THE BIRTH OF JOHN FORETOLD
Over four hundred years had passed since Nehemiah finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. During those years the Jews had been through many difficult times. There were still a few prophets, but by and large, the people had to rely on the inspired written Scriptures. The Greeks captured their land and tried to put an end to the worship of God. The Jews rebelled and overthrew the Greeks, only to have the Romans conquer them not long afterward. The Jews hated the Romans. God had promised to send them their own king to save them, and they could not wait for this promise to come true. The king would be from the line of David and set up a new, glorious kingdom for them. They called this promised king the Messiah, or the Christ. They waited and waited, but no Messiah came. Before this king came, it was also said that God would send them another prophet; but this prophet had not come either. So the people waited.
One of the people waiting was a priest named Zacharias. He had married a woman named Elizabeth, who also belonged to a family of priests. Zacharias and his wife were older, and God had never given them any children. They prayed many times and asked God to give them a child, but their prayers had not been answered. Still they served Him faithfully because they knew that God always does what’s best.
Since there were many priests, Zacharias spent most of his time where his home was in the hill country of Judea (previously known as Judah). Once though, when Zacharias was serving at the temple, he was chosen by lot to burn incense on the golden altar in the holy place, the name of the first room in the temple, where only the priests could enter. In the morning and the evening, Zacharias went into the holy place alone to offer sweet perfumes of incense on the altar. And while he was there, the people who came to the temple to worship stood in the courtyards outside and prayed.
All of a sudden, while Zacharias was offering incense, an angel appeared out of nowhere, standing on the right side of the altar. Fear washed over Zacharias. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord; and he will drink no wine or liquor, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
As Zacharias listened he wondered how he and Elizabeth could even have a baby at their age. And this was not going to be just any baby. He would become the prophet of the promised king. Even though God had sent an angel to him, Zacharias could not believe the message. He asked the angel to show him a sign so he would know for sure that these things would happen. The angel answered, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their proper time.” Then the angel disappeared as suddenly as he had come.
The people stood outside waiting and wondering why Zacharias was staying so long in the holy place. When he did return to them, he could not speak; but he showed them with hand gestures that he had seen a vision from God. Not long after this, Zacharias finished his time of service at the temple. He left Jerusalem and returned to his home in the hill country of Judea, still unable to speak. It probably was not what Zacharias had been hoping for, but he had received his sign.
THE BIRTH OF JESUS FORETOLD
Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-56
About six months after Elizabeth became pregnant, the angel Gabriel came to a young woman named Mary. Mary grew up in Nazareth, a city in Galilee—a region where many Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews) lived. And she and a good man named Joseph were looking forward to marrying each other. Joseph was a descendant of King David, and Mary may have been one too, but they were poor. Joseph was a carpenter, working with his tools to make a living for himself and to make a home for his bride.
When Gabriel came to Mary, she was amazed to see an angel; but she was even more amazed when she heard the message that he had for her. Gabriel told her that God had chosen her to become the mother of the Savior. Mary was to name Him Jesus. He told her that Jesus would be a king and that He would rule over Israel forever. Confused, she wondered how this could be possible, for she was a virgin. Gabriel replied that through a miracle God would cause her to become pregnant and that the Child would be called the Son of God as a result.
The angel also told Mary about the baby promised to Zacharias and Elizabeth, adding, “And she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary knew that God could give her this wonderful Child that the angel had promised. So she said, “May it be done to me according to your word.” Fortunately, Mary was wise enough not to ask for a sign. She was also very brave to accept this honor because she could get into a lot of trouble by becoming pregnant before she was married.
Now, Mary knew Elizabeth, the older woman the angel told her about, because Elizabeth was her cousin. And she knew how Elizabeth had wanted to have a child for many years. Although she lived far away, Mary wanted to see Elizabeth. So she decided to visit her. When Mary arrived, God revealed to Elizabeth that Mary would someday be the mother of the coming king. The two women spent many happy days together, then Mary returned to her own home in Nazareth.
When she returned, Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant. He knew he was not the father. He had never even slept with Mary. But he was a righteous man, so he decided to break things off quietly in order to reduce the amount of public shame that Mary was about to face. But before Joseph was able to do this, an angel of the Lord spoke to him in a dream and told him what had happened. He also told Joseph that Jesus would save His people from their sins. So Joseph took the angel’s advice and married Mary, and they waited for the angel’s promise to come true.
THE BIRTH OF JOHN
A time of great celebration had come to a quiet little home in the hill country of Judea, for God had sent the promised child to Zacharias and Elizabeth. And all their neighbors and relatives were rejoicing with these happy parents.
When the child was eight days old, preparations were made to give him a name, as this was the custom of the Jews. The friends and relatives assumed that he would be named Zacharias, after his father. But Elizabeth told them, “No indeed; but he shall be called John.”
They were very surprised by this, and they said, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by that name.” When they asked Zacharias about the name, he motioned for a writing tablet. He simply wrote “His name is John.” At that very moment, Zacharias was able to speak again. And he praised God.
News of this special baby spread all through the hill country, and people were very interested in him. They believed that baby John would grow up to be a great man. Zacharias prophesied about John, saying, “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare His ways; to give to His people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God.”
Zacharias and Elizabeth cared for their little son as long as they lived. And they saw that God was blessing John and causing him to grow strong and brave. Before the prophecies about him came to pass, John spent time living quietly in the desert and studying the books that God’s prophets had written. He also listened carefully to the voice of God and learned to understand God’s will.
THE BIRTH OF JESUS
Before Mary could give birth, the emperor of Rome ordered everyone in the empire to go to the towns or cities where their ancestors had lived in order to be counted in a census and registered for taxation. Since Joseph was from the family of King David, he and Mary headed south to Bethlehem—David’s home town. But when they reached Bethlehem, they found that it was already full of people; and there was no more room for new arrivals.
The long journey from Nazareth had been very tiring, and Mary needed a place to rest. But Joseph could not find any place except in a stable. So they stayed there during their first days in Bethlehem. God had not forgotten His promise to Mary, and one night while they were in Bethlehem, she gave birth. Mary wrapped the Child in soft cloths, called swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger. A manger is a kind of trough where the cattle normally feed. But it was warm, comfortable, and the best place she could find.
The people of Bethlehem did not know the magnitude of what was taking place there that night. God’s greatest gift to human beings had come into their humble neighborhood. That gift was Himself. The world’s true King had come to redeem humanity and the rest of His broken creation.
There were shepherds watching their flocks that night in a field near Bethlehem. David, the shepherd king, may have watched sheep in that same field many years before. Suddenly, an angel appeared, and a glorious light shined on them through the darkness. Shaking with fear, the shepherds looked at the angel and wondered why he had come to them. Then he spoke, saying, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The King had come! This was the message every Jew longed to hear! The shepherds listened carefully to the angel’s words; and when he finished speaking, they saw many other angels join him and begin to praise God. The angels declared, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!”
When their praise had ended, the angels went back to heaven and the glorious light faded again into the darkness of the quiet night. The shepherds did not wait until daylight to hurry to Bethlehem to search for the extraordinary Child, but said to one another, just as soon as the angels disappeared, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they left their flocks and hurried to Bethlehem, and there they found Mary and Joseph in the stable, with the baby Savior lying in a manger, just as the angel had said.
The shepherds told Mary and Joseph about the angels and their announcement. They probably knelt before the manger and worshiped the little Child who lay quietly sleeping in the hay. Then they ran into the streets of Bethlehem and told everyone they met about the angel’s visit and the promised king in the stable. And the people wondered about the amazing things that the shepherds had told them.
When the Child was eight days old, Joseph and Mary gave him a name, the one that the angel Gabriel had told them. That name, Jesus, means “The LORD is salvation,” and it was to remind us of the work that God had sent Him to do.
Now, in the Law, the Lord commanded that an offering be made for the first male child born into each family. Among the rich people this offering was to be a lamb; but among the poor people, the offering of only two young pigeons pleased God just as well. So when Jesus was forty days old, Joseph and Mary took Him to the temple in Jerusalem to give their offering to the Lord; and since they were poor, they offered pigeons.
An older man named Simeon was at the temple when Joseph and Mary came to bring their offering. This man had served God for many years, and he wanted to see the Savior that God had promised to send into the world. And the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Savior. When he saw baby Jesus at the temple, the Spirit led him to recognize this Child as that promised Savior. He came quickly to meet Mary and took Jesus in his arms. He prophesied that Jesus would not only be the Savior of the Jews, but of all people.
Another faithful servant of the Lord was at the temple that day—an older woman named Anna. She was a prophetess, who spent her life praying and fasting there at the temple. When she saw Jesus, she too gave thanks to God. She told the people who stood in the courtyards of the temple about this Child of promise.
Mary never forgot the words of these dear people about her precious Child. She also remembered the story that the shepherds had told. In the days that followed, Mary thought about these amazing things and wondered how Jesus would finally become the King and Savior of the world.
HE MAGI FROM THE EAST
In a country far to the east of Judea there lived some men called magi (a word related to magician) who were experts in astrology, astronomy, and other studies. One night they found a new star in the sky, one they had never seen before. God somehow revealed to them that the Christ, the promised king of the Jews, had been born and that the star marked His location.
Because these men were wealthy, they planned to make the long journey to Judea and bring valuable gifts to the newborn king. Then they would worship him. For many days they traveled across the sandy desert, and at last they came to the country where the Jews lived. By the time they arrived, Jesus was probably at least six months old, or perhaps almost two years old.
When the magi arrived they went to Jerusalem, expecting that the Jews were already aware that their Messiah had come. So they asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” Herod the Great, king of Judea, was residing in Jerusalem at that time. He was surprised to hear why these strangers had come to his city. Herod had not heard any reports that the Jews’ long-expected Messiah had been born, and he was upset. The rest of the residents of Jerusalem were also troubled. They were afraid of how Herod might respond to news of another king, even if the new king was very young.
King Herod had to do something about this rival king that the magi were seeking. He feared that this newborn king would take away his throne, and he wanted the throne of Judea kept for himself and his sons after him. But Herod had no idea where he could find this King of the Jews. So he called the chief priests and the scribes and asked them where the Savior would be born. Now, the chief priests and scribes were the men who read the books that the prophets had written long ago, and they understood that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem.
Herod then called the magi to himself in secret. He probably realized that if he showed too much interest in this king, the Jews would figure out what he was up to. The magi were clearly excited about this Messiah, so he tried not to let them know how he felt either. He asked them, very politely, when they had first seen this unusual star in the east, and they told him. Then he urged them to hurry on to Bethlehem and search carefully and find the Child. “When you have found Him,” said Herod, “report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.” And with these words he let them go on their way.
The magi rode their camels again and took the southern road, leading to Bethlehem. It would not be a very long ride to the birthplace of the newborn king, and remembering Herod’s order, they quickly went to find the Child. Once outside the city gates of Jerusalem, they saw the star, the same star that they had seen so brightly in their own country. It was moving slowly ahead of them, as if it were leading them to the right place. They rejoiced greatly, knowing that God was helping them find the king He had sent.
When they reached Bethlehem, the star stood still over the place where Mary and Joseph were living. And the magi finally saw the Child about whom the prophets had written. They bowed in humble worship in front of Him, and then they gave Him the expensive gifts that they had brought from their homeland.
