David’s misdeed.

However, the soldier refused, saying it would be dishonorable for him to sleep with his wife while his comrades were still out fighting. So David got him drunk with wine, hoping that would impair his judgment enough to get him to go sleep with his wife. Still, that didn’t work. So David wrote a letter to the commander and gave it to the soldier to carry back. The letter instructed for this soldier to be put on the front line of the fiercest battle and for the commander to then pull back the men, leaving the soldier, Uriah, alone to be killed. And that is what happened.

When the soldier’s wife heard about this, she mourned for him, and after that period of mourning, David took her to be his wife, but God was angry at David’s behavior. He gave the prophet Nathan a message for David: “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and one poor. The rich man had a large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had only one little lamb that he raised with his family. It ate his food, drank from his cup, and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to visit the rich man, but the rich man refrained from using one of his sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler, so he took the poor man’s one lamb and prepared it for his guest.” David’s wrath burned and he said, “As surely as God lives, this man must die! And he must pay four times over for doing such a thing with no pity!”

Nathan answered David, “You are that man! This is what God has said: ‘I anointed you king over Israel and saved you from Saul. I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah, and if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the Word of the Lord and do what is evil in His eyes? You struck down Uriah with the sword and took his wife to be your own! You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites! Now, therefore, the sword will never leave your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah to be your own. Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all of Israel.”

David acknowledged his sin before God, and Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die, but because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, and given My enemies reason to slander Me, the son born to you will die.” The child born to Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, was struck with an illness. David pleaded before God to spare the boy, fasting and praying, with clothes of sackcloth. His elders tried to get him to eat, but he refused. On the seventh day, the child died.

When David found out about this, he got up, washed, changed his clothes, and went to worship the Lord, and then returned home to eat, puzzling everyone in the palace. David explained that he thought perhaps God might be gracious and spare the child, but since the boy is now dead, there’s no point in continuing to fast for him. Rather, David would have to see him again when he died, not that the boy would come back to life. He also went and comforted Bathsheba, and they slept together and she bore him a son named Solomon, whom God loved.

This story highlights several things about people and about God that I believe are important to note:

#
p<>{color:#000;}. We can go from our highest moments to our lowest rather quickly.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Sin has damaging effects.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. God’s justice is nothing to play around with, even while He may still be merciful.

With David ascending to the throne and reigning very well over Israel, the favor of God was truly visible to him. God made a promise to uphold David, his lineage, and their reign over Israel. God showed appreciation for David’s thoughtfulness in wanting to build a temple to honor Him. This is a wonderful series of events. Even more wonderful, every battle they fought, they won. But our fortunes are very precarious. In David’s case, what tripped him up was his coveting another man’s wife. It seemed simple enough that he thought he could get away with adultery. However, once she got pregnant, he had to cover up his sin, but when he couldn’t cover it up, he had the man killed. He broke four commandments in one story, which is why God asked him, “Why have you despised the Word of the Lord?”

As we’ll see later on, the effects of this scandal had greatly damaged the framework of his household and his rule. It would split his kingdom in two for generations to come. All of this because he wanted something he wasn’t supposed to have. We would all be wise to keep in mind that even while God may be gracious towards us and not punish us for our sin directly, our actions have consequences. In this case, David’s sin doesn’t start with his actions, it starts with his covetous thoughts. This is the reason for God’s tenth commandment, “Do not covet.” God knows that what starts in the mind doesn’t remain in the mind.

Lest you get caught in the trap of the American Evangelical Christian mindset, I must say again, sin is not just the evil things you do. It extends to good things you neglect to do. It extends to the way you think, not only about yourself and others, but also what you think of God because what you think and believe dictates how you act. David thought that because God’s favor was upon him, that he could get away with anything, so he committed adultery with no regard for his soldier who was fighting his war for him. He thought that if he prayed and fasted and cried and pleaded for the life of his newborn son, that God would spare him, but no. David needed an attitude adjustment. He needed to be reminded of who he is and who God is. We do not have God under our control. He is not our puppet. He is the Potter and we are His clay.

Here is where the chaos started for David’s house. One of his sons, Amnon, fell in love with his half-sister Tamar. He was infatuated with her, and got advice to feign illness so she could be the one to serve him food and care for him. When she came to serve him, he had everyone else sent out of the room, and then he invited Tamar to sleep with him. She refused, saying it was wicked, and even saying that he should ask their father to be married, for she was a virgin. He refused to listen to her, and he raped her. He then hated her even more than he first loved her. He had her sent out and had the doors locked. She was led away weeping loudly. When her brother Absalom found out about this, he brought her in to live in his house. She lived the rest of her life disgraced and desolate. David was furious when he found out, but seemed to take no action against Amnon, while Absalom neither said anything good or bad about it, he hated Amnon.

I think you already know where this is going: someone’s about to die. Well, yes, but Absalom was discrete about his plan. He waited two years until an opportunity to avenge his sister came about. There was a party for all of David’s children. David himself was unable to attend, but after some coaxing, Absalom got David to send Amnon. When he was drunk and in high spirits, Absalom gave the command to strike him down, and it was done. Immediately after, he fled the country and only returned when he knew it would be safe. Even after his return, he wasn’t able to see his father David for two years. After that, he began devising a conspiracy to steal the hearts of the people of Israel, by administering justice for the people in place of the king. It could be speculated that Absalom wanted to give people justice unlike his father, who did not punish Amnon, but at the same time, it could be speculated that David had no moral authority to punish his son, given the evil he did to Uriah.

Absalom got a detachment of men to accompany him to the city of Hebron, where he would be proclaimed king, though not many knew about this plot. He also recruited David’s advisor (Bathsheba’s father), gaining more strength in his conspiracy. This caused David great concern and sadness, and he and his men fled the city before Absalom could come and kill them. David’s prayer to God was that He would turn the advisor’s wisdom into foolishness, which God answered in a different kind of way.

(If you’re trying to find this in the Bible, this story is from 2nd Samuel 15.) Back in the wilderness, David was resigned to death, believing that perhaps this was how God was going to get back at him. This was very humbling for David, especially as one man threw rocks and dirt and hurled insults at him, saying he was getting what he deserved for being a murderer. When asked if he could go and kill the man insulting the king, David answered, “If God told him ‘Curse David’, who can ask ‘Why are you doing this?’” He went on to say, “Let him curse, for the Lord has told him to do it. It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me His covenant blessing instead of His curse today.” And so David and his men continued walking, getting pelted with stones and showered with dirt by this one man all along the way.

Back in Jerusalem, Absalom was setting up his reign, and one of David’s servants came in, hailing King Absalom. Questioning the servant’s loyalty, He later asked David’s former advisor what to do. He was told that if he slept with David’s concubines, everybody’s true colors would show, so he did. Absalom then sought to hunt down his father and kill him. His advisor, the former advisor of David, was known for his amazing wisdom. His counsel was like the oracle of God. However, God was against Absalom, so that when the advisor gave his counsel, he chose a rival’s advice instead. This was an answer to David’s prayer. When time came for Absalom to pursue David, there was a great battle in the forests of Israel. Over twenty thousand soldiers died. Absalom also died when his long, luxurious hair got caught in a low-hanging branch. He was found by one of David’s men and was killed, bringing great sadness to David, who tried to spare Absalom’s life.

As we wrap up the story of David’s life, we close with his succession. He swore to Bathsheba long ago that their son Solomon would be king after him. However, it was not known to David in his old age that his other son Adonijah had planned to assume the throne, and had taken a band of warriors and held a ceremony to celebrate his ascension to power. (This was yet another son whom David did not discipline.) When David heard what happened from Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet, he appointed Solomon king and had the arrangements set for his coronation. David gave him the royal treatment, complete with his own donkey and even his throne, and all the people celebrated Solomon’s appointment as king. When Adonijah heard of this, he became afraid for his life, and sent message to Solomon hoping to secure his safety. He basically told him that if he is worthy, he wouldn’t be harmed, but if evil is found in him, he would be killed. Fortunately for Adonijah, Solomon dismissed him and let him live.

When David was about to die, he gave his final orders to Solomon. He had some scores to settle with the people who had done him wrong in life, and though he himself didn’t want to kill them, he wanted his son to. This included the commander of David’s army, who killed several people David wanted to spare, as well as the man who cursed David when he fled from Absalom. He was the man who showered David and his men with dirt and pelted them with rocks and hurled insults at them. Lastly, David told Solomon to be strong and follow God’s commandments.

Here’s what I can say about David. He is known in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart. God had a special love for David, though it was very clear that David was far from a perfect man. He incurred the wrath of God on more than one occasion, and had to be put in his place several times. He had moments where he displayed the character of God with grace and honor. While, other times, he brought shame on God. Even today, I find it hard to rationalize or justify some of the decisions he or even other Biblical figures are celebrated for or not expressly condemned for. My editor, I think, got it right when she described the relation between God and David as a father-son relationship. “…[The] love of a parent is unconditional. No matter how many mistakes your child makes, or how bad they are, you still love them with everything you are. You readily forgive and continue to help them, even though sometimes, you have to show them tough love.”

To David’s credit, I will say this: David has always been repentant, a man sensitive to God. He followed God sincerely, but not perfectly. This is why David is seen in Scripture as God’s anointed, the man after God’s heart. He serves as a powerful example of not only where God can take His chosen people in life, but also that God’s mercy is enduring. It’s not just a statement of “I love you as long as you do what I want”, but rather “I love you, and will continue to love you no matter what you do”. David experienced that, and so do all the followers of God, and you can, too. However, I must also caution you to remember that even an enlightened man like David still made regrettable mistakes that had heavy consequences, including the deaths of many people. Many of these people did not deserve death, nor could they have shielded themselves from it. Chaos simply overtook them. Remember that your actions can have great effects, for better or for worse.

Chapter 7

David’s Dynasty

After David died, and Solomon’s reign was established, God appeared to Solomon in a dream, saying, “Ask for whatever you want Me to give you.” Now, contrary to most Christians’ imaginations, God did not say He would grant the wish, though it does make sense to think that, but God also doesn’t say that Solomon could only make one request. His response is interesting because it was, “Give me wisdom so that I can govern Your people.” This pleased God. He told Solomon that because he didn’t ask for wealth, long life, or the deaths of his enemies, that He would give him unparalleled wisdom and in addition, wealth and honor, such that would be unparalleled among kings. (Do you see the pattern of God rewarding selflessness?)

One of the first things he was confronted with as king was a dispute between two women. They lived in the same house and both had given birth to sons. However, one night, one of the women accidentally killed her baby as she slept by laying on him. When she found out, she switched the babies while the other woman was asleep. When she woke up and found the baby dead, she looked at him closely and realized it wasn’t her son, and that the other woman had her son. When they came before the king, Solomon saw that it was one woman’s word against another, each claiming to be the mother of the living child. He commanded a sword be brought to him, and ordered the men to cut the baby in half and give half to one woman and half to the other. The true mother was anguished and asked for the king to just give the other woman the baby, rather than have it die. However, the woman who originally stole the baby wanted it to be cut in half so that neither would have him. It was obvious who the real mother was, so Solomon told them to give the baby to the woman who was willing to give her son away rather than let him die. This case filled the Israelites with great awe for Solomon and his God-given wisdom.

In Christian circles today, it is commonplace for some Christians to ask God for increased wisdom. In a way, it feels almost cliché, just like the Prayer of Jabez, who asked for God to materially bless him. Since someone dug up this formerly obscure Scripture, everyone wants to pray this prayer, like it’s a magic formula. I disagree with this practice. Part of the reason I believe Solomon’s request and Jabez’ prayer were so powerful was because they were original, and I don’t mean original as in no one’s ever said this before, but because they had their own unique reasons for asking for these things. Solomon was overwhelmed by the number of people he was responsible for because he knew that he didn’t have all the answers. Jabez was simply tired of being poor, and his prayer was more like a plea for mercy. What God desires in prayer is not a formula, or even the “right answer”, but rather authenticity. I can promise you that no matter how God answers a prayer, any prayer asked with authenticity will be heard. However, if you only ask Him what you think He wants to hear, you might as well save your breath, because there’s no real dialog between you and God.

The rest of Solomon’s reign was as follows…

He received the instructions David left him for building the Temple of God in Jerusalem. He enslaved neighboring people groups to build the temple, and even drafted some of his own people to see that it got finished. Taxes were very heavy under his reign, but wealth was also present. In fact, there was so much that in Jerusalem, silver was as common as stones. Solomon was known for his political marriages. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines. Most kings were giving women to him in marriage as a way of keeping peace. The logic was that it was difficult to go to war with your wife’s father. However, these wives also introduced Solomon to idol gods, which angered the true God. (He followed those gods as he got older.) Solomon’s kingdom stretched further than it ever had before, reaching the Euphrates River in the east. All the neighboring kings paid tribute to him and were his lifelong subjects. As for his wisdom, he taught the people using proverbs, and kings even sent envoys to hear Solomon as he taught, that is, if they didn’t go themselves. God’s promise to Solomon was that if he obeyed God, like his father, David, his kingdom would be established, as would future generations. However, if he or his descendants turned away from following God, He would throw His people out, and reject the Temple that was built for Him.

About those idol gods Solomon was following as he got older, God confronted him and said that because he didn’t obey the command to worship only Him, Solomon would have the kingdom stripped away, but for David’s sake, He wouldn’t do it now. Instead, He would tear it away from his son, leaving him with only the tribe of Judah, also for David’s sake. The next in line was to be Rehoboam, but the kingdom, as promised, would be split, and another king was waiting to take it.

For now, though, what shall I say about Solomon’s life? Frankly, at this point, I’m very tired of looking at people who do wicked things being spoken of in the Bible as though they’re saints. Would Solomon seem like a saint to you if you were a non-Israelite who, for no other reason than that, are now being torn away from your family and your job so that you can go build a temple and a palace for a king that looks down on you? Or what if you were one of the near-thousand women who would never get to bear children or enjoy the companionship of marriage, only because your father and Solomon struck a deal never to invade each other? I know it’s not common Christian culture to speak about these things like this. I know that all Scripture is “given by inspiration of God”, and I’m willing to accept that. However, an accurate description of events, no matter how evil they may be, has often been used by those with sinister intent as a prescription of what to do.

Evil people can take any verse in the Bible and make it useful for evil purposes. This angers me. Evil people used the Bible to justify enslaving Africans, killing millions of Native Americans, and to say that different ethnic groups shouldn’t mix. It’s the same throughout history. However, there are two things I will take away from Solomon’s life.

1. Recognize the difference between description and prescription.

2. Even the heroes of the faith have spotted records, no one is clean.

Following the reign of Solomon, he was succeeded by his son Rehoboam. The people came to him asking him to lower their taxes and forced labor they had been drafted into. Rehoboam’s older advisers told him that easing their burdens would be wise, but his younger advisers told him that he should rule with an iron fist. He went with the younger advisers’ words, which led to all but the tribe of Judah leaving his rule. Jeroboam was a man who had been driven out by Solomon because he received a prophecy that he would soon be king. He also wanted to see what Rehoboam would do. After breaking off from his rule, the other tribes turned to Jeroboam and made him the king.

It wasn’t long before Jeroboam started to mess things up. Since the people went to Jerusalem to worship, he believed they might restore their allegiance to Rehoboam, and thus overthrow and kill him. He had two golden calves made and told the Israelites of the northern kingdom not to go all the way to Jerusalem, because now they could worship the two idols. He gave them the credit for rescuing them from Egypt so many generations ago. This angered God, and so He sent word that Jeroboam was more wicked than anyone before him, and for that reason, God would cut him off, as well as his sick child, and would scatter the Israelites beyond the Euphrates River. Nevertheless, Jeroboam reigned for 22 years and then died.

In the southern kingdom, known as Judah, the people also engaged in idolatry. God allowed Judah to get attacked by Egypt, and all the treasures of the Temple and Solomon’s palace were carried off. On top of that, Jeroboam and Rehoboam were constantly at war with each other. Rehoboam reigned for 17 years, and then died.

The descendants of Jeroboam and Rehoboam were likewise wicked for the most part. It would become a rare thing to see a righteous king like Hezekiah or Josiah. Because of the kings’ wickedness, the people usually always followed suit. This tested God’s patience with them, with both Israel and Judah seemingly racing to the bottom. It was during this time that prophets became more prevalent as the voice of God. Since kings weren’t following God much at all, He looked to prophets to go and call the people back to Him. Many times the people ignored them. Other times the people were quite hostile to the prophets. Still, other times, the people merely patronized them, not taking their message seriously. Sometimes the prophets got in trouble with the kings, who were unrecognizable as kings of the people of God. But of course, when God’s prophets became prevalent, false prophets also grew to mighty numbers. One of God’s prophets, Elijah, was overwhelmed by how many false prophets there were; he thought he was the only one left in Israel who didn’t serve other gods.

Most Westerners think of prophets as fortune-tellers. Large parts of the Bible are written with the end of the age in mind. Prophets often did see future events, but there’s more to them, they were brave advocates for justice and righteousness, which got them in a lot of trouble, and some were even killed viciously for the things they said. However, they spoke the heart of God to the people and the rulers, and they always came with a warning to change before God acted. They always said that God was willing to have mercy on the people if they would turn from their wickedness, but if they did not turn, they would face the consequences. Sometimes those consequences were things like droughts, famine, wars, etc. The prophets often had very different styles of communicating, and came from all kinds of backgrounds. Some were shepherds, others were priests in the Temple when they were called to serve. It may be that God was using the diversity of the prophets to make a clear case for why Israel and Judah were wicked beyond the point of excuse. You could make an excuse that if a poor prophet came to a rich man to tell him about his evil ways, he wouldn’t listen, however, if approached by a rich prophet, he may be more accepting of the message. However, if a man doesn’t want to hear the message, he will not no matter who delivers it.

Chapter 8

Promises, Promises

God was not limited in how He dealt with His people. He didn’t need a righteous king from another country to sweep in through Israel and Judah to discipline them. God could use a wicked king to do just the same thing, and that’s what He did. Over in modern-day Iraq, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, swept through the area and conquered everything from western Iran to Egypt. He had the Israelites carried off into captivity, where they would become servants of the Babylonians. They were led away with hooks piercing their noses, all chained to one another. Depending on their skill, some would become servants of the king’s court. This was the case with Daniel.

After this, the Israelites, also known as the Jews, mourned their captivity and begged for God’s forgiveness, wishing they could return home swiftly. God sent a prophet, Jeremiah, who told the people that they would indeed remain in captivity, and that they should prepare their minds for a life in exile. He advised them to settle down and buy houses in Babylon, to marry and have children, to pray for the nation in which they were living, and to ignore the false prophets who said that they would soon return to their native land. They would be in Babylon for 70 years, but God would be with them in exile.

Whenever the people of God were punished for their evil, a wicked king came in and made them his subjects. The people would turn from their sin and destroy their idols, and God would send a hero, known as a judge, who would defeat the occupying ruler and free the Israelites. This was the same kind of thing the prophets had in mind when they talked about an ultimate judge, a hero who would establish a permanent kingdom of righteousness that would cover the globe. This kingdom would be ruled from Jerusalem by a descendant of King David. This figure was called the “Anointed One”, or as we understand it, the Messiah or Christ. However, there was another element of mystery added when you put together all the prophecies about the Messiah. He would be a conqueror, yes, but he would also be a suffering servant. Some prophecies said he would reign, gloriously, while others said he would be hated, disgraced, and even killed. It was so confusing for people of the day who studied the coming of the Messiah, that they thought that there might be 2 Messiahs, one who suffered and one who reigned.

God was certain to make sure that there was a degree of clarity about the coming of the Messiah. He gave the people a timeline of kingdoms that would come and when the Messiah would come and die, as well as when the temple would be destroyed after he died. God told the prophets where and under what circumstances the Messiah would be born. Some prophets were even given word that this Messiah would be divine, having no beginning (Micah 5:2). For the astute, they were left with the impression that this Messiah would indeed be God!

While I could go further into the prophets and their role in the story, instead, I will refer back to them when we come to the Messiah’s life. The prophets are worth another book all to themselves, and I don’t want to get sidetracked, so I will simply give you one prominent prophecy, from Isaiah 53:

“Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before God like a tender shoot, like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, a man familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.”

“Surely, he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we were glad to see him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.  Yet he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds, we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray; each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he didn’t open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so did he not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.”

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, God will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. God says, ‘After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore, I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.’”

This prophecy was written 700 years before the Messiah came. Watch how it plays out in his life.

Regarding the Israelites, while they were away from their homeland in Babylon, the kingdom was overtaken by the Persian Empire, which spanned from Egypt and Greece to Pakistan and even up to Kazakhstan. It was during this time that the Israelites were allowed to return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem. They rebuilt the Temple of God, and never committed idolatry again. Over time, the people became fiercely religious. Eventually a class of religious interpreters who claimed to understand the Law of Moses said they could help bring God’s blessing. As time passed, there came two different kingdoms that ruled over Israel, Greece, and Rome. Under the rule of Alexander the Great, the Greek empire stretched to the Indian border. Followed by Rome, Which covered the Mediterranean coasts of Southern Europe and North Africa. Egypt was a food source for both empires and Israel served as a bridge between them.

There wasn’t really anything special about the land of Israel as far as other rulers were concerned. To them, and everybody else, the land was underdeveloped, lacked desired resources, and featured people who were far too different from them in all their ways and customs. Also of note, they only worshipped The One true God.

To the outsider, the Israelites were just weird, and it had been God’s intent to use that difference in combination with their high character and morality as a light to the world. They had to be weird so that people would notice them, and righteous so that people would want to emulate them and follow their God. In turn, He was going to bless the nation and turn a land that had little to offer into a land of plenty, where no one would lack and all would be well. Unfortunately, with their idolatry, the Israelites became just like every other nation, and lost their credibility. The resettling of their land was their big opportunity to fulfill the promise that through the children of Abraham, the entire world would be blessed.

When the Romans came into power, they were known for their brutality and disregard for human life. Their definition of peace meant “If you do what I say, there will be peace.” Among their own society, they devalued baby girls and would throw them out if the husband didn’t want her, and even sons were seen as a burden. In Israel, because the Jews were tired of being ruled by foreign kings who had no connection to God, there was always the threat of violent revolts. For that reason, the Romans imposed harsh tactics in suppressing the population. They publicly executed criminals and enemies of the state, often by crucifixion. It was a form of torture, execution and public humiliation all in one. Criminals were crucified naked and hoisted high into the air for all to see. Nails were driven through their wrists on cross bars that the criminals had to carry through the streets on the way to their execution. When hoisted up, sometimes the cross had a small wooden piece attached that functioned as a seat, so that the criminal didn’t die too quickly. As for what it’s like to be crucified, one would be hanging with their arms stretched very wide, making it difficult to breathe, so they had to push up on the cross to take a breath, which was terribly painful for their feet where there were nails driven through as well.

The constant state of occupation persisted, and the Jews’ expectations from the coming Messiah tilted mostly towards political freedom. While that was a heavy theme in the prophets’ writings, so was his righteousness, as well as his impending rejection by Israel. Spiritual matters seemed less important to them at the time, and understandably so, but for God, it was primary issue.

Chapter 9

The Messiah has Arrived

Israel was divided into three areas, Northern Israel was known as Galilee, the southern part was known as Judea, and the central area was Samaria. Judeans were held in higher esteem among Jews, and Jerusalem and its temple was in their area. Galileans were seen by Judeans as the underclass, and were known for their misuse of the language, while the Samaritans were seen as half-breed Jews, who mixed with Gentiles (non-Jews) and adopted idolatrous customs. Beyond the homeland Jews, there was also the Hellenistic Jews, who adopted Roman and Greek culture and lived in those areas, close to the center of power. They were not held in high regard in Israel. Lastly, were the Babylonian Jews, who stayed in Babylon even after the rest of the Israelites returned home. Babylon held many of the Old Testament books that were written and preserved, so the Jews from that area were held in very high regard because of their close link to Jewish collective history.

Religious life in Israel had become very rigid and even godless. Whereas before, the people would never follow the Law of Moses, now they were following it so closely that they missed the entire point of the law. It became a religion of technicalities, and the main group responsible for this misapplication of the law was the Pharisees. They became the religious police, imposing rules on people that they themselves weren’t willing to follow. They abused the people’s lack of knowledge of the Bible for their own purposes and enriched themselves by doing it. Worst of all, they made God seem unreachable and insatiable. The people thought, “If the Pharisees are the only ones who really understand God, if we don’t do what they say, we will be angering God.” On top of that, they made sure the people knew how “righteous” they were. Just for show, they would make public prayers on street corners. They would look sad and sullen and starved whenever they fasted, again, all for show. With all of that, the people were no closer to God.

Now that the stage is set, let me introduce you to John.

John’s parents were very old when they gave birth to him. His father, Zechariah, was the priest, and fulfilled the role of his office faithfully. At the Altar of Incense, he was met by an angel who told him his wife would bear him a son, to be named John. (This sounds a lot like the story of Abraham and Isaac if you think about it.) However, when Zechariah heard this, he wasn’t convinced, so the angel made him unable to speak until the day came when John was born. Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth was righteous, just as her husband, but she was unable to conceive, bringing shame upon her. For one reason or another, being barren was a symbol of the lack of God’s favor, as if she did something wrong to deserve this. When she found out she was pregnant, the first thing she said was, “The Lord has done this for me. In these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

I find it sad that she had to respond that way in the first place. Her barrenness was something she had absolutely no control over. Why then does she have to be disgraced in the eyes of the people? Why has this righteous old woman been made to feel like she has no honor without children?

[_ Society frequently disappoints me in regard to its treatment of women and to those who cannot change their situation. The first thing we tend to do is judge. We say, “You got robbed because you were wearing expensive clothes.” “You’re poor because you didn’t work hard enough.” We say a lot of stupid things like this, putting 100% of the blame for a person’s misfortunes on that person, completely ignorant of larger forces that they may or may not have control over. Judgment is what we do when we cannot cope with the thought that this evil can easily happen to us. This extends to Christians as well. Some Christians foolishly say, “Your child died because you didn’t pray hard enough or frequently enough. You didn’t read your Bible enough. You didn’t clean up your life enough, so God didn’t listen to your prayers.” Chances are, you just don’t know what could have been done to definitively change the outcome. What if God said His purpose is different than yours? What will your prayers do if He says no? How much more fasting would you do? How much would you pray if you knew God said no? Instead of crushing people in their weakest moments, be silent, listen to their pain, and acknowledge that this could happen to you if not for God’s grace. Don’t judge people and diagnose why evil happened to them, because you don’t know. _]

The prophecy about John from the angel was that he would grow up in the spirit and power of the prophet Elijah, and would turn the hearts of the people back to God. Now, this was in Judea, let’s go to Galilee. (We’re in Luke Chapter 1, if you’re referencing your Bible.)

As Elizabeth was six months pregnant, the same angel, Gabriel, was sent to a virgin girl in Nazareth. Her name was Mary, and she was betrothed (engaged) to a man named Joseph. The angel told her that she was favored by God, and was going to give birth to a son, to be named Jesus. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary asked how this would be possible, considering she was a virgin. The angel responded, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born to you will be called the Son of God.” The angel then encouraged her that her relative Elizabeth was also pregnant, and that the word of God never fails. Mary accepted these words, and the angel left.

She hurried to Judea to visit Elizabeth and see the baby in her womb. They both celebrated and sang songs of joy, each for what the Lord was doing in their lives. Mary stayed with Elizabeth about 3 months before returning home. She seems to have left before John was born. When the baby was finally born, Zechariah’s muteness had left, and he confirmed the boy’s name, as the angel instructed him.

(John would grow up to live the lifestyle of a Nazarite; he would never drink alcohol, cut his hair, or be in the presence of dead bodies. When he gets older, he will go to live out in the desert. He will eat locusts and honey, and wear camel hair as his clothing before he returns to civilization. Needless to say, he would not live like a king.)

Back in Nazareth, Mary returned visibly pregnant. Let that thought sink in for a minute. Mary is pledged to be married to Joseph. She goes away for 3 months to visit a relative. She comes back pregnant. How do you think that first conversation went with Joseph? “The Lord gave me this baby,” Mary may have said. Would you have believed her? No?

Neither did Joseph.

Now, in those times, if a woman was found to have committed adultery, she would be stoned. It should have been, by the Law of Moses, that both the man and the woman would be stoned, but usually the man had to be caught in the act in order for him to be put to death. It’s far more difficult for the woman to get away with it. By societal standards, Mary should have been stoned. Yet because Joseph was a righteous man, he didn’t want her to be killed. He just wanted to find a way to divorce her quietly. The righteousness of Joseph here is not in his absolutely perfect application of the Law, but in his consideration for her life. It wasn’t the Law he was following, but mercy. I repeat, the righteousness of Joseph is not his belief of her unbelievable story, but his merciful response in ending the relationship in a way that preserves Mary’s life.

As he was thinking about this matter, the angel Gabriel appeared to him in a dream and told him the baby was indeed from the Lord, and that he was to call the baby’s name Jesus, because he would save his people from their sin. This harkened back to a prophecy given by Isaiah, that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a son named Immanuel, meaning God with us. With heavenly confirmation, Joseph felt better about marrying Mary, and took her as his wife.

However, it should be noted that the people didn’t believe her story. They believed Joseph was a fool for marrying her, a woman who in their eyes, was an adulterer.

I wonder what her social interactions were like after that. Was life more difficult for her? Did people treat her with contempt? Did they just let it go and say it’s her and Joseph’s business? How did Joseph deal with the social situation? How often must he have heard insults for believing the unbelievable? How often did he see people looking back and forth between him and his son, trying to compare their appearances? How many times must he have defended his decision to believe Mary’s story or the angelic vision? This is the difficulty of being the father and mother of the Messiah. Every woman wanted to be the mother of the Messiah, but the trouble that Mary and her husband went through is entirely undesirable. The fantasy is not the reality.

Before Mary gave birth, the Roman government called for a census of the entire empire, which was really just an effort to get tax money from the people as they came to be accounted for. This required Joseph to have to take his pregnant wife from Galilee in the north to Judea in the south, to his ancestral home, Bethlehem, the city where it was prophesied that the Messiah would be born. Joseph is a descendant of King David, as is his wife Mary. Jesus would be recognized as the son of David regardless of what people thought of his origins.

Now, contrary to what a lot of Christians believe about the birth of Jesus, he was not born in squalor conditions, even though it seemed fitting, especially when you think about the life Jesus would grow up to live. Rather, because so many people were in town for the census, the guestrooms were already occupied, so Mary gave birth in the main one-room house. Though it seems both weird and perhaps disgusting to Western readers, having the baby born into a place where the animals slept was not a big deal to the Jews. In fact, the presence of the animals in the house made it warmer. After the baby was born, they wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger, a small hole dug into the stone floor where the animals ate from.

As you think about the little baby sleeping in the manger, allow me to remind you who this baby is, because it’s a pretty big deal. This baby is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. He is God the Son. He is also known as the Word of God. As Jesus’ future disciple John wrote (John 1:1), “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God (the Father), and the Word was God (as in He Himself was divine). The same Word was in the beginning with God (at the Creation of the world). Through him, all things were made, and without him nothing was ever made. In him was life, and his life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Further ahead John says, “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to his own people, but his own didn’t receive him. Yet all who did receive him, to them he gave the ability to become the children of God… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son of God, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” That’s the baby who lies asleep in the manger, wrapped up in makeshift cloths and surrounded by hay and one or two animals with his parents. This is the God that made the world.

I remember my pastor saying something so profound: “The way you view God shapes the way you treat people.” It was his way of saying that the traits we admire most about God (or whoever or whatever we look up to most), we will emulate that and behave the same way. If we view God as the biggest thing to us, that sounds wonderful on the surface, but may actually cause damage. For someone who views God as a distant, powerful being who hates having to deal with people and their small problems, they in turn will be cold and distant, and will always say they have bigger problems to deal with. But if you view God as an involved parent, you will likewise try to emulate Him and be involved with the details of the lives of your loved ones. That’s why the incarnation of Jesus is so important.

I remember going to the movies to see “12 Years a Slave”, which won an Oscar for Best Picture. Though I was well-versed in African-American slavery, this was the first time I felt sorrow on a personal level for the slaves, my ancestors. The story of Solomon Northup was gripping, and while his story ended well, what stayed with me was the story of millions of others, who for generations were born, lived, and died in slavery, some with no hope of escape. This is what caused me such sorrow. As I walked out of the theater, I remember asking, “God, where were You in all of that?” Now, I’m no fool. I saw the minor victories here and there throughout the movie, and I know that God is everywhere and that He has all power and that He has all knowledge. But the question still remained: Where was God?

As I rode home on the bus, I remember changing from song to song on my phone as I tried to process my thoughts. However, a lot of the Christian music on my phone was upbeat and cheery and… unfitting. Finally, I came across a rap song by Lecrae, called “Devil in Disguise”. The style of the song fit my mood, so I listened. Then he said these words: “If He’s real I believe God became a man. Otherwise ain’t no other way to understand what it’s like to be me.” It was at that moment that the answer to my question hit me: Jesus had been through it too. He didn’t hide in Heaven from the suffering and turmoil of this world, but he became a part of it. The prophet Isaiah described the Messiah as a man acquainted with sorrows, a suffering servant. This realization made me want to pound my chest in respect for Jesus, because I knew he really was “Immanuel: God with us”.

Chapter 10

The Early Years

The night Jesus was born, there were shepherds tending to their flock at night. Angels appeared to them, and terrified them. The angels calmed them down and told them that they had news that would bring great joy to all the people: The Messiah was born in the City of David (Bethlehem). However, the shepherds, being of low social rank, didn’t think they would be received by the house of the future king, but the angels gave them an encouraging sign: the baby was wrapped in cloths and was lying in a manger. This sounded unusually common to the shepherds, because a royal baby would likely be born in much more lavish settings. When they went and found the baby, they found things just as the angels told them, and they went away praising God and spreading word about what they saw.

Not many months later, it was the time for purification rites required by the Law of Moses. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to God, as was required for every firstborn son, and they offered sacrifices of 2 doves and 2 pigeons, because they didn’t have much money to afford a bigger sacrifice. There was an old, devout man named Simeon. He, like many Jews, longed for the coming of the Messiah. The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he would not die before he laid eyes on the Lord’s Messiah. He later went to the temple courts where Jesus was soon brought in, and he took the baby in his arms and sang a song of praise to God for fulfilling His promise to Israel, which shocked Joseph and Mary. Then he said to Mary that this child is going to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel, and would be a sign against them. The thoughts of many would be revealed because of Jesus, and a sword would pierce Mary’s soul, too, he said. No one was safe from the word of God that Jesus would speak.

Now, there was a ruler in Judea named Herod. He was ethnically Arab, religiously Jewish, and politically Roman. He was a complicated and ruthless man. He was always afraid that someone was trying to assassinate him to take his throne, and so he even had close family members killed, like his wife, whom he loved. He was dreadfully unstable, but he was also the guy who revitalized the Temple in Jerusalem, such that it became a gem in the region. Several astrologers, commonly known as the three wise men (though we don’t know if they were just three), came from somewhere east of Israel; perhaps from Arabia, perhaps from Iraq. They innocently asked King Herod, “Where is the boy who was born, the King of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and we came to worship him.”

This alarmed Herod as well as the city of Jerusalem. He called together all the religious experts, the teachers of the law, and the priests, and he asked them where the King of the Jews was to be born. Bethlehem of Judea, they said. Then he later secretly called the astrologers and asked them when they saw his star rise. He asked them to report back to him when they found the boy, so that he too could go worship. The astrologers went on their way, following the star until it stopped over the house where the infant Jesus was. They came into the house and bowed down before the infant, then opened their gifts to him: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

They were later warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, but to go home another way. So they took another route back to their home country. Now, when it became apparent that the astrologers were not going to come back, Herod became furious and gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its surrounding area. According to the time he received from the astrologers, he had every boy less than 2 years old killed. But an angel had appeared to Joseph in a dream beforehand, telling him to take his wife and the baby and flee to Egypt until further notice. Only after Herod died did Joseph receive clearance to return to Israel.

When Joseph and Mary returned, Joseph heard that another fearsome ruler had taken Herod’s place in Judea, so they settled in Nazareth and raised their son. They also began having other children. As for Jesus, he grew up strong. He was filled with wisdom, and he had the grace and favor of God on him, as well as the favor of the people.

Now, it had been an annual custom to go to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast. When Jesus was 12 years old, they had gone to Jerusalem for the festival, and the family returned home. However, Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, unknown to his parents. Thinking that he was somewhere in the caravan of travelers, Joseph and Mary continued on for a day, but then they began looking for him among family and friends and couldn’t find him, so they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days, they found him in the temple courts with the teachers, listening to them and asking questions. Everyone who heard Jesus was amazed at his level of understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. Mary ran up to him asking “Why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you!” Jesus gave a confusing answer, “Why are you searching for me? Didn’t you know that I need to be in my Father’s house?” His parents didn’t know what he was saying. Nevertheless, he went back to Galilee with them and was obedient to them. Mary treasured all these things in her heart.

Chapter 11

Tempted

Between the ages of 12 and 30, we don’t hear very much about the life of Jesus. If it wasn’t for Luke’s account of Jesus’ life, we wouldn’t have heard much about Jesus between the ages of 2 and 30. So all we can do is assume that Jesus had a normal life in the meantime. While the story about him at the Temple when he was 12 sheds some light on his life up to that point, one of the big things that jump out to me about the story is that he knew who he was. In some stories and movies, the main character finds out he or she is the chosen one and they have to adjust their lives to fit the prophecy. Not so with Jesus. He always knew who he was, and didn’t shy away from it. He was the Son of God, sent to save the world from their sin. As for his daily life, Jesus likely followed in the footsteps of his father Joseph and became a carpenter. It is speculated that the reason we don’t hear about Joseph anymore is because maybe he died earlier. It’s not certain, though. Jesus had several brothers and sisters, though we don’t know exactly how many, we do know that there were at least six.

Now, around the time Jesus turned 30, his cousin John, the same John that was born to the elderly Zechariah and Elizabeth, had been ministering to the nation of Israel, and had become very prominent during his time. He was known for baptizing people, that is, he dipped them in water as a symbol of cleansing them from their sin. They were forgiven of their sin once they renounced them and were dipped in the water by John. The coming of John had been prophesied by Isaiah, when he described John as the voice crying from the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight for Him” (Isaiah 40:3).

There was a crowd that came to him to be baptized that he was not happy to see, for reasons I’m not entirely sure about. (If you’re referencing your Bible, we’re in Luke Chapter 3.) His response to them was, “You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And don’t say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’, because God can raise up sons for Abraham out of these stones! The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” So more than likely, this was a self-righteous crowd who assumed their lineage and culture would buy them favor with God.

When the crowd asked what they should do, John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.” John was calling for an end of the selfish mentality of the people.

There’s a saying in the Bible that there is nothing new under the sun. Everywhere I go, in America, in China, and looking back at Israel in the Bible, selfishness has always been a major problem that harms community. In the US, I see the greed of the wealthy, who demand low taxes, but then hoard all the money, leaving millions of hard-working Americans in lack. The USA is a great country to be in if you are rich. If you’re poor, life is very stressful and there is little opportunity to advance in society. As President Obama put it, the rungs on the ladders of opportunity are getting further apart. It used to be that when people became rich, they in turn used a lot of that money to help their communities, but that is less and less the case now. I imagine John would tell them to share their finances with those who are less fortunate.

There were people of all kinds that came to John, including those that the Jewish society hated including Roman soldiers and Jewish tax collectors. Tax collectors were seen as traitors because they used unfair weights when people paid their taxes, to get a little extra money for themselves. They exploited their own people, so when tax collectors came to John, they asked what they should do. The answer was simple, “Don’t collect any more than you are required to.” As for the soldiers, “Don’t extort money or falsely accuse people—and be content with your pay.”

It amazes me how practical his advice was. I find a lot of insight in what he didn’t say. He didn’t say “Rome causes a lot of suffering around the world, enforces unjust laws, and oppresses the people. Therefore retire from being a soldier.” Nor did he say “Killing people is wrong, therefore retire from being a soldier.” Rather, he gave them practical advice for their situation. He still left them as soldiers and tax collectors. This is something I think the Church should note. I myself have been guilty of this, where I give the most ideal of advice to people who may not be able to make that big a jump. Hopefully, going forward I can do a better job of recognizing the contexts of people’s lives and give helpful advice so they can take steps towards a more righteous path. This goes back to trust in God. If God has given someone the heart to even ask what they should do to please God, it seems reasonable to believe that God can take them from one step to another. It’s not up to one person to tell someone where they should ultimately be, all in one sitting. As Jesus would later say, “I have much to say to you, but you can’t bear to hear it all.”

There was a man that was friends with my mom. He’s a Christian and a very good guy, but he also bootlegged movies. That means he went to the movies with a camera and recorded the movie to sell to people he met on the street. It’s stealing. When I asked him why he does this, he was convicted and said he needed to stop. He later said that he needed to continue to do it to save enough money to start his computer repair business. From my experience, when people say they need to continue doing something bad so that they can move on and do something good, the change never happens. I was surprised when I later found that he did start his computer repair business and stopped bootlegging movies. God knows how to lead His people out of sin. He knows who His children are.

Coming back to John, his ministry became so prominent that people began to wonder if he was the Messiah. He denied it, even when pressed. The people were desperate for the Messiah’s coming. Nevertheless, John said that there is one coming after him whose shoelaces he was unworthy to untie. “I baptize you with water. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Some people will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, while others would be burnt up. According to John, the Messiah was the judge.

There came a day when Jesus came to John as he was baptizing in the river. (This is found in Matthew 3.) John called out to him, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” When Jesus asked John to baptize him, John adamantly refused, saying Jesus should be baptizing him. Jesus answered that he wanted to be baptized to “fulfill all righteousness,” a phrase I found confusing. My editor Kate said to fulfill all righteousness means Jesus had to take all the same steps as we do in order to walk the path of righteousness. That makes sense, because Jesus wasn’t just living a perfect life devoid of sin. He was also giving us a model to follow so that we can be perfect like him. John went ahead and dipped him in the water, and when Jesus came up, the Holy Spirit descended on him from Heaven, in the form of a dove. A voice also came down from Heaven saying, “You are My beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.”

Immediately after being baptized, Jesus was compelled to go into the desert, where he would be tempted by the devil. He didn’t eat or drink anything for 40 days or nights, and at the end he was very hungry. The devil came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to be turned into bread.” It seemed like a legitimate suggestion, but it is important to remember several key things about Jesus’ mission on earth.

The issue was trusting in God to provide him food and not necessarily the hunger. Jesus, though starving, said to Satan, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God’s mouth.’” Jesus used Scripture to combat Satan, and also reaffirmed his trust in God to sustain him. Satan then took him to a high place and showed Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth and their splendor. “I will give you all their glory and authority; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want. If you bow down and worship me, it will all be yours.” Satan now attempted to play on the prophecies about the Kingdom of God being run by the Messiah.

When Satan tempts Jesus to bow down and worship him in exchange for the whole world, the real question is not about the kingdoms of the earth or of its administration. Jesus never contested Satan’s claim of authority over the earth. Satan is called the “Prince of the Power of the Air” in Ephesians 2, and he does indeed exercise authority over the world that God originally gave to man. This is why you see suffering and wickedness, while still wondering how a good God could have made this. God owns the earth, but it is currently run by Satan. Since the sin of mankind handed authority over the earth to Satan, Jesus had come to reclaim it, and he had to do it the right way. He couldn’t just arbitrarily snatch it away. God does things orderly, and according to the law of His own integrity.

Jesus knew he would do a better job of ruling the earth than Satan, and He wanted to bring an end to the suffering that he knew was happening in every nation on earth. However, the real question was “Whose wisdom do you trust?” Would Jesus trust in his own wisdom and say “I’ll do whatever I have to in order to save the world,” or would he trust God’s timing and methods?

Jesus answered Satan, “Get behind me, for it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God alone and you must only serve Him.’” It is important to note that Jesus did not believe the end justifies the means. He would not take a sinful path to a righteous destination. Notice how the devil tried to deceive Jesus even with the questions. Remember, the choice Jesus had was not “bow down to the devil to save the world or let the world continue to suffer”, the choice was “trust and submit to the Father or rebel.” Satan doesn’t tell you the implications of the evil he wants you to do, instead, he gives you a false choice that reveals your true motives. After you have done evil, he will go to the Father to accuse you day and night and demand God’s judgment against you. I’m telling you this so that you will see it when it comes up. Watch for the deeper questions.

After that temptation attempt, the devil took Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem, and told him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you carefully, so you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Again, this was a temptation about trust. Will God protect Jesus at all costs, even if Jesus deliberately tested Him? This is where Jesus demonstrates a powerful lesson for all believers and anyone who ever reads the Bible. Scripture can be misused and misinterpreted, and God is under no obligation to respond when you have misapplied His words. “It is also written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” This is how Jesus turned that misused Scripture on its head.

Personally, I have put God to the test, and I have also seen others put God to the test. It seems that every time this happens, things do not go as planned, they blow up in our faces. I imagine if Jesus would have jumped, we would never have heard about Jesus, because he would be dead. Jesus recognized the difference between needing to rely on God’s power, and simply using God’s name and sayings as a tool to manipulate God into doing whatever we want. God doesn’t work like that. After the devil left him, the angels of God came and ministered to Jesus. Satan would return to tempt him at a more opportune time.

Jesus, though he is fully God, was meant to live the life of an average human being. He was not to use his divine powers for his own benefit. Even when Jesus would use divine power, the source was the Holy Spirit, not himself. He had to refrain from taking power into his own hands. Like an average human being, he had to trust God to provide for him. Reliance on God was crucial because while being a prophet on the earth, and the Messiah, Jesus was also serving as the ultimate example to all people everywhere. The relationship that Jesus had with the Father was to be the same as any person could have with the Father. Also important to note about these temptations, Jesus had to be morally perfect. It was absolutely key that Jesus never sinned. This is why the devil tried to tempt him on areas where he would seem vulnerable, like hunger.

Chapter 12

Who is This Guy?

Triumphant and full of the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned to Galilee. News about him spread throughout the countryside as he taught in the synagogues, and everyone praised him. In Nazareth, where he was raised, he went to the synagogue, as was his custom, and he was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and the next part to be read said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recover sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (This is Luke 4, if you’re reading in your Bibles. Going forward we will spend most of our time in Luke unless otherwise noted.)

After Jesus finished reading that section, he rolled up the scroll and sat down, and all eyes were focused on him. He stood up and said to them, “Today, you’ve heard this Scripture’s fulfillment.” All of them were offended at the way he left out the part of the scripture that talked about vengeance against the Gentiles who oppress them. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Jesus responded, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you do at Capernaum.’ Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when there was a three-and-a-half year drought and a severe famine. Yet, Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha, yet not one of them was cleansed—except Naaman the Syrian.” This infuriated the crowd, and they drove him out of town, pushing him towards the cliff to throw him off, but Jesus walked through the crowd and continued on his way.

When I first read this story, I believed the crowd did not take Jesus seriously. Though, I still believe that they underestimated Jesus and condescended him, I have recently come across another understanding of this passage. Kenneth Bailey, the author of “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” says the English versions of the Bible do not properly tell readers how offended the synagogue audience was from the beginning. In the English Bibles, it appeared as if Jesus was bringing up unnecessary controversy and was alienating the audience who seemed to dote on him. In reality, the people thought that because Jesus grew up in this city, that he would fully understand the anger Jews had against the Gentiles. For Jesus to quote a popular prophecy and omit the aspect of the prophecy that talks about vengeance against the Gentiles was very offensive to them. For them, the Kingdom of God was about punishing the wicked and receiving God’s blessings for themselves. For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was about righteousness, justice, and blessings to the whole world, starting from the Jews. It makes me wonder how much of our so-called righteous anger is really just a front for our selfish greed and our un-forgiveness.

