Fish Story

Luke 5:1-11 describes the audacious way Jesus calls Peter to be a disciple. The scene opens with a mention of the empty nets Peter is cleaning – a bit of foreshadowing of the important role those nets will play later in the story. We can imagine Peter’s face, complete with bags under the eyes of this professional fisherman who has spent all night on the lake without a lick of luck. We can picture those eyes widening as they watch Jesus hop into Peter’s boat without bothering to ask for permission. The eyes might roll just a little when Jesus asks Peter to keep the boat steady just offshore for use as a floating pulpit.

Once the sermon from the sea is complete, Jesus makes a ridiculous request:

“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”  – Luke 5:4

Here’s Mr. Dry Land Carpenter giving orders to a guy who fishes for a living about when and where to catch fish. And everybody knows that the time to catch fish in the Sea of Galilee is at night, when the fish are feeding and when they can’t see your nets. And everybody knows that most of the fish are found along the shore near the spots where fresh water flows into the sea.

I love Peter’s response. He basically says, “Jesus, this isn’t going to work. But because you are the one telling me to do it, I’ll humor you and give it a try. Even though deep water fishing in broad daylight is silly. Even though we’ve established that the fish aren’t biting. And even though fishing isn’t really your area of expertise.”

I wonder how long it takes for Peter to figure out that Jesus is expert in more areas than he realizes? When he does what Jesus says and lowers his nets, he catches enough fish to break nets and swamp two boats!

Peter’s immediate reaction to the miraculous catch of fish is not excitement and gratitude – it is fear and shame:

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’”  – Luke 5:8

Peter is painfully aware of his unworthiness to be with someone like Jesus. He is shaken by Jesus’ holiness and power. Someone who is so connected to God that he can get fish to do what he wants is clearly out of his league. Peter figures that someone as holy as Jesus would not be willing to tolerate someone as unholy as himself.

Peter assumes (along with the rest of the first century Jewish world) that if something clean comes in contact with something unclean, the unclean thing will defile the clean thing. He doesn’t want to risk his sinfulness rubbing off on someone as pure as Jesus. But Jesus believes in reverse contamination – he knows that his cleanness will purify the uncleanness it touches. His holiness is contagious.

This passage includes the first use of the word “sinner” in Luke’s Gospel, and the scene establishes the key theme that Jesus’ attitude toward sinners is not what we would expect. Jesus is a friend of sinners.

Peter’s reaction to holiness in this call story echoes that of Isaiah the prophet in his call story recorded in Isaiah 6. When Isaiah encounters the unfiltered holiness of God, he assumes he’s a goner because of his own uncleanness. But instead of obliterating Isaiah, God purifies him and gives him a job to do. Jesus does the same with Peter. Jesus knows that Peter is sinful. But his response is not to say, “ew, gross,” and shove Peter overboard. His response is to embrace Peter and put him to work.

Jesus’ first words after the miracle are a reassurance that Peter has no need to be afraid. Though Peter tries to push Jesus away out of fear that he doesn’t deserve to be with someone so holy, Jesus refuses to depart. Jesus knows that with him is exactly where Peter needs to be. So he tells him not to be afraid, and then he offers him a promotion:

“From now on, you will fish for people.”  – Luke 5:10

Jesus says that Peter’s fishing skills will still be needed, but for a different kind of catch.

Our instinct may be to assume that Jesus’ holiness is something to fear. Because he is so pure, and we are so flawed, we might try to stiff-arm him like Peter did as a matter of self-preservation. But the holiness of Jesus isn’t repelled by our sinfulness. His righteousness is stronger than our wrongness, and it is wrapped in astonishing mercy. He wants to be with us. He wants us to follow him. He wants us to join him in reaching out to others.

Want to explore further?

1. Examine some other key moments in Peter’s journey with Jesus by reading Matthew 14:22-33, Matthew 16:13-20, Matthew 26:69-75, and John 21:15-19.

2. Read Luke 5:12-16, the passage immediately following the story of Peter’s call. Notice how Jesus reinforces the theme of reverse contamination by touching a leper.