God spoke to the magi in a dream one night while they were in Bethlehem, warning them not to return to Herod. So they went back to their own country on another road, and Herod never saw them again. Not long afterward an angel spoke to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Take the Child and His mother and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is going to search for the Child to destroy Him.”
Joseph got up right away, and while it was still dark, he took Mary and the baby Jesus and hurried away from Bethlehem. For many days they traveled to the southwest, until they came to the land of Egypt. There they lived until an angel came to tell them that the evil Herod was dead.
But in the meantime, Herod waited for the magi to return, bringing him news from Bethlehem, as he had told them to do. However, as the days passed, and they did not come, he came to the conclusion that they had made a fool out of him; and he was furious.
Wanting to get rid of this king of the prophecies, Herod told his soldiers to go to Bethlehem and the surrounding area to kill every boy that was two years old or younger. When they were finished, Herod thought that he had gotten rid of this Child whom the magi wanted to worship.
When Herod died and the angel came to Joseph, he and his little family started traveling back from Egypt. When they came into Judea, they heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now the ruler of the Jews there; and Joseph was afraid that this new king might be evil, just as his father had been. Then God communicated to Joseph in a dream, and he and his family kept going on to Nazareth, in the region of Galilee. This is, of course, where Joseph and Mary had lived before Jesus was born. And Jesus was raised there.
THE MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST
Matthew 3:1-17, 14:3,4; Mark 1:2-11, 6:17-20; Luke 3: 1-22; John 1:6-34
While Jesus was growing up in the city of Nazareth, in Galilee, John, the son of Zacharias, was growing up in Judea. When he became a young man, John spent much of his time alone in the wilderness, most of which was a desert, listening to God’s voice. And he began to preach God’s words to the people who came out to listen. He wore an odd garment of camel’s hair and lived off locusts and wild honey, and people who heard about him came from every part of the land to hear him speak.
John’s preaching was powerful and penetrating. He told the people that they should turn away from their sins and begin to do right because God’s kingdom was coming soon. He also said that the Messiah was coming. People who confessed their sins were baptized in the river. For this reason they called him John the Baptist.
All types of people came to John to be baptized by him. When people came they asked him what they should do differently. He said that they should be unselfish and kind to others, especially the poor. He told those who had enough for themselves to share their food and their extra clothing with those who needed it. And he told the tax collectors and soldiers not to use their powerful positions to unfairly take money from people. Some of the religious rulers of the Jews—the Pharisees and the Sadducees—also came to John. But when he saw them, rather than welcoming them, John criticized them, saying, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” He said this because, while the religious leaders made themselves out to be very good, it was just a show. They were hypocrites, meaning actors or pretenders. For in reality they were proud, took advantage of the poor, and their hearts were not right before God.
One day Jesus came from Nazareth to the Jordan River, where John was preaching and baptizing people. When He got there, Jesus asked to be baptized too. But John did not want to do this. He felt, if anything, Jesus should baptize him. Jesus assured John that it was the right thing to do, so John went ahead and baptized Him.
When Jesus was coming up out of the water, the heavens suddenly opened above Him and the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, came down and rested on Him. Then a voice was heard from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.”
After baptizing Jesus, John continued to preach, and sometimes the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great, would listen to him. Herod Antipas often enjoyed John’s preaching; but he was annoyed whenever John told him about his sins, particularly about his marriage to his wife, Herodias. She was once married to his brother, and John said that it was not right for him to marry his own brother’s wife. Herodias herself became a bitter enemy of this brave preacher of the wilderness. She wanted her husband, Herod, to kill him; and to please her, he put John in prison.
THE TEMPTATION OF JESUS
Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12,13; Luke 4:1-13; Hebrews 2: 17-18, 4:15-16
After His baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the lonely desert wilderness. There He lived by Himself for forty days, without eating anything. Satan found Jesus all alone in the wilderness, so he tried to tempt Him there. Now, everything God had ever planned all depended on Jesus completing His mission. If Satan could just get Jesus to sin, the mission would fail; and Satan would succeed in ruining everything.
When the forty days had ended, Jesus was very hungry after going without food. Jesus’ hunger gave Satan an opening. He said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” He thought Jesus would give in to this temptation and try to prove that He was God’s Son. But Jesus answered with a quote from God’s Law, “ ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’ ” Although He was hungry, Jesus would not use His power to please Himself. He was willing to trust His heavenly Father to care for Him in that desert place.
Satan saw that he could not make Jesus give in to this temptation, so he tried another way. Taking Jesus to the very top of the temple in Jerusalem, he said, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’ ”
Satan was now the one quoting God’s words, but Jesus would still not bend. “On the other hand,” He answered, “it is written, ’You shall not put the LORD your God to the test.’ ” For God did not give us His promises so that we could attempt to manipulate Him.
We know of one other way Satan tried to tempt Jesus, and it may have been very appealing. Jesus was on earth to establish God’s kingdom. In order to do so, He would have to go through many temptations and trials and eventually die a horribly painful death. So Satan offered Jesus an easier way to get a kingdom. He said, “All these things I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me.” But Jesus knew that Satan never gives something for nothing, despite his promises. He simply answered, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.’ ”
Then Satan finally left Jesus alone. He could not find any way to push sin into the pure heart of the Son of God. And when he went away, the angels came from heaven and supplied Jesus’ needs. How they must have rejoiced because the Savior had won such a victory over the evil one!
But Satan did not give up entirely. Over the course of His life, Jesus would be tempted in every way that people on the earth are tempted; but He never sinned. Yet, through the experience of being tempted, He came to understand how we feel when we face temptation; and He knows how to help us when we call on Him in prayer.
THE FIRST DISCIPLES
One day after Jesus had returned from the lonely wilderness, John the Baptist saw Him walking along the road near the river. And John cried out, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Two young men from Galilee were with John that day and heard what he said. These young men were disciples, or students, of John. When they heard John’s words about Jesus, they decided right away to follow Him.
As the two young men started following Him, Jesus stopped and talked to them. He asked what they wanted from Him; and they answered, “Where are You staying?” Then Jesus invited them to come with Him, and He talked with them throughout the rest of the day. We do not know what Jesus told them, but they became convinced that He was the Messiah, or king, that they were expecting. How glad they were that He had come!
One of those young men was named Andrew. As soon as he believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, he went to tell his brother Simon about Him. Finding Simon, Andrew exclaimed, “We have found the Messiah!” Simon came with Andrew to see Jesus. When they arrived, Jesus gave Simon a nickname, Peter, meaning “Rock.” And together the two brothers followed Jesus.
The next day Jesus began His journey back to Galilee. He found someone named Philip and asked Philip to follow Him. Philip was excited to follow Jesus, and He also believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Now, Philip had a neighbor named Nathanael. Philip knew how much Nathanael wanted to see the coming king, and he went to Nathanael, saying, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” But Nathanael, knowing that the Messiah was supposed to be born in Bethlehem and having a low opinion of Nazareth, made fun of Philip’s claim. He asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip just replied, “Come and see.”
Because Philip was so excited, Nathanael came with him. When Jesus saw Nathanael, He said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked with surprise; and Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Now Nathanael was astonished. There was, of course, no way for Jesus to know where Nathanael had been without supernatural insight. So Nathanael exclaimed, “You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel!” Jesus replied, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”
JESUS TURNS WATER INTO WINE
In Cana, a little town of Galilee, lived some friends of Jesus and His mother. One day these friends invited Jesus, His mother, and His followers to attend a wedding at their home. They also invited many other people and made a large meal for them. These people may have been poor, for they did not have enough wine for the entire event. And before the end of the meal, the wine ran out.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, saw that they were out of wine, and she took Jesus aside to tell Him about it. She knew about His supernatural power, and she believed that He could help. This put Jesus in an awkward position. On the one hand, Jesus did not want to reveal His power at a celebration like this. But, on the other hand, His hosts were about to be embarrassed, and He was also determined to honor His mother. So when His mother told those who were serving the tables to do whatever Jesus said, Jesus was willing to help.
Now, the people throwing the wedding had six large waterpots. Waterpots like these could be found in every Jewish home back then. They were used to hold clean water for various uses including washing feet and hands. Jesus told the servants to fill the waterpots with water, and they did as He said. Then Jesus told them to draw some of the liquid from one of the pots and take it to the headwaiter. When they obeyed, they saw that the pots suddenly had wine in them instead of water.
The headwaiter did not realize that the wine supply had run out. And he did not know what Jesus had done. So when the headwaiter saw one of the servants bringing him some of the new wine, he assumed the people planned to serve it all along. As part of his job, he tasted it. As he tasted it, he was surprised because it was better than the first wine that had been served. The headwaiter said to the young man who had just been married, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.”
Even though the headwaiter did not know what had happened, Jesus’ followers did. When they saw what He had done, they were even more convinced that He was the promised Messiah; for they knew that no ordinary person could change water into wine.
JESUS AT THE TEMPLE AND WITH NICODEMUS
It was time for the yearly Passover Feast at Jerusalem, in Judea; and from every part of the land, groups of people came to attend this great religious celebration. In one of these groups were Jesus and His friends: Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. These men were also called His disciples, or students, because they went with Him from one place to another to learn from His teaching.
When Jesus arrived with His disciples at the temple grounds, He found all kinds of business going on in a courtyard where the people were supposed to be worshiping God. The beautiful courtyard looked more like a marketplace than a place of prayer. Oxen, sheep, and doves filled the place. Anyone could buy these to use for sacrifices. It was easier than bringing your own animals or birds. But regular money could not be used at the temple. Only “temple money” was accepted by the priests, so there were also money-changers in he temple courtyard. They would exchange regular money for the special temple coins—for a fee of course.
Jesus was sad and offended to see these things going on in the temple courtyard. He knew that the worshipers could not pray in such a noisy place, where buying, selling, and money exchanging were going on around them; and the business was completely inappropriate. So He made a whip by tying small cords together, and then He herded the oxen and sheep—and the men who kept them—out of the temple. He even turned over the tables of the money-changers, and He told them to stop doing business there.
Naturally, there were those who were unhappy that Jesus had done this. Some of them came to Jesus and demanded that He prove that He was special—someone with authority to do such things. But He would not give them the response they wanted. Instead, He replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” He was talking about Himself, meaning His body, when he said “this temple.” But they thought that He meant the temple buildings. So they dismissed Him, saying, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?”
At this Feast Jesus taught the people, and He also did some miracles. Many believed in Him when they heard His words and saw the miracles. One of those who was interested in Jesus’ teaching was Nicodemus, a rich ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus belonged to a group called the Pharisees. This group taught the people the Law of Moses. One night Nicodemus came to the place where Jesus was staying in Jerusalem, and he asked to have a talk with Him.
Jesus welcomed Nicodemus, and He talked to him about the kingdom of God. He told this Pharisee that no one could enter the kingdom without being born again. Of course, He did not mean that a person had to be physically born out of their mother again, but that the person’s whole life must be changed. Jesus went on to talk about the amazing love of God. “For God so loved the world,” said Jesus, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
As Jesus talked, Nicodemus did not understand everything He said, even though Nicodemus was a well-respected religious teacher among the Jews. But he was open to listen and consider Jesus’ teachings. He may have even believed Jesus was the Messiah. The other Pharisees in Judea were a different story. There was something about Jesus that they did not like; and they became upset when they found out that, in addition to His disciples, Jesus was now gaining more followers than John the Baptist had. Knowing they were upset, Jesus decided to return to Galilee.
