At the next village, Jesus is just wrapping up a day’s teaching on another hillside. A man has been standing just outside the crowd, listening but not joining in. Now that the crowd is dispersing for the day, he approaches Jesus and bows low at His feet. He is wearing the robes of a rich man, tasseled like those of the Pharisees, but he does not act like a Pharisee. “Good Rabbi,” he says to Jesus, “What do I need to do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus studies him for a moment, then asks, “Why do you call Me good? Only God is truly good.” He looks into the man’s heart and sees that he wants to have faith but is struggling. “You know the commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and mother.’” The man nods earnestly and says, “I have kept the commandments since I was a child.” Jesus sees that he is growing hopeful that he has done all he needs to do to gain eternal life in Heaven. But his heart belongs to something other than God, and that is what the man needs to rectify. “One thing you still need to do. Sell everything that you have and give the money to the poor. In so doing, you will gain treasure in Heaven. When you have done this, come and follow Me.” The man is startled, not expecting this response. He backs away sadly, knowing that he is not prepared to do what Jesus asks of him. His wealth is far too important to him.
Matthew 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22, Luke 18:18-23
The Pharisees, once again thwarted in their effort to trap Jesus, file out of the synagogue giving Him stony looks. But many others in the congregation gather around Him. Several of them have small children with them, and they encourage the children to go to Jesus, hoping that He will bless them, and their families through them. The apostles move to block the children from coming. “The Rabbi is very busy, and we need to be moving on soon. We are on an important journey and He must not be hindered from His work!” they proclaim to the people. But Jesus stands and comes to them, laying His hands on their shoulders. “My friends, please,” He says to them, “We are never in such a hurry that we cannot stop to bless the children. Let them all come to Me. Because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to people just like them! Whoever comes to Me with faith like these little children have will never be turned away. If only the adults we encounter on our travels had this kind of faith! For whoever does not receive Me or the One who sent Me with this kind of faith will never be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus turns to the children and embraces them, one by one, blessing each child and his family and praising their faith.
Matthew 19:13-15, Mark 10:13-16, Luke 18:15-17
The Pharisees, ever seeking to trap Jesus with words, come to Him after the service and ask, “Is it permitted in the Law of Moses for a man to divorce his wife for any reason he chooses?” Jesus replies, “You know the law, you know the answer to this question. What does the law say?” One of the Pharisees says, “The law permits a man to write his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away.” Jesus nods and says, “Moses relented and gave you that law because your hearts, and those of your ancestors, have always been hard. If he hadn’t given you that law, wives would have suffered at the hands of abusive husbands. But from the beginning, it was always intended that marriage should last, as the vow states, ‘till death do they part.’ That is why in the Book of Beginnings it states that God created people male and female. Any why it states that a man shall leave his parents and be joined together with his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. And so, what God has joined together should not be torn apart, except for marital infidelity. For whoever divorces his wife and then marries again commits adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Andrew comments, “If that is so, then maybe it is better to never marry at all!” Jesus looks at him and nods his head seriously. “For those who can resist the temptation to fall into sexual immorality, that is always a valid option. There are some people who are born as eunuchs, some who are made that way later in life, and some who make themselves eunuchs. But it is not an easy life, for it is filled with temptation.”
Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12
Once again, as they continue their journey, they encounter a group of Pharisees. As it is the Sabbath, Jesus enters the synagogue to teach the people. The Pharisees stand front and center, straight and tall in their tasseled robes. They keep their distance from the other members of the synagogue so that they won’t be defiled by anyone touching them. Jesus addresses the whole congregation, but it is quite clear who He is really speaking to. “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a tax collector, and the other was a Pharisee. The Pharisee stood on the steps of the Temple, arms raised to Heaven, and prayed in a loud voice, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men. I don’t cheat on my wife, I don’t have an unholy profession like that tax collector over there, I don’t steal or lie. I thank You that I keep all your commandments, I fast twice a week, I give a tenth of everything I own to the Temple. Thank You for making me a Pharisee!’ The tax collector stood just inside the Temple grounds, head down, unwilling to look up to Heaven. He pulled at his hair in distress as tears streamed down his face. ‘Oh, God, please have mercy on me! I have sinned against You and against Your people! I am not worthy to look up to Heaven!’ I tell you the truth: the tax collector went home with a lighter heart, forgiven by his Heavenly Father, but the Pharisee was still drowning in his sins, unwilling to confess them to the God who knows all. Anyone who tries to make himself out to be better than his neighbors will eventually be brought low. But whoever humbles himself will be raised up.”
As they continue on their way, they meet some people who have been praying daily for a healing miracle for their friend for many years. They have grown discouraged from waiting so long and not getting an answer to their prayers. But when they see Jesus, their faith is renewed and their prayers answered when He heals their friend. Jesus tells them, “You have done well to keep praying all this time. You must never give up on your prayers. Once there was a widow, and some men were trying to cheat her out of the land that she and her late husband owned. So she went to a judge to ask him for help. This judge was quite arrogant, cared nothing for what other people thought of him, and did not heed the will of God. The widow’s plight did not move him in the slightest and he did nothing to help her. But she kept coming to him, every day, reminding him of her story and pleading with him to help her. Finally, the judge did as she asked, just so that she would leave him alone. Now, if this unjust judge is inclined to come to the aid of this widow because of her persistence, how much more do you think God is inclined to answer the prayers of His people when they persist? And yet, from what I see when I walk through this land of God’s chosen people, I wonder if I will find any who have faith in Me when I return in the last days.”
