Jesus continued to minister along with His disciples in the region of Galilee, constantly being confronted by the religious authorities.
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Following His extended teaching on the plateau
of the mount, Jesus descends back to His adopted hometown of
Capernaum. The gospel writers record several incidents wherein
Jesus continues His ministry in the region of Galilee, continuing
to keep His distance from the center of Jewish religion in Jerusalem
Upon His return to Capernaum a centurion approaches Jesus explaining that he had a servant who was dying. Luke indicates that the centurion first went to the Jewish leaders seeking an introduction to Jesus. As religion has often accommodated government for the reciprocal advantages to be gained thereby, the Jewish leaders brought the centurion to Jesus explaining that this man was "worthy" of having his plight considered because he had built their synagogue and loved their nation. It was a case of "you help us, and we'll help you; you scratch our back, and we'll scratch yours." Despite their motives, Jesus accompanied them because He loved people and lived to serve men in need.
The centurion made it known that he did not consider himself worthy of having Jesus come to his home to heal his servant. Believing that Jesus' power and authority did not require Jesus' physical presence, since he too was one who commanded and delegated authority, the centurion suggested that Jesus could just heal the servant from a distance, which He did. Jesus was rather surprised that a Gentile would have such trusting faith, and commended the centurion saying, "I have not found such faith in Israel."
Jesus was quite aware that the kingdom He came to inaugurate would include all peoples universally and would not be exclusivistically defined by nationality, race or religious practices. Countless numbers of people from all around the earth would dine with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the forerunners of faith, in the fellowship of God's spiritual banquet as "sons of the kingdom," while the Jews who thought they had a "corner on God" and His kingdom by their physical heritage would exclude themselves in unbelief and be cast into the judgment of Gehenna. Such a scenario was inconceivable to the Jewish religionists in their nationalistic pride, but that is exactly what transpired as physical Israel forfeited its identity as the "people of God" and those identified with Jesus Christ as Christians became the spiritual Israel of God's intent (cf. Rom. 9:6,7; Gal 6:16).
Religious exclusivism and elitism based on nationality, ethnicity, gender, economic advantage, ideology, moral conformity, etc. is not the basis of the kingdom that Jesus came to expound and expedite. The criteria for participation in the Christian kingdom is reception of the Messiah-King in faith which recognizes His function in situations that often seem impossible, and is receptive to His authority and activity.
(82) Widow's son raised. Lk. 7:11-17
In the fair city of Nain, for that is what the name means, approximately twenty-five miles southwest of Capernaum, Jesus and His disciples along with a sizable group of followers meet another group of people. A widow had lost her only son and the body was being carried in a funeral procession to the cemetery outside of the walled city. The procession of the One who is Life met the procession of death.
Acting out of unsolicited compassion for the woman and without regard for religious traditions and superstitions, Jesus approached and touched the coffin bearing the body of the dead son. Jewish religion regarded the touching of dead bodies and any items associated with death as cause of religious defilement requiring ceremonial purification. Knowing that He was "Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom. 14:9), Jesus disregarded such superstitious externalities and acted in compassion for the grieving widow. Without elaborate ceremony He tenderly exhorted the widow, "Do not weep," and then proceeded to remove the cause of her weeping by commanding the lifeless body to "Rise up." Death could not hold the son as he stood before the Lord of Life. The young man experienced life out of death, sat up, and began to speak.
Those who observed this miracle were convinced that "God had visited His people" in the form of "a great prophet." Having seen death give way to the power of life in the Son of God, those who observed such reported it far and wide.
Religion has no solutions for death, but exists in the fear of death with its alleged pollutions and defilements. As a participant in spiritual death and the deeds of death derived from the diabolic source of the one "having the power of death" (Heb. 2:14), religion is impotent to resolve the problem of death, for it is itself a form of death. Jesus alone is the "resurrection and the life" (John 11:25), replacing all forms of death with His life.
