The Battle Belongs to the Lord: Part 5, The King Among His People.
The Second Exodus
At the time of Jesus’ birth, Israel was caught up in the might and power of the Roman Empire which stretched almost 3000 miles from East to West and 2000 miles from North to South at its widest point. Nations which had been conquered by Rome became subject provinces governed by Roman officials, with some provinces retaining puppet rulers operating on Rome’s behalf. National borders were removed and thousands of miles of Roman roads traversed the Empire. Provinces were heavily taxed and Emperor worship slowly came to the fore, whilst the worship of false gods was often intensified by those who were in danger of losing all national identity under Rome. Then God appeared on the scene and we have what can be termed as the ‘Second Exodus.’
In the first Exodus, Moses was sent to free people who were lost and imprisoned by none other than the Lord God Almighty. In the arrival of Jesus, we see the Pre-Incarnate Son of God standing on earth, and a new Exodus and conquest. In Jesus we see the King of glory, veiled in flesh, coming to show us what a relationship between man and God looks like and in doing so, destroying the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Moreover, in Jesus we have the invitation from God to leave the house of slavery (self) and come to our true home in Him - the Second Exodus.
In breath-taking grace, mercy and love, Jesus made sin His personal responsibility, clearly revealing God’s deep concern and love for people as He offers life to both the down-trodden and the rebel, yet many in Israel did not recognise Jesus as the Messiah.
The Unrecognised Messiah: God with Us
In the centuries leading up to the birth of Christ, we have a time during which the Jewish people were fascinated with the transcendence of God as a means of showing that He was higher and more powerful than the gods of Rome and Greek culture that dominated the world. Because of this prevalent thinking, Jewish leaders made every effort to avoid anthropomorphism (God being spoken of in human terms) and when they found the Old Testament speaking of God in this way, they substituted the language of anthropomorphism with ‘the Word’ in the Targums (Scripture written in Aramaic). An example of this is as follows:
My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens…”
“By My Word I have founded the earth, and by my strength I have hung up the heavens...”
Isaiah 48:13 - The Targums.
The problem with overemphasising the transcendence of God is that many in Israel lost sight of the immanence of God (His presence within creation), forgetting that He is like a shepherd who walks amongst His sheep (Ps 23:1; Isaiah 40:11). Many in Israel had allowed their circumstance as an oppressed people to refashion what the Bible said about God. God was now far off and could only be approached through man’s achievement. Yet the outrageous and amazing truth is that the Son of God entered into humanity through the birth canal of a peasant girl called Mary and He can only be approached through grace. Yet Jesus did not put on flesh as one puts on a suit. He took flesh to Himself and became man whilst retaining His Deity. In Jesus, we have a very different man entering creation and beginning His journey as a microscopic embryo in Mary. He came as the man who did not need to die – the God-man, without even a hint of sin.
Whilst ideas about God can change, God remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8) and if we want to see what the power and reign of God is like, then all we need do is look to Jesus. In His care, concern, compassion and love for people, we see a King who destroys the work of the devil (1 John 3:8) and sets the captive free. He is the ‘Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Price of Peace (Isaiah 9:6); He is God with us.
Jesus: Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace
In the Bible, the term ‘Father’ can mean ‘the source of’. So, for example, in a modern day setting the founder of Ford Motor Cars could be called ‘the Father of Ford Cars.’ In the title, ‘Everlasting Father’, Isaiah reminds us that the Messiah is the sacrificial source and creator- provider of our salvation. This truth is also borne out in 1 Peter 1:19-20 where, yet again, we see that the heart at the centre of the universe is sacrificial love, with Christ being spoken of as ‘the Lamb chosen from the foundation of the world.’ God’s willingness and generosity has been present right from the beginning of the world.
As a result of God’s gracious intervention through Christ, we, the rebel, can begin to know the peace of reconciliation. Jesus is also called the ‘Prince of Peace,’ yet in Revelation 19:16 He is spoken of as the true King of Kings (Rev 19:12; Phil 2:9), with fire in His eyes and many crowns on His head. He also has a name that no-one but Himself knows (Rev 19:12; Phil 2:9), this underlying the truth that although in many respects He is known, in another respect He is completely beyond our ability to comprehend.