After that episode with Nazareth, Jesus went down to Capernaum, a larger city in the region. On the Sabbath day (Saturday), he went to the synagogue to teach, and the people were amazed at his words because they had authority. Somewhat similar to John’s teaching, Jesus’ message was “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” In essence, Jesus was telling people to renounce their sins and their ungodly lifestyles and begin living for God. They were instructed to do this in earnest especially because the Kingdom of God was about to arrive. This was around the same time that John was put into prison. He had told Herod that it was against the Law of God for him to marry his brother’s wife.

In the synagogue, there was a man possessed by a demon. He cried out at the top of his voice, “Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? We know who you are, The Holy One of God!” The demon was basically trying to expose Jesus even before Jesus wanted his identity to be known, so Jesus sternly said “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down on the ground in front of the whole synagogue and came out of him, fortunately without injuring the man. The people marveled and said, “With authority he tells impure spirits to come out and they obey him!” Word about Jesus spread throughout the area.

It was around this time that Jesus began to gather disciples, learners who would travel with him and be instructed in all of his teachings. As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, both fishermen. He called out to them and told them to follow him and he would make them fishers of men, so they left their nets where they were and followed him. He also met two other brothers, James and John, also fishing with their father Zebedee. When Jesus called them, they left the boat and their father and followed him. However, there was more to the story. Jesus had come to the water, and people were crowding him, listening to the Word of God. He saw the boat that belonged to Simon and Andrew, who were washing their nets. He asked them to put him out a little bit from the shore, and he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he finished, he told Simon to go out into the deep waters and let down their nets for a catch, but they were discouraged because they had been out all night trying to fish, but found nothing. Nevertheless, they did so, and they caught a number of fish so large that their nets began to break. This was the fishing jackpot that fishermen always dreamed of. They had to call over their partners (presumably James and John) in another boat to help. They filled both boats so much that they began to sink! When Simon saw this, he fell at Jesus’ feet and said “Leave me alone, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus answered, “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will fish for men.”

The next day, Jesus called a man named Philip, and he in turn found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the one whom Moses and the Prophets wrote about, Jesus of Nazareth.” Nathanael, though, was not impressed. “Nazareth?! Can anything good come from Nazareth?!” But Philip persuaded him to come and see. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he sarcastically said, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael asked, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you sitting under that fig tree before Philip called you.” This humbled Nathanael, and he also knew that Jesus heard everything he said. He replied to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” Jesus responded, “You believe because I told you I saw you sitting under a fig tree? You will see greater things than that. Truly I tell you, you will see Heaven open and the angels of God descending on the Son of Man.”

The six disciples mentioned above are his first recorded disciples, while six more would later be added. With these few, Jesus left from the synagogue and stayed with Simon. Now, Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her, so he bent over her and rebuked the fever and it left, and she immediately got up and began to serve them. At sunset, people from all over were bringing their sick to Jesus to be healed, and he laid his hands on all of them, and they were healed. However, demons came out of people shouting “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and told them not to speak, because they knew he was the Messiah.

At sunrise, Jesus went to a solitary place, but the people came looking for him and tried to keep him from leaving. He told them he had to go proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to other cities, because that’s why he was sent.

About this time, Jesus went to a wedding in Cana with his mom. (We’re in John 2.) It was day three of the wedding, and those invited on the last day were typically afterthoughts. The esteemed guests came on the first day. The wine had just run out, and Jesus’ mom came and told him, but he responded, “What does this have to do with me? My time hasn’t yet come.” It could be that Jesus didn’t appreciate being left to the last day and was in no mood to be generous to the host. Nevertheless, Mary told the servants to do whatever Jesus told them. Nearby there were 6 large, stone water jars, each holding around 95 liters. Jesus told them to fill the jars to the brim with water. Then he told them to take some to the master of the banquet. When they did, that master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine, and called over the bridegroom, and said to him, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you saved the best till now.”

This miracle caused the disciples to believe in him. But I believe this miracle also signifies the difference between the common culture of the day and the culture of the Kingdom of God. While the esteemed guests were given the choice wine on the first day and everyone else was left with the cheap wine (which ran out) on the final day, Jesus gave the less esteemed guests the best wine, which came simply from water. This signifies not only the kindness of Jesus towards those who are looked down upon, but also the lack of restriction Jesus has in order to show that kindness. He is not limited to the resources of this world and doesn’t have to go through a man to get what he needs. He is the same God who said “Let there be light” and there was light.

Chapter 13

Ministry Takeoff

(We’re back in Luke 5.) While Jesus was in one of the towns of Galilee, a man came along who was covered in leprosy. They were required by the Law of Moses to be separate from the people so they wouldn’t spread their disease to others. No one could touch them, and whenever someone got close to them, they had to cry out “Unclean, unclean!” as a warning. But this leper came along to find Jesus, and when he did, he fell to the ground with his face down, begging, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” The leprosy immediately left him, but because Jesus wanted to maintain some level of privacy and keep a low profile, he told the man not to tell anyone, but insisted that he go show himself to the priest, as required by the Law, and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for cleansing, as a testimony to the priests. However, word about Jesus spread all the more, and crowds came to Jesus to hear him and be healed, but Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray.

One day, Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the Law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. The power of God was with Jesus to heal the sick. There were some men who were carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house where Jesus was teaching, and lay him before Jesus. There was such a large crowd, though, that there was no way in, except through the roof. The men went up onto the roof, opened it up, and lowered the mat down before Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” Yet the Pharisees and teachers of the Law said to themselves, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Which is easier to say? Your sins are forgiven, or take up your mat and walk? I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins.” So he turned to the man and said, “Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately he stood up in front of them all, picked up his mat, and walked home, praising God. Everyone there was amazed and praised God for what they just saw.

In the earlier healing, Jesus was establishing that he has both the power to heal and the power to forgive. When he asks which is easier to say, both are easy to say, but the power from God is what makes it work. So if he says “Take up your mat and walk,” and it works, it also stands to reason that he can say “Your sins are forgiven,” and it will work. If he had done something evil against God by forgiving another man’s sin, it would make sense that God would not honor Jesus’ healing of the paralyzed man. He would still have been unable to walk because God’s power was withdrawn. God demonstrates that His power is very much with Jesus, and that He is not offended by Jesus offering forgiveness to the paralyzed man, He heals him, and the forgiveness stands.

The second thing to note is the phrase “Son of Man.” This phrase often gets brought up by those who deny that Jesus is divine. They reject the phrase Son of God, and point to ‘Son of Man’ as though Jesus is deliberately denying being anything more than a regular human being. But what they fail to understand is that this phrase came from a passage from the prophet Daniel (chapter 7): “In my vision, there was before me one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days (God) and was led into His presence. He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all the nations and peoples of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” Jesus is identifying himself as the one spoken of by the prophet Daniel, the one whom God will give all authority. “Son of Man” is another term associated with the Messiah.

Not long after, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector at his booth who went by the names Matthew and Levi. He told him to follow him, and so Matthew got up and left everything and followed Jesus. Then he held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors came and were eating with them. The Pharisees and teachers of the Law complained to Jesus’ disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the ‘righteous’ to repentance, but sinners. Go learn what this passage means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’”

Again, Jesus was questioned about his conduct by the same kind of group. They said “John’s disciples often fast and pray, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours go on eating and drinking.” Jesus answered, “Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? (Of course not.) But a time will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; in those days they will fast.” Then he told them a parable (a story with a lesson): “No one tears out a piece of a new garment to patch up the old one. Otherwise, you will have torn the new garment and the patch from the new won’t match the old.”

One Sabbath, Jesus was traveling through the grain fields and his disciples were picking some of the heads of grain as they walked and ate the kernels. Some Pharisees asked Jesus why his disciples were doing something unlawful on the Sabbath, because they viewed picking grain as ‘work’, which you were not supposed to do on that day. Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read what David and his men did when they were hungry? They ate the sacred bread in the house of God, which was only lawful for the priests to eat. The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

On another Sabbath, he went to the synagogue to teach, and a man with a limp hand was there. (This is from Mark 3.) The Pharisees and teachers of the Law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched closely to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath. Jesus knew what they were thinking, and said to the man with the limp hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “I ask you, which is lawful to do on the Sabbath, good or evil? To save life or destroy it?” He angrily looked around at the silenced people, deeply distressed by their stubborn hearts. To them, you could get stoned any day of the week, but if you healed people on the Sabbath, that was a problem. Angry at this mindset, Jesus said to the man “Stretch out your hand.” And as he did so, his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were furious and began to discuss among themselves what they might do to Jesus.

It was during this time that Jesus had chosen his 12 disciples. He prayed all night and in the morning called all his disciples to him. Though he had about 70, he chose 12 whom he would teach closely. These were Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip, another James, Bartholomew, Matthew the tax collector, Simon the Zealot (who hated tax collectors), Thomas, Judas, and Judas Iscariot.

Jesus then entered a house, and again, a crowd followed him, such that he and his disciples couldn’t even eat. When his family heard about all he was doing, they went to get him, thinking Jesus was out of his mind. The teachers of the Law were also there accusing him of healing people by the power of Satan. He said to the teachers, “How can Satan drive out Satan?! If a kingdom is divided against itself, it cannot stand; its end has come. No one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Only then can he plunder his goods. Now, if I by the finger of God, have driven out demons, then the Kingdom of God has truly come to you. I truly tell you that people can be forgiven of all their sins. But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” This is when Mary and Jesus’ brothers arrived. They sent someone in to call for him because the crowd was so big. When they told him “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you,” Jesus looked around and said “Who are my mother and my brothers? These who hear and do the will of God! They are my mother and my brothers.”

Chapter 14

Profound Words

Jesus then went down from the mountainside and found a level place. Large crowds of disciples and people from all over the entire region came to hear him and to be healed. Those troubled by demons were also healed and all the people tried to touch him, because healing power was radiating from him.

He looked at the people and disciples, he began to teach them. (This section combines Matthew Chapters 5 through 7 with Luke Chapter 6.)“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for yours alone is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for you will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they alone will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they alone will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they alone will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil things against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because your reward in Heaven is great! For in the same way their ancestors persecuted the prophets who went before you.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you will starve. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for in the same way your ancestors spoke of false prophets.”

In these blessings and woes, Jesus is talking a lot about the condition of a person’s heart, so a lot of it is spiritual. You don’t have to lack money to be poor in spirit, and you don’t have to be sad all the time to be a mourner. Jesus is pointing to your source of life, happiness and satisfaction. Is your satisfaction in the world? If so, you would be considered the ‘well-fed’, and will go hungry and unsatisfied in the future. Are you aware of your sinful state and your guilt before God? Does this knowledge upset you and make you want to change? If so, you would be considered a mourner who will be comforted. Are you sincere about your desire to know God? Then you are considered pure-in-heart, and you will see God (not physically, of course, but figuratively. You will understand and connect with God much, much better.) Are your responsive to the will of God? If so, then you are considered meek (better written as ‘controllable’), able to be used by God. You will inherit the earth.

Being controllable often sounds bad when we think of human interactions, but being controlled by God is a great honor. A person who is used by God fulfills their purpose in life, and there are some whose names are remembered throughout history. If God had not used Moses, no one would know who he was. We wouldn’t need to, because after fleeing Egypt and losing his standing in the Egyptian kingdom, he would have lived and died as a shepherd in the desert with his wife’s family. He would have never came back to Egypt, nor would he ever have led the people out of Egypt. Submitting yourself to God’s use is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather, is the best thing you can do.

Jesus continued, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how will it be made salty again? It will be worthless and fit for nothing but to be tossed out and trampled underfoot.” Here, salt is used for food preservation. The people of God prevent decay in society. But if they lose their ability to preserve society, they will become useless.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden, neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.”

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, not even the smallest stroke of a pen will disappear from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be considered least in the Kingdom of God. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of God. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of God.”

This saying can definitely cause some confusion among Christians, because we see in other parts of the Bible that the strict interpretation of the Law of Moses has not always been followed, like when David ate sacred food not meant for him. It is more important, in my belief, that we understand the spirit of the Law, not just the letter of the Law. For each command in the Bible, I think it’s important that we examine each one and try to understand it and how it was understood by the people who first heard it. As the saying goes, “In all your getting, get understanding.” Upon further reflection, I also think Jesus wanted to uphold the sanctity of the Law. Instead of finding ways and reasons not to obey the Law, as was the practice of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, Jesus would be consistent with his obedience to it and teaching of it. This is about having a pure heart that wants to please God.

“You have heard it said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you, whoever is bitter towards his brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister ‘Raca’ (a term of contempt) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Hell. Therefore if you are offering your gift at the altar and you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar. First, go be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary will hand you over to the court, and the court will throw you in prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid every penny.”

“You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out! It’s better for you to enter the Kingdom of God blind than to be thrown into Hell intact. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off! It’s better to lose one part of yourself than to be thrown into Hell intact.”

Obviously, Jesus is not being serious about cutting off your hand or gouging out your eye, but he is stressing the consequences and seriousness of sin. As for adultery itself, I must admit, I have a hard time with this one, because it is easy to blur the line between admiring someone’s beauty and having impure thoughts about them. I would imagine everyone on the face of the earth is an adulterer by this standard. Also, note that Jesus is pointing out that sin starts in the heart, God looks at what we think about and considers it very important. It’s from our thoughts that our actions and words flow.

“It has been said that anyone who divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce. But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for adultery, makes her a victim of adultery. And anyone who marries her will be committing adultery.” (I will address this statement in another chapter. It needs to be explained. Quick preview: Men found excuses to divorce their wives, leaving her worse off and vulnerable. Jesus told the men to stop throwing women away like trash.)

“Again, you have heard it said to our forefathers, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all! Neither by Heaven, for it is God’s throne. Or by earth, for it is God’s footstool. Or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. Do not even swear by your own head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. All you need is to say is a simple yes or no. Anything beyond that is from the evil one.”

Here, Jesus is saying don’t take oaths or make promises. In their context, a simple yes or no was not enough. Only statements made with promises and oaths had weight as truth. It loses credibility to always have to swear. A liar is a liar, no matter how weighty the oath. Jesus wants us to restore credibility by being simple and honest about our commitments.

“You have heard it said, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth’, but I tell you do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, give him your coat also. If anyone forces you to go one kilometer, go two. Give to anyone who asks you and do not turn away anyone who wants to borrow from you. Do to others as you want them to do to you.”

Okay, pause. This saying can easily trip you up, as it did me for many years. Even now, my understanding of it is not complete, though it is more nuanced than it was before. First phrase, ‘Do not resist an evil person.’ Is this saying that if evil is being done to us, we should just let it happen? No. It is not consistent with the rest of the Bible, so that must mean we may be misunderstand Jesus here.

In this passage, he is not talking about prevention of evil, but retaliation, namely the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” saying. Jesus is addressing vengeance, and this is only meant on a personal level. The Bible does teach that God will take vengeance upon evildoers. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” God doesn’t want individual people taking vengeance on others, otherwise all kinds of evil will break out, and the retaliation will escalate. In fact, the ‘eye for eye’ saying came about to ensure that no more than equal damage is done in vengeance. This, I believe, is part of the reason God established governments as agents of mediation and punishment in Genesis 9. It allows an impartial arbiter to handle the problem, not aggrieved individuals, who in the heat of the moment might over-punish their offender.

When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, this phrase caused me and a lot of people a great deal of confusion, because now we step into physical violence. The same question came up, does one have the right to self-defense? Must one endure a beating to satisfy the will of God? I myself have endured a beating in the name of turning the other cheek, and I remember looking back at that day and hating the boys who did it, wishing God would punish them harshly for what they did. Maybe I was right for wishing that; maybe I was wrong, but it’s how I honestly felt.

When I learned a little bit more about the verse, I saw that the slap to the face wasn’t about doing physical harm, but about insulting the other. A slap to the face is not life-threatening, so essentially Jesus was saying to endure the insult. Otherwise the insults will develop into something more dangerous. Refusing to respond to insults with more insults or violence opens the door to real peace and reconciliation. Violence only fuels more violence.

My editor disagrees, though, and I think her objection is valid, especially given the larger context. She said, “This passage is about forgiveness. When we let unforgiveness and hatred into our hearts, it grows like a cancer that cannot be treated. It jades our view of the world. Jesus isn’t saying to turn the other cheek in a sense of allowing evil or to stop self-defense, but to forgive those who do us wrong for their sake and our own. It always goes back to the heart.”

I think it’s a fair point, but it still rings hollow, at least for the moment, because it doesn’t adequately guide how a person should navigate forgiveness and self-defense at the same time. This interpretation barely acknowledges self-defense as acceptable. And it seems to place the onus on the victim to forgive, when that person may not yet be ready to. It’s like victim-blaming, in a sense. I’d be open to hearing more interpretations of this passage…

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so you can be children of your Father in Heaven. He causes the sun to rise on the righteous and the wicked, and sends rain on the righteous and the wicked. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you only greet your own people, what are you doing more than others? Don’t even the faithless do that? And if you lend money expecting to be repaid, what credit is that to you? Even sinners expect to be paid in full. But lend money without expecting to be repaid, and then you will have a great reward in Heaven. You will be children of the Most High, who is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful as your Father in Heaven is merciful. Be perfect, because your Father in Heaven is perfect.”

“Be careful not to show off your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them, otherwise you will have no reward from your Father in Heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly, I tell you they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, don’t even let your left hand know what the right is doing so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Maybe you picked up on what seems like a contradiction. Earlier in the same message, Jesus said let your light shine before men so they can see your good works and glorify God, but in this part, he says not to do good to be seen by men. Which is it? It’s really about your motives. Do you do good to be seen, or do you do good because it’s right? Maybe it could said that we should never do good works to be seen, but when people see us, we should be doing good works.

“And when you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly, I tell you they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your closet, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, don’t keep babbling like the pagans do, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask. This is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in Heaven, hallowed (holy) be Your name. May Your kingdom come. May Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us today our daily bread, and forgive us as we forgive others. Don’t lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.’ If you forgive others when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others their sins against you, neither will your Father forgive yours.”

That last part is the hard part for many people, myself included. How do you forgive certain evils done to you? If someone takes my seat at the table and makes me have to find a new seat, that doesn’t require the same kind of forgiveness as it would if someone killed a loved one because they were driving drunk. I imagine the latter will take more time to forgive, as well as repeated forgiveness whenever the angry thoughts come up. But to be sure, I am not saying that forgiveness means renewed complete trust, nor am I saying it means forgetting what happened (which is impossible). Nor am I saying forgiveness is as easy as saying ‘I forgive you.’ From my understanding of it, forgiveness means deciding not to treat the other person according to what they did. It means offering a road to restoration. And for those who have endured great evils, I would probably recommend you take some time to heal by starting with forgiveness as our path forward. I understand that it may be very difficult, but what I don’t want you to think is that if you haven’t reached the point of forgiving someone, that you are cut off from God. I personally don’t believe that, but as my pastor put it, when you refuse to extend the grace of God to someone else, you yourself will find it difficult to experience the grace of God. I think if you are making the effort to heal and forgive, I think you are on the right path.

I also wanted to address the spirit of the prayer Jesus just demonstrated. Did you notice how short it was? How direct it was? In Jesus’ time, people thought you had to offer long prayers with every possible thing you might want or need listed in great detail. People just don’t have much time for that. And they likely they felt guilty about not having enough time to devote to prayer because they always saw the Pharisees in the streets offering long prayers. In the end, prayer is just communication with God, much like I am communicating with you. It is not as difficult as you think. That’s what Jesus is teaching the people. God knows what you need before you ask.

For the more devout Christians reading this, I want you to pay attention to how the Pharisees’ showing off has hurt and discouraged other believers. Because they posed as being so righteous, so devout, so in-tune with God, they discouraged the prayer lives of everyone who saw them. They drove a wedge between the people and God. When God wanted the people to know He was accessible, the Pharisees, by their immodesty, made God seem inaccessible. Devout Christians, my question for you is, “What effect does your behavior and demeanor have on non-Christians or inexperienced believers?”

In the above example, the Pharisees’ immodesty discouraged others. But in our American context our behavior often alienates non-believers. We engage in “culture wars”, trying to reclaim America for Christ, when it could be argued that this country was never that close to God to begin with. Nevertheless, our culture war mentality has made enemies out of people who would be more open to the Gospel if they were treated with genuine kindness. If Jesus is the doctor and the lost are his patients, how do you think Jesus would engage them? Not combatively. Saints, please monitor your behavior and tone; it is having an effect, whether good or bad.

Jesus continued, “When you fast, don’t be like the hypocrites with their somber, disfigured faces that show they are hungry and fasting. Truly, I tell you they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious that you are fasting. Then your Father, who is unseen, will see what is done in secret, and He will reward you.”

In the above example, I must caution you not to get caught into the trap of thinking “This is the only way I can do it.” In the example about prayer, and in this one about fasting, the closet is not the only place you can pray, nor is washing your face and oiling your head the only way you can fast. These are just examples of doing things normally and not being obvious about your religious practices in public, as opposed to the Pharisees and teachers of the Law who do everything in public for a show. Jesus keeps it simple. Even the prayer “Our Father in Heaven…” is about simple communication with God about the big picture (May Your kingdom come…) and about our needs (Give us our daily bread). That doesn’t outlaw long prayers, which are sometimes needed, but this instruction on prayer and fasting is about getting rid of the clutter and performance. The point is about interaction with a God who loves us and already knows what we need.

Jesus continued, “Don’t store up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where they are safe. For where your treasure is, your heart will be there also.”

In this saying, Jesus is placing high priority on Heaven, and shifting the focus of the people. Everything that was precious to them was on earth, and all of that was destructible or could be stolen. But the rewards that Jesus talked about earlier are waiting in Heaven, and they are safe from vermin and thieves. Does this mean one should never have a bank account or wealth? No, but it does mean that our priorities are to be about God and Heaven, and not this world. If everything we have that is precious to us is earthly stuff, our mind will always be focused on the earthly life. If our most valuable stuff is what awaits us in Heaven, our mind will be focused on living the life God wants us to.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if they are unhealthy, your body will be full of darkness. And if the light within you is darkness, how great can that darkness be?! No one can serve two masters; either he will love one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

“For this reason I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will put on. Isn’t life more than eating and drinking? Isn’t your body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air! They don’t plant or harvest or store food away, but your Heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you much more valuable than birds?! Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Look at how the flowers grow in the field. They don’t make clothes. Yet not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, will He not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat or drink or wear?’ The faithless chase after these things. But your Heavenly Father knows that you need them. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you. Don’t worry about tomorrow! Tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

This is tied to the above example. You cannot serve two masters, and likewise, your treasure is where your heart will be. This calls for self-reflection. What master do you serve? If you are rich, is your wealth everything to you? What about if you are poor? Do you hunger and thirst for wealth? It’s nice to not lack for anything, but even still, is money the most important thing to you?

In the example about not worrying, this is part of the reason I ask people what their passions are. So many young people I come across have no idea what they should do with their lives, and sometimes, when I hear them I am as confused as they are, but when I ask what their passions are, I feel like I have a sense of what they are made to do. For someone who can sit at a computer typing for hours without noticing, I can see a future for them in computers. When I see people pursuing the things they love to do, I am encouraged that if they are doing what they are made to do, they can make money doing it. When it comes to life, money, food, and clothes, I try not to worry about these things, because I know if I follow God wherever He leads me, He will take care of me. He has shown me that everywhere I go. If God created me for writing books, then it is not so hard for me to sit at my laptop for many hours writing, because I was made for this. If God instructed me to do something, it wouldn’t make sense for Him to tell me to do it if He wasn’t going to give me the help I needed. That’s what Jesus is saying above, seek God’s will first and He will take care of the rest.

Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you also will be judged. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye but can’t see the log in your own? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye so you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Don’t give dogs what is sacred or throw your pearls before swine. If you do, they will trample them under foot, and turn around on you and tear you to pieces.”

I honestly don’t know how the last part about the pearls and swine is supposed to connect to the part about judging, or why it’s supposed to fit in this part of the message at all, so I won’t touch it. What I will say about judging is that most of it is based off assumptions about each other. Far too often, when we judge, we lack understanding about each other. We don’t know why they do what they do, so we try to fill in the gaps with assumptions. One way I have found to test if I am judging someone is to watch for the phrase “He/She probably…” That means I think I know why someone did something, but I don’t know for sure. Usually I ascribe to them a bad motive or bad character or something like that. Judging often leads us to assume the worst in people. This is why Jesus says not to judge (especially if we are doing the same thing).

Another problem with judging is that we have different levels of heinousness that we attach to people’s actions. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is incomplete because we don’t know people’s motives. For instance, there is a woman whose relationship with her husband is terrible and falling apart. This woman went off and cheated on her husband, but another woman in the same circumstance might go off and drink heavily. The same situation can cause some people to respond in different ways, all of which may be bad. However, we judge one woman as worse than the other based on society’s standards, and that may have little to do with God’s standard of judgment. I hope that by telling you this you won’t be quick to judge people, because there is a lot going on under the surface that you will never see, so it’s better not to judge.

Jesus continued, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks, finds; to him that knocks the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake? Or if he asks for bread and you give him a stone? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him?! And how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

“Enter through the narrow gate. Wide is the gate that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

“Watch out for false prophets. They come at you in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will know them. Can a good tree bring forth bad fruit? Does a thorn bush yield figs or briers yield grapes? Likewise, every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. A good man brings good things from the good stored in his heart, and an evil man brings out evil from the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”

For some time now, I thought I understood this saying. I am always shown an image of a wolf wearing a sheep costume, as if the wolf pretended to be one of the sheep. It turns out the wolf in sheep’s clothing is the shepherd, the one who leads the sheep. The false prophet doesn’t pretend to be a sheep, he pretends to be a shepherd. In Jesus’ day, he was dealing with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, who often had a mixture of religious conduct along with scandalous conduct. For instance, they would sleep with the women in their congregation, they would pick and choose what parts of the Law they wanted to enforce, etc. Everything was for their benefit and ease, so Jesus said that you will understand who is a real shepherd by their conduct.

“Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of God, but only those who do the will of my Father in Heaven. Many will say to me on the Day of Judgment, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we preach in your name, and drive out demons in your name and do many great miracles in your name?’ And then I will plainly tell them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, evildoers!’ Why then do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ but don’t do what I say? Everyone who listens to my words and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built a house on the rock. The rain came, the streams rose and the wind blew and beat against it, but it didn’t fall, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who agrees with my words but doesn’t do them is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came, the streams rose and the wind beat against the house, and it fell. And great was its fall!”

When Jesus finished speaking to the crowd, they were all amazed, because he taught as one having authority, unlike the scribes and teachers of the Law.

I want to highlight something Jesus said a bit earlier, about the narrow road and the broad road. I would urge everyone reading, whether American or Chinese or other, to look at your societies and think about the ways of the culture, and look to do things differently in your own life. This applies not only to the national culture, but also to the subcultures of your ethnic group, the subcultures of your friends, family and neighbors. I mean YOUR subculture. There are good and bad things in each subculture, so resist the urge to look outside at someone else and say, “Oh, those Hillbillies, they’re what’s wrong with America.” “Oh, those Liberals, they’re the source of our cultural problems.” No. Forget the speck in others’ eyes and look at the log in yours. In what ways do your culture and subculture miss the will of God? In what ways can you transcend your culture? In what ways can you change your actions and behavior to reflect the will of God?

Chapter 15

Introducing the Kingdom of God

After finishing his message, Jesus came down from the mountain and went to Capernaum. There was a Roman Centurion (a commander of 100 soldiers) who had an ill servant who was near death, paralyzed, and sick in bed. The centurion valued his servant and sent some Jewish elders to go plead with Jesus to go heal his servant. The elders said to Jesus, “This man deserves to have you do this because he loves our nation and built us a synagogue.” Jesus went with them, but as he got close to the house, the centurion sent some friends to tell Jesus, “Don’t trouble yourself, Lord, for I don’t deserve to have you come under my roof. That’s why I didn’t come to you myself, but say the word and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man of authority: I say to one servant to go and he goes, and ‘come’ and he comes, and ‘do this’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was amazed. He turned to the crowd that was following him and said, “I haven’t found such faith in all Israel! I tell you, many will come from the east and west and take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom of God. But the subjects of the Kingdom will be thrown outside in the dark, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Then Jesus gave the word for the servant to be healed, and the centurion’s friends returned to find the servant healed.

Not long afterward, Jesus went to another city and there found a dead person being carried out. It was the son of a widow—her only son. Jesus’ heart went out to her and he said “Don’t cry.” He went up to the casket and said “Young man, I say to you, Get up!” The young man got up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother. The people were in awe and praised God, saying “A great prophet has appeared among us” and “God has come to help His people.” And so news about Jesus spread throughout the region of Judea.

It was around this time that John’s disciples reported back all that Jesus had done, so John sent them to ask Jesus directly, “Are you the one we have been waiting for, or should we search for another?” When the disciples of John came to Jesus, he answered them, “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is anyone who doesn’t stumble because of me.” This was his evidence of being the Messiah, and that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him, anointing him to do those things from the prophecies.

After John’s disciples left, Jesus said to the crowd about John, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes! And more than a prophet. This is the one who the prophet Malachi wrote about: ‘I will send My messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among all those born from women, there was no one greater than John, yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than him.”

The people and even the tax collectors attested to this as truth, because they had been baptized by John, but the Pharisees, who had not been baptized rejected this. Jesus went on to say, “What shall I say about this generation? What are the people like? They’re like children sitting in the marketplace calling out to each other, ‘We played the pipe for you, but you won’t dance. So we sang a dirge, but you won’t cry.’ For John didn’t come eating and drinking, and you said he had a demon in him. But I came eating and drinking, and you call me a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and sinners. But wisdom is proved right by her children.”

No matter what God did to reach his people, they just weren’t listening. That was Jesus’ indictment of Israel, but I want to pay more attention to what the Pharisees accused him of. They said he was a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners (which includes prostitutes). There is a Scripture in the Bible that says we should flee even the appearance of evil, so that we won’t be discredited. This is something I think most Christians take very seriously, because everyone wants to have a good reputation. However, sometimes that great reputation comes at the cost of reaching people who are considered ‘untouchable’. If you were seen talking to a known prostitute, people would jump to conclusions and say you’re a customer of hers. My question is, how else can she be reached and saved if someone doesn’t take the time to talk to her? What good is light if it doesn’t shine? I actually have experience with this matter. In Chicago, some years ago, I was walking home, and I was passing out Gospel tracts and talking to whoever would listen. One of those people was a woman with a tight, short skirt. She was standing on the corner next to a bus stop. I thought nothing of it, because I was young and naïve, and it was common for women to wear tight clothes. (Looking back, I wouldn’t have changed a thing.) I was talking with her about Christ, and I noticed she pulled down her skirt so that she wouldn’t show as much skin as before. She mentioned what she was doing for work, and I remember telling her that if she trusts in God, He would show her a better job.

I gave her a Gospel tract, and continued on my way home. I don’t know what became of her, but I was happy to extend the love of God to her, and not judge her, as is the pattern of some Christians. That interaction never impacted my reputation, good or bad, but if I had feared that it would, I probably never would have spoken to her and left her in the dark. A woman with a soul, whom God loves, would continue to be left in the dark because I was afraid to speak to her. For Christians reading this, we cannot be bound by fear. When Paul spoke about shunning the appearance of evil, he was talking about prophecy, saying test each prophecy, hold on to the good and reject the bad, in preparation for the coming of Christ.

Another Scripture that Christians appeal to in order to say that we should try not to look bad publicly is the Scripture, “Don’t let your good be evil spoken of.” That is often misunderstood to mean that you should not open yourself up to easy criticism or do things that easily can be misconstrued as evil. While that may be true, that verse is not the right one to support that view. The Bible is not saying that, what it is saying is that whatever you believe and know to be good and acceptable to God, don’t allow someone else to condemn you just because they don’t prefer it. The example Paul used was the meat that pagans sacrificed to false gods. Some Christians said “those gods aren’t real anyway, so why not eat and enjoy?” Others believed it was dedicated to a false god, and is therefore tainted and must not be eaten. Paul said they should do whatever they want, based on their convictions, but one should use their freedom to eat or abstain in consideration of their brothers and sisters in Christ. Mistreating one another in the name of ‘freedom’ is evil, as is the condemnation of others who have different convictions. That’s all.

Chapter 16

Secret Messiah

Before John was put in prison in the first place, there was a Pharisee who was also a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body of Israel. (This is John 3.) He went to Jesus at night and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent by God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing unless God were with you.” Jesus cut to the chase and said, “Surely I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.”

Nicodemus, the Pharisee, asked, “How can one be born when he is old? Surely he can’t enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God unless he is born of the water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying ‘You must be born again’. The wind blows wherever it wants. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it came from or where it’s going. It’s like that with everyone born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?”

“How are you Israel’s teacher and you don’t know this? Truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. (‘We’ may mean Jesus and John.) I have spoken to you about earthly things, and you still don’t believe. How will I ever speak to you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone into Heaven except for the one who came from Heaven, the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake staff in the desert, so also must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is already condemned because they have not believed in the One and Only Son of God.”

Jesus continued, “This is the verdict. Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that what they have done in the sight of God may be plainly seen by everyone.”

The first part of what Jesus said to Nicodemus was tricky, but I think I understand it well enough to explain it. Jesus seems to contrast the natural birth with the spiritual birth. Being born of water doesn’t seem to mean being baptized, as many people think, but about natural birth, where a woman’s water breaks before she has a baby. “Born of the water.” Jesus seems to be saying that one must be born again, spiritually, where one is alive to the will of God. This is called repentance. Repentance is not just when we acknowledge our sins, but rather when we change our mind about the way we live. When you change your mind, you change your actions. I liken it to having an “Aha! moment”, where you suddenly understand your need for God in your life, and choose to embrace Him.

This moment is also known as “regeneration”. I remember this regeneration moment when I was in high school. I talked with my friend about the Bible, and while he didn’t tell me that I needed to start living for God, I felt the need to. From that day forward, I lived a life that was devoted to Him. What exactly that life would look like depends on each person’s life, but for me, all I knew was whatever I would do, God would be a part of it. I was no longer going to avoid God, but was going to welcome Him into my life and give Him full control.

The moment we decide to open our lives to God, we are born again, and we are given a clean slate, completely forgiven of our sins and offenses against God. It’s as if we are newborn babies again, no matter how old we are.

Shortly after Jesus talked with Nicodemus, some of John’s disciples were arguing with a certain Jew about ceremonial washing. This had nothing to do with hygiene; it was about religious purity. When they came back to John, they had noticed that Jesus was gaining more followers than John, and he replied, “A person can only receive what they given from Heaven. You yourselves can testify that I have said I am not the Messiah, but am sent ahead of him. The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears his voice approaching. That is my joy. And now it’s complete. He must become greater, and I must become less.”

This is the attitude that I wish I saw more in American churches. Depending on where you’re from, you may or may not know much about American pastors, especially those of ‘megachurches’ with congregations that have over a thousand members. The pastor will usually be very charismatic and interesting to listen to, otherwise they wouldn’t have that many members. However, I often see pride go with that charisma and success. The thought of Jesus becoming more visible as we become less may seem to some like everything about us is being destroyed, but it’s not. We just don’t realize how corrupt we are on the inside, and how prone to sin we are. The evil within us must be destroyed and the goodness must grow. Everyone who is influential must watch their attitude and behavior, so that pride doesn’t cloud out the goodness of Christ that needs to shine through because people can see arrogance.

(We’re back in Luke 7.) There was a woman in town who had lived a sinful life, and she learned that Jesus was eating at a Pharisee’s house. She came there with a box made of alabaster with lots of perfume in it. She came in, stood behind Jesus as he reclined at the table, and she began to weep. She wet his feet with her tears and then began to wipe his feet with her hair, kissing them and pouring perfume on them. When the Pharisee saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman she is, a sinner.” But Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you,” which the Pharisee indulged. “Two people owed money to a certain lender. One owed 500 denarii (500 day’s wages), and the other owed 50. Neither of them had the money to pay it back, so he forgave both their debts. Now, which of them will love the lender more?”

Simon the Pharisee replied, “I suppose the one who owed the greater debt.” Jesus answered, “Correct,” Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house, and you did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them down with her hair. You didn’t give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time she entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore I tell you her sins—which are many—have been forgiven. Her great love has proven it. But, whoever has been forgiven of little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” But the other guests at the table began asking themselves, “Who is this, that he even forgives sins?”

Around this time, Jesus traveled about from one village to the next telling the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the people. Traveling with him were his twelve disciples and several women who had been cured of diseases or had demons expelled from them. Several notable women were Mary Magdalene, out of whom Jesus had expelled 7 demons, Joanna, the manager of Herod’s household, and Susanna as well as many others who helped support Jesus and the disciples with their own money.

(For the record, there has been no reputable source that mentioned any romantic connections between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, or any other woman. Some people speculate this or that, but there has been no reliable supporting evidence.)

While the crowds were gathering and people were coming to Jesus from all over, he told them a parable. “A farmer went out to plant seeds. As he scattered them, some fell along the path and were trampled upon and the birds came and ate it up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, and when it grew, the plants withered because they had no depth of soil. Other seeds fell among the thorns; they grew up with the thorns, but were choked by them and produced no crop. Still, other seeds fell on good soil; they grew up and yielded a crop, some 30-fold, some 60-fold, some 100-fold. Anyone who has an ear to hear, let him hear.”

Later on, the disciples asked him to explain the meaning of the parable. Jesus said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables so that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘though seeing, they may not perceive; though hearing, they may not understand.’ The meaning of the parable is the farmer plants the Word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, but don’t understand it, and then the devil comes and takes away the Word from their hearts so that they won’t believe and be saved. Those on rocky ground are the ones who gladly and joyfully receive the Word of God when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but when trouble and persecution come in because of the Word, they fall away. The seed among the thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way, they are choked by life’s worries and are deceived by the promises of wealth and pleasure, and so they do not mature. However, the seed on the good soil stands for those who hear the Word, retain it, and by perseverance, produce a crop many times over.”

“No one lights a lamp and puts it under their bed or under a bowl. They put it on its stand and it gives light to the whole house. There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have will be stripped of what they even think they have.”

“This is what the Kingdom of God is like: A farmer scatters seeds on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seeds sprout and grow, though he doesn’t know how. All by itself, the soil produces grain. First the stalk, then the head, then the kernels in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he cuts it down and gathers it, because the harvest has come.”

“What is the Kingdom of God like? What can I compare it to? It’s like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all the seeds. Yet when it is planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can rest in its shade.”

Now when Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the Law came to him and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes in the ground, and birds have nests in the trees, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

This teacher likely thought that being a disciple of the Messiah, God’s anointed king, would be glamorous. Jesus dispels that myth by telling him his reality: he doesn’t know where he will sleep from night to night. Jesus is completely dependent on God’s provision.

Another student said to Jesus, “Let me first go bury my father.” He didn’t say this because his father just passed away, but because he wanted an excuse not to follow Jesus right away. Waiting for his father to pass gave him enough time to enjoy his own way of life. He has not yet been born again; he just agrees with Jesus’ words. Jesus responded to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead. You follow me.”

I know a lot of people who agree with Jesus, but don’t follow him. They say they will do it later after they finish doing what they want. However, the problem is that tomorrow is not promised and their untimely death would leave them forever separated from God. They also display a lack of trust because they think life is more fun and fulfilling away from God. Maybe the Christians they know are not very fun (or maybe they’re just too old and disengaged), but the God who created the concept of fun knows how to have fun without doing sinful things. And the God of fun knows the number one thing people need to find fulfillment in life.

After they set out on the lake, Jesus fell asleep. A terrible storm arose, and the rain and wind was fierce. It started to become dangerous as water started to fill the boat. The disciples woke Jesus up, saying, “Don’t you care that we’re about to drown?” Jesus got up and rebuked the storm, saying, “Peace! Be still.” The storm subsided and all was calm. The disciples were both afraid and amazed as they asked, “What kind of man is this that even the wind and waves obey him?” Jesus asked, “Where is your faith?”

When they reached shore, there was a man that was possessed by demons from the town. He ran around naked and didn’t have a home, and he preferred to stay in tombs spending his time cutting himself with stones and crying. When the people tried to tie him up with chains, he broke free. He was very violent, and people could not pass by that way. When Jesus arrived, he ran up to Jesus, and fell at his feet and said, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Jesus asked what his name was. “My name is Legion, for we are many.” It wasn’t the man talking, but the demons within him. Jesus commanded the demons to come out of him, and they said, “In God’s name, don’t torture me! Let me go into that herd of pigs.” So Jesus permitted them, and the demons came out and went into the pigs, sending them into a wild frenzy. The herd of 2000 pigs rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned. Those who were tending the pigs ran into town to tell everyone what happened.

When the townspeople came back, they found the demon-possessed man in his right mind and clothed, but when they were all told what happened and how, the people begged Jesus to leave the region. As Jesus was getting into the boat to depart, the man who was now restored, begged Jesus to let him come along. Jesus didn’t let him. Rather he told the man to go home to his people and tell them how the Lord had mercy on him. He did so, and the people were amazed.

I find it amazing how going to a place to do the right thing can elicit a negative reaction from the people there. Because of Jesus, a problem has been solved, and as reward, the people begged him to go away. Maybe the loss of the pigs alarmed the people, which I could understand, but after seeing a demon-possessed man finally free from its oppression, one would figure that Jesus was going to benefit the area. Oh well… At least they can use that route again without fear.

(We’re in the latter parts of Luke 8.) When Jesus crossed the lake again, there was a crowd waiting for him. He was met by a synagogue leader who pleaded with him to come heal his sick daughter. “Please come touch her so that she may be healed and live.” Jesus went with him, as the crowd pressed him on every side. As they were walking, a woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years came from behind and touched Jesus’ clothes and was instantly healed. She had spent all of her money going from doctor to doctor to be healed, with no luck. But when she heard Jesus was there, she said to herself, ‘If I can just touch the edge of his garments, I will be healed.’

After being touched, Jesus stopped and asked, “Who touched me?” Simon the disciple said, “You see this huge crowd around you! How can you ask ‘Who touched me?’” But Jesus replied, “I felt power leave from me. Someone touched me.” As he looked around him, the woman who was healed came trembling before his feet. It was against the Law of Moses for a woman on her menstrual cycle to touch someone. It would make Jesus ceremonially unclean. She herself was also ceremonially unclean for twelve straight years, harming her fellowship with God and society. When she told Jesus everything, he said “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” While Jesus was still speaking, someone came and told Jairus, “Don’t trouble the Teacher anymore. Your daughter is dead.” Jesus overheard them, and said, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.” When Jesus arrived at Jairus’ house, he saw the commotion. The people were sobbing and wailing when they heard of the girl’s death. “Why all this commotion and loud wailing? The girl isn’t dead, she’s just sleeping.” The people began to laugh at Jesus. He took only Simon, James, and John (not the prophet who is in prison) and went into the house. He put all the people out except the child’s parents. He then took the girl by the hand and said “Little girl, I say to you, Get up!” And immediately she stood up and began walking. She was about twelve years old. Jairus was astonished by this, and Jesus told him, “Don’t tell anyone about this, and give her something to eat.” But news spread all the more throughout the region.

As Jesus left that place, he was followed by two blind men, shouting, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” When he had gone indoors, the two blind men came to him. He asked, “Do you believe I am able to do this?” They replied yes. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith, let it be done for you.” Their sight was recovered and Jesus sternly told them, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went and spread the word all the more. This is perhaps why Jesus didn’t respond immediately when they asked him to show them mercy on the road.

To understand what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah, you have to understand what it meant to the people. The Messiah had to be a conquering hero who would deliver them from oppression. The Romans had killed a lot of people who had claimed to be the Messiah. However, because he was healing people, his ministry was becoming more like a circus bringing in people who were just looking for a show. Jesus had to be careful because too many people calling him the Messiah would bring Roman scrutiny before he was ready, which is why He didn’t respond to the blind men publicly and told them not to tell anyone.

Chapter 17

A Contrast of Kings

As Jesus traveled from town to town, he saw the crowds and his heart went out to them because they were helpless and harassed, like sheep without a shepherd. He told his disciples, “The harvest is truly plentiful, but there aren’t enough laborers. Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send in more laborers to the harvest field.”

Jesus left and returned to his hometown with his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did he get these things,” they asked. “What is this wisdom he has been given? What are these remarkable miracles he’s performing? Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas? Aren’t his sisters with us?” And they took offense at him. Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own hometown, among his relatives and in his own family.” He couldn’t do many miracles there except lay hands on a few sick people. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Possibly in connection with the prayer to send more workers into the harvest field, Jesus called together his disciples and prepared to send them out to the surrounding villages two by two. He gave them authority to cast out demons and heal the sick. He gave them instructions to carry nothing with them, including clothes, money, food, or supplies. Nothing but the sandals on their feet. “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave town. When you enter a house, let your blessing be upon that house. Eat whatever is placed in front of you. If no house will welcome you, you are to shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against that town. It will be better to be Sodom and Gomorrah on the Day of Judgment than to be that town.” They were sent only to Jewish towns, not even the Samaritans were on the list for the disciples. They were to proclaim the Good News that the Kingdom of God has come near, and were to heal people. “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. Therefore be shrewd as serpents, but innocent as doves.” The disciples went out and did as Jesus commanded them, and were astonished that demons obeyed them and came out of people.

Meanwhile, King Herod heard had John the Baptist beheaded in prison and had heard about what Jesus was doing. He was afraid, because some told him that Jesus was John the Baptist, raised from the dead. John had told Herod that it wasn’t right for him to marry his brother’s wife Herodias, but she wanted him killed. Herod knew that John was a holy man and was afraid of him, and even protected him from her wrath. Herod even liked listening to John, even though he didn’t grasp what John was saying. However, the opportunity came for Herodias to kill John when her daughter put on a sensual dance for the military commanders and high officials at Herod’s birthday banquet. She was so pleasing to them that Herod told her that she could have whatever she wanted. She consulted with her mother who hated John, and her mother told her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. He was greatly distressed, but because he swore on oath in front of his dinner guests, he could not refuse. He sent in an executioner to John’s prison cell who beheaded John and took his head in on a platter to Herodias’ daughter, who in turn, took it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they took his body and laid it in a tomb. This is why Herod was distressed when he heard about Jesus.

It is a sad and unfortunate reality that saying or doing the right thing can get you killed in this world. It is also a sad and unfortunate reality when there are wicked and oftentimes cowardly people in positions of power who will not stand up for what they know is right.

While this pattern of cowardice and wickedness would continue in the story of Jesus, I am comforted to see that God has a much greater plan for a future ruler: “I (the prophet Daniel, speaking in chapter 7) continued watching this night vision, and I saw one like a son of man coming with the clouds of Heaven. And he approached the Ancient of Days (God), and was presented to God. He was given authority, glory, and a kingdom. This would be an everlasting kingdom that would never pass away. And the people of the earth, from every nation and language, would serve him.” This prophecy was given hundreds of years before Jesus, as did this prophecy from Isaiah (Chapter 9): “To us a child is born! To us a son is given! The government shall be upon his shoulders. He will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor’, ‘Mighty God’, ‘Everlasting Father’, ‘Prince of Peace’. The greatness of his government and peace will be endless! He will reign on the throne of his father David in Jerusalem over this kingdom forever, establishing justice and righteousness from that time forward, forever. The zeal of God Almighty will accomplish this.”