(83) An Inquiry from John the Baptist - Matt. 11:2-15; Lk. 7:18-30
John the Baptist had prophesied coming cataclysm and judgment. The reports that he received of Jesus' ministry were not of judgment, but of compassion and healings. From the dungeon of Machaerus John heard that Jesus was gentle, loving, and had even healed a servant of a Roman centurion at the behest of Jewish religionists. John was perplexed. He was not as sure as he previously was as to the identity of this one whom he had declared "the lamb of God" (John 1:29). He was questioning whether he had been premature in recognizing Jesus as Messiah. "Are you the One?" he asks through his disciple couriers. John the Baptist did not have a full understanding of the spiritual nature of the Messianic kingdom Jesus came to bring in Himself.
Jesus allowed John's delegates to observe His ministry in order to note that it was indeed a fulfillment of prophecy wherein the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised up, and the poor receive good news (Isa. 2:18,19; 35:5,6; 61:1). Jesus tells them to report to John what they had seen, and to tell him, "Blessed is he who does not feel let down by what I do." Though not in accord with John's inadequate Messianic preconceptions, God's judgment was indeed coming and repentance was needed.
When the representatives of John departed to carry their report to John, Jesus then commented on and commended John. John was no weather-vane moved by the wind of public opinion (like religionists usually are). John was not bedecked in the soft silken vestments of royalty and religion, but rather in coarse camel's hair. John was a rough-cut prophet, the greatest of all the prophets, the special prophet to introduce the Messiah (Mal. 3:1). But the age of prophets is over. The prophets "prophesied until John," who was the end of the line of the old covenant prophets. John was the anti-type of Elijah (Mal. 4:5; cf. Lk 16:16). Fulfillment of the entire line of old covenant prophecy has come to fruition in Jesus Christ. Jesus indicates that all who are in His kingdom are greater than John, for they have more privilege, more blessing, and more hope than John ever realized. All who were in the old covenant prophetic age "did not receive what was promised" (Heb. 11: ; Lk. 10:23,24). Christians have all of God's blessings and promises in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 1:20; Eph. 1:3).
Matthew records Jesus saying that "from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force" (Matt. 11:12). This could mean that zealot-type religious revolutionaries try to force what they perceive to be God's program and kingdom into effect by violent, high-handed power-plays, or that religionists, often in coalition with governmental authorities, often make violent attacks on Christians in the kingdom. Another interpretation is to view "violence" as forceful pressure that seems to violate the misconceptions of what God had promised of the Messiah. The Messianic kingdom presses in apart from the expected channels of operation in the law and the prophets. John the Baptist kicked off the force of an avalanche of God's saving activity, and the pressing force of God's activity of grace in the Son cannot be stopped despite what force might be brought against it by antagonistic religionists. The kingdom has come and the power of God's grace cannot be stopped!
(84) Religious Games - Matt. 11:16-19; Lk. 7:31-35
Jesus then compares the Jewish religion of that time, which is indicative of all religion, with a typical children's game. Religion engages in the hypocritical charade of play-acting and role-playing. It likes to assume the director of activities to dictate what people should do in the "wedding game" or the "funeral game." It is like the child's game of "Simon says..." "Simon says...do this, do that...play this game, play that game...act happy, act sad...celebrate, mourn..." Simon calls the shots, but does not engage in the activity, and is never satisfied with what others do. The participants can never measure up to the performance demanded; they will always be charged with imperfection and impropriety; they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. John's ministry, for example, was like a funeral dirge. John did not eat or drink, and was charged with having a demon. The ministry of Jesus, on the other hand, was like a celebratory wedding dance, with feasting rather than fasting. Jesus came eating and drinking, and was charged with being a sacrilegious friend of publicans and sinners. Religion was not satisfied with either one of them.
The wisdom of God is justified however, for God is shown to be righteous in what He has done both in John and in Jesus, despite the fact that neither met the religious expectation of the day. Despite some misunderstanding of what the other was doing, God was working novelly and uniquely in both men at different times and in different circumstances. We must beware of the religious demands for conformity of methodology and expectation.
(85) Privilege Brings Responsibility - Matt. 11:20-24
Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum were cities within the northern region of Galilee wherein Jesus had been ministering, teaching and doing miracles, but there had not been any real repentance and acceptance of His Messianic kingdom by the people of these areas. Jesus explains that the privilege of opportunity involves responsibility of determination and receptivity. Impenitence brings judgment. These people were stuck in their temporal and physical perspective of the benefits that could be derived, whether physical food, healings, spectacular entertainment, etc. Religion attempts to cater to such, without demanding repentance.