Prince of Peace
In Isaiah’s day, a king’s son would be the one to go out and deal with any trouble in the kingdom. This is why, in the Hebrew mindset, the word ‘Prince’ speaks of the one who ‘destroys evil’, and ‘the one who holds dominion over.’ The Messiah – the Prince of Peace – would come to deal with all that sought to destroy harmony in His Father’s universe. Therefore, in the prophetic words of Isaiah, we have words of comfort but also a warning of what to expect.
In His ministry, we see Jesus disrupting the oppressive thinking present in the Roman Empire and the dead, religious pseudo-peace of Judaism. Jesus came to destroy the authority of fallen humanity which so often cripples, distorts and separates us from others. He came to break our trust and dependence on self so that we can embrace wholeness and healing in Him. Jesus is the true Judge, and the picture of a judge in His day was that of one who brings freedom. He alone knows exactly how all things should be, and He is the way to perpetual life – the door to life. Therefore, Jesus says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9-10). So be encouraged.
The blessing of God’s kingdom rule can be seen in the picture that Jesus’ words painted in the mind of John the Baptist who was in prison and had sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus said, “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Matthew 11:5). Jesus always showed an interest in people, no matter what had gone on in their lives, and in Him all people had the opportunity to see a power that sought to uplift and not throw down, restore and not destroy, bring home and not cast out.
In Jesus, we see life as it should be lived and a king who crossed the line to stand with all who were willing to receive Him, whether criminal or saint, rich or poor, popular or marginalised. For example, Jesus crossed the line to stand with Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and He also stood against those who sought to use an adulteress as a pawn to bring down a king – a king who stood in our place as the second Adam (1 Cor 15:45). He is a King who was prepared to feel vulnerable and weak yet lived a life of power that flowed from His relationship with His Father and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
“He was one with us because divine power was channelled into his human life through the mediation of the Spirit (c.f. Luke 4:13 and Ephesians 3:20). He was unlike us because the true source of this power was in his own divine being, while for us, the power of God is a gift of his grace, his favour, which we do not deserve (2 Corinthians 12). Incarnation (God becoming man) is the key to the first, indwelling (God living in man) the key to the second. This makes him truly human and yet truly divine.”
G. Grogan in, What the Bible teaches about Jesus, page 123
In Jesus, we have the speech of eternity translated into the actions of time, dare we even say it - God made simple. In Jesus, God stoops low in order to lift up those who deserve nothing but death.
The Son of God came to stand in our place and to do this, it was necessary to veil His glory and power (Phil 2:6, 2 Cor 8:9, John 17:5) and become a man. All that He was and is, by way of deity, was still with Him yet He chose not to use it. To grasp a very pale illustration of this, think of a parent who races along the road with their five-year-old. As they race along, he or she limits themselves to match their son or daughter’s speed despite having the power and ability to race ahead at any time.
Jesus and the Heart of His Ministry
In Jesus, we have a king who came to minister in power and grace, as was prophesied by Isaiah (11:2) whose words were taken up by Luke in this way:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
The ‘year of the Lord’s favour’ (the Year of Jubilee), occurred every fifty years as a Sabbath of Sabbaths and began on the Day of Atonement. The festival lasted a whole year and during this time, the land had to lay fallow with people only being allowed to reap what grew of its own accord (Lev 25:11-12). By living in this way, God’s people were demonstrating their trust in God, recognising that He is the provider of all blessing.
Something else that occurred in the Year of Jubilee was that all land had to go back to its original owner (Lev 25:13ff) as debts were written off and slaves were set free. God does not endorse a society that is built on the misery of others.
God is the provider of all blessing and the merciful One who forgives and sets free - this is reflected in the Year of Jubilee, as is healing, restoration, reconciliation and growth. When Jesus came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, this is exactly what He came to do - to set people free. He came to destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn 3:8), to set the captives free (Gal 5:1), and to bring rest to His people (Mat 11:28).
As an example to all, Jesus came as the Second Adam and lived and worked in the power of the Spirit. Jesus was born of the Spirit (Luke 1:35; Matthew 1:18-20) and was anointed of the Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17). He was filled with the fullness of the Spirit (John 3:34) and was led by the Spirit (Mat 4:1). Jesus spoke and taught by the Spirit (Luke 4:18) and cast out demons by the Spirit (Mat 12:28). He healed the sick by the Spirit (Mat 12:28; 8:16) and was offered on Calvary by the Spirit (Heb 9:14). Jesus was resurrected by the Spirit (Romans 8:11) and gave commandments by the Spirit (Acts 2:11). He baptised and empowered His Church by the Spirit (Acts 1:5, 8) and He directs and governs His church by the Spirit (Rev 1:2-3).
