The Hound of Heaven

(A Narrative Commentary)

Section Four

by Morris A. Inch

Living Water at the Oasis
Living Water at the Oasis

The Hound of Heaven
(A Narrative Commentary)
Section Four
by Morris A. Inch

The Silent Years

The period between the testaments has sometimes been characterized as the silent years. It seemed as if the Almighty had grown weary of admonishing a wayward people. In terms of our motif, the chase had seemingly slackened. Some no doubt preferred it that way, while others found it profoundly disturbing. As for the latter, the psalmist observes: "For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit" (28:1).

The silent years were certainly not uneventful. Philip of Macedon was instrumental in forming the Hellenic League as a rival to Persia. Murdered in 336 B.C., he was succeeded by his youthful son Alexander. The latter subsequently extended his empire from the Balkans south to Egypt and east to India. Eleven years after he had invaded Asia Minor, he lay dead at the age of thirty-three. Hellenism would thrive in the wake of its militant apostle.

It was making inroads within the Jewish community. Such influence was not necessarily calculated. "It was simply that Greek thought was in the air and inevitably made its impact on the minds of Jewish thinkers as they grappled with the new problems that their age had raised."72 Then, too, there were also economic and social incentives for accommodation.

It, nonetheless, played to mixed reviews. Some welcomed it as a means for shedding was thought to be archaic tradition, and finding acceptance with a cosmopolitan community. Other considered it a dire threat to cherished convictions.

The Seleucid monarch Antiochus Epiphanies brought matter to a head. In a dramatic encounter outside Alexandria, a Roman envoy demanded that he cut short his incursion into Egypt. With his dreams of grandeur shattered and prestige diminished, he bitterly retreated.

Along the way, he determined to take out his frustration on Jerusalem, and thereby secure his southern flank. "The drunken orgy associated with the worship of Bacchus was made compulsory. Conversely, Jews were forbidden, under penalty of death, to practice circumcision, Sabbath observance or the observance of the feasts of the Jewish year. Copies of the Hebrew Scriptures were ordered destroyed."73

In response to these proceedings, the venerable priest Mattathias protested: "And behold, our holy place, our beauty, and our glory have been laid waste; the Gentiles have profaned it. To what end then shall we live any longer?" (1 Macc. 2:12-13).

Those entrusted with enforcing the edict arrived in Modein, in anticipation of coercing its inhabitants to comply. Singling out Mattathias, the official observed:

You are a leader, honored and great in the city, and supported by sons and brothers. Now be the first to come and do what the king commands, as all the Gentiles and the men of Judah and those that are left in Jerusalem have done. Then you and your sons will be numbered among the friends of the king, and you and your sons will be honored with silver and gold and many gifts.

Whereupon, the priest resolutely replied:

Even if all the nations that live under the rule of the king obey him, and have chosen to do his commandments, departing each from the religion of his fathers, yet I and my sons and their brothers will live by the covenant of our fathers. We will not obey the king's words by turning aside from our religion to the right hand or to the left.

When he had finished speaking, another Jew offered to replace him. Mattathias gave vent to his righteous indignation by killing the opportunist, along the official in charge, and tearing down the altar. Then he cried out in a loud voice, "Let every one who is zealous for the law and supports the covenant come out with me!" So it was that he and his followers fled to the hills, from which to carry on prolonged warfare.

Judas would replace his father as the head of the revolutionary forces. Increasing numbers of Jews joined the struggle as time wore on. Judas was eventually able to recover Jerusalem, and erect an altar for the worship of the Lord. Although the Seleucids lay siege to Jerusalem, they had to retire to deal with insurrection at home. They subsequently agreed not to interfere with the internal affairs of Judea, and laws prohibiting the practice of Judaism were abolished.

A convocation of Jewish leaders declared that Simon "should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise" (1 Macc. 14:41). He was the last of Mattathias' sons and first in a hereditary line of Hasmonean rulers.

The idealism of the Maccabees was soon in decline. This came to the attention of the Roman general Pompey, who determined to intervene. Judea was thus made subject to Rome, thereby setting the stage for the events that would lead up to the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.

* * *

Drama of Decision

"I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their father; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse" (Mal. 4:5-6). The choice of Elijah to typify the coming prophet likely recalls his stalwart effort to turn his people back to the ways of the Lord.