This is what gives me comfort when I see evil people in power destroying everything. The thought of knowing that there is an ultimate ruler, one who stands for righteousness, means that the days of evil are finally coming to an end.

When the disciples returned from their mission, they reported all that they did. This was also when Jesus learned about John’s death. It’s easy to imagine that he needed time to grieve for his cousin, and the disciples needed time to rest. However, there were so many people coming and going that they didn’t even have time to eat. He took them to Bethsaida on a retreat alone, but the crowds learned about it and soon followed. Seeing their need, He welcomed them, taught them about the Kingdom of God, and healed whoever needed it. In the late afternoon, the disciples went to Jesus and told Him to send the people into the countryside or villages to find housing and food because they were in a remote place. However, Jesus decided to test the disciples. He replied, “They don’t need to go get food. You feed them.” As usual, the disciples were confused and overwhelmed and responded, “We have five loaves of bread and two fish!” (This was food they received from a little boy who came forward.) “Unless you expect us to go into town to buy bread for all these people. That will take over six months’ wages! Do you honestly expect us to spend that much to feed them?” But Jesus told them to sit down in groups of fifty even though there were about 5,000 grown men there, not counting women and children. Jesus gave thanks for the food and had the disciples pass out the five loaves and two fish. It seems as though every time they reached their hands into the basket, they pulled out a new fish or a new loaf of bread. All of the people were well-fed, and there were even twelve baskets of leftovers. When some of the people saw the miracle that Jesus performed, they believed that Jesus was the prophet that was foretold in the Scriptures, and some even tried to make Jesus their king forcibly, so Jesus dismissed the crowd and withdrew from that area.

Here’s a cultural observation that I notice among Chinese people: for a person to say thanks to another makes them seem distant. A random stranger would be thanked for a kind deed, but a close friend would not. This struck me as strange, but then after I thought about it, I understood why giving thanks to someone creates a sense of distance. Nevertheless, we see that Jesus gives thanks to his Father for the food, even though he and the Father are as close as can be. For the Chinese people reading this, I would invite you to change your perspective about giving thanks to close people. The reason Jesus is giving thanks is not because the Father should do it for him, but because he wants to acknowledge what God has done for him. Even when we pray, God knows what we need before we ask, but we ask anyway because that prayer time is also a chance to communicate with God. That’s just relational. For both American and Chinese audiences reading this, I will tell you that having great manners has opened lots of doors for me and created goodwill. It is an asset that Christians need to have because we represent the Lord. We are the light of the world. Manners are part of that light.

Jesus told his disciples to get in the boat and cross the lake, and he would join them later. He stayed behind to pray near a mountainside. During the night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and the waves were very choppy. He saw that they were struggling in the fierce wind. He walked out to them on the water. As he approached, the disciples began to shout in fear because they thought they were looking at a ghost, but Jesus told them, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.” Simon answered, “If it’s you, Lord, tell me to come walk on the water with you.” And Jesus told him to come. So Simon got out of the boat and stepped onto the water, but not long afterward he saw the fierceness of the wind, and he became afraid, and immediately fell into the water. Jesus rescued him and asked him why he started to doubt, “you of little faith.” He then got in the boat with Simon, and the winds died down. This amazed the disciples, for obvious reasons, and they worshipped him, saying, “You are truly the Son of God.”

Chapter 18

Bread of Life

(John 6.) When they landed on the other side of the lake, the people from the day before realized that there was only one boat on the shore and the disciples had taken it. While Jesus stayed behind. They pieced together that Jesus was in Capernaum, and got in their boats and rushed to the other side of the lake.

When Jesus and his disciples landed on the other side of the lake, the people immediately recognized him and gathered all the sick for him to heal. They carried the sick on mats, and people were even begging just to touch the edge of his clothing, and everyone who touched him was healed. Meanwhile, the people from the day before, who ate the fish and bread, found Jesus and asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you’re not looking for me because you saw miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves of bread and had your fill. Don’t work for food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. On Him, God the Father has placed His seal of approval.” Then asked, “What works must we do to fulfill God’s requirements?” He replied, “This is the work God requires, to believe in the one whom God has sent.” Then they asked, “What miraculous sign will you give us so that we can see it and believe in you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate manna (a special food that God provided miraculously) in the desert, as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from Heaven to eat.’”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, it was not Moses who gave you bread from Heaven, but it is my Father who gives the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes to give life to the world.” The people replied, “Sir, give us this bread.” Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never go thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and you still don’t believe. All who the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I come down from Heaven not to do my will, but the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me: that I shall not lose even one who He has given me, but I will raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will resurrect them at the last day.”

However, when Jesus said that he was the bread that comes from Heaven, the people began to complain and grumble against him. “Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?! How can he say he came down from Heaven?” “Stop mumbling among yourselves,” Jesus responded. “No one can come to the Son unless the Father who sent me draws him. It’s written in the Prophets, ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him will come to me. No one has seen God except for the one who comes from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate manna in the desert and are dead. But here is the bread of life that comes down from Heaven, which man can eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from Heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Naturally, the people were confused about what Jesus meant, and they began to argue sharply among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus continued, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will resurrect him at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of Him, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from Heaven. Your forefathers ate bread in the desert and died, but whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

When the people heard this, many of his more distant disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” He answered, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before? The Spirit gives life, but the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. Yet there are some of you here who do not believe.” Jesus said this last part knowing who didn’t believe him and who would ultimately betray him. “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

Here, you can see a contrast between flesh and spirit. Jesus is saying that the bread the Hebrews ate in the desert only fed the flesh, but in the end, the flesh died. His words give life to whoever hears them. His words are the spiritual bread. This is why the Bible says “We don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth.” Which is exactly what Jesus is talking about.

At that time, many disciples turned away and did not follow Him anymore. Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Are you also going to leave?” Simon answered, “Where else can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One from God.” Jesus remarked, “Haven’t I chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil.”

Looking back at the exchange Jesus had with the Jewish people, it would be easy to think Jesus was talking about cannibalism. Which was certainly what the people were thinking. However, he was referring to his ultimate self-sacrifice for the sake of humanity. Belief in his sacrifice for us is what grants us eternal life.

While the exchange between Jesus and the Jewish people seemed strange because the people who ate his food one day and then rushed to the other side of the lake to see him again are told about spiritual food instead of natural food. Then they had the audacity to ask for a sign that they can see after the miracle they had already witnessed. As I said earlier, Jesus’ ministry was starting to become too much like a circus, and I believe Jesus wanted to get rid of that and choose his audience. The pattern of Jesus’ interaction with the people and his disciples was to slowly peel back the curtain on his identity. He didn’t give it all to people at once because if he had, it might have scared people away. So, in order to get rid of the circus-like atmosphere, he used his message about eating his flesh and drinking his blood for eternal life. He wasn’t lying to the people, but he overwhelmed them with his identity at one time. In the end, the true believers stayed and the circus-seekers left while only his twelve disciples remained.

Jesus was never one for looking for consensus or popularity. He didn’t need fame or approval. He wanted only genuine people who wanted to genuinely know God. He knew that the people who came for the circus didn’t really care about knowing God, instead, they chased him down for more food. Or for healing. They were turning attention away from the Good News of the Kingdom of God. There’s a saying in America, that all press is good press because any media attention at all is going to be good for business, but Jesus disagrees. He says only the right press is good press. The miracles must facilitate the message, not overshadow it.

There are a lot of people who would benefit from hearing this. Some of you think that if everyone doesn’t like you, that there must be something wrong with you. Abandon that self-destructive attitude! You can’t please everyone, and if you try, you will destroy everything that is good about you. There is a Proverb (29:25) that says “The fear of man will prove to be a snare.” If the Savior of the World doesn’t seek universal approval from the people he is sent to save, why should you burden yourself with trying to please everyone and have everybody like you? Let it go and live your life the right way. Trust God with the results.

In this story, I noticed how Jesus interacted with some people. He may tell one person to simply believe in him, and then they will be saved, and then tell another person to give up everything to follow him. It’s as if Jesus had two standards. Jesus seemed to give different people different instructions according to their current spiritual condition. For those who feared God and thought He was too difficult to please, Jesus presented God as accessible. “Come to me, everyone who is burdened and loaded down, and I will give you rest.” And again, “What good deeds must we do to fulfill God’s will? Believe in the one whom God has sent.” However, for those who were presumptuous about their closeness with God, and were comfortable, Jesus presented God as holy and untouchable in perfection. “Why do you call me good? There is no one good except God alone.” And again, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you will by no means enter the Kingdom of God.”

Kenneth Bailey’s “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” turned me onto this fact, and he added the example, “On the road, there may be two ditches, one on the left and one on the right. For the car on the left side, it should veer right. To the car on the right side, it should veer left.” So we can see that Jesus has a message for everyone, one that can bring comfort and relief to the discouraged, and one that can shake up the ‘over-righteous’.

I believe that this understanding also makes it easier to approach the debate about whether salvation can be lost or whether it must be maintained. When the conditions sound stringent, it may be that his audience is presumptuous about their relationship with God, and they may not have the proper level of reverence for God. Personally, I firmly believe that salvation cannot be lost or forfeited, because it never belonged to us, but to God. He keeps our salvation guarded for us in Heaven, as Peter said. When we receive Jesus, we are adopted as God’s children, and because God is a good and faithful God, He doesn’t disown us when we upset Him. God is all-knowing and He still saves us knowing what evil we would do after we believe in Him. He has already made provisions for us, because He knows we are sinners who will continue to offend Him, over and over again. Because of Jesus, God is able to separate our sins from us, “as far as the east is from the west”. He is the God that is “slow to anger”, the God whose “mercy endures forever.”

Chapter 19

God’s People, But Not God’s Actions

(Matthew 15 and Mark 7) After that exchange with the people, there were also some Pharisees and teachers of the Law who came from Jerusalem to find Jesus. When they found him, they asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” As you probably noticed, the tradition and culture of the people has warped into a religion of its own. The very same culture that was set up by God through the Law of Moses has been turned into an idol god, so it had become devoid of the true God. In this case, the Pharisees were talking about the ceremonial cleansing before eating, not about hygiene. They would not eat unless they washed their hands, and even the dishes, because they feared they would become ceremonially unclean. Jesus answered, “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your traditions? Because God said to honor your father and mother, and also, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you allow a man to give any help that should have gone to his parents, as an offering to the synagogue, thus nullifying the command to honor your parents. And all of this for the sake of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely rules taught by men.’ You have dropped the commands of God to hold on to traditions of men. You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God for your traditions. You do many things this way.” (Isaiah was speaking the heart of God. God was the one saying the people worship Him in vain.)

Then Jesus called the crowd over to him and said, “Listen and understand: What goes into a man’s mouth is not what makes him unclean. It’s what comes out of him that makes him unclean.”

After Jesus left the crowd, his disciples came to him and said, “Don’t you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” Jesus replied, “Every tree that my Heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Leave them. They are blind guides, and if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Then Peter asked Jesus to explain what he was saying earlier. “Are you still so dumb? Don’t you see? Whatever enters the mouth goes through the stomach and out of the body, but whatever comes from the mouth comes from the heart. This is what makes a man ‘unclean’. Out of the heart comes evil thoughts of murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, slander, false testimony, greed, deceit, hatred, vulgarity, envy, arrogance, foolishness, etc. All of these evils come from the inside, and they are what make you unclean.”

This saying goes against what Chinese culture has long held (and many Westerners also believe), that people start off good, but are corrupted from the outside. On the contrary, the evil starts within us. While there may be outside influence, the desire springs up from within. This is why you don’t have to teach a child to be mean to another; they do it naturally. You don’t have to teach them about lying or stealing because they will do it naturally. But for the Pharisees, they held a more extreme view. They believed any touching of anything that was seen as unclean would make them unclean as well. They thought of themselves as delicate white clothes that could easily be torn and stained. By contrast, Jesus saw himself as bleach, which was able to cleanse whatever was unclean. Likewise, believers in Jesus should also see themselves as the bleach of the world. We are not to hide away from the world as if it will make us bad, but rather to influence it and cleanse it, and everyone must do their part.

Jesus left Israel for present-day Lebanon. He was among the Gentiles or non-Jews, but even away from Israel, he could not secretly enter a city. A Greek woman came to find him and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession!” But Jesus didn’t answer her at all. So his disciples urged him to send her away, for she kept calling out to him. He finally replied, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” But the woman knelt before Jesus and said simply, “Lord, help me!” Jesus sharply answered, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” She replied, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus answered her, “Woman, what great faith you have! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was found at home in bed, free from demonic possession.

What happened in that exchange? When I first read that story years ago, I had such a hard time reconciling why Jesus was talking like this, especially when he frequently commended the faith of Gentiles before, and even healed them when they were sick. Why then was he calling this Greek woman and every non-Israelite a dog? Recently, I learned that he was exposing his disciples’ racism. When people have evil thoughts about other people, they often are quiet about those racist thoughts. Such sayings tend to come from small-minded people, and are often not directed right at the other person openly. So the ugliness of racism is hidden. However, when a highly respected and benevolent person displays such hatred, it is especially ugly. Jesus is letting his disciples see how ugly their thoughts were, and putting their racism on open display, no doubt shocking them.

As for the Gentile woman, he was also testing her. He used an insult “dog”, which Jews used against Gentiles at the time, but to take the edge off, he called her “little dog”. This is a measured way of teaching his disciples about the ugliness of racism, while making sure that he didn’t leave the woman completely dispirited. He also tested her tenacity and humility. Even after hearing Jesus’ initial denial, she pressed on, and was rewarded. Jesus saw her humility, tenacity, and her faith that he could heal her daughter. The disciples saw yet another example of how God loved the Gentiles, and was working in them. God was not limited to Israel, and Israel did not own God. How then could they continue to look down on outsiders when God Himself accepted them?

Regarding racism and hatred, it is important to note that even within the group of disciples, Jesus had a tax collector and a Zealot who hated the Roman government and saw them as occupiers. Almost everyone hated tax collectors because they saw them as traitors. Meanwhile, zealots were seen as threats to stability and safety, because the government could come down and crush the whole town to suppress an uprising. Yet, Jesus told his disciples to love each other.

[_ My experience in China as an African-American has been mostly good, but sometimes bad. I have heard lots of stories from Africans in China who say that they understand Chinese, and hear the awful things people would say about them. Some of it would be based purely on ignorance, like “Why are you so black?” Other times it would be 100% cruel, like “He looks like a monkey.” This makes it difficult for me to want to learn the language, because I am afraid of the wicked things I will hear. Normally, I can get on a bus or train, and people will stare, which I don’t mind. However, I listen for the Chinese words I do know, and that may influence how I feel about the people. It’s especially difficult to trust Chinese people when they can smile in my face when I’m present, and then talk about me like I’m some kind of sub-human when I leave. A number of Africans who have been here for a long time are very jaded about Chinese society. They tend to open up only around close Chinese friends and coworkers, but out in the public, they keep their interaction with Chinese people minimal. I don’t want to become that way, but if I learn the language, I’m afraid I may have the same mindset after hearing the wicked things said to me or about me simply because my skin is dark. _]

Let’s take it a step further with another story. One time when I was in college, I dated a white girl. She loved me and thought that people like me were hard to find. She thought I was too good to be true. We are both Christians, as are our families. Interracial relationships are becoming more and more common in the United States, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is happy to see it. One such person was her father. He had been unemployed for 5 years, and was living off the inheritance that his father left him. He also found short day-jobs to bring in some money. Now, while he claims to be a devout Christian, he didn’t approve of me dating his daughter. Not because I’m a bad guy, or because of cultural or religious differences, but simply because I am Black. My character and my morals were unquestioned and there was no reason for him to reject me, but he couldn’t see past my skin color. In the end, my girlfriend and I broke up so that she could maintain peace in her family. I wonder what will become of that family and if her father has found a stable job yet. I wonder if he realizes the error of his ways, and if I will see him again and be able to talk with him about his reasons for rejecting me and my black skin.

Before I go back into the story of Jesus, I want to give a warning to everyone: having evil thoughts in your heart about people will stop your prayers. God may decide to deny your requests because of the evil inside your heart. Consider this statement from the book of James: “What causes quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle inside you? You want something but you don’t get it. So you kill and covet, but you cannot get what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. And when you ask, you don’t receive, because you ask with the wrong motives, so that you can spend what you get on your pleasures.” God is righteous, and He demands righteousness from us. When you pray to God, search your heart and your mind and check for evil inside you. Confess your sins and turn from them, and then ask God for what you want. If you have been praying and praying, and still have not gotten an answer, whether it’s for a spouse or a new job, or a car, or a promotion on your job, check your heart and see if there is evil in your life that you have not gotten rid of. It may just not be the right time, or it may be that you have evil in your heart.

Chapter 20

Feeding the People

(Mark 7:31) After his stay in Lebanon, Jesus returned to Galilee in northern Israel. Some people brought to him a man that could not hear at all, and could hardly speak. They begged Jesus to place his hand on the man to heal him. Jesus took the man away from the crowd, and he placed his finger into the man’s ear. He spit in the ear and then touched the man’s tongue. After looking up to Heaven, he took a deep breath and said “Be opened!” Immediately the man’s ears were opened and he could speak clearly. Jesus told them not to tell anyone, but the more he told people this, the more they spread the news. They were overwhelmed with amazement, saying, “He does everything well! He even makes the mute speak and the deaf hear.”

(Sometimes I wonder if Jesus was telling the people to keep his miracles a secret so that they would tell it all the more. Every time he says this, the news spreads like wildfire. Maybe it’s time for me to consider that maybe this is reverse psychology.)

Jesus left that area and went along the Sea of Galilee. As usual, people were bringing all their sick and needy to Jesus to be healed. The crippled, the lame, the mute, the blind, all were brought before Jesus to be healed. The people were amazed when they saw with their own eyes what was happening. For them, they had heard reports of what Jesus was doing, and they came to see for themselves, and their desires were fulfilled and they praised God. Later in the day, Jesus called over his disciples and told them, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me for three days and have nothing to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry or they may collapse on the way. Some came a long distance.” The disciples asked, “Where can we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?” Jesus asked, “How many loaves of bread do you have?” “Seven. And a few small fish.” There were 4,000 men there, not counting women and children, just like the time he fed 5,000. He had the people sit down, and he took the seven loaves of bread and the few fish and he gave thanks for it. Then he began to break the bread and give it to his disciples to pass out to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. And there were seven baskets of leftovers. After Jesus sent the crowd away, he got in the boat and sailed away to another city.

Upon arrival, Jesus was met by some Pharisees and Sadducees who came to question him. They wanted to test him, so they demanded a sign from Heaven. Annoyed, Jesus said, “When evening comes, you say the weather will be fair because you can see the red sky, and in the morning you say it will be stormy because you can see a red sky with overcast. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you can’t interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but no sign will be given, except the sign of Jonah.” Then Jesus left them.

Jonah, a prophet who was sent to modern-day Iraq, to its capital city Nineveh, hated those people and knew that if he went to them to tell them what God said, they would turn from their wicked ways, and God would spare them. Jonah wanted the people to be punished, so he disobeyed God and set sail to modern-day Spain, the exact opposite direction. When he was on the ship, a strong storm arose, causing everyone onboard to believe that the gods were angry and trying to sink the ship. They found Jonah on the ship and he told them that God told him to go to Nineveh and he refused. They threw him overboard to quell God’s anger, and Jonah was swallowed by a large fish. (Maybe a shark, maybe a whale.) He stayed alive for 3 days in the belly of that animal, and after repenting, was spit up on shore. He then went to Nineveh to preach, as originally instructed, the people repented, and God spared them, just as Jonah expected. He was actually pretty angry about their salvation. He’s one of the few prophets in Scripture who really didn’t care about the people he was sent to preach to.

Jesus spoke about the sign of Jonah: “For as Jonah was in the belly of a huge fish for three days and three nights, so shall the Son of Man be in the belly of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in condemnation of this generation, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South (the nation of Sheba, which is either Ethiopia or more likely Yemen) will also rise in condemnation of this generation, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and now someone greater than Solomon is here.

When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it roams through arid places, seeking shelter, but not finding any. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and gathers seven other spirits worse than itself and they all go in and live there. Then the last state of the man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this generation.”

After this encounter, Jesus sailed to the other side of the lake, but the disciples realized that they forgot to take the baskets of bread. Jesus, used that to start a spiritual conversation by saying, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” He was still thinking about their attitude and behavior. The disciples were naturally confused, and they discussed among themselves that maybe he said that because they forgot to bring the bread. Jesus was aware of the discussion and said, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember when we had 5 loaves for 5,000 people? How many baskets of leftovers did you gather?” “Twelve,” they answered. “Or the seven loaves for 4,000 people?” They replied “Seven,” Then Jesus continued. “So how is it that you don’t understand that I’m not talking to you about bread? Like I said, beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was talking about their teachings. Jesus was warning them not to eat the lies of the current religious leaders, who were known for their hypocrisy.

There was a time when Jesus was praying. He then asked his disciples who the crowds of people thought he was. Some people thought Jesus was John the Baptist while others thought he was Elijah or some other prophet who came back from the dead. “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” Simon responded, “You are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You are a blessed man, Simon, because flesh and blood didn’t reveal that to you, my Father in Heaven revealed it to you. And now I will call you Peter (meaning rock), because on this rock I will build my church. The purposes of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you have bound on earth will have been bound in Heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in Heaven.”

It confuses a lot of American Christians to hear about the role of Simon Peter and what he had power to do. What Jesus was saying is that the reason he named Simon ‘Peter’ is because he answered the foundational truth of who Jesus is. That is the rock. The rock or foundation is that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. This is the foundation that the church or assembly of God would be built on. As for what powers Peter had, it seems like Jesus was giving him the ability to enact the will of God on the earth like it is in Heaven, but I will admit, I’m still confused by it. I don’t see the difference between what he did and what other believers can do.

My editor sees it a bit differently, though, and her insights are worth considering. She says, “Peter was given the ability to heal and teach the word of God because his faith was true. Jesus named him ‘rock’ because his faith was unshakable and the basis of his life as it should be in all of our lives. The rock is Jesus, and his faith is the beginning of the church. This story is about being careful of who we listen to. It’s about being part of the actual church and not just the institution of the church. The reason I say this [is because] … even churches and its leaders can twist the Gospel to their own purposes both personal and political, something I have seen too many times unfortunately.”

After Jesus blessed Simon Peter, he ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah. At that point, he began to tell his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem to suffer many things from the chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he would be killed and rise again three days later. When Peter first heard this, he took Jesus aside and began to scold him, “This must never happen to you!” Jesus responded sharply, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me. You don’t have the concerns of God in mind, only the concerns of man.” Then he began to tell his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself, pick up his cross daily and follow me. Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses it for me will find it. What good is it if you gain the whole world and still lose your soul? What can you give in exchange for your very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this sinful and adulterous generation, I the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when I come in my Father’s glory with the holy angels. Truly I tell you, there are some here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God come powerfully.”

Now, when Jesus says that you could gain the whole world but still lose your soul, he has experience turning down instant prosperity. When the devil tempted him and told him to bow before him, Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world. But it came at the price of Jesus’ soul. When he told his disciples this, he wasn’t being a hypocrite, because he had direct experience with the temptation of immediate, unimaginable prosperity. Yet he rejected it. He knew that with patience, he would inherit everything, and would have it all with a clear conscience.

Before moving on, I want to come back to the example Jesus gave about evil spirits, because it may be confusing for many. In my opinion, it seems to be talking about Jewish history. When the Israelites were kicked out of the land, it was like their house was swept clean and the demons were kicked out, and their turmoil in exile cleansed them. When they returned to the land, though, they rejected their Messiah, so the house remained unoccupied, and the demon was able to return with others. This should show us that it is not enough to just clean out the bad, but we also need to introduce the good.

This connects to one of my criticisms of the Holiness Tradition in American churches (which I used to follow closely). Too often they say what we should not do, and more often than not, I agree with them. However, as they take things away, they do not replace them with something good. What is the good alternative? If no good alternative is provided, over time people will begin to see God as boring and restrictive. The Creator of the universe will be seen as uncreative and out of touch.

There is a second thing we should take from this exchange. Jesus said that the only sign that will be given to the Jewish people will be his resurrection from the dead. He is predicting that after he dies, he will come back to life three days later, but beyond that, he didn’t want to give them a sign that he was the Messiah. They refused to believe in him. Why should he waste his time trying to convince them when they had already decided not to believe? He resisted their attempts to push him around. They wanted a sign, but he said no.

Chapter 21

The Opposition Takes Notice

(Matthew 17) About 8 days after Peter acknowledged who Jesus really was, he took Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. As he was praying, his clothes began to shine as bright as a flash of lightning. His face began to change its appearance, and he began to glow like the sun. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, and talked with Jesus about his death, which he was going to fulfill at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they were fully awake, they saw Moses and Elijah starting to leave. Not wanting them to go, Peter said, “Master, it’s good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters; one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But while he was speaking, a cloud appeared over them and they were afraid, as they probably suspected a storm was coming. A voice came from the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, whom I have chosen. In him I am very pleased. Listen to him.” When they heard this booming voice, they fell to the ground, terrified. Jesus touched them and told them to get up. When they looked up, the cloud left, and they saw only Jesus standing there.

These 3 disciples were Jesus’ inner circle. “Don’t tell anybody about what you have seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead,” Jesus instructed. They never told anyone about what they saw for a long time, but they did ask why the teachers of the Law said that Elijah must come first (before the Messiah). Jesus answered, “To be sure, Elijah is coming and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, but they didn’t recognize him, and they did to him whatever they wanted. In the same way, the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that Jesus was telling them about John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah.

(John 4) There was a time when Jesus went to Samaria, a place that Jews avoided. Samaria was the home of the ethnically mixed Jews and Gentiles. They were not only ethnically different from Jews, but they were also theologically different. The Samaritans only accepted the books that Moses wrote, the first 5 books of the Bible. Jews and Samaritans never associated. He came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, and it was near a plot of ground that the ancient patriarch Jacob left to his son Joseph. It was around noon when Jesus came to Jacob’s well, and he was exhausted. He sat by the well, and a woman came up to it. Normally, a man would move to a comfortable distance so that a woman who was alone could feel safe as she drew water, but Jesus remained there. He even asked her to get some water for him. The woman was suspicious, because they were there alone, and she knew he was a Jew. (Jesus’ disciples went into town to get food.) The request was both suspicious and odd and she thought he was really just trying to ask her for sex.

Jesus responded, “If you only knew the gift of God in front of you, you would ask me and I would have given you living water.” Skeptical and probably annoyed, the woman said, “Sir, you have nothing to pull up the water with, and the well is deep. Where can you get this ‘living water’? Do you think you are greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well and also drank from it himself?” She clearly had issues with Jews, so she was taking out some of her frustrations on Jesus. She is defending her people against the Jewish accusation that Samaritans were half-breeds and pagans. By saying that Jacob passed that plot of ground to them is their way of defending their claim to Jacob, as if to say, “You Jews are no better than us.” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give will never thirst again. Indeed, the water I give them will become a spring inside them, welling up to eternal life.” Intrigued, the Samaritan woman asked for this water, and Jesus told her “Go. Call your husband and come back.” It’s likely the Holy Spirit gave Jesus knowledge of this woman. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman said. Jesus answered, “You’re right to say you have no husband because you’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re with now is not your husband. What you’ve said is quite true.” The Samaritan woman was surprised when he told her that he knew her history. She tried to change topics to take the spotlight away from her. “Sir, I can tell that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews say that we must worship in Jerusalem.” Jesus knew her motives, though. She switched to a theological argument to change the subject. Nevertheless, Jesus answered her, “Woman, believe me, there is a time coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you don’t know while we worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. Yet there is a time coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. These are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” The woman responded, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” So Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you, am the Messiah.”

Imagine for a second that Jesus was the Messiah that everyone had expected, a conqueror riding in on white horses or being carried around by servants as he sat on his throne. Imagine if Jesus was being carried through the streets of Samaria saying, “Those that worship the Father must worship in Spirit and truth.” Would he have been able to have that moment with the woman at the well? Clearly not. She would have been driven away by the servants of the Messiah, or out of shame, would have withdrawn herself. Jesus describes himself as the doctor who comes to heal the sick, and the shepherd who searches for his lost sheep. This woman was a lost sheep, and he came to find her, but he only reached her because she didn’t know he was special to begin with. This is why Jesus is not revealing himself openly as the Messiah. He only does it in intimate settings, with few people.

When the disciples returned, they were surprised to find that he was talking with a woman alone. But no one asked “What do you want” or “Why are you talking with her”. Yet the ethnic tension between Jews and Samaritans made this encounter very tense. (You can see how even the arrival of Jesus’ small band of disciples was already harming the situation, and this is with Jesus still being in secret. Imagine if he was the Messiah openly.) The woman backed away and left, leaving her water jar where it was. She went back to the town and cleverly said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this man be the Messiah?” She did not have a good reputation, and used that to highlight Jesus and draw their interest, so they went out to meet this man.

Back at the well, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat something, but Jesus, satisfied with his words to the woman, said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” The disciples missed what Jesus meant, but it sounds similar to what he said to the woman about the springs of living water on the inside. “My food is to do the will of He who sent me, and to finish His work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I’m telling you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for the harvest. Even now the reapers get wages and harvest a crop of eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper will be glad together. The saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Many of the Samaritans believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony that he told her everything she ever did, so when many came out to meet Jesus, they urged him to stay with them. He stayed for two days, and because of his words, many others also became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said because we have now heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

It’s funny how the marginalized people are often the ones most able to receive the truth. This is a constant theme throughout Christian history and even pre-Christian history. As the apostle Paul described it, “Not many of you were wise by the world’s standard, not many of you were influential, and not many of you were of noble birth.” It’s very difficult for the rich and the powerful to see their need for Jesus. It’s especially difficult for people with a sense of entitlement to get rid of that mentality to embrace what God has for them, and so it was with the Jews. They expected a Messiah with a different agenda than God’s agenda. The Samaritans did not have the same expectations and demands, so it was easier for them to embrace Jesus. Yet, the Jews assumed they were closer to God than the Samaritans. The group that they looked down on recognized the Messiah after just two days.

After staying with the Samaritans, Jesus returned to Galilee. Remember that he described himself as a prophet who is not honored in his own region and hometown. Yet when he arrived at Galilee, he was welcomed. They all saw what he did during Passover in Jerusalem months ago. Here’s what he did there…

In the Temple courts, he saw that moneychangers were exchanging local currencies. This was not a problem in itself. The Temple did not accept the common currency, so the people had to convert the money. The problem Jesus had with it was that the moneychangers were cheating the people and taking more than they were supposed to. Because the people were so poor, the lenders would loan them the money, but the interest rate would be high. When the people could not pay the loan back, the lenders seized their property, leaving people destitute just because they were trying to serve God. Jesus made a whip and thrashed the moneychangers and drove them out of the Temple courts, flipping over their tables and creating havoc. He drove out their sheep and cattle that they were selling, and scattered their money. “This is supposed to be the House of Prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers!” The disciples later remembered that the prophecy about the Messiah cleansing the Temple said, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.”

Angered by the havoc, the Jewish authorities approached Jesus and demanded to know what authority he had to do this. “What sign can you show us that you have authority to do all of this?” They were also aware of the prophecy about the Messiah cleansing the Temple, and they also benefited financially from the exploitation of the people. Jesus responded, “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews responded, “It took 46 years to build this Temple, and you say you will build it again in three days?!” But the Temple Jesus was talking about was his own body. Only later would the disciples understand what Jesus meant.

The rest of the Passover Festival went well in Jerusalem. Many people were healed, saw the signs he was performing, and they believed in him. Jesus didn’t entrust himself to the people, because he knew their nature. He knew the kind of evil in all people and no praise from man’s lips would make him lower his guard. That is what happened there, and the people in Galilee heard about all of it, and when Jesus returned to Galilee at last, they welcomed him heartily to Cana. This was the place where he had first turned water into wine.

There was a royal official whose son was sick in the larger city of Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus came to Galilee, he went to meet Jesus and beg him to come to heal his son, who was near death. Jesus responded, “Unless you people see signs and miracles, you’ll never believe.” The official pleaded, “Sir, come, before my child dies.” Then Jesus answered his plea and said, “Go. Your son will live.” The official took Jesus at his word and left, and on his way back to Capernaum, a servant met him on the way and told him the fever left his son and that he was okay. The official asked when this happened, and he was told “Yesterday at 1 PM.” The official realized that this was the exact time Jesus said “Your son will live.” Because of this, he and his entire household believed in Jesus.

Why was Jesus so hesitant to heal the man’s son? Why did he not do it immediately and joyfully? I think he wanted to test the official and show him how fickle his faith was. He believed in Jesus enough to know that he could heal his son, but would he believe that Jesus was the Messiah? Would he put his trust in Jesus completely, or only just for healing? I think this is why Jesus was reluctant. It was also humbling for the royal official to have to beg Jesus for the healing of his son. I may not know the full details of the life of this official, but it’s quite possible that because of his royalty, he may have lived a life of looking down on people and usually ordering them around. Now he has to beg an itinerant Rabbi to heal his son. Jesus would not be ordered around.

After pleading with Jesus, the official is told that his son will live, and he is dismissed. It takes faith to depart from the man when you believe he actually has to come to touch the boy for his fever to leave. All he had was Jesus’ word. This displays the power of Jesus beyond touch. The man left, facing the challenge of whether he should have brought Jesus with him, and whether healing the boy will be enough for him to believe Jesus’ claims. When he learned of the timing of his son’s healing, he saw the power of Jesus, and fully believed in him, along with everyone who knew the situation.

Before we move on, I wanted to point out two things from an earlier story of Jesus turning over tables in the Temple. First, we see that loan sharks are not new. In America, I can immediately think of two loan sharks, Quicken Loans and Payday Loans Servicing, and the thought of ever having to use one of their loan services for ANY reason scares me. They entrap people in their financial vulnerability, and exploit it for their profit. It is better for business if the customer has trouble paying back the loan in a timely manner, as the interest rates compound further and further. When Jesus saw this happening in the house of God, he was enraged. Jesus wanted the barriers between God and man erased, but the moneychangers had erected a strong financial barrier, making it taxing and financially dangerous to serve God, and worse, these people were already poor. For anyone who questions Jesus’ actions, you can go get a payday loan and tell me the rage you feel after you have paid 5 times the original loan amount and still haven’t finished paying it off.

Second thing I want to point out that it puzzles me sometimes when Jesus speaks, knowing that he would be misunderstood. For me, being understood immediately has always been important to me, because it can prevent unnecessary exposure to slander. However, Jesus doesn’t seem to mind if people misunderstand him, especially if those people were against him to begin with. He seems to take a great deal of pride in concealing a truth for people to find out later. Maybe for the disciples, it was useful to show their progress. What they didn’t understand before, they understood later.

Chapter 22

A Brief Rewind

Editor’s Note: Because of the difficulty of synchronizing all the events of the four Gospel accounts together into one smooth story, the next segment comes from before Jesus fed the crowd of 5,000 people. We’re in John 5.

Sometime after healing the official’s son, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a Jewish Festival. Near the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem, there is a pool called Bethesda. A large number of disabled people would come to the pool to be healed from various illnesses. There was a legend about the pool from older manuscripts of the Bible, an angel of God would come and stir up the waters, and the first person into the pool would be healed. Jesus came by and saw a lame man that he had been that way for 38 years. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to get well?” The man replied, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I try to get in, someone always gets in ahead of me.” Jesus responded, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Immediately the man was cured, and he picked up his mat and walked, but there was trouble because the day this happened was the Sabbath. The Jews said to the man, “It’s the Sabbath. The Law prohibits carrying your mat.” The man replied, “The man who healed me told me to pick it up.” This prompted the Jewish authorities to ask who healed him, but the man didn’t know, and Jesus had already disappeared into the crowd.

Later, Jesus found the man at the Temple and said to him, “See? You are well again. Now stop sinning before something worse happens to you.” The man went away, and he reported to the authorities that it was Jesus who healed him. Because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish authorities persecuted him. To them, Jesus said, “My Father is always working, so I too am working.” This infuriated the Jews, who tried all the harder to kill him because he was breaking the Sabbath, and even worse, calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. To them, this was blasphemy, which was punishable by death.

Jesus answered them, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He can only do as he sees the Father doing, because whatever the Father does, so does the Son. The Father loves the Son and shows him all He does. Yes, to your amazement, God will show the Son even greater things than these. Just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also the Son gives life to whoever he pleases. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, so that everyone will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him.”

He continued, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes He who sent me has eternal life, and will not be condemned; he has passed from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so also does the Son, and He has given the Son authority to judge because the Son of God is also the Son of Man.”

My best explanation for this saying is that Jesus, though he is the divine Son of God, is also human, and is therefore more suitable to judge the actions of other humans. A poor man can relate to and criticize another poor man in a way that a rich man can’t, and vice-versa. Jesus is both the rich and the poor man, and when he judges, he will have the full knowledge of our actions and motives, just like God the Father has, but Jesus will also have the weight of experience to factor into his judgments.

Jesus continued, “Don’t be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who hear the voice of the Son will come out of their graves. Those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned. I can’t do anything by myself. I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I don’t seek to please myself, but rather to please the Father who sent me.

If I testify about myself, my testimony is invalid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony is valid. You have sent people for John, and he testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony, but I mention him so that you can be saved! John was a lamp that burned and gave you light, and for a time you chose to enjoy his light. But I have testimony that’s even weightier than John. The work that the Father has given me to finish, which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has Himself testified about me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His shape, nor does His Word dwell in you, because you don’t believe in the one He sent.

You diligently study the Scriptures, believing that by them you have eternal life. They are the Scriptures that talk about me! Yet, you refuse to come to me to receive life.”

Here, Jesus confronts the religious views that just by reading the Bible, that they are spared from the judgment of God. Because they do not recognize the promised Messiah, they have missed the very thing they need to find in the Scriptures. They missed the point. They became like a man walking out the house thinking his umbrella is in his bag, not knowing that he left it.

Jesus concluded, “I do not accept the praise of men; rather, I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, but you won’t accept me. But if another comes in his own name, you’ll accept him! How can you believe if you accept the praise of men, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that only comes from God? But don’t think I will accuse you before the Father. No, your accuser will be Moses, in whom you put your trust. If you really believed Moses, you would believe in me, for Moses wrote about me. But since you don’t really believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”

Blinded by their religious traditions, the Jewish authorities could not accept that Jesus was really the Messiah sent by God. Because Jesus frequently healed people on the Sabbath day, the day no work was supposed to be done, they accused Jesus to be using the power of the devil to heal people. This is something I often see among American Christians. They are often locked into the same mindset as the Jews of Jesus’ time. The American Christians sometimes see a work being done in a non-traditional way, and they accuse the person doing it of being an agent sent by the devil to deceive them into following some forbidden path. They will accuse the person of being too good to be true, and are suspicious. They wait for them to make the slightest mistake so they can call that person out and kick them out of the Church forever. They do this because that person does the work of God in a different way than has been done before. Jesus, like the Christian doing the work of God in a different way, is not going to be able to convince detractors of the truth of his claims, because the critics have already decided not to believe. Nothing will convince them because they are looking for reasons not to believe.

Chapter 23

Bible Duels

(John Chapter 7 and Chapter 8) For a long time, Jesus traveled around Galilee, staying out of Judea as much as possible, because the authorities were waiting to kill him. The Feast of Tabernacles was coming up, and it was customary to go to Jerusalem (which is in Judea). His brothers still didn’t believe in him, and so they taunted him by saying, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so all your disciples can see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure does his work privately. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” Jesus responded, “The right time hasn’t yet come for me. For you, any time is right. The world can’t hate you, but it hates me because I testify about its evil. You go to the Feast. I am not yet going to the Feast because the right time hasn’t yet come for me.” Jesus stayed in Galilee, but soon after his brothers left for the Feast, he went to Jerusalem, secretly.

In Jerusalem, there was a lot of talk about him. The Jewish rulers were looking for him, and the people were debating about him. Some said Jesus was a good man, while others said he was a deceiver. Still, because they feared the Jewish rulers, they were very quiet about their discussions. He did not publicly appear until halfway through the Feast, when he taught in the Temple courts. The Jewish rulers were amazed at his skill, and asked where he got that skill in understanding the Bible without going to one of their schools.

Jesus answered, “My teaching isn’t my own, but it comes from He who sent me. If anyone chooses to do what God wants, they will find out if I am teaching the truth from God or if I’m just speaking on my own. Whoever speaks on his own only does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of God is a man of truth. There is nothing false about him. Hasn’t Moses given you the Law from God? Yet none of you actually obey the Law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

“You’re demon-possessed! Who’s trying to kill you?!” the crowd answered. Jesus continued, “I perform one miracle and you all are astonished! Yet because Moses gave you the law about circumcision (and even that did not come from him, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise your boys when they’re 8 days old, even if it’s on the Sabbath, just so you don’t break the Law of Moses. So why are you mad at me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? Stop making judgments based on appearance; judge correctly.”

At this point, some of the people were beginning to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? Here he is, speaking publicly, and they haven’t said a word to him. Have they concluded that he is the Messiah? But we know where this man comes from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

Hearing this, Jesus responded, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I’m from. I’m not here on my own, but He who sent me is true. You don’t know Him, but I know Him, because I am from Him and He sent me.”

When Jesus said this, the authorities tried to seize him, but no one was able to touch him because his time had not yet come. Still, many people in the crowd put their faith in Jesus, saying, “When the Messiah comes, will he do more miraculous signs than this man?”

The Pharisees heard these kinds of whispers amongst the crowd, and they sent temple guards to arrest Jesus. He said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I will go to the One who sent me. You will look for me but won’t find me, and where I am going, you cannot come.” This confused the people, and made them ask where he was going? To live among the Greeks? To live among the Jews in the Roman world?

On the last day of the Feast, Jesus said in a loud voice in the temple courts, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, living water will flow from within him.” By this he meant the Holy Spirit, who believers would later receive. Up until that time, the Holy Spirit had not been given to people, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. A lot of people were convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, while others were still divided. “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Don’t the Scriptures predict that the Messiah will be descended from David, and come from Bethlehem where David lived?”

Jesus didn’t tell them he was born in Bethlehem. He was not trying to prove he was the Messiah in the way that the people wanted, because he also knew what they expected from the Messiah, a political hero, not a spiritual hero.

When the temple guards went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, the rulers demanded to know why they didn’t bring Jesus in. They responded, “No one has ever spoke the way this man has.” “You mean he has deceived you, too?! Has any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing about the Law—AH! There must be a curse on them!” The frustrated priest was clearly angry that the uneducated masses seemed to be deceived by a false prophet. However, Nicodemus, a man Jesus spoke to before about being born again, said, “Does our law condemn anyone without first hearing him to find out what he is doing?”

His question was met with frustration. “Are you one of the Galileans, too?! Look into it and you will find that a prophet never comes out of Galilee.”

A problem with the priest’s argument is that Jonah was a prophet who came from Galilee, but even then, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, just as the Scriptures predicted. Jesus lived most of his life in Galilee, and most of his disciples were from there.

The next section in the Bible is a story that may or may not be part of the original manuscripts. The earliest known manuscripts do not have it, and many early witnesses don’t have this. That said, it fits the story of Jesus, and seems like something he would have done. He also may have really done it, but for the sensitivity of the matter, it may have been suppressed for a time. Who knows?

The story says that the next day, Jesus came to the temple courts to teach, and the Pharisees brought before Jesus a woman who was caught committing adultery. They wanted to discredit him, and so they made her stand in front of Jesus and a crowd of people. They said that she was caught committing adultery, and that the Law of Moses said she should be stoned. “What do you say?” they asked Jesus. (Notice that they did not bring the man she was with.) Jesus stooped down and wrote in the ground with his fingers. As the Pharisees kept asking him what to do, he stood back up and said, “If any of you is sinless, you should throw the first stone.” Then he stooped back down to write in the ground again. Meanwhile, one by one, people began to leave, until it was just Jesus and the woman standing there. He said to her, “Where are your accusers? Has anyone condemned you?” she answered. “No one, sir,” He replied “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and stop sinning.”

This story fits the narrative of what kind of person Jesus is, but as I said, it is possible that this is not part of the original story of Jesus. I personally have no problem with either possibility. Jesus spoke to the crowd again and said “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me won’t walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” When he said that, the Pharisees challenged him, “Remember what you said? Here you are, appearing as your own witness. Your testimony is invalid.” Jesus responded, “Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true, because I know where I came from and where I am going, but you have no idea where I came from or where I’m going. You judge by human standards. I pass judgment on no one, but if I do judge, my decisions are right because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own law, it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies about myself, and the Father testifies about me also.”

“Where is your father,” they asked, but Jesus shot back, “You don’t know me or my Father. If you knew me, you would also know my Father.”

Jesus said these things in the temple courts, and they wanted to arrest him, but God’s timing didn’t allow it. Jesus continued on, “I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” This made the Jews ask if he was going to kill himself.

As for me, when he was saying these kinds of things, I wondered why he brought them up. Was it really important for him to talk about whether his testimony of himself was valid? Then he switched over to them trying to find him and dying in their sins. Why? My best guess is he was provoking them to think more. Confusing statements lead to more questions, and Jesus answered them while also raising more questions.

“You are from below and I am from above. You are of this world and I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins. If you do not believe that I Am, you will indeed die in your sins.”

This was a bombshell statement for Jesus to say. You remember in the early parts of the book, the name God used when Moses asked who He was? “I Am who I Am. Tell them that ‘I Am’ sent you.” Jesus is using the name of God for himself as he does frequently. No one mistook what Jesus was saying. He was saying that he is God. You can feel the tension as the Pharisees ask, “Who are you…?”

“Just whom I’ve been claiming to be all along! I have much to say in judgment of you, but He who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from Him, I will tell the world.” The authorities didn’t understand that he was talking about God the Father as his own father. He continued, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I Am, and that I do nothing on my own, but that I speak just as the Father taught me. The One who sent me is with me; He has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.”

As Jesus was speaking, many people believed in him. Jesus directed to the believers, “If you hold to my teachings, then you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will liberate you.” Some answered, “But we are the children of Abraham, and have never been anyone’s slaves. How then can you say we will be freed?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever, so if the Son sets you free, you will truly be free. I know you are Abraham’s descendants, yet you are ready to kill me because you have no room in your heart for my word. I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you do what you have heard from your father.”

“Abraham is our father,” they answered, and Jesus replied, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the things Abraham did. As it is now, you’re ready to kill me, a man who told you the truth that I heard from God! Abraham didn’t do such things. You are doing the things your real father does.”

“We are not illegitimate children! The only father we have is God!” They were trying to shame Jesus, because they knew his history and how his mother claims to have been a virgin when she conceived Jesus. Meanwhile, they assumed that because they were the physical children of Abraham that it made them children of God. They thought they were saved because of their lineage and Jesus dismantled their argument.

“If God were your father, you would love me, because I came from the Father and am now here. I haven’t come on my own, but He sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I am saying. You belong to your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding onto the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell you the truth, you don’t believe me! Can any of you convict me of sinning? If I am telling you the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God listens to what God says. The reason you don’t listen is because you don’t belong to God.”