3. Ponder the reality that Jesus has expertise with regard to your job, just as he did with Peter’s profession of fishing. What would it look like to follow his instruction at your workplace?

Why Did Jesus Stay with Him?

Zacchaeus wasn’t the kind of person most folks would go out of their way to save. He was a tax collector, which meant that his job was to take money from his Jewish neighbors and give it to the Roman government that had them under its heel. Imagine how fond you would be of someone who was a combination of traitor, mugger, and telemarketer, and you’ll have an idea of Zacchaeus’ approval ratings in his hometown of Jericho. Tax collectors were lucky if their moms and their dogs still loved them. And Luke tells us he was a “chief” tax collector, which meant he was even higher in the pyramid scheme than the typical scummy tax collector. Luke also tells us he was wealthy; that means he had been taking even more from his neighbors than Rome required and keeping the extra to buy himself high def TV screens and gourmet coffee beans.

Zacchaeus heard that Jesus was passing through town, and he wanted to see him. Luke doesn’t tell us why; perhaps Zacchaeus had heard that Jesus was not like other rabbis and that one of his closest disciples was actually a tax collector. But crowds were gathered around Jesus, and Zacchaeus had two things working against him: his height and his unpopularity. Zacchaeus was short (If the song is stuck in your head like it is in mine, you no doubt recall that he was a “wee little man” – I prefer the term “vertically challenged.”) And his neighbors weren’t exactly itching to give the little thief a boost or let him slide up to the front row. But he REALLY wanted to see Jesus, so he did two things that would have been very undignified for a man in the ancient near east – he ran, and he climbed a tree.

When Jesus and the crowd arrived at the base of Zacchaeus’ perch, we can only imagine the laughing, pointing, and name-calling that must have taken place. No doubt the crowd was ready for Jesus to blast their notorious neighbor, expecting Jesus to lecture him for betraying his country and his God, and certain that Jesus would call him to repent and take early retirement from his despicable career. Instead, here’s what Jesus said:

“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”  – Luke 19:5

That statement required some serious audacity. First, it was incredibly impolite for Jesus to invite himself to someone’s house. Such an action would be considered rude in our modern western world; it would have been completely unthinkable in first century Palestine. Second, it was scandalous that Jesus invited himself to THAT house. Jericho had hundreds of homes with nicer, holier people – couldn’t he have found a more appropriate spot to crash? Why would he choose to eat Zacchaeus’ polluted food and sleep in his defiled guest bed?

I’m sure nobody was more shocked by Jesus’ choice of lodging than Zacchaeus. He didn’t even have time to worry about whether his house was presentable or if he had left dirty socks on the floor – he was too busy being amazed that someone like Jesus would want to spend time with someone like him. And Jesus didn’t even say, “If you’ll clean up your life, I’ll come to your house.” He insisted on befriending the tax collector before he became respectable.

The people of Jericho were also shocked by Jesus’ actions, and as soon as he entered the home of that despised collaborator, tongues started wagging:

“All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.’”  – Luke 19:7

Notice what Jesus did: he shifted the hostility of the crowd from Zacchaeus to himself. The town’s venom toward the tax collector became venom toward the teacher who would dare to associate with him. Jesus stepped in front of the arrows that were aimed at Zacchaeus. “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering… By his wounds, we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Zacchaeus received selfless, sacrificial love from Jesus. And he responded by making a pledge to love selflessly and sacrificially. He vowed to give away half of his money to the poor, and to use the rest to make generous amends with the people he had cheated. Then Jesus declared:

“Salvation has come to this house.”  – Luke 19:9

Salvation had come because Jesus, salvation personified, had come. And it had come to THIS HOUSE – the house of a despised traitor and thief.

Jesus’ love for the oppressed is well known. He regularly uplifted widows, the poor, women, children, the disabled, and others who were accustomed to being stepped on by society. But the encounter with Zacchaeus shows us that Jesus also loved the oppressor. He loved those being squashed by the system; he also had the audacity to love those who were cogs in the system that was doing the squashing. Instead of offering brimstone to the tax collector, he offered salvation. That love for the oppressor showed up in another scene in which Jesus encountered a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13). The centurion was Caesar’s fist, the commanding officer of a goon squad sent from Rome to keep oppressed people in line. Centurions enforced the will of Rome with beatings and crucifixions. But when Jesus met the centurion, he didn’t condemn him or lecture him – he healed the centurion’s servant and bragged on the centurion’s faith. The two most visible symbols of the tyranny of Rome were the tax collector and the centurion, and Jesus offered grace to both. He apparently really meant that stuff he said about loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.