"The future ministry of the coming prophet is described in terms of bridging the generation gap. There (in the home) authority and submission, love and loyalty, obedience and trust could be learned as nowhere else and, with the word of God as guide in the home, society could be changed."74 Otherwise, the prospect proves to be dismal.

There was at the time of Herod king of Judea a priest named Zechariah, and his wife Elizabeth–also of the lineage of Aaron. "Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly" (Luke 1:6). They were without children, and well advanced in years.

Once when Zechariah's division was on duty, he was chosen to burn incense in the temple of the Lord, while others remained outside–engaged in worship. Whereupon, an angel of the Lord confided in him that his wife would give birth to a son, who was to be named John. "And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous–to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

Accordingly, one is to anticipate that the day of the Lord will involve an outpouring of his Spirit. This will manifest itself in unbridled blessing. Unless, of course, persons fail to take advantage of the opportunity.

When Elizabeth came full term, she gave birth to a son. At this, her husband observed: "And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God." "Its fundamental metaphor concerns deliverance from enemies, and it roots this salvic action on God's part in (his) mercy, manifest in his past dealings with his people. The purpose of deliverance is also cast in terms borrowed from the Exodus."75

John subsequently came in the wilderness "preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (3:3). This was in accord with the prophecy: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation'" (cf. Isa. 40:3-5). Such imagery appears associated with the arrival of a royal visitor.

"Baptism is the concrete expression of a moral choice that has been made. It vividly portrays in time and space the inner decision made by the participant. John has carefully chosen a rite demanding participation"76In order words, this amounted to a drama of decision.

"You brood of vipers!" John greeted those coming to be baptized by him. "Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." His attention was especially focused on the religious elite, who had an invested interest in maintaining the status quo.

"What shall we do then?" the people inquired.

John answered, "the man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same." This reflects the dual ideal of industry along with generosity, not one to the exclusion of the other.

Tax collectors also approached him. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"

"Don't collect more than you are required to," he instructed them. In this regard, he repudiated a common practice.

Then some soldiers inquired of him, "And what should we do?"

"Don't exhort money and don't accuse people falsely," he cautioned, "–be content with your wages."

Whereas people wondered if John might be the Messiah, he did not leave the matter in doubt. "I baptize your with water," he observed. "But one more powerful than I will come the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire." We will pick up on the significance of these words at a later juncture, when deemed more appropriate.

* * *

Glad Tidings

Now a virgin named Mary was engaged to Joseph, of the lineage of David. "Greetings, you are greatly favored!" an angelic visitor assured her. "The Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). Whereupon, the angel went on to explain: "You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house fo Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

It was a common name. There were at least five high priests who shared it, and Josephus mentions about twenty persons–along with ten who were contemporaries. It was derived from God's redemptive activity.

The primary feature of a dutiful son was obedience, corresponding to the father's benevolent authority. It was in this connection that Jesus served to reveal his Father's ways more clearly. As traditionally understood, a father is known through his son.

"How can this be since I am a virgin?" Mary inquired. Her response is not indicative of disbelief but astonishment.

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will over-shadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." There is no implication of sexual activity, but an allusion to God's superintending power. As the angel went on to explain, "For nothing is impossible with God."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary allowed. "May it be to me as you have said."

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world" (2:1).

The business of census-taking grew out of attempts to regularize the collection of taxes, especially the poll or head tax in the Roman provinces. In other locales it might also be the precursor to military conscriptions, but, since the Jewish people were exempt from military service, this would not have been the case in Palestine.77

Even so, it served to remind the populace of an unwelcome, alien intrusion into the affairs of the Jewish people.

So Joseph went up from Nazareth to Bethlehem, because he belonged to the house of David. Mary accompanied him. While they were there, she gave birth, and laid the child in a manger (feeding trough)–since there was no accommodation for them in the inn. This was probably in conjunction with the dwelling of one of the members of his extended family.

Meanwhile, there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; so that they were terrified. "Do not be afraid," the angel encouraged them. "I bring you good news of great joy that will be to all people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manager."

Worthy of note, awaiting the Messiah had become a prominent feature in Jewish tradition. At a later juncture, Maimonides asserted: "I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he should tarry, nevertheless I shall wait for his coming every day."78 These glad tidings were thus calculated to assure them that the period of waiting was over.