Whilst on earth, Jesus was always led by the Spirit, revealing not only a trust in what His Father said (John 8:28) but also a dependence on the Father for all things. In this, we see one of the key elements necessary for our walk with God – trust in the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit who always points to the work of God. Jesus was the perfect man who confronted the enemy in the power of the Spirit and defeated him on every occasion.
Confronting the Enemy
Trouble at the Capernaum Synagogue
“Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit cried out, "What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!" "Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.”
In His encounter with Jesus, we see the demon taking the initiative in overriding the personality of the possessed man and saying, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God.” This may have been an attempt to control Jesus, since many believed that uttering a person’s name could help gain control over that person. Note also that the evil spirit is aware that Jesus had come to destroy the kingdom of darkness (‘Have you come to destroy us?’). In response, Jesus did not invoke the name of God or embark on any ritual. Jesus came as a servant - as a man under authority - and so when He commanded the spirit to leave, that was the end of the matter. It left.
“…The men were amazed and asked, "What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!" When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no-one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, "If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs." He said to them, "Go!" So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water.” Matthew 8:27-32
This deliverance occurred in the district that was controlled by the town of Gadara, which was the capital of the Roman province of Perea and was six miles from the Sea of Galilee on the east of the Jordan. The region was populated by Gentiles, evidenced by pig-farming. In Jesus’ deliverance of the two demoniacs, we are reminded that God is willing to reach out to all.
The words of the demons reveal that they knew they were in a cosmic confrontation and were aware of who Jesus is – the Son of God. They knew their time was limited and were aware of their destination (Rev 20:10). Jesus spoke with the demons who were totally in His power; He did not bargain with them in any way but granted their request.
The demons were allowed to enter a herd of pigs that were promptly destroyed by the forces of evil. In this, we see a total disregard for all living creatures and a desire to stir up hatred against Jesus. It is interesting to see that when the people of the town heard what had happened, they pleaded with Jesus to leave the area, suggesting that they might not have seen him as anything more than another magician and were scared of Him. Yet in grace and mercy Jesus told the now delivered man to return to his community as a living testimony to the grace and power of God.
The Faith of a Canaanite Woman
“A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” Matthew 15:22-28
Jesus’ concern for the sheep of Israel to be fed first points to the distinction between those in a covenant relationship with God and those who are not. Many in Israel were influenced by wrong teaching and He sought to bring these ‘lost sheep’ back to their true home (as seen in the parable of the lost sheep). However, this does not mean that others are excluded from knowing God and being able to engage with Him. God is always willing to reach out to all people as can be seen, for example, in Rahab the prostitute (Josh 2) and in Jonah being sent into Nineveh (Jonah:1-4).
The Canaanite woman was part of a people-group that had often opposed Israel, yet she displayed great faith. Many in Israel had lost sight of God but this woman, against all the odds, spoke to Jesus and used a Messianic title, ‘Son of God.’ She recognised that she needed mercy (not receiving what we all deserve) and asked for help (receiving what we don’t deserve). She was in no way put off by what Jesus initially said to her. Instead, she drew even closer and knelt before Him. In response to her faith, which was rooted in God, the woman’s daughter was healed. Matthew spoke of the girl as being “healed” (15:28), revealing that healing can be used to speak of deliverance from possession. In this healing/deliverance, there is no battle and no wrestling match. When God challenges the enemy, there is no battle – there is only victory.
“Therapeuo…normally, it is used of healings from sickness and disease, but in Matthew 4:24; 12:22; 17:16,18; Luke 7:21; 8:2; and Acts 5:16, it is applied specifically to those who were cured of possession. The use of the same word for the healing of the sick and the deliverance of the possessed does not, of course, imply that possession was not differentiated from other ailments, but it does link possession with physical illness. Possessions is similar to illness and unlike sin in that it is healed, rather than repented of.”
H.T. Page in, Powers of Evil, page 159
A Boy with Seizures
“When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son," he said. "He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him." "O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me." Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus had given the disciples power to heal the sick and cast out demons (Mt 10:1ff). However, at this point in time, they were unable to help a man who had asked them to deliver his son from evil. There are at least two points that we can note here which reveal why they could not cast the demon out, and neither have anything to do with the power of the enemy.