JESUS ACCEPTED IN SAMARIA
Between Judea and Galilee was a region called Samaria. This region once belonged to the kingdom of Israel; but when the Israelites living in this region were taken away as captives by the Assyrian kings, strangers from other lands were brought into the region, and they made it their home.
These strangers learned about the God of the Israelites, but the Jews would not accept them as Israelites. So they were never allowed to worship God at the inner court of the temple in Jerusalem. Instead, they built their own temple and worshiped there until it was destroyed. At the time of Jesus, they were still hated by the Jews. The Jews hated them so much that they refused to go through Samaria when traveling between Judea and Galilee, even though this was the shortest, most logical route. Instead, they traveled along the border of Samaria.
Even though Jesus was a Jew, He did not hate the Samaritans. To Him they were precious too. He did not mind going through their country on His way back to His home in Galilee. Because Jesus wanted to take the shorter road, through Samaria, His disciples were willing to go that way too. So they traveled along, stopping at a little city called Sychar.
Near the city was a roadside well, which had been dug hundreds of years before by Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. When Jesus and His disciples reached this well, Jesus was tired; and He sat down by it to rest from His long walk. His disciples went on to the city to buy food, leaving Him there alone.
As Jesus was sitting by the well, a woman from Sychar came to it to get some water. She glanced at the stranger sitting there and saw that He was a Jew. She was probably surprised to see a Jew in the middle of Samaria, and she was definitely surprised when he asked her for a drink. Most Jews would not even talk to Samaritans. Confused, the woman asked, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?”
Jesus told her that if she knew who He was, she would have asked Him for a drink instead, for He could give her living water. Now the woman was even more confused. She said, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do you get that living water?” “Living water” was how the people in those days referred to water in motion, like water in a stream. But He could not even get water out the well, nor was there another source of water nearby. How could He give her living water? So she continued, “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?”
“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again,” answered Jesus; “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
The woman was listening, but she still was not understanding. She kept thinking of ordinary water and the well. She imagined how nice it would be not to have to do her chore of drawing water anymore. So she said, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”
At this point Jesus decided to drop the metaphor. He clearly wanted to talk about salvation, and comparing it to water was not working. As the Son of God, Jesus knew about everything; so He started telling the woman about her own life, particularly her personal history with men. The woman had been married five different times, and she was now living with a sixth man, but the two of them were not married. When Jesus mentioned all of this, she wondered how He could know these things since He had just met her. “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet,” she remarked. And then, probably because she was uncomfortable talking about her sins, she changed the subject. She mentioned the fact that Jews and Samaritans disagreed over where God should be worshiped. Jews said it was at the temple in Jerusalem. Samaritans claimed it was a mountain in their territory—the one where their temple had stood.
Jesus told her that the time had come when it would no longer matter where people worshiped God. Instead, they could pray to God and worship Him everywhere. “God is spirit,” He said, “and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Now, the Law of Moses had taught that the worship of God should revolve around one place, and while they disagreed on the place, both Jews and Samaritans accepted the Law of Moses. So the woman had not expected a Jew, or even a prophet, to say anything as incredible as that. She wanted to let Him know, politely, that she did not think He was qualified to teach such things. “I know that Messiah is coming,” she said, “When that one comes, He will declare all things to us.” Then Jesus said, “I who speak to you am He.” The woman must have been speechless at this point! Meanwhile, the disciples returned from the city, bringing food to eat.
When the disciples came, the woman left and went to the city to tell people about the amazing man she had just met. The disciples wondered why Jesus had been talking to her, a Samaritan woman, but none of them was willing to ask Him about it. Instead, they tried to offer Him some of the food they had just bought. But He would not eat. He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” They were confused and asked one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” When they said this, Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.”
When the Samaritan woman reached the city, she told the people about Jesus, the stranger who had already known things about her. “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” she asked. And they came with her to Jesus. Jesus talked with the Samaritans, and they invited Him to stay in their city and teach them more. So He stayed two more days. Then He went on His way to Galilee, leaving behind Him Samaritans who had listened to Him speak and believed His message. By His words alone they were convinced that He was the Savior of the world.
JESUS REJECTED AT NAZARETH
While in Galilee, Jesus came to Nazareth, his hometown. On the Sabbath He attended the service at the synagogue. When it was time for the service to begin, Jesus stood up to read to the people; and the minister of the synagogue brought him a copy of the book that the prophet Isaiah had written many years before. Jesus found where Isaiah wrote a prophecy about the Messiah, and He read it to the people. These are the words He read:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD.”
Now, the people of Nazareth had heard about Jesus’ miracles and His teachings in other cities, and they wanted to hear for themselves what this son of Joseph, the carpenter, would say. But these people were surprised when they heard Jesus’ words. They did not know that He could speak so well. For a while they listened very carefully. Jesus told them that Isaiah’s words were fulfilled by His coming. He was the preacher of restoration that Isaiah had promised. They were impressed at first, but then they started asking one another, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
Jesus was making Himself out to be much more important than they thought He was. They did not believe that Isaiah had written anything about Him. To them, He was just a guy who had grown up in their town. Knowing that they wanted Him to prove Himself to them, Jesus reminded them that God had used the prophets Elijah and Elisha to perform miracles for people outside of Israel because these people accepted God’s prophets, while the people in Israel did not. Jesus was telling the people of Nazareth that they could not reject Him and expect to get any special favors based on who they were or where they lived.
The people in the synagogue were enraged at what Jesus said. They felt that Jesus did not know His place and was insulting them. He had dared to put them, members of God’s chosen people, on trial against worthless Gentiles; and had found in favor of the Gentiles! They would not stand for this, so they formed a mob and wanted to kill Him.
The mob forced Jesus out of the synagogue and then out of the city, to the top of the high hill that Nazareth was built on. They intended to throw Him off a cliff to His death. And so the days of Elijah and Elisha repeated themselves. While the Samaritan foreigners had believed and accepted Jesus; these Jews, to whom He had been sent, did not. But it was not time for Jesus to die. So before they could throw Him off the cliff, He miraculously passed right through the middle of the mob and walked away. They were powerless to stop Him. He simply left them and kept on going.
JESUS ACCEPTED AT CAPERNAUM
Matthew 4:13-25, 8:14-16; Mark 1:16-39; Luke 4:31-5:11
When Jesus left Nazareth, He went to Capernaum, a city by the Sea of Galilee (also known as the lake of Gennesaret). In Capernaum, Jesus taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath days, and the people there listened to Him. He did not instruct them as their usual Jewish teachers did, repeating the traditional teachings handed down to them. Instead, His words always sounded new and authoritative, just as if God Himself were speaking.
Now, sometime before, when they had returned home from the Feast of the Passover, Jesus’ disciples had gone back to their homes in Capernaum. One morning Andrew and Peter (also known as Simon), both fishermen, were busy at work at the Sea of Galilee when they saw Jesus walking along the shore. He called to them, and they left their nets and followed Him. Jesus also called to their fishing partners, John and James, and they left their boat.
On the next Sabbath day, Jesus and His disciples were at the synagogue service in Capernaum. Jesus was teaching, and a man whom Satan had sent a demon into was there. The demon made the man shout, “Let us alone! What business do we have with each other, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” Jesus was not happy to have a demon speak to Him like this, so He ordered the demon to be silent and come out of the man. And the demon caused the man to go into convulsions and cry out on the floor in front everyone, but it came out without harming the man.
When those standing by saw what Jesus had done, they were amazed. They had never seen anyone with the power to get rid of a demon so easily. They said to one another, “What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him!”
After the service ended, Jesus and His disciples went from the synagogue to the home of Peter and Andrew. When they arrived, Jesus was told that Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. So Jesus went into the room where she was suffering. He came to her bedside, and taking hold of her hand, He helped her sit up. At that very moment the fever left her and she became well again. Then she got up from her bed and helped to make food for the disciples and the teacher who had restored her.
Since it was the Sabbath, the Jews were to rest, but they had seen Jesus’ power to heal in the synagogue. So at sundown, the time when the Sabbath day ended, they started making their way to Peter and Andrew’s home. From every direction the people were coming, some with disabled friends leaning on their arms, and others guiding their blind friends along. Still others had sick children, family members with various diseases, or relatives with demons living in them. All of them were coming to ask Jesus to heal their friends and loved ones. And He healed them all.
Jesus got up very early the next morning and went outside the city. He looked for a place where He could be all alone to talk with His heavenly Father. When daylight came, people began coming again to Peter’s home, asking for Jesus. But Jesus was not there. Peter and his friends began to search for Him, and they found Him at His place of prayer. They told Him about the people who had come early to find Him again, and Jesus said, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” So the disciples went with Him to visit other cities in Galilee, and Jesus taught in the synagogues there. He also continued to heal people and remove demons.
Later He returned again to Capernaum, and His disciples went back to their work as fishermen. But Jesus continued to teach the people who came to hear His words. One day He went out to the seaside where His disciples were at work, washing their nets. Many people saw Him leave the city, and they followed. Soon a large crowd gathered on the shore, excited to hear Him preach. So Jesus asked permission to sit in Peter’s boat and speak to the people who stood on the shore.
When Jesus finished speaking, He told Peter to row out into the deep water and lower his nets to catch some fish. Peter replied, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say and let down the nets.” So they rowed away from the land and let down their nets once more. This time many fish quickly swam into the nets and were caught. Peter and Andrew could not lift them out of the water by themselves, and their nets actually began to break because of the weight of so many fish. They signaled for their partners, James and John, and the four men worked together. Soon the boat was filled, and they began to put more fish in the second boat. There were so many fish in the boats now that before long they began to sink, and they were all amazed.
The miracle caught Peter off guard. He fell down before Jesus and said, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus replied, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.” When the fishermen made their way back to the shore, they left their boats and walked with Jesus from one city to another, helping Him and learning daily more and more about the kingdom of God.
JESUS HEALS ON THE SABBATH
Matthew 12:9-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:6-11; John 5:1-18
It was once again time for a religious feast; so Jesus traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem. Not far from the temple in Jerusalem was a pool called Bethesda or Bethzatha. At certain times the water in this pool stirred, and people believed that at these times the water would heal the first person who stepped into it.
Many sick and disabled people came to the pool and waited a long time for the water to move. One Sabbath day, while Jesus was in Jerusalem, He saw a paralyzed man lying on a sleeping mat near the pool. Even though no one told Him, Jesus knew that the man had been unable to walk for nearly forty years. He stopped near the man and asked gently, “Do you wish to get well?”
The disabled man may have thought that this was a strange question, since it seemed clear why he was there. So he decided to explain his situation: “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” The man was probably hoping that Jesus would volunteer to help him into the water when the time came. However, Jesus had something better in mind.
Jesus told him to pick up his mat and walk. The surprised man felt strength coming into his weak body, and he jumped to his feet. Then he picked up the mat and began to walk. Some religious Jews saw him carrying his mat, and they stopped him. They felt that carrying a mat fell under the definition of work; and since work was not allowed on the Sabbath, they were upset. The man told them that he was only carrying the mat because the Man who healed him had told him to carry it. When they heard this, they did not seem to pay attention to the fact that the man had been healed. They just wanted to know who would dare to tell the man to carry a mat on the Sabbath! But the man did not know who Jesus was, so he could not tell them.