Judgment will come upon those who prefer religion to the kingdom of Christ and His life lived out in them. Tyre and Sidon (Isa. 14:13-15), and Sodom (Gen. 19:24) will have more excuse than those who have seen Christ at work. Ruth Graham is reported to have commented on the depravity and degradation in the United States, saying, "If God doesn't judge America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah." Capernaum, being the center of Jesus' activity in Galilee, had the greatest privilege and is thus compared to the worst city.
(86) The Simple Receive and Rest - Matt. 11:25-30
All was not discouraging however. Jesus thanks the Father that the "wise and understanding," the religious scribes and Pharisees, failed to understand the spiritual realities He was sharing, but there were some "babes," some simple, trusting folk, who did repent and receive in faith. Religious pride and conceit blinds the religionists to spiritual truth, but the humble recognize their spiritual ignorance and need. Religion places great value in education, learning and knowledge, but the truth of the kingdom is often perceived by the uneducated and ignorant, the "have-nots" who in their simplicity recognize their need.
Reflecting in prayer, Jesus said, "No one fully knows You Father, but Me; and no one fully knows Me, but You, Father." Jesus was quite aware of the oneness of essence and mind, of personal being and knowledge, that He had with the Father, God. He was willing to walk the lonely road of misunderstanding in order to reveal God. Spiritual truths are only realized as they are revealed to men by God. Revelation is caught not taught. Religion thinks that the gospel is propositional truth to be consented to and believed, that revelation is believing the Book, that the process of conversion is to "teach it; believe it; accept it; do it!" The revelation of the kingdom of Christ is spiritually discerned and appraised.
Jesus then makes an invitation to those who are weary and heavy-laden by religion. The yoke of religious activity is indeed heavy and laborious. Religious leaders are high-handed and demanding in their "authority." Religious activity allows for no rest. There is a constant demand for dedication and commitment, to be more involved and active in serving the organization and its leaders. Endless duties and ceremonies, services and rituals, are inculcated; go, go, go and do, do, do; unceasing performance and preservation of the traditions. The Apostle Peter later referred to the "yoke our fathers were not able to bear" (Acts 15:10) in the old covenant religion. Instead Jesus invites all men to rest from human activity and the performance of religion, in order to receive God's activity of Grace. In the Sabbath rest of the Christian covenant (Heb. 4) we can enjoy God's activity, recognizing that Christianity is what God does, and not what we do. Jesus said, "Take MY yoke; learn of ME." The ontological dynamic of Jesus Christ is the essence of Christian activity. Come and receive. Do not settle for the wearisome and burdensome toil and labor of religious performance; accept instead the grace of God's activity in Jesus Christ, resting in His sufficiency.
This does not mean that the Christian life is all painless pleasure; "easy street," "membership in God's red carpet club;" smooth sailing on seas of life. The divine resource and sufficiency are ours for every eventuality in the grace of God by the personal presence of Jesus Christ.
(87) Sinful Woman Anoints Jesus' Feet - Lk. 7:36-40
In an unidentified Galilean location, a Pharisee named Simon invited Jesus to eat with him. His motivations would appear to be less than admirable, for he neglected to accord Jesus the common and conventional courtesies of social hospitality expected in that culture. In his proud exclusivism he condescends to receive Jesus into his home, probably to engage in some ad hoc detective work to personally interrogate Him and pin Him down on His ideas and prophetic credentials.
In the midst of the meal a woman known throughout the city for her sinful involvement in prostitution approached Jesus' feet as He reclined at the low table. Her unveiled head and unbound hair stigmatized her as a harlot. Violating social custom to "crash" the occasion of male conversation at table, she knelt at His feet and wept, then wiped the tears with her hair and annointed His feet with expensive perfumed ointment. Perhaps she wept in shame and repentance over her sinfulness and the recognition of the sinlessness of Jesus.
Jesus wasn't concerned about His "image" and reputation. He did not pull back from the touch of a woman, even a woman regarded socially and religiously as scandalous. Religion is self-righteously and hypocritically offended and disgusted at sin, while thoroughly engaged in the subtler forms thereof. Religion regards sin to be polluting and unclean, focusing on the externalities of such. Jesus realized that sinful expression was internally derived from the diabolic source (John 8:44; I Jn. 3:8).
