In this 10th episode of the podcast, I discuss the 10 Most Influential Books Of My Early Christian Walk.
Each of the books on this list were formative in the beginning stages of my spiritual growth and development. For this reason- I’m convinced each of these books would make a valuable addition to any disciple’s library.
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap.
What exactly does it mean to mock God?
The Greek word used here in this verse is,
mukterizo (mook-tay-rid’-zo) specifically having to do with the nostrils,
to turn up the nose or sneer at, to mock
Merriam-Webster defines the word,
to treat with contempt or ridicule
to jeer or scoff at
to defy or challenge
Mockery always finds its source in an attitude of pride. To have an upturned nose, and to look down upon someone or something. There are several occasions in the Old Testament where God responds to this kind of prideful mockery.
Zephaniah 2:8-10 (God pronounces judgment on Moab and Ammon)
“I have heard the reproach of Moab and the insults of the Ammonites, who have taunted My people and threatened their borders.
Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the LORD of Hosts, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will be like Sodom and the Ammonites like Gomorrah—a place of weeds and salt pits, a perpetual wasteland. The remnant of My people will plunder them; the remainder of My nation will dispossess them. This they shall have in return for their pride, for taunting and mocking the people of the LORD of Hosts.”
2 Chronicles 36:15-16 (The Fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar)
Again and again the LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to His people through His messengers because He had compassion on them and on His dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God, despising His words and scoffing at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD against His people was stirred up beyond remedy.
Notice how verse 16 says, “despising His words.”
To mock God does not always mean blatantly ridiculing His divine character or Holy name.
More often, it has to do with making a mockery of His statutes and principles by disregarding His wisdom and instructions and thereby showing contempt for His Word. Whenever we turn our nose up and scoff at God’s Word, or when we attempt to oppose and defy His will, we are in essence mocking His very nature.
We are assuming that we’re able to establish our own kingdom, to pursue our own endeavors by whatever means we deem necessary, and without all the hoopla of having to adhere to some rigorous moral standards.
The Word of God makes clear that we are to exemplify His goodness in all that we do, so that it may go well with us and that we may prosper. There is an established paradigm.
However, if I am able to achieve my own success by way of selfish shortcuts and treacherous dealings, then I didn’t have to bother myself with some ‘divine dictator’ or ‘religious rulebook.’
If such were possible, then I will have made a mockery of God’s Word.
He says in His Word, “it must be done this way,” but I do it my own way instead.
For instance, let’s say that I’m a hotshot business investor, and with the goal of growing my own company name, I’ve seen fit to lie and cheat and backstab, in order to come out ahead of the competition and acquire the most profit. By all outward observation, it would appear as though I’ve prospered. That my selfish ambition and greed has paid off. I will have managed to achieve personal success and accomplish my goal, even if it were at the expense of others. After all, what’s that to me, now that I’ve gotten what I wanted all along?
My way has paid off in the end right? No.
Let’s go back to Galatians 6:7
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that he will also reap.
Here, Paul writes of a divine principle that is universal and unchanging. This truth is communicated by using an agricultural understanding of sowing and reaping. Whatever type of seed a person chooses to plant, this is the same type of crop they can expect to harvest. One should not plant vineyards of tomatoes and expect to harvest bushels of strawberries instead.
You may be sure of this, that whatever is sown and cultivated, this is what shall be reaped.
Keep in mind that this analogy was given in a time well before the conveniences of grocery stores and fast food shops. There weren’t options on every corner. This is also why seasons of rain and harvest times were so important. The simple fact was that whatever you reap is what you will have to eat.
This Scripture begins with a warning, “Do not be deceived.” Obviously, this implies the potential of falling into deception and error. How might one become deceived in this? The answer is found in the latter half of the verse, which gives the example of sowing and reaping. In the process of agriculture, the cause and the effect are not immediately evident. There is always a lapse in time between the sowing and the reaping. Between that which is buried beneath the soil, and that which manifests to the surface.
A person might be able to fool themselves for a time, into believing that sowing seeds of selfishness and unrighteousness will yield more benefit than sowing seeds of sacrifice and servitude for the sake of God’s will.
But this is not so. As we see in the following verse,
For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life.
The Greek word used here for ‘corruption’ conveys the process of decomposition which takes place in death. Paul is saying that the one who sows in order to satisfy their flesh, will from the flesh reap the corruption or decay of death. It is fleeting and empty. Worthless.
On the other hand, the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap life which is everlasting. It is eternal. Priceless.
Therefore, sowing is very similar to investing. Whenever someone chooses to make an investment, the wise decision is to invest in something which appreciates in value, rather than depreciates.
Sowing to the flesh is investing into that which is and perishable and passing away. There is no lasting substance.
The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness will reap a sure reward.
Notice the stark contrast.
The Hebrew word used for deceptive is
sheqer (sheh’-ker) deceitful, falsehood, fraudulent
that which deceives, disappoints, or betrays
The wages of sin are deceitful and fraudulent. Although they typically provide a measure of instant gratification, they will inevitably disappoint and betray the one who trusts in them. They promise, but cannot deliver. In the end, they always take more than they ever give.
Whereas, the one who sows in righteousness will reap a sure reward. It is certain, guaranteed.
These men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives.
Such are the ways of all who are greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.
Notice that those who are plotting an ambush for the lives of the righteous, actually end up losing their own blood.
See, you assume you have succeeded in taking something, that it has added to you, when the truth is, it has actually robbed you. It is not gain but loss.
Judas Iscariot thought he was making a good investment when he betrayed Jesus for the thirty pieces of silver. Yet, once he realized the worthlessness of those coins in light of the sin he had just committed, he attempted to return the silver and then went and hung himself.
A life is built in the same way a building is constructed.
One brick at a time.
Throughout our lives, we make choices one situation at a time, moment by moment.
And with each of these momentary decisions, we set in place another brick.
Therefore, the kind of life and character that is built from our decision-making depends upon the countless individual choices that went into its construction. In essence, we are the culmination of our choices.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”
There’s a similar idea put forth from American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson:
“Sow a thought, and you reap an act;
Sow an act, and you reap a habit;
Sow a habit, and you reap a character;
Sow a character, and you reap a destiny.”
