Jesus Attempted Isolation Before the Feeding of the 5,000

Sitting on mountain alone

Do you ever think about the circumstances that led Jesus and his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee when they were met by a crowd of 5,000 people? Let’s back up a little bit in the text: “He (King Herod) sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And the disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns” (Matthew 14:10-13 ESV).

John the Baptist had just been beheaded and Jesus’ disciples buried his body. Jesus was attempting to find a desolate place to be by himself to grief and pray. According to Mark, Jesus also told his disciples to find a desolate place because the crowds had been so demanding that they “had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). John’s account says that the crowds went ahead of him to the other side of the sea because “they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (John 6:2).

Jesus and his disciples had just buried John. They were tired. They were grieving. Though they needed rest, the crowds were relentless. They were desperate. People needed Jesus, and Jesus needed to be alone. Jesus was attempting to be alone for the sake of privacy and prayer. But the crowds would not let them get the rest they so badly needed. Jesus, instead of becoming angry, had compassion on the crowds and ended up feeding them all.

As if things couldn’t get worse, the weary disciples were rowing across the sea while Jesus stayed behind to rest. A big storm arose and when they were 3 or 4 miles from shore and Jesus wasn’t there to save them, at least not yet. This seems like a metaphor for just about every lousy situation in life. Just when things seem like we are at rock bottom, a damaging storm comes out of nowhere and threatens to finish us off. Many people are discouraged right now, but there are a few things to remember that should give us hope. First, Jesus is suffering with those who suffer. He too lost his cousin John. Second, even Jesus gets exhausted and needs rest. And third, when the storm comes, he offers his hand, calms the storm, and climbs into the boat. We hope because of who Jesus is.

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Jesus’ Resurrection Did Not Have Fanfare

Empty tomb

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, most churches had special services planned for Easter. Easter Sunday is the most attended church event out of all 52 weeks. Many churches use it as an outreach for people who only bring their families for Easter services. Bigger churches put on Easter plays and some have full production teams. The resurrection of Jesus is definitely worth celebrating!

This year has certainly changed things dramatically. LifeWay Research in Nashville did a recent survey among pastors in the US and, at the time of the survey, they found that 47% of churches will be closed on Easter. Only 3% said they will have in-person gatherings no matter what, and many said they will wait and see what the recommendations are at Easter time. A lot of churches are worried about funds, as the economy has slowed and many people have lost jobs. As Christians, we are all forced to rethink both how we do church and how we are the church.

The best place to look is to Jesus Christ. His resurrection did not have fanfare. While there was an earthquake, Jesus did not seek out big crowds. He could have walked the streets of Jerusalem, proclaiming victory over death. He could have walked to the Temple and announced that he was risen. Much like our Easter of today, Jerusalem was swarming with people who traveled for the Passover. Thousands would have heard of Jesus’ death. Jerusalem was primed for a huge resurrection Sunday appearance by the king of the Jews.

Instead of a large gathering, Jesus left the tomb and didn’t appear to anyone until later that day: “But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:1-3 ESV). The women found two angels and were told to tell the disciples. Peter and John went to the tomb to see with their own eyes and found it empty, exactly as the women had reported. For an entire day, the disciples marveled at the risen Christ but still had not seen him until evening.

Jesus instead walked with two people on the road to Emmaus, a village that rested seven miles from Jerusalem. They didn’t know that it was Jesus until he revealed himself in the breaking of bread: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). The two men ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples, and that’s when Jesus showed himself to the eleven disciples for the first time.

Jesus chose to only reveal himself to a few people. Over and over again, Jesus is revealed to small groups. Yet the gospel spread very quickly. The great news about the resurrection is that we don’t need huge church gatherings for Jesus to continue to reveal himself. He works through small groups, and in unconventional ways. The word of God is powerful and effective, and will continue to bring salvation to many!!

Photo used with permission under Creative Commons.

Jesus Predicts His Death and a Fight Ensues

Jesus on cross

Resurrection Sunday is about to be celebrated around the world. Easter Sunday is a time for us to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. It’s a time to participate in new life, in the salvation we have and hope in eternal life. But leading up to the resurrection was the betrayal and death of Jesus. It was a dark moment in history. In fact, Jesus said to his captors, “When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53 ESV).

The events leading up to Jesus’ revealing of his death were mountaintop experiences, literally. Luke records that the transfiguration happened just prior to this. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain and began to pray. As he prayed, his clothes became dazzling white, his appearance changed, and Moses and Elijah appeared. This moment was frozen in time for the three disciples. A cloud enveloped them and a voiced boomed, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35).

The very next day a man pleaded with Jesus to heal his only son. The boy was possessed by a violent demon that would seize him, convulse him, and shatter him. Jesus’ disciples had already attempted to cast the demon out but were unsuccessful. So Jesus healed the boy, and handed him back to his father. There was no question at this point about the power and compassion of Jesus. At this point, he seemed invincible to everyone around, including the disciples.

Luke records what happened next: “While they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.'” (Luke 9:43, 44). Jesus, of course, was referring to his death. But his disciples didn’t know what he meant and they began to argue about which of them was greater than the other.

“But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48). Jesus was reminding them that he was going to die, that being great means being the least of all, and that welcoming little ones in the name of Christ is their purpose. It’s a great reminder for all of us as we think about what matters entering into the Resurrection Sunday.