Simon the Pharisee was horrified. He was reasoning that if Jesus were a real prophet, he would know what a sinful woman this was that was touching him and be repulsed. The Pharisee had a skewed idea of those who spoke for God, expecting prophets to be rejective of sinfulness, and of sinners. Loveless and merciless religion is repulsed by and shies away from sinners. Religion is perhaps the greatest impediment to the open invitation to the kingdom of Christ, because it is predominantly concerned with the externalities of visible piety.
Reading Simon's mind, Jesus said, "I have something to say to you, Simon." "Speak, O Teacher," the Pharisee replied, perhaps with haughty contempt, patronage and mocking use of the title.
(88) Parable of Two Debtors - Lk. 7:41-50
Jesus then employed a parabolic analogy that pictures the Pharisee in a worse condition than the prostitute. A lender had two debtors; one owed 500 denaraii (a denarius being the equivalent of a day's wages) and the other 50 denaraii. Neither could pay so he forgave both of their debts. Which of the debtors will love the lender most? In his typical materialistic mode of understanding, the Pharisees presumed that the one who had the greater debt which had been cancelled would love the lender the most. Jesus allows for the accuracy of his humanistic reasoning, and proceeds to explain that the Pharisee is on this occasion the greater debtor and the least appreciative and is therefore inconsistent, irrational and inexcusable. The Pharisee was most in debt to Jesus on this occasion particularly for his lack of social courtesy and conventional hospitality, which evidenced his proud disdain and attitude of superiority over Jesus. The prostitute on this occasion had a proper attitude of humble repentance and honor for Jesus, and could appreciate divine forgiveness of her sins when subsequently granted by Jesus. The ironic anomaly being exposed is that of the greater appreciation being expressed by the prostitute, when the greater sin of the Pharisee met with no appreciation whatsoever for who Jesus was as the Forgiver. The parable is often interpreted as the prostitute being the greater sinner in general and therefore the most in debt to God for the transgression of His purity, and most appreciative of forgiveness. The Pharisee, along with all religion, would have thought so, evaluating the grossness of sinfulness by external quantity and quality, but this fails to take into account the context of the social faux pas of the Pharisee, and the blindness of religionists to their own sinfulness and need of forgiveness.
Jesus told the woman, "Your sins are forgiven." The religionists were appalled that Jesus would claim to forgive sins, for such was the domain of God alone. Jesus said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Receptive faith allows God's forgiveness to become personally efficacious in the individual. Receptivity of divine activity allows for divine functionality to take place. The woman was humbly available to God's work; the Pharisee was isolated and excluded from the work of God by his pride.
(89) Women Minister to Jesus - Lk. 8:1-3
Jesus continued to preach the gospel of the kingdom of God throughout the region of Galilee. Though Jewish religion relegated women to inferiority, Jesus confronted religion by treating women with equality as persons, knowing that "male and female are one before God" (Gal. 3:19). Jesus regarded the physical and spiritual needs of women no less important than those of men, but to this day religion around the world still treats women as inferior and as second-class persons.
Three women in particular are mentioned as having been healed of demons and infirmities by Jesus during this Galilean ministry. Mary Magdalene from Magdala on the south end of the Sea of Galilee had been healed from seven demons. Tradition within the early church indicated that she had previously been a prostitute. Joanna, the wife of Chuza, steward of Herod Antipas, whose palace was at that time located in Tiberias, is mentioned. Some have conjectured that she was the mother of the boy healed by Jesus in John 4:46-54, but this is inconclusive. The third woman mentioned is Suzanna, of whom there is no further mention in Scripture. Women such as these three appear to have organized together to provide physical support for Jesus and His disciples as they travelled.
(90) Jesus Accused of Being of Beelzebub - Matt. 12:22-37; Mk. 3:19-30
Reports of Jesus' activities had been received in the religious headquarters of Jerusalem, and a delegation of scribes had been sent to northern Galilee to attempt to counteract and quench the phenomena of Jesus' ministry by any means possible. One of the means was to indicate that Jesus was crazy and "out of his mind" because he was being empowered by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demon world. Some of Jesus' friends were so caught up in the intensity of the antithetical spiritual conflict that they bought into the lie of such a charge.