The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we justified in saying you’re a demon-possessed Samaritan?” Jesus answered, “I’m not demon-possessed, but I honor my Father, yet you dishonor me. I am not seeking glory for myself, but there is One who seeks it, and He is the judge. I tell you the truth, whoever keeps my word will never taste death.” Jesus is once again raising more questions with his confusing answers. He has already challenged their legitimacy as the so-called people of God.

“Now we know you are demon-possessed! Abraham died and so did the prophets, but now you say that if anyone obeys your words, they will never die! Are you, of all people, greater than our father Abraham?! He died and so did the prophets! Who do you think you are?!” they cried.

“If I glorify myself, then my glory means nothing. But my Father, who you claim as your God, is the One who glorifies me. Though you don’t know Him, I know Him, and if I said that I didn’t know Him, I’d become a liar like you. But I do know Him, and I obey His words. And your father Abraham? He rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day. And he saw it, and was glad.”

Jesus is referring to the time when three angels came to visit Abraham. One of the angels was distinct; that angel was God. Jesus is saying that he came to earth with two angels to visit Abraham, and he was gladly received.

“You aren’t even 50 years old and you say you’ve seen Abraham?!” they asked, now convinced that they were dealing with a lunatic. Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, before Abraham ever was, I Am.” Immediately they picked up stones to kill Jesus, because they knew for certain that Jesus was claiming to be God, and that was blasphemy, which was punishable by death.

Looking back, it’s easy for a lot of readers to think that the crowd was evil and against Jesus, against God, and against everything that is good. In writing this book the way I did, I wanted you to see Jesus as the people of his time saw him. I want you to think about how you would have responded to Jesus at the time. Remember, today we have hindsight, but those people saw him in real time. If you were there, listening to him directly, what would you have thought of him? Based only on what he has said and done thus far, would you conclude that he is God, or that he is a liar, or that he is a lunatic?

Chapter 24

Blasphemy!”

(John 9) Jesus slipped away from the temple grounds when he came across a blind man, who was like that from birth. His disciples asked him, “Who sinned that caused this man to be born blind? Him or his parents?” I’m not sure if the disciples realized at the time how silly it was to suggest that a man who was born blind could be responsible for it. Once again: born blind. How can a man sin before he is even born? Jesus responded, “No one sinned; this happened so that God could be displayed in his life. As long as it’s day, we must do the work of He who sent me. Night is coming, when no one will be able to work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus spit on the ground and mixed it with the dirt to make mud. He applied the mud to the man’s eyes and told him to go wash it off in the Pool of Siloam (which means ‘sent’). The blind man obeyed and he was able to see. His neighbors and those who normally saw him begging said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said he was indeed. Others said he only looked like him, but the blind man insisted, “I am that man.” Yet they kept asking him, “How then were your eyes opened?” The man replied, “The man named Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes and told me to go wash, so I washed, and now I can see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man cannot be from God, because he does not honor the Sabbath.” Others asked, “How could a sinner do these miraculous signs?” This divided the crowd. Finally, they turned to the blind man and said, “What can you say about him? It’s your eyes that he opened.” The man answered simply, “He’s a prophet.” The Jewish leaders still didn’t believe that he used to be blind until they sent for his parents. They asked if he was truly their son, and they affirmed it. “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind, but we don’t know how he can see now, or who opened his eyes. You should just ask him. He’s grown. He can speak for himself.” They only said this because they were afraid. It was already decided that anyone who acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

Once again they called the blind man in, and they said, “Give glory to God. We know this man (Jesus) is a sinner.” By saying ‘Give glory to God’, they really mean, ‘Be honest. God is watching.’ The man responded, “Whether he’s a sinner or not, I don’t know. But I know this, I was blind, and now I see.” The Jewish leaders asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He replied, “I already told you! You didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to be his disciples?”

Then they hurled insults at him, saying, “You are one of his disciples! We are the disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this guy, we don’t know where he came from.” The man responded sharply, “How remarkable! You say you don’t know where he came from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does His will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” The leaders replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth! How dare you lecture us!” Then they threw him out.

Jesus heard that they threw the blind man out and went to find him. When he found him, he asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Remember, the phrase ‘Son of Man’ means Messiah. The man replied, “Who is he, so that I may believe in him?” Jesus answered, “You have now seen him. In fact, he’s the one speaking to you.” The man replied, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped Jesus. Afterward, Jesus said, “I have come into the world for judgment, so that the blind will see, and those who see will become blind.” Some of the Pharisees were there when he said that, prompting them to ask, “What? Are we blind, too?” Jesus answered, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t be guilty of sin, but since you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” Then he went into a parable about himself.

“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen, but climbs in by some other way is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls the sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow the voice of a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.”

Jesus was basically telling them that the blind man did not follow them, but instead followed him. Even though the man was born blind, he knew the truth of God in his soul.

Perhaps you who are reading this book or listening to it can relate. Perhaps you recognize the truth of God in the book so far, and perhaps you have heard many different opinions and beliefs, yet you were not convinced. Something didn’t quite connect with you. It’s my hope that the words and nature of Jesus make that connection. It did for me, and my life has been greatly enriched. I truly don’t know what I would be if I was not following Jesus, but I’m sure that I would still be trying to fill a void in my heart with one vanity or another. Maybe that vanity would be money, or sex, or cars, or clothes, or a house. Whatever it might have been, I would still not be satisfied… I would still be searching for what would truly satisfy me. That satisfaction comes through Jesus, by being reconnected with God, my Maker and My savior. It would make sense that the One who created me would be the One who knew what was truly best for me. You don’t use a refrigerator to cool your entire house, nor do you use an oven to heat it. They heat and cool food, not buildings. In the same way, God knows what I am made for and what I should do, and it’s my pleasure to do what I’m created to do. I hope you find that same pleasure and relationship with God.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me (the false messiahs and false prophets) were thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief only comes to kill, steal, and destroy. I have come that you may have an abundant life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep; he is not the owner of the sheep. So when a wolf attacks the flock and scatters it, he abandons the sheep and flees. But I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and they know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this flock, and I must bring them also. They also will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock with one shepherd. The reason the Father loves me is because I lay down my life for the sheep—only to take it up again. No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and authority to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

Again, the Jewish leaders were divided. Many of them said, “He is demon-possessed, and crazy! Why should we listen to him?” Others said, “These aren’t the kinds of things a demon-possessed man says. And can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” And so they remained confused and divided.

Not long after, during the winter, came the Feast of Dedication, a ceremony to remember the reinstitution of worship in the Temple after it was desecrated by a Greek ruler. The event that led to a revolt and a miraculous victory for God’s people. After cleansing the Temple, a candle was lit to honor God, but it had only one day’s worth of oil, yet it lasted for 8 days as a symbol of God’s favor. If you’ve ever seen a menorah, a candle with 8 branches, this is where that symbol comes from. It’s my personal favorite Jewish symbol.

As Jesus walked in the Temple courts, the authorities gathered around him and said, “How long are you going to keep us waiting? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly!” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you don’t believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you don’t believe me because you aren’t my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never die, and no one can snatch them from my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” Immediately the Jewish authorities began to pick up stones to stone Jesus, but he said to them, “I’ve shown you many great miracles from my Father. For which of these do you stone me?”

They answered, “We aren’t stoning you because of any of these, but for blasphemy, because you—a mere man—claim to be God!” Jesus answered them, “Isn’t it written in your own Law, ‘I have said, you are gods’? If God called the people who heard his message ‘gods’—and Scripture cannot be broken—what about the Holy One whom God has sent into the world? Why do you accuse me of blasphemy when I said I am God’s Son? Don’t believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do what the Father does, even though you don’t believe me, believe the miracles, so you can understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”

When Jesus said this, they tried to seize him again, but he slipped from their grasp. He left and went across the Jordan River to a place where John used to baptize people. They came to him and said to each other, “Even though John never performed miracles, everything he said about this man is true.” Many people believed in Jesus there.

Chapter 25

Faith and Forgiveness

(Luke 9) Jesus went back to Galilee, continuing his ministry. During a trip to Capernaum, there was a crowd around Jesus. A man came through the crowd and kneeled down before Jesus, saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.”

“Oh unbelieving and perverse generation! How long will I put up with you? How long will I stay with you? Bring the boy here,” Jesus said. (I think Jesus was scolding his disciples in that moment.) He rebuked the demon and it came out of him. Later, the disciples came to Jesus and asked why they couldn’t drive out the demon. Jesus answered, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you could tell the mountain to move here and there, and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you.”

It was also during this time that Jesus began predicting his death. “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him and on the third day he will be raised to life.” This filled the disciples with grief and confusion. The meaning was hidden from them, yet they didn’t ask him to clarify anything because they were afraid to ask. After all, he did just finish scolding them about their lack of faith.

(Matthew 17 and 18) While in Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax came and asked Simon Peter if his teacher pays the temple tax. He affirmed. Later, when they came into a house, Jesus approached Peter. “What do you think, Simon? Who do the kings of the earth collect taxes from: their own sons or from others?”

“From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the sons are exempt from the tax. But just to avoid offending them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch and look inside its mouth. There you will find a coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

During this time, Jesus’ disciples were relishing the thought that they were the followers of the long-awaited Messiah. They were arguing amongst each other who should be the greatest. They were thinking about what kind of power they should have and the prestige that should come with their greatness. So Jesus took a small child and stood next to them and said, “I tell you the truth, if you don’t change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of God. Whoever humbles himself like this little child will be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. And whoever welcomes this little child in my name, also welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me, welcomes the Father who sent me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the sea.”

I believe Jesus was telling the disciples that their behavior is being watched by the children, who will want to grow up and be great, just like the disciples. Jesus doesn’t want the disciples to be like the other rulers of the day. He wanted them to be different kinds of rulers. But he knew that if they behaved like normal rulers, the children would grow up to be like them, making the same sinful mistakes as them. Jesus wanted to change the way they thought about rulers. Because the disciples were hard-headed, it would take several more lessons for them to understand and accept his message.

“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It’s better for you to enter eternal life maimed than to be cast into eternal fire intact. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out! It’s better to enter eternal life blind than to be cast into the fires of Hell with sight.”

(I should note that Jesus is not being literal, but that he is explaining the seriousness of sin and its consequences. Please don’t cut off parts of your body. Rather, discipline yourself and control your sinfulness, because it is a problem, and is not worth going to Hell over.)

“See to it that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I assure you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father. What do you think? If a man owns 100 sheep, but one goes missing, won’t he leave the 99 on the hill to go find the one that wandered off? And when he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about finding that one than he is about the 99 that didn’t wander off. In the same way, your Father in Heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.

If your brother sins against you, go and show your brother his fault, just between the two of you. And if he listens to you, you have won back your brother. But if he won’t listen to you, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you treat pagans or tax collectors. I tell you the truth, whatever you arrest on earth will be arrested in Heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in Heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven. For where there are two or three gathered in my name, I am with them.”

When Jesus talks about going to look for the one sheep that wandered off, this makes me think of any time that I’ve lost something. When I finally located what I was looking for, I was greatly relieved, and all was at peace again. It goes against the mindset that many people have today. We can relate with the example of looking all over the house for a missing item, but when we think about people, we see people as expendable. Even a close loved one said that the shepherd shouldn’t leave the 99 to go find the 1, but God is not like people. One thing we forget about God is that He has the capacity to handle all of us individually. He can care for each of us and have a close relationship with all of us.

For instance, China has 1.3 billion people, and that may be too many for the government to handle, but it’s not too many for God to deal with. This is the same God that created and regulates the actions of the billions of planets and stars in each galaxy and the billions of galaxies in the universe. I want you to know that God is fully aware of your life, your actions (good and bad), your personality, everything. He sees it and He cares. He takes great joy in you coming back to Him, just as the shepherd takes great joy in finding that one lost sheep. 1.3 billion is an irrelevant number to Him.

Getting back to the story, after Jesus talked about forgiveness, Peter came and asked him, “How many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to 7 times?” I’m sure anyone who knows me will quickly say they had to forgive me a lot more than 7 times. Jesus answered, “Not just seven times, but 77 times.” The point he was making was that we shouldn’t count. Who can really count 77 offences? In a genuine relationship with people, you have to forgive them just as they forgive you. Real love keeps no record of wrongs. Here is the example Jesus gave: “The Kingdom of God is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him 10,000 talents (billions of dollars or RMB) was brought before him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he, his wife, his children, and all that he had must be sold to repay the debt. The servant fell to his knees and pleaded, ‘Be patient with me and I will repay everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt, and let him go.”

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him 100 denarii (a few dollars or RMB). He grabbed him by the throat, demanding his money. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ His fellow servant fell on his knees and pleaded, ‘Be patient with me and I will repay everything.’ But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown in prison until he could repay his debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and reported back to their master everything that happened. Then the master summoned the servant. ‘You wicked servant! I cancelled all that debt because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger, the master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay back all that he owed. This is how my Heavenly Father will treat you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

This story is a bit frightening, because there are many examples that I could think of that would make forgiveness very difficult. For instance, it would be easy for me to forgive someone who rudely pushed past me trying to get off the train. Forgiving someone who cheated me out of a lot of money would be more difficult. Forgiving the murderer of a loved one is far more difficult. What if the offender is impossible to reach? What if that person is dead? How quickly must I forgive? How do I prove to that person and to myself that I have forgiven that person? And if I am a Christian who has not forgiven someone, will that keep me from going to Heaven? That question is difficult to answer.

My best way to answer this question is to define forgiveness as the refusal to seek retribution against someone for doing wrong to you. It does not mean that a thief shouldn’t be arrested and prosecuted, but it does mean that I can offer respect and civility to someone who has mistreated me. I will never forget what they did, and I won’t quickly open myself up to them again, so I can protect myself from further harm.

I want to use a real life example. In June 2015, a young white man went to a black church in South Carolina in the US. He was received warmly by the church, but then took out his gun and shot everyone in the church. His goal was to start a race war in the United States. When he was arrested and appeared in court, the families of the dead told him that they forgave him, and hoped that he would find the love of Christ in prison.

For me, I don’t know that I could so quickly say that I forgave him. If I said it, it certainly wouldn’t be genuine. It would take a long time of processing my anger (which is justified) and healing before I could truly forgive someone like him. Am I risking my salvation this way? I doubt it. God doesn’t save us because we forgave or because we did any good work for Him. He saves us through our faith in Christ, the one who purchased our forgiveness with his blood.

Here’s the best way I can describe the requirement of forgiveness. We must begin the process of forgiveness quickly, because we don’t want our rage to hinder our ability to heal. Remember, healing is the most important thing, not just pardoning the offender. Watch out for that ‘victim-blaming’ attitude. God isn’t going to send you to Hell for being angry about an evil being done to you. We don’t forgive others for their sake, but for our own. We need to begin preparing our heart to forgive the other and not allow hatred and vengeance to scar our soul.

Think of it this way: someone who has done evil to you is not likely thinking about you right now. They are going about their daily lives. While you are holding onto the bitterness in your heart. Who is harmed by the bitterness? Them or you? You. Forgiveness helps you release the bitterness. It doesn’t mean you will forget, but it does mean you will move on with your life without that weight on your shoulders.

Now, my example was about a young man who wanted to kill others, and felt no remorse about what he had done. He did not seek forgiveness. So he isn’t the same as the debtor in Jesus’ example. In Jesus’ example, the debtor wants the master to have mercy on him, and the master offered forgiveness. In this instance I believe we must offer forgiveness and a chance for a better relationship. This is why Peter’s question surrounded forgiving “brothers”. Of course, we know that ‘brother’ is a very broad term for those we are in relationships with. We have to bear with many problems from them, and they also have to bear with us a lot because we are not perfect. Just because we are not perfect does not mean that we don’t deserve to have friends. In the same way, you have to be willing to extend mercy to others, just as you would want someone to extend mercy to you. If God can extend mercy to you, who are you to hold a grudge against someone else?

Chapter 26

Legal, But Immoral

(Matthew 19 and 20) After Jesus had gone to Judea, on the eastern side of the Jordan River, large crowds followed him and he healed them. Now, for this next part, I want you to listen carefully to this question and the framing of the question. Some Pharisees came to Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” When you hear this question, do you wonder what the women were thinking?

Surely they detect the injustice of being left destitute after receiving a bill of divorce. Surely cooking a meal incorrectly doesn’t warrant being kicked out and left without a way to support themselves. And surely they don’t appreciate having no sense of security and stability. Living in a male-dominated society, the women had to feel like they were navigating a perilous environment. Do you ever wonder if the men ever picked up on this injustice, or if they listened to the complaints of their wife?

Listen to how Jesus answered: “Haven’t you read that in the beginning, God created them male and female and said ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, whatever God has put together, let no one separate.”

The Pharisees replied, “Why then did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

“Moses permitted you to divorce because of the hardness of your hearts. But it was not this way in the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another one commits adultery, unless the divorce was because of infidelity. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another man, she is also committing adultery.”

When the disciples heard this, they said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it’s better not to marry at all.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept what I’m about to say, except for those whom God has enabled to accept it: ‘Some are eunuchs because they are born that way; others are castrated by the hands of men. Yet others have renounced marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God.’ Those who can accept this saying, should.”

(I’ll go into more depth about that in the Audio Version of the book.)

Later, people were bringing their children to Jesus for him to touch them and bless them. But the disciples rebuked the parents.

Jesus said, “Let the children come to me and don’t stop them. The Kingdom of God belongs to them and those like them.”

Additionally, a man had come to Jesus asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This man was wealthy, young, and was a ruler. He was asking about doing the right thing and getting into Heaven. Such people are rare, but Jesus knew something was not right. “Why do you call me good? There is no one good, except God alone.” Jesus, though he is divine, is still demonstrating that the man’s standard of goodness is too low. Because it is so low, the man thinks he can achieve ‘goodness’ by his own efforts. Jesus continued, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”

“Which ones?” the young rich ruler asked.

“Do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus listed.

The man answered, “I have obeyed these commandments since I was a boy. What do I still lack?”

Jesus loved this man and said, “You still lack one thing: Go, sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come and follow me.”

When the young man heard these things, he went away, greatly saddened, because he had vast wealth. Jesus had exposed the one sin this man still hung onto: idolatry. He worshipped God conveniently.

It is easy to follow God’s commandments when it never challenges you. When the man was challenged to give up his wealth to follow the Messiah, it was revealed that he wasn’t serving God but money instead. Jesus named a few commandments at first, to which the man quickly affirmed his obedience. But the most important one is the one he did not obey: ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.’

Did you, by any chance, notice how the first commandments Jesus rattled off were ‘horizontal’, as in, they only dealt with human interactions? They weren’t ‘vertical’, as in, they didn’t have anything to do with God directly. For those who view their relationship with God strictly by your piety, your view is incomplete. On the flip-side, if you view your relationship with God solely by how you treat people, your view is also incomplete. A relationship with God involves both piety and social responsibility.

Think of how you define a good father. A good father isn’t just a provider, he is also involved in the lives of his children. He does both, not one or the other.

The rich, young ruler thought if he treated everyone right, he would be in good shape with God, until it was revealed he was an idolater. His real god was money, and thus, his god made him tell Jehovah ‘No’. What in your life will make you tell God ‘No’?

Frustrated, Jesus said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! I tell you the truth, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into Heaven!” It is hard to get someone to willingly part with their money, so when the disciples heard this, they were astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?!”

Jesus answered, “With man, it is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

Peter, however, was not satisfied with that answer. “Lord, we have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

If I can say a quick word about Peter, I love this guy. He always says what is on his mind and is true about his devotion to Jesus, no matter what mistakes he makes along the way. He’s a true student of Jesus, and I love that Jesus readily accepts him. The ill-timed and inappropriate questions may be offensive to some, but they are his real heart. Because he is honest with God, God is able to deal with him as he really is. Peter never wears a mask or pretends to understand. He wants answers, and he goes for them. Back to his question: What’s in it for us?

“I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on 12 thrones ruling over the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses and families and fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much in this life, and will receive eternal life. But many who are first now will be last then. And many who are last now will be first then.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a day’s wages. And a while later in the day, he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them to also go work in his vineyard, and he would pay them what is fair, and so they went. A few hours later he went out again and did the same thing. And a few hours later, he did it again. At the final hour of the work day, he went out and got even more workers. “Why have you been standing out here all day doing nothing?” he asked. “Because no one hired us.” And so he hired them also. And when evening came, he called all the workers to pay them their wages, starting with the last people to arrive.”

“The workers who arrived and did only an hour’s work received a full day’s pay. So those who started working early in the day thought they would receive more. But when they received a day’s pay, they complained quietly about the landowner. “These men who were hired last only worked one hour, and you have made them equal with us, who bore the burden of the work and the heat of the day!” But the landowner answered them, “Friend, I have not wronged you. Didn’t you agree to work for a day’s pay? Take your pay and go. I wanted to pay those workers the same as I paid you. Don’t I have the right to do with my money as I want? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first and the first will be last.”

What can I say about this landowner? His decisions are contrary to many things we do in America and China. When he hired the men in the morning the first time he went out, he found enough people to work his field. He agreed to pay them a day’s wages, and really didn’t need more workers. This is normal. However, when he went out again and again and again, he did it for humanitarian reasons. Out of compassion, he hired them because they still had not found work for the day, and they were still willing to work. He could’ve just gave them the money and sent them home. But why didn’t he? Because he wanted to preserve their dignity and pride as men. By working for their food, they would have the pride of knowing their efforts have provided for the needs of their families.

Poverty was a problem, and the landowner solved it for that day, but he wasn’t just solving financial poverty. He was solving a poverty of self-esteem. It was empowering for them to work instead of just receiving a handout. The men wanted to feel like they mattered, like they were capable of feeding their families. The landowner thought about all of this. We should learn from him.

There are complex problems that people face like poverty. Yet poverty is not just financial or material lack. Being poor is not simply not having food and being hungry most of the time. It’s also the shame of not being able to welcome friends or guests home because you don’t have enough to feed them. It’s the shame of always knowing that others are giving to you, but you can’t give back to them. It’s the shame of wondering if your wife secretly thinks about what life would be like if she chose a different man.

When the landowner went out again to hire more men, he knew it was not efficient; he had all the men he needed. (In some cases, having more people than you need can actually hinder your efforts. Ever heard of the phrase ‘Too many cooks in the kitchen’?) In America, we worship efficiency. Companies lay people off all the time if they can save money. This puts people in a constant state of fear and uncertainty; if they are not essential to the company, they may soon lose their job, and the company won’t think twice about it.

I watched a video of an air conditioner manufacturing company from Indiana, named Carrier. (At the time I wrote this, I didn’t know this case would become so widely known.) Its president came down to a gathering of the employees to tell them that their company was going to move to Monterrey, Mexico. He said the decision was strictly for business, and that the company had to stay competitive. (It means they wanted cheap labor.) Only days before, they received millions of dollars from the government to expand their production in Indiana, and soon after Trump’s election, they received even more money to keep a portion of the Indiana jobs. This was not the attitude of the landowner in Jesus’ story. He didn’t just think about his crop or his money, but about the society around him, and the emotional health of his community. (Wow, God even cares about our emotions? We’ve been told for so long to disregard our emotions and just get the job done.)

So when he paid them a full day’s wages, he wasn’t just thinking of their financial poverty, but of their emotional poverty also. If he only paid them for the few hours they worked, not only would that leave the families hungry, but it would also embarrass the men in front of their families, because those families would know he didn’t work very long. Imagine that thought: “He was looking for work all day, but didn’t find it until the late afternoon… Meanwhile I’ve been doing all this work around the house…”

When a society is poor, the competition for limited resources is fierce and a lot of people get left out. Oftentimes those people get blamed for not contributing enough to the household, even if they are trying hard. It doesn’t make sense, but I see it all the time. The landowner saw it too, so he saved their face and preserved their dignity by paying them a full day’s wages.

Why didn’t he pay the full-day workers more? Well, they agreed to work for a day’s pay, and that’s what they got. That’s what they would’ve gotten if the new workers weren’t hired, and they would’ve been happy with their pay. But when they saw the new workers get a full day’s pay, they became entitled. The landowner could’ve paid the full-day workers first, and sent them away, and then paid the new workers after that, so that no one knew about the special arrangement, but I think the landowner wanted to show them their entitled mentality.

The truth is people hate equality. For instance, if a luxury car was made affordable and everyone could get it, no one would appreciate the beauty of that car because everyone else had it. That car is a status symbol. In the same way, by paying the new workers a full day’s wages, the landowner is showing the full-day workers their jealousy. They didn’t care about the new workers or their plight. They were too busy trying to get more money for themselves that they didn’t think about others around them. The men may have been poor, but their poverty didn’t mean they were flawless people. You can be a selfish poor person or a selfish rich person. Both are still bad.

What lesson does God want us to take from this story? That His love extends to all people, and He will welcome anyone who comes to Him. They will have full rights and privileges. It doesn’t matter if they followed God their whole lives, or whether they turned to Him 5 minutes before they died. God wants people to come to Him, and it doesn’t matter if they can do anything useful for Him. He isn’t just hiring workers to do a job for Him, He’s rescuing His children so that they can be with Him.

For long-time Christians, it can be hard to think that the sinner who just came to God has equal love from God as you do, but it is the truth. Everyone has a right to come to God, and He will receive us all equally, whether we were with Him for years or for a few minutes.

(Special thanks to Ken Bailey again and Brian Fikkert for their insights in “Jesus through Middle-Eastern Eyes” and “When Helping Hurts”, respectively.)

Chapter 27

Compassion

(Luke 9:51) There came a time when Jesus was preparing to go to Jerusalem, knowing that his time for returning to Heaven was approaching. He knew he was going to die soon, and knew the purpose of his death was far too important. He knew that he would have to go through Samaria, so he sent two messengers ahead of him to a Samaritan village to prepare things for his arrival. But the people would not welcome him because they found out he was going to continue to Jerusalem immediately afterward. (I don’t think this town knew about Jesus’ experience with the woman at Jacob’s Well. Jesus was quite beloved in the town where he interacted with the woman. It was hard for him to leave that town.) When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, should we call down fire from Heaven to destroy them like Elijah did?” Jesus rebuked them and said, “You don’t know what kind of spirits you are from! The Son of Man didn’t come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” So they continued on to another town, but from that day forward, Jesus called these sons of Zebedee the ‘Sons of Thunder’ because of their cruel idea.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” He probably said that knowing that the man expected life to be comfortable with the Messiah, the king of Israel. He probably also said that because he had just been rejected by the Samaritan town; it was not certain where he would stay that night.

Jesus said to another man, “Come, follow me.” The man replied, “Lord, let me first bury my father.” It was an excuse; he was waiting for his father to first pass away before he would serve the Kingdom of God, meaning that he really didn’t want to serve the Kingdom, but needed some kind of justification. Jesus answered, “Let the dead bury the dead. You go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” Yet another man said, “Lord, I will follow you, but first let me go say goodbye to my family.” Jesus answered, “Whoever puts his hand to the plow and then turns back is not fit for service in the Kingdom of God.”

I’m not sure what else is going on when Jesus rejected the man’s request to go say goodbye to his family, because it seems quite reasonable. However, Jesus’ reaction suggests that the man had divided commitments and viewed the Kingdom of God on the same level as his family, which Jesus would not accept. I suppose when the God of the universe tells you to come and follow him, you should follow, even without family approval, because family is not God. As for the disciples, of course they put their house in order before setting off with Jesus. When the Bible says they dropped their nets at the boat and immediately went with Jesus, this is a literary device to show that they were committed to following him, and didn’t question their decision.

(Luke 10:25) On one occasion, an expert in the Law of Moses stood up to test Jesus. He asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “What does it say in the Law? How do you understand it?”

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and body. And love your neighbor as yourself,” he answered.

“Correct. Do this and you will live,” Jesus said.

But the expert wanted to justify himself, and asked, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied with a story: “There was a man going from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was robbed by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him, and went away, leaving him half-dead. A priest came down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side of the road. A Levite (a member of the priesthood’s family tree) came not long afterward and he also passed by on the other side of the road. Then a Samaritan (whom Jews hated and saw as religiously impure) came along afterward. He took pity on the man and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. He put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day, he took out two coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Look after him, and when I return, I will pay back any extra expenses you may have.’ Which of these people was a neighbor to the man who was robbed by bandits?”

The expert replied, “The man who had mercy on him.”

Jesus answered, “You go and do likewise.”

The Jews and Samaritans hated each other, which is why Jesus gave an example of a man who should hate the victim, but instead had pity on him. Jesus was telling this story to another Jew and was using the story of someone that the expert would hate to teach him a lesson about the ability of people to do the righteous thing, even if they are not part of the same group, whether religious, ethnic, or whatever.

It must be humbling to have to learn from a Samaritan what the true definition of a neighbor is. As for the Samaritan in the story, as I learned from the book, “Jesus Through Middle-Eastern Eyes”, going into a Jewish town with a bloodied Jewish man on his donkey could have sparked instant outrage; the Samaritan was risking his life by even setting foot in the town. Having a half-dead man on his donkey was asking for mob justice. Yet he did it to save the life of the man who had been robbed and beaten. Could you see yourself doing that for anyone that you don’t know? Can you imagine doing it for someone that you’re supposed to hate? What did it mean for that expert to hear this story, and for him to hear that the priest and the Levite, who are supposed to be closer to God, both failed to act, but the Samaritan, who was seen as more distant from God, actually helped?

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them to her home. She had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him, but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to come help me!” Jesus answered, “Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

(Luke 11:14) Another time, Jesus was driving out a demon who made a man unable to speak. When the mute man was able to speak, the crowd was amazed, but some of them said that he was driving out the demon by the power of Satan. That means the demon enters the person, and then Satan orders the demon to leave that person, making it seem like Satan was masquerading as a good spirit. If Jesus has the devil in him to make people think he was good, the devil could deceive the people into following him.

Jesus answered them, “Any kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. Any house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against Satan, how could his kingdom stand? You say that I drive out demons by the power of Satan. Well, then by whose power do your disciples drive out demons? They’re going to rise up against you in judgment. But if I, by the power of God, drive out demons, then you know that the Kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, his takes away the only armor that the man trusted in, and then he plunders his house.”

He also added this: “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me will be scattered. When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it wanders through desolate places looking for refuge, yet finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house that I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and finds 7 other spirits more wicked than itself, and they all go in and live there. And the last condition of the man is worse than in the beginning.”

I think Jesus means that if there is no new occupant, namely the Holy Spirit, the demon will move back in. This passage is mysterious to me, and I’ve heard a few interpretations for it. I think that is why Jesus says whoever doesn’t gather with him will be scattered. I think he’s saying that if we do not receive him into our soul, then the evil that was in us will return. There will be an occupant in the house of our soul. It’s just a question of whom.

As Jesus was speaking, though, a woman shouted to him, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you!” But Jesus responded, “Rather, blessed is the one who hears the Word of God and obeys it.” This statement readily comes to mind when I think of Catholics and their veneration of Mary. When I see Mary, a chosen human being, but still a sinner nonetheless, being prayed to, asking her to convince Jesus to answer our prayers, I think of what Jesus said: “Listening to and obeying my Word is what matters, not praising my mom for raising me.”

You get no credit for praising Mary, or even for praising Jesus. You must know him personally. A lot of people praise Michael Jordan. 20,000 people did it every night he played basketball. But how many people know him personally? How many can call him on the phone, and he would know you? If he didn’t know you, you might have to first convince his assistant to give Jordan the phone. But if you know him personally, a gatekeeper won’t be necessary. It’s like that with Jesus. He is our advocate with the Father. He goes to God on our behalf, praying for God to give us what we need. Asking Mary to pray for us is like asking your closest friend’s mom to talk with your friend for you. It’s not necessary; you can go to Jesus directly, and that’s what he wants you to do.

As the crowds continued to increase, Jesus noted, “This is a wicked generation. They always ask for signs, but no sign will be given except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for 3 days and nights, so will the Son of Man be in the belly of the earth for 3 days and nights. And just as Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh, so will the Son of Man be a sign to this generation. The Queen of the South (from Yemen or Ethiopia) will rise up and condemn this generation. She came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and now one greater than Solomon is here. The people of Nineveh will also rise up and condemn this generation. They repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.”

At another time, Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the ‘wise’, but have instead revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, it was Your good pleasure.”

Then he continued, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. I’m telling you, many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but they did not see it, and they wanted to hear what you hear, but they did not hear it.”

When Jesus finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat dinner with him; so he went and reclined at the dinner table. (The people ate while lying on the floor; they didn’t use chairs. Also, this wasn’t a dinner as much as it was an examination over a dinner table. The most important thing here is not the food or the hospitality.) The Pharisee was surprised to notice that Jesus had not washed his hands ceremonially. Jesus answered him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Didn’t the One who made the outside also make the inside? But as for what is inside you, be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.” Jesus was saying that the ceremonial cleansing the Pharisees were obsessed with were meaningless unless they were pure in their hearts. They wouldn’t need to wash everything if everything was already clean. God saw that their hands were clean, but God also sees that their hearts were filthy.

“Woe to you, Pharisees, you hypocrites, because you give a tenth of everything you have to God, but you neglect the justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter and without neglecting the former! Woe to you, Pharisees, you hypocrites, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you, Pharisees, you hypocrites, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing, making them ceremonially unclean.” When one of the experts in the Law heard this, he answered, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

Jesus turned his attention to the experts in the Law and said, “Woe to you all also, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves won’t lift a finger to help them. Woe to you all because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your ancestors who killed them! So you testify that you approve what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in His wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for all of it. Woe to you experts in the Law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you stop those who are trying to enter.”

When Jesus left, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law began to oppose him fiercely, besieging him with questions, watching and waiting to catch him in something he might say.

Chapter 28

Not Unity, But Division

(Luke 12) At the time Jesus denounced the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, there was a crowd of many thousands that gathered, even trampling on one another. Jesus spoke first to his disciples, saying, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that won’t be revealed, nor is there anything that is hidden that won’t be made known. What you’ve said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the ear will be proclaimed from the rooftops.” Then to the crowd, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and afterwards can do nothing more. I’ll show you who to fear: Fear the One who after the body is killed, has authority to throw you into Hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet even then, God doesn’t forget a single bird. Indeed, even the hairs on your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth many sparrows.”

Why did Jesus conclude this last part talking about the value of birds and the value of our lives after talking about Hell? To reassure the people that God is with them, and that no matter what happens to them, especially religious persecution, that God won’t let them be lost to Hell. He tells the people to fear God, not man, because ultimately man can only do so much, but God can do far more. If we follow man and ignore God, God can send us to Hell for eternity. If we follow God and ignore man, man may kill us, but we will be given eternal life in Heaven. So the choice is clear.

The Pharisees had made people feel like they were far from God if they weren’t following the Law of Moses perfectly, and so the people didn’t feel valuable to God. If they were persecuted for believing in Jesus, they were definitely going to feel low or far from God. So Jesus told them how valuable they were to God, and that it’s His approval that should be desired, not man’s.

This takes me back to Chinese history. During the Cultural Revolution, lots of people were persecuted for being businessmen, landlords, or teachers. They were seen as exploiters of the common man or threats to the direction of the new government. They were brought before large crowds to confess their supposed misdeeds, and were shamed by the people. Even their children persecuted them and disavowed them.

In America, this might be embarrassing for people, but ultimately it wouldn’t crush your soul. In China, where people are affirmed from the outside, not the inside, this was devastating. When you rely on the outside (people, fame, money, power, etc.) for your self-worth, those things can be taken from you. If your self-worth comes from within, that can never be taken, no matter how much people hate you, or how much money you lose. For the people in Jesus’ day, they needed to know that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were wrong about God. He did love the people, and they are His treasure, even if the religious elite disagreed.

Jesus continued, “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me publicly before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before the angels of God. Likewise, everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, in this life or in the life to come. When you are brought before the synagogues, rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

In that crowd of thousands of people, a man cried out, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” While on the surface it seemed like the man is crying out for justice and compassion, he was really asking for Jesus to leverage his religious authority to satisfy the man’s greed. He didn’t say anything about repairing the relationship with his brother or addressing why he didn’t receive any of the inheritance. All he asked for was the money. Jesus answered him, “Man, who appointed me to be a judge or arbiter between you two?” Then he said to the crowd, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

He told them all a parable: “A rich man’s farm yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What will I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and I will store my surplus grain there. And then I’ll say to myself, ‘You have plenty of grain stored for many years. Take it easy; eat, drink, and be happy.’’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’” Then Jesus said, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.”

In the parable, the rich man was so broken, yet he didn’t realize it at all, just like a lot of rich people today. He was completely alone in this story. After his workers harvested his crop, they took their money and left. The man had so much grain that he didn’t know what to do with it, so he consulted himself because he had no one to talk to. He never thought to share his surplus food. He intended to consume all of it by himself for years to come. His relationship with God was broken in such a way that he forgot that it was God who gave him that abundant harvest. He didn’t even thank God for it, much less give a tenth of it to God, or share with people. He also forgot that his life was a loan from God, and He could require his life at any time. All that grain he thought he was going to eat would be useless to him.

Not only does Jesus’ story talk about the greed of the man who didn’t receive an inheritance, but also subtly talks about the greed of the brother who was holding onto the inheritance. One brother was asking for a share of the money, while another was refusing to give it. In this way, Jesus was establishing a central thought we should all have, no matter if we’re rich or poor: Everything we have was given by God, and He can take it back whenever He wants. If we are selfish and unwilling to share what He has given us, He might strip us of everything, without warning.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t worry about your life, or about your clothes, or about your food and drink, because your Heavenly Father knows what you need. Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink or wear. The pagans run after these things. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Heavenly Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide for yourselves purses that will never wear out, a treasure in Heaven that will never go bankrupt, where no thief can steal, and no moth can eat. Where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”

“Be dressed and ready for service, and keep your lamps burning, like servants waiting for their master to withdraw from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks, the door can be immediately opened for him. It will be good for those servants whom the master finds watching and waiting for him. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve. He will make the servants recline at the table and the master will come wait on them. It will be good for the servants whose master finds them ready, even if he returns in the middle of the night or near daybreak.”

“But understand this: If the owner of the house knew what time the thief would come, he would never allow his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will also come at an hour you don’t expect.”

Peter asked, “Lord, is this parable for us or for everyone?” Jesus answered, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager whom the master will put in charge of all the servants, to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds taking care of the house when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put that servant in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time to return.’ And then he begins to beat the other servants, both men and women, and eating and getting drunk. The master will come on a day and hour when the servant is not expecting him. The master will cut the man to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.”

This can be a bit confusing, so I’ll explain what’s going on here. Jesus was telling the disciples and anyone listening to be watching and waiting for their master to return. They should open the door for him immediately. It means they should be looking out the window waiting for him. Yet Jesus is also telling them to be busy taking care of the household. The master should find them working. So which is it, watch or work? Both. If the master comes home to find all the housework undone, will he be happy? Of course not. If he comes home to find everything done, but he has to wait for a long time, knocking on the door, will he be happy? No. Our task is to do the work that we are assigned to do, and be diligent about it, so that whenever Jesus comes to us, we can be ready for him to see it. The house manager should serve the food to other servants. The gatekeeper should watch and be ready to open the door to his master. It’s a team effort, and everyone has to do their part.

Jesus continued, “The servant who knows the master’s will and doesn’t get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many stripes. But the one who does not know the master’s will and does things deserving of punishment will be beaten with few stripes. To whom much is given, much will be demanded; to whom much is entrusted, much more will be asked of him.”

As I write this, I am aware of my desire for all the people of China to become Christians and follow Jesus, and for all Americans to know the real Jesus and rekindle their love for him. I look around at the world and see a lot of suffering, and a lot of evil. Much of the suffering I see is caused by some individual or some group being inconsiderate of someone else. For me, Christianity is a social safeguard against evil. As long as the believer follows the Bible, I always believe that good things will happen. However, when we do not follow the Bible, bad things happen, even if we claim to be Christians. A lot of people say they are Christians, but then mistreat gay people, as if bullying them will make them straight.

For me, I want everyone to believe and follow Jesus, but Christ is a bit different. He doesn’t want simply a large number of people. He sees the heart and knows the mind. He wants dedicated people, who will follow him through the good and bad times. He does not want the people who are only with him for the good times, but forsake him when difficulties come. Jesus has already demonstrated before that he is not afraid of losing followers. The 12 disciples in his group were the ones who did not forsake him after receiving a difficult message. He asked the disciples at the time, “Will you also forsake me?” But Peter answered, “Where will we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I want to ask every reader who is already a Christian, what will you do when difficulties arise because of your faith in Christ?

There was a story I heard from Latvia, near Russia. The story comes from the book “Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes”. A committee was interviewing students for a Christian academy. When one of the committee members was asked about the interview questions, he said, “The most important question we ask is ‘When were you baptized?” The reason for the question was not to find out how long someone has been a follower of Jesus. The question was to find out what kind of risks they took to be a Christian. Under Soviet rule, being a Christian was a big risk to your social standing, your career, even your life. To be a Christian meant compromising your future at that time. If you were baptized at that time, it would show a lot of courage and dedication to Jesus. The committee would not need much more information about you. But if you were baptized after the collapse of the Soviets, there was no needed courage, because the threat was gone. Then the committee would need to ask more questions about you before they decided to let you in the academy. Once again, Christians, what are you willing to endure to be a follower of Jesus? Is he really everything to you? Is a safe and secure eternity important to you? Or is temporary comfort the most important? You decide.

Here is what Jesus said: “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and I’m under great distress until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace to the world? I tell you, No! But rather, a sword. From now on there will be five in one family, divided against each other, two against three and three against two. They will be divided, father against son and son against father; mother against daughter and daughter against mother; in-law against in-law.”

I remember a similar experience when I first started following Christ. Me and my mother, whom I love, were also divided this way, because she said she was a Christian, but her lifestyle did not seem fitting for a Christian. For a year or two, we avoided talking about the Bible, because that division was constantly there, and we would always argue about it.

One of my friends had it worse. She is Chinese, and her family thinks she is crazy for believing in God. They would always tell her that she should just focus on making money, but she knew that chasing after money was an empty, meaningless pursuit, and that knowing God was far more valuable to her. To this day, her family still treats her with contempt. If you believe in Christ, you may likely face this kind of hardship. You will then have to decide if it is worth the suffering to follow Jesus.

Maybe I can encourage you with this thought: Just like Peter said, “Where else will we go? You, Jesus, have the words of eternal life.” In the same way, think about it this way: If you never follow Jesus, or if you start and then give up, you can continue living your life of maybe 50 or 40 or 30 more years. That life will be a mixed bag of good and bad times, even if you are wealthy and powerful. After you die, you will still exist, and you will stand before God. You will exist for eternity, in either Heaven or Hell. When you stand before God to be judged, you will be judged by Jesus Christ directly, but instead of being judged by the self-giving Savior, you will stand in front of Jesus as an enemy. Because you have no relationship with him, you will have no hope for being saved and going into Heaven. Instead, you will go to Hell. It will be too late to change your mind and receive him. For the believer, they will bow at the feet of Jesus and acknowledge that he is the rightful ruler of the world; they will do so happily, and will be joyfully welcomed by Jesus Christ into Heaven. However, the unbeliever will also bow down and acknowledge that Jesus is the rightful ruler of the world, but for them, it will be an admission of defeat. Jesus will have no other option than to punish them for their sins, whereas the believers will already have their sins washed away. Jesus himself has absorbed the punishment that the believers deserve. I will explain this more, later.

Jesus continued speaking to the crowd, “When you see a cloud rise in the west, you say that it’s going to rain, and it rains. And when the wind from the south blows in, you say it’s going to be hot, and it gets hot. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the skies and the earth. How it is that you can’t interpret this present time?! Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the judge, try hard to be reconciled to him while you on going there, or he may turn you over to the judge, and the judge will turn you over to the officer, and the officer will throw you in prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you pay every bit.”

It seems like Jesus was talking about paying back our debts to our neighbors, but what he was really saying is that the people should know that the Kingdom of God is near and coming soon. They should be able to discern from the Bible that the Messiah is coming to bring the Kingdom of God, and because the Kingdom is so close, they should prepare for it by being reconciled to God. Jesus was describing himself again, as the one who holds the debt. Jesus was saying that we should make peace with God while we still have time, because when we get to the judge, that opportunity will pass, but there is an added depth to the story. By saying that we should reconcile with the one whom we owe money, we should negotiate with him for an acceptable repayment plan. If the debtor owes more money than he can pay, he must rely on the debt-holder to be merciful and craft an acceptable repayment plan. However, the debtor must meet those conditions.

With Jesus, the debt we owe is our sin. It is a debt we cannot bear, so we have to make peace with Jesus and accept whatever terms he dictates. We should also remember that the debt-holder is losing a lot of money by negotiating a merciful repayment plan. In the same way, Jesus pays a heavy price in order to make peace with us. What terms does Jesus dictate for reconciliation? Simply to turn from our sin and put our trust in him as our savior. Just like the debtor has to rely on the debt-holder to be merciful and not imprison him, we must rely on Jesus to be merciful to us and not throw us into Hell. As the example says, we would not get out until the very last penny/mao is paid. For us, our sin is immeasurable; we would never get out of Hell. Accept the reconciliation plan while you have the chance.

While Jesus was talking about this, there were some people who told Jesus about the cruelty of Pontius Pilate, the prefect. He had mixed the blood of Galileans with their sacrifices. He deliberately profaned their holy sacrament with murder. He had a history of offending his subjects’ religious sensibilities. Jesus responded, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, No! But if you don’t repent, you will also perish. Or those 18 who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, No! But if you don’t repent, you will also perish.”

Oftentimes we have a hard time believing that evil things can happen to us, so we try to think of reasons why something bad happened to someone. Whenever a young man from Chicago gets shot, we often rationalize it away by saying that the person who was shot was part of a gang or had friends who were in gangs, or any number of reasons. We don’t like to think about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, (as I have been, more than once). We don’t like to think that our lives can be immediately ended. We don’t like to think that our goals and dreams can be snatched away from us, but such is the uncertainty of life, and only God can save us from the evils of this world. If He does not allow us to escape death, we still have the responsibility to be ready to meet Him, at any moment. I have family and friends who know they should follow God, but they do not want to. They say that they will follow God later in life, but they foolishly neglect the fact that they could die any second.

I have a classmate who died from an aneurism. She was standing with her friends at a party, and as she was talking with her friends, she dropped dead. She was 22. I don’t remember any details about her relationship with God, but I don’t think she followed Him. When I was in high school, one of my classmates died in his sleep. That said, I do remember him having a good relationship with God, so I know he is in a better place. Whatever the circumstances of our deaths, whether it is quick and painless, or whether it is after immense suffering and anguish, the point Jesus is making is still the same: Prepare to meet God.

Jesus told the people a parable about this lesson: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but didn’t find any. So he said to the caretaker of the vineyard, ‘For 3 years I have been coming to look for fruit on this tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ But the caretaker replied, ‘Sir, leave it alone for one more year. I will dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, good! If not, then cut it down.”

The tree didn’t know what the owner had demanded or the timeframe in which the owner demanded it. I’m sure if the tree could grow fruit, it would, and quickly if it knew that the owner was prepared to cut it down. Just like the tree, we don’t know when the owner of our lives will take it back from us. After the caretaker convinced him, the owner of the vineyard showed mercy and allowed more time for the caretaker to try to fertilize the tree. However, the tree still didn’t know that it had a deadline. In the same way, we don’t know the end of our lives. For many of us who have run from God, we don’t know how merciful He is being with us, and we do not know our deadline.