We have this concept where we’re constantly distinguishing the ‘big things’ from the ‘little things.’
But the truth is, the big things are made up of the little things. It is by remaining consistent and faithful in the small matters, that we are preparing ourselves for the larger matters.
While it’s certainly true that some decisions have more significant ramifications than others, the focus of attention should not be so much on the decision, but on the decider.
If we are to get to the source, we must first identify the character.
Jesus Himself says,
“Whoever is faithful with very little will also be faithful with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”
It’s about integrity and consistency.
As it’s written in 2 Corinthians 5:17- If you are in Christ, then you are a new creation, the old things have passed away. He has now placed His Spirit within you and He has given you a new nature.
Scripture teaches us that righteousness is something we practice, something we exercise. It must be expressed. There’s a phrase in martial arts, “You become how you train.”
Whatever individual circumstances may arise, these are simply opportunities which allow for the expression of whatever the inner nature consists of.
1 John 2:29
If you know that He is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.
1 John 3:7
Little children, let no one lead you astray; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous.
According to the spiritual, what you sow, you also reap. And what you reap, you must eat.
Therefore, you inevitably become synonymous to that which you cultivate and produce.
Now do you begin to see how sowing to the Spirit produces life, while sowing to the flesh produces death?
But what exactly does this mean, sowing to the Spirit?
Simply put, it means investing yourself in the things of God, which are Spiritual rather than carnal.
John 4:23-24 Jesus says,
”But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Notice how the Lord specifically says that the flesh profits nothing.
Earlier we mentioned the analogy of investing. A wise man does not continue to invest into that which is worthless.
To sow to the Spirit means to walk by the Spirit.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (One step at a time)
The phrase, “keep in step” is an idiom which means to pattern or conform yourself to the rhythm or behavior of someone or something else.
The Greek word used here is stoicheo (stoy-keh’-o)
meaning to follow after, walk in order
military terminology: to proceed in a row as in the march of a soldier
As believers, we are not to keep in step, or be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2).
Instead, we are to keep in step, or be conformed into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).
Whatever you cultivate, that is what flourishes. To sow to the flesh speaks of continually gratifying the carnal, sinful nature. It’s like the old Native American proverb, where the grandfather explains to his grandson how there are two wolves at war within each of us. One wolf represents evil, anger, envy, greed, and falsehood.
The other wolf represents goodness, love, joy, peace, kindness, and honesty.
When the boy asks which of the two wolves wins, the grandfather replies, “The one that you feed.”
Which wolf are you feeding? Which type of seed are you sowing and cultivating?
As I have seen, those who plow iniquity and sow trouble reap the same.
You cannot choose to sow to the flesh time and time again, day after day, and then find it a strange thing to reap a harvest of corruption in your life.
Paul goes on to give examples of what comes from the flesh as opposed to what comes from the Spirit.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I have before, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Sowing to the Spirit means abiding in Christ and in His Word.
Therefore, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
John 15:1-2, 5
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”
“I am the vine and you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.”
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.”
These Spiritual fruits will be evident in the lives of those who walk by the Spirit, who are abiding in the true vine of Christ Jesus. Notice how the Lord said, “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” The fruit of the Spirit does not originate within ourselves, but comes through Christ, the vine in whom we are rooted.
The fruit which comes forth bears witness to the inward nature.
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.”
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
Yet wisdom is vindicated by her actions.”
to provide justification or defense for
to confirm, to substantiate
In other words, wisdom is proven by what it produces.
Each new day, we encounter hundreds of opportunities to sow seed in either one field or the other.
With every moment, every choice, every action, we are sowing to either the flesh or to the Spirit.
While this concept may seem overwhelming, the truth is, there’s actually a beautiful simplicity and peace which comes in the ability to render down each situation, each predicament, regardless of its size, and to see through the haze of confusion, to part the waters of distraction so to speak, and ask yourself, ‘What is my ultimate intention here? My motivation? Will this bring life or death? Righteousness or wickedness? Which wolf will this feed?’
And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not give up.
Here is that lapse in time again, the time between the sowing and the reaping, between the planting and the harvesting. Paul gives us an absolute, a guarantee: “In due season we shall reap, IF we do not give up.”
In due season, or at the appropriate time.
Every farmer must learn this kind of patience. They do not immediately expect to see the harvest of what they’ve sown. They understand there is a process which takes time.
Herein lies the importance of not losing heart. The phrase used here for “lose heart” is translated from the Greek word ekkakeo (ek-kak-eh’-o) which means ‘to be utterly spiritless’, ‘to be wearied out’, or ‘exhausted.’
The implication is to fail in heart.
This type of discouragement can be used to describe the weariness a woman experiences during childbirth. Before the delivery, the labor is exhausting work, both difficult and painful. Just when it seems to be unrewarded and all for naught, that’s when the baby comes forth.
2 Thessalonians 3:13
But as for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.
We are given encouragements against both of these
Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.
He who goes out weeping, bearing seed for sowing, will surely return with shouts of joy, carrying sheaves with him.
This is to illustrate the point that although there will be seasons of struggle and of difficulty, we are to remain faithful in our sowing, so that when the time for harvest comes, we may be able to reap that which we’ve sown with joy and gladness.
Despite experiencing times of trial and hardship, let us not become discouraged and lose sight of our hope.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon comments of this verse:
“They who sow unto the spirit sow in tears, for sowing unto the spirit involves self-denial, struggling against the flesh, running counter to the instincts of our fallen nature. To sow unto the spirit, is to sow in the field of obedience and patient endurance.
While for now, our tears may fall with the precious seed, our momentary weeping is scarcely to be thought of in comparison with the sheaves of exceeding glory in the land where tears are divinely and finally wiped from every eye.”
Here in these few verses from Galatians, we are given three primary encouragements: “Do not be deceived,” “do not lose heart,” and “do not grow weary.”
As believers, there are certainly times when we labor in doing good, but seem to see no real fruit. We pray, we witness, we give, we serve, but nothing outwardly appears to be producing any results.
This is why we must not judge based upon appearances.