Jesus wrapped up his time with Zacchaeus by declaring his personal mission statement:

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”  – Luke 19:10

To seek. To save. Those were his twin objectives. He came looking for messed up folks like Zacchaeus and you and me. And he stepped in front of the arrows aimed at us so that we could be saved.

Want to explore further?

1. Read Matthew 8:5-13 and notice the surprisingly positive tone of Jesus’ interaction with the Roman centurion.

2. Examine Jesus’ interaction with Matthew and other tax collectors in Matthew 9:9-13. Notice the reaction of the religious leaders to his scandalous acceptance of them.

3. In today’s world, who might be the equivalent of a tax collector? How might Jesus respond to them?

Why Was Jesus Talking to Her?

There was a Jewish scholar named Ben Sirach who lived a couple of centuries before Jesus. He wasn’t exactly a women’s libber. He wrote that it was a disaster to have a daughter, that it was shameful for a man to be financially supported by a woman, and that a man should never sit with a woman because spite continually comes out of her. He stated his overall gender view succinctly: “Women give rise to shame and reproach” (Sir 42:14).

Ben Sirach wasn’t likely to be invited to serve as a guest host on The View. But his opinions about women were almost universally shared by rabbis in the first century.

I say “almost” because Jesus had an entirely different perspective. He had the audacity to obliterate the chauvinism that dominated his day.

In a world that assumed that only men were worth teaching, Jesus had women disciples. Matthew 12:49-50 says Jesus pointed to his disciples and called them his brothers AND SISTERS. Luke 8:1-3 says Jesus’ traveling band of disciples included women (which would have been considered scandalous), and that those women were the ones bankrolling Jesus’ ministry (which would have made ol’ Ben Sirach shake his head with disgust). Luke 10:38-42 tells the story of Jesus’ friend Mary sitting at his feet in the posture of a disciple; when her sister Martha told Jesus to send her to the kitchen where she belonged, he said she was right where she was supposed to be. A Y-chromosome was not a pre-requisite for disciples of Jesus.

In a world that viewed women as the source of everything wrong in the world, Jesus regularly pointed to female heroes as examples to follow. He used a poor woman as a pattern for generosity (Mark 12:41-44) and a woman with a sketchy past as a model for gratitude (Luke 7:36-50) . He told stories celebrating a persistent widow (Luke 18:1-8) and wise bridesmaids (Matthew 25:1-13). No other rabbi would have the nerve to tell his disciples, “be like this woman.” But Jesus did it all the time. He even told a story comparing God to a woman searching for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10).

In a world that viewed a woman’s testimony as invalid for any legal proceeding, Jesus charged women to be the first messengers of his resurrection. He picked women to be the first to share the best news of all time to their male-dominated world.

Perhaps the scene in which Jesus’ audacious attitude about women comes into sharpest focus is his conversation with the woman at the well recorded in John 4. He breaks every conceivable social taboo in an encounter that produces the first woman preacher in Christian history. The woman is shocked that Jesus, a Jewish man, would talk to her, a Samaritan woman (v.9). When Jesus’ male disciples walk up on the conversation in progress, they are shocked to find him talking to a woman (v.27). Jesus is breaking all the rules.

Not only does he speak to the woman, but he puts himself in a position of weakness and elevates her by telling her that he needs her assistance – he asks her for a drink. And any other self-respecting rabbi would have considered her Samaritan drinking bucket to be unclean; Jesus is like a white guy in the Jim Crow south asking a Black stranger for a sip from a fountain labeled “colored.”

The conversation with the woman is full of audacious claims. Jesus calls himself “the gift of God.” He says he is qualified to quench spiritual thirst and to provide eternal life. He claims to have supernatural knowledge of the woman’s past. He declares the temple in Jerusalem to be obsolete. He says he’s the Messiah. He applies the divine name, “I AM,” to himself.