There is one critical detail that we must remember, and it points us back to the character of Jesus. In the story, God is the owner of the vineyard. Jesus is the caretaker, and we are the tree. We cannot bear fruit; we have proven to be barren over the last three years. So we are dependent on the actions of the caretaker, Jesus, to fertilize us and create the conditions for us to produce fruit. We completely rely on Jesus to save us from destruction.

Chapter 29

No New Friends

(Luke 13) Moving on to a Sabbath day, Jesus was in the synagogue, as was his custom. He was teaching in there, and a woman was there, who had been crippled by a demon for 18 years. She couldn’t stand up straight at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your illness.” Then Jesus put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. The synagogue ruler was indignant because Jesus healed her on the Sabbath. Once again, they had a problem with even the simplest “work” being done on the Sabbath day. “There are six days for work! So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath!” he said. Jesus said to him, “You hypocrite! Don’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to get water? Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept in bondage for 18 long years, be set free from her bondage on the Sabbath?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things Jesus was doing.

Then he asked, “What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It’s like a mustard seed, the smallest of seeds, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew up and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” And again he asked, “What shall I compare the Kingdom of God to? It’s like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

I suppose the message is that the Kingdom of God will start very small, and then grow and become very big, or have a large impact. A little yeast raises the whole lump of dough. A small seed produced a big tree. Remember that Jesus was speaking in a country that really only served as a land bridge between North Africa and Southern Europe. Judea was a region of the Roman Empire that was considered backwards and uncultured. A backwater. Even though Jerusalem was a beautiful city, it didn’t amount to much in the eyes of the Romans. Yet it was here that God was preparing the salvation of the world. Remember that God can be doing this currently in places you have never heard of and probably never cared about. As the Bible says, “The eyes of the Lord run through the whole world, searching for someone whose heart is blameless to give strong support to.” Where are the places we don’t care about? Who are the people we don’t think about? God is working there, but we just don’t see it yet.

Jesus was going through the towns and villages, teaching as he headed towards Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few going to be saved?” Jesus answered him, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because I’m telling you, many will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and shuts the door, they will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from the east and the west and the north and the south, and will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Jesus’ audience thought they would be saved because of their genetic connection to Abraham. They thought they didn’t have to be serious about their relationship with God. They went through the motions and played the role of faithful, godly people, yet God knew their hearts. He knew they didn’t have a genuine heart for Him, and they were thus excluded from the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile the non-Jews, whom Jews looked down on, would be going into the Kingdom of God. The irony! Let me give you an example that is more poignant.

I went to school with someone who is now a famous athlete. I even know his close friend. I could say to that athlete, “We went to school together, and we graduated the same year.” But he would quickly say, “Yeah, but I don’t really know you.” He would be suspicious of why I was coming to him. He has been approached by many asking for money, and he would be justified to assume I was doing the same. He doesn’t know me. However, his close friend will never lack, because the rich and famous athlete knows him, and he knew him before he became famous or rich.

Many Black celebrities in America have expressed that they have a policy of not making any new friends. Their “No New Friends” policy means they don’t trust people’s motives. They require an earlier friendship before they had money; only those people could be seen as genuine. On the Day of Judgment, it will be the same with Jesus. His coming will be in two different styles: In his first coming, he was anonymous. He was an average person with no noticeable glory. However, when he returns, he will shine with the glory of God and in the company of the angels in Heaven. He will be unmistakable, and when that time comes, it will be too late to accept him. Befriend him while he’s still the common man.

For those who say they are Christians right now, I have a question for you: What is your relationship with Jesus? Will you say to him, “I went to church and read the Bible”? Won’t he say, “Good. You should do those things. But I still don’t know you.”? It is not enough to pretend to be a Christian. God sees the heart and knows the truth. If you have come to Jesus just for your personal gain, you will be disappointed when he says “I don’t know you.” If there is no change in your heart, you should be worried about whether you really know Jesus. Perhaps God really needs you to hear this, just like the people Jesus was speaking with; otherwise, you would find yourself on the outside looking in. You better have a better connection with Jesus than “I just don’t want to go to Hell.”

Chapter 30

Preparation for Judgment

At the time Jesus was saying these things, some Pharisees came to him and warned him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” Maybe they were telling the truth, or maybe they just wanted to get rid of him. Jesus responded, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem!” The meaning of his first statement is unclear; I’m not sure about what he means by “today, tomorrow and the third day,” but I find it funny how Jesus uses sarcasm to denounce Jerusalem. The irony is Jerusalem was said to be the city of God, the place of the Temple. However, the city of God has a bad track record in hearing God’s word.

The prophets who were sent to Jerusalem were frequently mistreated, beaten, and killed, which prompted Jesus to lament, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you! How often I wanted to gather your children together, like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing… Look, your house is left desolate to you. I tell you, you won’t see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

(Luke 14) Later, Jesus went to a prominent Pharisee’s house on the Sabbath, and he was being carefully watched. There was a man in front of him who was suffering from abnormal swelling in his body, maybe a tumor. Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts of the Law, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” When they remained silent, Jesus grabbed the man, healed him, and sent him on his way. Then he asked them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, won’t you immediately pull him out?” Again, they had nothing to say.

When Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them a parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Then Jesus said to the host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your siblings, your relatives, or your rich neighbors. If you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the blind, the lame, the crippled, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

This should be a lesson to all of us. We should not only do things for people who can repay us; we should also do things for people who can’t repay us. I saw a video online of a man that was holding a sign in the middle of the road. He was asking for money. He was a military veteran who had trouble finding a job, and so he lost his home. Normally people are very suspicious of beggars, and we all have trouble discerning who truly seems poor. A young man decided to give him some money, about $100. If anyone gives to the poor, it’s usually $1 or $2. Never more than $10.

The homeless man was so overwhelmed that he cried and hugged the young man. When the young man left, he continued to watch what the homeless man would do. He thought the man would buy alcohol or drugs with it, but he went and shared that money with a group of other homeless people. We have a phrase for that: “pay it forward”. We take the money that was given to us and we freely give it to others.

(If you are listening to the audio book, you’ll know that you couldn’t buy this book for just yourself. I wanted to push the “pay it forward” concept here, too.) The young man went to the homeless man again to tell him that he was watching, and said he was surprised to see the homeless man share his money with other homeless people. The homeless man said that he knew what it was like to be homeless, and so it was easier for him to have compassion on others and understood their situation. The barrier of trust is not there. He just gave it, and it was a blessing to everyone. In the entire story, no one was able to pay anyone back. The other homeless people could not pay back the homeless veteran, the veteran could not pay back the young man, but God will pay back each of them.

When Jesus said God would repay them at the resurrection of the righteous, someone sitting at the table said to him, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” In my view, it’s as if the Pharisee is saying that those who eat at the feast are the most qualified and are selected out of the most elite Jews in Israel. He makes it seem like a competition that one would be lucky to win. (And of course he dressed up his remarks with religious language.) It’s actually far from that scenario.

So Jesus told a parable in response. “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet, he sent his servants to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field and must go see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I am on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ And another said, ‘I have just married a virgin, so I cannot come.’ The servant came back to the master and reported everything. Then the master of the house became angry and ordered the servant to go out into the streets and alleys, to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame. After he did so, the servant came back and said, ‘I have done as you ordered, but there is still room.’ Then the master told him, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

In the parable, Jesus turns around the Pharisee’s assertion about the Kingdom of God. Instead of being about meeting a high standard, it’s really about willingness to come! Even the excuses the invited guests were making were unbelievable and even insulting. No one buys a field without seeing it and examining its worth extensively. No one backs out of a banquet, unless it is especially dire. No one ever, ever, ever says that they just married a virgin and thus will not come. That last excuse was disrespectful, vulgar, and immodest.

Yet we also see the character of God through the master of the banquet. When he gets angry, he instead turns his righteous anger into grace for those who were not invited. In the same way, instead of pouring out His wrath on humanity, God chooses to invite us into His Kingdom through His Son Jesus. Who else do you know that can take anger and turn it into kindness for someone else? It’s rare. In effect, Jesus is saying to the Pharisees there, “God is not a harsh man. He is not asking you to measure up to a certain impossible standard. He’s asking you to just come in, but you refused. If you are excluded from the Kingdom of God, don’t blame it on God; you excluded yourself.”

Another time, Jesus was traveling and large crowds were around him. He turned to the people and said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” When Jesus said that you must hate your loved ones, he wasn’t talking about having bad feelings towards them. What he meant was we must love him so much that our love for our family and friends should look like hatred in comparison. In other words, we love them less. You don’t love all people equally. You don’t care about a random person on the street the same way you care for your mother or father. Jesus demands the same level of commitment, and he wants the people to really think about whether they will follow him in good times and bad.

Jesus said, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to finish it? If you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you and say, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’ Or suppose a king is about to go to war with another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether his 10,000 soldiers are able to oppose the other king’s 20,000? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other king is still far away, seeking the terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who will not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can its flavor be restored? It’s not good for food, or soil, or the manure pile. It is instead thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear.”

If Jesus were just a mere human, it would be inappropriate for him to demand total commitment from all the people. He is telling people to place him at the highest priority in their lives, even above their families and even above their own lives. If he’s just a man, this is a crazy thing to do, but if he is God in human form, he must demand their total allegiance. As the first commandment goes, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Those gods can include family, friends, and even your own life and comfort. It is not enough to have God in your life, but to have Him as the king of your life. Of course you should love your family and friends, but you must love God more than them. When Jesus said that houses would be divided against each other, this is what he was thinking about. When fathers are against sons, it is because someone rejects Jesus, but someone else accepts him and places him as their top priority, causing disputes in the family. It’s an unfortunate reality, but even then, God demands perseverance and allegiance.

Moving on, the goal of Jesus’ next message will be threefold: first, Jesus wants sinners to repent, by telling them the angels of God will rejoice when they turn from their sins. Second, Jesus wants the sinners to feel welcomed by God, not ashamed. Finally, He wants the people of God to treat sinners with the same kind of love God treats them with. So he drove the point home with this example:

(Luke 15) “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to the father, ‘Father, give me my inheritance!’ So the father divided the estate between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all his belongings and he left to a distant country, and he wasted all his money on his wild lifestyle. After he spent everything he had, there was a severe famine in the country, and he began to be in need. He went and worked for a citizen of the country, who sent him to work in the field to feed the pigs. He wished he could eat the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and I’m here starving to death?! I’m going to return to my father’s house and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went home to his father, but when he was still a far away, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran out to his son and threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ The father said to his servants, ‘Quickly! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and put sandals on his feet, and bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate! For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost, but now he is found.’”

“And so they began to celebrate. Meanwhile the older brother was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called over one of the servants and asked what is going on. ‘Your brother has returned,’ he replied. ‘And your father has killed a fattened calf to celebrate because he came back safe.’ The older brother became angry and refused to go in, so his father went out and pleaded with him. He answered, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours comes back, after squandering your money with prostitutes, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ The father replied, ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost, but now he is found.’”

I wonder what the son’s reaction was when his father told him that. The story is not complete, and Jesus wanted it to be that way. He wanted the listeners to think about their reaction to the father’s last words and decide how they feel about it. The son feels wronged because he never got any special treatment, even though he was faithful. Meanwhile his younger brother had committed the most heinous of sins. First, by approaching his father and demanding his inheritance, he was basically saying that he wished his father would hurry and die so he could get the money. Also, he jumped ahead of his brother, demanding a share of the inheritance. After staying a short time at home, he left for a distant land and spent all the money living wildly, until the unexpected happened. Surely if life was good, he would never have returned to his father’s house, but the famine made him realize how bad his situation was.

Given the way he left, it’s amazing he even thought that he should return at all! But he did, and he accepted that he may be only lucky to be hired as a worker. The father could have easily said, “If I’m dead to you, you are dead to me.” Certainly he should not expect to be received as a son, like nothing ever happened. If anything, his father should beat him in the streets for this public disgrace. Instead, his father had been watching daily, looking for his son to return. Many days he had gone inside his house, disappointed, missing his son. When he finally saw him, he ran out to his son and embraced him. The son couldn’t even finish his apology before the father lavished him with precious items and restored his place as son. He did not treat his son according to his sins, even though he deserved every bit of punishment that his father could have given him.

Imagine how the son will treat his father from that day forward. Imagine what his attitude around the house will be like. I can guarantee it won’t be the same as before. He has received immeasurable grace from the very person he immeasurably insulted. I also wonder how the older son, the faithful son, will behave now that his brother has returned and been accepted back into the family. And will the older brother recognize the change in his younger brother? Your worldview will dictate the end of this story. But before you finish the story in your mind, consider one of my friends.

My friend has lived in China for several years, and has a girlfriend whom I can only describe as dedicated and resilient in the face of racial prejudice. My friend is black, and when the two are outside, she holds his hand everywhere they go. When they get strange looks, she grasps him even tighter, demonstrating her love for him in full rebellion against the small-minded attitudes of others. (This is so profound given the social pressure to conform. “The duck that flies up gets shot.”)

Anyway, my friend had been going through a bit of an identity crisis, and was asking a lot of existential questions during the last year or so. He was also working towards his career goals, his part-time job, and his studies, so he didn’t give a lot of quality time to his girlfriend. This went on for a prolonged time.

When I talked with him about it, he admitted he needed to give her more time, and confessed that if he was her, he would’ve left.

He readily admits now that he doesn’t deserve her, but that he’s so glad she stayed, and that she endured his neglect long enough for him to realize his need to change.

My friend and his girlfriend are now thriving. He has experienced firsthand what grace looks and feels like. Maybe reading about this story, you might have encouraged the girl to leave if she was your friend. The thing about grace and mercy is that everyone wants it for themselves, but not necessarily for others. When you experience it, though, you are grateful for it, and will never take it for granted. Have you had this experience?

A bit later, Jesus was talking to his disciples, and he told them a parable that was so difficult for me to understand at first. Here it is: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called the manager in and said, ‘What is this I hear about you?! Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg. I know what I’ll do, so that when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ So he called in each of his master’s debtors. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ ‘900 gallons of olive oil,’ the debtor replied. The manager told him, ‘Sit down quickly and make it 450.’ He asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ The debtor told him, ‘1000 bushels of wheat.’ And the manager said, ‘Take your bill and make it 800.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”

This is very confusing to me and many other Christians, because it seems like Jesus is endorsing fraud. However, when I studied more about this story, Jesus is using two bad guys to demonstrate the goodness of God. Here’s what is going on in the story: The rich man hears about the manager’s wastefulness and calls him in to scold and fire him. By asking, ‘What is this I hear about you?’ The rich man is trying to get more information from the manager, hoping that he will incriminate himself, but the manager remains silent. The rich man demands he turn over the accounts and records, because he was fired.

Knowing that he was in big trouble, the manager decides to call all the debtors, who do not know that he was just fired. When they confirm the amount of their debts, the manager has them lower their bills. This actually cheats the rich man. Surely with reduced debts, the debtors will return home rejoicing and spreading the news to their families and friends. This would be cause for celebration for the neighborhood. The people would be grateful to the rich man for his mercy. He would gain a lot of goodwill and face for reducing their debts. However, if he came and told the people that his manager’s actions were unauthorized and that the debts were still owed, the people would surely hate him. This is why he commends his manager, because the manager knew what kind of person the rich man was.

It was a big risk that he took to secure his future. The rich man could have had him arrested for fraud. Instead, he lets the manager go free, and everyone in the town keeps silent when they later find out what really happened. The manager will be welcomed by the people and employed, and the rich man will be admired. Just like the manager knew the character and nature of the rich man, we must know the character and nature of God. If the manager got it wrong, he would be in jail. If we get it wrong, we could wind up in Hell.

Jesus continued speaking: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will cling to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. But he said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts. What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.”

Now, many who are reading this book or listening to this audio book love money. Renounce this evil. Money is not a problem if you keep your love for God as the most important thing, but if you are attached to money, you will not be attached to God. He knows what you need and will provide it. God may even entrust a lot of money into your care, for the building of His kingdom on earth, but it is not yours to keep; it belongs to God. Do not worship money; it is a created thing, and it only has value to you when you trade it away. It is not the creator. It gives no life. It is just paper, but the God who made you can give you anything you need, even if you don’t have money. You don’t have to be rich to get what you need, and you don’t have to have money to have peace and contentment. (I speak from experience.) Worship the creator, not the creation. Serve God, not Money. Use your money to serve God. Use your time to serve God. Use your life to serve God.

Chapter 31

Saving the Best for Last

(Luke 16:16) Jesus once said, “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until the time of John. And since that time, the good news of the Kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. The Kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. It is easier for Heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to disappear from the Law of God.” I’m still not clear what Jesus meant when he said the Kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Some people think it’s a bad thing, like a battle between good and evil, while others think it’s a good thing, because people are doing everything to enter God’s Kingdom. I haven’t heard a great argument either way.

Concerning the overall theme, I think Jesus meant that the Word of God will be fulfilled, and that what was written centuries before would certainly be carried out. God, in the writings of Isaiah, took pride in making predictions about what would happen. He would challenge the people to go to their false gods and make requests from them, and to ask the priests of those gods for predictions of the future. And when they would fail, God would fulfill his predictions. The life of Jesus was fulfilling numerous predictions about the coming Messiah, not just from his birth to a virgin mother, or the place of his birth in the city of Bethlehem, but even in things like his travel routes and the time he emerged to the nation as the Messiah. No matter how much some people hated him, there was nothing they could do about the Word of God. The Bible validated Jesus time after time.

With the Word of God in mind, Jesus told another parable: “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate, a beggar named Lazarus was laid. He was covered with sores, and he wished (in vain) to be fed with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels of God carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus at his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool my tongue, because I’m in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things. But now, he is comforted, while you are in agony. And besides all this, there is a large chasm between us, so that those who want to travel back and forth cannot.’ But the rich man answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have 5 brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets. Let your brothers listen to them.’ But the rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham. If someone comes back from the dead and goes to them, they will repent.’ Finally Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Jesus, in this story, gives us a glimpse of Hell, but he also gives us a glimpse of ourselves, even when we are dead. In this story, the beggar has a name, Lazarus. It is a Greek variation of the name Eleazar, and it means “helped by God”. It’s ironic that this poor man is named ‘helped by God’, considering his circumstances in life. It would seem that the rich man should have that name, right? It should be noted that this is the only time Jesus gives a name to the characters in his stories, so the name is important. One way you can see the help from God is the social care of the man. Though the people probably couldn’t afford to help him, they knew someone who could, and so they took him to the gate of the rich man. Even the dogs had mercy on the man and lick his sores. They are likely guard dogs, trained to defend the rich man’s property, but even they were kind to the beggar. The rich man didn’t have compassion on the beggar. Yet he had feasts every day, and wore the most expensive clothes to show off his wealth. Every. Day.

As for the beggar, Lazarus, he died and was carried into Paradise with Abraham waiting for him. In essence, Abraham treated Lazarus like an honored guest. When the rich man died, he woke up in Hell, where he saw Abraham and Lazarus far away. Now, look how he treats Lazarus. The first thing he asked Abraham to do is to send Lazarus as a servant. He still mistreated Lazarus, even when dead and in Hell. He would never have asked Abraham to come and give him water. Instead he truly saw Lazarus as lower than him, even in Hell. He asked Abraham repeatedly to ask Lazarus to do this or that, and given Lazarus’ nature and cultural customs, he likely would have done it. However, Abraham was the one who was stopping his honored guest from doing any more work. It was time for Lazarus to rest from his suffering and turmoil and be comforted. When Abraham said to the rich man that his brothers wouldn’t hear Lazarus anyway, it may seem unbelievable, but remember that even in Hell, the rich man still saw Lazarus the same way as when they were alive. If Lazarus returned to earth, even the brothers would see him the same way. That’s why Abraham said the brothers should listen to Moses and the Prophets. They have God’s Word. It is their only hope for salvation.

When I think about the evil people in this world, sometimes I wish that when they are judged, that they would acknowledge their guilt and see the error of their ways, but it seems that they will never change, even when dead and condemned to Hell. The same man who looks down on me for being Black will continue to look down on me for being Black, even when he is in Hell. Who you are is who you will be, and punishment doesn’t change that. Standing in front of God and being interrogated for wicked decisions will still not change the nature of the sinner. The Bible simply says that all mouths will be stopped, and the whole world will stand guilty before God; all the justifications that we tell ourselves will be removed.

(Luke 17) Another time, Jesus told his disciples, “Things that cause people to stumble and sin are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a thousand-pound stone hung around their neck than for them to cause of these little ones to stumble and sin. So watch yourselves.”

“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them. And if they repent, forgive them.” But Peter asked, “But Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him? Up to seven times?!” Jesus answered, “Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and come back to you apologizing, you must forgive them. Not just seven times, but 70 times 7.” The disciples were didn’t want to hear that. They said, “Lord, increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell this mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.” What he’s saying is that they don’t need any more faith; they need to obey.

Jesus continued, “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will you say to the servant, ‘Come here and sit down and eat’? Or rather, would you say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready to wait on me while I eat and drink, and then afterward you can eat and drink’? Will you thank your servant for doing what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything your master told you to do, you should say, ‘I am an unworthy servant; I have only done my duty.’”

As Jesus was continuing on to Jerusalem, he traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. When he was entering a village, 10 men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they went on their way, they were cleansed. One of them, a Samaritan, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Jesus asked, “Weren’t all 10 men cleansed? Where are the other 9? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to the man, “Stand and go; your faith has healed you.”

Another time, Jesus was being asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come. Jesus answered, “The coming of the Kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is’, because the Kingdom of God is in your midst.” Then he said to the disciples, “The time is coming when you will wish to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. People will tell you, ‘There he is’ or ‘Here he is.’ Don’t go running after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.”

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from Heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, no one who is on the rooftops should go inside to get their possessions. Likewise, no one who is in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! (She looked back at Sodom as they were fleeing and was instantly turned into a pillar of salt.) Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night, two people will be in one bed; one will be taken, and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken, and the other left.”

“Where, Lord?” the disciples asked.

Jesus answered cryptically, “Where there is a dead body, the vultures will gather.”

Anytime I read that passage, I have trouble understanding it, but here is what I learned when I researched it: Jesus is talking about a time when he would not be on earth, but would be soon returning. For the disciples to wish to see one of his days, it means they wish he could be there with them, but there would be false messiahs that would come along. This happened during the lives of the disciples, when there were many false messiahs who came saying that they were sent by God to liberate the people from the Romans. (Soon after, Jerusalem was crushed by the Romans.) Regarding his return to the earth, Jesus still had to break the people’s misperceptions about the Messiah. They continued to neglect the fact that the Messiah was prophesied to suffer, be rejected, and killed by his own people. They continued to think that the Messiah’s first and primary objective was political liberation. They continued to neglect the spiritual role of the Messiah. When Jesus said that he would first be rejected and suffer, he was telling the Pharisees that the future would not be smooth for anyone, himself included.

By saying that his return would be like the lightning, he also wanted the people not to be deceived by false messiahs who could pose as Jesus or even perform miracles like him. Rather, when the real Jesus returned, it would be obvious to the whole world. It would also be marked by the sudden seizing of each believer because each believer would be gathered to him. However, when this would happen would not be obvious. Life would be going on as usual when he suddenly appeared. There will be no countdowns until the end of the world, nor would anyone be planning for anything. People would be getting married; people would be planting and harvesting crops, and so on.

However, the last thing Jesus said sounds very cryptic and strange. When he says ‘where the bodies lay, the vultures will gather’, it sounds like he’s saying the people would die, most likely the believers. Many people who have read that think the people will suddenly die and go to heaven with Jesus, but that’s not the case at all. Jesus was just using a phrase to show that the answer to their question is obvious. It should be obvious to the disciples where the seized believers would be taken: they would be taken to Jesus.

(Luke 18) Right after that, Jesus told the disciples a parable to show that they should always pray and never give up. “In a certain town, there was a judge who didn’t fear God and didn’t care about what people thought. And there was a widow in the town who kept coming to him, pleading, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about what people think, because this woman keeps bothering me, I will make sure she gets justice, so that she won’t wear me out!’ Listen to what the unjust judge says. Won’t God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out day and night to Him? I tell you, He will make sure that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

In this story, Jesus was talking about persistence. Don’t give up after the first bad result. Keep praying for what you need. Keep praying for justice. God will give it to you. Don’t give up. If you’ve got cancer, take your medicine and live a healthy life as you continue to pray. If you are single and want to find someone to marry, keep praying, and putting yourself in positions to meet someone up to your standard. I can speak to the truth of this. I was searching for a wife for 9 years. And being a young man, it was more challenging to control my urges. I was not willing to settle for a woman that was not spiritually compatible with me, and I wasn’t going to date a woman just to avoid loneliness. I spent my time developing myself, my career and studies, my relationship with God, and everything else. Then when God (finally) gave me someone, I had a much better vision for what our relationship needed than most guys. And the cultural barriers were easier to overcome.

Yet while I was still single, just months before I met my wife, I despaired that there were beautiful women all around me, but there was no one for me. “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink…” I remember being sad because of all the time that passed as I searched. I thought of all the girls I talked to in college, and how many of them wouldn’t give me the time of day. I thought of the few girls that liked me, but I didn’t like them; and the second-guessing whether I should call them and see what could happen. I thought of the beautiful girls from back home in Chicago that didn’t know Christ, or they did, but didn’t really follow him. I thought of how easy it was for guys who didn’t have the same values that I did; they just wanted someone to sleep with, and didn’t have to worry about evaluating a girl’s mentality or marriageability, or their own for that matter.

It wasn’t easy to endure what I did, but now I can look to the future with hope, because some of my goals are close enough to reach out and touch. Now, I have a wonderful wife, better than I could’ve hoped for. I sacrificed the short-term pleasure for the long-term security. Soon, Lord willing, I won’t have to work for anyone, and my wife and I can plan a good situation for our children, and be able to afford the best schools for them.

And you know what? That doesn’t make me any better than my peers. But it does mean that my path in life kept me from many pitfalls. Never having a girlfriend or being a virgin in high school would get you laughed at where I come from. But I will never be ashamed of refusing to torpedo my future, certainly not for people’s approval.

Persistence is more than just praying for God’s help and favor over and over again. Persistence is also the ability to suffer hardships and setbacks, and get back up and keep moving forward, no matter what the obstacles are.

One thing Jesus frequently encountered was people who were so sure of their own righteousness and they looked down on everyone else, so Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even lift his eyes to heaven, but struck his chest and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man went away justified before God. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.”

That attitude also exists in the Church, where people inside may say, “Thank God I’m not like those crazy people outside. All they do is smoke and drink and curse and fight. I come to church twice a week, and I sing in the choir, and I read my Bible every day, and I give my tithes and offerings faithfully.” Sound familiar? It even happens with Christians comparing themselves to other Christians. “I’m glad my church isn’t like that other church down the block. Their members always come late, and their choir sounds so bad, and their pastor is so boring. Our church teaches the truth, and our church has great musicians and singers, and our pastor is interesting to listen to, and our members come wearing their best clothes.” It sounds silly the way I’m phrasing it, but some variation of this happens all the time.

I myself was like that, too. I thought of myself as more righteous than others, because of their more visible sins. My pastor set me straight, though, when he said, “The only person you’re better than is who you were before you met Jesus.” Instead of comparing myself to others, I now compare myself to Jesus directly, and try to meet his standard.

The Pharisee and the tax collector were sinful people, but only the tax collector acknowledged his sin and humbled himself. The Pharisee was self-righteous and arrogant, and he did not acknowledge his sins. Instead he praised himself. The tax collector extorts money from people—poor people. He confessed his sin and asked forgiveness. God is willing to forgive both of them, but only the tax collector was humble enough to admit that he didn’t deserve mercy; he could only ask for it. As Jesus said before, “Ask and you shall receive.”

Now I want you to think about two people: the rich, young ruler from earlier, and the 4th generation preacher’s kid? What is the difference between them? When Jesus spoke to the rich, young ruler, the man said he followed God’s law from his youth. He knew all the right answers. The 4th generation preacher’s kid also knows all the right answers about how to get into Heaven. Yet this head-knowledge does not automatically translate into heart-knowledge.

That kid might think he is royalty, and may misbehave every chance he gets. In both the kid’s case and the rich, young ruler’s, neither of them have ‘bought-in’ to the message of Christ. Their comfort has deceived them. They have not entered the Kingdom of God, yet they seem to have the entire Kingdom mapped out. Both must be confronted and made uncomfortable. They must ‘buy-in’ to Jesus. They must thirst for righteousness, like the tax collector.

Chapter 32

When is the Kingdom Coming?

(Luke 18:31) After these events, Jesus was very close to Jerusalem, and so he pulled his disciples aside and told them, “Everything that was written by the prophets about the Son of Man is about to be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him. They will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” The disciples didn’t understand what he was talking about, because the meaning was hidden from them. They likely assumed he was speaking allegorically.

It was during that time that the mother of James and John came and knelt before Jesus. “What do you want?” Jesus asked. She answered, “Grant that one of my sons can sit at your left hand and the other at your right hand in your Kingdom.” Jesus responded, “You don’t know what you are asking.” Then he turned to the two brothers and asked, “Can you drink from the cup I am going to drink? And will you be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” They answered, “We can.”

Jesus answered them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my left or right hand is not mine to give. These places belong to the one for whom God prepared it.” When the other ten disciples heard about this, they became indignant with the two brothers, but Jesus called them over and said, “You see how the rulers of the Gentiles lord over the people, and their high officials exercise authority over them? It will not be that way with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must also be your servant. Whoever wants to be first must also become a slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but rather to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is a concept that is given lots of lip service among leaders, but oftentimes, these are just empty words. Sometimes it seems as though those in authority only help the people when they see a clear benefit from it. I see it in Chicago all the time, and it’s disgusting. I would see a politician in his suit trying to paint a wall inside some rebuilt home, or helping to plant a tree. It’s all for show, for the media to get pictures. I know a staff member of a local alderman in Chicago, and one thing my friend tells me is that his boss only cares about his career advancement. Working for the people is far from his mind. And it shows. He, like many other politicians are amoral, greedy, corrupt, and fake. For them, the bigger their picture is on a wall, the greater they are. (How long do they think people will tolerate their treachery?) Jesus sets a different model for what it means to be great and to be a leader. If you want to be great, serve. If you want a great name, serve those who have nothing, and can only give their thanks.

Before going to Jerusalem, Jesus went to Jericho. Along the way, a blind man was sitting along the road, begging. When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he shouted, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!” The people who were leading the group rebuked the man and told him not to disturb Jesus. They likely believed he was begging for money. Yet he cried out even louder, “Jesus, Son of David! Have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped, and ordered that the blind man be brought to him. So the people told him, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Jesus essentially turned the people who were cold-hearted into messengers of his grace. That’s subtly genius.

When he came to Jesus, Christ asked what the man wanted him to do. He responded, “Lord, I want to see.” So Jesus told him, “Go on your way. Your faith has healed you.” Immediately, the man received his sight, and he continued with Jesus on the way.

The fact that this man asked for sight instead of money shows that he didn’t want to spend his life begging anymore. To request his sight means he would no longer be able to survive by begging; he would have to work now though he had no skills. It didn’t matter to him. The beggar wanted to live a full life, not just make money by begging. It wasn’t about money, contrary to what the crowd assumed.

(Luke 19) When Jesus arrived at the city of Jericho, there was a short man, the chief tax collector, named Zaccheus. He was very rich. He heard Jesus was coming through Jericho, and he really wanted to see who Jesus was, but he couldn’t because of the crowd and because of how short he was. So he did the unthinkable: he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a tree to get a view of Jesus. (In Middle-Eastern culture, a man of high rank must never run; it is greatly embarrassing.)

When Jesus was passing by later, he looked up into the tree and said, “Zaccheus, hurry up and come down from that tree. I need to stay at your house tonight.” So Zaccheus gladly came down and received him into his house. When the people saw this, they complained amongst each other, saying, “This man is going to stay with a sinner.”

In front of the crowd, Zaccheus said to Jesus, “Look, Lord: I will give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have wronged anyone, I will restore it fourfold.”

Whether he actually gave away exactly half of his possessions or not, I’m not sure, but he did signal that he was changing his ways.

This is why Jesus said, “Today, salvation has come to this house, as Zaccheus is also a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Notice how Jesus called this tax collector a son of Abraham because of his repentance, but rejected the Pharisees, who also claimed to be sons of Abraham because they are not repentant. Both were lost. Both were physically sons of Abraham, but only Zaccheus was humble enough to acknowledge his guilt. He’s the one that got saved.

While he still had the audience’s ear, he told them a parable, because they thought the Kingdom of God would come immediately, and because he was close to Jerusalem: “A certain nobleman went to a far-away country to be made king, and then to return. He called together ten of his servants and told them to conduct business while he was gone, and he gave them 10 minas, a unit of money. But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to rule over us.” He was made king anyway, and returned. He called together his servants to see how much business was done in his name.

The first servant came and said, “Sir, your mina has made 10 more.” The king said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Because you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things.” He gave the servant authority over 10 cities. The second servant came and said, “Sir, your mina has made 5 more.” And likewise the king commended him and gave him authority over 5 cities. But the last servant came and gave the money back to the king in a napkin, saying, “Here is your money. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man, harvesting where you did not plant.” The king said, “Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I was a hard man? Why, then, didn’t you put my money on deposit at the bank? At least then, I could have gotten my money back with interest!” He then commanded the money to be taken from the servant and given to the one who had 10 minas. “But sir, he already has 10!” they objected. But the king responded, “To the one who has something, more will be given. But to the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away from him. But as for my enemies, who did not want me to reign over them: Bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

There is a lot to unpack with this story, because it’s easy to get the wrong message from the story. Many people, when they read this story, will think that Jesus was measuring us by our production for the Kingdom of God. We think of quotas. In America, many Christians think of their spiritual gifts and wonder if they are doing enough for God with those gifts. Others are more concerned about stewardship, whether they have used their money in the right way. Such people ask if they should spend more money doing things that advance the Kingdom of God. Both of those are very good concerns, but this story is not about that. This is a story about association, fear, and courage.

When the king left the country, he knew he wasn’t popular among the people. He was going to be appointed king whether the people liked it or not. His most loyal servants were given the task of doing business for him while he is away, but because he was not popular, doing business in his name would not yield the highest returns, and would tarnish the reputations of those who worked for him. However, that’s not the point. The point is to find out who was really loyal to him. It tested the resolve of the loyalists and exposed the fakes.

The king in the story knew that life would be difficult for his loyalists while he was away, but their willingness to endure that difficulty for being associated with him showed they were trustworthy. When he returned as the official king, he rewarded those who endured hardship for him. The servants who did business in the king’s name were given authority over a number of cities, but the one who did nothing was given nothing. He was ashamed of the king, and would not risk his comfort or reputation for his king. He was a fair-weather servant.

What was the purpose of Jesus telling this story? There are two: First, he would leave for a while and then return as king. The Kingdom of God would not arrive immediately, as the people wished. Second, don’t be ashamed of him while he is away. The difficult times ahead would prove their loyalty as Jesus’ followers. For their endurance, they would be rewarded greatly, while those who opposed him would be condemned.

Pretend you are watching a movie. When you know how the story will end, it is very exciting to see the impossible difficulties the hero will go through. How will he or she overcome enormous challenges? In the same way, Jesus is telling his followers that they will endure challenges. But he is also telling them that they will overcome them, while the ones who caused them such trouble will be destroyed in the end.

This is what gives me comfort when I see evil prevailing in the world. When evil seems all-powerful, the fact that God will destroy it all sometimes makes me wonder, “How? God, have you seen how wicked these people are? Do you see how powerful they are? Do you see how influential they are, and how deep their roots go? How are you going to destroy this?” Yet, He has it all figured out, and so I take heart.

The next day, Jesus left Jericho and went to Bethany. This is where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus lived. They were having a feast for Jesus at Simon the Leper’s house, a man that Jesus healed. This feast was given for Jesus because last time he came, he revived Lazarus. (Don’t think ‘Lazarus and the Rich Man’. That Lazarus was just part of a story, and that name is just an ironic plot device so people could understand. That Lazarus was a poor beggar; this Lazarus was a normal family man.) Here’s what happened when Lazarus the family man died some time ago:

(John 11) Mary and Martha had sent word to Jesus that Lazarus was sick. They asked him to come heal him. Jesus replied, “This illness won’t end in death, but rather so the Son of God can be glorified through it.” He stayed in town for two days; he did not go to Bethany to heal Lazarus.

Lazarus died, and was buried. Jesus told the disciples, “Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m going there to wake him up.” The disciples thought, “But if he’s asleep, he’ll get better,” so Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. And for your sake, I’m glad I wasn’t there, so that you will believe. Come on, let’s go see him.”

The disciples were worried that the Judeans would try again to stone Jesus, but he wasn’t worried. When Jesus arrived in Bethany, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Martha came out to meet Jesus, but Mary stayed at home. (I don’t know if she was angry with Jesus or not, but she just didn’t want to see him.) When Martha saw Jesus, she said, “Lord, if you’d only been here, my brother wouldn’t have died! Yet I know that even now God would give you whatever you asked…”

Martha was blaming Jesus for her brother’s death, because she sent word asking him to come heal him, but still had enough faith to ask Jesus to revive her brother. Jesus answered, “Your brother will live again.”

“I know he will live again, at the Resurrection on the Last Day,” she said, clearly defeated.

But Jesus said to her, “I Am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me, though he may die, will live. By believing in me, he will never die. Do you believe this?”

Martha answered, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world.”

Martha went back to the house to get Mary because Jesus was looking for her. Other mourners were there, consoling Mary. She got up quickly and ran out to meet Jesus, as did the other mourners. She fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Lord, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.” She was crying, after saying the same thing her sister said. Jesus saw how the people were also crying, and he was troubled in his spirit. He asked where they laid Lazarus’ body, and Jesus also wept. Some of the Judean people thought he was crying because of how much he loved Lazarus, but others said, “He opened the eyes of the blind. Couldn’t he have kept the man from dying?”

Jesus, not paying attention to them, came to the tomb and asked for the stone to be rolled away. Martha said, “Lord, he’s been in there for four days and his body is stinking now.”

Jesus answered, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” They rolled away the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank You for listening to me. I know that You listen to me, but I say this for the benefit of the people standing here, so that they may believe that You sent me.”

Then Jesus shouted into the tomb, “Lazarus! Lazarus, come out!” And shortly after, a man came out, wrapped in strips of cloth and linen from head to toe. Jesus said, “Take these grave clothes off and let him go free.” This news spread, and since Jerusalem was not far from Bethany, the chief priests heard about it quickly.

Jesus needed to show the people that he didn’t just have the power to heal, but that he also had authority over death. When Jesus was telling people to believe in him and truly trust in him, he had to demonstrate that he was trustworthy, and that his words weren’t empty. He didn’t simply ask people to subscribe to his philosophy; he asked people to believe in him personally, just like they believe in God. If he wasn’t God in the flesh, his request would be inappropriate. Earlier, he told his disciples not to worry about death or martyrdom. By showing he had the power to revive the dead, Jesus proved to them and everyone around that he could truly be relied on for life and salvation.

As for the anger and disappointment of Mary and Martha, a lot of you who are reading this have had truly heart-breaking experiences in your lives, and probably said the same thing Mary and Martha said, “Lord, if you were here, this wouldn’t have happened. Where were you? Why didn’t you come to help me?” Remember this when we come to Jesus’ death. He will experience the same feeling. This book doesn’t end with the death of Jesus or even his resurrection, because life goes on after death. There are eternal implications for the things we do or experience on earth. The only thing is we don’t know what those implications are. We don’t see it yet, and because we don’t see it, we are left asking God “Why?”

We won’t get a satisfying answer in this lifetime, so there really isn’t any point in continuing to ask. The healthy response to such heart-breaking events should be “What now?” After grieving over what happened, you still have to continue living. As you continue to grieve and heal, perhaps this Scripture will help you maintain your spiritual and mental strength: “All things work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). That won’t make the pain go away, but it can be a reminder to keep reaching forward in faith that God will make this horrible situation work out for good.

You may be reading or listening, thinking about what happened in your life, and you may think that faith in God in this situation is too much to ask, but I ask you to reflect on Martha and Mary. They KNEW Jesus. Personally. They KNEW where he was. They KNEW he received their message. They KNEW he had time to get there to save their brother. But he didn’t show up. When he finally did show up, four days after Lazarus died, they were respectful, but they did blame him for their brother’s death. Much like you may blame God for what happened in your life. Jesus is testing the faith of the sisters, and is opening up another side of himself that they haven’t seen before, and didn’t expect. I believe that when we go through these hard times, when we still trust in God, He shows us another part of Himself to us. We get to experience Him in a new way, a life-giving way.

When I first read this passage, it was the first time I saw Jesus cry. The first time it really became clear to me that he was touchable, that he could feel the pain of the people. It was the first time I could see Jesus as a real human being, and not just God in disguise. Fortunately for Martha and Mary, he turned the sad story into a happy one. God glorified Jesus through this event, and strengthened the faith of his followers. God showed the people that He really does care, and that even though tragedies like this are commonplace, that it does affect Him. No matter what you go through, don’t be tricked into thinking God doesn’t care about you or your circumstances. It just might be a test to strengthen you.

(John 12) This all happened the last time Jesus came to Bethany. Upon his return, a banquet was given in his honor at the house of Simon the Leper, someone Jesus healed. Martha was serving the food, while Lazarus was lying next to Jesus at the table. Meanwhile, Mary brought a box of ointment and expensive perfume, poured it on Jesus’ feet, and wiped his feet with her hair. This box of oil and perfume cost almost 50,000 RMB in Chinese money (roughly $7700, USD). The fragrance filled the house, and one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot objected, saying, “This is such a waste! This perfume should’ve been sold and the money could’ve been given to the poor. It’s worth a year’s wages!” (But in all honesty, he didn’t care about the poor at all. He was the treasurer, and he frequently embezzled money.)

Jesus responded, “Leave her alone. She has done a beautiful thing for me. You’re always going to have the poor with you. But you won’t always have me. Besides, it was intended that she would save this perfume for the day of my burial. I tell you the truth, wherever this gospel is preached on earth, what she has done for me will also be told, in memory of her.” It was at this time that a large crowd found out Jesus was there, and they wanted to see him, as well as Lazarus, since Jesus raised him from the dead. Because many Judeans were believing in Jesus because of Lazarus, the chief priests wanted to kill Jesus along with Lazarus.

(Here is the plot against Jesus: In the palace of Caiaphas, the high priest, they decided to find a sly way to arrest and kill him, but it could not be during the Passover Festival, otherwise there might be a riot among the people. Judas Iscariot would later approach them to offer them Jesus, if they gave him a good price. He was clearly angry about being rebuked when he said the oil Jesus was anointed with was a waste. Caiaphas reasoned that it would be better for one man to die than for the whole nation to die. If zealots kept rising up to rally the people against Rome, the empire would come and crush the whole nation. In effect, Jesus must die for the people to live.)

The next day, Jesus finally went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. It would be his last week. Before entering the city, Jesus sent two of his disciples ahead to fetch a young donkey that had never been ridden before, and he gave this instruction: “When you go and untie the donkey, if the owner asks why you are doing that, just tell him, ‘The Lord needs it.’” They went and found the donkey and its mother, and untied them to bring to Jesus. As Jesus said, the owner questioned why they were taking his donkeys. They told him the Lord needed it, and he gladly gave them the donkeys.

When they returned to Jesus, they took their clothes and put them on the young donkey and Jesus sat on it to ride into Jerusalem. This was to fulfill a prophecy about the Messiah: “Tell the Daughter of Zion, ‘Look, your king is coming to you, gentle and humble, riding on the colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

As Jesus rode to Jerusalem, people were throwing their clothes on the ground for the donkey to walk on, and they also took palm branches and spread them on the path toward Jerusalem. They shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Chapter 33

The Beginning of the End

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, it was already evening, but because of the roar of the crowd, many people came to see what was going on. They asked ‘Who is this?’ People answered, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee!” When Jesus did this, the disciples didn’t understand why he was going into Jerusalem that way. Naturally, the Pharisees were not happy to see Jesus come in that way and be praised. “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look! The whole world has gone after him!” There were even some Greeks who were in town to worship, and they also wanted to see Jesus. They approached one of the disciples and told him their request to see Jesus.

(John 12:27) When the disciples told Jesus, he said, “The hour for the Son of Man to be glorified has come. I tell you the truth, unless the wheat hangs its head and dies, it stands alone. But if it drops its head and dies, it will produce many sprouts. Whoever loves this life will lose it, but whoever hates his life in this evil world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must also follow me. Wherever I am, my servant will be with me. And my Father will also honor the one who serves me… But now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ No. It was for this very reason that I came to this hour. But Father, glorify your name!”

When Jesus said this, it seems like it was truly setting in that he is about to die soon. He knew he needed to do this, but it’s still an unpleasant thought, yet all he can do is turn to his Father. He could appeal to God to rescue him, but he knows it’s not an option, so he reverts back to the central goal of his life: to glorify his Father. Though, given what he had to suffer, his expression doesn’t seem to really provide him any real relief. For all those that believe Jesus lived his life in heavenly bliss, with a smile on his face at every moment, this is but one example that shows Jesus lived a human life. A real human life. A life with a full range of emotions, all on frequent display. Even though Jesus was close to God the Father, that didn’t change the fact that he had bad feelings about having to die, so Jesus is showing us that it is okay to acknowledge our pain, our anxiety, our unpleasant emotions. We should acknowledge our feelings, but they shouldn’t dictate what we do. Jesus would still submit himself to death; his obedience to God had no limits.

When Jesus said, “Father, glorify your name,” there was a booming voice from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Most people thought the sound was thunder, but others thought maybe an angel spoke to him. Jesus, still seeming dejected, said, “That voice was for your benefit, not mine… Now the time for judgment has come on this world. Now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up, will bring all people to myself.” He said the last part knowing exactly how he would die: by crucifixion.

The crowd spoke up and said, “We heard a prophecy from the Law of God that said the Messiah will live forever. So how can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?” Jesus said to them, “You’re going to have the light with you only a little longer. So walk in the light while you still have it, before darkness overtakes you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Believe in the light so that you may become the children of the light.”

Jesus didn’t directly answer their question. There’s a reason for that. He knew what the real objections were, and he didn’t back away from them. He instead directed his attention to their expectations of the Messiah. Because he would not be going to Jerusalem for political liberation, this would infuriate the people living there. In essence, darkness would overtake them. They had no interest in being reconciled to God through the forgiveness of sins, because they assumed their genetic connection to Abraham and their following the Law of Moses was all that was spiritually required from them. That’s why Jesus told them to believe the light (himself) while he was still with them. Otherwise they would forever be locked in confusion about what a relationship with God really was.

Because it was so late, Jesus left Jerusalem for the night, and returned to the town of Bethany until the morning. When morning came, he went back to Jerusalem. While he was on his way, he saw a fig tree, and because he was hungry, he went to look for fruit on this tree, but there was nothing but leaves. Angry and disappointed, Jesus cursed the tree and said, “May no fruit ever come from you again.” Then he continued onto Jerusalem. On his way, he shed a little light on why he denounced the fig tree. It was a symbol for Israel, and yet Israel was not ready when the Lord came. He wept over Jerusalem, saying, “O City of Peace, if only you knew what would bring you peace today… But now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come when your enemies will encircle you and build embankments against you. They will throw your children (the inhabitants of Jerusalem) to the ground, and they will not leave one stone on top of another, because you didn’t recognize the time that God came to you.”

