Appointing the Twelve

Mark 3:13–19; Matthew 5:1–12; Luke 6:12–26

Jesus selected twelve men from his disciples (cf. Luke 10:1–12) who became apostles. Christ made this selection after a night of prayer. The term translated for Christ’s all-night prayer is used only here in the New Testament, and it denotes “an all-night prayer vigil,” which suggests a complete trust in God’s selection of the twelve. These particular disciples would be the standard bearers of the church.

An apostle was one who was “sent forth,” like an ambassador. Apostles were head of the church in Christ’s absence (1 Cor. 12.28; Eph. 4.11); hence the early church devoted itself to apostolic teaching (Acts 2.42). That twelve was selected was probably to replace the idea of the twelve tribes of Israel and thus defined Jesus’ followers as the reconstituted people of God. The twelve had a special mission and were hand-selected by Christ. However, the twelve were not the only ones called apostles (cf. 1 Cor. 15:5–7). The term seemed to have been sometimes used regarding missionaries, too, when they were sent from particular congregations (Acts 14:14), though it cannot be said that these were of the same authority as the apostolic office. 

Whenever Judas was replaced, his replacement was to be one who accompanied them during the time that Jesus was among them from the baptism of John until his ascension (Acts 1:21–22). The only apostle whose office didn’t fit the requirements of Judas’ replacement was the apostle Paul, but we know that Paul was likely in Jerusalem at the time of Christ’s ministry (cf. Acts 22:3; 26:4). We don’t know if he personally encountered Christ or heard him. Paul’s apostleship was disputed in the early church, but he contended that he was equal with Peter and the others (Gal. 2:7–9). 

Men would later call themselves apostles while claiming many characteristics of Jesus’ chosen apostles (2 Cor. 11:5ff; Rev. 2:2), but these were not to be obeyed. Once Jesus made his selection, he and they came down the mountain and stood on a level place. This doesn’t indicate that he came down but that he found a level place on the side of the mountain from which he could address his disciples. The crowd benefited from his teaching but was directed as his disciples (Luke 6:20). Jesus healed many at this point who were ill and those who were possessed. As they touched Jesus, they enjoyed his power.

While Luke’s Sermon on the Plain deviates in structure from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Matthew was a topical rather than chronological writer. Luke’s placement of Jesus’ sermon in his Gospel may be best understood from a chronological view. The difference between the mount and the plain may be understood as Jesus standing on the side of the mount, or a slope, which could technically be the mount.

The following sermon was intended not for the people but for the disciples of Christ. The beatitudes have been described as a way of life, while the woes have been described as a way of death (Didache 1.1–5), reminiscent of Deuteronomy’s blessings and curses. Ambrose understood the beatitudes as the four virtues of Greek philosophy: temperance, justice, prudence, and fortitude (Luke 5.62-63). Ambrose’s interpretation ran counter to the Stoic philosophers of Jesus’ day.

The woes of Luke speak to those who have enjoyed their reward in this life. Jesus equated what was desired by men with what was base. What was base to men, Jesus equated with blessings: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8–9). The woes were woes, and the blessings were blessings because those who enjoyed the woes could not see the need for Christ, while those with the blessings could. Luke later proves this in his story of the rich man and Lazarus later in his Gospel (Luke 16:19–31). The rich man had all the comforts and wealth of the world, while Lazarus suffered daily. In the afterlife, the rich man was tormented while Lazarus was comforted. When the rich man adjured Abraham to send word to his brothers once he learned that he could not receive relief, Abraham’s words were that they heed Moses and the Prophets. The implication of this passage was that the rich man refused to give himself to a study of the Hebrew Bible, and because he lacked adequate knowledge of how to care for his neighbor, he was suffering as a result.

Healing on the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1–21; Mark 2:23–3:12; Luke 6:1–11

Jesus and his disciples were pulling grain and eating on the Sabbath, but the Pharisees took issue with what they interpreted as their “working” on the Sabbath. The apostle John gave a blunt explanation that summed up the Pharisaical animosity towards Jesus, which revolved around Christ’s Sabbath activity. The law regarding the Sabbath was one of observant cessation for holiness (Exod. 20:8). What they were doing was not a violation of the Sabbath. Instead, they violated the traditional keeping of the Sabbath as it was defined by the rabbis.