But we shouldn’t just be shocked about what Jesus said. We should be shocked to realize to whom he said it. The woman’s gender, her ethnicity, and her past moral failures would have been three strikes against her in the eyes of any other teacher. But Jesus treats her as someone competent to have a deep theological conversation. By John’s reckoning, Jesus chooses her to be the first person he tells that he is the Messiah, and the first person with whom he shares one of his remarkable “I AM” sayings that fill John’s Gospel.

Jesus commissions the woman to go and bear witness to her husband, a man, and bring him to Jesus. She expands the mandate and becomes a missionary to her whole town. Her testimony persuades many Samaritans to believe in Jesus. She convinces others to hear Jesus for themselves, and that does the trick for them. John summarizes the results of the woman’s missionary endeavor like this:

“They said to the woman, ‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’” – John 4:42

He’s the Savior of THE WORLD. Not just Jews, but Samaritans, too. Not just men, but women, too.

Want to explore further?

1. Read each of the passages referenced above, and notice the positive portrayal of women in each of them.

2. From your perspective, what is the most surprising thing Jesus does in John 4? What is the most surprising thing he says?

3. Read Galatians 3:28 and ponder how it captures the attitudes Jesus demonstrated with the woman at the well.

The Touch

outstretchedarms_image2The timeless literary classic Diary of a Wimpy Kid provides an account of the trials and tribulations of life in middle school. Greg Heffley, the book’s narrator and protagonist, describes a particularly trying tribulation known as the cheese touch. There was a piece of moldy cheese on the playground blacktop that had been there as long as anyone could remember; one day, an unfortunate student touched it, unwittingly unleashing a terrible scourge on the school. He had the cheese touch, which was like an extremely serious case of the cooties. For years, the cheese touch was passed from one unfortunate student to another by touch, and those who were infected became outcasts. Greg and his friends expended a great deal of energy avoiding those who were infected.

Many religious people through history have taken a “cheese touch” approach to spirituality. The main goal is to avoid contact with someone who is infected by sin. The world is divided into neat categories of clean and unclean, and we clean folks need to keep our distance from the unclean ones.

But Jesus took a radically different approach. One of the most audacious things about him was the way he interacted with the moldy, slimy people around him. Luke 5:12-14 records a striking scene in which Jesus encounters someone the world considers unclean. Lepers were not the most popular folks in Jesus’ day. In addition to the gruesome physical consequences of their disease, they had to deal with social and spiritual ramifications that were even worse. The disease made them unclean. They were contaminated. Unacceptable. Trash. Living corpses. People assumed their condition was God’s punishment for their sin, and that they were contagious. If you were a leper, you had to announce your presence wherever you went so that clean people could avoid contamination. You had to sit in the leper section of the school cafeteria. You couldn’t go to worship with friends or sit in the stands at your daughter’s Galilean Junior Soccer League game. You had to move away from family and friends and live outside town with other unclean people. And for as long as you had the disease, you would experience no human touch. No hugging your spouse. No holding your children. No touch.

Luke says that a leper approached Jesus. Most rabbis would have seen him coming and thrown a rock at him, instructing him to stay away from people he could contaminate. But when Jesus saw him, he didn’t resist or run. He wasn’t repulsed – he was filled with compassion.

The leper fell at Jesus’ feet. Jesus didn’t drive him away for being unclean or lecture him for breaking the law by approaching him. The leper spoke, stating that he knew Jesus was able to heal him and he hoped Jesus was willing.

Jesus responded by doing something the leper never would have thought to ask him to do.

“Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.   – Luke 5:13

Jesus touched a leper!

The leper had broken the rules by coming to Jesus. Then Jesus broke the rules by touching the leper. Jesus decided that the man’s need was more important than his own safety, and more important than the Old Testament purity laws. Jesus touched him!