As our Lord instructed,
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”
We walk by faith not by sight. Whenever a seed is planted into the ground, it’s buried beneath the soil, out of sight. By all outward observation, it’s gone. But the truth is, although it is no longer visible, it’s still there and it is going to work, beginning to sprout and spread its roots.
Faith is trusting this process of growth even though we cannot see the results at the moment.
Although we may not fully understand the intricacies of its inner workings, we can still be sure that it is indeed at work.
The physician Luke is the only gospel writer to include the account of Zacchaeus, the short tax collector from Jericho who climbed a sycamore tree in order to get a view of Jesus.
He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Ironically, the name Zacchaeus comes from the Hebrew root word meaning ‘pure’ or ‘righteous’, but as a chief tax collector, this man would’ve been seen as anything but pure or righteous. Tax collectors, also known as ‘publicans’, were independent contractors commissioned by the Roman government in order to collect the various taxes, which included: income, land, property, commerce, etc. Rome would auction up these tax franchises, which would then be bought by a wealthy native of the province. Anything the purchaser might have collected above the cost of the franchise would be kept as personal profit. As you can imagine, this was a system ripe for injustice and corruption.
The collection agent would line their own pockets by charging an additional percentage on top of the taxes already owed. In the cases with merchants for example, the tax collector would arbitrarily assess the value of the goods being sold, and then charge an inflated payment for that amount. They were also known for accepting bribes and hush money from the wealthy upper class, who would typically be expected to pay more in taxes. So, in order to make up the difference for these underhanded tax breaks, the collector would then charge the common people even more. There was no recourse or method of appeal since these individuals were authorized by the Roman government. Basically, it was legalized extortion.
Not hard to imagine then, why these tax collectors were often socially despised and rejected by their fellow countrymen. They were seen as being in collusion with Rome, and therefore were viewed as traitors to their nation. An ever-present reminder of the foreign oppression.
Because of their close working association with Gentiles, tax collectors were thought of as ‘unclean,’ and were regarded along with the lowest class of sinners. They were excommunicated from all Jewish synagogues, and were not even permitted to testify in a Jewish legal court, since they were well known for being liars and cheats.
Earlier in chapter 3, Luke records that even tax collectors were among those coming out to John in the wilderness in order to be baptized.
Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he answered them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to.” (Luke 3:12-13)
When they ask John, “What shall we do?” He instructs them to no longer collect more than what is due.
In verse 2, we’re told that Zacchaeus was a ‘chief tax collector.’ So he was the head contractor of this franchise, the top of the tax pyramid, and therefore he would’ve had other collection agents working under him. It wouldn’t be surprising if he were receiving an additional percentage from each of their commissions as well. We’re also told from the text that he was rich.
The city of Jericho was considered as the tax capitol for Palestine. Located in the Jordan valley about 17 miles east from Jerusalem, it was a wealthy center of commerce and travel. Just as we see Jesus and His disciples passing through here, thousands of other travelers would’ve passed through this area, making their way to Jerusalem for the Passover feast.
Jericho, which literally means “fragrant place,” was also referred to as the ‘City of Palms’ (see Deuteronomy 34:3), being known for its many date-palm trees. A lush oasis with plenty of vegetation and therefore a high agricultural area, even to this day. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote of it as “a divine region, the fattest in Palestine.”
Interestingly, Jericho is considered to be one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the world, with archaeological discoveries dating back to 9,000 B.C. Located on the northern end of the Dead Sea, it is also the world’s lowest geographical city at about 780 feet below sea level. Because of its warmer climate, Herod the great actually had a winter palace built there for himself, which brought even more wealth to the area.
So Jericho was a choice location for a man of Zacchaeus’ profession, and we see that he had indeed been financially successful up to this point.
In verse 3 we read, ‘He was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, for he was small in stature.’
Why does he want to get a look at Jesus? To see who this man was?
A mild curiosity perhaps, to see this Rabbi from Galilee that everyone was talking about. Or rather, and this is the direction I lean, perhaps there was something deeper at work below the surface. An undefined drawing within him to this compelling source of goodness that was radiated from Christ. Maybe he has heard of the compassion that Jesus displayed even for men like Him. After all, He had accepted a former tax collector named Matthew to become one of His disciples.
Even if it were on some subconscious level, I believe there was this feeling of discontentedness, a knowledge that all was not right between himself and the Lord God.
Despite all of his acquired riches, there is something missing in Zacchaeus’ life.
There’s an emptiness.
It’s not uncommon to hear of testimonials from celebrities, who, despite all the wealth and the fame, still claim to have a pervasive feeling of discontentment, unhappiness, and unfulfillment.
So often we tend to fix our gaze on material possessions, not realizing that these temporal things can never truly satisfy.
Jesus Himself specifically warns against this in Luke chapter 12 verse 15:
“Take care, and be on your guard against all forms of greed, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
It reminds me of the superficial slogan: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
What a sad sentiment. The truth is, he who dies with the most toys still dies, and cannot take any of those so-called toys along with him. You will never see a u-haul being pulled behind a hearse.
Due to his being short in stature, and because of the large crowd of people, Zacchaeus was unable to get a visual of Jesus. So In verse 4 we’re told that he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass by that way. This type of sycamore fig actually makes for an easy tree to climb because of their shorter trunks, which are closer to the ground, and for the way their limbs branch out in a crown-like fashion.
Surely this would’ve been an amusing sight to see. Consider for a moment, this well-known rich man, a chief publican, arrayed in his fine apparel no doubt, shimmying up into the leaves and branches of this tree. While this certainly sounds like fun to us, understand that in the culture at the time, this would’ve been seen as undignified behavior for a grown man. Think about it, who climbs trees? Children. Zacchaeus was unknowingly fulfilling Jesus’ teaching about becoming childlike in Matthew chapter 18,
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who then is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to Him a child, He placed him in the midst of them and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you shall never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:1-4)
I like what Matthew Henry writes about this in his commentary, “Children, when they are young, do not desire authority, do not regard outward distinctions, are free from malice, are teachable and dependent upon their parents. Children for the most part, are destitute of ambition, pride, and haughtiness.”
Onlookers would’ve undoubtedly been snickering and jesting, but Zacchaeus wasn’t concerned about any humiliation this action might’ve warranted against him. All he cared about in that moment was finding a way to get a better look at Jesus.