Firstly, we cannot assume that because we have been able to work in a certain way for the Lord in the past, we can automatically do so all the time. We do not build our lives or ministry upon our previous victories because all previous victory is not ours, but His. We always need to seek the leading of the Spirit.
Secondly, the disciples were probably too caught up in who they were instead of who it was that called them in the first place. Paul tackles this sort of thinking when he challenges the leaders at Corinth who were too focused on their position rather than the One who called them. He says:
“...For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?”
1 Cor 4:7
Jesus reminds the disciples of their need for faith, recognising that there are many things that can obscure our thinking when it comes to God. It is through engaging with God first and foremost, and through leaning on Him that mountains are levelled and valleys are raised, hence the words of the Psalmist, "Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
The Binding of the Strong Man
“Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon left, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowd was amazed. But some of them said, "By Beelzebub, the prince of demons, he is driving out demons”. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: "Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. If Satan is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? I say this because you claim that I drive out demons by Beelzebub. Now if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your followers drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you. When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armour in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.” Luke 11:14-22
In the arrival of the Messiah, we see the presence of the One who plundered the house of the enemy in both word and deed. Demons were cast out and people were set free, yet some of the religious leaders of the day implied that He was in league with Satan. In reply, Jesus pointed out that there were those in Israel who had cast out demons yet were not considered as being in league with the enemy. The fact that He was able to cast out demons and set people free clearly revealed that the Kingdom of God - God’s rule and reign - was present right before their very eyes in the person of Jesus.
Jesus uses the phrase, ‘Finger of God’ (synonymous with power and omnipotence) in pointing to how it is that He drives out demons. His words would not have been lost on His listeners who would have remembered Israel’s deliverance from Egypt many centuries previously (Ex 8:19). The phrase is also reminiscent of the time at which God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Deut 9:10). It is the God of Israel who walks amongst His people in power and authority.
Many rulers in the Ancient Near East regarded conquered people groups as their personal possession with whom they could do as they pleased. Contrastingly, in Christ, we see the legitimate ruler of the heavens and earth plundering the ‘house’ of the strong man and removing his possessions (people).
“But for Jesus, the enemy was perceived as highly individualised demonic powers who exercised control over actual men and women within the borders of Israel. From an eschatological perspective, Jesus was carrying out a new Exodus and Conquest, routing the enemy that had occupied the land and held individuals…God’s reign could not be established apart from defeating the occupying forces. By binding the strong man and plundering his property, Jesus actually advanced the Kingdom”
T. Longman 3rd and D.G. Reid in, God is a Warrior, page 109
Authority in the Lord
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
In the above verses, we see Peter stating that Jesus is the Christ - the Son of the living God. Jesus then pointed out that Peter had received this revelation from his Father. Peter’s name (petros) means ‘small rock or stone’ and upon the teaching of God (‘this rock’ – petra – large rock as in the Rock of Gibraltar) He would build His church and the gates of Hades would not overcome it. But why mention gates?
In the Ancient Near East, the city gate was often a place for reading the law or holding court (e.g. Neh 8:1). Therefore, when Jesus says the ‘gates of hades would not prevail’ he is saying that the hierarchy and leadership of the enemy would not prevail in any way.
“He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”
A key has the power to both open a door so that people may enter or lock a door so that people cannot. In Scripture, the picture of a key is used figuratively to point to authority and power. However, many amongst the experts of the law in Jesus’ day had little or no power (Luke 11:52) due to reinterpreting the law and making it a heavy burden upon people’s lives. In contrast to this, Jesus is a man who walked in power and authority and who said to His people…
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
It is the word of God upon which the church is built through the life, death and resurrection of the living Word (Jesus) and by the power of the Spirit. The keys – that which opens and that which closes - refers to God’s authority being manifest through those who know and engage with the Word of God. This is why Jesus goes on to say, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Mat 16:19)
‘Binding’ and ‘loosing’ is idiomatic language referring to a practice amongst Rabbi’s at the time of Jesus. An idiom is a phrase or group of words that combine to make one picture. So, for example, we have the phrase ‘it’s raining cats and dogs’ which refers to heavy rainfall – so heavy that it could move small animals.
