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HEALING A POSSESSED BOY
When the president of a company is not in his office, you end up stuck with his secretary as your only source of help. In most cases, this isn’t very satisfying. The secretary doesn’t have the authority that the big boss does, and you usually end up walking away feeling less than helped. When a man with a demon possessed son hauls his wild child all the way out to the base of some hill to seek help from Jesus, he is very disappointed to learn that Jesus is away from His office. He’s off having some private meeting with three of His disciples, and all that’s left are the nine other disciples that Jesus clearly considers to be second rate. Well, this is just terrific. At any moment, Junior could go into one of his spastic fits. What’s a father to do? He turns to the nine who were left behind and asks if they can help. They seem to think they can. They go through some motions of trying to exorcise demons out of the man’s son, but nothing happens. There are a lot of other people hanging around watching and some of them are starting to snicker. This is getting awkward. The man just wants his boy to get healed. Now Jesus’ nine useless assistants are getting into an argument with some huffy scribes. What a pain. Where is Jesus?
At last the Big Boss comes into view, hiking back down the mountain with His three disciples. The father runs over to meet Him. Naturally everyone else comes running over as well, because everyone is looking for a miraculous fix. But the father is fast, and he grabs Jesus’ attention by falling down on his knees in front of Him crying:
“Lord, have mercy on my son! He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. So I brought him to Your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.” (Mt. 17:15-16)
The father doesn’t waste any time in advertising the impotency of the nine who were left behind. How embarrassing for them. But apparently Jesus’ little mountainside meeting didn’t go well because He’s in a very sour mood.
“You unbelieving and rebellious generation! How long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him here to Me!” (Matt. 17:17)
Hm. Jesus sounds pretty annoyed. But who cares what His problem is—what matters is that He has power. The man rushes to bring his son over to Jesus, but on the way, Junior suddenly goes into another one of his fits.
As the boy was still approaching, the demon knocked him down and threw him into severe convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, cured the boy, and gave him back to his father. And they were all astonished at the greatness of God. (Lk. 9:42-43)
After helping the boy to his feet, Jesus heads into town and enters a house. His twelve disciples follow, and as soon as they are alone, the nine ask Him:
“Why couldn’t we cast out that demon?”
“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” (Matt. 17:19-21)
Jesus is so frustrated with His disciples lack of faith. We love to quote this line about a mustard seed today, but this is actually a stinging insult. Mustard seeds are tiny little things–so small that it’s hard see one that’s pinched between your fingertips. Jesus says His boys don’t even have that much faith, and being God, Jesus knows what He’s talking about.
When it comes to spiritual maturity, these disciples are in really bad shape–and so late in the game, too. By now they’ve been with Jesus for quite a while, plus it’s not like they’re children. What were they doing with their souls before Jesus came along? Were they even pursuing Yahweh? It doesn’t sound like it if their faith is this underdeveloped. If you don’t even have one mustard seed’s worth of faith, you can’t have much of a relationship with God, because that relationship is built on faith.
“Listen to Me and remember what I say: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies.” But they didn’t know what He meant. Its significance was hidden from them, so they couldn’t understand it, and they were afraid to ask Him about it. (Luke 9:43-45)
Not being one of the twelve, Luke was probably not present during this meeting, which means he’s getting his information secondhand. Don’t miss the defense of the disciples that is being slipped in here: it wasn’t their fault for not understanding what Jesus said because the significance of His words was being intentionally kept from them. Really? So Jesus is angry at His disciples for not understanding something that He’s blocking them from understanding? No, this isn’t how God works. Jesus’ constant criticism of His boys’ lack of faith makes it clear that they are intentionally holding back. Jesus isn’t speaking in His usual code of parables and metaphors here. He’s speaking very plainly. The disciples do understand. They just don’t want to think about it. Matthew’s account is more honest.
Jesus told them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies. He will be killed, but on the third day He will be raised from the dead.” And the disciples were filled with grief. (Matt. 17:22-23)
Notice how no one is hearing Jesus say that He’s only going to be dead for three days. All they’re hearing is that He’s going to die, and they find that thought utterly depressing.
THE TEMPLE TAX
Always looking for ways to gouge people, the Jewish leaders had a nice little system of Temple taxation set up whereby each man had to pay a sum equal to two days’ wages in tax to the Temple every spring. The money was supposed to go towards buying sacrificial animals for Temple worship. Well, Jesus and His boys have been avoiding Jerusalem for quite a while and they missed the last tax collection. They’re now back in the northern city of Capernaum when Peter gets approached by two Temple tax collectors who have come all the way up from Judea just to track him and Jesus down.