God permitted the Jews to eat grain as they passed through a grain field (Deut. 23:25; Ruth 2:2–3). Sabbath prohibitions were to not start a fire for cooking (Exod. 16:22–30; 35:3), gather fuel (Num. 15:32–36), bear a load (Jer. 17:21–22), or conduct business (Neh. 10:31; 13:15, 19). The rabbinical tradition, however, demanded thirty-nine particular restrictions, including reaping (Shab. 7.2). Therefore, the disciples picking grain was perceived by the Pharisees as reaping and thus a violation of the law.

Jesus proved the Pharisee’s inconsistency by exposing their veneration of David while neglecting David’s disobedience of the law while Jesus and his disciples were not breaking the law. Furthermore, Jesus, not the Pharisees, was “lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath does not indicate that Jesus violated the law. Some have categorized this narrative as one of situational ethics, but that is not the case. Jesus was not bending the rules or saying he could because of his lordship over the Sabbath. Instead, he was the legislator of the law and, bound by it (cf. Matt. 5:17–19), would not have broken it. Had Jesus defied the law, he could not have been called sinless (1 John 3:4; cf. Heb. 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22). If Jesus sinned, he could not have been our sacrifice humanity would still be in sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Matthew adds the detail that Jesus pointed out that the priests broke the law, working on the Sabbath, but were blameless. Then, for the second time, he cites Hosea, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice.” 

Jesus is next faced with healing on the Sabbath. By this time, the Pharisees kept a steady eye on the Lord to determine whether he would violate their traditions. However, later rabbinic traditions attest to an answer to the question of Jesus: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or harm, to save life or to destroy it?” The rabbis agreed that preserving life overruled Sabbath restrictions when life was at stake (Yoma 8.6; cf. Shab. 18.3; 19.2). However, life wasn’t at risk in this story. Mark permits us a glimpse into how Jesus felt about their hardness of hearts: he “looked … at them with anger, bring grieved” (Mark 3:5). Jesus did this miracle publicly not to provoke but to persuade. The proof was required to attest to his identity to know that he was Lord. Once he healed the man, though, the Pharisees began plotting with Herodians, a detail unique to Mark, which makes for an ironic narrative. Since the Sabbath was meant for cessation, their plotting contradicts their ceasing. 

Jesus removes himself, healing those who came to him in Tyre and Sidon (Mark 3:7–12), Gentile cities that perhaps spoke to the offer of salvation even to Gentiles. Matthew cited Isaiah’s words as the explanation of being in Tyre and Sidon (12:16–21; cf. Is. 42:1–4).  

By the Pool of Bethesda

John 5:1–47

Jesus spent a lot of time in Galilee. Now, he goes to Jerusalem for a feast in the first year of his ministry (c. 27–31). The Sheep Gate was where sheep came in and were washed in the pool before being taken into the sanctuary. Invalids were also here, so those wishing to be ritually pure would have avoided this area. Yet, Jesus goes to it. Its name may mean “house of mercy,” which was why such folks went here (vv. 1–3). Depending on your translation, there may be an omission of mentioning angels stirring the waters (vv. 3–4).  

All English translations use a specific edition of the Greek New Testament and Hebrew/Aramaic Old Testament. The very first Greek New Testament to be comprised was by Erasmus in 1516. He used 12th-century manuscripts. At his time, the oldest manuscript was from the 10th century, but he opted for the later ones. As time passed, scholars made revisions that echoed Erasmus’ text. All English translations through 1880 used the same Greek New Testament, called Textus Receptus (“received text”). 

By the 1700s, many more manuscripts had been discovered. Some were six to nine centuries older than what Erasmus had available. These older manuscripts lacked passages such as John 5:3b–4 and fifteen others. The belief was that a scribe may have mistaken an explanatory marginal comment for a correction and copied it into the text. A new Greek New Testament was made and appeared in 1831. Since the manuscripts were older than Erasmus used, they omitted the sixteen passages to construct the most accurate and historical version, which is reflected in many English translations. 

Since 1611, the King James Bible has reigned as the preeminent English translation. However, because of the newer Greek New Testament, a Revised Version was commissioned in England in 1881. The Revised Version would later birth the New Revised Standard Version, which would later birth the English Standard Version. When the Revised Version appeared, there was a considerable uproar since the long-dominant KJV had set the standard. The omission of the verses was seen as blasphemous, and people cited Revelation 22:19 to those who upheld the Revised Version. In reality, Revelation 22:18 is more relevant if you want to argue the point. 

