Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Gospel (4)

This is part 4 of chapter 5 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

Jesus visited Nazareth, His hometown, to preach there; but the people, who knew His family and remembered His days as a builder, did not believe in Him as the promised Messiah! Jesus had many brothers and sisters, but even they did not believe in Him until after His death and resurrection. Jesus performed few miracles in Nazareth, as the people there lacked faith.

Meanwhile, Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist; John had condemned the adulterous relationship Herod was having with his own sister-in-law. When Jesus found out about John’s death, He withdrew to a solitary place on the Sea of Galilee, but the crowds followed Him there. Despite His sorrow over John’s death, Jesus had compassion on the crowd, healing the sick and crippled among them. As it got late in the day, the apostles suggested dispersing the crowd, but Jesus wanted to feed them first. He fed 5000 men (15,000 including women and children) with only five loaves of bread and two small fish. There were twelve baskets full of food left over!

Later that evening, Jesus walked on water toward the apostles, who were at sea. Simon Peter began to walk on water toward Jesus, but he got scared and started to sink. Jesus helped him into the boat, criticizing his doubt and lack of faith.

Weeks later, after returning from a ministry visit to Sidon and Tyre in present day Lebanon, Jesus again healed and taught the crowds on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. He fed 4000 men (12,000 including women and children) with only seven loaves and a few fish; there were seven baskets of food leftover.

Jesus criticized the Pharisees, who asked for a sign of His divinity. Jesus told them that signs were all around. They could tell the weather from its signs, but they could not discern the Messiah despite His deeds. The many miracles (at least thirty-five recorded) and fulfilled prophecies of Jesus were overwhelming, yet the hard-hearted, hypocritical religious leaders did not believe. Jesus warned His followers to be wary of the Pharisees, who were leading people astray and keeping people from having a relationship with God. The Pharisees knew the law, but obeyed it only outwardly for their own glory. We are to obey inwardly and outwardly for God’s glory!

While in Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked the apostles: “Who do you say I am” (Matthew 16:15)? Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). That was the right answer! Several days later, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him up on a mountain. Jesus was transfigured there to show His full glory, power, and identity as the Son of God; and God said: “This is My Son, Whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (Matthew 17:5)!

Jesus continued healing and teaching as He taught the apostles, who were arguing about which of them would be the greatest in heaven. Jesus said the greatest among them would have to humble himself like a child and become the servant of them all.

Jesus was insistent that teachers will be judged more critically than others, because of their role in the lives of children. It would be better for anyone who causes a child to sin and stray from God “to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). If you are a teacher or a parent, please examine yourself, that you may be found righteous in both what you teach and your teaching methods. Jesus also taught that those who know about Him and reject Him will be judged more harshly than those who do not know about Him.

Jesus taught about confronting a fellow Christian who is sinning. First, you are to approach the sinner alone in gentleness and respect. If the problem goes uncorrected, then you are to meet with the sinner with several fellow Christians to confront him. Third, the entire church confronts the sinner, and if he still does not repent, he should be treated as a pagan, which still involves love and care.

At the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three major Jewish feasts (see 2 Chronicles 8:13), the crowds were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. Some of them praised Him as the Messiah, while others mocked Him in disbelief. Still others did not know what to make of Him. In response to a question of His authority to teach and do miracles, Jesus said: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether My teaching comes from God or whether I speak on My own” (John 7:17). Many people tried to stone Jesus, but Nicodemus, a Pharisee, calmed the crowd. He stood up for justice, refusing to condemn Jesus.

Earlier, Nicodemus had approached Jesus at night to ask Him questions in private. Nicodemus wanted to learn the truth; he knew Jesus had it! Jesus told Nicodemus that one must be spiritually born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. We are born again when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. Paul, describing spiritual rebirth in Galatians 2:20, said: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Jesus told Nicodemus:

Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because
their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come
into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed (John 3:19-20).

Later, the Pharisees brought to Jesus a woman caught in adultery. They wanted to stone her, but Jesus said: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). When no one threw a single stone, Jesus forgave the woman and told her not to sin anymore.

Talking to the crowd of Jews surrounding Him, Jesus said: “You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the One I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23-24). Jesus went on to say to those who believed in Him: “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Jesus emphasized His eternality; John 1:1-2,14 says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was with God in the beginning. … The Word became flesh and made His dwelling
among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from
the Father, full of grace and truth.

After spending some time in Galilee, Jesus began His final journey, heading for Jerusalem, where His sacrifice would be made. Jesus continued healing and teaching on the way. He also sent seventy-two of His followers out into many towns, where they healed the sick. They were proud of their abilities, but Jesus told them instead to be proud of having their names in the Book of Life. They were going to be in heaven with Jesus!

Paul confirmed what the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17). Paul also wrote, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). We really have nothing to be proud of in ourselves. Every good thing comes from God (see James 1:17).

Passing through Jericho, Jesus saw a man named Zacchaeus, a wealthy tax collector despised by most people, sitting up in a tree. When Jesus called Zacchaeus, who was watching as Jesus went by, to come down, the people were stunned that Jesus wanted to spend time with him. Zacchaeus became a changed man, giving half of his possessions to the poor and repaying four times as much to everyone he had cheated.

Continuing on the way to Jerusalem, Jesus healed a man who was blind from birth. The man praised God, because he could see! The Pharisees demanded an explanation for this apparent miracle; they did not believe Jesus was Who He said He was. Jesus continued teaching there, calling Himself the Good Shepherd, Who lays down His life for His sheep. He also called Himself the gate through which all sheep must enter to be saved. Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Many of the non-believing Jews were so outraged at Jesus’ claims to be God that they prepared to stone Him; but Jesus escaped across the Jordan River after explaining that the unbelievers were simply blind, unable to look past their pride to see the evidence of His work. From across the Jordan River, word reached Jesus that His good friend Lazarus was deathly ill.

Days later, Jesus decided to go to Bethany, a small town outside Jerusalem, to heal Lazarus. The apostles did not want Jesus to go, because the Jewish crowds were still looking to try to kill Him. But Jesus insisted, because Lazarus had actually died and had to be raised from the dead. After arriving at Bethany and speaking with Mary and Martha, Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus, who had already been entombed for four days. Jesus wept for Lazarus out of love for him. Then Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb, and he did! Now many more people believed in Jesus after this, but there were still others who hated Him. The Pharisees decided to kill Him, as the high priest Caiaphas said, “You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish” (John 11:50). Of course Caiaphas was not thinking of the sacrifice Jesus would become for His people, but he nonetheless prophesied the truth!

Later, a rich, young man came to Jesus asking what he must do to earn eternal life. Jesus told Him to keep the commandments, which the man said he had done. Jesus also told the man to sell everything he owned, giving the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him. The man walked away upset, because he could not part with his wealth. His money was more important than his God. That is why Jesus said: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25). The Bible says: “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Before entering Jerusalem, Jesus had a donkey brought out to Him so He could ride into the city according to Scripture in Zechariah 9:9, which says: “See, your King comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey.” This was the first day of the week of Jesus’ death, our Palm Sunday. The crowds gathered in praise, waving palm branches, as Jesus rode into Jerusalem.

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