On their arrival in Capernaum, the collectors of the Temple tax came to Peter and asked him, “Doesn’t your Teacher pay the Temple tax?”
“Yes, He does,” Peter replied. Then he went into the house.
But before he had a chance to speak, Jesus asked him, “What do you think, Simon? Who do earthly kings collect tariffs or taxes from? From their sons or from strangers?”
“From strangers,” Peter replied.
“Then the sons are free,” Jesus told him. “But, so we won’t offend them, go to the sea, cast in a fishhook, and take the first fish that you catch. When you open its mouth you’ll find a coin. Take it and give it to them for Me and you.” (Matt. 17:24-27)
Well, well, isn’t Peter Mr. Special to get to have this little miracle all to himself. “Give it to them for Me and you,” Jesus says. He doesn’t say anything to the other disciples. First Peter gets the special name change, now he gets the special fish with the special coin. Some of the disciples are getting jealous. Jealousy leads to huffiness and soon the disciples are intentionally lagging behind Jesus on another trip back into Capernaum and getting into a heated debate with each other about who is the greatest. If Peter thinks he’s the favorite, he can just think again. And guess what? Just because Jesus only took Peter, James and John up on the mountain with Him for some big secret meeting, that doesn’t mean that those three are better than everyone else. By the time they finally reach their house in Capernaum, everyone’s nose is bent out of joint and then of course Jesus has to ask what they were talking about. Fine. Let’s have Jesus settle the argument right here and now.
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
Then He called a child to Him and had him stand among them. He said, “I tell you the truth, unless you are converted and become like children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 18:1-4)
Clearly the child Jesus picked in this moment was well-behaved and not a little brat. Hm. This isn’t what the disciples want to hear. Jesus is telling them to get over themselves and discover what true humility is because no one who thinks he’s all that is going to be accepted by Yahweh. Reverential humility has always been a requirement for salvation under Yahweh’s Old Covenant and that requirement is being carried over into the New Covenant. As long as you think you’re Mr. or Ms. Awesome, you’re never going to accept your desperate need for salvation. Jesus teaches that we’re all a bunch of depraved perverts who are incapable of doing anything worthy apart from Him. He says that we don’t deserve the glory for anything, but that our greatest service to God will only ever be the very least that is required. Our pride hates this kind of talk. We want some glory, but God says He’s not sharing. We want to think we’ve got the chops to help God run the universe, but God says we’re impotent flecks who can’t even breathe without His help. At this time, Jewish children were taught to stay in their place as lower ranking members of society. Jesus is telling His disciples that they need to take a page from the boy standing in front of them and be content with staying in their place as well. As mere created beings, we’re never going to rise up to be the equivalent of our Creators.
Well, this is getting awkward. It’s time to change the subject. John pipes up with a bit of news that he hopes will earn Jesus’ approval.
John responded, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in Your Name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.”
“Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)
Well, rats. It seems like the disciples can’t do anything right. Jesus is now railing on and on about sin and eternal damnation. He orders the disciples to stop quibbling with each other and then He launches into a discussion about forgiving others. Then Peter pipes up and asks:
“Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” (Mt. 18:21)
Much to everyone’s surprise, Jesus gets very angry and fires off a parable at Peter which depicts Yahweh throwing Peter into Hell (see The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant). Yikes. So much for Peter being the favorite.
Siblings can be a real pain, especially when they’re jealous. Jesus’ brothers don’t believe He’s the Messiah and they’d love nothing better than for Him to make a complete fool out of Himself. Knowing that Jesus has been trying to keep a low profile for the last six months, Jesus’ brothers see the Feast of Tabernacles coming up on the holiday calendar and they start trying to goad Jesus into going down to Jerusalem and making a big scene.
“Leave here and go to Judea, where Your followers can see Your miracles! You can’t become famous if You hide like this! If You can do such wonderful things, show Yourself to the world!” For not even His brothers believed in Him.
Jesus replied, “Now is not the right time for Me to go, but you can go anytime. The world can’t hate you, but it does hate Me because I accuse it of doing evil. Go up to the festival yourselves. I’m not going to this festival, because My time has not yet come.” After saying these things, Jesus remained in Galilee. (Jn. 7:2-9)
That bit about Jesus not going to the festival is yet another example of God lying. After giving His brothers plenty of time to get ahead of Him, Jesus tells His boys that He is going to Jerusalem after all—but secretly. Well, this puts everyone on edge. After all, Jesus has been telling them that when He goes to Jerusalem it’s going to be all bad. He’ll be arrested, tortured and killed. How can anyone think of Jerusalem without getting rocks in their gut? But if Jesus is going, the twelve are going with Him, so they start the long journey south. Of course to get to Jerusalem, they’ll first have to pass through Samaritan territory, and this is never pleasant.