Jesus continues, “When that day comes, a man will be on the roof of his house, fixing the shingles. Another will be working in a field. A woman will be locking up a store. They will all look up suddenly and see the sign of My coming. If they are prudent, they will not turn back to gather any of their belongings but will run to safety. As in the days of Lot, if they look back they will be destroyed. Because whoever tries to save the life they have on earth will lose it. But whoever is willing to give up that life for My sake, will gain a life that is far better and will never be lost. When I return, I will gather all My people to Me so that they will be spared from the destruction that will come. Best friends will be conversing together, one of them will be taken and the other will remain. Workers in a factory will be standing side by side. One will be taken and the other will remain. A father and son will be plowing a field together on their farm. One will be taken and the other will remain.” The apostles don’t understand. “Where will this happen, Rabbi?” they ask. “Wherever My people are, all over the world. It will happen everywhere, all in one instant.”
Jesus turns to His apostles and tells them, “In the future, you will look back on this time and wish it was still with you. You will earnestly look for My coming again, and that is right and good. But be careful, because many people will try to deceive you. They will say, ‘Look! It’s Jesus! He’s returned, come with me and I’ll take you to Him!’ Don’t believe what you hear from other people. Remember this: I will not return in secret. When I return it will be like when lightning splits the sky and illuminates it from east to west. All will know that I AM come again. But before that day comes, I must finish the work that My Father has given Me to do here and now. I must suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, and bear the rejection of My people. And then, in the day of My return, it will be like it was in the days of Noah, or of Lot. People were going about their busy lives, paying no attention to God’s will for them. They were so caught up in themselves that they refused to listen to the warnings put forth by Noah or Lot. Then, in Lot’s day, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah were suddenly destroyed, along with all the inhabitants who had refused to heed the warnings. In Noah’s day, the flood came and destroyed all the people who refused to listen to Noah’s warning. And so it will be again, in the day that I return, when people of that generation will refuse to heed My warnings.”
Continuing on their way, the apostles groan inwardly when they meet a group of Pharisees. “At least these are Galilean Pharisees, not the ones who are trying to kill the Rabbi,” whispers Matthew. “Still, I would rather meet another bunch of lepers!” Peter whispers back. The Pharisees, with their characteristic bold arrogance, stride over to Jesus and ask, “Rabbi, when will God’s kingdom come?” Jesus smiles, a gleam in His eye, knowing that once again this question is meant to trap Him. “God’s kingdom is not something that you can look for with your eyes, at least not here on earth as it is now. You can’t give someone directions on how to get there. It is actually here, now, but within each person who holds it in his heart. God’s kingdom comes to each person individually, when he surrenders himself to God’s will. I AM the gateway to the kingdom.
But one of the lepers stops suddenly, and turns back. Intent in their joy, his friends do not notice his departure but continue on their way. This lone man runs back to Jesus, knowing in his heart that he must express his gratitude to this amazing Man, and that there must be more to discover about this Jesus. Finding Him, the man falls to the ground and sings a loud song of thanks both to God and to Jesus. He looks up, into Jesus’ compassionate eyes, and says, “Thank You, Rabbi, for healing us, for giving us Life again! And especially me, for I was doubly cursed – both a leper and a Samaritan.” Now Jesus embraces the man, pulling him to his feet. The man is lost in Jesus’ eyes, and is a bit surprised to see sadness there. Jesus asks him, “Weren’t there 10 of you, and all healed? Where are the other 9? Are you the only one with a heart of gratitude to God?” Jesus pauses, and the man hangs his head, ashamed for his friends. They are so caught up in their healing that they have neglected to give thanks for it. Jesus sees the genuine-ness of this man’s heart and says to him, “But you have true faith, and that has healed both your body and soul. Go, now, show yourself to the priests and begin your new life in faith.” The man’s face glows with joy as he thanks Jesus again and then runs toward the village.
The lepers, though unable to show any outward sign of it, are surprised. They have been searching for Jesus for quite a while, hoping that He will be able to heal them. They don’t know much about Him. They’ve only heard a few stories here and there, because they are forbidden by law to come near to any part of civilized society or any person without the disease. The stories they have heard led them to believe that this elusive Man could heal them. But they know nothing of who Jesus really is, or what He can do for them beyond physical healing. Taken aback by what they see as His dismissal of them, they turn sadly and start to go back the way they came. While they are walking away, though, a curious sensation begins to creep over each one of them. They can actually feel their bodies beginning to knit themselves back together. Injuries mend themselves, missing or deformed facial features return to normal, their strength increases. They look at each other in wonder and delight. In another moment they are all whole again. Standing straight and tall, they all embrace one another, laughing. And they start to run towards the nearest village, to do what Jesus has commanded and to show themselves to the priests.