(Matthew 21) Once again, Jesus entered Jerusalem to great celebration and cheering. He headed immediately for the Temple, where he saw the moneychangers again, cheating people out of their money as they tried to exchange currency. He had cleared them out once before, but sure enough, they were back. Once again, Jesus made whips and began beating the moneychangers and driving them away from the court and caught the attention of the authorities. With him and his disciples occupying and guarding the Temple courts, Jesus taught the people every day. When the authorities came to question him, they demanded to know where he got the authority to “cleanse the Temple”. They asked, “Who gave you this authority?” certain that they wanted him to be put to death.

Jesus answered, “If you can answer me this question, I’ll tell you where I got this authority from. When John was baptizing, was this baptism from God or man?” When the Pharisees and teachers of the Law heard this, they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say it’s from God, then he’ll ask why we don’t believe in him. But if we say it’s from man, the people will stone us, because they all consider John to be a prophet.” They turned to Jesus and said they don’t know where John’s baptism came from, so Jesus dismissed them and said, “Neither will I tell you where I got this authority.”

He turned back to the crowd and said to them, “What do you all think? There was a man with two sons. He went to the older son and told him to go work in the vineyard today. The son said no, but later changed his mind and went. He also told the younger son to go work in the vineyard. He said he’d go, but he never went. Which son did the will of their father?”

Everyone answered, “The first.” Jesus replied, “That’s how it’s going to be in the Kingdom of God. I tell you the truth, you’ll see prostitutes and tax collectors entering the Kingdom ahead of you. John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes did. Yet even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe.”

“So I’ll tell you another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it and dug out a winepress, and built a watchtower. He rented this field to some farmers and went away on a journey. When harvest time came, the owner sent servants to collect his fruit. But the tenants seized the servants, beating one, killing another, and stoning the other. Then the owner sent even more servants, but they were also shamefully treated. Lastly, the owner sent his own son, thinking they would respect the son. But when they saw the son, they discussed amongst themselves that if they kill the son, the heir, then the vineyard would become theirs. And so they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. So when the owner of the vineyard finally comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

“He’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end, and then rent the vineyard to farmers who will give him his share of the crop at harvest,” the Pharisees answered.

When the owner has shown immense vulnerability by sending his son, he was hoping that this extreme act would snap the tenants back to their senses and remember that they are all human beings. After killing the owner’s servants, would they really be so cold to kill the owner’s son? In this case, yes.

After the Pharisees answered that the owner would have the tenants killed and replaced, Jesus answered, “Haven’t you read the Scriptures? It says ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it’s marvelous in our eyes.’ Therefore I am telling you that the Kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to people who will produce the Kingdom’s fruit. Whoever falls on this stone will be broken to pieces. But whoever the stone falls on will be ground to dust.” When the Pharisees heard this, knowing the parable was about them, they wanted to arrest and kill Jesus, but they couldn’t because the people believed he was a prophet.

Then Jesus spoke another parable against them: “The Kingdom of God is like a king who prepared a banquet for his son. He sent his servants to call the invited guests to come to the feast, because it was the right time. But they refused to come. So the king sent other servants, this time telling them that the fattened calf has been slaughtered and everything is now ready. But they still refused to come. They went back to their routine. But other guests even seized the messengers and mistreated and killed them. The king was enraged, and he sent his army to destroy those murderers and burn their city. Then the king said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those who I invited didn’t deserve to come. Now go to the street corners and invite anyone you can find to come to this banquet.’ So the servants went and got lots of people, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was full of guests. But when the king came in to the wedding hall, he saw a man who had improper clothes. He asked the man how he got in without proper attire. But the man was speechless. The king had the man thrown out of the wedding. ‘Tie him by his hands and his feet and throw him out of here into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

In this story, Jesus is issuing a warning both to the Pharisees and those who follow the Pharisees, but he also issues a warning to his own followers. It is not enough to say that you want to come to the banquet, but you also must come with the right preparations. This is why Jesus once said, “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does my Father’s will.” This is why Jesus said “Those who worship the Father must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.” There are a lot of people who believe in Jesus, but they don’t really know him. On the Day of Judgment, they will say, “Lord, you ate and drank with us and taught in our streets,” but he will say “I don’t know you. Get away from me!”

There is some debate among Christians whether this statement means that Christians have to do good works to go to Heaven. Some believe you can lose your salvation, while others believe it is impossible to lose it. My belief if that you can never lose it, because God guards it in Heaven for you. He makes sure that you can’t lose it, and I have seen that real Christians never leave Jesus. False Christians do. How do I know who the real Christians are? Here’s an example:

There was a man from a religious cult who came to my house. This cult goes door-to-door to talk to people about their beliefs. I asked him some questions about his beliefs and how they changed over time. He said he used to be a traditional kind of Christian. When I asked how a person was supposed to be saved according to his traditional Christian beliefs, he said that they had to be good people and go to church regularly. This man was once a deacon (a ministering servant) in the church, but his answer was wrong. He had a completely mistaken understanding of the Gospel. He converted to a cult, and now has even worse beliefs that do not follow the Bible, even though they claim to adhere closely to it. He once believed the same thing a lot of poorly-taught Christians believe today. The man was never a real Christian to begin with. That’s why I wrote this book. He was biblically illiterate, yet he rose within the ranks of his church. I lay the blame at the feet of his church’s leadership. That poor man was never given an explanation about his faith. He was never taught that salvation was a gift from God. He never knew that faith was all he needed to receive that gift. He thought he could earn salvation by doing good works and going to church. He never knew that Jesus paid the price for all his sins, past, present and future. Here is what the Bible says about salvation and good works:

You were once dead in your transgressions and sins. You used to follow the ways of the world, and the ways of the evil ruler of this world, Satan, who is now working in those who are disobedient. All of us lived this way in the past, following our evil desires and satisfying the cravings of our sinful nature. Like everyone else, we were objects of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God made us alive through Christ, even though we were dead in our transgressions. It’s by grace that you are saved. God raised us up with Christ to heavenly places, so that in the coming ages, God can show us the incomparable riches of His grace, through His Son Jesus Christ. By grace you have been saved through faith. And this was not from yourselves; it was a gift from God. It did not come by good works, so no one can boast. We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ to do the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do.”

God doesn’t want anyone coming into Heaven saying, “I deserve to be here, because I did this and I did that,” because in reality, we had to be rescued from punishment and wrath. No one gets into Heaven by good works. We do good works because we have been changed and are grateful to God for saving us. We do not do good works to curry favor with Him. He saved us when we didn’t deserve anything but His wrath. All we can do is thank God and receive the gift; and after that, we do good works, living out the life He wants us to live.

Chapter 34

Woe to You, Hypocrites!”

(Matthew 22-23) In the parable of the wedding banquet, the man who had the improper clothes was thrown out. What are the proper wedding clothes that Jesus is talking about? I believe it is repentance (that is, turning from our sins), and belief in Jesus. Not just belief that Jesus is a prophet, but that Jesus is our Savior.

Because these parables were against the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, they were losing lots of face. They were also losing lots of money because Jesus cleared out the Temple courts, so they began to try to discredit Jesus by trapping him in his own words. They sent their own disciples as spies pretending to be sincere. They were sent with difficult questions, but they also came with Romans to hear this trap question: “Teacher, we know you’re a man of integrity, and that you teach the ways of God in accordance with the truth. You pay no attention to man, because you aren’t swayed by who they are. Tell us then, should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They wanted to exploit the political situation and the people’s resentment of the Roman occupiers. They wanted to also to reduce Jesus’ popularity by setting him against either the Romans or the Jews. ‘Pick a side, Jesus.’ He didn’t fall for it.

“Why are you trying to trap me, you hypocrites? Show me a denarius coin for paying taxes. Whose face and inscription are on it?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” Jesus responded, “Then give to Caesar what is his, and give to God what is His.” This answer amazed them, and they went away.

The same day, the Sadducees came. They are a group of Jews that do not believe in the angels or demons, nor do they believe in the resurrection of the dead. They also had a question for Jesus: “The Law of Moses says that if a husband dies without bearing children, his brother is supposed to marry her and give her sons for the dead husband. Now, there were seven brothers. The first brother married a woman and died, leaving her no children. So the second brother married her but he also died without giving her children. And in the same way, all the others died without leaving her any children. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since they all married her?”

Jesus answered, “In this age, people marry and are given in marriage. But in the age to come, those who are considered worthy to be resurrected to life will not marry at all, nor will they ever die, because they will be like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. Now, about the dead not rising, haven’t you read in the Scriptures that God said ‘I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. So you are badly mistaken.”

When the Pharisees saw that Jesus even silenced the Sadducees, they came forward with another question: “Teacher, of all the commandments, which is the most important?” It was a sincere question. Jesus answered, “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one. And you shall love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.’ This is the most important commandment, and the second most important is just like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There are no commandments greater than these.” The Pharisee that asked the sincere question responded, “Well said, teacher. You’re right that God is one and that there is no other. To love Him with all your heart, and understanding, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus heard this response, he said, “You aren’t far from the Kingdom of God.”

No one dared to ask him any more questions, so Jesus asked his own trap question: “The Messiah: Whose son is he?” The Pharisees answered, “David’s son.” Jesus replied, “How is he the son of David? David himself even said of the Messiah, ‘The Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’’ David calls the Messiah ‘Lord’. How can he be his son?” The Pharisees couldn’t say a word in rebuttal.

What Jesus was saying is that the Messiah is more than just a man. If King David can call the Messiah ‘Lord’, this must not be just a normal human. However, the teachers of the Law were unwilling to consider that. They were also unwilling to remember that even though the Messiah is supposed to be born in Bethlehem, his origins are from long before: “But you, Bethlehem, though you are a small city in Judah, out of you will come a ruler for God’s people Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient times.” That prophecy came 700 years before Jesus’ time. The key question of who and what Jesus is would continue to come into focus during his final week.

Jesus did not stop there. While he still had the people’s attention, he said, “Beware of the teachers of the Law. They like to walk around in long, flowing robes and love to be greeted in the marketplace, and love to have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets, and they love for people to call them ‘Rabbi’. They tie up heavy loads and put them on people’s shoulders, but won’t lift a finger to help them. They devour widow’s houses and for a show they make long prayers in the streets. Everything they do is for people to see them. Such men will be punished most severely.”

“The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, and they represent him, so you have to do what they say. But don’t do what they do, because they don’t practice what they preach. You are not to be called ‘Rabbi’, because you have one master. And don’t call anyone ‘Father’, because you have one Father in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘Teacher’, because the Messiah is your teacher. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever humbles himself will be exalted. But whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”

“Woe to you, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the Kingdom of God in men’s faces. You yourselves won’t enter, but you won’t even permit those who are trying to enter to go in. Woe to you Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, but when he converts, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”

“Woe to you, you blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the Temple, it means nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold in the Temple, then he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold or the Temple that makes the gold sacred? If you swear by the Temple, you swear by everything in the Temple, included the One who lives in the Temple. And whoever swears by Heaven swears by God’s throne and by the One who sits on it.”

“Woe to you, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices and herbs and everything you have. But you neglect the most important parts of the Law: mercy, justice and faithfulness. You should have done the latter without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out the fly, but you swallow the camel.”

“Woe to you, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup, but the inside is full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisees! First clean the inside, and then the outside will be clean as well.”

“Woe to you, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs! Outside you look beautiful, but inside you are full of dead men’s bones and everything that is unclean. You appear to be righteous, but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

“Woe to you, Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the tombs of the righteous, yet your fathers killed them! You say that if you had lived in those days, you wouldn’t have done such things. You testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Go ahead and fill up the measure of the sin of your forefathers!”

“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape the condemnation of Hell? I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. You’ll kill some of them and crucify them. Others you will whip in your synagogues and chase from town to town. And so, all the blood of the righteous will paid by this generation, all the blood from Abel to Zechariah, whom you killed between the Temple and the Altar of Incense. I tell you the truth: All of that will come upon this generation.”

Ouch. Jesus just verbally destroyed his enemies and condemned them in the Temple court in front of all the people, and this is the week of Passover, meaning people from all over have come to Jerusalem. They just got denounced before all of them.

It seemed that no matter what Jesus said or did during his time there, the leaders would still not believe. This was to fulfill a prophecy from Isaiah that said, “Lord, who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” They would not believe in Jesus because “God has blinded their eyes and deafened their hearts, so that they cannot perceive or understand, and turn and be healed.” At the same time, many of the leaders did believe in Jesus, but were afraid to confess it because they were afraid of being kicked out of the synagogue, and because they loved the praises of men above the praise of God. So Jesus said, “Whoever believes doesn’t only believe in me, but in the One who sent me. When he sees me, he sees the One who sent me. I came into the world as a light, so that anyone who believes in me will not stay in darkness. As for the one who hears my words but doesn’t keep them, I don’t judge him. I didn’t come into the world to judge the world but to save it. However, there is a judge for the one who rejects me and doesn’t keep my words. The very word I have spoken will condemn him at the last day. For I did not speak from my own accord, but by the Father, who commanded me what to say and how to say it. I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is what the Father told me to say.”

When Jesus left, he noticed an old widow who put a small amount of money into the Temple treasury. It was all she had. Jesus said, “This woman gave more than anyone else. They gave out of their excess. She gave out of her poverty, out of everything she had to live on.” The disciples also remarked how beautiful the stones were and how magnificent the buildings were. Jesus responded, “Not one stone will be left on top of another. Everything will be brought down.” The disciples asked when this would happen, and they left the city. Going back towards Bethany, the disciples noticed that the fig tree Jesus cursed had withered. He responded, “With faith, you can tell this tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.”

(Matthew 24) He came up to a mountain across from the Temple, called the Mount of Olives, and he answered their question about the destruction of the Temple and the end of the age. “Make sure no one deceives you. For many will come in that time, saying, ‘I am the Messiah’ ‘I am the Messiah’. They will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but don’t be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end hasn’t come yet. Nation will rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All of these are the beginnings of birth pains. Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time, many will turn away from the faith, and will betray and hate each other. Many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of many will grow cold, but he who stands until the end will be saved. This Gospel will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Jesus’ answer is speculated to have been broken up into two parts, one talking about the destruction of the Temple, and the other talking about the signs of his return at the end of the age.

First off, he was correct when he predicted many false messiahs would rise up after him, each proclaiming political liberation. The people got behind those false messiahs, and paid with their lives.

Another point to take note of: Wars, rumors of wars, epidemics, earthquakes, and similar catastrophes are NOT the symbol of the end. They will definitely occur, but one should not immediately assume that because a disaster happened, that Jesus will suddenly return.

Another point people look to as a sign of the times is that many people are turning away from the faith. That’s true in Europe, Australia, and North America. But it’s not true for Africa, South America, and Asia, major population centers. We can’t pretend that the center of the world is the United States and Western Europe.

Perhaps the best barometer of when Jesus will return is when the Gospel is preached to everyone in the world. When everyone has the chance to receive Christ, this is when his return would be appropriate. And that means that those who long for Christ’s return should be active in proclaiming the Gospel far and wide, not only to friends and family, but also to strangers and those we wouldn’t normally associate with. For once in our lives we need to stop being scared. I can only count one bad experience I’ve had in my years of street evangelism in Chicago, which some people think of as Gotham. A member of my church put it this way: ‘Folks think that the minute they come to the Southside of Chicago, they gon’ get their heads blown off.’ Experience tells me people are just scared, including black urban Christians. Go talk to somebody, and let them feel the love of God through direct communication.

(Do you notice how I’m not focusing on the end of the world stuff right now? That’s strategic. We need to focus on our objective, not trying to figure out the details of a largely unpredictable event. Jesus is going to back me up on that.)

After touching on the destruction of the Temple, Jesus went on to talk about the end of the age:

“When you see the abomination that causes desolation, which Daniel the prophet spoke about, those in Judea should flee to the mountains. If they’re on the roof, they shouldn’t even go back inside of the house to get anything. If anyone is in the field, they should not even return to get their clothes. How dreadful it will be for pregnant women and nursing mothers! Pray that your flight won’t be in the winter or the Sabbath, because there will be great distress, unequaled from the creation of the world until now. And never to be equaled again. If those days weren’t cut short, no one would survive. But because of the chosen people, those days will be shortened.”

“At that time, if anyone says, ‘Look, the Messiah is over there,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform miraculous signs. If it were possible, they would have even deceived the chosen people. Remember, I have told you this ahead of time. So if anyone has to tell you where the Messiah is, don’t believe them. Just like lightning shines from the east to the west, so will the Son of Man be visible to all when he comes. Immediately after the distress of those days, as the Scripture says, ‘The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ At that time, the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet to gather all the chosen people from all over the world.”

“Learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs become tender and its leaves come out, you know summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happen, you will know that the Day of the Lord is near, even at the door. I tell you the truth: that generation will not pass away before all things are fulfilled. Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

“No one knows what day or hour these things will happen; not the angels, not even the Son of Man. Only the Father knows. As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be when the Son of Man comes. In the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark. They knew nothing about the flood until the rain came and washed them all away. That’s how it will be when the Son of Man comes. Two men will be in a field: one taken and another left. Two women will be grinding in a mill: one taken and another left. Two will be in bed: one taken and another left. So keep watch, because you don’t know what day your Lord will come to you. But understand this: If a homeowner knew what day and time the thief would come, he would have stayed up and not allowed his home to be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at a time you do not expect.”

There was a parable Jesus told immediately after, where he said that there were ten bridesmaids going out to meet the groom, to return with him to the wedding banquet and celebrate. “They lit their lamps and went out to meet him. 5 bridesmaids were wise and took extra oil; the other 5 were foolish and only took enough oil for that time. They assumed he would arrive soon. But the groom took a long time to come, and they all fell asleep. Later, someone announced that the groom was coming, and so they woke up, lit their lamps, and went to meet him. But the 5 foolish bridesmaids didn’t have enough. So they asked the wise maids for some of theirs. The wise maids said no, because they wouldn’t have enough for themselves. ‘Go and buy some oil for yourselves.’ So they went and bought oil, and when they went to meet the groom, he was already in the banquet, and the door was locked. The wise maids were already inside. The foolish maids called out to the groom, asking him to open up the door to them. But he said, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’” So Jesus said, “Therefore you must watch, because you don’t know the day or hour.”

This is a fact that escapes many Americans, including members of my own family who wouldn’t even let me tell them about these crucial facts. Many of them believe that they can live their life the way they want, and later in life, settle down and begin to follow God. In reality, life can end quickly and unexpectedly. We don’t know the day or hour that Jesus will return, but even then, tomorrow is not promised. Death happens to everyone, at one time or another. Whether Jesus comes back today, tomorrow, or next week, we should keep in mind that death can happen at any time, for any reason. On 9/11, did anyone in the World Trade Center go to work thinking they were going to die because a plane flew into their building? On New Year’s, 2015, did anyone in Shanghai think they were going to die because of a stampede? Everyone seems to think they will die peacefully on a hospital bed with their family surrounding them at age 85. Don’t bet on it. No matter when or why we may die, the takeaway message we should remember is to be prepared to meet God. If you know about God, yet have delayed giving yourself completely to Him, you risk eternity in Hell, because you are not prepared to meet Him. Be prepared.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another, like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be on the right side, while the goats will be on the left side. Then the King will say to those on the right side, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. Because I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you gave them to me. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will say, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you in need and do these things for you?’ The King will reply, ‘Whatever you have done for the least of my brothers, you also did it for me.’”

“Then he will say to those on the left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into eternal fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. Because I was hungry and you gave me nothing. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t invite me in. I needed clothes and you didn’t clothe me. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t look after me.’ And they will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you and not do these things for you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you didn’t do for the least of my brothers, you also didn’t do it for me.’ Then they will go away into eternal punishment, while the righteous will go to eternal life.”

I imagine there are a lot of people who wrestle with the question of when to give to strangers who appear to be poor. I also struggle with this question, because in both America and China, there are cunning people who pretend to be poor, and there are also beggars who are able-bodied and can work, but refuse to. I think about the book “When Helping Hurts” by Brian Fikkert, which says that the best thing we can do to help the poor is find jobs for them. However, that is a long-term operation, not a passing act of benevolence.

I imagine not everyone has the ability to take on a homeless person and meet most if not all of their needs. Do you think God knows that too? I believe this is why Paul said to Timothy that the rich must amass good works like they’ve amassed money. It was a demand. I will continue to look for wise and helpful ways to help the poor when I am able. I will try to remove suspicion from my mind when I see someone who looks visibly poor, because surely there are genuinely poor people in China and America. I will try to avoid supporting the criminal gangs who maim people and force them to beg. (This is common in China. Gangs may kidnap and mutilate someone and put them out on the street to beg for money. This has been going on for years, and the government seems completely uninterested in removing this blight from their country. It sickens me and saddens me. God cares about those people. Everyone who visits China sees this and is disgusted. These beggars are “the least” that Jesus talked about. But what does the Lord have to say to all the complicit government officials about this? “I was a slave and you knew it, yet with all your power, you did nothing to free me. Depart from me into everlasting fire, you evildoers!”)

As for me, I never give to those beggars, solely because I know where that money goes, but for those who have no concern for the poor, there is a harsh condemnation from Jesus Christ himself. He takes neglect of the poor personally. He calls those who neglect the poor ‘cursed’. He calls those who care for the poor ‘blessed’. Whatever your process for helping the poor and showing love to them, let your actions follow your intentions. As James said, “If someone is in need, and you say, ‘Go, keep warm and be well fed,’ yet you give them nothing for their physical needs, what good is it?” Likewise, what good is it to have good intentions, yet do nothing?

However, there is a second interpretation of this passage that is worth mentioning: When Jesus says “the least of my brothers”, it is also likely he is talking about other Christians who have been overlooked. It is worth thinking about how we treat other Christians. In America today, I observe that there are many Christians who think they can spot false doctrine. Some really go too far, and they attack other Christians who may be true believers, and may have an acceptable approach to their faith. They denounce and vilify their own brothers and sisters over matters that may just be a matter of preference. Still, I’m not sure he’s only talking about other Christians, but maybe specifically about his poor messengers. There was a time Jesus said, “Whoever receives one of these little ones in my name also receives me.” It’s a bit confusing who exactly Jesus is talking about in his statement, but we can be sure of this: we won’t hear him tell us to depart from him if we treat everyone right, whether they have money or not, whether we agree with them or not.

(Luke 22) On the first day of the Passover, the disciples asked Jesus where he wanted to celebrate the feast. He gave them instructions to go into town; a man who was carrying a jar of water would meet them. They were to tell him, “The Teacher wants to know where your guest room is, so he can eat the Passover with his disciples.” The disciples went into town and found everything exactly as Jesus told them. The room where they would eat the Passover feast was already prepared for them. They only needed to make the final preparations. That evening, Jesus and the other disciples arrived.

Chapter 35

The Last Supper

(Luke 22) Possibly as a result of Jesus scolding Judas Iscariot in Bethany, he let Satan into his heart, and he went to the chief priests. The priests were looking for a way to get rid of Jesus, so they were delighted when one of his own disciples came to them offering him up. They gave Judas 30 pieces of silver (5 weeks’ salary), and he agreed to watch for a time when there were no people around, so he could hand Christ over to them.

Jesus was full of love for his disciples, and he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. I tell you, I will never eat it again until we sit down together in the Kingdom of God.” He took the cup also and said, “Take this and divide it amongst yourselves. I tell you, I will not drink the fruit of the vine again until the Kingdom of God comes.” Jesus then took the bread and said, “This is my body, broken for you. Whenever you eat it, do it in my memory.” After eating it, he took the cup and said, “This is the new covenant made through my blood, which is poured out for you. Whenever you drink it, do it in my memory.”

Once again, there was bickering among the disciples about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus took off his outer clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist to serve them. He poured water into a basin and began to wash their feet. When he came to Peter, he asked, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You don’t realize what I’m doing right now, but you’ll understand later.” Peter answered “No, Lord, you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus responded, “If I don’t wash your feet, you have no part with me.” Peter replied, “Oh, well then, wash my feet, my head, and my hands too!” But Jesus said, “A person who has already had a bath only needs his feet washed.” I can imagine Jesus chuckling as he said that. He continued, “And you are clean, Peter, but not every one of you are clean,” he said, knowing about the plan for betrayal. By washing feet, Jesus was taking the place of a servant, whose unenviable task was to wash the feet of all guests. If their feet looked or smelled bad, it was no matter. The servant had to wash the feet of the guests. It was hospitality. By doing this, Jesus was putting his words into action.

After he finished washing all the disciples’ feet, he put his outer clothes back on and sat at his place again. “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now I, your Teacher and Lord, have washed your feet. So you must also wash each other’s feet. I have set an example for you to do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. The kings of the Gentiles lord their authority over their subjects, and call themselves ‘Benefactors’. You are not to become like them. The greatest among you must become like the youngest among you, and the one who rules must become like the one who serves. Who is greater? The one sitting at the table, or the one serving him? Of course it’s the one sitting at the table. But I am among you as one who serves. Now that you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

Another way to think of this lesson is that serving the least is more than just helping those with low stature, but also helping them with things that are least pleasant.

(John 13) During that meal, Jesus was overcome with grief, and he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you is going to betray me. And I will go, just as the Scripture has decreed. But woe to the one who betrays me. It would be better for him if he were never born than to betray the Son of Man.” This filled the disciples with great anguish. They asked, “Lord, who is going to betray you? Is it me?” Everyone kept asking, “Is it me?” John, the young man that was one of Jesus’ closest disciples leaned over and asked Jesus, “Lord, who is going to betray you?” Jesus told him quietly, “The one who I gave the piece of bread to,” and he gave the bread to Judas Iscariot. Then a bit later, Jesus told Judas, “Whatever you are going to do, do it quickly.” Then Judas left. The disciples didn’t understand what was going on, but figured he was going to give some money to the poor, being the treasurer. Jesus said, “This is to fulfill the Scripture: “The one who shares my bread has lifted his heel against me. But I tell you this before so that when it happens, you will believe that I Am.”

After Judas left, Jesus sang a hymn with them. Then he said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. And if God is glorified in the Son of Man, He will glorify the Son in Himself, and do it immediately. Now, my little children, I will only be with you a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Judeans, I am now telling you: Where I’m going, you cannot come. So I’m giving you a new command: Love one another just as I have loved you. By this way, all men will know you are my disciples.”

Peter asked “Lord, where are you going? And why can’t we follow?”

Jesus answered, “You can’t follow me now, but you will follow me later.” Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I would go to prison with you. I would die with you!”

“Would you really die with me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” As the disciples listened, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon! Satan has desired to sift you all as wheat. But I have prayed for you, so that your faith won’t run out. So when you have turned back again, strengthen your brothers. Tonight all of you will desert me. Just as it’s written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

A lot is going on in this passage. Though Peter deeply loves Jesus, his talk about dying for Jesus is predicted to be just talk. The disciples also proclaim their love and devotion to Jesus, but there is nothing that they can do to change the outcome. Their love for Jesus is genuine, but that does not change the fact that courage is still needed. Talk is just talk. The only thing that counts is action.

(Luke 22:35) “When I sent you out, two-by-two, with no bag, no purse, no sandals, did you lack anything?” Jesus asked. “Nothing,” they answered. “But now, you’ll need to carry them. And if you don’t have a sword, sell your clothes and buy one. It’s written (in Isaiah 53:12), ‘He will be counted among the transgressors.’ I’m telling you that this Scripture is going to be fulfilled in me. And it’s going to happen now.” The disciples told him they had two swords, to which Jesus replied, “That’s enough.”

The context of this passage, the overall message of Christ, and the knowledge of what would soon happen all make me wonder if this passage was literal or not. Jesus doesn’t seem to endorse violence, even to protect himself. And two swords is certainly not enough for any real kind of fight against the Romans.

Answering Islam” provided a good commentary on this passage, and they said the sword was a physical symbol of a spiritual matter, just like the bread and wine represented Jesus’ death and new covenant. The sword, they say, symbolizes the divide and tension. Earlier when the disciples went out, they didn’t need anything, because people gladly gave it to them. But now, people were opposed to him, and so the disciples would need to provide for themselves in hostile environments.

(John 14) Even in this moment of great sadness, Jesus began to comfort his disciples. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in me. In my Father’s house, there are many rooms. And if it weren’t so, I would’ve told you. I’m going to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will take you to be with me, so you can be where I am. You know the way to the place I’m going.” Thomas responded, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” He answered, “I Am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to my Father except through me. If you knew me, you’d know my Father also. From now on, you do know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I’ve been with you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How then can you say ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you aren’t just my own. Rather it is the Father, living in me. Or at least believe because of the evidence of the miracles themselves. I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the works I’ve been doing, and even greater works than these, because I am going to my Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You can ask me anything in my name and I will do it.”

“If you love me, you will obey my commands, and I will pray that the Father gives you another Counselor who will be with you forever: the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him because it neither sees nor knows Him. But you know Him because He lives with you and will be in you. I’m not going to leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me, but you will see me. And because I live, you will live. On that day, you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever obeys my commands is the one that loves me. And whoever loves me will also be loved by my Father, and I also will love him and show myself to him.”

A disciple named Judas (not the traitor) asked, “But Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not the world?” Jesus answered, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him to make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These aren’t my words you are hearing; they belong to the Father who sent me. I have said all this while I am with you. But when the Counselor, the Holy Spirit comes, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have told you. I leave you with peace. I give you my peace. I don’t give it to you as the world gives it. Don’t let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You have heard me say I am going away and coming back to you. If you loved me, you would be glad that I’m returning to the Father, for the Father is greater than I am. I have told you this now before it happens, so that when it happens, you will believe. I’m not going to speak to you much longer. The prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and do exactly as the Father commanded me. Let’s go. It’s time to leave.”

With that, Jesus and the disciples left the house and headed towards the Mount of Olives. Judas Iscariot was going to get the servants of the priest and his soldiers to go and arrest Jesus during the night. The high priest agreed to pay Judas 30 pieces of silver, which lined up exactly with the prophecy about the Messiah’s betrayal price.

Here is a brief explanation of what Jesus said to his disciples as they ate: When Jesus was asked what he meant when he said he was going to show himself to the disciples, but not the world, what he was saying is that when someone is connected with Jesus and is following him, even though they cannot see him, he will make himself known to them. They could ask him for anything, and he would do it for them. I have experienced this, when it felt like I could ask God for this or that, and sooner or later, I would get it. If I needed money, I would get it. If I needed help, I would get it. I realized that God really was there, listening to me and talking to me, and using the circumstances of my life to reveal His will. No, I’ve never heard some voice telling me what to do, but from time to time, His will was easy to see, and His help was likewise easy to see.

(John 15) Here is what Jesus said as they were on their way to the Mount of Olives: “I am the true vine.” (He said this because the Pharisees thought of themselves as the vine that connects people to God.) “My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch that does not bear fruit, while he prunes and cleans every branch that does bear fruit, so that it can be even more fruitful. You all are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. So remain in me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you remain in me and me in you, you will bear a lot of fruit. But separated from me, you can’t do anything. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers. Such branches are picked up and thrown into the fire. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, you can ask whatever you want, and it will be given to you. This is for my Father’s glory, so that you bear a lot of fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

“As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be complete in you, and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: That you love each other as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do what I say. I no longer call you servants, because a servant doesn’t know his master’s business. Instead I have called you my friends, because everything the Father has told me, I have told you. You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go bear fruit—fruit that will last forever. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. This is my command: Love one another.”

“If the world hated you, remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. But you don’t belong to the world anymore; I have chosen you from out of it. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I said to you earlier? ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they would obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, because they don’t know the One who sent me. If I hadn’t come and spoken to them, they wouldn’t be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father also. If I hadn’t done the miracles among them, which no one ever did, they wouldn’t be guilty of sin. But now they have seen the miracles, and still have hated me and my Father also. But this was to fulfill what is written in their Scriptures: ‘They hated me without reason.’”

“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send from the Father, the Spirit of Truth who comes from the Father, He will testify about me, as will you, because you were with me from the beginning. I have told you all of this so that you won’t go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue. In fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are doing something good for God. They will do such things because they don’t know the Father or me. I have told you this so that when it happens, you will remember that I warned you.”

“I didn’t tell you this earlier, because I was with you. But now I am going back to the One who sent me. Yet none of you are asking me where I am going. Because I’ve said these things, you are filled with grief. But I tell you the truth, it’s for your good if I go away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you. But if I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. In regard to sin, because men don’t believe in me; in regard to righteousness because I am going to the Father; in regard to judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can bear to hear. But when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth. He won’t speak on His own, but He will only speak what He hears, and He will tell you what is going to happen in the future. He will bring glory to me by taking what is mine and making it known to you. All that the Father has is mine. That’s why I say the Holy Spirit will take what is mine and make it known to you.”

So before we continue on, let me explain what Jesus is talking about. He tells his disciples that he is the vine, their source of power. It is not just his teachings that are the power source, but he himself. There is a difference between being a faithful Christian and being in Jesus. I must obey Jesus, but that is not enough. I must be in relationship with Jesus. That is the difference between being his servant and being his friend. Just as a student learns from his teacher, but does not know his personal life, so is the one who follows Jesus’ teachings, but does not know him personally. Both obedience and relationship are required. Those who know Jesus and obey him will be involved in God’s inner circle. God and Jesus will live inside that person’s heart, But not only them, but the Holy Spirit as well. The Trinity will live inside the heart of those who know and obey Jesus, and God will delight in him or her.

When Jesus talks about going away to prepare a place for the disciples, he is talking about going back into Heaven. There, he will prepare the Kingdom of God for the disciples and for all believers. Everyone he has chosen from out of the world will have a new home in Heaven. I will go into greater detail about Heaven in a future chapter. If you receive Jesus into your life, you are the one he has chosen from out of the world. You are no longer part of the world and its ways, but part of his Kingdom and its ways. Because of this, the world will not be delighted in the people of God. Rather, the world will oppose the children of God. So for context, let’s look at how Jesus was treated.

I find it a bit odd the way Jesus perceives his treatment from the people and the Jewish leaders. From the way he says it, it sounds like everywhere he goes, he is ridiculed or threatened with death. It’s as if the people all over the world hate him, but that’s not the case. Many of the people loved him. He was famous for quite some time; he couldn’t even enter a town quietly after his first year of ministry. All the downtrodden came to him, and they hung on his words. Even the Pharisees who opposed him had many among their ranks who believed in him, so why does Jesus say the world hates him? Because those with influence and power are the ones who oppose him. Those who had power were using it to oppress their people, and were also battling him in their attempt to preserve their own power. When Jesus preached the truth to them and the people, they tried to discredit him first, and then they were trying to kill him, so that they could preserve their power. Even though they said they were following God, Jesus told them they were far from God. Jesus was undermining them and threatening their hold on power. He threatened their influence among the people.

Many people, while they loved Jesus, did not follow him. Some only followed whoever seemed to have charisma or whoever was popular. They came for a show. Others thought that Jesus was there to bring about the Kingdom of God by overthrowing the Romans. They would later be disappointed and put Jesus out of their mind. They were not concerned with the things Jesus was concerned with; their relationship with God was never a big deal to many of the people. Even though they were shouting praises at him, and being healed and listening to his teachings, they were not taking to heart the importance of a genuine relationship with God. The prince of this world still had a strong grip on them.

When Jesus said that the prince of this world stands condemned, he is saying that by his imminent death, he will destroy the works of Satan. His blood would be the soap that cleanses the world that Satan had a firm hold on, but now that hold is destroyed, and his conviction will soon lead to execution. When Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin because they didn’t believe in him, it is likely because his death has offered a way to be saved from the consequences of sin. When a way of escape has been offered to you, and you fail to take it, what excuse do you have? If there was no way to escape, you would have a reason. Since Jesus died to save us from Hell, the Hell that we deserve because of our sins and offenses against God, we have the obligation to believe in Jesus if we want to escape punishment. When Jesus says the Holy Spirit will convict the world in regard to righteousness because he was going to the Father, he is saying that because he will be proved righteous when he is sitting next to the Father in Heaven. People who would kill him and his disciples thought they were doing something good for God, but the same Jesus they killed would be sitting at the right hand of God. The imagery itself will prove who was really righteous: the Pharisees and teachers of the Law or Jesus.

The next thing Jesus said was, “In a little while, you will not see me anymore, and then in a little while, you will see me again.” He was speaking about his death and resurrection, but his disciples didn’t understand. They were talking amongst each other, trying to figure out what Jesus meant, but they were afraid to ask him directly, so he told them, “I tell you the truth: While you weep and mourn, the world will rejoice. You will grieve, but your grief will turn into joy. A woman giving birth has pain because her time has come. But when the baby is born, she forgets the anguish because of the joy that her child is born into the world. So it is with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again, and you will rejoice. And no one will take away your joy. In that day, you won’t ask me for anything, because the Father will give you whatever you ask for in my name. Until now, you haven’t asked for anything in my name, but now you will, and your joy will be complete.”

“I may be speaking to you now figuratively, but the time is coming when I will talk with you directly about my Father and won’t use figurative language. In that day, you will ask in my name, and the Father will give it to you. I’m not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No. The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world. Now I am returning to the Father and leaving the world.”

One of the disciples marveled, “Now you’re speaking to us plainly without figures of speech. Now we know that you know everything. Now we can see that you don’t even need anyone to ask you any questions. This makes us believe you came from God.”

Jesus responded, “You believe at last!” Then he returned to his discourse. “The time is coming when you will all be scattered, each to his own home. That time is now here. You will all forsake me, but I am not alone, because my Father is with me. I have told you these things so you can have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

(John 17) Then Jesus looked to the heavens and said, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, so that your Son may glorify You. For you have granted him authority over all people, that he should give eternal life to all who believe in him. Now this is eternal life: That they may know You, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have brought you glory by completing the work you gave me to do. And now Father, glorify me in Your presence, with the glory that I had with You before the world began.”

“I have revealed You to those you gave me from out of the world. They are Yours, and You gave them to me, and they have followed Your Word. Now they know that everything You have given me has come from You, because I gave them the words You gave me, and they have accepted them. They know with certainty that I came from You, and they believe You have sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. And the glory has come to me through them. I won’t remain in the world any longer. But they will, while I come to You. Father, protect them by the power of Your Name—the same name You gave me—so that they may be one as We are One. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by the name You gave me. None have been lost except for the one who was doomed to destruction so that the Scripture will be fulfilled.”

“I’m coming to You now, but I say these things while I am with them so that they can have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them Your Word, and the world has hated them, for they are not from the world any more than I am. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world, but that You protect them from the evil one. They are not from the world, just as I am not from the world. Set them apart by the truth. Your Word is truth. As You have sent me into the world, so am I sending them into the world. For their sake I set myself apart as holy, so that they also may be truly set apart.”

(When Jesus says ‘protect them by Your name’, he is praying that the believers will never lose faith in him.)

“My prayer isn’t only for them, but also for those who will believe in me because of their message. My prayer is that they may all be one, just as You are in me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent me. I have given them the glory that You gave me, so that they will be one, just as We are One.”

(Look at these interactions. Giving, giving, giving. Sharing, sharing, sharing. The Father gives to Jesus; he gives to the Father; he gives to the disciples; they are in the Father; they are in Jesus; they are in the Holy Spirit; It is in Jesus; It is in the disciples; Jesus is in the disciples; Jesus is in the Father. I said at the beginning of the book how the Trinity is a model for our interaction with one another. We are most like God when we give from ourselves to the other. Sharing, giving, opening up our hearts to others, and being in others’ hearts is what life should look like and be like. This is the example God is showing us, by extending the love within the Trinity to the disciples around Him. God includes us because of His love; He does not keep it to Himself, but He opens up and He gives to us. We are made in His image, and so we must behave as He behaves. If God is the most intelligent being, and He behaves this way, it must be the right way, because He has never changed. If you’re right all the time, why change? But we are not right, and must learn and change to become more like Him.)

“I am in them and You are in me. Let them be in complete unity, so that the world may know that You have sent me, and that You love them just as You love me. Father, I want those You have given me to be with me and to see my glory, the glory You have given me because You loved me even before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world doesn’t know You, I do. And they know that You sent me. I have revealed You to the world, and will continue to reveal You, so that the love You have for me can be in them, and that I myself may be in them.”

The goal of Jesus is to share the love of God to the world and save it. The goal of Jesus is to restore the connection between God and man. The goal of Jesus is to reveal the Father, and cause people to open their hearts to Him. So what about you? Is your heart open to Him?

When Jesus and his disciples arrived at the olive grove where they normally met, a garden named Gethsemane, he had the disciples stay there to wait for him while he went to pray. Jesus took only Peter, James, and John with him. He told them, “My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch.” Then he went a little further alone and prayed. In anguish, he fell to the ground and said, “Daddy, Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me… Still, may Your will be done, not mine…” He returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. They were also in anguish and grief, and likely cried themselves to sleep. When he returned to them, Jesus said, “Can’t you keep watch with me for just an hour? Watch and pray, so that you won’t be tempted. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” Then Jesus went back to pray again, saying the same thing as before. An angel appeared to him and strengthened him, but it wasn’t enough to soothe him, because the sweat from his forehead also contained blood. This only happens in moments of intense anxiety. Jesus returned again to his disciples and found them asleep again, because their eyes were heavy. When he woke them again, they didn’t know what to say. Again they were failing Jesus. He returned to pray again another time, appealing to God to save his life and find a different way to reconcile man to God. Once again he sacrificed his will to God. It was easier to say that he was the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep a week or two before actually having to die, but when the very next thing you will experience is the pain, it’s much harder to say.

When you have 3-year plans and 5-year plans and goals and aspirations that you are looking forward to, it’s hard to suddenly lay down your life. When you have people that you love deeply and they love you deeply, it’s hard to leave them. Yes, Jesus is about to return to Heaven and be with his Father, which is what he really wants, but he also has strong attachments to his disciples and his life on earth. He was fully aware of the brutality he would endure, but it was the only way to save humanity. Both Jesus and God knew this, so the plan remained in place, even though it was a painful decision for them. Which is why Jesus said, “God so loved the world that He gave up His only Son, so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.”

(John 18) One more time Jesus returned to his disciples to wake them up, but when came back, he also saw Judas approaching with a band of the priest’s servants, who were well-armed. He said to his disciples, “Arise. Here comes my traitor.” Judas had given a sign to the priest’s servants who they should arrest: the one he kissed on the cheek. He approached Jesus, saying, “Greetings, Rabbi,” to which Jesus responded, “You betray the Son of Man with a kiss?!” The disciples responded by pulling out their swords to fight, and one of them cut off the ear of one of the servants. “Enough of this!” Jesus yelled, stopping the fighting. He told Peter, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword. I could ask my Father for 12 legions of angels, and He’d send them for me at once. But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?” Then he said to the servants of the priest, “Am I leading some kind of rebellion that you come out against me with clubs and swords? Every day I was in the temple courts with you, and you didn’t even touch me.” Then Jesus asked, “Who is it that you are looking for?” They responded, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered “I Am.” When he said “I Am,” the servants fell to the ground; there was a power with which he said “I Am”. He was once again using the name of God for himself. Once again he asked, “Who are you looking for?” Again they answered “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I have already told you that I Am. If you’re looking for me, then let these men go.” He did this to ensure their safety.

Chapter 36

Kangaroo Court

(John 18) The guards bound Jesus with chains and led him first to Annas, the high priest that year, while the disciples scattered in fear. Peter tried to follow at a distance, as did John. When the guards brought Jesus into the high priest’s courtyard, they also allowed John to enter because he knew he was a disciple. Peter was not known as a disciple, so he was shut out. The girl at the door said, “You’re one of the disciples, aren’t you?” Peter denied it, saying, “No, I’m not.” Because it was cold, Peter went over to the fire to warm himself, and there, another girl noticed him and said, “This man is one of the disciples.” Again he denied it, saying, “Ma’am, I am not.”

John, who was inside, knew that Peter had to get inside, so he spoke to a guard to let Peter in. When he was inside, another man said, “Certainly he was with Jesus in the olive grove. He’s a Galilean.” Frustrated, Peter began calling curses down on himself, adding, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” Immediately after, the rooster crowed. Jesus looked directly at him, and Peter remembered what Jesus said, ‘Peter would disown him three times before the rooster crowed.’ He was overcome with grief and shame, and went outside to weep bitterly.

During the nighttime trial, which was illegal by Jewish law, there were people shouting many accusations against Jesus. They were all looking for reasons to condemn him, but their testimony didn’t agree. Someone stood up and said, “We heard this man say that he would destroy this man-made temple and in three days build another one, not made by man.” The high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer? What are these accusations brought against you?” Jesus didn’t answer. Annas also questioned him about his teachings, and Jesus replied, perhaps with a bit of sarcasm, “I have spoken openly to the world. I always taught in the synagogues or the Temple, where all the Jews come together. I haven’t said anything in secret. Why question me? Ask them what I said. Surely they know.”

One of the servants punched Jesus in the face and said, “Is this how you talk to the high priest?!” Jesus answered, “If I said something wrong tell me what was wrong. But if I’m right, what reason do you have to strike me?” After that, Annas said, “I order you under oath by the living God: If you are the Messiah, the Son of God, tell us.” Jesus answered, “If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me, and if I asked you, you wouldn’t answer. I Am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God and coming with the clouds of Heaven.” With this, the high priest tore his clothes and said, “What more evidence do we need? We have heard his blasphemy firsthand!”

He said this because once again Jesus used the name of God for Himself: I Am. It was different than the typical way of saying “I am a man” or “I am a Jew.” No, this phrase Jesus was using was special, and everyone understood it solely as the name of God.

With this, the people said Jesus deserved to die for blasphemy. Some people spat in his face and punched him. They tied a blindfold around him, and then beat him, saying, “Prophecy! Who hit you?” He was sent off to Caiaphas, still bound, where he would await the council’s decision.

It was early morning when they decided he had to die, and so they brought Jesus to the governor, Pontius Pilate. When Judas saw that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was seized with remorse. He ran back to the authorities and told them, “I have sinned! I have betrayed innocent blood!” They answered, “What is that to us? It’s your responsibility.” He threw the money into the Temple and ran out, found a tree and some rope, and hanged himself. The branch broke under his weight, and his body fell to the ground, bursting open on some rocks. As for the money, the priests said that it was illegal to put the money in the Temple treasury, so they used it to buy a field to bury foreigners, fulfilling a prophecy about the Messiah. “They took 30 silver coins, the price set on him by the people of Israel, and they used it to buy the potter’s field.” (Suddenly they care about not breaking the Law of God. They don’t mind killing God’s Son, but they do mind putting blood money in God’s Temple.)

When they brought Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor, he asked why they brought him there. “He is subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be the Messiah, a king. If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have brought him to you,” they answered. He replied, “Take him and judge him by your own law.” They answered, “But we don’t have authority to execute anyone.” Pilate went inside and summoned Jesus. He asked Jesus directly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” It was a dangerous thing the claim kingship when the only recognized king was the Caesar. Political insurrection would be snuffed out viciously.