Translations that omit these added verses usually contain a footnote or marginal note explaining that 3b–4 appears in later manuscripts. Modern translations do not leave these verses out per se any more than the older ones added them. They are simply the product of the information that was available at the time. Now that we have better information, the translations that omit them should be more commonly used.

Nevertheless, given the affinity for the New King James, we use it with the caveat that it’s based on later manuscripts. More recent translations utilize a vast amount of sources. The standard for most English translations is the Masoretic text of the Hebrew called Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia; the Greek New Testament used is Novum Testamentum Graece. Translators often consult, alongside these primary sources, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), the Samaritan Pentateuch (Law of Moses), the Syriac Peshitta (Syriac Bible), the Latin Vulgate, and other sources that may help shed light on texts that may be difficult to translate. 

After Jesus healed the man, linking his condition to sin (v. 14), he took his bed and went on his way while the Pharisees rebuked him for carrying his bed. This act of healing on the Sabbath was the start of persecution for Jesus that would culminate in his death (v. 16). Christ explains  himself to them as equal with God in nature (vv. 17–18), power (vv. 19–21), authority (vv. 22–30). The language of verse 25 may foreshadow the raising of Lazarus. Another possibility is that his intention is akin to Ezekiel speaking to the valley of dry bones to bring them to life (Ezek. 37). Later, Jesus alludes to the resurrection at the judgment (vv. 28–29). 

Jesus, next, shows that he is submissive even to the Law of Moses, which prescribes two or three witnesses to confirm facts (Deut. 19:15). Jesus has the witness of John the Baptist (vv. 31–35), the works he performs (v. 36), the father (vv. 37–38), and Scripture (vv. 39–47). Rabbi Hillel taught, “The more study of the Law the more life…If a man…has gained for himself words of the Law he has gained for himself life in the world to come” (m. ’Abot 2.7). The emphasis on studying the Torah was such that what it taught was overshadowed. We must beware of this kind of biblicism because many brethren can know the Scriptures with exactitude. Yet, being able to quote book, chapter, and verse is meaningless unless our lives conform to what’s written. 

Jesus Among an Undesirable Crowd

Matthew 9:9–17; Mark 2:13–22; Luke 5:27–39

When we think about apostles, we envision holy men. Yet, we often forget their humanity and the “before” of their story. Relating to ordinary people, even some that society considers undesirable are disregarded as we think of them in the position given to them by Jesus. Jesus, however, chose unwanted, ordinary people. 

This story begins with Jesus calling a certain disciple, Levi. In other passages, he’s identified as Matthew—the writer of the Gospel that bears his name (Matt. 9:9–13; Mark 2:14). Matthew, or Levi, was a tax collector. They were crooked, greedy, and usually men of wealth and influence. They would contract with their city or district and gather taxes to be sent to Rome. They had little authority, but they were in cahoots with the authorities. Sometimes they served as informants and bore false witness to get extra money when someone might have already paid their taxes (cf. Luke 19:8). Whatever they collected above what was required was often pocketed as a commission (cf. Luke 3:13). What made tax collectors so hated was that they were Jews who worked for the Roman government. To the Jewish people, who were prideful of their heritage and disdainful of foreign rule and occupation, the tax collectors were seen as traitors. Israel had been an independent state for about 100 years until Rome brought them under subjugation, and Herod was installed as king in AD 6. Before, Israel and Rome were allies. After being made a Roman province, Israel often had uprisings in attempts to expel the Romans from their homeland. Those tax collectors were natives working for the occupiers, placing them in a hated category. This was why the religious leaders were astounded by Jesus’ associations. However, it was because Levi was spiritually sick that Jesus sought him. 

Table meals in the ancient East were more significant than we might deem them. Sharing a meal with someone implied accepting them, and in this case, added to that was forgiveness. Our Lord’s Supper is based mainly on the same premise. Sharing the meal from the Lord’s Table in the assembly communicates our acceptance and forgiveness towards one another. The religious leaders believed obedience to religious law was a precondition for God’s kingdom’s arrival. Jesus, however, communicates by this that God’s kingdom will arrive even to sinful Israel by God’s grace—the very thing Jesus is giving the sinners and tax collectors. The same still stands: we don’t make ourselves ready to be accepted. God offers grace through which, in our unpreparedness and sin, we can go to him as we are, and he makes us something far more significant. Then the work begins. 

Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6: “For I desire mercy [steadfast love] and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The statement isn’t meant to call one away from sacrifices (worship) but to the knowledge of God. When we understand God’s heart, we’ll live with integrity under his covenant rather than engage in rituals and shows of piety to earn his love. Have affection for God and mercy for others. They had missed the whole point. Jesus was going to heal spiritual sickness, but they were enslaved to trivial issues of purity. The opposite of mercy, in this case, is a religious triviality wed to traditions and regulations. 

The banquet at Levi’s home concerned the Pharisees because they, and John’s disciples, were disciplined in fasting and prayer, while to them, it appeared that Jesus’ disciples partied. However, what Jesus seemed to relay to the Pharisees was a matter of compatibility. As a new garment patch was incompatible with an old garment, and as new wine in old wineskins was incompatible, so it was that fasting in the presence of the bridegroom was incompatible. This isn’t to say that fasting isn’t needed. Just that the occasion for it was untimely.   

Jesus’ Popularity Grows

Matthew 8:2–4; Mark 1:40–45; Luke 5:12–16

Leprosy was no pleasant or beautiful thing. It was downright torture for the one who struggled with it. It was physical torture because of its effects upon the body, and it could even be in the orifices hidden from sight, the throat, and genitals. To have leprosy was thought to have been cursed by God (cf. 2 Sam. 3:29; 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chron. 26:20–21). One author notes: 

Leprosy usually begins with a patch-like lumpy rash which does not fade under pressure. The…initial eruption may entirely disappear and reappear after a long interval, when the next and unmistakable form of the disease manifests itself…[as] the appearance of the white skin.

Leviticus 13–14 dealt with leprosy and its handling in Jewish life. Priests were responsible for pronouncing one as unclean or clean. The initial stages of leprosy were a period of observation in the event a person did not have leprosy (Lev. 13:4–6). If the disorder spread, the person was declared unclean, and they were to be ostracized from society (Lev. 13:45–46).

Because Jesus touched the leper—an unlawful thing to do (Lev. 5:2–6; 7:21) – some might be prone to think him unclean and in violation of the law. This must have been the audience’s thought when they saw Jesus touch the leper. Since Christ is the author of the law, he is able to supersede the law in this regard (cf. Luke 6:5), but he did observe it and yield to it by commanding that the leper seek the priest’s pronouncement as well as offer acceptable sacrifices.

This miracle gave greater rise to Christ’s already growing popularity. Because of this, he could scarcely be seen without being bothered by those wanting to be healed. Yes, Christ is a healer, but more of the spirit than of the body. A man should seek the spiritual cleansing that brings us into fellowship with God more so than the physical healing that affords comfort. A leper was not only physically ostracized, but he was also spiritually ostracized. He could not worship. The Lord wearied of these requests and went away to pray. 

(Matthew 9:1–8; Mark 2:1–12; Luke 5:17–26) 

In this account, Jesus healed a paralytic man while attributing his healing to forgiving sins. However, it is here that Luke first points to the contention between Jesus and the Pharisees. In this story, they appear as students, but when Jesus did something contrary to their customs, they accused him of blasphemy. Accompanying the Pharisees were the “teachers of the law” or, more likely, the scribes. The latter group traced their heritage back to Ezra (cf. Ezra 7:6, 10). Their duty was to interpret the law while the Pharisees applied the law. It would be like having a different preacher for exposition and application. The exposition gives the meaning while the applicator instructs how the meaning is to be followed.

This contention was Christ pronouncing forgiveness of sins and healing the paralytic (cf. Ps. 103:3). While only God forgives sins, he did use human agents to offer forgiveness (2 Sam. 12:13). Since disease and sins were linked in Jesus’ time (1 Cor. 11:30; cf. John 9:2–3), those present would have identified the paralytic’s disease as linked to his sins. What Jesus was doing was what was prophesied in the Messianic era (Jer. 31:31–34; Is. 29:18–19). However, the Pharisees didn’t understand these things, so they accused Christ of blasphemy. Jesus would have been worthy of blasphemy had he misused the name of God (M. Sanh. 7.5), but he didn’t.

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