The Jews hate the Samaritans and the Samaritans hate the Jews. From the Samaritan perspective, the Jews are a bunch of arrogant, condescending, bloodline obsessed bigots who think they are oh so much better than everyone else just because of who their ancestors are. Even though the Samaritans have a perfectly nice temple for worshiping on their Mt. Gerizim, multiple times every year, a bunch of Jews stream down from the north and pass through Samaritan territory to go worship in the Temple at Jerusalem. In other words, they think that the Samaritan temple is inferior, just like they think everything about Samaritans is inferior. So when Jesus’ disciples arrive in a certain Samaritan village looking for some accommodations, as soon as the villagers find out that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, they tell His disciples to take a hike. Why should they put these snobs up or assist them on their journey? There’s nothing inferior about the temple on Mt. Gerizim and it’s a whole lot more convenient than trooping all the way down to Jerusalem. The Samaritans know that the only reason Jesus is refusing to celebrate the annual holiday at their nice temple is because Jesus is a stuck up snob, just like every other Jew. Well, Jesus can just hit the road. He won’t be getting any help from them.
But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because He was on His way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” (Lk. 9:51-54)
James and John are super ticked by the hostility of these rude Samaritans. How dare they give Jesus this attitude? It’s time for action. They want to be like Elijah and call fire down from heaven to torch the whole lot of them (see Elijah & Ahaziah: Death from Heaven).
But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village. (Lk. 9:55-56)
Jesus sure is being a prickly pear lately. He clearly doesn’t appreciate what a fine time this would be for Yahweh to smote someone, and James and John could have had a real moment of glory if Jesus had been more cooperative. But instead of signing off on them torching the place with some dramatic display of God’s wrath, Jesus chews them out and then says they’ll have to try another village. How frustratingly dull. Where are the perks for being the Messiah’s main men?
ANTICIPATION AT THE TEMPLE
When word reaches Jerusalem that Jesus is on His way, the Jews start getting agitated. Some say Jesus is a cool Guy, while others say He’s a bad influence. Fights are breaking out, but whenever the Jewish officials come into view, everyone hushes up because everyone knows the authorities are gunning for Jesus and they don’t want to be seen as His followers.
But then, halfway through the festival, Jesus suddenly shows up in the Temple and starts to preach even though He knows the Sadducees and Pharisees are brainstorming ways to murder Him. The Jews are amazed, and many are wondering how Jesus became so knowledgeable when He’s only the son of a carpenter.
“This man has never studied in school. How did He learn so much?”
Jesus answered them, “My teaching isn’t Mine but is from the One who sent Me. If anyone wants to do the will of God, he will understand whether My teaching is from Yahweh or if I am speaking on My own. Whoever speaks on his own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the One who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. Didn’t Moses give you the law? Yet none of you keeps the law! Why do you want to kill Me?”
The crowd replied, “You’re demon possessed! Who’s trying to kill You?”
Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with Me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (Jn. 7:15-24)
The miracle Jesus is referring to here was a time when He healed a sick man on the Sabbath right inside Jerusalem. That was all the way back in Lesson 48, but the Jewish leaders are still fuming about it because Jesus had so publicly defied their authority at the time. Everyone knows what a scandal Jesus caused, so this crowd is lying through their teeth when they call Jesus crazy and pretend not to know who wants to kill Him. Some of them would love to see Jesus dead, which is why Jesus asked “Why do you want to kill Me?”
In the material we put out, we’re constantly telling you that God is your only Source of truth and that the Holy Spirit will show you what truth is if you sincerely seek Him. Notice how Jesus says here that anyone who sincerely wants to please God will know that Jesus is who He claims to be and that His teaching is true. In the material we put out, we’re constantly telling you that God judges you by your soul intentions, not by your actions. Notice how Jesus points out a common case in which people are breaking God’s command to rest on the Sabbath by getting their boys circumcised on that day. Why is this okay? Because they’re trying to obey another Law about all Jewish boys having to be circumcised when they are eight days old. It’s all about soul intentions with God. Jesus’ point is that He was obeying instructions from Yahweh by healing a man on the Sabbath, therefore the crowd should recognize that His intentions were honorable and stop condemning Him by His actions. It’s not what we do that matters to God, but why we are doing it.
So, here Jesus is standing out in the open, attracting a large crowd and drawing a bunch of attention to Himself. Why isn’t He being arrested? Where are the Sadducees and Pharisees? Could it be that the religious leaders are holding back because they’re suddenly starting to believe that Jesus might actually be the Messiah?