It is also significant that this was revealed to shepherds, who by the nature of their calling were not religiously meticulous. Notably absent was the religious establishment residing nearby in Jerusalem.

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." "Luke may see the reference to peace in contrast to the celebrated 'peace of Augustus' (Pax Romana). The peace of the Messiah brings in the reconciling peace between humankind and God,"79 and is thus contingent on a favorable response to an implied invitation.

Whereupon, the shepherds set out to verify the event. "When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about the child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them." Whereas, "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

* * *

The Early Years

"On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, they named him Jesus" (Luke 2:21). "Although it is common practice today for Jews and non-Jews alike, there is little evidence that circumcision serves any medical purpose. What makes (it) important is its larger symbolic resonance, as a brit/covenant, linking of a newly born Jew to a four-thousand-year-long history."80In particular, as it relates to salvation history.

"When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord." This was in keeping with the injunction, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord" (cf. Exod. 13:2). In this connection, they made a modest offering–suggestive of their limited resources.

Now Simeon was a devout person, who earnestly was awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Moreover, it was revealed to him that he would not die until he had witnessed the event. Prompted by the Spirit, he entered the temple precincts. Taking the child into his arms, he allowed: "Sovereign Lord as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

There was also a prophetess named Anna. She was elderly, and widowed for eighty-four years. She worshiped in the temple day and night, as evidence of her piety. Coming up at that moment, she gave thanks to God, "and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem."

When Joseph and Mary had done all that was required of them by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Nazareth. "And there the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him" While Luke's "chief concern is Jesus as an adult, he relates that the child already possessed the qualities that will make him extraordinary in later life. Of special interest is Jesus' wisdom and a certification of God's evaluative point of view (concerning) the child."81

By way of contrast, later writers were tempted to embellish the account. For instance, Jesus along with other children were said to have been engaged in making clay figures. Each insisted that their work was superior to the rest. Whereupon, Jesus caused his to walk around or fly about. This, in turn, incited the children's parents to caution them to avoid Jesus–since he appeared as a sorcerer.82

Every year Jesus' parents went up to Jerusalem on the occasion of Passover. When he was twelve years of age, they went up according to their custom. After the celebration, they were returned and supposed that Jesus was with relatives or friends. When they could not find him, they hastily returned to Jerusalem.

After three days, they found him in the temple courts. He was sitting among the rabbis, atentatively listening and asking them questions. This portrays Jesus as a precocious lad, concerned with spiritual matters. In addition, "Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers."

His parents were astonished. "Son," Mary inquired of him,"why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." She seems genuinely at a loss as to how to explain his behavior.

"Why were you searching for me?" Jesus appears surprised. "Didn't you know that I had to be in my Father's house?" My Father's house is thus set over against your father and I, in keeping with Jewish tradition–which asserts that while both God and the parents have an invested interest, that of the Almighty takes precedent.

Then he returned to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. Luke thus assure us that the preceding incident was not meant as disrespect. Moreover, it serves as a reminder to the distinctive role the family played in cultivating a religious devotion.

"But his mother treasured all these things in her heart." As such, they served to encourage her in the difficult days that lay ahead: the controversy engendered by his public ministry, leading to his crucifixion.

* * *

Prelude to Ministry

"Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry" (Luke 3:23). As previously noted, this was by way of indicating that he had reached the point for public service (cf. Gen. 41:46; Num. 4:3; 2 Sam. 5:4). It was thought that by this time a person would have hopefully attained sufficient wisdom to make mature decisions, not only on his own behalf but that of others.

When the people were coming to John for baptism, Jesus was among them. John tried to dissuade him, protesting: "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me? (Matt. 3:13). This was calculated to discourage the impression that Jesus was inferior.

Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented. "The pronoun us refers not to John and Jesus but to Jesus and all the others who had come for baptism. Jesus identifies himself with his people in a movement of national repentance. He was not baptized because he need to be forgiven of sin."83

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he came up out of the water. "At that moment heaven was open, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice for heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.'" This constituted the anointing of Jesus for his public ministry. As such, it would be orchestrated and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

The voice also expresses the Father's love and approval. This was in anticipation of the rigorous demands that would be placed on Jesus in the course of his redemptive ministry. In a more extended sense, it also acted as a commentary on the enigma of suffering. In this regard, the capacity to enjoy pleasure appears commensurate with that of experiencing pain.