Not long afterward Jesus found the man in the temple area. Now the man knew who Jesus was, and he ran to tell the people that it was Jesus who had made him well. The people were angry because Jesus had done these things on the Sabbath day. Then Jesus made them even angrier. He said that He was allowed to work on the Sabbath because God, His Father, does. By saying this Jesus was claiming to be equal with God. Of course, they thought He was just a man, so they wanted to kill Him for saying this.
Now, there were other times as well when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath. For example, there was the time He saw a man with a withered hand; that is, a hand that was small, improperly formed, and mostly useless. On this occasion Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, and He knew that the Pharisees were watching Him. Jesus called the man forward. Then He said to all the people in the synagogue, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” Then he added, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
Then Jesus turned to the man standing before the congregation and told him to stretch out his hand. The man obeyed, and immediately the hand was healed. The Pharisees left the synagogue enraged and began plotting to kill Jesus.
JESUS HEALS A MAN WITH LEPROSY
Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16
Everywhere He went, people were coming up to Jesus and asking to be healed. One day Jesus was approached by an unfortunate man who had leprosy, a condition that attacks the skin. The Law of Moses said he could not participate in worship or live with his family. His presence would frighten people, and his life was sad and lonely. He was not even allowed to come in contact with anyone who did not have a skin condition like his. But he took a chance and approached Jesus, falling down in front of Him and begging to be healed.
The man told Jesus that he knew that if Jesus was willing, He could restore his health (and his place in society). Seeing the man, Jesus was moved by compassion; and He reached out and touched him. Nobody else would have ever touched the man! According to the Law of Moses, it meant having to go before a priest and offering a sacrifice. It also meant risking getting the condition. And beyond that, it was completely unnecessary for Jesus to touch him. Jesus did not need to touch people in order to heal them. But out of compassion He touched the man anyway. And at that moment the man’s skin became fresh and new.
In the Law of Moses, it was written that people with this condition were to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to God when they were healed. So Jesus reminded the man to do this; but He also instructed him not to tell anyone about what had happened. Yet, the man could not keep himself from telling others, and the news of this great miracle spread throughout the countryside. Jesus was already attracting large crowds, but now they got even larger. People were coming from everywhere. No one would leave Jesus alone, and He had to sneak off just to pray.
THE FAITH OF A ROMAN ARMY OFFICER
Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10
Jesus traveled with His disciples to Capernaum. In Capernaum there was a certain Roman army officer who had the rank of centurion, which meant that he had about a hundred men under his command. This officer loved the Jews. He had even built a synagogue there in Capernaum for them. As a result, the Jews respected him, even though they did not usually like Roman soldiers. Now, a servant of the officer was very sick. He had been sick for a while and was getting worse. Then the officer heard that Jesus had returned to Capernaum.
The officer knew all about the sick people Jesus had healed and about the demons that He had removed from people. He was convinced that Jesus could heal his servant. However, since he was a Roman and Jesus was a Jew, he thought that he was unworthy to go to Jesus and request His help. Yet, he loved his servant, so he asked some Jewish elders from the synagogue to go to Jesus for him. And they gladly went.
When these Jewish elders, or leaders, came to Jesus, they not only delivered the officer’s message about his servant, but they told Him also about the kindness of this Roman officer. “He is worthy for You to grant this to him,” they said; “for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.
As they approached the officer’s home, he sent a group of his friends out to Jesus with a message. “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.” The officer was sure that Jesus could heal his servant merely by saying the word.
When Jesus heard this, He was very impressed with the officer. He turned around and spoke to the curious people who were following Him, hoping to see a miracle. He said, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith.” Then He told the friends of the officer that the servant would be healed.
When the officer’s friends returned to the house, they found the servant had indeed been healed. So they saw how great the power of Jesus was to heal the sick, even when He was not in the presence of the very people He was healing.
JESUS HEALS A MAN LOWERED THROUGH THE ROOF
Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26
During one of His stays in Capernaum, Jesus was teaching in a house, and the house was packed with people listening to Him. Sick people had been brought into the crowded room, and Jesus healed them all. Then, while He was teaching, the listeners were surprised to hear a noise overhead. The roof began to open and the people saw a stretcher being lowered from the ceiling! Then they saw that a man who was paralyzed was lying on it.
Four friends of this man were on the roof. They had tried to bring him to Jesus through the door, but when they reached it, they saw that it would not be possible to get through the crowd. Yet, they were determined to bring their friend to the great healer.
Naturally, the fact that a man was being lowered from the roof caused quite the interruption. The people watching wondered what Jesus would do. They had already seen Jesus heal people, so they could have predicted that; but they were all surprised to hear Him say, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.”
Now, some scribes and Pharisees were in the room; and this was a very bold thing to say, especially in front of them. The people understood that God had power to forgive sins, but who was Jesus to say this? So the scribes and the Pharisees were asking themselves, “Who is this man who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone?”
Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk?’ ” Jesus knew that everyone would agree it was easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” because forgiveness was not something they could see. On the other hand, if the man were healed, it would be proof that Jesus had not overstepped His authority by His claim. So He told the crowd that He was going to prove to them that He had the authority to forgive sins; and He turned to the man lying in front of Him and told him to get up, carry his stretcher, and walk home.
And just like that, the man immediately stood up, picked up his stretcher, and started on his way home. After witnessing all this, the people in that crowded house were astonished and filled with fear. They glorified God, and said to one another as they went home, “We have seen remarkable things today!”
JESUS RAISES A WIDOW’S SON FROM THE DEAD, WHILE JOHN THE BAPTIST DIES IN PRISON
Matthew 11:2-5, 14:6-12; Mark 6:21-29; Luke 7:11-23
One day Jesus was approaching the city of Nain, in Galilee. His disciples were with Him, and a crowd was following as well. Before they could enter the city, they were met by another crowd of people—this one leaving the city. They were carrying out a young man in a simple, open coffin. His mother was a widow, and now her one and only son was dead.
As the crowd with Jesus and the one with the dead man approached each other, Jesus saw the widow; and He felt compassion for her. He knew how deep her grief was, and He wanted to help. So He spoke kindly to her and said, “Do not weep.” Then He came up to the coffin, and the men who carried it watched Him. They were surprised to see Him approach the body and even touch the coffin because the Law of Moses discouraged it, and required two ceremonial washings. But Jesus touched the coffin anyway, and He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” And the man who was dead rose and sat up. He began to speak, and Jesus lifted him up out of the coffin and returned him to his mother.
Meanwhile, the crowds had been watching all of this. By now probably everyone had stopped crying over the young man; for everyone was now terrified by what they had just witnessed. Imagine watching someone wrapped for burial and lying in a coffin being brought back from the dead. But as everything sunk in, the crowds began to rejoice. “A great prophet has arisen among us!” they exclaimed with delight. Moreover, they shouted, “God has visited His people!” For they recognized that this was the work of God. But they probably would never have guessed that their statement was true in another sense: Jesus was God Himself.
News of this great miracle quickly spread through the region. Even John the Baptist, from the dreary prison where Herod Antipas had put him, heard what Jesus had done. But something had happened to John. He was no longer sure that Jesus was the Messiah. John had preached a lot about how the Messiah would judge people for their sins. Perhaps he did not think Jesus was doing enough of this. Or perhaps he thought that Jesus should use some of his power to rescue him from prison. In any case, John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to find out whether or not He was really the Savior.
The men hurried to Jesus with John’s question; and while they waited for an answer, many sick people crowded close to Jesus and begged for healing. There were people with chronic diseases, disabled people, and even some who had demons living in them. One by one Jesus healed them and removed the demons. Then He turned to the visitors who had come from John’s prison and said, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
The men took this message back to John in prison, where he would spend the rest of his short life. Not long after this, Herod ordered that John be executed, and his disciples who had come to comfort him in the prison took his body and buried it.
JESUS FEEDS THE FIVE THOUSAND
Matthew 14:13-23; Mark 6:31-46; Luke 9:10-17; John 6: 1-17
The crowds around Jesus continued to grow. They kept Him and His disciples very busy—so busy that they did not even have time to eat. In order to rest and have time alone without the crowds, Jesus called His twelve disciples aside and said, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.”
Jesus and His disciples got in a boat and sailed across the Sea of Galilee. They went to a deserted place near a mountain, but they were still not able to rest. For the crowd had realized what they were doing and had run to the other side of the sea to join them. The disciples were probably disappointed that the people found them again, but Jesus felt compassion for the crowd because they were like sheep that had no shepherd.
Jesus welcomed the crowd. He healed the sick, and He taught about the kingdom of God. After a while the day turned into evening. The crowd stayed, and they would have to get going soon if they were going to be able to walk to a place where they could buy food. The disciples became concerned and probably a little impatient with Jesus, and they finally asked Him to send the crowd away to go eat.
But Jesus answered, “You give them something to eat!” Now, there were five thousand men in the crowd, and there were women and children as well. The disciples did not even have food for themselves, and they probably did not have much money either. How were they supposed to feed thousands of people? Seeing the puzzled looks on the disciples’ faces, He singled out Philip and asked, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” The question was ridiculous, but Jesus was only testing the disciples to see if they had faith that He could feed the crowd. But Philip simply remarked that even two hundred days’ wages was not enough to buy bread for the crowd.
Jesus then asked the disciples, “How many loaves do you have? Go look!” So they went among the crowd of people as quickly as they could, and they found a boy who had his lunch with him. The disciple Andrew came and told Jesus about the boy: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”
Jesus replied that He wanted the crowd to recline on the green grass. When all the people were comfortable, Jesus took the little loaves and the fish, and after a blessing, He broke them into pieces. As He continued to break them, He filled a large basket for each of the twelve disciples, and He sent them to pass the food out to the hungry crowd. Then the disciples came back, and He filled their empty baskets again. The people ate until they all had as much as they wanted, and even then, there was still enough food left over to fill all twelve baskets!
The miraculous bread and meat caused the crowd to get excited. The people concluded Jesus was the Prophet that Moses had promised would come. They wanted to go into battle against the Romans and make Jesus their king. But although Jesus was a king, He would not fight the Romans. His kingdom was not about following a ruler on earth, but allowing God to rule our lives. He told His disciples, who probably wanted to help the crowd, to get in their boat right away and return without Him to the other side of the sea. Then He made the crowd leave, and He went up on the nearby mountain to pray.
JESUS WALKS ON WATER
Matthew 14:24-33; Mark 6:47-52; John 6:18-21
While Jesus was praying on the mountainside, the disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee. After nightfall a strong wind began to blow across the sea, pressing against the little boat. Higher and higher the waves splashed and rolled. Rowing as hard as they could, the disciples could not get very far with the wind pushing against them.
Late in the night, as the disciples were fighting the wind and being tossed about by the rough waves, they looked out and saw a Man approaching them. The Man was not in a boat, but walking—walking on the water! The disciples became terrified. They thought they were seeing a ghost. He just kept walking as if there were no wind, no waves, and no water at all. The disciples cried out in fear.
The Man on the water answered their cries, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” That voice sounded familiar. It was Jesus! Still, the disciples could not believe that it was Him. Peter said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” And Jesus answered, “Come!”