The phrase ‘binding and loosing’ refers to the practice amongst Rabbis whereby they would know the Word of God and say how it was to be applied (what was permissible and what was not permissible). For example, they would say what a man could or could not do on the Sabbath. However, the failing of so many of Israel’s teachers to fully understand the heart of the law can be seen in the heavy burdens they placed upon people concerning the Sabbath. Jesus came against their interpretation of the Sabbath and released people from legalism and bondage. He was not against the law, but against what it had become in the hands of human beings.
When Jesus ascended to heaven, the Holy Spirit came and made His home with the disciples in order to teach them and remind them of all Jesus had said (John 14:26) as He empowered their lives. The disciples were using the same scriptures as those who had come against Jesus and needed to know what was right and what was incorrect in their interpretation. Binding and loosing speaks of knowing God and walking in the authority that is present with all who yield their lives to Him.
Authority is Given to Those Who are Faithful
‘While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: "A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.' But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, 'We don't want this man to be our king.' He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it. The first one came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned ten more.' 'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. 'Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' The second came and said, 'Sir, your mina has earned five more.' His master answered, 'You take charge of five cities.' Then another servant came and said, 'Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.' His master replied, 'I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn't you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?' Then he said to those standing by, 'Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.' 'Sir,' they said, 'he already has ten!' He replied, 'I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them — bring them here and kill them in front of me.'" Luke 19:11-27
The Context to the Parable
Whilst Jesus was walking between the old city of Jericho and the newer Jericho, a blind man called out to Him asking for mercy (Mk 10:47). Blind Bartimaeus would probably have been wearing a special cloak designating him as an official beggar who lived in a society where many thought that physical imperfection was due to personal sin or sins of the parents. Those with Jesus rebuked the man, yet Jesus restored his sight.
Shortly after this we find Jesus talking to Zacchaeus, the tax-collector, and offering the hand of friendship in telling him that he was going to stay at Zacchaeus’ house. In the eyes of the crowd, Jesus was entering the house of an unclean man and some muttered, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Lk 19:7). In combining both incidents, we see the authority and power of God being manifest in the restoration of a marginalised man and the resurrection (lifted out of sin) of an ostracised man.
In response to those around Him who judged others so quickly and did not know the power or authority of God, Jesus told the parable and used a well-known political scene as the backdrop. Back in 40BC, Herod the Great set out on a journey to Rome which resulted in his appointment as a puppet king. In 4BC his son, Archelaus, made a similar journey in order to argue his case against his half-brother Antipas.
Jesus begins the story that He wants people to enter and become a part of, saying, “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return…” (Lk 19:12). Upon his departure, he gave his servants the equivalent of three months wages each (a mina). In doing so, the servants were given power and told to make the money work for the soon-to-be-appointed king. The servants were in a hostile environment because the nobleman’s subjects hated him so much that they sent a delegation after him to say that they did not want the nobleman as king.
The nobleman returned as King and wanted to see what had been done with the money he had entrusted to his servants. Had the servants fallen under the influence of others? Where did their loyalties lie? People can have nice-sounding words, but ultimately Jesus points out that a good tree produces fruit (Mat 7:18). Were the servants faithful through keeping their eye upon the nobleman and what he had asked of them? Or were they rendered ineffective by the environment in which they found themselves in?
The first servant revealed that all he had been able to do was because of what he had first been given and stated, “Your mina has earned ten more.” The second servant had also used what had been entrusted into his care the right way and both were commended for trustworthiness and put in charge of ten cities and five cities respectively. Note that they were not given the cities but were given greater authority (put in charge). The full force of this is captured in the Greek (isthi exousian echoon): “Keep on having authority.” What the two servants had initially received may not have seemed a large amount and there may have been difficulty in working with it in a hostile community, yet what was eventually gained was far greater than any effort they had put. This points to the generosity and blessing of the King.
The crowd who heard these words needed to see God’s nature and character and realise that they had been called to reach out to all people, regardless of their background or failings. But did this crowd really know God?
The third servant completely misjudged the nobleman and tried to make him out as someone who had no care or concern for others and who always did whatever he liked (Luke 19:21). Perhaps this servant had listened to and been influenced by those who did not want the nobleman as king. He had been given something that could have produced kingdom growth, yet had done absolutely nothing with it. He is like a person who knows something of the word of God but blames God for everything that goes wrong around them and uses it as an excuse to do nothing. The main point is that the servant did not really know God, as was the case of many in the crowd.