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil" (Luke 4:1). He fasted over this interim.

Now the wilderness got mixed reviews. On the one hand, it was decidedly inhospitable. On the other, God had demonstrated that he was capable of sustaining life under precarious situations. Accordingly, the wilderness continued to appeal to those who would cultivate a relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus was not enticed into the wilderness, but led by the Spirit of God. This was by way of engaging the adversary. As alerted elsewhere, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12). The idiom implies that the conflict is not only against oppressive social institutions, but an evil establishment that undergirds them.

"If you are the Son of God," the devil impugned, "tell this stone to become bread." He thus meant to take advantage of Jesus' famished condition.

Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone.'" "Most likely Jesus was tempted to use his power as God's Son for his own ends. (He) clearly rejected such a view of the of his messianic role since it would indicate a lack of trust on his part in the provision and care of his Heavenly Father."84 It was thus incumbent on him to pray for daily provision, while seeking first the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 11:2-3).

The devil then led him to a high place, and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. Whereupon, he proposed: "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours."

Jesus replied, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" He thus did not question the adversary's capability, but the propriety of his suggestion. He could have attained that this world desires, so long as he did not challenge the status quo. However, this amounted to idolatry.

The devil then led him to Jerusalem, and had him stand on the pinnacle of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he again impugned, "throw yourself down from here. For it is written: 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will life you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus answered, "It says: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" In proverbial terms, "A text without its context serves as a pretext." Consequently, Jesus put the matter in proper perspective. Whereupon, the devil took his leave, supposing to renew the engagement at a more opportune time. Moreover, Jesus' mission remained on course.

* * *

Ministry Motif

Jesus stated what must have seemed obvious, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28). As graphically illustrated, he took off his outer clothing, wrapped a towel around his waist, poured out water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples' feet–drying them with the towel (cf. John 13:4-5). In this regard, he set an example for his disciples.

Now he "returned to Galilee in the power of the Sprit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him" (Luke 4:14-15). The occupants of Galilee were mainly Jewish, although there was a more cosmopolitan orientation than in Judea. Lower Galilee in particular was a relatively affluent region, so it was said: "If you want to be rich, go north (to Galilee); but if pious, then south (to Judea)." The populace also appeared less sophisticated than their southern counterpart.

Since Jesus ministered in the power of the Spirt, we would could understand this either in a subjective and/or objective manner. As for the former, he was invigorated by the Spirit. As for the latter, his efforts were fruitful. In any case, everyone praised him. In that he articulated well, conveyed a devout piety, and was recognized as one of their own.

He returned to Nazareth, "where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom." "We may note that the synagogue served not only as a house of prayer but also as a place of assembly, a place of instruction in the Law, a hostel for strangers, and a place where slaves might be set free. The synagogues were led not by rabbis or priests but by lay people."85

Conversely, the home served as the primary means of religious instruction. It was imparted by influence and example, before formal instruction. It was intuitively sensed before being consciously appropriated. Jesus was no exception to the rule.

He stood to read from Holy Writ, in deference to the sacred text. The synagogue service was marked by two essential features: the reading of the Word and prayer. These, taken together, were meant to foster communion.

The Isaiah scroll was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "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 favor" (cf. Isa. 61:1-2). Most notable for its absence, "And the day of vengeance of our God"–since this pertained to the future.

The extended text consists of Jubilee imagery as applied to the Messianic Age. The term jubilee refers to the ram's horn, used to announce the celebration–which occurred every fifty years. Initially, it was meant to recognize God's sovereign rule. In this regard, it provided a compelling rationale for requiring obedience from his subjects.

It also allowed for the freeing of those who had become slaves, and the return of family property. This, in turn, was meant to curb predatory instincts, and cultivate generosity. Moreover, it focused on the notion of redemption.

A correlative of redemption was rest. Consequently, the people were to permit the land to renew itself. Along with this, they were to take a more leisurely approach to their duties–along with appreciation of God's bountiful provision. This was not intended to discourage gainful endeavor, but to put life into proper perspective.

All things considered, this was meant to elicit hope. In a manner of speaking, one need not fear what the future holds, so long as he or she has confidence in the one who holds the future. This hope transcends present circumstance with confidence in God's benevolent purposes.