Peter jumped over the side of the boat, and just as he had hoped, he could stand. So he started to walk to Jesus. The other disciples watched in amazement at the great power of Jesus. Sailors were known for their tall tales, but what they were seeing was entirely real. Then they saw Peter start to sink in the rough waves, and they heard his voice calling frantically to Jesus for help. Peter had begun to focus on the stormy wind and waves, and as soon as he became frightened again, that’s when he began to sink. Then Jesus reached out with His hand and grabbed Peter, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
When the two of them came to the boat and got in, the wind stopped. And since they had gained no insight from the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples were completely astonished. But to their credit, they worshiped Jesus, saying, “You are certainly God’s Son!”
JESUS FEEDS THE FOUR THOUSAND
Matthew 15:29-39; Mark 7:31-8:9
Jesus and His twelve disciples traveled to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee, and a crowd of eager people gathered to see and hear Him. They followed Him out to the country, and for three days they listened to His teachings and brought the sick to Him to be healed. And Jesus healed everyone who was brought to Him.
At the end of the third day of His teaching, Jesus called His disciples aside and said, “I feel compassion for the people, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.” “Where would we get so many loaves in this desolate place to satisfy such a large crowd?” asked the disciples. Sadly, it was clear that they had still not learned anything from the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They replied, “Seven, and a few small fish.”
Jesus then turned to the crowd and directed them to recline on the ground. As they did, He took the loaves and fish; and after a blessing, just as He had done when He fed the five thousand from the boy’s lunch-basket, again the loaves and the fish increased until there was enough food for everyone. Four thousand men, as well as women and children, were fed by this miracle; and seven baskets of food were left over after everyone was full.
SEEING JESUS AND HIS CALL CLEARLY
Matthew 16:5-27; Mark 8:13-38; Luke 9:18-26
Jesus and His disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee, and He was trying to teach them. But they could not understand what He was talking about. He mentioned leaven, which is in bread; and they mistakenly thought He was upset that they only brought one loaf of bread on this trip. When they started discussing this, Jesus confronted them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand?” Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?” Then He reminded them how He had served thousands of people with very small amounts of bread. Bread was not their problem. Their problem was their view of Jesus. They could not see; and what they did see, they could not clearly interpret. So He asked, “Do you not yet understand?”
Jesus and His disciples came to Bethsaida, a town along the Sea of Galilee. A man who could not see lived nearby. When he heard that Jesus had come, he had his friends lead him to Him. And the man begged Jesus to touch him and give him sight. Jesus spit on the man’s blind eyes and put His hands on them. Then He asked whether the man could see anything. At first the man could not see clearly. He answered, “I see men, for I see them like trees, walking around.” Jesus touched his eyes again, and the man could see!
Now, the people in Israel were also like this man. They could not see clearly. They saw that Jesus was special, but they could not figure out who He was. Jesus asked His disciples about this. “Who do the people say that I am?” The disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Jesus knew the answer to this question, of course, but He wanted the disciples to think about it.
Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered boldly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This was better than the people’s understanding and an improvement from the recent failure in the boat. Jesus told Peter that this ability to see had come from God. But then Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. It was not the right time to tell people, and they would probably want to make Him king and fight the Romans if they knew who He was.
Then Jesus began to tell the disciples what would happen to Him in Jerusalem: He would be rejected by the religious leaders and be put to death. But none of this fit their expectations of what the Christ would be like. They also thought Jesus was about to become king, not die. So they could not understand this, and they did not want to accept it. Peter took Jesus aside and said, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” But Jesus looked at Peter sternly and replied, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Now, Peter was not Satan obviously; but He was unknowingly expressing Satan’s wishes. Satan did not want Jesus to remain obedient and give up His life on the cross. He wanted Jesus to take the easy way out. But Jesus would never give in to Satan’s wishes, even though He had to suffer horrible pain. For, although obedience came at great cost, it was worth it.
Afterward Jesus spoke to the crowd that was there. He told them what it would cost them to be one of His followers. He said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Then Jesus added that one day He would judge people for how they lived.
Jesus’ questions and words caused the people to think about what He was teaching. The Man they had come to know as a great, kind miracle-worker was more than that—much more. And now He was talking about the cost of commitment if they wanted to become His followers. Just like Him, it would cost them their lives.
Matthew 16:28-17:9; Mark 9:1-10; Luke 9:27-36
All of the disciples dreamed of seeing Jesus establish a national kingdom on earth, and they were shocked when He told them that He would soon be put to death at Jerusalem instead. They did not understand that the kingdom was to start small and then grow from there. First Jesus had to serve and to die. But He told them that some of them would live to see the kingdom come in power. We do not exactly know what Jesus meant by this; but about a week later, He gave Peter, James, and John a glimpse of Himself in His glory. In order to show them this, He led them up on a high mountain that was nearby.
They were going up the mountain to pray; but after climbing up the mountain, the disciples were tired and fell asleep. So Jesus prayed alone. While the three disciples were sleeping, a stunning transformation happened to their master. His face began to shine as bright as the sun. His clothing became as white as light. And Moses and Elijah came from heaven to talk with Him.
While these two heavenly visitors talked with Jesus, the disciples woke up. They saw what was happening, and they were terrified. Peter, wanting to say something, blurted out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; If you wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” It was a ridiculous thing to say. There was no need for tabernacles, which are simply temporary shelters, like tents . But Peter was so overwhelmed, he thought it was helpful.
While Peter was talking, a bright cloud came down over the disciples, filling them with fear again. And then they heard a voice from the cloud that said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well- pleased; listen to Him!” It was not quite the same as “Shut up, Peter,” but it was close. When the disciples heard the voice they fell to the ground, now even more terrified.
After the voice was finished, Jesus came and touched the disciples and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” When they looked up they saw only Jesus. The bright cloud and the heavenly visitors had disappeared.
As they headed back down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after He rose from the dead. The idea of rising from the dead struck them as odd. They talked about it among themselves, but they could not figure out what it meant.
JESUS HEALS A MAN BORN BLIND
One day, as Jesus and His disciples were walking along, they saw a man who had been born blind, begging by the side of the road. As they observed the man sitting there, the disciples began to wonder about him. Back then there was this belief that people were born with disabilities either to punish their parents for sin or to punish them for sin they were going to commit in their own lives. The disciples were curious; so they asked Jesus whose sin had caused this, the man’s or his parents’. Jesus explained that it was neither. Instead, the man had been born blind so that God would receive glory through what Jesus was about to do for him.
At that point Jesus spat on the ground and made a little clay, which He gently applied to the man’s eyes. He told the man, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” The man got up at once and found his way to the pool. He washed the clay off his blind eyes, and immediately he could see!
Then the happy man went home. His neighbors, friends, and even his parents were amazed. They had never imagined that one day he would be able to see. Others had trouble believing it was him. They figured that this man just looked like the man who begged by the side of the road. But he assured them, “I am the one.”
When he kept insisting that he had in fact been healed, the people asked, “How then were your eyes opened?” The man told them that Jesus first made clay, then applied it to his eyes, and afterward sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam.
“So I went away and washed, and I received sight,” he said joyfully; for he was very happy to be healed. “Where is He?” they asked; but the man did not know where Jesus and His disciples had gone.
The man was brought to the Pharisees. When the Pharisees saw the man who was born blind, it created a problem for them. It was the Sabbath, and it was against God’s Law to work on the Sabbath. According to the Pharisees, Jesus had done work by making the clay and putting it on the man’s eyes. So some of them concluded that this made Jesus a terrible sinner. Others asked how a terrible sinner could perform such a sign. Since they could not agree, they asked the man. After all it was his eyes that Jesus opened. The man said that Jesus was a prophet.
The Pharisees did not like this answer, and it seems they found it easiest to conclude that the man had never really been blind in the first place. Having his parents brought to them, the Pharisees started questioning them. “Is this your son,” they asked, “who you say was born blind? Then how does he now see?” The parents were afraid of saying the wrong thing. They knew that these men hated Jesus, and they knew that the religious leaders had threatened to throw anyone out of the synagogue who believed that Jesus was the Christ. So they replied, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we do not know; or who opened his eyes, we do not know. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.”
So the Pharisees talked to the man once again. They had to accept that the man had been healed, but they still were not going to acknowledge that Jesus had healed him. Their new strategy was to force the man to admit that God had healed him without Jesus’ involvement. “Give glory to God; we know that this man is a sinner,” they said of Jesus. Yet the man would not back down. He replied, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
The Pharisees were running out of ideas and options. All they could think to do was to ask the man again what Jesus had done to heal him. But he bluntly said that he had already told them what happened and that they had not listened—so why did they want to hear it again? Then, as if to annoy them even more, he added in a quick jab, “You do not want to become His disciples too, do you?”
This remark infuriated them; and they shot back, “You are His disciple!” They insisted that they followed none other than Moses, but this Jesus fellow was a nobody. They did not even know where He was from. The man pounced on this. To him it was obvious—Jesus was from God! “Well, here is an amazing thing, that you do not know where He is from, and yet He opened my eyes,” he started. He went on to say, “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.”
The Pharisees were not about to let the man get the best of them. Hatefully, they scolded this man whom they thought had been born blind as a punishment for sin, saying, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?” They were so unwilling to accept that they might be wrong, they could not see the truth—even when it was right in front of them. And so, while the man was healed, they remained blind. They threw the man out of the synagogue, and he could no longer worship there.
Jesus soon heard that the man had been banned from the synagogue, and He looked for him. When He found him, He asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Son of Man” was a reference to Himself. The man answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus said, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” Then the man rejoiced and said, “Lord, I believe!” And he worshiped Jesus there.
WHO CAN ENTER THE KINGDOM?
Matthew 19:13-26; Mark 10:13-27; Luke 18:15-27
One day. while Jesus was teaching the people, some parents brought their little children to Him and asked Him to bless them. Jesus loved children, so He took them in His arms, put His hands on their heads, and prayed. The disciples watched, and they became annoyed. They felt that their master had far more important things to do. So they told the parents to leave Jesus alone.
The disciples may have expected that Jesus would be pleased with them. But instead of thanking them, Jesus scolded them. He said, “Permit the children to come to Me; do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all.” Jesus knew that little children would believe Him because their hearts are tender and quick to respond to His call. And again He took the little ones in His loving arms to bless them. When Jesus finished praying for the children, He got up, and He and His disciples went on their way.
As He was walking, a young man came running to meet Him. This young man was very rich and was dressed nicely. But he knelt down in the dust in front of Jesus and inquired, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus and the man talked about the commandments in God’s Law; and the young man replied, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”
Jesus looked with love into the face of the young man in front of Him and said, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” What a change came over the young man’s face when he heard this! His head lowered, and he walked away slowly, sad and discouraged. God was not the most important part of his life. His heart was no longer soft and responsive like a child’s heart. He loved his possessions so much that he would rather keep them than gain citizenship in God’s kingdom.