See, we display how valuable or important a particular thing is to us by the tenacity in which we are willing to seek after it.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)
May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; may those who love Your Salvation say continually, “The LORD be magnified!” (Psalm 40:16)
Seek the LORD while He may be found; Call upon Him while He is near.
We see that this is exactly what Zacchaeus is doing here, seeking the LORD while He is near. In fact, this would be the very last time that Jesus would ever pass through this way. He is making His way into Jerusalem for what is now known as the ‘Triumphal Entry.’ Within about a week’s time, He will be scourged and crucified.
In verse 5, whenever Jesus had made His way over to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.”
This is actually quite humorous to consider. Here is short little Zacchaeus perched up in this tree, and for all he’s thinking, is that now he has achieved a way to at least catch a glimpse of Jesus as He and the crowd make their way past. The last thing that was on his mind is that Jesus would somehow turn His attention towards him. He wanted to see Jesus, not to be seen by Him. Imagine though, instead of this large procession simply passing on by, they all come to a halt right here beneath this tree. And there He is, there’s Jesus. And Jesus looks up and sees Zacchaeus amongst the branches, and He calls to him by name, and tells him to hurry down, because He’s coming home with him.
The searching sinner meets the seeking Savior.
This is the first and only time we read that Jesus invites Himself to someone’s home.
Another indication that this was far more than merely a superficial curiosity on the part of Zacchaeus. There was something else at work in the soil of his heart, which our Lord fosters into life by His self-invitation.
Notice too, how Jesus uses language that seems to speak of necessity. “For today I must stay at your house.” Is this an accidental encounter?
Jesus chooses to momentarily pause His steadfast path towards the cross, in order to have fellowship in this man’s home.
And how does Zacchaeus respond?
Verse 6 says, ‘So he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully.’
Although it is Christ who initiates the interaction, and extends His own invitation, Zacchaeus received Him joyfully.
This is a perfect illustration of Jesus’ words in Revelation chapter 3 verse 20,
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus takes the initiative. He approaches, He stands at the door and knocks. But He in turn must be received, welcomed into the home, and into the heart.
Zacchaeus received Him joyfully, or with gladness. There is a delight in truly receiving the Lord. You cannot twist a person’s arm to bring about a profession of faith. No one can be argued into the kingdom of heaven. But when the Holy Spirit is at work in a person’s heart, and Christ extends His salvation, that person does not come reluctantly, but joyfully.
Notice then, the reaction of the people in verse 7, ‘And when they saw it, they all grumbled, saying, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.”
Even more surprised than Zacchaeus, are these onlookers who question,
“How can You possibly have fellowship with this wretched sinner? This traitor?”
“Don’t You realize what kind of man this is? How he’s acquired all his wealth? What he’s done to us?”
I always appreciated the scene in the old movie Jesus of Nazareth, where Jesus is invited into Matthew the tax collector’s home. We see a similar situation in which the people are grumbling, and someone asks Him, “You would enter the house of a sinner?” And Jesus responds, “I would enter any house where I am welcomed.” He goes on to say, “For I’ve not come to call the virtuous to repentance but the sinners.”
This scenario can be found scripturally in Luke chapter 5 verses 29-32,
Then Levi hosted a great banquet for Jesus at his house. A large crowd of tax collectors was there, along with others who were eating with them. But the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled to His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)
In this same situation recorded in Matthew chapter 9 verse 13, Jesus makes reference to the book of Hosea chapter 6 verse 6 when He says,
“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)
Why did the eternal Son take on fleshly humanity and dwell among us?
To seek and to save that which was lost.
Why did He offer to enter this publican’s home to be his guest, and at the sneers of the crowd, to associate Himself with the outcast?
For that very same reason.
Alexander MacLaren writes of this, “His example is our pattern. A Christian church which does not imitate its Master in its frank and continual willingness to associate itself with the degraded and the outcast has lost one of the truest signs of its being vitalized with the life of Christ.”
In verse 8, Zacchaeus stands up and says to the Lord, “Behold Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will restore it fourfold.”
In receiving Jesus with gladness, and spending just a brief amount of time within His presence, Zacchaeus felt the holy conviction of his sin and therefore naturally knew that he must repent and make full restitution to the many persons he had undoubtedly wronged.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon writes, “Jesus Christ did not teach Zacchaeus by going to his house that character was of no consequence. On the contrary, Zacchaeus perceived at once that character was of the greatest consequence.”
At first glance, it may almost appear as if he’s casting some doubt to his own cheating conduct. But this phrase in Greek, ‘If I have defrauded anyone” does not imply doubt to the fact of guilt, but is better understood as “wherever I have defrauded anyone” or “In so far as I have defrauded anyone.”
The Law required that the wrongdoer was to make full restitution for whatever was taken, plus an additional 20% of the item’s value. (See Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6-7)
Zacchaeus is willing to go above and beyond that which the law required. This is a man who previously, so desired money that he was willing to cheat and lie and to take advantage of his own people, and therefore to be alienated and despised by society. He had a love of money. His sole desire was to “get rich”, to “make that hustle.” And that is exactly what he was, a hustler. A swindler.
In Matthew chapter 6 verse 24 Jesus says,
“No one can serve two masters: Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
What are you serving?
We see here that there is a drastic change in Zacchaeus’ priorities. A shift in his focus. Now he says to Jesus, “Lord,” that is, ‘Master’, this denotes authority, ownership. “I no longer care about the money. I’ll give half of it away to help the poor, and with the rest I’ll make four times the restitution to those I’ve swindled. It’s no longer the money that I want to serve, Lord it’s you.”
One of the chief evidences of a true conversion is a reorientation when it comes to the material world. Lost individuals live as though the material world is all there is. Their focus is set on the treasures and the indulgences of this world. While saved individuals understand of heavenly realities, and therefore set their primary focus upon the spiritual rather than the natural.
Whenever Zacchaeus stands and gives this public declaration of his repentance, he is not seeking to be justified by his works, but by his good works he will now show the sincerity of his conversion. This is not the grounds or the means by which he is saved, but this is the natural evidence of that reality, the outward expression of that salvation.