Some of the people who lived in Jerusalem started to ask each other, “Isn’t this the Man they are trying to kill? But here He is, speaking in public, and they say nothing to Him. Could our leaders possibly believe that He is the Messiah? But how could He be? For we know where this Man comes from. When the Messiah comes, He will simply appear; no one will know where He comes from.” (Jn. 7:25-27)
When you’ve been waiting centuries for a Messiah to show up, there’s plenty of time to develop wild theories about what He’ll be like and how He’ll arrive. One popular belief at this time is that Israel’s long foretold Savior will just magically materialize one day. Jesus certainly isn’t a match to that theory. But now, as if He can read their minds, He suddenly cries out:
“Yes, you know Me, and you know where I come from! Yet I have not come on My own, but the One who sent Me is true. You don’t know Him; I know Him because I am from Him, and He sent Me.” (Jn. 7:28)
Christians commonly ask, “Where does Jesus claim to be God in the Gospels?” Jesus is constantly claiming to be God, but in many cases He doesn’t even use the G-word. Notice how in this passage He doesn’t say “I am the Messiah,” He doesn’t say, “I am a second God,” nor does He say, “Yahweh sent Me to you.” Yet all of these messages are being clearly conveyed to this crowd. Everyone knows that Jesus is talking about Yahweh when He refers to being sent by Someone. Everyone knows that Jesus is claiming equality with God by saying He is the only One who really knows Yahweh. These are Jews that Jesus is talking to, so how can He say that they don’t know Yahweh? Because He’s not talking about understanding the fact of Yahweh’s existence. He’s talking about an intimate God-to-God connection. Everyone knows that’s what He means, which is why the religious leaders immediately go spastic.
Then the leaders tried to arrest Him; but no one laid a hand on Him, because His time had not yet come. (Jn. 7:30)
Once again, Jesus uses His Divine power to prevent these people from grabbing Him. We’re talking about a large, pent up crowd versus just one guy. But when that one Guy happens to be God Almighty, statistics become meaningless.
Many among the crowds at the Temple believed in Him. “After all,” they said, “would you expect the Messiah to do more miraculous signs than this man has done?” (Jn. 7:31)
Once again notice how Jesus never said the words “I am the Messiah”, and yet to these Jewish ears His claims to be the Messiah couldn’t have been more clear. This is what’s tricky about looking for incidents of Jesus claiming to be Divine in the Gospels—you have to examine His statements within their original contexts in order to hear what He’s really saying. When in doubt, just notice how the Jews are always going spastic and wanting to kill Him after He drops a bunch of what we would call vague hints about His intimate association with Yahweh. They weren’t vague hints to the Jews. They heard brazen, blasphemous claims of equality with Yahweh and it blew their minds.
Now it’s buzzing through the whole crowd that Jesus really is the Messiah. The panicking Pharisees and Sadducees can sense their control over Jewish minds starting to slip. It’s time to call the cops.
The Pharisees heard the crowd muttering these things about Him, so the chief priests and the Pharisees sent Temple police to arrest Him.
Then Jesus said, “I am only with you for a short time. Then I’m going to the One who sent Me. You will look for Me, but you will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come.”
Then the Jews said to one another, “Where does He intend to go so we won’t find Him? Is He thinking of leaving the country and going to the Jews in other lands? Maybe He will even teach the Greeks! What does He mean by saying, ‘You will look for Me, and you will not find Me; and where I am, you cannot come’?” (Jn. 7:32-36)
It seems this second attempt to arrest Jesus also fails because once again we read about Him standing in the Temple on a different day and shouting out to the crowds.
On the last and most important day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him.” He said this about the Spirit. Those who believed in Jesus were going to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been received because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
When some from the crowd heard these words, they said, “This really is the Prophet!” Others said, “This is the Messiah!” But some said, “Surely the Messiah doesn’t come from Galilee, does He? Doesn’t the Scripture say that the Messiah comes from David’s offspring and from the town of Bethlehem, where David once lived?” So a division occurred among the crowd because of Him. Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him. (Jn. 7:37-44)
This confusion over the Messiah’s birthplace is a classic example of God intentionally messing with our minds. Yahweh had said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. To “come from” somewhere means you grew up there, it doesn’t mean you only spent the first few years of your life there—years that you can’t even remember as an adult. Jesus is “from” Galilee. He technically began His life in Bethlehem, but who puts so much weight on technicalities?