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The Apostles’ Mission

Man seeking kindness

When Jesus sent out the Twelve, he “gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Luke 9:1, 2 ESV). This was no small feat for a group of fishermen, tax collectors, and otherwise ordinary people. Jesus could have sent them out to do just about anything, but he specifically sent them to heal diseases, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God.

Their mission to do this was Jesus’ mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18, 19). Jesus’ charge to his disciples did not arrive out of a vacuum. Rather, it was rooted in his own mission.

Like Jesus himself, he called his disciples to leave everything and rely completely upon God. They were commanded to not take anything extra with them. They were to rely on the goodwill of people. In doing so, they completely put their faith in God. God provides. God is the great healer. God calls his people to help other people, to feed, heal, and free others. This is why the crowds were always pressing in against Jesus. They were desperate for someone to heal them.

Jesus is no different today. There will always be oppression, hunger, and disease. And it’s up to us to care for one another. This is exactly in step with who Jesus is. His mission is our mission.

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Calming the Storms

Storm on the sea

The outbreak of COVID-19 has put a lot of families under a lot of stress. With all the social distancing and quarantines, combined with illness and uncertainty with jobs, many people are very worried. We all should take as many precautions as we possibly can by heeding the advice of the Centers for Disease Control. At the same time, we need to remember that Jesus calmed storms.

Luke records a succession of powerful stories, full of Jesus’ compassion and forgiveness. Jesus forgave the sinful woman who washed his feet with her tears and hair in chapter 7. Then Luke highlights the women who accompanied Jesus, including “some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities” (Luke 8:2 ESV). Jesus had compassion on these women by healing them, and they gladly followed and provided for Jesus. Then Jesus talks about the importance of sowing seed to others, so that they hear and obey the word of God. He continues by telling a parable about putting a lamp on the stand instead of hiding it under a bed.

Immediately following, Luke tells the story of Jesus’ mother and brothers who came looking for him. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it,” Jesus replied. He’s driving the point home that doing the word of God is far superior to only hearing it. As God’s people, we are commanded to care for one another; to treat them with dignity and to rescue and nurture those who are suffering.

It’s no coincidence that the very next story Luke records is the storm on the Sea of Galilee. Clearly they were worn out, and Jesus himself fell asleep. Then a “windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger” (Luke 8:23). The disciples rightfully cried out to Jesus, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24). In dramatic fashion, Jesus rebuked the storm and there was a calm. Jesus only asked one question of them: “Where is your faith?”

This succession in Luke should remind us of many things. First, Jesus’ whole life is about reaching into the lives of the oppressed, the poor, the widows, and those who are outcasts. Second, he calls us to follow and do the same. Planting seeds is great, but doing the word of God is better than only hearing it. And finally, following Jesus–and even being with Jesus–doesn’t prevent major storms from cropping up. They will happen. They will likely happen often. And this is all the more reason we need to put our faith in Jesus. It’s OK to cry out when we feel like we are perishing. Jesus doesn’t create storms; he calms them!

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Christians First in Antioch


It can’t be overstated how hostile Paul was to the church. He was a hardcore Pharisee who persecuted Christians. The persecution was so strong in Jerusalem that many fled north to hide out in Antioch of Syria. In fact, the first church that met there met in a cave. The cave where they assembled is still very much in tact today.

God works in powerful ways, and after Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he went to Tarsus. Barnabas visited the church in Antioch and, “when he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:23 ESV). Luke records that a great many people were added to the Lord. Then Barnabas went looking for Paul in Tarsus to bring him back to Antioch.

Luke records, “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were fist called Christians” (Acts 11:26). It amazing that God sent Paul to teach people at a church that was started because of his persecution! These very people Paul was teaching were the same people who left everything to flee from Paul’s persecution.

The disciples were fist called Christians “Christ-followers” at Antioch. Antioch would quickly become the most important church for spreading the gospel across the Roman Empire, because it was the hub church that sent Paul and his companions out on all the missionary journeys.

Photo courtesy of Volkan Hatem at Wikki Commons.

Even Jesus Needed Revival

Wilderness wandering

Lent began with Ash Wednesday last week. Lent is a forty day period where Christians around the world “fast” from things that they typically enjoy. It is a reminder of the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness when the devil tempted him. There are many fascinating things about the wilderness story. First, the fact that the Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil may seem perplexing at first glance.

Jesus was left alone with the devil for forty days, minus friends and food. Twice Matthew says that the devil “took” him–once to the pinnacle of the temple and once to a very high mountain. It’s noteworthy that this word in the original language means to take with aggression. It doesn’t necessarily mean by coercion, but it definitely means with aggression. It’s an important choice of words for Matthew. The devil takes. It’s what he does. He’s aggressive. It’s who he is.

At the end of the forty days, Matthew said Jesus was hungry (Matthew 4:2). Then an amazing thing happened: “Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him” (Matthew 4:11 ESV). The fact that the Savior needed angels to minister to him shows how exhausting it is when the devil has his way with people. Jesus needed revival at the end of forty days. He was exhausted and had just overcome temptation by the devil. God sent his angels to minister to Jesus, and this is important for us who feel weak and tired. It’s okay to cry out in desperation to God when we’re weary.

Just as importantly, we see this pattern laid out in Matthew’s account: the Spirit leads, while the devil takes, and the angels minister. These distinctions are not accidental. Matthew is very careful in how he tells this story. If Christ needed revival, perhaps it’s quite alright if we do too!

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