Does your life demonstrate change? Does it reflect the grace and influence Christ has upon you? Do you live as though He has saved you? Are you being conformed into His image? Or are you still that same old crook?
We know that this is indeed a genuine conversion, because in verse 9, Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man too is a son of Abraham.”
I’ve always enjoyed this play on words that the Lord uses here. His very name Jesus, or Yeshua in Hebrew, literally means ‘salvation.’ A combination of ‘Yah’ or the name of God, and ‘Yasha’ meaning ‘to save, rescue or deliver.’ This is why the angel of the Lord instructed this name to be given to Him.
“She will give birth to a Son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
So in one sense, salvation had indeed come to this home that day, the actual embodiment of salvation, the Savior Jesus Christ. And in another sense, salvation had come in that Zacchaeus had now received and entered into the source of that saving mercy and grace.
This is a beautiful revelation of the Lord Jesus. That whenever we come to Christ in salvation, He not only delivers us from the penalties of sin, but He also delivers us from its bondage, the ongoing habitual nature and power of that sin. He sets us free completely, and thereby changes our focus, our priorities, and our very nature.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away. Behold, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Now, why does Jesus say, “because he also is a son of Abraham”?
Because although Zacchaeus was indeed a physical descendant of Abraham by birth- It was only according to the flesh, in the natural.
As the apostle Paul makes clear in Romans chapter 9 verses 7-8,
Not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants. So it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise who are
regarded as offspring. (Romans 9:7-8)
And again in Galatians chapter 3 verse 7,
Understand then, that it is those of faith who are the children of Abraham.
So it is here, as Zacchaeus professes his repentance and belief on the Lord, that Jesus now says he is truly a son of Abraham according to faith.
And lastly, the beautiful closing words of Christ in verse 10, “For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus says of Himself, that He came on a search and rescue mission.
This reminds me of when Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep earlier in Luke
chapter 15 verses 1-7
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So He told them this parable: “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ In the same way, I tell you that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”
The physician Luke is the only Gospel writer to include an account about Zacchaeus, the short tax collector from Jericho who climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus. Join me in this seventh episode of the podcast, as we take a closer look into this story to see what details we can learn from this man’s encounter with Salvation.
There are many occasions recorded in the New Testament in which the followers of Jesus, His disciples, or even the Jewish religious leaders, would marvel in response to His teachings or the miracles he preformed. But did you know that there are only two instances wherein it’s written that Jesus Himself marveled?
Before we take a look at these two occurrences, let us first seek to understand the meaning of the term, ‘marvel’ – sometimes translated as, “wondered”, “amazed”, or “astonished”.
The actual Greek word is thaumazo (thou-mad’-zo) which is a verb meaning: to marvel, to wonder at, to be astonished or surprised by.
In order to better understand the meaning of the word in context, let’s look to a few other places in Scripture where it’s used.
The first of which is found in Matthew chapter 8 verses 24-27:
And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but He was asleep. And they went and woke Him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing!” And He said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then He rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
So in this scenario, the disciples marvel at the supernatural authority that Jesus displays over the winds and waves. Imagine suddenly going from being in the middle of a hurricane one moment, to tranquil waters and still winds the next. Consider too, that a decent portion of these fellows had been fishermen by trade. So they certainly would’ve been familiar with boating on the sea of Galilee and the various storms that would arise from time to time. Yet this was something remarkable even to them.
The second example is found in Matthew chapter 21 verses 18-20:
In the morning, as He was returning to the city, He became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, He went to it and found nothing on it but leaves only. And He said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree
wither at once?” (Matt 21:24-27)
Here we see another display of the power and authority of Jesus’ word over nature, which again causes the disciples to marvel.
The third and final example we will look to, is found in Matthew chapter 27 verses 11-14:
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He gave no answer. Then Pilate said to Him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. (Matt 27:11-14)
In this situation, the astonishment or amazement isn’t brought on by a supernatural demonstration or a miracle being performed by Jesus, but rather, by His remaining silent. Pilate, being a Roman official, is perplexed that Jesus is not attempting to plead His own defense or to vindicate Himself against these charges being brought against Him.
To be clear, there are plenty of other times this word, thaumazo is used, I’ve just chosen these three passages for the purpose of becoming better acquainted with the word and familiar with its usage in context. Now that I think we have gained that understanding, we may move on to the first instance where Jesus marvels. Matthew chapter 8 verses 5-13:
When He entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to Him, appealing to Him, “Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And He said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who followed Him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” And to the centurion Jesus said, “Go, let it be done for you as you have believed.” And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matt 8:5-13)
What an incredible honor right? To have Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, marvel at your level of faith. And not only does Jesus marvel at this man’s faith, He then goes on to hold it up as an example before all His followers.
Keep in mind that this man isn’t even an Israelite, he is a Roman soldier, a Gentile. So by the cultural standards, he is an outsider. Yet here he is, displaying more faith in the Jewish Messiah, than even the Jews were.
It’s also noteworthy here, how Jesus points out that many will come from east and west to recline at table in the kingdom of heaven, while the “sons of the kingdom” will be cast out. He is foreshadowing the fact that salvation will be poured out to Gentile believers as well, something these men would not come to understand until later in the book of Acts, post-resurrection. Ironically, that first convert is also a Roman centurion by the name of Cornelius. (See Acts ch. 10)
Century meaning ‘one hundred’, a Roman centurion would’ve had authority over one hundred soldiers. It’s been said that they were the backbone of the Roman army. No doubt, these men commanded respect. And yet here is this war-hardened man, coming and making his appeal before Jesus- a traveling Rabbi, a holy man.
In doing so, he is displaying three important characteristics: compassion, humility, and faith. Compassion for his servant who is lying paralyzed at home. Especially in a culture wherein a servant or a slave was viewed as expendable, almost as a tool. If one wears out, you would just replace it. He could’ve had the attitude of Ivan Drago the Russian in Rocky IV: “If he dies, he dies.”
The second important characteristic he’s displaying is humility. Evident in his response “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” He addresses Jesus as ‘Lord’ which, although may not have been the true understanding of how we now use the term, was still a recognition of respect and authority. Being a centurion in the Roman Military, he could’ve thought himself rather significant. But instead of coming with an heir of superiority, he comes before Jesus, appealing to Him in graciousness and humility.