A man who was possessed by a demon and was blind and dumb was brought to Jesus, who cast out the demon and caused him to see and speak. The people who observed this miracle were amazed and concluded that Jesus was the "son of David," the Messiah. Genuine exorcisms of demons were regarded as manifestations of the Messianic Kingdom of God as promised fulfillment of David; God at work. The Jewish religionists could not let this go unchallenged, so they declared that Jesus was casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, who had originally been a Canaanite deity, "the lord of the high place," but had become in Jewish theology the designation of the ruler of the abyss and the abode of demons.
Jesus elucidates a basic principle of social dynamics in explaining that a kingdom divided against itself in civil war cannot stand and will be destroyed. If the prince of demons is casting out demons, he is fighting against himself. Satan is a smarter strategist than to attempt to cast himself out or destroy himself. Because of his deceitful and destructive ways, his religious kingdom is often divided against itself in religious infighting, heresy hunting and excommunicative endeavors, but he does not seek to destroy himself.
The ball is thrown into their court when Jesus asks the accusing Pharisees to identify the derivative source of the spiritual power by which their religious exorcists cast out demons. "Do they cast out demons by the diabolic power of Beelzebub, as you are reasoning?" Jesus asks. Their own argument is turned against them, impinging upon their own religious colleagues.
"Since I cast out demons by the power of the Spirit of God, you can be assured that the kingdom of God has come," Jesus concludes. The greater power of the omnipotent God has entered into the world realm of the "strong man," the "god of this world," the "evil one," in order to bind him and desecrate and destroy his religious house and kingdom. In the completed period of Christ's finished work, Satan who has bound people in religion throughout human history is himself bound so as to be denied free reign over mankind, and is overcome by the victorious Christ (Rev. 20:2).
Those who are not spiritually united with Christ (I Cor. 6:17) and therefore united in the expression of His purpose are necessarily opponents of Christ and His kingdom. The religious adherents and antagonists are the enemies of Christ and the Christian kingdom. They are aligned with the Evil One. Religionists do not gather mankind into the spiritual kingdom of Christ identified only with Him and the expression of His character; rather they scatter men into religious denominationalism, sectarianism, divisive doctrinal dissensions, etc.
To further amplify the definite either/or antithesis between those Christians who are identified with Him in the kingdom and the religionists who are identified with the devil, Jesus refers to an unforgivable eternal sin. The Pharisaic religionists are so blinded by the god of this world (II Cor 4:4) that they have identified the activity of God as being the activity of Satan. When confronted with God's good, they call it evil. When confronted with religious evil, they call it good. Such a distorted spiritual perspective that leads one to blasphemously speak harmfully of God's activity by the Holy Spirit and to identify such as diabolic rather than divine evidences a deliberate and settled defiance of God that will be unforgivable because the person is incapable of spiritual discernment of what God is doing in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Jesus continues to drive home the point of the antithesis of His kingdom and that of religion by explaining that the derivative spiritual source of all that we do and say must be understood as being traceable back either to the root of the goodness of God or to the evil of the Evil One. In the spiritual heart of every man dwells either the good treasure of God in Christ (II Cor. 4:7) or the evil treasure of the Evil One, bringing forth good character or evil character in our behavior, respectively. The religionists who had accused Jesus were deriving their behavior and speech from the Evil One and were incapable of speaking anything that represented the goodness of God, for which they would be held accountable in the judgement of God. Jesus identified them as the offspring of low-down poisonous serpent snakes, identifying the religionists spiritually with the "serpent of old" (Gen. 3:1-4; Rev. 12:9; 20:2).
(91) Sign of Jonah - Matt. 12:38-45
Religion keeps trying to accommodate the evil and adulterous generations that seek after signs. They think that in seeing the supernatural they have seen God, failing to realize that the spiritual realm includes the Evil One and his supernatural abilities, even those which inspire their selfish seeking after signs.