The nobleman then judged the servant by his own words and told those standing by to give the mina to the one who had charge over ten cities. When they questioned why he did this the nobleman said, “I tell you that everyone who has will be given more but from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
As a nation, Israel had tasted the grace and mercy of God, yet many had made God into something He was not – a distant being who had no real interest in people. Therefore, those who knew about Him in this way never used what they had – His word – to shape their minds and be a light to the nations. Whilst there were those who had tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Ps 34:8), there were those who led religious lives that propped them up yet kept everyone else at a distance. It was the second of these groups that could not see the hand of God at work right in front of their eyes. Note, for example, their indignation at Jesus healing on the Sabbath (John 5:10) and those that said He was in league with Beelzebub (Mark 3:22). The parable spoke about faithfulness with what had been given, yet there were many in Israel who took what they had been given and redefined it to suit themselves.
One day there will be a final judgement and those who do not know God through His saving work will find that they cannot be saved through theirs. This is made clear in the above parable and Jesus’ hearers now have the opportunity to do something about it. God wants to be known, yet would they come to know Him?
Following this parable, Jesus continued His journey to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Passover. Within a few days, thousands of priests would be needed in order to help with the afternoon Sacrifice on the eve of the Passover and would have filled the inner Temple courts with crowds jamming the outer courts. Yet here, on His way to Jerusalem, was the great High Priest who would give Himself as the sacrifice.
In Jerusalem, Jesus cursed a fig tree that had not produced fruit and the disciples were amazed to see that it withered and died, especially since it was not the season for figs anyway (Mk 11:13). In reply to their amazement that the tree had died so quickly, Jesus said:
“I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." Matthew 21:21-22
In the first century, ‘moving mountains’ was a common expression meaning, ‘doing the impossible’. Note that Jesus did not say, “If you pray you can say to this mountain”, but, “if you say.” The prerequisite to this is a deep abiding relationship with God and a total reliance upon the Holy Spirit. No one can just walk around invoking the power of God as if it was their right to do so.
Jesus also said, “If you believe you will receive what you ask for in prayer.” (Mt 21:22-23). What validates faith is its object and we have to be rooted and established in the Word of God and know the presence of God by the Spirit. Sadly, and all too often, I come across people who have great ideas and then ask God to endorse them. In reality, Scripture starts the other way around. It is through remaining in Him that we can understand His will, have great ideas and ask according to how He leads us (John 15:7).
The Alpha and Omega – the One who is always with us by the Spirit
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”
In God’s continuous involvement in this world we see that the heart of this Universe is sacrificial love, compassion and a willingness to forgive all who embrace God through Christ – the Alpha and Omega (beginning and end).
As the Alpha and Omega, God holds all history in His hands; He is before all things and will bring all things to their true eschatological fulfillment as the Creator. He is the origin and goal of all history, the One who spoke creation into existence (John 1:1) and the One who has the last word concerning creation’s final destiny. God is the One who is beyond the horizon of the horizons and yet is also with us right now in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
This world had a beginning that was ordained by heaven and it will have an end which, for believers, is a new beginning. The One who says this is the Alpha and Omega.
The letters ‘Alpha’ and ‘Omega’ are the first and last letters of the Greek Alphabet with the term ‘Alpha and Omega’ being what is known as a ‘merism’. A ‘merism’ is a figure of speech where a phrase or statement refers to one single thing. So, for example, “Lock, stock and barrel” which originally referred to parts of a gun is now a phrase used to speak of the whole gun. As the Alpha and Omega, God holds all history in His hands. There has been a beginning and there will an end as we know it – our new beginning.
The word ‘first’ (Protos) is used to speak of the One who has pre-eminence and who rules. In Colossians, we read that Jesus is Head over every power and authority and that we have been given fullness in Him (Col 2:9-10).
The word ‘beginning’ (arche) also carries a similar meaning. It is used to speak of the beginning of time and of His power and his sovereignty; everything exists for Him, and He is as Col 1:17 says, “before all things and in him all things hold together.” He is the head, the origin, the first and the supreme – the absolute ruler who takes creation along with him. He is not someone who sets something up and leaves it to its own devices….He takes creation along with him to its appointed goal. He is all powerful, yet also the One slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) and He knows you by name. You are important to Him. You were created to know His love and that love reaches out to you right now. You were created to walk in His power and authority and when you do, nothing of the enemy can have a hold on you (Rom 8:37-9).
End of part five.
Written and produced by Pastor Jem. M.A.