Jesus answered, “Is that your own idea, or did someone tell that to you?” He replied, “Am I a Jew? It was your people and your priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?” That statement may have struck Jesus harder than we imagine. As the God of Israel, he was the one who set up the entire nation, and gave the prescriptions for its priesthood. Indeed, it was his people and his priests that handed him over to Pilate. As the Scripture says, “He came to his own and his own did not receive him.” What Pilate said has two meanings.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If it were, my servants would fight for it and prevent my arrest by the Jews. My kingdom is now from another place.” I think you might be able to hear the hint of sadness and rejection in that statement. Maybe Jesus said this in a bold tone, maybe he said it as if talking to a peer. We can’t know for sure, but it’s my belief that he said this with a dejected tone. Pilate answered, “So you are a king, then!” Jesus responded, “You’re right in saying I’m a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world: to testify about the truth. Everyone who is on the side of truth listens to me.” Pilate asked as he walked back outside to the crowd, “What is truth…?”

“I find no basis for a charge against him,” Pilate announced, but the priests and the crowd protested, “He stirs up the people and all over Judea. He started in Galilee, and has come all the way here.” When he heard this, he found out that Jesus was under the jurisdiction of Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at the time. Herod heard a lot about Jesus, and was excited to meet him, because he hoped to see some kind of miracle. When Pilate sent Jesus to Herod, he asked Jesus many, many questions, but Jesus didn’t answer any of them. While standing there silently, the priests were accusing him of many things. Because he wouldn’t talk, Herod and his soldiers mocked and ridiculed Jesus. They put him in an elegant robe and sent him back to Pilate. On this day, Pilate and Herod became friends, though I’m not sure why. Prior to that day, they were enemies.

Pilate called back the priests, the teachers of the Law, the Pharisees, and said to them all, “You brought this man to me as one who was inciting a rebellion. But I have examined him in your presence, and have found no basis for charges against him. Neither has Herod, since he sent him back to us. He hasn’t done anything worthy of death, so I will punish him and then release him.” The crowd protested, “Away with this man!” Pilate brought out Barabbas, which means ‘Son of the Father’. Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion. Pilate said to the crowd, “It’s your custom for me to release one of the prisoners to you. Who do you want? The king of the Jews?”

“Not him! Give us Barabbas!” So Pilate released Barabbas. “But what about this man? What crime has he committed?” The crowd began chanting “Crucify! Crucify!” Pilate pleaded with the crowd, but they chanted all the more, “Crucify! Crucify!” So, Pilate took a bowl of water and symbolically washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “Do what you want, but his blood is on your hands.” They accepted that, saying, “May his blood be on us and our children forever.” Pilate sent Jesus to be flogged and examined by the soldiers. Basically, by torturing prisoners, they were supposed to get confessions of misdeeds if there were any. While punching was normal, the real torture came with the whips. The strands of the whips had fragments of metal and bone in them, and left stripes of blood on the prisoner’s back. There was a soldier who was trained how to whip for maximum effect, while also keeping the prisoner alive. If there was anything to confess, it would be confessed here. I’m not sure how true that is, though, because from the testimony of American officials, the torture at Guantanamo Bay did not yield reliable information; maybe the prisoners just said something—anything—to make the torture stop.

The soldiers were permitted to flog him 39 times with whips. In addition, they twisted a thorn plant into a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They dressed him in elegant robes and knelt before him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they punched him. They gave him a rod like one that a king would have, and they used the staff to hit him on the head. This is in fulfillment of the prophecy about the Messiah, “We were glad to see him get beaten, smitten by God. But by his stripes, we were healed.” After the mocking, beating, flogging, and interrogating, Jesus was brought back to Pilate, who presented him to the people. “Behold your king! I am bringing him out again to you to show you that I have examined him and find no fault in him.”

The priests and other officials said immediately, “Crucify! Crucify!” Pilate said. “Fine! You take him and crucify him. But as for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.” The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a Law. And according to that Law, this man must die, because he claims to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he became very afraid and went back inside the palace, unsure of what he was dealing with. He had already known that Jesus was only sent to him because the Pharisees envied Jesus. He knew it was illegitimate. Earlier his wife had already sent him a message warning him to have nothing to do with Jesus, because she knew he was innocent, and that she had already had a terrible dream about him. When that he heard that Jesus claimed to be God’s Son, he was very afraid.

When he went back inside to Jesus, Pilate asked him, “Where are you from?” Jesus gave no answer, to Pilate’s amazement. “Are you seriously refusing to speak to me? Don’t you know that I have the power either to free you or crucify you?” Jesus shot back, “You would have no power over me unless it were given to you from above. Therefore, whoever handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Pilate, with even greater urgency, tried to set Jesus free, but the people responded, “If you let this man go, then you are no friend of Caesar’s! Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.” Pilate again brought Jesus out to the crowd and said, “Here is your king.” The crowd shouted all the more, “Take him away! Take him away and crucify him!” Pilate pleaded, “Shall I really crucify your king?” They answered, “We have no king but Caesar,”

When they threatened him with the accusation of treason, Pilate had no other choice but to consent to Jesus’ death. Even though he wanted to set Jesus free, it didn’t matter, because he was a coward. With enough pushing, goading, pressure, and threatening, he could be forced to do anything. Going against his conscience and his intuition, he sentenced an innocent man to death. It didn’t matter that he symbolically washed his hands, passing off the blame. History still records him as the one who ordered the death of Jesus, no matter how badly he wanted to escape responsibility. That is by nature, the result of cowardice, the one thing cowards fear is the one thing that destroys them. The one who sacrifices his integrity for honor will lose all honor. The one who craves security, stability, and power will lose it. As the Scriptures say, “Don’t be deceived; God is not mocked. Whatever you plant, you will harvest.” For example: Immediately after the Articles of Confederation were written in the United States, the first thing the Congress did was define white men as being created equal, but did not include black people, who were slaves. Less than a century later, the country was ripped apart by civil war, centering on the fate of slavery and the place of black people in American society. It was the bloodiest war in American history.

The pattern of behavior extends beyond morals to business. I frequently see scrappy startup companies become a huge success, and then become stagnant when they lose their edge that made them great at first. In order to preserve their gains, they stop taking risks, and then begin to lose popularity—the same popularity they tried so desperately to hold when they made decisions against taking new risks. Funny how that works.

Chapter 37

Dead and Buried

(John 19) After being condemned to die, the soldiers took the regal clothes off Jesus and put his original clothes on him, and they led him out to crucify him. He would have to carry his cross bar outside of the city. There was a crowd that lined the streets that Jesus had to walk. As Jesus was carrying the cross, a man from present-day Libya named Simon was forced to help Jesus carry his cross. There were women following behind him, mourning for him. Whether that mourning was sincere, I don’t know, it may have just been customary.

Jesus said to them, “Don’t cry for me; cry for yourselves and for your children. For the time is coming when you will say ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never gave birth, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then, as the Scripture says, ‘They will say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us and cover us!’ For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will they do when the tree is dry?” He continued out of the city to a prominent hill named Golgotha, meaning the place of the skull. It may be that this hill was frequently used for public executions where the Romans wanted everyone to see it, or maybe it the hill had a skull-shape. Maybe both.

There were two other robbers who were also going to be crucified that day with Jesus. Long, sharp nails were driven through his wrists and through his feet, and on the top of his cross was a sign that said, “This is Jesus from Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (The chief priests had disputed that label earlier, saying, “Don’t write that. Rather, write that he said he was the King of the Jews.” But Pilate responded, “What I have written, I have written.”) After Jesus and the criminals were lifted upright for all to see, the clothes Jesus was wearing was divided among the soldiers. They wanted the clothes for themselves, and decided who should get them by casting lots, much like someone shoots dice or uses some other form of random selection. Jesus simply said of the whole situation, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”

The chief priests and enemies of Jesus started mocking him, saying, “Hey, you who say you can destroy the Temple and rebuild it yourself, save yourself! If you are the Messiah, come down from the cross so we can see it and we will believe in you.” Other people who passed by on the highway mocked, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” Even the other criminals on the cross mocked him. Jesus did not respond, but awhile later, Jesus cried out in Hebrew, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus, the Son of God, felt abandoned by the Father he had known and followed faithfully for eternity. The sins of man were being punished through him, so Jesus experienced the separation from God that he had never known before. He was also quoting a Psalm from the Bible. He was fulfilling the prophecy of this Psalm, and was experiencing the pain of the writer, though he likely only had the energy to say this short phrase.

When being crucified, it is hard to breathe, because the arms are so stretched out, and because the crucified person is hanging. They can only breathe by pushing up on the cross, which is also painful because of the nails in the feet, and because the cross is rugged and splintered. Crucifixion is part torture, part humiliation, part execution. A person on the cross might last several days on display for everyone to see, as they hang there naked. The English word ‘excruciating’ literally means ‘out of the cross’, because the pain is so horrible. That is why I believe he only said the short phrase, though I am sure he meant the whole thing in his heart.

When the chief priests heard Jesus speak, they thought he was calling for Elijah, a revered prophet. They thought he was asking for Elijah to come rescue him. Someone ran to get some vinegar and myrrh to give him, but the chief priests said, “Leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to rescue him.” Here is the entire Psalm (Psalm 22) from the Bible that Jesus was talking about, written about a thousand years before Jesus lived:

My God! My God! Why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from my groaning words? Oh, my God, I cry out to You in the day, but You don’t answer. And in the night, I am not silent. Yet You are holy, enthroned as the Holy One; You are the praise of Israel. In You our fathers put their hope; they trusted You and You delivered them. They cried out to You and You saved them. They were confident in You and were not disappointed. But I am a worm, not a man. I am scorned by men and despised by people. All who see me ridicule me. They hurl insults at me. They shake their heads and say, ‘He trusts in Jehovah; let Jehovah rescue him if He really delights in him.’”

Yet You brought me out of the womb; You made me trust in You even when my mom nursed me. From birth I was thrust to You. From the womb You’ve been my God. Don’t be far from me, because trouble is near and there is no one who can help me. Many bulls surround me, the bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions who tear apart their prey are now opening their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My strength has dried up like a potsherd. My tongue clings to my jaws. You’ve brought me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a company of evildoers has enclosed me. They have pierced my hands and feet. I can count all my bones. They look and stare at me. They divide my clothes amongst themselves, and cast lots for my garments. Don’t be far away, Oh Jehovah. You who are my help, please come quickly to help me. Deliver my soul from the sword; deliver my life from the power of dogs. Save me from the lion’s mouth; yes, rescue me from the bull’s horns.”

This is what Jesus was experiencing on the cross, a thousand years later. But the author of the Psalm didn’t stop there. He reassured himself, as I’m sure Jesus did, saying, “I will declare Your name to my people; I will praise You in the assembly, saying, ‘All you who fear the Lord: Praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob: Honor Him! Revere Him, all you descendants of Israel! For He has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one. He hasn’t hidden His face from the afflicted one, but has listened to the cry for help.’ From You, my God, comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; in front of those who fear You I will fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him—may their hearts live forever.”

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to Jehovah, and all the families of the nations will bow before Him, for the dominion belongs to Jehovah and He rules over all the nations. All the rich will feast and worship; all who have died will kneel before Him. The future generations will serve Him, and they will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim His righteousness, declaring to people still yet to be born that God has done it.”

A bit later, there was darkness over the land, but not because of night. One of the criminals said to Jesus, “If you’re the Messiah, come down from that cross and save yourself; and save us too.” The other criminal, apparently having a change of heart, said, “Don’t you fear God? We are getting what we deserve, but this man is innocent.” Then he turned to Jesus and said, “When you come into your kingdom, remember me.” This expression of faith led Jesus to say, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” (It’s funny how Jesus is innocent, but he was still tried and killed for doing nothing. It’s proof that it doesn’t matter whether you are innocent or guilty; if someone powerful says you’re guilty, you’re guilty and will suffer from that guilt, righteously or not.)

Jesus’ mother and a few other women were standing not far from the cross, perhaps as close as they were allowed to get. John, his disciple, was also there. He had compassion on them, because they were very close to Jesus and really depended on him. He said to John, “Behold your mother.” And to his mother he said, “Behold your son,” turning them towards each other. Mary would live with him as though they were family from then on. Having been on the cross for several hours, already beaten and bloodied, Jesus was dying sooner than normal. As I said earlier, many criminals hung for days before dying, but Jesus knew his time was short. He said that he was thirsty, and so one of the soldiers got a sponge, dipped it in the vinegar and myrrh, and gave it to Jesus to drink a bit. Shortly before he died, he said, “Father, into Your hands I give my spirit.” And with a loud voice he cried out, “It is finished.” Then he hung his head and died.

His death was dreadfully painful, and he didn’t want to endure it, but did so because it was the only way to save us. If you remember, when the Israelites sinned, they offered up sacrifices of lambs to atone for their sins. The lamb took their place and bore their punishment. But why was this necessary?

There are two major themes that continue to resurface: God’s holiness and God’s love. When I say God is holy, I mean that He is perfect in every way, having no moral faults. Because God is holy, He demands that we also be holy, because we are made in His image. In the same way that you demand your food to be clean, God demands His people be righteous. If I came to you with a salad, and told you that I dropped some of the lettuce on the floor and did not wash it off, would you want to eat the salad? Even if I only dropped a little of the lettuce? No, probably not. It’s the same way with God.

Sin is so much more than what evil things we do. Most of us think we’re off the hook because we aren’t the most wicked people on earth. We think Hell is reserved for only the vilest, but the truth is, Hell is very large, and the majority of people on earth will go there. It doesn’t matter whether you think you are a good person or not. The standard of God is far higher, and whatever righteousness you think you have is overrated. Sin is more than just doing evil. It is also speaking evil. The gossiper and the slanderer stand guilty before God. For instance, there are a lot of political commentators who are known as ‘shock jocks’. They say vile things about other people who disagree with their political philosophies. They especially target marginalized groups. They stand guilty before God because they don’t treat other human beings as the image of God. As Scripture says, how can you say you love God, whom you’ve never seen, yet hate your brother whom you have seen? Such a person is a liar (1 John 4:20).

Sin is not just the evil that we do or the evil that we speak, but also the evil that we think. Looking down on someone because of their clothes or their job or anything else is evil. Craving someone else’s wife or husband is evil, even though you haven’t done anything yet. Why? Because God claims the mind just as He claims your hands and your mouth. All of you belongs to Him.

Yet sin is more than just the evil things we do, say, or think. Sin is also the good that we don’t do, and the evil that we don’t confront. If an off-duty firefighter sees a fire and doesn’t try to help, he will go to jail for doing nothing. If you hear someone making jokes about people of other races or people of lower classes, and you say nothing to stop that mean-spirited conversation, you are guilty also, because your silence means that their statement is either true or not a big deal. Evil gets bolder when good people don’t challenge it. People who do evil will continue to do as much as they can until they meet resistance. I must go even further. Sin isn’t just the evil things we do, say, and think. Sin isn’t just the good things we fail to do or say. It is also the good things we refuse to believe. There is a penalty and a judgment from God for not believing the truth and for believing the lie. God will fiercely judge willful ignorance, because His will is not being accomplished. When the truth is being given to you and you choose to believe and live by lies, you’re sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting over the voice of God. If you don’t believe me, read about King Ahab in 1st Kings 22. He knew the truth, but chose the lie, and died for it.

The holiness of God is easy to understand when you think about things that have to be right. Right now I am using a Samsung Galaxy phone. It works great, but the battery loses power quickly. The reliability of the whole phone goes down when one part is not working correctly. It’s the same way with God. He designed the earth and everything in it to work harmoniously. When things don’t work right, the harmony is broken. When we mistreat others and disregard our relationship with God, we do harm to ourselves and to others. This brings disharmony to the world.

Even though God is holy and pure, He is also loving and merciful, and does not want to see humans separated from Him forever. He wants to show mercy to humanity, but can’t do this without first addressing the sin problem. The wages of sin is death. We deserve death and separation from Him because of our sins, so in order to save us, God sent Jesus to die in our place. For this reason, Jesus said, “It is finished.” What he is really saying is that the debt is paid in full. If you don’t believe me, read the Bible in Greek, and you’ll see the same business phrase in the original language. The mercy of God and the love of God pushed Him to sacrifice His Only Son.

Think about that. If you’re a parent, whether in China or America, how would you feel in this scenario? Imagine that a mob of murderous people said that they wanted to brutally kill your one and only child in front of you, and then you hear your child cry out, ‘Why have you given me over to these people? I didn’t want to do this; it was your idea.’ Would it make you feel any better if you knew that your child’s suffering would solve the world’s problems? Would you still watch your child be brutally killed? Never. If the salvation of the world depends on the death of my loved one, everyone else is doomed. This is why Jesus said God loved the world so much that He gave up His Only Son to save it. Even then, the beneficiaries of the sacrifice were ungrateful. To the Jews, Jesus’ death had nothing to do with atoning for their sins; it was about maintaining power and influence, and about keeping the Romans from destroying the country. For the Romans, he was just another revolutionary who needed to be put down.

The next thing that happened gives me a great deal of confusion. There was an earthquake following Jesus’ death, but another miracle happened, there were dead people who were all revived and came out of their tombs. The curtain in the Temple that separated the holiest place from the rest of the Temple was ripped from top to bottom. Some day after the Resurrection of Jesus, those people who came out of their graves later went into Jerusalem and presented themselves to the people, but strangely, this event is not recorded anywhere in history. There were famous historians during that time, like Josephus, a Jew who did not sympathize with the Christian movement, but even he records the life and death of Jesus. There are no records of many dead people coming back to life at one time. Remember, though, that the Jewish authorities wanted to suppress as much news about Jesus as possible, so this may be one reason why we don’t have any other historical records of this event besides the Bible itself.

After that earthquake, along with the darkness over the land, the leader of the guards said, “Truly this was the Son of God,” because he was so terrified by what he saw. Normally when criminals are hung on the cross, they are left for several days until they finally die from exhaustion. However, this day was special, and the next day was a holy holiday, so the two surviving robbers on the cross had to die today to maintain the holiness of the holiday. The guards used a heavy weapon to slam against their legs, breaking them. This way, they would die sooner. Since Jesus was already dead, they jabbed him with a spear through his side into his heart, just to be sure. Watery blood came out.

After the criminals died, the guards took down the bodies. Pilate had custody of Jesus’ body, and so Joseph from Arimathea and Nicodemus went to him and asked for his body. They were secret disciples who believed in Jesus. They and several of the women close to Jesus took the body and wrapped it in cloths and poured oil on the cloth to give the body a good smell for several days while they prepared to do a formal burial ritual. The holiday was tomorrow, so they had to hurry and get Jesus’ body in a tomb, because it was ceremonially unclean to leave a body unburied before sunset. Joseph donated his new tomb, and they closed it with a large stone and went home.

Looking back on the death of Jesus, I remember saying that we should look to Jesus as the ultimate example of how to live and interact with the world around us. However, given the nature of his death, I worry that some people will come away with an understanding that we must suffer silently any injustice inflicted upon us, as if the murder of Jesus was virtuous. If you remember, there were times when Jesus was silent as his enemies accused him. It is often said that if he spoke, he would’ve been acquitted and justified. I believe that saying, but I am also aware that his death was his mission. He knew he had to die to save the world, but that doesn’t mean that we must suffer silently. Our death has no redemptive value in itself. Jesus had the power to not only call down angels to free him, he had the power to free himself by himself. All he had to do was say the word, and he would be free, and his enemies would be destroyed. When we suffer injustice, we often have no power to change the situation except if God gives us that power. It makes me think of laborers in the United States, who after being exploited by their employers, didn’t sit by and wait for the rich exploiters to develop a conscience. They walked out and refused to work until conditions improved. They were not silent, because silence would have meant acceptance and approval. No justice comes through silent disapproval. I’ll say it again: No justice comes through silent disapproval.

If Jesus opened his mouth, he would have vindicated himself. He had to die, so he remained silent. If you have to live, you better open your mouth and demand a change. In all things, I advise you to listen to the Holy Spirit, and let God tell you what to do or say. He will show you His will. I wanted to clear up a misconception that being Christian means you must be silent and accept any form of injustice. For some people, this may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised how often I have heard people express this misguided view of Jesus’ death. They suffer needlessly, thinking they are doing it to God’s glory.

Chapter 38

Gone and Back Again

(Matthew 27:62) The next day, one of the chief priests came to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that when that deceiver was still alive, he said he would rise again after three days. So give the order for the tomb to be secured until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people he rose from the dead. Then the last deception would be worse than the first!” Pilate told him to take a guard (maybe 4-12 soldiers) and secure the tomb as best as they could. So they used ropes and hot wax to seal the tomb and make it hard to open. If you broke through the Roman seal, you would be executed. Additionally, the soldiers had to stay there for several days until the third day passed.

On the Sunday morning, 3 days and nights after Jesus died, people were able to move about freely without worrying about the religious requirements of staying home. Several women went to Jesus’ grave early to put oil on Jesus’ body and perform other funeral rituals. As they were on their way to the tomb, they weren’t sure how they would move the stone. They didn’t know about the seal over the tomb, but they knew that they weren’t going to be able to move the stone out of the way; they needed the men with them. Nevertheless, they went. When they went, they saw that the tomb was open and no one was around.

The women didn’t know what happened mere hours earlier: The soldiers were supposed to remain one more day. They were supposed to defend the tomb at all costs. If they failed their duty, they faced the death penalty. (The Roman government spared no one.) During the night, an angel came down from Heaven. His face was bright like lightning, and his clothes were pure white. The soldiers were overwhelmed with fear and fainted. The angel rolled the stone away, as if the seal wasn’t even there. It was during this time that Jesus left the grave. Before he left, he took the cloth that wrapped his head and he folded it neatly and put it where he once laid dead.

The Bible teaches that during these three days, Jesus went down into the spiritual Grave. He liberated the believers and brought the righteous out of the grave below into Heaven above. This is why I believe Jesus said to the robber on the cross, ‘Today you will be with me in Paradise.’ I believe that the spiritual Grave was split into two, with Paradise for the believers, and Hell for the unbelievers. I believe that Paradise was taken out of the Grave below and into Heaven in the presence of God. Now that their sins have been atoned for, they can be reunited to God. Even though Paradise away from God is better than eternal suffering, it is still not the same as being with God in Heaven.

When the women saw that the body of Jesus was not there, they ran back to Peter and John, weeping, and saying, “They have taken the Lord’s body, and we don’t know where they put him!” The disciples ran to the tomb and went inside, looking for the body, but finding only the cloths. Peter saw it and was very confused, but when John saw it, he believed that Jesus rose from the dead. They left and went home, as they were going to all return to Galilee later that day. The women also came back to the tomb. As they were looking at the scene trying to make sense of it, two angels stood behind them, shining in their glory. They said, “Why are you looking for the living among the dead. He is not here. He has risen! Don’t you remember what he said when he was still with you? ‘The Son of Man will be given over to sinful men, and they will crucify him, and after 3 days he will rise again’?” When they said this, the women remembered. The angels also said, “Tell the disciples that he is going to Galilee ahead of them and will meet them there.” They raced back to the disciples and told them, but on their way, they saw a man. They thought he was a gardener. He greeted them, and immediately they recognized he was Jesus. They fell down at his feet and worshipped him, and he said, “Don’t be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” The women ran back and told the disciples everything they saw and heard, but the disciples thought they were speaking nonsense.

While this was happening, the soldiers who were watching the tomb went and told the priests what happened. The priests and elders came up with a plan: “Take this money. If anyone asks, say that the disciples came and stole the body while you were asleep. If the governor is unhappy about this, we will take care of the problem and keep you out of trouble.” The guards took the money and did what they were told. The rumor that the disciples stole the body continued for decades because of this.

(Luke 24) Later in the day, the disciples were walking towards Galilee. They were talking to each other about the strange events of the day, and Jesus came alongside them, but he prevented them from recognizing him. (He was a bit different than his normal body. I will explain this later.) He asked them, “What are you all discussing as you walk along?” The disciples all stopped and looked downcast. One of them spoke up and said, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and you don’t know what happened here these last few days?” Jesus asked, “What things?” They replied “About Jesus from Nazareth. He was a prophet, who was mighty in his words and his deeds before God and all the people. Our rulers and priests handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one who would restore Israel. And what’s more, it’s been three days since this happened. Some of the women went to the tomb and came back amazed. They went there early this morning and they came back saying that they had seen angels, who said that Jesus was alive. Some of our companions went to the tomb and found it empty, just as the women said, but we didn’t see him.”

When the disciple said this, Jesus responded, “How foolish you all are, and slow in your hearts to believe all that the prophets said. Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter into glory?” Then Jesus began explaining prophecy after prophecy about the Messiah. When they were getting close to the village, Jesus acted as if he was going to go further on, but the disciples urged him to stay with them, because it was almost evening, so he went in to stay with them. When they sat down to eat, Jesus took the bread and gave thanks for it. When he started distributing the bread, the disciples immediately recognized he was Jesus, but then he suddenly disappeared. They said to themselves, “Weren’t our hearts burning when he was explaining the Scriptures to us?” They immediately got up and went back to Jerusalem to the rest of the disciples.

When they came, the other disciples were locked inside a house, fearing further persecution by the Jewish authorities. They had no expectation that Jesus would rise again, so they were very afraid. When the disciples returned from the village, they said, “We’ve seen the Lord!” They told the rest of the disciples everything that happened, and how they recognized Jesus, and at that moment, Jesus appeared to them all. “Peace be with you,” he said. They were all startled and thought they saw a ghost. Some were still doubtful that Jesus really rose from the dead. One of them, named Thomas, was not with the disciples during this meeting. Because they were so unsure, Jesus said to them, “Why are you troubled? Why do you have doubts in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It’s really me! Touch me and see. A ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones, as you can clearly see I have.” When they were examining him, they still couldn’t believe it, just because of joy and amazement. He continued, “Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, so am I sending you. Now, receive the Holy Spirit.” He breathed on them and said, “If you forgive anyone on earth, they will be forgiven in Heaven. But whoever you don’t forgive on earth will not be forgiven in Heaven.”

Because they were still amazed and overjoyed, Jesus said, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him some broiled fish. He took it and ate it in front of them. This was supposed to show that he was indeed alive and not a ghost. Then he said, “This is what I have told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms. This is what is written about the Messiah: That he must suffer and die, and rise from the dead on the third day. Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name, to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem. You are all witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised, the Holy Spirit. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from above. John may have baptized with water, but I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” One of the disciples asked if Jesus was finally going to restore Israel’s rightful place. Jesus answered, “It’s not for you to know what times and dates the Father has set by His own authority. But when the Holy Spirit comes, you will receive power from above. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and everywhere else in the world.”

(John 20:19) After this meeting, a week later, the disciples were still in Jerusalem. The disciples had told Thomas that Jesus had returned and was alive, but he didn’t believe them. He said, “Unless I can put my finger into the holes in his wrists and in his side, I won’t believe it.” They were all inside a locked room when he said this, and then Jesus appeared again inside the room, saying, “Peace be with you.” Then he turned to Thomas and said, “Put your finger here. See my hands? Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Now stop doubting and believe!” When Thomas did this, he said, “My Lord, my God!” Then Jesus answered, “You only believe because you’ve seen me. But blessed are those who have not seen and still have believed.”

There were many other ways that Jesus showed himself to his disciples. In one instance, Jesus went back up to Galilee where the disciples were fishing. On the Sea of Galilee, where his journey with the disciples first began three years ago, Jesus again appeared to the disciples. Here’s what happened. Peter, James, John, Thomas, and several other disciples were out all night fishing, but caught nothing. In the morning, Jesus stood at the shore, but they were unable to recognize him. He called out to them, “Friends, don’t you have any fish?” They answered “No.” Then Jesus answered, “Throw the net on the right side of the boat. You’ll find some there.” This had to feel like an insult to their intelligence, because they were skilled fisherman and should know how to catch fish. They probably knew that throwing the net on the right side is probably not the right way to fish if that water is deeper. They knew what they were doing, but they had nothing to show for their skill. They followed Jesus’ instruction and then they had trouble hauling the net to the shore because it was so heavy from all the fish they caught. When this happened, John realized that man on shore was Jesus. When they all heard that, Peter wrapped his outer clothes around him and jumped into the water and swam back to shore, while the others hauled the fish to land.

When they got back to shore, they saw coals burning with some fish and bread on it. “Bring some of the fish you just caught,” Jesus said. “Come and have breakfast.” He took the fish and bread and shared it with them. This was now his third time appearing to the disciples since he rose from the dead. No one asked if he was really Jesus because they all knew it was him.

When they all finished eating, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Simon, do you love me more than these others?” (To clarify, I think he’s asking if Peter loves Jesus more than the other disciples love Jesus.) Peter answered, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Jesus answered, “Then feed my lambs.” Again Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” Again Peter answered, “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.” Jesus answered, “Then take care of my sheep.” Then Jesus asked Peter a third time, “Do you love me?” This question hurt Peter because he was being asked a third time whether he loved Jesus. “Lord, you know all things; you know I love you.” Jesus answered, “Then feed my sheep. I tell you the truth: When you were younger, you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will dress you and lead you where you don’t want to go.” When Jesus said this, he was talking about the way Peter would die and bring glory to God. He would later be crucified upside-down for his testimony about Jesus Christ.

Then Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.” And so they began to walk, but when Peter looked back, he saw John following at a distance, prompting Peter to ask, “What about him?” So Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You follow me!”

In many other ways Jesus appeared to his disciples, as well as over 500 people at once. He stayed with the disciples for 40 days until he was ready to return to Heaven. He took them all one more time to just outside Bethany, at the Mount of Olives. He said to them, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And know this: I am surely with you always, even until the End of the Age.” Jesus blessed them and began ascending into Heaven. The disciples stood there watching for as long as they could before he disappeared behind a cloud. Two angels stood behind them and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking up into the sky? This same Jesus, who was taken from you into Heaven, will return in the same way that he came.”

This is a short side note: The way Jesus talks with the disciples, it’s not quite like a farewell. It’s more like, “Here are your instructions until further notice. We’ll be in touch.” The way you talk to someone on the phone when you plan to see them again soon is different than when you talk to a relative on their death bed, and for Jesus, it’s the same. He doesn’t think of his departure as a farewell, but as a short trip. He knows he will see them again soon. He thinks of death the same way. He knows life continues, as he has himself demonstrated. For us, life ends at the grave, but in reality, it continues. We don’t truly cease to exist.

Chapter 39

Prove It

There is a lot to uncover when we talk about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and what his body was like, so I want to take some time to explain it.

Understand what is important about the resurrection. It is historically verifiable proof of Jesus’ claims. If Jesus was a fraud, he would still be dead, but if he truly is the Son of God, then we must take whatever he says seriously. The resurrection is also the turning point for a lot of people. Jesus had a younger brother named James, who during Jesus’ life thought Jesus was a lunatic. He later became a believer and became a prominent early Christian. For the disciples of Jesus, it was verification that he was truly the Messiah they were waiting for, which gave them courage to endure hardship as they proclaimed his message. For us today, the resurrection is the central reason to believe in Jesus. Notice how little effort I try to put into proving the existence of God using the Creation story or the Flood story, or even the prophecies. No, the resurrection is where I go to prove what I believe. If the resurrection could be disproven, we should all abandon faith in him and just go home; we could keep all the teachings and morality, but belief in Jesus himself may as well be dropped entirely. Paul, a writer in the Bible said it this way: “If Christ has not been raised from the dead, your faith is in vain.”

But if Christ has been raised from the dead, his resurrection is a guarantee that he has paid the full price for our sins against God, and that peace has been restored between us and God if we believe in him.

Even if you doubt certain aspects of the Resurrection story, there are several key facts that most historians don’t dispute:

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Jesus died by crucifixion.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The tomb was empty.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The disciples believe Jesus rose from the dead.

There are several questions that skeptics have about the resurrection. Some question whether Jesus actually died. Some question whether we can believe the Bible’s account. Some question whether we can believe the disciples’ actions. Others question if the body was stolen. Others question if everyone went to the wrong tomb. Still others say that maybe the disciples were hallucinating. Lastly, some question whether the story of Jesus was just a myth. Because of time, I cannot go into every question, but if you want a thorough exposition on the resurrection, I highly recommend reading “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Habermas and Licona. For now, though, I want to remind you of the circumstances surrounding the resurrection debate:

#
p<>{color:#000;}. The disciples heard Jesus talk about his death and resurrection, but they did not understand him. They thought he was speaking in riddles. When he was crucified, they thought Jesus, as powerful and godly a man as he was, was not the Messiah they were waiting for. They were starting to go back to life as usual before he appeared to them, so there was no reason for them to steal the body. What good would that do? A false messiah is a false messiah. Besides, they were still afraid of being killed for being with Jesus.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. If the disciples were afraid of being killed for being associated with Jesus, would it make sense for them to start preaching the message of Jesus publicly less than 2 months later? They deserted Jesus when he was arrested. They hid after he was killed, but then they preach in the streets of Jerusalem about Jesus, knowing they could be killed? What changed? They met the risen Jesus, and for their preaching, most of them were killed for it.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. If they met the risen Jesus, could it be a hallucination? This theory sounds possible, but has many problems.

##
p<>{color:#000;}. First, this does not account for the empty tomb. If Jesus was dead, the Jewish authorities would have gladly retrieved the body and displayed it publicly.

##
p<>{color:#000;}. Second, hallucinations cannot be shared. You can’t share the same dream, either. If you went to sleep and dreamt you were on a vacation, you can’t wake up and invite your spouse to the vacation dream. In the same way, hallucinations are private. Remember that over 500 people saw Jesus at the same time. That does not happen with hallucinations. Actually, that would be a bigger miracle than the resurrection.

##
p<>{color:#000;}. Third, when they met the risen Jesus, they hugged him, ate with him, and even touched his wounds. You can’t touch a hallucination. A hallucination doesn’t leave food behind. The disciples did not see a hallucination.

The last thing I want to address is the Bible’s account of the life and death of Jesus. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about the transmission of the Bible down through the years. A lot of people think the Bible has been changed so many times, and also think its primary function is to control the people. (I’m not going to defend what wicked people do with the Bible, because even Satan misused God’s Word. Politicians and rulers use whatever tools they have at their disposal to attain and maintain their hold on power.)

Nevertheless, such people who question the Bible’s reliability incorrectly compare this to the game “Telephone”. If I whisper something in one person’s ear and tell them to whisper what I said in another person’s ear, it won’t be long before the message changes, but that’s not how the Bible is transmitted. Whenever someone translates the Bible, they go back to the ancient manuscripts. It’s like if a teacher sends an email to 20 people at once. She does not rely on one person telling another.

As for the manuscripts themselves, let’s talk about ancient history. The original manuscripts of the New Testament were letters written from one person to another group of people. They were handled quite a bit. Think of some old documents you have in your house. They are old and not in great condition. Some had to be copied to replace the original. In the same way, the original letters that make up the New Testament do not exist anymore. The people knew these letters were important, so they made lots of copies of them. They even codified their beliefs in songs and poetry.

Other stories and documents from the time include the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and Homer. We have 7 copies of the writings of Plato. The original writing was from around 430 to 350 BC, but the earliest copy we have is from 900 AD. That’s a separation of about 1200 years. For Aristotle, we have 49 copies of his writings, but like Plato, there is a large gap between the time of the original writings and our earliest copies. It is about 1400 years. Homer’s writings fair a lot better. There are 643 copies of his writings, and the closest time between the original writing and the earliest copies is 500 years.

Society accepts that these documents are authentic, but they question the New Testament. That’s odd because there are over 24,000 copies of it (that’s not a typo), and the originals were written between 50 and 100 AD. The earliest copies were from 130 AD, a separation of less than a century. This is remarkable for an ancient book. If you were to get rid of every Bible on earth, it would still be possible to recreate it because we have so many manuscripts, and these manuscripts are remarkably consistent.

For this reason I believe it is easy to trust that this Bible is what the original writers intended for it to be. It is also easy for me to believe that the story of Jesus was written by people who knew Jesus or his disciples.

It is also important when we talk about the early original writings. For those who believe that this message about Jesus is just a myth, please remember that the disciples died for this message. People don’t die for something they know is not true. It wasn’t a legend to them.

Let me illustrate my point with this example: George Washington is the 1st President of the United States. He lived 230 years ago. I know next to nothing about him. Anything I read in a textbook could be wrong. I don’t know if he owned slaves. I don’t know if he was honest. I don’t know what kind of president he was.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President. He lived 150 years ago. I know that he was more concerned with keeping the country together than he was about freeing African slaves. I heard that he would block off trade with any country that recognized the Confederate States of America as its own country, but I don’t really know.

Lastly, we have Martin Luther King. He lived 50 years ago. I know that his belief in Jesus led him to fight for the rights of African-Americans. I know that he opposed the Vietnam War and was hated for it. I know that he looked over President Johnson’s shoulder as he signed the Civil Rights Act into law.

Legends can develop about people over time, but it normally takes over 100 years. All the people who are connected to the original person can come out and debunk a myth if it ever started. For Jesus, it was the disciples and the people close to the disciples. If legends and myths about Jesus developed, those people could shut it down. Their writings about Jesus began early, and the copies we have are also very early, so it does not make sense that the story of Jesus we read today is a myth. The most likely thing that happened is Jesus rose from the dead.

If Jesus rose from the dead, this says a lot about who Jesus is, and validates what he said about himself. As Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Apart from me you can do nothing.” Or this: “All power and authority in Heaven and Earth has been given to me.” Or this: “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” These words have more weight when you know that they are the words that came from the Creator of the universe.

I notice one more thing before I move on: Some people need historical and scientific evidence. Some people, like Thomas the disciple, who touched Jesus’ wounds himself, need the proof. I hope this information provided that for you. If not, I would encourage you to do more reading. One thing I realize is that we all have questions, only some of which we can answer this side of Heaven. For those questions we can’t answer, we still have the responsibility to make decisions with the info we have. That magnifies the importance of choice. In the end, we make decisions based on what we want to do, and will find reasons to justify whatever decision we make.

There are other types of people who don’t need scientific or historical proof. What they need is to experience the love of Jesus. They need to see the love of Jesus through the people of Jesus. Then they will believe.

This is what I believe we should give the most attention to. The people will believe in God when they feel the presence of God. They will feel the presence of God through the goodness of the people of God. If you’re cold towards other people, you are not representing God well, especially when Jesus said people will know you are his disciple by your love for one another. I’m sure every Christian reading this or listening to it will nod in agreement, not knowing that they may be missing my point. What does Christian love look like? Here’s an example: It means we stop badmouthing gay people and instead befriend them. It means treating people right when it’s easy or popular to mistreat them or slander them.

In the American Church, we have done a poor job of loving, and this damages our witness not only with gay people, but also with those who see how we treat them. Your love is fake if you view gay people only as projects that you want to save. Your love is visibly fake if you strip them of their humanity and magnify their sexual orientation as the only thing that separates them from God. What would you say to a family member whom you love, who has just revealed they are gay? What would you say to a fellow Christian who does God’s work, yet you just found out he or she is gay? Does the dynamic of your relationship or friendship change? If so, why?

What does real, Christian love look like in this situation? Removing them from your life may be removing God’s light from their life. If they have done nothing to harm you, why would you withdraw from them? Some with fragile minds will equate your rejection with God’s rejection, and will feel as if God doesn’t love them because they are gay. Like it or not, when you say you are Christian, your actions represent God, for better or worse. If you reject them and disown them, you distance yourself from God, because He still loves them. He still feeds and clothes them. He still gives them the breath of life. He still thinks about them, regulating their heartbeat, protecting them from dangers unseen, and you are avoiding them and not talking to them. You’re praying for them, but not being there in their life. We as a Church have to do better. Even with people whom we disagree. “As much as possible, so much as it depends on you, live at peace with one another” (Romans 12:18).

I want to change course now, and talk about a different area of curiosity: the body of Jesus. Not as in ‘The Body of Christ, the Church’, but his physical body after he rose from the dead. He wasn’t a ghost or disembodied spirit appearing to the disciples. He had flesh and bones like any other human. Yet he walked into a room through the walls. His body was physical, just like before, yet it was made of spiritual material. When Jesus rose from the dead, he had a body that had spiritual abilities, but he was still able to eat and talk and touch, etc. When he wanted to conceal himself, he could do it at will. He was walking and talking with his disciples, and they thought he was a random traveler. Until he wanted them to know who he was. Then they recognized him.

That is the Resurrection Body that Jesus has, and the Bible promises that we will have a similar one when we are resurrected from the dead. We will no longer have the limits that our current bodies have, nor will we be sinful anymore. As the Scripture says, temporary bodies cannot inherit the eternal Heaven. We who are mortal must put on an immortal body.

Chapter 40

Not Finished Yet

(Acts 2) The story of Jesus is not complete. Life continued on for the disciples and for Jesus. Here is the brief story of his disciples and their first steps as the apostles of Jesus Christ. An apostle is someone is directly sent by the Lord. When the disciples were celebrating Pentecost, the 50th day after Passover, the Holy Spirit was sent to them from God down. They began speaking in other languages and Jewish visitors in Jerusalem for the Feast were all able to hear the message of Jesus being preached in their own language. There were Jews from all around; some spoke Arabic, others spoke Greek; the list went on. Peter began speaking about Jesus with boldness.

He said to them all, “Men of Israel, I will explain what you see here. This is what Joel the prophet spoke about, when he said God will pour out His Spirit on all people. ‘Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions. Your old men will have dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the sky, and signs in the earth below; blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious Day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited to you by God with miracles, signs, and wonders. God did this through him, and you know this. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge. And you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to a cross! But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him, ‘I saw the Lord with me all the time. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore, my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body will also rest in hope, because You won’t abandon me to the realm of the dead. You won’t let Your Holy One see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; You will fill me with joy in Your presence.’”

“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you with confidence that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that He would place one of David’s descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that the Messiah would not be abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor would his body see decay. God raised this Messiah, Jesus, to life, and we are all witnesses of it. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. For David did not ascend to Heaven, and yet he said, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’”

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and asked Peter and the others what they should do. Peter responded, “You all must repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children, and for those who are far away, for everyone whom Jehovah our God will call.” Peter continued to warn them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation,” and many people believed this message. Those who believed were baptized—about 3000 people.

These people devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to prayer, and to the fellowship of believers. The apostles continued to perform miracles and the people were astounded at them. The believers pooled their resources and shared them with anyone who needed it. They continued to meet daily in the Temple courts and people continued to confess their faith in Jesus.

That is what was happening on earth, but I also want to show you what happened in Heaven as Jesus returned. After rising from the dead, Jesus had led the souls of the righteous into Heaven, bringing them out of the realm of the dead, where the righteous and the wicked were gathered. (If you remember, Jesus described the realm of the dead as a place separated into two parts: one side for the righteous, the other side for the wicked.) When Jesus returned to Heaven, He sat down on the throne, at the right hand side of God. He was described as the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of His being (Hebrews 1:3). Even though he was in very nature divine, Jesus did not cling to his divinity, but rather, he emptied and humbled himself and became a servant, obedient even to the death, even a death on the cross. So God exalted Jesus highly, and gave him a name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow. Whether they are in Heaven or on earth, or in Hell, all will bow, and all will confess that Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2).

I can imagine God saying these words, as the writer says in the book of Hebrews (Chapter 1): “To which of the angels did I ever say, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool’? To who did I ever say, ‘You are My Son and today I have become Your Father’? And who did I ever say when they were born into the world, ‘Let all the angels of God worship him’? I make the angels spirits and My servants are flames of fire. But Your throne, Oh God, is forever and ever! A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore, God, Your God, has set You above Your companions by anointing You with the oil of joy.” Remember, this is God the Father talking to Jesus, calling him God.

The Father continued, “In the beginning, Lord, You laid the foundations of the earth, and the universe is the work of Your hands. They will all perish, but You will remain. They will wear out like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe. Like a garment, they will be changed. But You remain the same, and Your years will never end.” That is how God welcomed Jesus home.

God gave Jesus the promised Holy Spirit, and Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to his disciples, to give them Heavenly power to work for His kingdom. I don’t quite understand what was different about Jesus receiving the Holy Spirit this time versus the other time when he was first baptized, but I assume that question will be answered in Heaven or maybe someone on earth will have insights on this. I still have much to learn about Christ. But I know this: God the Father placed Jesus in full authority to run God’s Kingdom, and Jesus earned this through his willful obedience to God, even when Jesus wanted to do something different.

In my life, I have noticed that I have my plan and God has His own, and whenever I pursue my plan, it fails. Plan A doesn’t work, but when God shows His plan, which I think of as Plan B, it turns out to be better than my original plan. God’s ‘Plan B’ is better than my ‘Plan A’, so I trust God and submit my plans to Him. If He vetoes them, I know He has a better plan, and I wait for that plan to show itself. That is what Jesus is currently experiencing. As Scripture says, “No eye has seen, nor has any ear heard, nor has any mind conceived what God has planned for those who love Him” (1st Corinthians 2:9). This Scripture doesn’t only apply to Heavenly rewards and bliss, but can also be seen in this life. I never knew I would get to come to China less than a year after graduating. This wasn’t even on my radar. I hadn’t even had enough money to visit other cities in America. I never knew that my coworker would later become my wife. I didn’t see her very often, and wasn’t thinking about her at the time I worked with her. God uses circumstances we could never predict to show us His will. When He opens door, no one can shut them.

Chapter 41

The Early Church

(Acts 3) Back with the disciples, now known as the apostles because they were commissioned by Jesus, it was about 3 PM one day when Peter and John were going to the Temple for prayer. There they saw a beggar who was unable to walk. He asked them for some money, but the apostles said, “Look at us. We don’t have silver and gold, but what we do have, we will give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” They took him by the hand and helped him up, and immediately his feet and ankles became strong, and he walked and even jumped, praising God. When all the people saw him walking, they also began praising God. They recognized him as the lame beggar sitting at the gate.

When more and more people saw this, they rushed over to the former beggar, who was with Peter and John. Then Peter said, “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare as if this man has been healed by our own power or godliness? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him in front of Pilate, though he had decided to let Jesus go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be released to you. You killed the author of life! But God has raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man you see here was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has healed this man completely, as you can all see.”

“I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what He had foretold through all the prophets, saying that the Messiah would suffer. Repent and turn back to God, so that your sins will be wiped away and times of refreshing can come from the Lord, and that He may send the Messiah, Jesus, who has been appointed for you. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He has promised long ago, through His holy prophets. As Moses said, ‘Jehovah your God will raise up a prophet like me from among your own people. You must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who doesn’t listen to him will be completely cut off from their people’” (Deuteronomy 18:15).

“Indeed, beginning with Samuel, all the prophets have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and the covenant that God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up His servant, He sent him first to you to bless you by turning you from your wicked ways.”

While Peter was speaking, the priests and the captain of the Temple Guard, as well as the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus’ name the resurrection of the dead. (The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.) They seized Peter and John and put them in jail until the next day because it was already evening. Still, many who heard the message believed, and the number of men in the Christian fellowship grew to about 5,000.

The next day, the rulers, elders, and teachers of the Law met in Jerusalem. Annas was the high priest, and many members of his family were there. They had Peter and John brought before them to question them. “By what name and by what power did you do this?”

Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and said, “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to give account because of an act of kindness to a lame man, then know this: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, but God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven that has been given to men by which we must be saved.”

This last statement is a claim of exclusivity. No one else can save but Jesus. When you do a comparison of world religions, they don’t even claim to definitively save. There is no guarantee. Look it up. Oftentimes the practices and rituals and rules to follow only seem to give people a reasonable chance at salvation (or whatever goal the religion tries to obtain). The standard of who gets in and who doesn’t is unknown, but with God, through Jesus, you can have the guarantee of salvation. Why? Because God knows that everyone is a sinner, and He has made provision for everyone to escape condemnation. Jesus is the escape route. By dying for us, he took the punishment we deserve so that we don’t have to. I often compare it to a school test.