In this case the religionists themselves demand a supernatural sign which might possibly convince them of Jesus' Messiahship. Jesus refers to them as part of "an evil and adulterous generation" estranged from the God of Israel, who could not perceive the power of God if it were performed right before them, as it was being done. Jesus offers them only "the sign of Jonah." There is obviously a similarity between Jonah and Jesus in the three days and nights that Jonah spent in the sea-creature and Jesus spent in the tomb, but Jesus seems to be turning the similarity back on the religionists who are dogging Him for a sign. The Pharisees, like Jonah, were bitter and angry about what God was doing. Jonah and the Pharisees did not want God to be merciful to sinners, to be "a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness" (Jonah 4:2). Like Jonah, the Pharisees did not have "good reason to be angry" (Jonah 4:4). There would indeed be a sign in the miraculous resurrection of Jesus that evidenced the compassion and grace of God toward sinful men, restoring men with the loving life of God. Religionists are exposed by their failure to appreciate God's grace, preferring instead their man-made methods of enacting what they call "fairness" and "justice."
Jesus goes on to indicate that the Ninevites will stand in the judgment with the Pharisaic religionists and the evil generation they have produced, and the Ninevites will stand in condemnation of the present religious establishment for they at least repented and turned to God, which the Jewish religionists were refusing to do. "One greater than the prophet Jonah is present," Jesus explains, referring to Himself.
"One greater than Solomon is here," Jesus went on to say. Jesus is the wisdom of God personified (I Cor. 1:24,30). The queen of the South, Sheba, had sincerely sought out the wisdom of Solomon, but the Jewish religionists did not know divine wisdom when He stood before them and spoke to them, and would thus be condemned even by the Egyptians which were such enemies of the Israelites in the judgment before God.
The parable of the demon being cast out and returning with seven spirits more evil than himself is quite enigmatic. This is more than just a return to the discussion of demon exorcism. Perhaps Jesus is intimating that the demon of unbelief was cast out of the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba, but has returned seven-fold in the Jewish religionists. More likely Jesus is noting that His ministry is figuratively as well as literally casting out evil spirits, opposed to God. He came to expel the Evil One from his enslavement of humanity, but though Jesus casts out the Evil One by His redemptive work, the demonic activity will return seven times worse that before because of the unbelief of the Jewish religionists and Jewish peoples. Prophetically Jesus is indicating that the situation for the Jewish religionists and their evil generation would be worse than before His coming, and indeed it was as historically documented at the fall of Jerusalem.
(92) Spiritual Family - Matt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35; Lk. 8:19-21
Jesus was becoming so direct in His invectives against the religionists that His own mother and brothers apparently sought to dissuade Him from His pointed pronouncements, and perhaps to protect Him from Himself by removing Him. Unable to get access to Him because of the crowds, a message was conveyed to Jesus that His mother and brothers sought to speak with Him.
Responding to the request, Jesus asked rhetorically, "Who is my mother and my brother?" Cognizant of the greater spiritual family in the kingdom of God, Jesus looked out on the believing followers and said, "Behold, My mother and My brothers." The physical connections are not as important as the spiritual connections of familial oneness of all who "do the will of the Father" by receiving the Spirit of His Son and allow the character of God to be expressed in the behavior of man to the glory of God.
(93) Jesus Stills the Storm on the Sea - Matt. 8:18,23-27; Mk. 4:35-41; Lk. 8:22-25
After speaking parabolically about the kingdom, Jesus departed with His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee. In the midst of the crossing a storm arose, as is quite common as the winds whip into the depression that sits below sea-level where the Sea of Galilee is located. Their small craft was filling with water from the high waves, and they were in jeopardy of sinking.
Jesus was asleep in the stern of the boat, so the disciples awoke Him to plead that He save them from perishing. Jesus miraculously stilled the winds and the waves, and then asked His disciples why they were full of fear instead of faith. Faith is the antidote to fear. Faith recognizes and is receptive to the activity of God in the situation, in which case we have nothing to fear. The disciples marvelled that Jesus had such divine power over the entirety of the created order. Religion may conjure up limited paranormal events, but they cannot command the meteorological events of the natural world.
(94) Demons Cast into Swine - Matt. 8:28-34; Mk. 5:1-20; Lk. 8:26-39
On the other side of the Sea of Galilee in the region of Gadara (Matthew) and Gerasa (Mark and Luke), being the same general region, Jesus was confronted by two men possessed by demons. One man in particular ran around naked and lived among the tombs of the dead, unable to be restrained by chains, engaging in masochistic and suicidal acts against his own body. This man who appears to have been more active and aggressive than the other, ran up to Jesus and screamed, "What do I have to do with you, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Please do not torment me!" Jesus commanded the demon to depart from the man and requested the demon's identity. "My name is Legion, for we are many," replied the demon. "Please do not send us to the abyss; send us into that herd of swine instead," they pleaded. Jesus allowed them to enter the swine, whereupon the entire herd rushed over the cliff into the sea.