Jesus watched him go away. He was also sad. He turned to the disciples and said, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at what they had just seen and heard. They thought rich people were more likely to enter the kingdom, not less likely. God was already blessing wealthy people. This was not a sign that He was pleased with them? It never occurred to the disciples that wealth could keep someone from the kingdom. If it was hard for the people who, in their opinion, God was blessing to enter the kingdom, what hope did anyone have? So they asked Him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus answered, “With people this is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
THE GOOD SAMARITAN
One day an expert in God’s Law came to Jesus and asked a question, wanting to catch Him saying something wrong. For most of the religious leaders rejected Him as their promised king. The expert asked the same question that the rich young ruler had asked. “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Since the man was an expert in God’s Law, Jesus simply asked him for his opinion. “What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?” The man replied, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” This was a very good answer. Jesus also taught that the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor were the two great commandments. So Jesus said, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
This was not the response the man was looking for though, since he could not use it against Him. So the man tried again. This time he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Maybe Jesus would say someone His fellow Jews hated, like the Romans or the Samaritans. But Jesus answered the man with this story:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
“But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever you spend, when I return I will repay you.’ ” Now, a laborer earned two denarii for two full days of work, making it a lot of money to spend on a stranger. And since the man attacked in the story was probably Jewish, and the Jews hated Samaritans, it’s all the more incredible that the Samaritan treated him like a neighbor.
When Jesus was finished with the story, He asked the expert, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” The answer was obvious. The expert could only respond, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
JESUS RAISES LAZARUS FROM THE DEAD
Jesus had a friend named Lazarus, who lived with his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Their home was in the little village of Bethany, near Jerusalem. One day, while Jesus was teaching on the opposite side of the Jordan River from Bethany, a messenger came from the sisters, saying that Lazarus was sick. When Jesus heard this, He told His disciples, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.”
Naturally, the sisters assumed Jesus would come right away; but He did not. So the messenger came back without Jesus. The sisters were disappointed, to say the least, and Lazarus died. The neighbors and friends came to help them wrap Lazarus’ body with linen cloths and carry it to a tomb to lay it there. Then a stone was rolled in front of the entrance.
After Lazarus died, three days went by, and there was still no sign of Jesus. Finally, on the fourth day, news came that Jesus and His disciples were approaching. By now the sisters were extremely hurt and discouraged that Jesus had not come in time. At first only Martha went out to meet Him. She came up to Jesus and cried, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.” But she still had a little hope left, saying, “Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”
Jesus and Martha began to talk about Lazarus rising from the dead. Jesus said He would, but Martha assumed that Jesus meant on the day of judgment. So He said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live, even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Then He asked her, “Do you believe this?” Martha answered, “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world.”
After she said this, Martha went to get Mary; for Jesus wanted to see her too. As Mary went out to see Jesus, the people who were comforting her followed. When she got to Jesus, she fell down at His feet and cried, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died!” She kept on crying, and the people with her continued to cry as well.
As Jesus saw Mary and those around her crying, He was upset and asked, “Where have you laid him?” They responded that He come see, and then He cried.
As they were standing there, Jesus gave orders to roll the stone away from the opening of the tomb. Martha exclaimed, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days!” But Jesus responded, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
Following Jesus’ orders, they moved the stone, and while the people watched, Jesus looked up to heaven and prayed. Then He looked into the entrance of the dark tomb and said with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” To their complete amazement, the people saw the body get up and walk out of the tomb. Lazarus had been dead four days, this was incredible! Yet, when all the burial linens were removed, it was clear to all—Lazarus was alive and well again.
This miracle caused many of those who saw it to believe that Jesus was the Christ. But when the religious leaders heard about it, they were upset. They called a meeting to discuss the situation. To them Jesus was a problem that they needed to eliminate. They were troubled when people believed that Jesus was the Christ. They worried that He might start a rebellion against the Romans and try to become king. They feared that the Romans might punish them as leaders for this, removing them from their favored positions. Or the Romans could destroy the whole nation! Something had to be done.
As the religious leaders discussed what to do about Jesus, the high priest took control of the meeting. To him it was simple. Jesus had to die. He declared that Jesus’ death was necessary to save the nation. Of course he meant killing Jesus would keep the Romans from punishing them, but without realizing it, he had also prophesied that Jesus would die to save people from their sins. The other religious leaders were persuaded by what the high priest had meant, and from then on, they began plotting how they would capture and kill Jesus.
JESUS AT A PHARISEE’S HOUSE
One Sabbath day a Pharisee asked Jesus to eat dinner at his house, so Jesus went with him. Other Pharisees and experts in the Law of Moses were there at the dinner, and as was the custom in their culture, some people were there who had not been invited. They stood around the dining hall, watching while the guests were eating.
Among those watching was a man who was suffering from dropsy, or edema—swelling due to a build up of fluid. He probably had come because he heard that Jesus would be there, and he hoped that Jesus would have mercy on him and heal him. When Jesus saw the man standing near Him, He felt sorry for him. At the same time, He knew that the Pharisees and legal experts wanted to catch Him breaking a Sabbath law; so He confronted them directly by asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
Jesus’ question put His opponents in an awkward position. After all, they did indeed think that it was wrong for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath. But they could not say that with the man standing right there. So they did not say anything. It did not matter. Jesus healed the man anyway.
Jesus went on to teach about humility at the dinner. He had noticed how, as the guests entered, each had chosen the best available place at the table. So He urged them to take the worst spot instead. He explained that if you take the worst spot, the host might tell you to move to a better one; and everyone at the table will notice you being honored. However, if start out by claiming a good spot, someone might show up who deserves it more than you. Then, in shame, with everybody watching, you would have to walk to the worst spot anyway.
Jesus then turned to the Pharisee who had invited Him to dinner, and said, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But when you give a reception, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you; for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Not long afterward, Jesus started teaching about the kingdom of God. He told them a story illustrating that they might be surprised by who would and who would not enter it. “A man was giving a big dinner, and he invited many; and at the dinner hour he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first one said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land and I need to go out and look at it; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please consider me excused.’ Another one said, ‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ And the slave came back and reported this to his master.
“Then the head of the household became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in here the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Master, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.’ ”
This was the road that the religious leaders were heading down. They had so looked forward to what they imagined the kingdom would be. But when Jesus arrived preaching about it, they discovered that they instead preferred the world as it was. So they turned down their invitations, opening the door for others to enter in their places.
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19: 28-40; John 12:12-19
It was a time of great excitement in Jerusalem! Not only was the Feast of Passover approaching, but Jesus was also on His way. People had heard such great things about Him, and they were rushing out of the city gate to meet Him. They took along palm tree branches to wave at Jesus as He rode.
Earlier in the day Jesus had sent two disciples out to borrow a colt and its mother; and as He approached, Jesus was riding on the colt. The disciples had spread their coats on the back of it. Both the disciples and the crowd of people which had rushed out of the city began praising Him, calling Him the Son of David and the King of Israel. They waved their palm branches and threw them in the road for Jesus to ride over. Others spread their coats on the road. This was a sign of respect for Him as a king. The people rejoiced all the way as Jesus rode on towards Jerusalem. This was it! Their king had come! Surely His kingdom was at hand! And so the words of the prophet Zechariah came true.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Now, there were some Pharisees in the crowd who had not come to rejoice, but to cause trouble. When they heard what the people were shouting, they came to Jesus, demanding that He make them stop. But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”
So the triumphal parade would not be stopped. Jesus continued into the city and rode on to the temple. As He rode, the crowd kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And the people in the city stirred with excitement. They came hurrying into the streets to ask, “Who is this?” And the crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” As the religious leaders watched Jews from everywhere praising Jesus, they panicked, saying to one another, “You see that you are not doing any good; look, the world has gone after Him!”
When Jesus came to the temple, He inspected it. It was, after all, His temple. But it was late in the evening, so Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and made their way to the village of Bethany to spend the night there. The disciples must have all been excited, recounting the day’s events and dreaming about what sorts of triumphs must lie ahead. Only Jesus knew what to expect.
JESUS AT THE TEMPLE
Matthew 21:12-46; Mark 11:12-12:12; Luke 19:45-20:19
Early in the morning Jesus and His disciples left the village of Bethany to go back to the temple in Jerusalem. At the temple Jesus saw a sadly familiar scene. There were men selling animals for sacrifice and others making a profit off of exchanging Greek and Roman coins for temple coins. Jesus had forced all these men away from the temple before; and now He forced them to leave again, saying, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den.” When Jesus said this it fueled the desire in the religious leaders to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, and the crowds were astonished by His teaching.
Now, there was still a lot of excitement in the city, and everyone was eager to see Jesus. The blind and those who could not walk came to Him at the temple, and He healed them there. And children came singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” When the religious leaders heard the children; they became angry and asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” Jesus replied, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself?’ ”
Throughout the week Jesus taught in the temple courtyards, and the people hung on His every word. The religious leaders were there also, looking for a chance to discredit Him. They demanded of Him, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” They hoped He would say that His authority was from God, His Father, and they could then charge Him with blasphemy.
But Jesus did not fall into the trap. Instead, He replied, “I will also ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” The religious leaders did not know what to say. They wanted to say, “From men.” But they knew the people would not like this answer because they thought John was a prophet. But they could not say, “From heaven,” either. Then Jesus would ask them why they did not believe John. So they just said, “We do not know.” Since they answered this way, Jesus replied, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
Jesus went on to describe the leaders in a parable. He spoke about a father who had two sons. The father instructed the first, “Son, go work today in the vineyard.” The boy answered his father disrespectfully, saying, “I will not!” But afterward he was sorry, and he went and worked in the vineyard. The father also instructed the second son to work in the vineyard. He answered politely, “I will, sir.” But he did not go. Jesus then asked the religious leaders, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” They answered, “The first.” This was the correct answer, but sadly, the religious leaders behaved like the second son.
Jesus told another parable about a man who owned a vineyard. The owner hired some men to take care of it and went away to another country. When harvest time came along, he sent a servant to collect his share of the fruit and bring it back to him. But the vine-growers, that is, those who took care of the vineyard, beat him up and sent him away without any fruit. When the owner sent a second servant, they threw stones at him and wounded him in the head. The owner sent a third servant, and they killed him. The owner sent even more servants, but they treated them all badly.
Finally the owner of the vineyard decided to send his own son. He thought, “They will respect my son.” But they did not. Instead, they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vine- growers?” asked Jesus. His listeners answered, “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper seasons.”
Then Jesus looked straight at His enemies standing nearby and said, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the LORD, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken in pieces; but on whomever it falls, it will scatter him like dust.”
The religious leaders knew that Jesus had told these parables about them, and they were angry. They wanted to arrest Him and put Him to death. But they could not yet, for all the people thought Jesus was an important prophet. Yet, it was only a matter of time. For God’s people had mistreated the prophets He sent them, and now the Father had sent His Son.
JESUS ANOINTED AT BETHANY
Matthew 26:1-16; Mark 14:1-11; Luke 23:3-6
While Jesus and His disciples were staying in Bethany, a man named Simon invited them over to his house to eat. Since their culture allowed people who were not invited to come in and look on, curious visitors, eager to see Jesus, soon came into the dining hall. While the guests were eating, a woman came in carrying a sealed container made of alabaster stone with expensive perfume inside it. Going directly to where Jesus was reclining at the table, she opened the container and poured the perfume on Jesus’ head.
Just as soon as the woman broke open the container, the aroma of the sweet perfume filled the room. Everyone there knew that this perfume was very expensive, possibly costing almost a year’s wages for a laborer. The disciples began to whisper to one another about what the woman had done. They were strongly criticizing her, saying, “Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor!” They may have expected Jesus to praise them for thinking of the poor.
Jesus did not praise them; however, quite the opposite. He said to them, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial. Truly I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.”