When he had rolled up the scroll, Jesus handed it back to the attendant, and sat down–as was customary in anticipation for teaching. He began by saying, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." In other words, the Messianic Age had dawned.

"All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious word that came from his lips." "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they incredulously inquired. Their favorable impression thus appears coupled with skepticism.

Accordingly, Jesus observed: "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself!' Do here in your home-town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum." "I tell you the truth," he solemnly continued, "no prophet is accepted in his home-town. At this, he cited the instance of Elijah and the widow in Zarepath, along with that of Elisha and Naaman the Syrian.

The people listening to him were furious. "They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the ill on which the town was built, in order to thrown him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowed and went on his way." "Whether or not Luke intends this escape to be miraculous is uncertain, for the passion of the crowd, once outside, may have abated somewhat. But what is certain is that Jesus' ministry was far from over."86

* * *

The Rabbi

Jesus appears as rabbi/teacher. For instance, two of John's disciples inquired of him: "Rabbi, where are you staying? (John 1:38). More revealing, Martha informs her sister: "The Teacher is here, and is asking for you" (11:28). "She speaks of him as 'The Teacher' and the article is probably important. Among his followers Jesus was designated primarily by his teaching activities."87

His preparation was largely limited to the home, coupled with the synagogue, and life as a whole. As sometimes expressed, "Experience is the best instructor." Moreover, he made the best of his opportunities, as evidenced by his interchange with the rabbis in the temple precinct. Then, too, the term rabbi was not as precise as it would become with the passing of time.

On one occasion, he went up on a mountain side and sat down–again in anticipation of teaching. "A major motive for Matthew to write his Gospel was to present large sections of Jesus' teaching. These teaching sections appear most obviously in the five major speeches in Matthew 5-7, 10, 13, 18, and 24-25."88The initial and most extensive of these is alluded to as The Sermon on the Mount, which is introduced and highlighted by The Beatitudes.

Now Jesus taught his disciples in the presence of the multitude. They were previously undifferentiated, but no longer. They were on different paths, one narrow and the other broad, that would continue to diverge as time progressed. Of course, the multitude was not monolithic, Some were simply curious, while others were diligently searching for a more meaningful life.

Jesus began by discoursing on blessedness. One is truly blessed who enjoys God's favor, whether in this life or that to come. As cogently expressed, "God is the critical factor in life's equation."

He then explored the topic in greater detail. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:3). These are not simply poverty stricken, but those to turn to the Almighty in their need. The affluent are less inclined to do so. In this regard, Jesus observed: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eyed of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:24).

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." As otherwise expressed, "God comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable." The former on condition that they are disposed to follow his righteous ways.

"Blessed are the meek for they will inherit the earth." As for contrast, "A little while, and the wicked will be no more; thought you look for the, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace" (Psa. 37:10-11).

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." In this regard, Jesus assured the Samaritan woman: "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I have him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of waster welling up to eternal life" (John 3:13-14).

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." While the term mercy has several nuances, it implies the compassionate willingness to forgive. Consequently, Jesus taught his disciples to pray: "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" (Matt. 6:12).

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." Such are characterized by personal integrity, and resolute behavior. Then, too, to bask in God's presence is the greatest joy imaginable.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." "The peace that Jesus enjoins is not a passive acceptance of whatever comes along, but an active involvement that confronts the problem and works through to a satisfactory reconciliation. 'Seek peace and pursue it' is the admonition of the psalmist (Psa. 14:14)"89Thus Jesus' disciples were to be characterized by their pursuit of peace.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "Dear friends," Peter enjoins his readers, "do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Having set the course, Jesus continues to instruct and admonish those listening to his words. It was by word and example, and not one to the exclusion of the other. In fact, it was the precise correspondence between the two that readily qualified him for the task at hand.

* * *

Wonder Worker

Jesus by common consent performed miracles. Nor were miracles indiscriminately attributed to prominent persons, as some have proposed–John the Baptist being a prime case in point. By way of illustration, Jesus healed a demoniac. The populace was amazed and inquired: "Could this be the Son of David?" (Matt. 12:27)–with reference to the Messiah. Their inquiry falls short of a confident affirmation.

But when the Pharisees heard this, they observed: "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." The implication was that Jesus could control demons since he himself was an agent of the demonic.

Aware of their reasoning, Jesus observed: "Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself." Accordingly, the proposal would prove counterproductive.