The hired pig-tenders ran into the city to report the loss of the herd in their charge and what had happened to the men possessed with demons. Throngs of people came to see the previously vile demoniac now "clothed and in his right mind." They were superstitiously fearful though, either of the presence of divine power or that Jesus would inflict further economic deprivation from loss of livestock, and they asked Jesus to leave. They would rather retain their pagan and demonic religion than the physical and spiritual restoration of life in Jesus Christ. As He reluctantly entered the boat with His disciples the man exorcised of demons requested that he might go with them, but Jesus told him to return to his peoples of that region and report what Jesus the Lord had done for him.
(95) Healings Evidencing the Receptivity of Faith - Matt. 9:18-26; Mk. 5:21-43; Lk. 8:40-56
Returning across the sea probably to Capernaum, Jesus was soon met by a Jewish ruler of the local synagogue, a man named Jairus, whose only child, a twelve year old daughter, was dying. Religious belief gives way to real need and the Jewish leader requests that Jesus come to heal his daughter.
As they were proceeding to his home, the synagogue ruler was probably frantically agitated when Jesus stopped to inquire who had touched His garment, for He had felt the divine power administered. A woman who had been suffering from hemorrhaging for twelve years admitted that she had touched the cloak of Jesus, believing perhaps superstitiously that such a touch could heal her. Jesus explains that the receptivity of her trusting faith has indeed allowed the power of God to restore functional health in her body.
While speaking to the healed woman reports
arrived from the home of Jairus that his daughter was already
dead. Jesus said to Jairus, "Do not fear; remain receptive
in faith to what God can do in making your daughter healthy."
Taking only Peter, James and John, Jesus went into the house
of Jairus and found it full of religious mourners ostentatiously
wailing in grief. He told them to quit weeping, for the child
was "not dead, but sleeping." Those present laughed
with scorn at His declaration, for they were convinced that she
was dead. Apparently Jesus was indicating that the child was
not permanently dead, but could be awakened unto life. "Sleep"
is often used as a figurative euphemism for death by Jesus Christ
and Christians, for physical death is not a terminus of annihilation
but a gateway for continued experience of the spiritual and eternal
life of God in Christ Jesus. Religion is incapable of effecting
physical or spiritual restoration and healing. Only the Creator-Christ
can restore the physical life He brought into being and bring
spiritual new creation. Jesus took the hand of the dead child
and spoke the Aramaic expression, Talitha cumi, meaning "Little
girl, get up!" Without any period of convalescence the girl
arose, walked away, and was given nourishment.
Two blind men are led to Jesus after He left the home of Jairus. They cry out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David," using a designation that identifies Jesus as the Messiah in the lineage of King David. Jesus asks them if they believe that He has the Messianic ability to cause them to see, and they reply, "Yes, Lord," evidencing even more their acceptance of the identity of Jesus. Touching their eyes, Jesus healed their blindness and caused them to have physical sight, saying, "Because you have been receptive in faith to who I am and what God can do, you have received this healing." Jesus then encouraged them not to broadcast their healing for He did not desire any additional attention from the religionists, but they disregarded His admonition.
Another man possessed of a demon and unable to speak was brought to Jesus. When the demon was exorcised the man could speak. The crowds of people continued to be amazed, saying, "We have not seen anything like this in Israel before." The Pharisees, despite the previous denunciation of their reasoning (Matt. 12:24; Mk. 3:22), could not venture any other explanation but to attribute Jesus' activity of casting out demons to the devil himself.
(97) Final Visit to Nazareth - Matt. 13:54-58; Mk. 6:1-6
Jesus returned a final time to his home territory of Nazareth. He taught again in the local synagogue, and the people were amazed, asking, "Where did this man get this wisdom and power?" But their incredulity gives way to disbelief when they remember again that Jesus is but a local carpenter who was never trained in the acceptable religious schools of the Rabbis. Scandalized at what they presume to be pretension, they write him off. Jesus notes that a prophet is seldom recognized with honor in his home country, but continued to be chagrined about their unbelief.