This woman understood something that the disciples did not: that Jesus would soon be put to death. She had done all that she could to show Him how much she loved Him. And just as Jesus said, her story remains with us today, thousands of years later.
It seems that this event truly upset Judas; for following this, he went to talk to the chief priests about handing Jesus over to them. He asked them, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” They were happy to give him thirty silver coins. The chief priests wanted to make sure there would not be a riot when they arrested Jesus. Given this, Judas began looking for a good opportunity to lead them to Jesus in secret.
THE LORD’S SUPPER
Matthew 26:17-35; Mark 14:12-31; Luke 22:7-39; John 13: 1-18:1
Two disciples, Peter and John, were hurrying along the road from Bethany to Jerusalem. They were to prepare the Passover Feast that the disciples would eat with Jesus in Jerusalem. Jesus had told Peter and John that they would see a man carrying a pitcher of water in Jerusalem. Men did not usually do this in their culture, so he would have stood out. When they came across the man, they followed him, as Jesus had instructed. The man led them to a house where his master had provided a large upstairs room in which Jesus and His disciples could eat the Passover.
When evening came, Jesus and the other disciples joined Peter and John, and together they gathered around the table in that quiet room upstairs. While they were all eating, Jesus suddenly got up from the table, took off His robe, and tied a towel around His waist. Then He took a bowl of water and began to wash the disciples’ feet.
Foot washing was a normal part of life. Since people walked everywhere in sandals, their feet would get quite dirty. Yet, none of the disciples had offered to wash feet because it was rarely done by anyone other than a servant. Rather than humbling themselves, they all wanted to be honored. But here was Jesus, their master, serving them. As a result the disciples felt awkward and ashamed. Peter expressed this out loud, exclaiming, “Never shall You wash my feet!”
Jesus was able to convince Peter to let Him wash his feet, and when He had washed everyone’s, He explained what He had done. “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right,” He said, “for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”
But then Jesus told them something that shocked them: one of them would betray Him. They had no idea who would do such a thing, and each one, hoping it was not himself, asked, “Surely not I, Lord?” When Judas pretended to be innocent and said something similar, Jesus replied to him, “You have said it yourself,” meaning that he was, indeed, the traitor. The other disciples, if they heard Jesus, did not understand what He meant.
A little later, as they were finishing the meal, Jesus took some bread; and after a blessing, He broke it in pieces. Then He gave a piece to each of the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took a cup of wine; and when He had given thanks, He passed it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.”
After this, Jesus began to speak again about the secret traitor in their midst. Now the disciples were even more anxious to figure out who would betray Jesus. Peter assumed that John knew who it was because John had the closest relationship with Jesus. So he motioned to John, asking who Jesus meant. Of course John did not know, but since he was reclining next to Jesus, he asked Jesus. Then Jesus quietly answered that He would dip some bread and give it to the traitor. John watched carefully, and soon he saw Jesus give a piece of bread to Judas Iscariot.
Judas took the bread that Jesus gave him, but Satan took hold of Judas. Jesus said to Judas, “What you do, do quickly.” So Judas hurried out of the room into the night. Strangely, none of the disciples understood what Jesus meant. Since Judas handled the disciples’ money, they just figured that Jesus was sending him to buy something or give some money to the poor.
When Judas left, they stayed for a while longer in the upper room; and Jesus urged them to remember His commandment to love one another as He had loved them. He also told them that all of them would turn their backs on Him that night. Peter could not believe it and insisted that he would never do anything like that.
But Jesus told Peter that he would indeed deny that he even knew Him. In fact, He told Peter that he would deny Him three times before a rooster crowed the next morning. Still unconvinced, Peter claimed, “Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” And the rest of the disciples said the same thing about themselves. Then Jesus talked with them for a long time, and He prayed for them. They all sang a hymn together, and then they quietly left the upper room to go to a garden just outside of Jerusalem.
THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
Matthew 26:36-75; Mark 14:32-72; Luke 22:40-62; John 18: 2-27
Jesus arrived at the garden with the eleven disciples, and He told eight of them to wait at the entrance. Then He took Peter, James, and John deeper into the garden. In anguish He told them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.” Leaving them there, He walked a little farther to pray by Himself. But the disciples did not understand why Jesus was so troubled, and they could not stay awake to pray either. While Jesus was off praying by Himself, they fell asleep.
Jesus knew the suffering and grief that was soon coming to Him. He knew that His enemies would not stop torturing Him until He hung on a cross to die. Not only that, Jesus also knew that He must carry the sins of the whole world in order to become the Savior of humanity. As anyone would, Jesus asked His Father to skip all of this suffering if it were possible. But He added, “Yet not My will, but Yours be done.”
Then Jesus got up and went to the sleeping disciples. He woke them up, asking Peter, “So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?” The disciples had no answer; and when He returned to pray, they fell back to sleep. Again Jesus pleaded to not suffer. And again He woke the disciples. Then the scene repeated itself a third time: Jesus prayed to avoid suffering if it was His Father’s will, and the disciples slept.
While all of this had been taking place, as night descended, a silent figure passed along the streets of Jerusalem, hurrying to tell the chief priests that the time was right to arrest Jesus. This silent figure was the disciple turned traitor, Judas Iscariot. After a brief conversation with him, the chief priests sent Judas out into the night, leading a group of soldiers and others to the garden.
When Jesus came back to the sleeping disciples the third time, He told them to get up because it was time for them to leave. While he was still speaking, they saw a large group of men coming toward them, carrying weapons and torches, looking as if they were searching for someone. Jesus walked up to the men and asked, “Whom do you seek?” They replied, “Jesus the Nazarene.”
“I am He,” answered Jesus. And the men fell backward. When they got up, Jesus asked them the second time whom they were seeking, and again they said, “Jesus the Nazarene.” Judas stepped forward and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed Jesus on the cheek. Jesus simply replied, “Friend, do what you have come for.”
The kiss that Judas gave Jesus was the sign to point Him out to the soldiers. Now the soldiers took hold of Jesus roughly and prepared to take Him away. With all this happening, Peter was now wide awake. Pulling out a short sword from his belt, he struck the high priest’s slave. He probably meant to kill him, but he only managed to cut off one ear. But Jesus stopped Peter from doing anything more, and He healed the man’s ear. Though He could call down thousands of angels to fight for Him, Jesus willingly gave Himself up, and the soldiers chained Him and led Him away. And far behind, Peter followed, wondering what he could do, and yet fearing that the soldiers might take him too.
First the soldiers brought Jesus to a man named Annas. Annas had been high priest and his son-in-law Caiaphas was now the official high priest. Annas asked Jesus questions about His teachings and treated Him harshly. Then he sent Jesus to Caiaphas. Here false witnesses were brought in to give testimony against Jesus. But even though their testimony was made up, they could not get their stories straight; and they kept contradicting one another. On top of this, Jesus would not defend Himself against the charges.
Seeing that they were getting nowhere, the high priest finally asked Jesus directly, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” When Jesus said He was, the high priest accused Him of blasphemy and the religious leaders said He deserved to die.”
During the trial Peter waited in the courtyard. A servant girl said to him, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” Peter, who had earlier claimed that he was prepared to die for Jesus, was afraid; and he replied, “I am not.” In the open courtyard a fire was burning, and Peter went close to get warm. Others stood around the fire. One of them turned to Peter and said, “You are not also one of His disciples, are you?” Still afraid, Peter denied it again. But a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off was standing there. He had been in the garden when Jesus was taken prisoner and had seen Peter use his sword, and he said, “Did I not see you in the garden with Him?” Peter became insistent and declared, “I do not know the man!”
Before Peter could even finish this third denial, a rooster crowed. Peter remembered how Jesus had told him that this would happen. Now tears filled Peter’s eyes, and he turned away from the fire and rushed out of the courtyard to cry. His master stood ready to die, but Peter loved his own life. He was not the brave man he thought he was.
JESUS ON TRIAL BEFORE PILATE
Matthew 27:1-30; Mark 15:1-19; Luke 23:1-25; John 18: 28-19:16
After the sad, long night when Jesus was arrested in the garden, things only got worse. Those who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him. The full ruling council of the Jews condemned Him to death. And they brought Him before Pilate, the Roman governor. Since the Romans did not allow the Jews to carry out official executions, they had to get Pilate to convict Jesus.
When Judas turned Jesus in, he probably thought that Jesus would free Himself in some miraculous way. Now he realized that this was not going to happen, and he regretted what he had done. He hurried back to the religious leaders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!” But the religious leaders did not care. “What is that to us?” they sneered. “See to that yourself!” Tortured by grief, Judas threw the money they had given him down on the floor, ran out, and hanged himself.
At Jesus’ trial Pilate questioned Jesus, and after some time, he declared, “I find no guilt in this man.” But the religious leaders kept accusing Jesus all the more, claiming that He was teaching things that stirred the people up throughout the country, even those in the region of Galilee. This led to Pilate discovering that Jesus was from Galilee—a fact that he was glad to hear. This meant he could send Jesus to Herod Antipas. For he was the ruler over Galilee and also happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, the evil king who had tried to take Jesus’ life when He was an infant.
Herod Antipas had been the one who had executed John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. He had heard a lot about Jesus, and he was excited to see Him. He hoped that Jesus would do a miracle for him. He began to ask Jesus questions, but Jesus would not answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood around, accusing Jesus, but He would not say anything at all to defend Himself. Finally Herod was frustrated with this silent prisoner. He began to make fun of Jesus. Along with his soldiers, he mocked Jesus and pretended to honor Him as a king. Then Herod sent Him back to Pilate.
Now, Pilate always released a prisoner at Passover, and by this point a crowd was gathering, asking him for this. This gave Pilate and easy way to rid himself of Jesus and the religious leaders demanding His death. Pilate would get the crowd to ask for Jesus’ release. He told them that they could choose which prisoner he would free: Jesus, the Messiah for whom they had been waiting for hundreds of years, or a man named Barabbas, who was guilty of murder and trying to overthrow the government. Even though Pilate hoped the people would pick Jesus, the religious leaders got the best of him, convincing the crowd to ask for Barabbas.
The surprised Pilate replied, “Then what shall I do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” And they shouted back, “Crucify Him!” “Why?” demanded Pilate, “What evil has He done?” But they kept shouting “Crucify Him!” Pilate still wanting to let Jesus go without killing Him, had him whipped. The Roman soldiers also put a crown of long, very sharp thorns on His head. Then they put a robe on Him and a stick in His hand; and bowing in front of Him and mocking Him, they called Him the King of the Jews. After that they took the stick back and beat Him on the head with it. Even though Jesus did not deserve any of this, He kept silent. For He was sacrificing Himself on behalf of those who did deserve it.
After this, Pilate tried again to free Jesus. But the religious leaders cried out, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.” Basically, they were threatening to report Pilate to the emperor. And Pilate, unwilling to take that risk, gave into the demands to crucify Jesus. As he did, the religious leaders were given one last chance; as Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” Incredibly, they answered, “We have no king but Caesar!”
THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS
Matthew 27:31-56; Mark 15:20-41; Luke 23:26-49; John 19: 17-30
Now that Jesus was sentenced to death, the soldiers took off the robe they had placed on Him and put His own clothes back on Him. Then they led Him away, outside the city wall to crucify Him there, and a crowd followed. Like any other prisoner who was about to be crucified, Jesus was forced to carry the heavy crossbar of the cross. But as they walked along, it became clear that all the torture had made Jesus too weak. So the soldiers called a man from the crowd and made him carry Jesus’ cross instead.