Imagine you and your friend are in school and you know you are going to fail the test, but your friend knows they will be perfect on the test. After taking the test, the teacher began collecting the papers. Suddenly your friend grabbed your test and erased your name and wrote theirs, and told you to do the same. Your friend gave you the passing test, while accepting your failed test. This is what Jesus did for us. The only way you can still fail the test is if you don’t write your name.

Because Jesus was perfect, he didn’t need to cleanse himself first. He was already clean, like a spotless lamb. So why are Christians going to Heaven? Because we’re good? No, but because Jesus is good, and we put our trust in him alone for salvation. Our personal record of sins disqualifies us because God is holy. We fail, but because Jesus passed, and switched places with us, we pass. When God looks at us, He will see the perfection of Jesus, who we believe in, and He will welcome us as His children, just as He welcomes His Son. I’ll explain more later.

When the leaders saw how courageous the apostles were and realized they were not formally educated, they knew that they had been with Jesus. The lame man was standing right there, fully healed, so they couldn’t refute anything the apostles said. So they all withdrew and conferred together, asking what they should do with the apostles. “Everyone in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable miracle, and we can’t deny it. But to stop this from spreading any further, we must warn them not to speak anymore to anyone in this name.” They reconvened and commanded them not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus, but the two apostles replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: To obey God or obey men? You be the judges! As for us, we can’t help but speak what we have seen and heard.”

The leaders threatened them further and let them go. They couldn’t decide how to punish the apostles, because all the people were praising God for healing the man. The man who they healed was over 40 years old.

When Peter and John were released, they went back to their own people and reported all that had happened, and after hearing everything, they all lifted up their voices in prayer: “Sovereign Lord, You made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Your servant David when he said, ‘Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against His Anointed One.’ Indeed Herod and Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed. They did what Your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place started shaking, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.

One of the characteristics of the early church was their generosity and willingness to share with anyone who needed it. People often sold property, and brought the money to the apostles to distribute to whoever needed it. Everyone gave as they were able and willing. That said, there was one couple who sold land and kept part of the money. When they lied about if they were giving the total price of the land, they both dropped dead, causing many people to fear God. Peter said to them, “Why has Satan filled your heart to make you lie to the Holy Spirit? You have not lied to men, but to God.” He is merciful, but the whole body of believers learned a lesson: Don’t test God.

The apostles continued to teach freely, and though many people respected them, not many joined them when they taught in the Temple Courts. Still, more and more people believed, which filled the Sadducees with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and threw them in the public jail, but during the night, an angel opened the doors and brought them out, saying to them, “Go stand in the Temple Courts and tell the people all about this new life.” (I imagine one of the apostles high-fived the angel as they walked out.) Just as instructed, when morning came, the apostles began teaching the people in the Temple Courts. Meanwhile, the Sanhedrin—the whole body of rulers—convened and sent for the apostles in prison, but when the officers arrived at the jail, they found no one in the cell. The doors were locked, and the guards were standing there, but no one was inside. This news confused the leaders, wondering what this might be about. Then someone came and told them that the apostles who were locked up were teaching in the Temple Courts, as usual. The guards brought the apostles to stand before the Council, but didn’t use force this time, because they feared the people would stone them.

“We gave you strict orders not to teach anymore in this name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with this teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” Peter and the other apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to His own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of this, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”

This meant that the Sanhedrin had not received the Holy Spirit because they didn’t obey God. It was a slap in the face that infuriated them, because they called themselves the vine, as if they were the link between God and Israel. They wanted to put the apostles to death, but one of the members, Gamaliel, who was highly respected, stood up and ordered the apostles to be put outside for a short time so he could address the Council.

“Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about 400 men rallied behind him. He was killed, and the followers were scattered, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. Therefore, in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them; you will only find yourself fighting against God.”

This persuaded them and they had the men flogged and released. They ordered them not to speak again in Jesus’ name and let them go. The apostles left rejoicing, because they were counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name of Jesus. Day after day, they taught in the Temple Courts, and in houses, proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is the Messiah.

(Acts 6) Sometime later, however, persecution broke out against the Christian community, and many people scattered to other countries, taking the Word of God with them. However, among those who stayed, one man that was captured, Stephen, was put to death. Before he died, he gave a message of how the entire history of Israel is filled with disobedience, jealousy, and hypocrisy. “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet they didn’t persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and killed him—you who have received the Law that was given by angels but have not obeyed it!” As the leaders began stoning him, he said, “Look, I see heaven open and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” He died with grace, asking God not to hold their sin against them. There was a man standing there named Saul, who held the clothes of the men who were stoning Stephen.

Saul was a man who went house to house to arrest everyone who followed Jesus. He received letters to the synagogues of Damascus in present-day Syria, which gave him authority to arrest any Christians and take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he was on his way, getting close to Damascus, a bright light shone around him, knocking him to the ground, and a voice said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Lord, who are you?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

This statement changed Saul forever, and Jesus didn’t need to say anything else. The next thing he said was, “Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul heard the sound, but couldn’t see anyone; they stood there speechless. When Saul got up from the ground, he opened his eyes, but realized he was now blind, so the traveling crew led him by hand into Damascus. He stayed there for three days, fasting. He didn’t eat or drink anything. In Damascus, there was a disciple named Ananias. Jesus called out to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

Jesus said, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man named Saul from Tarsus, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he’s come here with authority to arrest all who call on your name.” Jesus replied, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles (non-Jews) and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” So Ananias went and placed his hands on Saul, saying, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Immediately, something that looked like scales fell from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and regained his strength after eating some food. Almost immediately, he began preaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the Messiah, and was showing proof from the Scriptures. People were astonished that he had so quickly changed from being a persecutor of the Church to being a strong advocate for Jesus. He went on to spread the Gospel through southern Europe, focusing first on the Jews in those areas. When they would not receive the Gospel, he turned to the Gentiles to teach them. During his travels, he worked to develop the Church, and stayed for several years at each location, building up the believers and training new leaders. Over this time, he found himself dealing with all kinds of questions and problems surrounding the Church, so he wrote letters to the churches and answered their questions and challenged them to change a bad belief or bad behavior. He encouraged them to love and strengthen one another, because they are each other’s only companions in the walk of faith.

Over the years, there were times of peace and times of persecution. Sometimes it came from Jewish authorities, while other times it came from Roman authorities, but no matter what happened, the Church continued to grow powerfully. When those times of persecution came, the believers could look at a great number of faithful believers in the Bible and find inspiration to carry on. Not only that, but God gave them grace and peace to endure their suffering and die with grace for the sake of Christ. When there were governments that tried to erase Christianity from the earth, in the end, it turned out to be a huge waste of time and money. In fact, the Church grew stronger then. Jesus’ words were true: The plots and schemes of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

With that in mind, even though most of the original disciples were persecuted and killed for their faith in Jesus, there was one disciple who was not killed: John.

Chapter 42

The End of the Age

John was a disciple in Jesus’ inner circle. He was the young disciple that Jesus loved. He was banished to the island of Patmos, off the coast of Turkey. Today, it’s a beautiful, idyllic island, but in the past, it was a desolate place of banishment. As an old man, he may have had to work in the mines. It was in this terrible place that Jesus revealed his plans at length to John. He wrote down all the things he saw, but he also had a direct message to deliver to seven church congregations in present-day Turkey. Jesus dictated a letter to them, which I will detail a bit later. But this book, the Revelation of Jesus Christ, was written by a prisoner in exile. It had to be too difficult for the Roman authorities to understand, otherwise they would censor it, while being understandable for the Christian readers. That is why the symbolism is so thick in that book, and why it is so confusing, even to me.

The reading of the Book of Revelation caused me to seek understanding, and ultimately led to me becoming a Christian today. That symbolism that confused the Romans likely also made them think John was going crazy, so they had no problems letting the letter go to its destination.

(Revelation 1) “‘Look, he is coming in the clouds, and every eye shall see him; even those that pierced him. All the peoples of the earth shall mourn because of him.’ So be it! Amen.” John began his letter by saying he had a vision, and heard a loud voice behind him, saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to these seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia (not the American city), and Laodicea.”

When John heard this voice, he turned around to see it was Jesus Christ himself. He was standing in the middle of seven golden menorah, the Jewish lampstand. He had a robe that reached down to his feet, and had a golden sash around his chest, much like the priests of old. His hair was white as wool, and his feet looked like bronze when it’s burning in the furnace. His face was like the sun at full strength, and his eyes were piercing, like a blazing fire.

Some black Christians point to this description to say that Jesus’ skin was black like ours, but in all honesty, this scripture doesn’t support that view. Though I do believe Jesus had dark skin, I would look to historical texts and paintings for that proof, not this text in Revelation. Bronze, when it is burning, is bright white, and when the Scripture says his hair was white like wool, it also says it was white as snow. It’s describing the color of the hair, not the texture. All of this is moot, in my view, because I think the Scripture is talking about the brightness and brilliance of Jesus, not the skin color. I honestly don’t think those two points are mutually exclusive. For instance, when you look at the sun, sometimes it looks white, other times it looks yellow, and other times it looks orange. Some satellite pictures show it as red. Is Jesus dark-skinned? I certainly believe so, but I also believe that he shines with the glory of God on him.

John, when he saw Jesus, fell at his feet and worshipped him, but Jesus put his hand on John’s shoulder and said, “Don’t be afraid; I am the first and the last. I am the Living One. I was dead, and now look: I am alive for ever and ever. And I hold the keys of Death and the Grave. So write what you have seen, what is now, and what will take place later.”

He further went on to explain some of the mysterious things he had in his hand. John saw that Jesus had seven stars in his hand, and they represented the seven angels, or pastors of the congregations to whom John was writing. The lampstands were the seven churches. Here was part of his first message, to the church in Ephesus:

“I know your deeds: your hard work, your perseverance. I know that you can’t tolerate wicked people, and that you’ve tested those who claim to be apostles, but are not, and you’ve found them to be false. You have endured many hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I have one thing against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Look at how far you’ve fallen. Turn from this and do the things you did at first.”

To the church in Smyrna, Jesus said, “These are the words of he who is the first and the last, who died and came back to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are so rich! I know about the slander of those who call themselves Jews, but are really the synagogue of Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you into prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for 10 days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the victor’s crown. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.”

To the church in Pergamum, Jesus said, “I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You didn’t renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful martyr, who was put to death in your city where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to seduce the Israelites to sin sexually and to sacrifice food to idols. Likewise, you have some among you who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent! Otherwise I will come against them and fight them with the sword of my mouth. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Whoever is victorious will be given the hidden manna from Heaven. And I will give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”

I’m not sure what Jesus means when he talks about the hidden manna, or the white stone with a new name, and many scholars are not sure what the teachings of the Nicolaitans are. Some think it is the mixing of religious beliefs, which Jesus says he hates. The way some people mix paganism with Christian beliefs would rightfully make Jesus mad. However, other scholars believe the doctrine of the Nicolaitans is hidden in the name. Nicolai means to subdue the people. Jesus has also displayed hatred for oppression, so if this is what he meant, it would make sense also, but the meaning is not certain. Regarding sexual sin, there were some in the church that thought sexual sin was okay, like the sharing of wives, or premarital sex, or orgies that were common during that day. Jesus hated that, and demanded the church to cleanse itself of this evil. Notice that even though Jesus hates this sin, he doesn’t break off his relationship with the people.

I think this is worth noting for liberal Christians who know that true believers can disagree about things in the church. It is important to point out obvious evils and obvious sins, and evil doctrines wherever they are found. They may not be as destructive at first, but with enough time, it could be very harmful. False doctrine can be like the little foxes that destroy the vineyard. Little foxes are cute and adorable, but if they aren’t caught, they could destroy the entire crop. Jesus is demonstrating the need for us to cleanse ourselves of false doctrine. As I said earlier, there are areas of legitimate confusion and ambiguity. Some doctrines may be true or at least acceptable, but you may just not be familiar with them. That’s okay. Some people will believe anything someone says is biblical if they provide just one verse about the matter (regardless of whether it’s in context of the Scripture or not). That’s dangerous. Some people have a damaging tendency to label any new face a false prophet until proven otherwise. That’s bad. Don’t be either of these people. When a doctrine is convincingly false, it cannot be tolerated within the church.

To the church in Thyatira, Jesus said, “I know your deeds: your love and your faith, your service and your perseverance, and that you are doing more now than you did at first. Yet I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. Her teachings mislead my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she is unwilling. I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her to suffer immensely, unless they turn from her evil ways. I will strike her children dead, and then the entire Church will know that I am he who searches the hearts and minds. I will repay each of you according to your deeds. Now, for the rest of you in Thyatira, who don’t hold to her teachings, and have not learned Satan’s so-called ‘deep secrets’, I won’t impose any burden on you, except that you maintain what you have until I come. To the one who is victorious and follows my will until the end, I will give authority over the nations, that you will ‘rule them with an iron rod and will smash them to pieces like pottery,’ just as I have received that authority from my Father.”

In the world immediately following this one, there will still be sinful people. Though the world will be controlled directly by Jesus, sinners will still be born, and will still be rebellious. Therefore, Christ and his kings under him will rule the nations with an iron rod to forcefully put down wickedness. I will explain this concept further a bit later.

To the church in Sardis, Jesus said, “I know your deeds. You have a reputation that you are alive, but are in fact dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, because I have found your deeds incomplete in the sight of my God. Remember what you have received and hold fast to it and repent. If you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief, and you won’t know what time I will come to you. Yet you still have some in Sardis who haven’t soiled their clothes. They will walk with me dressed in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes will likewise be dressed in white, and I will never blot out their name from the Book of Life; rather I will acknowledge them before my Father and His angels.”

To the church in Philadelphia, Jesus said, “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the Key of David. What I open, no one can shut; and what I shut, no one can open. I know your deeds. Look, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have only a little strength, yet you have kept my word and never denied my name. I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews, come and fall before your feet and worship you, and acknowledge that I have loved you. Since you kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole earth to test everyone. I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one can take your crown. He who overcomes will be a pillar in the Temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the city of my God, the New Jerusalem, which is coming down out of Heaven. And I will also write on them my new name. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

To the church in Laodicea, Jesus said, “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish you were one or the other! But because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I will spit you from my mouth. You say you are rich and don’t need anything, but you don’t realize you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. I advise you to buy from me gold refined in fire, so that you can truly become rich. And white clothes so that you can cover your shameful nakedness. And salve to put on your eyes so you could truly see. Those whom I love, I also rebuke and discipline. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens up to me, I will come in and eat with him and he with me. The one who is victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I sat down with my Father on His throne. Whoever has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

When Jesus says that the Laodiceans are neither hot nor cold, he isn’t describing the fervor of their faith. He’s not saying they should be ‘on fire for God’ or completely cold to Him so that He could come rescue them. What he’s saying is that the discipleship of the believers is unremarkable. What is special about these believers that anyone should notice and ask about? Jesus is saying he wishes there was something—anything—about them that was noticeable and praiseworthy. There isn’t. They are complacent, and don’t realize how bad their current spiritual state is. If they are so rich, they should buy some things of true value from Jesus to fix their current problems.

From there, John was shown visions of what was happening in Heaven and what would soon happen on earth. In Heaven, John stood in a room where God’s throne was. God was surrounded by angels of all shapes and sizes, and there also were gatherings of God’s redeemed people, who had been killed for their faith in Jesus. Jesus was also there, but this time, he was described as having great power and authority over Heaven and earth. He was the Messiah that the Jews originally expected, the conquering king who would subdue the wicked nations.

(Revelation 5) In God’s hand, there was a scroll. It had seven seals, and someone asked, “Who is worthy to take the scroll and read it?” But no one was found, either in Heaven, on earth, or in Hell. When Jesus stepped forward, only he was able to take the scroll and open it and read it. He alone was righteous and pure. From my understanding, this scroll may be the “title deed” to the earth. Whoever opened it would be the one to rule God’s creation, but before ruling it, he would first have to subdue it. It reminds me of when Jesus cleared the Temple Courts. He made a whip and beat the moneychangers and drove them out of the court. Only the Messiah had authority to do that. In the same way that the Messiah had authority to clear the Temple, he also has the authority to cleanse the earth. Just like the clearing of the Temple Courts was violent and unpleasant, so it will be with the cleansing of the earth.

There is a lot of talk among Christians and even non-Christians about the end of the world. Non-Christians scoff and mock, and say “Where is God? It’s been 2000 years since the Bible was written, and He still hasn’t done anything. Times are just going on as usual.” Peter knew this would be the case when he wrote his letters. He said this: “The same Word that created the heavens and the earth also flooded the earth with the same water He used to create it. And the same Word currently reserves the world for the fiery judgment that will come upon the wicked. Don’t forget: “A thousand years is like a day for God, and a day is like a thousand years. God isn’t slow to keep His promise, as some like to describe slowness. He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but wanting everyone to come to repentance. The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and the heavens will disappear at His roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth will be laid bare.”

For the scoffers who think God is taking too long to come back and fix the world, just remember that Him fixing the world puts you in an unenviable position, whether you’re rich or poor, slave or free. Are you sure you want Him to come back so soon? Use the time God has given you as God has intended it: as a new chance to make peace with Him and renounce your sins. “Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me, to repay to everyone according to their deeds.” That can be great or terrible news, depending on how you answer this question: Do you trust Jesus to save you, or do you believe in some other way? If you trust in Jesus, you are safe, and your reward is Heaven, and all the better if you follow Jesus faithfully. If you trust some other way, you are outside of the only safety umbrella, and will be judged according to your works. Remember that one sin offends God, and disqualifies you from Heaven. Two sins is even worse, but if we’re honest with ourselves, our sins far outnumber just a few.

As for the Christians talking about Christ’s return, there has been a large number of books about the end of the world and expected days or times when Jesus will return. One thing I learned through history is that predicting Jesus’ return is as impossible as it is foolish. Jesus said, “No one knows what day or hour the Son of Man will appear; not the angels in Heaven, or even the Son. Only the Father knows.” If Jesus doesn’t know when he will return, why do we think we can figure it out? In the Book of Revelation, there is a kingdom that arises, with a ruler known for his blasphemy and arrogance. He relentlessly persecutes God’s people, and tries to kill all the Jews, but is unable to. By this estimation, shouldn’t Hitler have been that wicked ruler, and shouldn’t Nazi Germany have been that kingdom?

Yet it wasn’t. In dealing with prophecy, I remember one thing my pastor said about it: ‘Prophecy is best understood in hindsight, not foresight.’ That means, it is easier to dissect prophecy after the fact, but not before. For instance, if you read the prophecies about Jesus’ youth, Matthew pointed to several prophecies about the young life of the Messiah. One said that Jesus would be called a Nazarene. Another said that he would be born in Bethlehem, and another said “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” In Jesus’ life, he was born in Bethlehem, fled to Egypt and was soon called back out of Egypt to return to Nazareth, where he would grow up. It is easier to understand the prophecies about Jesus after he has come and proven himself. He knows the prophecies that are not yet fulfilled, and he will finish what he started when he returns.

There is one other reason why I’m not going to go into great detail about the end of the world: We don’t know enough about the timeframe to be able to make any predictions. What I mean is, if I read the Book of Revelation in the year 1000 AD, my predictions would be far different than in 2000 AD. And yet, we don’t know if Jesus will return in our lifetime. Many Christians just assume he will come in our lifetime. Many of them believe that he has to come soon because now we have a modern state of Israel. I’m not sure that is the case. Israel went 400 years without a prophet until John the Baptist came. The Israelites endured hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt before Moses came, so I don’t like to make bold declarations about what will happen because these things are still unclear, and the prophecies themselves are mysterious. I know that may not be a satisfying answer to how the world will end, but I honestly don’t think anyone has anything more than a good imagination of how it could happen. Even the old theories I used to believe about the end of the world have changed when I was presented with new facts. The fact of the matter is, he could return today, or in the year 4870 AD. His command is the same: Occupy until he comes. Blessed is the saint who is busy and alert when Jesus comes, but the one who said that he is delaying his return and is using this as an excuse not to follow Christ’s orders will be put out of the house shamefully.

Still, I need to provide you some idea of what the end of the world will be like. As Jesus begins to open the seals of the scroll that he took from God’s hand, troubles will begin to happen on earth. The Holy Spirit, who restrains a lot of evil that would happen on earth, would be pulled back and would allow a great deal of evil to occur on earth. People will kill each other. Prices for basic food will skyrocket. Famine and plague would destroy large parts of the human population. Even the wild animals would attack people. Those who were killed for their faith in Jesus would cry out for justice in Heaven. Both rich and poor, small and great, slave and free would flee to the mountains, hiding in caves, and begging the mountain to fall on them and kill them, because they knew the wrath of God had finally come.

There will be some people who will still follow Jesus, and they will be marked with a seal that would protect them while they do his work of evangelizing the world. The chaos would resume shortly after, with hailstones that weighed over 100 kilograms, meteors falling and destroying land, earthquakes that destroy cities, and more. In the end, only a quarter of humanity will survive, and most people will know that God is real, and they will hate Him. Whenever God sends judgment on earth, people will curse Him and refuse to turn from their evil ways. During those days, there will be a king who comes along to conquer the world, and all will follow him and even worship him. He will make a covenant with Israel, but will later betray that covenant and cause the whole city to be swiftly abandoned. He will boast against God in every way, and will be successful in his endeavors. He will transform world commerce, and require everyone to get a mark, perhaps a tattoo, that bears his name on their forehead or hand. Through this mark, people will be able to buy and sell goods. As for those who refuse to get his mark, they will be killed, but anyone who does get the mark will be condemned to Hell. It will be very hard for God’s people, especially if they do not have special protection.

The reign of this wicked king, however, will be very short—no more than 7 years, in fact. As Jesus said, “If those days had not been shortened, all mankind would be destroyed.” There were many more punishments that God poured out on the earth, but I will summarize it as this: Find a group of four people; only one would survive. Two would receive the mark of the wicked king. One would be saved, but be killed. The other would survive the whole seven years, but it’s not clear whether they will follow the wicked king or Jesus.

One thing you should notice is that life will not be easy for anyone. The believers in Christ will be persecuted and perhaps killed by the wicked kingdom, known as “The Beast”. The followers of the wicked king, who receive the mark of his kingdom, will not be harmed by the government, but will be judged by God, and will suffer vicious plagues that only they will experience. After that, they will be condemned to Hell. Those who take no allegiance to Christ or the wicked king will still suffer from the judgments God is sending to the earth. They will not be able to buy or sell, and they might die from natural disasters. If life will be hard in that time, the people will have to decide if they want to suffer now, temporarily, or whether they want to suffer later, and forever. Pick your poison.

If you remember, there was a time when Jesus said to the Jews, “You won’t see me again until you say ‘Blessed is he who comes in the Lord’s name.’” Jesus will not return until the Jewish people acknowledge him as their Messiah, and they will be pressed to make that decision when the wicked king is coming to destroy them in their place of refuge. God will give the Jewish people the Holy Spirit, and they will acknowledge Jesus at last.

Then suddenly Jesus will appear, completely unexpected to the whole world. With a loud trumpet, he will descend from the clouds, with his angels surrounding him. He will be mounted on a white horse, and will gather his people from all over the world. The dead who loved God will rise from their graves, no matter whether they lived during Jesus’ time on earth, or whether they just died. All the dead in Christ will be resurrected, just as Jesus had been resurrected. They will join him in the clouds, along with all the survivors of the chaotic years. They will never go hungry again. They will never be hot or cold again. They will never die again, because their new body will be like Christ’s body. Their corrupt human flesh will become spiritual flesh. They will never sin again or be tempted to sin again.

Meanwhile, the nonbelievers will also see him and mourn, knowing that their destruction has arrived. At this time, the kings of the earth who gathered in Israel to fight Jesus will be completely wiped out. They will be killed simply because he tells them to die. The Bible describes Jesus as having a sword coming out of his mouth. It’s clearly symbolic, but his words have the ability to destroy just as they can create. When the wicked king is captured, he will be thrown alive into the Lake of Fire, to be tormented forever. He will be the first of many to go into the Lake of Fire. He will have a one-thousand-year head start on everyone else.

As for Satan himself, he will also be captured, but he won’t be thrown into the Lake of Fire yet. Instead, he will be bound and thrown into the bottomless pit for 1000 years. After the thousand years are finished, he will be released again for a short time to deceive the nations again. He would not be able to deceive anyone during that thousand years.

Chapter 43

The Millennial Reign of Jesus

(Revelation 20) During those thousand years, Jesus will reign over the earth, but it won’t be perfect yet. Here is the description of his kingdom:

The first thing that will happen after the condemnation of the wicked king will be the judgment of the nations. The survivors of the chaos will stand before Christ at his throne to be judged. Those who turned from their sinful ways and followed Jesus will be saved. Those who did not follow him would be condemned. They would go to Hell. If you remember, Jesus described this judgment: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right, and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father: Take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me water; I was sick and you looked after me.’ Then the righteous will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you and do these for you?’ I will answer them, ‘Whatever you did for the lowest of my brothers, you also did for me.’ Then he will turn to those on his left and say, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you didn’t feed me; I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink; I was sick and you didn’t care for me.’ They will answer, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you like this and not help you?’ But he will answer, ‘Whatever you didn’t do for the lowest of my brothers, you also didn’t do it for me.’ They will go into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.”

Once again we see this important point: sin is not just the evil acts you commit, sin is also the good deeds you don’t do. He is also drawing a direct connection between how you treat others and how you treat him. If you go through life being unconcerned about the welfare of other people, especially the lowest in society, this kind of Scripture should frighten you. If you say you are a Christian, but don’t care about other people, it is time to reevaluate your faith. It is possible that you know what to do to be saved, and know the “right answers” about God, but don’t really know Him or have His heart. Check yourself.

When the righteous enter the Kingdom of God, they will still be human beings with mortal flesh, but now they will be changed, as well as the environment they live in. The curse that God put on the earth will be removed. Here are just a few details of the world during the reign of Jesus Christ.

(Isaiah 30:19-26) The sun will be 7 times brighter, but will not burn people, and the moon will be as bright as the sun is today. The deserts will no longer be barren, but will become fertile and habitable. People will live forever if they are followers of Christ. There will still be sin, even among the followers of Christ who first enter the Kingdom. Their children, however, will be sinners who still must decide whether or not to follow Jesus. Those who do not follow him will be cursed and die after 100 years. Such a person to die so young will be thought of as a mere child, because people’s lives will be so long (Isaiah 65:20). There will be unparalleled peace on earth, with the righteous saints ruling over every nation on earth. Because Satan will be bound for these 1000 years, there will be no external temptation to sin. The three typical temptation sources are the world, the devil, and the flesh. When I say ‘world’, I mean the global system that pushes evil. Currently, the devil controls the world, and he pushes it down a bad path. This is why there are so many wars. So with the devil gone, and the world system now under righteous control, the only source of temptation will be the flesh.

Other characteristics of the Kingdom of God include the universal knowledge of God (Jeremiah 31:34). Faith in Jesus and a full understanding of Jesus will fill the world, and there will be no need for preachers and pastors, because everyone will know God directly. Because the devil is bound in the bottomless pit, he will not be able to deceive anyone about God or the nature of God. When people pray, their prayer will have been answered before they even thought to pray for it. God will show His goodness to the world continuously, and bless the world beyond our ability to comprehend. The curse of painful childbirth will be taken away. The curse of toilsome work will be removed. The curse of death will be removed. Jesus will work during those thousand years to remove every enemy of God. Then He will hand the Kingdom back to His Father. The last two enemies are Death and the Grave. The Grave, Hell, is where the punished people are still awaiting their final judgment. Death is just a concept, but it’s one that God hates, and is determined to eliminate. If any of you have lost a loved one or fear losing a loved one, you understand the heart of God in hating death. God didn’t make us for us to die. He made us to live with Him forever.

At the end of the 1000-year reign, there will be a lot of young people who have lived blessed lives, but they will take this life for granted, and will still rebel against God. It shows that even without Satan in the world, people are still sinners, and will still fight against God’s will. This is something that God is about to finally destroy once and for all, and so the Devil will be released from the bottomless pit and he will be allowed to go and deceive the nations again. He will gather countless people who hate God and he will deceive them to think they can overthrow Jesus. They will all go to Jerusalem to surround the city and prepare to destroy it, but God will rain down fire on them and destroy them all. God’s tolerance for wickedness will be completely gone, and He will bring all the dead back to life to judge them.

Chapter 44

Home, Sweet Home

(Revelation 20) The first thing God will do is throw Satan into the Lake of Fire. When people normally think of Hell, they think of the Grave, the place of torment that is normally depicted in art, books, movies, etc. That’s not the final place of punishment. The Lake of Fire is. Imagine being thrown into a volcano; that’s the Lake of Fire. Art and media normally depicts Satan as the ruler of Hell, the punisher of the underworld, but he is not. The everlasting fire of Hell is not prepared for people, but for Satan and his angels who rebelled with him. Satan won’t be having fun tormenting people in the Lake of Fire; rather he will be the most hated, most shamed, the most tormented being in existence.

There is a Scripture (Ezekiel 28) that talks about the King of Tyre, but many people believe it is also talking about Satan. Listen to this: “You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; they were prepared for you the day you were created. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, just as I have ordained you. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created until wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mountain of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones. Your heart became proud because of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made you a spectacle before kings. By your many sins and dishonest trade you have desecrated your sanctuaries. So I made fire come out of you and it consumed you, and I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All the nations who knew you are appalled at you; you have come to a horrible end and will be no more.”

After condemning Satan, the Bible says the Grave will give up its dead. All the dead will be resurrected, and their soul, spirit, and body will be reunited to be judged based on what they have done. All who are being resurrected on this day are not God’s people. If they were, they would have been raised from the dead before now. While these many, many, many people were in Hell, they were not formally sentenced for their sins against God, so Hell is more of a holding cell before trial. When they are raised, the entire record of their lives will be reviewed, and every person will answer to God directly for the sins they committed. Every time they stole something, every lie they told, every sexually impure thought they had will be answered for. No one wants to go through this process of judgment, because answering for every evil thing we’ve done is very unpleasant. Facing God for any reason other than good reasons is a terrifying experience. It’s so frightening that when God punished the world during the Tribulation period just before, people went into caves in the mountains and begged for the mountains to collapse on them and kill them. “Fall on us and hide us from the face of God and the Lamb (Jesus), for His wrath has come! Who can withstand it?”

After their judgment, there will still be an opportunity for them to be saved. The names of every saved person is written in the Book of Life. Their names will be searched for in the book; if and when their names are not found, they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. After that, Hell and Death will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. Sin will finally be destroyed, and pain will finally be gone. God will wipe away every tear from the people’s eyes, and they will seldom reflect on the days of their old life, because they will be preoccupied with joy. This is the Kingdom that God’s people will live in.

The world I am going to describe is far different from the Heaven you may have thought of before. The media shows pictures of angel babies with wings and naked people playing harps while sitting on clouds. They honestly made Heaven seem boring, slow, and lifeless. It’s almost as if the world needs evil to be interesting and fun. It is part of Satan’s deception over the world. The images of Heaven that you see in the media don’t make you hungry for Heaven. Because you aren’t eager for Heaven, you place your emphasis and focus on earth. It just seems more fun and enjoyable. Earth is where your treasure is, not Heaven, so you accept the world the way it is instead of fighting to change this evil world into a Heavenly world.

However, I must go a step further. Not only do artists in the media do a poor job of describing Heaven, many Christians also do a poor job. When I was a young boy, I remember older Christians in church describing Heaven like “never-ending church.” For me, I thought church was boring, and didn’t want to be there for 2 hours, let alone eternity. I found that there are three different ways people think about Heaven. Any of them alone is an incomplete view, but with all three, you have a much better picture of what the eternal home is like.

The first view of Heaven is the theocentric view. The second: geocentric view. The third: anthropocentric view.

With the theocentric view, people think most about their restored relationship with God, and the perfection of our relationship with Him. Perfect worship, perfect fellowship, perfect knowledge. As Paul said, “Right now we can only see a reflection, like in a sheet of metal. But then we will see face to face.”

The second view, the geocentric view, focuses on the restored universe. The Bible describes the new heavens and new earth as being rid of sickness and death, but also being free from pollution. There would be no more vast oceans. The city of God, the New Jerusalem, would descend from Heaven to earth. For people with a geocentric view of earth, they often think of beautiful gardens, perfectly clean rivers, and playing with animals that are too dangerous to play with today. Some also think of all the fun things they can do in Heaven when there is no more risk of death. For instance, skydiving is too dangerous for some to try today, but they want to do it in Heaven.

The third view of Heaven, the anthropocentric view, focuses on humanity. Many people think of being reunited with their loved ones in the Kingdom of God, where they will never be separated again. Others think of all the cool abilities people will have, like the ability to run or fly without getting tired. Others think about the potential for human society after evil has finally been brought down.

These are all important parts of Heaven. When talking about it, I think it is important to emphasize all three aspects, not just one or two. Give people a complete description of the Kingdom of God.

(Revelation 21) Here is one key detail about the city of God, the New Jerusalem. This city will be made of gold, and God Himself will sit on His throne in the city. There will be no temple in the city, because God is the temple. God and Jesus Christ will shine in glory, giving light to the whole city, making the brilliance of the sun and moon unnecessary. The city would be laid out like a square, but would be just as tall as it is wide. So maybe it’s like a mountain city or pyramid. There would be 3 gates per side (12 gates total), each made of a giant pearl. The foundations would be made of all kinds of precious stones. There would also be a major river that runs down the middle of the main street, called the River of Life, and on both sides of the river are trees called the Tree of Life. It yields its fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree are used for medicine to heal the nations. I suppose this means that the nations will immediately need healing, but because there will be no more sickness, hopefully this will never be needed again.

The Bible describes the kings of the earth bringing their glory into the city, and the city would be populated by all kinds of people from all over the world, who speak every language and come from every people group. Now, some will ask how this is possible. Simple: the city is the size of a country. If you think about Rome, the capital of the Roman Empire, it had an area of roughly 8.5 square kilometers. Beijing, the capital of China, has an area of 1300 square kilometers. But the New Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of God, will have an area of 5,000,000 square kilometers. That’s about half the size of China or the United States. In my mind, I imagine that the city will also have inside parts, too, so maybe the total area of the city is even larger.

In the New Jerusalem, the gates of the city will never close, because there will be no night there, since the glory of God lights up the entire city. I don’t know if people will still sleep in those days, but I know that humans will be immortal and have a changed body, and yet I believe that a Chinese person will still look Chinese. An African will still look African, a Norwegian like a Norwegian, and they will also speak their languages, but they will understand each other as if there was no language barrier. Because of the lack of language barriers, they can unite and do great exploits that no one could have ever expected. The love between people groups will finally arrive and thrive in cultural exchange, friendship, and trade. As for God, everyone will finally see His face, and know Him directly as our Father. The fellowship between God and man will begin to change, because sin is no longer a barrier between us and God. He can trust us with more secrets because they will never be misused.

I imagine that a lot of things we do now will continue in Heaven, but now for different reasons. For instance, we won’t need to eat to survive, but we will still eat because we enjoy it. In the same way, I imagine we will still sleep for enjoyment, not because of tiredness. We will live in mansions built by God for us. Jesus has prepared this for us when he first went back to Heaven after his resurrection. That home, city, kingdom, world, and that universe will all be just a few ways that God shows His love towards us. I hope I provided an enticing picture of what Heaven is like so that you can understand how much God really loves and cares for us. He doesn’t just save us, but he elevates us to a better world to live in. As Paul said, “I pray that you be given the power to understand how wide, and long, and high, and deep is the love of Christ for us.” He said another time, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has thought of the things God has prepared for those who love Him.” The Kingdom of God, no matter how poor or rich I may be, is my home. This world, no matter how nice it can be at times, can never be my home. I look for a city “whose builder and maker is God.” For this reason, John, after seeing all these things that would happen in the future, said, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

Chapter 45

Buy In

There was a time when Jesus was telling his disciples about his plans to go away and prepare their place in Heaven, so he told them, “If I go away, I won’t leave you as orphans. I will send you a Comforter, the Holy Spirit. I am going to prepare a place for you. In my Father’s house, there are many rooms. If it weren’t so, I would’ve told you. But if I go, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that you will be with me wherever I am. And because I live, you also will live.” One of his disciples said, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I Am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to my Father except through me” (John 14).

God is willing for everyone to be saved, but not everyone will be. “Many are called, but few are chosen.” So, let’s understand why that is. Many people, when they think about God and Hell, they often say that God is cruel for sending people to Hell. Some say that God should be more inclusive. Some believe that there are many ways to worship God, but these are not true, and don’t grasp the heart of God. If He is the creator of the universe, why should He allow a false god to get credit for work that He did. If you paid for my lunch, but another person came along and said he paid for it, you would rightfully get angry and refute him, right? It’s the same with God. He isn’t sharing His glory with anyone for the work He did.

Is there more than one way to worship God? I’ll answer that question with a question. Would I be a good friend if I didn’t do anything you wanted, but instead only did what I wanted?

Worshipping God is not just about beliefs, but about relationship. I can’t claim to be your friend if I don’t know the truth about you. I will never be right about every minor detail, but if I’m really your friend, there are certain things I should know about you. On another note, God’s sheep recognize His voice. They may not be right about everything, but they know His voice when He speaks to them. So, for those who think another person is sincerely mistaken, that will not be an excuse when they stand before God, because God sent the truth to them, but they rejected the truth.

What will God do with the people who never heard of Him? God will judge them according to their knowledge. Their conscience will also be a witness for or against them. They may not know of Jesus Christ, but their heart will be revealed by what little truth about God that they did know. What about children? Children are safe; they aren’t accountable yet for their sins, so you don’t have to worry about children being sent to Hell.

What about us all worshipping the same God? “Shouldn’t God be more inclusive? Can’t different roads can lead up the same mountain?” some say. However, my answer is this: What if you are talking about different mountains? The character and nature of God is not the same as Allah, nor is it the same as Guanyin, for instance. We aren’t talking about different roads going up the same mountain; we’re talking about different roads going up different mountains.

The problem of our sin is that it separates us from the holy God, and we need a way to reunite with Him. He is the tree, but we are the branches. If we are cut off from Him, we will wither and die. So we need to be reunited with Him quickly. Let me explain how this works.

We already established that God is just as holy as He is loving. He knows we are sinners. And because everyone is a sinner, we often think that God won’t see our sins. We think that God might punish the really, really bad people, but will overlook us. This is more deception from Satan. Why would God create more people than He could manage? This is the same God that knows whenever a small bird falls from the sky and dies. This is the same God that never sleeps. This is the same God that created all the known universe, as well as everything beyond that. He arranged the protons, electrons and neutrons in every atom in every element. God is not limited or tired. His judgment will be thorough. There will be no hiding.

If God knows everyone is a sinner, can’t He just forgive everyone? No. He is loving, but He is also just. He must punish sin wherever it’s found. When children argue and fight, they run to their parents to judge who is right or wrong. The parent must judge the entire situation. Even the “right” child may have done something wrong in the argument. God must likewise resolve the matter. When God judges us, remember that one sin disqualifies us from Heaven. God is perfect, and therefore if we are imperfect, His righteous nature demands us to be punished.

What exactly do I mean by sin? Sin is anything that goes against God’s will. Stealing is a sin, just as lying, cheating, adultery, and murder is a sin. However, so is hating someone and so is having sexually impure thoughts about someone. Sin is not just what you do with your hands, but it’s also the things you think in your mind. If you remember, the 10th Commandment was not to covet anything that belongs to someone else. Jealousy and covetousness are only done in the mind, but God calls it sin also. Sins are the bad things we say, the bad things we do, and even the bad things we think. (I am saying this again so that you don’t forget it.) Sin is also the good things that we should do, but don’t do. The good things we should say, but don’t say; the good things we should think, but refuse to think.

If you need help, but I don’t help you, I am sinning against God and offending Him for how I treat you. I could say “I didn’t do anything to you.” God would say, “That’s exactly the problem—you didn’t do anything when you should’ve done something. And whatever you didn’t do for him, you also didn’t do it for me.”

Let’s pretend for a moment that I am a very good person, and I only sin 3 times per day. I say one thing bad, I do one bad thing, and I also don’t say something when I should have spoken up. Sounds pretty good, but in one year, I’ve committed nearly 1100 sins. In a lifetime of 70 years, I would have committed over 76,000 sins. (Now imagine if I counted exactly how many sins I really committed. Remember, just one sin is an automatic disqualifier.) Now, if I told you did one evil thing 76,000 times, but I still said I was a good person, would you believe me? Of course not.

To be clear, everyone is doomed on the Day of Judgment, because there is not even one righteous person, so we would all be condemned to Hell. We would all end up in the Lake of Fire, but God doesn’t want this. The reason God sent His Son into the world was to save the world, by dying in our place for our sins. By taking our punishment upon himself, Jesus satisfied the justice of God. And since Jesus was perfect, he was able to change places with us and give us his righteousness.

The Bible says this: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23) “If you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) To receive the gift of salvation, talk to God and confess to Him that you have done wrong and have offended Him. Renounce these ways and put your faith in Jesus. Don’t just believe he can save you; let him be the Lord of your life, and let him guide you through life from this day forward.

There are some people who hear or read this and say “I know this already.” They know the “right answer”, but the change in the heart has never happened. This is the difference between a real Christian and a false Christian. There is a change in the heart of the real Christian to follow God. Even if you are baptized, if that change in the heart has never happened, and your life looks like a life guided only by your will, you need to reevaluate whether you are a real believer or not. Let me describe to you my personal conversion, and maybe that will help you better understand the spiritual birth.

When I was in school, there was a classmate who taught the Bible during class because we didn’t do anything in that class. I had some questions about the Book of Revelation, and he gave me some good answers that really helped me. When he spoke with me, he didn’t directly tell me I needed to follow God, but indirectly, God gave me that message through our conversation. I knew all about how to be saved since I was a young kid, but after years of drifting away from God, I realized it was time to follow Him fully. I knew that there was no time to wait, so even though I never prayed the prayer of salvation, I knew my heart had been changed to follow God. I haven’t looked back since. That was 12 years ago. I’ve made mistakes along the way, but my heart has always been with God.

When many Christians try to describe salvation to people who already know about Jesus, they usually say “Repent and believe in Jesus with all your heart,” but I find that kind of phrase meaningless. I think a better thing to say to a person who knows about Jesus already, but doesn’t really follow him, is that they need to “buy in”. When you buy into something, you’re putting some real energy and resources into something you care about. You invest in your spiritual development. You allow Christ to take over your life. If you have not allowed Jesus to take control of your life, you haven’t bought in.

Here’s what I mean: When an investor meets with an upstart company, he will usually say glowing things about it. Much like a nominal Christian may say glowing things about Jesus. However, when the investor is asked for some money to really help the company grow, the investor’s glowing words are shown to be just fluff; he will not invest in the company because he doesn’t truly believe in it. In the same way, when you ask a nominal Christian to believe with all their heart, they know enough to say yes they believe, but when it comes to taking action and demonstrating what God is really worth to them, they show that they aren’t really committed to Him. That’s why I use this phrase “buy-in”. It demands a response from you. It demands a payment from you to invest in your spiritual development and God’s Kingdom.

Chances are, you may be trying to follow Jesus, but have been depending on your own righteousness, as if you were spotless and had no sin and needed no forgiveness. No. Salvation is a free gift. It is not deserved. It cannot be earned. If you are doing good works hoping for salvation, you’ve put the cart before the horse, and turned a free gift into merchandise you hope to purchase.

Here is what the Bible says about salvation: “It’s by grace that you’ve been saved, through faith. And this faith didn’t even come from you. Rather, it is the gift of God, so that no one can boast and brag” (Ephesians 2:9). The Bible says we were redeemed by Christ to do good works, and that these works were prepared in advance for us to do. Even the good things you do weren’t because of you, but because of God’s will.

This gift of free salvation is the major difference between faith in Christ and any other religion. You have in Christ a free ticket to Heaven. You don’t have to work for it; you don’t have to be voted in by other people. You can just reach out your hand and receive it. Listen to the King one more time as he says, “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to their deeds. I Am the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to come to the Tree of Life and come into the gates of the city. Outside are the dogs, the drug users, the sexually immoral, the idol worshippers, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” The Holy Spirit and the Church say “Come.” May everyone who heeds these words also say “Come” to those who are not yet believers. Everyone who is thirsty may come. Everyone who wants may come and drink freely the water from the River of Life (Revelation 22).

I thank you for reading “The Novel Gospel”. It has been my honor to serve God in this endeavor, and I pray that it bears a lot of fruit. I hope above all that this book gave you a clearer, more complete picture of who Jesus is. I understand this was a long book to read, so I encourage you to listen to the audio version of the book. Purchasing the audio version will support my work, and will help you understand the book a bit better.

Thank you all. God bless you all. I love you all.

About the Author

Jamaal W.M. Fridge is a graduate of Calvin College. After receiving his business degree, he left his hometown of Chicago to go to China as an English teacher. He also serves as a leader in the local church, and actively seeks to alleviate poverty.

Jamaal loves the study of culture, psychology, and education. This confluence of interests led him to write “The Novel Gospel”, with the hope that his alternate perspective and scriptural exposition might reverse some damaging trends within the American Church.

Jamaal has the vision of eliminating biblical illiteracy in America within 30 years, by writing books and even making video games that teach people about the Word of God.

1172

 


The Novel Gospel with Commentary: The Reintroduction of Jesus, for Newcomers, Sk

Have you ever shared the Gospel with someone, led them to Christ, and gave them a Bible to help them grow in faith? Have you ever worried that they would get lost in the Bible? Have you ever wanted to know only the important details of the Bible's takeaway message? None of the unnecessary fluff, just the relevant story. If you had only one go-to book that could explain the heart of God, what would it be? The Novel Gospel shares the details of the life of Jesus, and all his teachings in chronological order, so that you don't have to go back and forth between the Four Gospels. In addition, the commentary provides cultural and historical insights that aren't apparent in the text, so that you have a complete view of how people understood something that Jesus said or did at the time. The Novel Gospel goes even further by providing the author's personal experiences with the texts in question, so that you can see what interpretations have and haven't worked in real life. The Novel Gospel was originally a one-stop shop Gospel book for the author's friends in China, where the knowledge of God is not widespread. Eavesdrop on the conversation between the author and the Chinese, and you will see ways in which Western Christianity could stand to improve, as well as get a small peek inside the Chinese Church. With the Chinese being a non-religious audience, The Novel Gospel was written as if the reader was an open-minded skeptic. It also empowers new or inexperienced believers to grow quickly in their faith. Lastly, it strengthens and challenges longtime believers with a fresh perspective on Scripture they may never have thought of before. The author, Jamaal Fridge, is an African-American evangelist from the Southside of Chicago. He graduated with a Business degree from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI, and soon after went to become a teacher in Chongqing, China. Christian Outreach and Christian Education are his two areas of focus, as he wants to help people "connect the dots".

  • ISBN: 9781370174409
  • Author: Jamaal W.M. Fridge
  • Published: 2017-01-09 10:20:26
  • Words: 121427
The Novel Gospel with Commentary: The Reintroduction of Jesus, for Newcomers, Sk The Novel Gospel with Commentary: The Reintroduction of Jesus, for Newcomers, Sk