And I believe this carries with it not only humility, but also a sense of consideration. As a Roman, a Gentile was an outsider, viewed as ‘unclean’. The Jewish people would’ve had as little dealings with them as possible, and it certainly would’ve been taboo to enter the home of a Gentile. Jesus however, shows no hesitation by this as he responds, “I will come and heal him.” But being aware that this act would’ve brought some measure of disdain upon Jesus in the eyes of His Jewish contemporaries, I believe the centurion is showing consideration in wanting to spare Jesus any kind of dishonor.
And lastly, the third characteristic displayed is of course faith. This faith is what causes Jesus to marvel. He praises this faith by turning to His followers and saying, “Truly I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.” In doing so, Jesus is holding this man, a Gentile, up as an example of faith not only to the Jewish people, but also even to us today as we read of this account preserved in His word. Let us also recognize another sense of why this is such a commendable display of faith, and that is in the fact that this type of healing is unprecedented up until this point. At no other time previously, has Jesus healed someone from a distance like this. It’s always been in His presence. So the Centurion has no previous experience on which to base this belief, other than his faith alone in the power and authority of Jesus’ word.
Also take notice of how Jesus says “let it be done for you as you have believed”, in other words, ‘in the same manner, the same capacity in which you have believed, may it come to pass.’ We see this similar response of Christ several times throughout the gospel accounts, one of which is found in Matthew chapter 9 verses 27-30:
And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, “Have mercy on us, Son of David.” When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.” And their eyes were opened. (Matt 9:27-30)
So He first asks these men IF they believe that He is able to perform this miracle of healing for them. Almost as if faith, the belief, is a prerequisite for the healing.
Another example of this type of response is found a bit earlier in Matthew chapter 9 verses 20-22:
And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. (Matt 9:20-22)
So this woman had reasoned within herself that she didn’t even have to speak to Jesus, all she had to do was touch His outer cloak, the fringe of His garment, and she believed, she had the faith that she would be made well in doing so. Quite possibly there’s a level of humility shown here as well, because she’s aware that Jesus is very busy, he’s constantly traveling, he’s always surrounded by large crowds of people. He was actually on His way to heal Jairus’ daughter here in this story. So she was probably thinking, ‘I won’t interrupt Him, I won’t take up any of His time, I’ll just walk up and touch His cloak, and I’ll be healed.’ Touch and go, a run by healing so to speak.
From these examples, we can clearly see that Jesus is ready to meet the people where they are. You and I, He’s ready, He’s willing to meet us where we are. When the centurion comes appealing to Him regarding his servant, Jesus answers ‘Very well, I will come and heal him.’ He’s willing to meet him on that level. But the centurion rises, he elevates in faith, and says, ‘I being a man of authority, I recognize your authority Jesus. I know that you can just say the word and it will be done, you don’t even need to be present.’ And how does Jesus respond? He marvels, and then He answers, ‘May it be done to you as you have believed.’
I’ve always imagined this, “according to your faith”, almost as a credit system. The Father certainly has enough means in the account. There will never be an error message returned saying, “we’re sorry you’ve charged too much faith to this account” No, God has more than enough ability, there’s an unlimited power in the account, but it’s how much faith are you willing to express? How much do you believe? How much do you trust in Him? He certainly has the means and the ability to meet it. And of course I don’t mean for selfish desires. I’m saying faith demonstrated according to His will, according to His purpose. So make no mistake, that although I’m using language of a ‘credit system’ and an ‘account balance’ this does not mean that I’m speaking in terms of monetary wealth or finances. I’m not proposing a prosperity gospel here. This is merely a picture, an analogy that has always helped me to understand, and as C.S. Lewis would say, ‘This is only a picture, not the thing itself, and if it doesn’t help you then feel free to throw it out.’
Another point I’d like to highlight before moving on, is that Jesus has healed this servant based soley upon the faith of the centurion soldier, not based upon any faith set forth by the servant. The servant is lying paralyzed at home, he’s helpless. Now maybe he is aware that the centurion has come to Jesus appealing on his behalf, and perhaps he is hopeful, but it’s the centurion who has sought out Jesus, it is he who has expressed faith. This is an excellent example of intercession. We use the term ‘intercessory prayer’, which is going to God appealing to Him on behalf of someone else. So may we too remember to be thankful for those loved ones in our lives who are faithful and appeal to God, making intercession to the Lord on our behalf, even in those times that we may not be aware of.
Now before moving on, there is one more point here, that for the sake of clarity and exposition, I do feel the need to take the time to address, and that is the idea that some have argued that this relationship between the Roman centurion and his young male servant is homosexual in nature. This is not a widely held view, certainly one that I was not previously aware of until further researching this topic. And I debated with even including this portion of information within this study. Aside from prayer, what was a convincing factor that lead me to include it, was that if I were to play devil’s advocate, in other words, if I were to be a proponent of this homosexuality theory, I could give you one half of the argument, my position, and it’s very convincing. Without the other half, without the full picture, you would be persuaded. As it’s stated in the book of Proverbs:
The first to state his case seems right, until another comes and cross-examines him. (Proverbs 18:17)
And I believe the Lord’s response to my prayer of hesitation was, in essence, ‘Well what would you have done for you?’ As I mentioned before, I was not previously aware of this viewpoint, so if someone were to have hit me with it, well then I would’ve been uninformed and unprepared. So again, for the sake of clarity and exposition, and for the equipment of truth, I have indeed chosen to include it.
So in the argument, it would be brought to attention that the word translated as ‘servant’ usually is the Greek word doulos, that is the more common term used for servant. However, with this particular servant , on several instances it’s translated using the Greek word pais. This meaning refers to a young child servant. It’s mostly used in reference to a boy, but there is a situation in Luke chapter 8 verses 49-54 where it’s used to refer to a girl child. This is where Jesus raises Jairus’ daughter from the dead. It appears twice, once in verse 51, and again in verse 54, it’s rendered as ‘child’, speaking of the little girl.
In this same account of the Roman centurion recorded in Luke, it’s always translated as doulos except once, and that is when being used by the centurion himself.