(98) Twelve Disciples Sent Out in Galilee - Matt. 9:35-11:1; Mk. 6:6-13; Lk. 9:1-6
Continuing on to the plain of Esdraelon, Jesus had compassion for those who are duped by religion. The followers of religion are confused, bewildered, unfulfilled and wandering around looking for answers, for they are sheep without a shepherd, abandoned by their insensitive and incapable religious leaders. Their religious false-shepherds are wolves in sheep's clothing who harass and destroy them. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted this phenomena when he wrote,
Perhaps the greatest mission-field is to be found among the religious who have been abused by their religious leaders and do not understand the gospel of the kingdom.
When Jesus sent out the disciples on their
first missionary endeavors there was a particular urgency for
those bound up in the Jewish religion, identified as "the
lost sheep of the house of Israel," since Jesus seems to
have been aware of their impending destruction and demise which
came at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D. This also explains
part of the priority of sharing the gospel with the Jewish peoples
in Acts 1:8 and Romans 1:16. The initial priority was to share
the kingdom of God with those who should have been prepared for
such by their heritage as the pictorial people of God and would
soon experience decimation of their race and religion. Thus the
disciples were encouraged not to go to the villages of the Gentiles
or the Samaritans, but first of all to the Jews.
So keen was Jesus to bring the good news of the Messianic kingdom to the Jewish people that He envisioned them as a harvest field ready for reaping, while at the same time there were insufficient laborers to proclaim that the time was fulfilled. The twelve disciples were sent out as apostles to preach this radically new concept of the spiritual kingdom which was not of this world, and given authority to heal and cast out demons. God's physical provision was promised to them. The source of their witness was to be derived from the Spirit of God, for "the Spirit of your Father speaks in you." They were cautioned about the inevitable persecution and suffering that they would endure in identification with Jesus, particularly from religionists and their cohorts in high places, but guaranteed that God would care for them and receive them unto Himself even if they were to die for His sake.
In the context of His warning of the inevitable conflict between Christianity and religion, Jesus states, "I came not to bring peace, but a sword." Religion and the world often view peace as but the absence of conflict and the acceptance of the status-quo. The reality of the life of Jesus Christ in His people will be a "subversion" of such attempts at social peacefulness. Jesus is always a "disturber of the peace," of the false tranquillity that religion tries to engineer. The life of Jesus will "cut through" the hypocrisy and the veneer; it will serve as the "cutting edge" of spiritual reality. Jesus did not mean that He came to start a physical "holy war," or to advocate political rebellion and revolution via "liberation theology", or that He came to disrupt and diminish family life, but that His life would inevitably cause conflict and disruption with the world's ways, which are the ways of religion. The life of Jesus necessarily confronts and conflicts with religion. Respectfully disagreeing with F.F. Bruce,2 it was indeed Jesus' purpose to bring "the sword" and to "cut through" religion in order to decimate and destroy such.
(99) The Death of John the Baptist - Matt. 14:1-12; Mk. 6:14-29; Lk. 9:7-9
King Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, heard reports of what Jesus and His disciples were doing. Perhaps his guilty conscience caused him to speculate and imagine that Jesus was John the Baptist risen from the dead, or as others conjectured a repersonification of Elijah or another prophet of God. Herod was guilty of having imprisoned John the Baptist at Machaerus on the east side of the Dead Sea at the behest of Herodias after John had denounced Herod's incestuous and adulterous marriage to her. She was his niece, being the daughter of Aristobulus, and his sister-in-law, being the wife of his half-brother, Philip. Being a man of no scruples, he married her anyway.
Meanwhile Herodias kept seeking to have John the Baptist killed, and finally succeeded when at a birthday party for the king, her own daughter, Salome, danced lewdly before Herod who was drunk, and he promised her anything her heart desired up to half of the kingdom. At the instigation of her murderous mother she requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter. Afraid to lose face, Herod Antipas followed through and ordered the murder of John the Baptist. John's disciples buried his body and reported his death to Jesus as He was concluding His ministry in Galilee.
Dietrich, The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Macmillan
Publishing Company. 1963. pg. 224.