"And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?" Jesus continues. This turns out to be the weightier argument, since certain of the Pharisees practiced exorcism. In this regard, demons are depicted as deceptive spirits, which can on occasion gain control over individuals. While this can be manifest in a variety of ways, it is said to characteristically convey an oppressive presence.

"But," Jesus offers as a credible alternative, "if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." Were this so, then to misrepresent Jesus' ministry was to impede the work of the Almighty. Consequently, more was at stake than the opposition may have realized.

"He who is not with me is against me," Jesus went on to affirm, "and he who does not gather with me scatters." Since neutrality is impossible, a decision was necessary. Moreover, faith does not constitute a leap in the dark, but a deliberate step toward the light. In another context, Jesus affirmed: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12).

"And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men," Jesus allowed, "but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."

As for apt commentary: Jesus is saying to his antagonists that to attribute to Satan that which has been accomplished by the power and Spirit of God is to demonstrate a moral vision so distorted that there is no longer hope of recovery. It would be possible to speak against the Son of Man and be forgiven because at that time in Jesus' ministry there was a hiddenness about his person. Not so with the mighty works wrought by the Spirit.90

Jesus' miracles served three primary purposes. Initially, they often provided a humanitarian service. In one instance, it involved a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years (cf. Matt. 9:20). On another occasion, it gave sight to a man who was blind from birth (cf. John 9:1).

Then, too, Jesus' miracles served as a credential for his ministry. On the one hand, he was not the only person to have performed miracles–which tend to proliferate at critical junctures in salvation history. On the other hand, he served as a prime example–with distinctive implications.

This, in turn, recalls a recent study concerning the activity of the Holy Spirit in Acts. "In less than twenty instances, assuming a more generous interpretation of what qualifies as miracle, were extraordinary events reports. Likewise of interest, all but four of these were related to the apostles and might best be understood as attesting to their particular office."91

Then, finally, Jesus' miracles may be cited as an earnest of the kingdom. As such, they anticipate the coming of the kingdom in its fullness. Embraced in this context, they provide a needed incentive to pursue the way of righteousness.

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The Messiah

Jesus' messianic identity is subtly woven into the fabric of his public ministry from its outset. The likely reason for this is the ambiguity that surrounded the promised deliverer.

On the one hand, it appeared as if God Himself would intervene; on the other, as if through a chosen agent. On the one hand, the Messiah appeared as a military figure; on the other, as a heavenly agent. On the one hand, he was represented as the royal heir to David's throne; on the other, as a suffering servant.92

In particular, persons focused more on the political implications. For instance, "Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteounsess for that time on and forever" (Isa. 98:7).

Thus "After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, 'Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world'" (John 6:14). "Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." As was in some measure the case throughout his public ministry, lest his mission be compromised.

On another occasion, Jesus inquired of his disciples: "Who do the crowds say I am?" (Luke 9:18). He was well along in his public ministry at the time.

They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others that one of the prophets has come back to life." These share in common the anticipation that a prophet in the mode of Elijah would herald the coming of the Messiah.

"But what about you?" he pressed them. "Who do you say I am" "The 'you' is emphatic. Jesus expected more insight from the disciples. Having experienced the proceeding miracles, they should have a better understanding than the crowds."93Then, too, they were better informed.

Peter answered without equivocation, "The Christ of God." It is not clear whether he meant to speak only for himself or on behalf of the other disciples.

Whereupon, Jesus cautioned them against sharing this realization with others. As for his rationale, "The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life." Such would intervene before he assumed his royal prerogatives.

He then enjoined them: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?" In this regard, one should not allow short term goals to get in the way of long term benefits.

"If anyone is ashamed of me and my words," he continued, "the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God."

The appearance of the kingdom of God has been variously explained. More expressly,

(1) the coming of God's kingdom in Jesus' resurrection;
(2) the coming of God's kingdom in the Spirit's coming at Pentecost;
(3) the spread of the church throughout the world;
(4) the recognition that God's kingdom is already realized;
(5) Jerusalem's destruction in A.D. 70;
(6) the transfiguration that follows this saying in each Synoptic Gospel; and
(7) the parousia, in error since the Lord has not returned.94

Given the context, the transfiguration seems to be the most likely alternative.