“But say the word, and let my servant(pais) be healed.” (Luke 7:7)
This is where it would be argued that the use of this term, points to a sexual nature. However, this same word is translated in Matthew chapter 12 verse 18 in a prophecy from Isaiah being quoted about Jesus:
“Behold, My servant(pais) whom I have chosen, My beloved with whom My soul is well pleased. I will put My Spirit upon Him, and He will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.”
In Luke chapter 2 verse 43, it’s used about Jesus as a boy. This is where Joseph and Mary and Jesus, when He’s 12 years old, they travel to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.
And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy(pais) Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, though His parents were not aware of it (Luke 2:43)
It’s used again in Matthew chapter 17 verse 18 where the father brings his demon-possessed son to the disciples, but they are unable to drive it out, so he then appeals to Jesus:
And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy(pais) was healed instantly. (Matt 17:18)
This child, was the man’s son. In verse 15 he clearly states, “my son”.
We have a clear example of both words being used in John chapter 4 verses 49-51:
The official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go, your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants(doulos) met him and told him that his son(pais) was recovering. (John 4:49-51)
There are four more times where the word is used in the book of Acts, again referring to Jesus Himself.
The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant(pais) Jesus (Acts 3:13)
God, having raised up His servant(pais), sent Him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:26)
were gathered together against Your holy servant(pais) Jesus, whom You anointed
while You stretch out Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of Your holy servant(pais) Jesus.” (Acts 4:30)
So this Greek word pais is translated a total of 24 times throughout the New Testament, and never, not once, is it used to hint or allude to a sexual relationship. As we’ve seen, oftentimes it’s used for the relationship between God the Father and His beloved servant Jesus, speaking of a Father/Son type bond.
Now there is one other distinction that will be pointed to, as a ‘one-two punch’, the second half to this same argument. That is found in Luke chapter 7 verse 2:
And a centurion’s servant, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. (Luke 7:2)
This phrase “highly regarded”, or in the King James Version, “dear to him”, is the Greek word entimos, meaning highly regarded or precious. While certainly a term of endearment, again, nowhere is this word used with any sexual connotation. In fact, had the author Luke intended to imply a sexual type love, he would’ve used the word eros instead. This word is used only five times in the New Testament, two of which appear in 1 Peter chapter 2 verses 4 and 6, both times being translated as ‘precious’:
As you come to Him, the living stone, rejected by men, but chosen and precious in the sight of God (1 Peter 2:4)
For it stands in Scripture, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in Him shall never be put to shame.” (1 Peter 2:6)
So, having looked at each of these within context, we see that while there is obviously a level of endearment being expressed, there is absolutely no cause, no contextual basis, no plausible evidence to assume that this somehow implies a homosexual relationship. That is a biased view which would have to be read into the text, not out of it. A distorted perversion of what is actually being expressed here, which is most likely a father/son type of sentiment. Especially since these same words are used in reference to the relationship between Christ Jesus and His Father. Him being highly valued, entimos, precious in the sight of God.
Alright, that brings us to our second instance, the only other occurrence where we’re told that Jesus marveled, found in Mark chapter 6 verses 1-6:
He went away from there and came to His hometown, and His disciples followed Him.
And on the Sabbath He began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard Him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to Him? How are such mighty works done by His hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. And He marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:1-6)
So the first time we see Jesus marvel, it is in response to the great faith displayed by the Roman centurion. This time though, what causes Jesus to marvel is an incredible lack of faith. He marvels at their unbelief. What a contrast. With the Gentile soldier, He finds faith from somewhere it wouldn’t have necessarily been expected. Here in His own hometown of Nazareth, a place where it would’ve been expected, it is strangely absent.
To be clear, when I speak of unexpectedness, I do not believe that this caught Jesus off guard or unaware. We know that John chapter 2 verse 24 says,
But Jesus on His part did not did entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men
And there are other situations throughout the gospels, in which Jesus perceives what the people were thinking, and would then address those thoughts openly. So while I don’t believe this caught Jesus unaware, it is clear that this is a manifestation of awe. Not in the admirable sense as with the centurion, but in the critical sense. This is an astounding unbelief.
Nazareth was a small, relatively obscure village, about 25 kilometers from the Sea of Galilee. Scholars have said that there would’ve only been, at most about five hundred people living there at this time.
Think about that for a moment. The fact that Jesus, the Word which became flesh, Immanuel – God with us, came and chose to live for thirty years of His humanity, in that kind of obscurity. What a privilege for this otherwise insignificant little village. That for those thirty years, they almost in a way, had the Son of God reserved to themselves. They were able to observe His outward life as He grew. They were able to socialize and to interact with Him, and to hear the words that He spoke.
Verse 2 mentions that on the sabbath, He was in the synagogue teaching. It was a customary practice that a visiting Rabbi would be given the opportunity to teach in the local synagogue, and we see this throughout Christ’s earthly ministry.
and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath (Luke 4:16)
Synagogue literally means ‘gathering’ or ‘assembly’. There were no synagogues in Jerusalem because that is where the temple was located, but these would be dispersed throughout the surrounding towns and villages wherein the Jewish people were able to gather together to read the Scriptures and to worship. A similar equivalent to our modern-day local church buildings. During His traveling circuit of ministry, Jesus and His disciples, would enter these local synagogues, where He would be given the floor to expound the Scriptures.
So initially, we see there is this respect afforded to Jesus by their giving Him the opportunity to teach. Perhaps this was motivated by a sense of curiosity, intrigue. After all, this is the hometown Son who has now become quite famous. By this point, they have surely heard of His ministry, about the miracles and the healings that he has performed. We actually see evidence of this in the text, at the end of verse 2 when they ask “How are such mighty works done by His hands?” But we see later on in verse 5, that He could do no mighty works there among them because of their unbelief. So these are obviously based on reports that they’ve been hearing about His ministry.