When God prophesies to us, He speaks using words that we can understand and we attach our normal definitions to those words. But in real life, God is constantly playing with us in prophecy and it’s a rare day that we see any of His prophecies literally fulfilled. Jesus didn’t “come from” Bethlehem—not in the human meaning of that term. He didn’t literally sprinkle the nations with His Blood, either (Isa. 52). He didn’t ever park Himself on a literal throne in earthly Jerusalem or restore the Davidic line of Jewish kings (Isa. 9). In fact, He wasn’t even a true descendant of David (see Jesus: The Illegitimate Lion of Judah). He was born of a virgin, but ironically the virgin prophecy wasn’t even talking about Jesus, but about a son of the prophet Isaiah (see The Real Immanuel). He wasn’t totally silent before His executioners (Isa. 53). He didn’t establish justice on earth (Isa. 42). He didn’t slay the wicked (Isa. 42). According to Yahweh’s sacrificial laws, He didn’t even qualify as a guilt offering for sins (Isa. 52; see How the Cross Broke the Law). Before you can claim that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies that Yahweh gave about Him, you have to play a lot of games with metaphors, exaggeration, and figurative speech. All things that we call “stretching the truth”. Does it bother us that our Gods are so intentionally vague and misleading? Of course it does. But there’s no getting around the fact that this is how They operate. If there’s anything we learn from studying biblical prophecy, it’s that we need to keep a wide open mind. It doesn’t matter how straightforward some prophecy of God sounds to us today—He’s got a very long track record of fulfilling such promises in ways that don’t feel right at all.
Notice what an aggressive approach Jesus is suddenly taking. He’s not just speaking, He’s shouting. He’s getting in people’s faces now—emphatically urging them to follow Him. We can feel the tension mounting as Jesus sees His crucifixion drawing near. It’s now that we finally get to hear what happened to the cops who were supposed to arrest Jesus.
Then the Temple police came to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why haven’t you brought Him?”
The police answered, “No man ever spoke like this!”
Then the Pharisees responded to them: “Are you fooled too? Have any of the rulers or Pharisees believed in Him? But this crowd, which doesn’t know the Law, is accursed!”
Nicodemus—the one who came to Him previously, being one of them—said to them, “Our law doesn’t judge a man before it hears from him and knows what he’s doing, does it?”
“You aren’t from Galilee too, are you?” they replied. “Investigate and you will see that no prophet arises from Galilee.” (Jn. 7:45-52)
Notice what the Pharisees are stumbling over here: biblical prophecy. God’s own words. Yahweh had said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, but Jesus comes from Galilee. You can’t just blow past an important detail like that. Jesus can’t be the Promised One. And yet He is. But when the learned Bible scholars hunt through Scriptures, they clearly see that Yahweh says Jesus can’t be the One. And yet He is. Today most Christians believe that the Bible clearly teaches that God can’t lie or change His mind or do things that we would consider evil. And yet He does. Are you seeing the problem? Somehow studying Scripture is leading people away from God and making them blind to His truth. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Our pastors promise us that studying Scripture will draw us closer to God, yet look at these Pharisees. Scriptures aren’t helping them—in fact Scriptures are forming a major roadblock. It’s all fine for us to look back from our vantage point of knowing the whole story about Christ and say that the Pharisees were just reading things wrong. But do we really think we’re immune from stumbling in the same way? Where did the Jews come up with the idea that the Messiah would just magically appear? It doesn’t say that anywhere in the Bible. It also doesn’t say a lot of other things in the Bible that we believe today. The terms Trinity and God’s unconditional love are not in the Bible, yet we uphold these things as biblical doctrines today. Jesus weeping over people in Hell isn’t in the Bible. It doesn’t say anywhere that Yahweh turned His face away while Jesus hung on the cross, yet we all think that it does because of well-circulated song lyrics. What the Bible actually says is challenging enough to deal with, but we’re all operating under what we think the Bible says, and a lot of that is pure baloney.
We need to take a good look at what is happening to the Pharisees in this passage and realize that we are just as vulnerable as they are to getting tripped up by Scriptures. So what can save us? Only God. Earlier Jesus said that anyone who was sincerely seeking Yahweh’s will would know that Jesus was the One. How would they know? Because God would give them soul confirmation. If we really want to know the truth, we must submit to God—not just partially, but completely. We must acknowledge how utterly blind and ignorant and lost we are on our own and throw ourselves entirely into His hands, acknowledging that He is our one and only Source of truth. That is when God will answer our questions. That is when we will have our eyes opened to finally see what has been right in front of us our whole lives.
Spiritual illumination is a gift, not a given, and God doesn’t give this gift out for free. He puts a price on it, and that price is submission to His Authority and a sincere desire to please Him. If we are willing to pay the price, God will give us understanding and He will ensure that we do not miss seeing Him when He is standing right in front of us.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible 58: The Second I AM
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