With such in mind, "About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up into a mountain to pray" (Luke 9:2). As he was praying his countenance changed and his clothing became luminous. Moreover, Moses and Elijah–representing the Law and Prophets, appeared in glorious splendor–conversing with Jesus concerning what would shortly transpire in Jerusalem.

As the two visitors were about to take their leave, Peter proposes erecting shelters for them along with Jesus. He perhaps hoped to prolong their stay. In any case, Luke notes that he was at a loss to know what to make of the situation.

While the apostle was still speaking, a cloud engulfed them, and a voice from heaven declared: "This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him." This was indicative of the fact that salvation history had taken a giant step forward. Then, too, it served as a rebuke of Peter's insistence that Jesus not pursue his vicarious suffering (cf. Mark 9:32). When the voice had finished speaking, only Jesus remained with them. They kept all this to themselves for the time being, in keeping with Jesus' earlier injunction to keep his messianic identity a secret.

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Suffering Servant

The prospect of a suffering servant was deeply ingrained in the Jewish consciousness. It was generally applied corporately to the chosen people, although the implications might extend to a given individual. As for confirmation, "The portrait before us is that of one whose rejection goes beyond even the humiliation and pain which the Servant people of God have had to suffer in Babylonia. It is the portrait of one who is wholly abject, who has encountered evil in its ultimate form."95

This ambiguity is best understood in terms of corporate personality, where some feature is representative of the whole. For instance, as when the prophets recall the exodus as though they were present–which in a corporate sense was true.

In keeping with the suffering servant motif, Jesus pressed on toward Jerusalem. When he came near the place where the road drops down from the Mount of Olives, his enthusiastic disciples began to you fully praise God for all the miracles they had witnessed. "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!" they exclaimed. "Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" (Luke 19:38). They thus continue to focus on the political aspirations associated with the coming of the Messiah.

"Teacher," certain of the Pharisees protested, "rebuke your disciples!" These were not necessarily representative, since there were Pharisees who were more amenable to Jesus and his teaching.

"I tell you," Jesus replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out." This was likely a proverbial saying, perhaps derived from the practice of heaping tones as a witness (cf. Gen. 31:45-53).

Jesus subsequently entered into the temple precinct, and began driving out those who were using it for commercial purposes. "It is written," he observed, "'My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.'" It was a largely symbolic gesture, not calculated to terminate the offensive practice. However, it did incite the religious establishment to plan Jesus' demise. "Yet they could not find a way to do it, because all the people hung on his words."

Now Judas agreed to betray him. Perhaps for financial gain, although there is speculation that he meant for force Jesus' hand–thus instigating a popular revolt.

Meanwhile, Jesus made his way to a customary place over against the Mount of Olives. Withdrawing about a stone's throw from his disciples, he petitioned: "Father, if you are willing take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (22:42). And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his perspiration appeared as if drops of blood falling to the ground. Some have supposed that this resulted from blood capillaries rupturing, exuding blood along with water–as evidence of the extreme stress he was experiencing.

In any case, Jesus was apprehended, and led off to the residence of the high priest. The council of elders/Sanhedrin convened at daybreak. "If you are the Christ," they impugned, "tell us." Then, deciding he had incriminated himself, they sent him off to the Roman magistrate Pilate.

After interrogating the prisoner, Pilate concluded: "I find no basis for the charge against this man" (23:4). However, the populace–incited by the religious establishment–insisted that he be crucified. Pilate reluctantly yielded, out of deference to the Pax Romana – supposing that the welfare of the state was of more consequence than that of the individual.

So it was that they crucified Jesus. It was an excruciating experience, meant to dissuade criminals from their anti-social behavior. In particular, one died from asphyxiation. In order to exhale, the individual must push up on his feet so the tension of the muscles would be eased for a moment. After managing to exhale, (he) would then be able to relax down and take another breath in. This would go on and on until complete exhaustion would take over, and the person wouldn't be able to push up and breathe anymore.96

"My God, my God," Jesus cried out, "why have you forsaken me?" (Matt. 27:46; cf. Psa. 22:1). Jesus thus recalls a text commonly employed by those experiencing duress. Not to be overlooked, the passage concludes with the confident assertion: "I will declare your name to my brothers, in the congregation I will praise you" (v. 22).

"Father, Jesus again quotes from the psalmist, "into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46; cf. Psa. 31:5). He had finished the redemptive task assigned to him. "When he had said this, he breathed his last."

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