We should also notice that this is not the first time that Jesus has come into Nazareth to teach in their synagogue. He’s been here before about a year earlier at the outset of His public ministry. We’re told of this in Luke chapter 4 verses 16-30. This is after His baptism by John in the Jordan, after His temptation in the wilderness, it says He comes into Nazareth and enters the synagogue on the Sabbath. He’s handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and it says ‘He found the place where it is written’, so this was intentional, and He reads that Messianic prophecy in Isaiah chapter 61 verse 1, and the beginning half of verse 2. It’s important to notice where he stops reading, as the full verse reads:
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn (Isaiah 61:2)
Jesus stops reading before it mentions ‘the day of vengeance of our God’, because this will not be fulfilled until His second coming. He rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down. All the eyes in the synagogue are fixed upon Him, and He says “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” When the people heard these things, it says they were filled with wrath, and they drove Jesus out of the town and up on a hill in order to throw Him down the cliff. They were literally going to try and kill Him. But it says Jesus passed through their midst and went about His way.
So here He has come again, about a year later, after He’s been fulfilling those words of Isaiah, and after they’ve tried to kill Him the first time. This is an example of His patient mercy. As it’s written in 2 Peter chapter 3 verse 9:
The Lord is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
In verse 2 it says that they were ‘astonished by His teaching’. You will not find a better preacher than Jesus. In John chapter 7 verse 46, the officers answer about Jesus: “No one has ever spoken like this man!” So His teaching, His authority was certainly potent. We can see that their hearts were moved, but instead of yielding to the message, instead of receiving the truth, they harden themselves against it.
What’s ironic is, here are these people gathered together in this synagogue, assembled in the name of learning and sharing God’s word – and yet, here is the Word made flesh, standing before them, and He’s communicating that truth to them. And they are struck by it, they are in awe of it. But instead of receiving it gladly, they begin to question the source of it. “Where did this man get these things? What is this wisdom given to Him?”
And notice how they ask, “Is this not the carpenter, Son of Mary?” This is most likely an insult, because typically you would identify the man with his father. So even if Joseph had passed away by this point, which is more than likely, “Son of Joseph” would’ve been the natural way of wording it. And we see later in John chapter 8 verse 41, the Jewish leaders say to Jesus, “We were not born of fornication, we have one father, God.” This is a slight against Him, questioning the origin and legitimacy of His birth.
They go on to say, “the brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon, and are not His sisters here among us?” By the way, James and Judas were the half brothers of Jesus who wrote the New Testament epistles James and Jude. Anyway, these siblings being mentioned here once again disproves the Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary remained a perpetual virgin. This teaching is not only unscriptural, it is also unnecessary. Yes, Jesus was certainly virgin born. When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announces that she will give birth to the Messiah, she is quite surprised and asks “How can this be since I am a virgin and have not known a man?” Also when the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph, because naturally he would have some questions. The angel reassures him to take Mary as his wife, and notice how it says, ‘he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and he took Mary to be his wife, but knew her not until after she had given birth to a son.’ (Matthew 1:24-25) So by all means, after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph had a normal fruitful marriage bearing children.
And notice what it says next, ‘and they were offended at Him.’ So not only were they disbelieving in the message, but they were also displeased with the messenger Himself. He bothers them. Have you ever noticed how people can not only disagree with the truth, but they find it personally offensive. It gets under their skin, it annoys them. They want to dismiss it, and not only that, but they want to distance themselves from it. Jesus responds in verse 4, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” Have you ever heard the expression, “familiarity breeds contempt”? That’s what’s happening here. At first glance, their questions may seem complimentary. But they are not asking these questions interested in the truth, they are asking with a sense of contempt. “But we know this man, we know His family. Isn’t this just the carpenter? He made the yoke for my oxen, granted it is the best yoke I’ve ever seen, but still, who does He think He is to come here and tell us how to live, or claim to be the Messiah?” It’s this type of attitude.
I like the response to that expression, “No, familiarity breeds contempt in contemptable people.” See, when we choose not to display respect for that which is truly respectful, we are not demonstrating a lack in that particular thing, we are demonstrating a lack in ourselves.
And verse 5, ‘And He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.’ What a contrast from what we’ve seen in the previous chapters. Jesus speaks to the wind and the waves, and they obey Him. He speaks to sickness and disease, and they obey Him. He speaks to unclean spirits and commands them to come out, and they obey Him. Now we’re being told of something He could not do. Now keep in mind, while I do believe the author is trying to illustrate this contrast, this doesn’t mean unable in the sense of Christ’s power or ability. If He wanted to, He could’ve healed everyone in Nazareth, all 500 villagers. We see later that He goes on to feed more than 5,000. No, this doesn’t speak of any lack in the ability of the Son of God, rather, this is a decision, a judgement. This is a consequence of their willful rejection of Him. He’s not going to reward this type of stubborn unbelief. Just as Hebrews chapter 11 verse 6 states:
For without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to Him, must first believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.
So if you are not acknowledging Him by faith, and drawing near to Him, believing that He is a rewarder of those who earnestly, diligently seek Him, then you aren’t receiving these things. But what is God’s heart? What is Christ’s heart? Look in Matthew chapter 23 verse 37:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37)
No, our unbelief does not hinder God nor His ability, it hinders us.
One final thing that I believe is noteworthy to consider. That is, if we were in a church service, and witnessed one or two people being healed of some obvious illness or physical impairment, we would call that a mighty work, right? A miracle. However by Christ’s standards, what He’s been accomplishing day by day in His ministry – healing all manner of sickness, casting out demons, feeding the multitudes, for Him to just lay His hands of a few sick people and heal them, it’s almost as if He’s done nothing mighty. Verse 5 says, ‘He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.’ I would say that was a mighty work for those individuals who were sick. Imagine how grateful and relieved you would be if you were one of those people. And obviously they had the faith to come to Him, so they did receive their healing. But in comparison to the scope of Christ’s ministry, this wasn’t even considered a mighty work at all.
In closing, we’ve taken an in-depth look at the only two occurrences in scripture wherein Jesus marveled, both of which were in response to faith. One positively, at a great faith, and one negatively, at a lack of faith. Two ends of the spectrum. So we must ask ourselves, which end of the spectrum do we want to be on?
Did you know that there are only two occasions in the New Testament Gospels wherein we’re told that Jesus Marveled? In this sixth episode of the podcast, we’re going to take a closer look at each of those instances, with the goal to gain valuable insight for our daily walk and relationship with Christ.