Outside the city the soldiers nailed Jesus’ hands and feet to the cross; and two criminals were crucified with Him, one on each side. Nailed above His head was a sign, saying, “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews.” When the Jewish leaders read the sign, they were very upset; and they said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that he said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’ ” But Pilate would not change it.
As people passed by Jesus on the cross, they hurled insults at Him. They yelled, “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” The religious leaders also heaped on abuse. They jeered, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself!” And they taunted Him, exclaiming, “Let this Christ, this King of Israel, now come down from the cross, so that we may see and believe!” In the same way, the soldiers crucifying Him chimed in, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” Even one of those crucified next to Jesus mocked Him.
Realizing that Jesus did not deserve to die, the other criminal looked at Jesus and said, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” He believed that Jesus really was the king from heaven. And Jesus saw his faith and said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” There were others present at the crucifixion. These were His friends and followers, especially the women who followed Him. These women, including His mother, watched and remained faithful to the end. Along with them was John, the disciple, and Jesus asked John to take care of His mother for Him.
Around noon the sky suddenly grew dark, and the darkness lasted for three hours. Then Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “It is finished!” And immediately He died. As He did, there was an earthquake; and the crowd who had watched Jesus die returned home, full of remorse. The Roman officer who stood near the cross and the other soldiers who were with Him were frightened. The officer said to his soldiers, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
THE BURIAL OF JESUS
Matthew 27:57-28:1; Mark 15:42-16:4; Luke 23:50-24:2; John 19:31- 20:1
Now that Jesus had been crucified, the Law of Moses said that His body could not be left on the cross overnight. Adding to that, it was a Friday, probably late in the afternoon. As soon as the sun went down, the Sabbath would begin; and work would not be permitted. So Jesus’ body had to be taken down right away. There was a rich man named Joseph who summoned up the courage to go to Pilate and ask permission to take the body of Jesus and bury it. Pilate gave him permission, and Nicodemus, the Pharisee, helped him. Both of them were important men in Israel, and out of fear of other Jews, they had only followed Jesus in secret up to this point.
Joseph owned a tomb near the crucifixion site. It was supposed to be his burial-place one day, but Joseph and Nicodemus placed Jesus’ body in the tomb. They wrapped the body in linen with sweet spices and perfumes that Nicodemus had brought. Some of the women who were followers of Jesus stood by watching while Joseph and Nicodemus laid the body of their precious Lord in the dark tomb, and they saw the men roll a heavy stone in front of the entrance.
The religious leaders who were enemies of Jesus were worried that the disciples might come and remove Jesus’ body from the tomb. They remembered that Jesus had said He would rise on the third day, so they came to Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that when he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I am to rise again.’ Therefore, give orders for the grave to be made secure until the third day, otherwise His disciples may come and steal Him away and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.” Pilate, wanting nothing more to do with them or their problems, just told them to use their own guards to secure the tomb. So they did.
But resurrection was the furthest thing from the disciples’ minds. They were in hiding and grieving the loss of their Messiah. Their glorious hopes for the kingdom of God had disappeared, leaving them discouraged. The women, on the other hand, were not afraid to go out. After sunset on Saturday, when the Sabbath ended, they quickly prepared some sweet perfumes. Then they planned to go early the next morning to put the perfume on the body as a sign of their love for Jesus.
Around dawn on the third day, the group of women left the city and headed toward the tomb. But as they were going along, it became clear to them that their plan to pour perfume on the body of Jesus had a major flaw. They no idea how they were going to get into the tomb. The large, heavy stone would be too much for them to roll away on their own, and they wondered who they could get to remove it for them. Since they were resting on the Sabbath, they were probably also unaware of the additional work the religious leaders had undertaken to secure the tomb—posting the guards and placing the wax seal over the stone—meaning entering the tomb would be even more difficult than the women imagined. But when they came close, the women found a strange sight. The stone was already rolled away, and the tomb was open.
THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
Matthew 28:2-15; Mark 16:5-11; Luke 24:3-12; John 20: 2-18
As dawn was approaching on the third day since Jesus’ body had been placed in the tomb, the ground beneath the guard’s feet suddenly began to shake. It was another earthquake. Then an angel of the Lord came down from the sky and rolled the stone away from the door of the tomb and sat on it. When the guards saw this, they were so terrified that they passed out. When they woke up, they went back into the city and told the chief priests what they had seen.
Now, there were several women who came to the tomb that morning. We know there were at least four of them: Mary from the town of Magdala (better known as Mary Magdalene), another Mary (who had a son named James), Salome, and Joanna. They saw that the tomb was empty, and Mary from Magdala left the others and ran quickly to tell Peter and John that the body of Jesus had been removed and hidden somewhere.
After Mary had left, the other women noticed the angel, and they were filled with fear. But the angel said, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said. Come, see the place where He was lying. Go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead.”
The women ran away, filled with joy but also shaking with excitement and fear. The good news that the angel had told them seemed too wonderful to be true, but they believed and hurried to tell the disciples. When the disciples heard the news,
it sounded like total nonsense, and they would not believe it. Still, Peter and John were curious, so they ran to see the tomb for themselves. After seeing the empty tomb and the grave clothes in which Jesus had been buried, Peter and John believed as well.
Mary from Magdala had not stayed in the garden long enough to hear the message of the angel, and now she returned to the tomb. She stood by the empty grave and cried. Then she looked into the tomb and saw two angels sitting, one at the head and another at the feet of where the body of Jesus had been. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” and she replied, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Then turning around, she saw Jesus Himself standing there. But she did not realize it was Him; so when He also asked why she was crying, she responded, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Then Jesus said, “Mary!” and she recognized Him.
While these things were happening, the men who had guarded the tomb were in the city reporting to the chief priests. The chief priests had a serious problem now, so they quickly gathered the other enemies of Jesus, and they all discussed what to do about it. They still hoped to persuade the people that Jesus had been a false prophet, so they offered the guards a lot of money to tell people that the disciples came and stole Jesus’ body while they were asleep. They gladly took the money, and many of the Jews believed this story.
JESUS ON THE ROAD TO EMMAUS
Mark 16:12-14; Luke 24:13-43; John 20:19-29
Along the seven-mile road from the city of Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus, two men were walking slowly, with their heads down. They had been followers of Jesus, and they were sad about everything that had happened to Him. They were talking about His trial, His crucifixion, and the reports they had been hearing about the tomb being empty and Jesus being alive. And in the middle of their discussion, Jesus Himself approached them and asked them about it. The men were kept from recognizing Jesus; and surprised by the unexpected question, one of the men replied, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?” And He asked, “What things?”
The men began to tell all about Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had hoped would deliver their nation from the rule of the Romans and set up a kingdom. They told Him how the chief priests and other Jewish rulers had handed Him over to be crucified. They added, “Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.”
Their traveling companion listened patiently, then He remarked, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” And quoting the Scriptures to them He showed that all of this had been predicted long ago.
As they came near to the village of Emmaus, they urged Him to stay with them that evening. He agreed, and they were very happy to have Him as their guest. At the beginning of their evening meal, He took bread, and after a blessing, He gave them pieces as He broke it for them. At that moment they finally recognized the Man—it was Jesus! Then He suddenly disappeared from the room.
Now the two men understood why the women who had seen the angels were so excited. They also believed Jesus had risen, and they could not wait to share the news. So they got up from the table and hurried back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples that they had seen the Lord. It was late by the time they traveled the seven miles back to Jerusalem, but the disciples and Jesus’ other followers were all awake and already overjoyed. “The Lord has really risen and has appeared to Simon!” they exclaimed. By “Simon” they of course meant Peter, whose real name was actually Simon. However, we do not know any of the details of this appearance. Then the men who had just come from Emmaus shared their incredible experience as well.
While they talked together, suddenly Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be to you.” They were frightened because the doors were closed when He came in, and they thought that He was a spirit. But He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Then He asked for something to eat, and they gave Him a piece of fish. He ate it in front of them to prove that He was not just a spirit. They were so glad to see Him alive again after they had seen Him tortured and put to death.
But Thomas, one of the disciples, was not there when Jesus appeared. And he refused to believe that Jesus was alive. He said, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”
A week passed by, and again the disciples were together in a room with the doors closed, and this time Thomas was with them. Then Jesus appeared as suddenly as before, and He said to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus came up to Thomas and said, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side. And do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Now Thomas worshiped Jesus, saying, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
JESUS’ LAST MEETING WITH HIS DISCIPLES
Matthew 28:16-20; Mark 16:15-19; Luke 24:50-52; John 21: 1-19; Acts 1:1-14
It seems that after Jesus appeared to the disciples, they did not really know what to do next. Since Peter used to fish for a living before he became a disciple, he decided that he wanted to fish again. And some of the other disciples joined him.
The men fished all night, but they did not catch anything. When morning came they brought the boat near the shore and saw someone standing on the beach. He called to them and said, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” Then He told them to throw their net into the water once more, this time on the right side of the boat. As silly a suggestion as this seemed, they did it; and the net caught 153 fish, so many that they struggled to haul it to shore. John, realizing what was happening, said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” And immediately Peter jumped out of the boat and swam to shore. The others stayed in the boat and brought it to land.
Jesus had a fire going, and He was cooking bread and fish; so He invited them to have breakfast. Then, after they had eaten, Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him. Peter answered that he did; but just as Peter had denied Jesus three times, Jesus asked him this question three times. And each time Peter answered, Jesus told him to take care of His sheep. In other words Jesus wanted Peter to leave his work as a fisherman and become a preacher of the good news.
Then Jesus told Peter something else that made him very uncomfortable. He told him that when he grew older he would stretch out his hands and someone would lead him where he did not want to go—meaning he would be killed on a cross for following Jesus. Then Jesus said to Peter, “Follow Me!” And Peter’s life was never the same again.
After His resurrection Jesus continued to teach the disciples. Though He would soon return to heaven, He wanted to make sure they knew that He would always be with them and that He has authority over everything. He also told His followers that He would send the Holy Spirit to live in them and be their guide and teacher. Considering that they would be in such good hands, Jesus gave His disciples a mission: to make more disciples wherever they went. These new disciples were to be baptized. They were also to learn to obey all of Jesus’ teachings, for that is what disciples do—they become like their teacher.
Jesus also taught them more about the kingdom of God, but they still did not understand it. They still thought Jesus was about to set up a government on earth. They did not yet realize that the point of the kingdom of God was to serve God as king.
After spending time in Galilee, Jesus and His disciples returned to the region of Judea. It was here that the disciples would see Jesus for the last time. Before leaving He instructed them to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. And He added, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
While Jesus talked to them, they were standing together on the Mount of Olives, and suddenly the disciples saw Him being taken up into heaven. They watched until He disappeared in a bright cloud. But still they just stood there, looking up into the sky. Then two angels, dressed in beautiful white clothes, came and stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”
So they left the Mount of Olives and went into Jerusalem. They entered a home in Jerusalem, which had a large room upstairs. There they met together with other friends of Jesus to wait and pray until they would receive the Holy Spirit with power. Then through them, the Spirit would change the world.