And Jesus didn’t have to touch him. He had the ability to heal from a distance, as he would demonstrate a couple of chapters later by healing a centurion’s servant located in a different zip code from him. Jesus could have told the guy to stop when he was 20 feet away and spoken the words of healing through a megaphone. But Jesus knew that as much as the guy needed to be healed, he needed to be touched. So he touched him, and then he spoke the words of healing. And the leprosy was gone.

Instead of obsessing about keeping himself clean, the audacious Jesus gets his hands dirty. He doesn’t fear the uncleanness of others. Instead, he brings his cleanness to them. In a world that assumes that the holy thing to do is to move away from the person who is unclean and broken, Jesus consistently moves in the opposite direction.

When there is a demon possessed man living in a tomb on the outskirts of a pig farm, Jesus is moving toward him rather than away from him. When there is a Samaritan woman with a severely flawed relational track record, Jesus shares a drinking bucket with her instead of going to find another well. When there is a tax collector doing his dirty business on the side of the road, Jesus calls him as a disciple instead of crossing to the other side. And when there is a man covered in leprosy on the ground in front of him, Jesus touches him instead of driving him away.

Jesus embraces unclean folks like us in the midst of our messiness. Our brokenness doesn’t make Jesus say, “Eww, gross – stay away from me.” Our sin doesn’t frighten him away from us. We can’t be too unclean for him. He will touch us and heal us.

And the order is important. He touches us, and then he heals us. He doesn’t require that we get cleaned up before he welcomes us. He touches us while we are still unclean. He knows about every flaw, every ugly sore. And he audaciously reaches out and touches us.


Want to explore further?

  1. Read all of Luke 5. Note the ways that Jesus interacts with everyone he encounters differently than most religious people would.
  2. Read Luke 7:1-10. What do you make of the different healing methods Jesus employed with the leper and the centurion’s servant?
  3. Do you ever wonder if Jesus would reach out to someone like you? Tell him thanks for the good news that the answer to that question is a loud “yes!”

Who Do You Think You Are?

outstretchedarms_image2Jesus constantly did and said things that nobody else ever had the nerve to do or say. Pretty much everyone who spent five minutes or more with Jesus wound up wondering, “Who do you think you are?” One time, in a conversation recorded in John 8, folks actually asked Jesus that question out loud.

“Conversation” is probably too gentle of a word; the exchange included more name-calling than an argument on an elementary school playground. The religious leaders called Jesus an illegitimate child (v.41), and he replied that at least he wasn’t the devil’s kid like they were (v.44). Then they called him a demon-possessed Samaritan, which was a pretty sick burn in first century Jerusalem (v.48). Jesus retorted that they were liars who didn’t know God (v.55).

Jesus filled the conversation with audacious claims about himself – claims that he was the light of the world, and the Son of God, and the source of freedom. When he added that people who did what he said would avoid death, the religious leaders finally got fed up and said,

“Are you greater than our father Abraham? He died, and so did the prophets. Who do you think you are?”  – John 8:53

Though meant to be rhetorical, the question on the lips of Jesus’ verbal sparring partners was an excellent one. Who did Jesus think he was? What was his self-understanding? If he had had to go inside from his playground argument and write a paper for his teacher describing himself, what would he have said?

We will come back to John 8 in a moment to see the audacious answer he gave in that instance. But first, let’s take a detour through Matthew 12 and look at a couple of other times when he told people who he thought he was.

“I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.”  – Matthew 12:6

For first century Jews, nothing was greater than the temple. The temple was the very center of their faith. It was the place they offered sacrifices to stay on God’s good side. It was God’s HQ, his address on earth, the location of his throne. It was the great cosmic belly button – the place where the umbilical cord of heaven connected with earth. But Jesus said he was greater than the temple. He said he was a new and better connection point between God and people.

“Something greater than Jonah is here… something greater than Solomon is here.”  – Matthew 12:41-42

Jonah was a prophet who endured a close encounter with fish intestines and then saw a 100% response rate from a very hostile congregation, but Jesus claimed to be greater than him. Jesus said that if folks thought it was impressive to emerge alive from a fish after three days, they should wait and see what he was going to pull off. And Solomon was a world-renowned source of wisdom, but Jesus claimed to be greater than him, too. To put it mildly, Joseph and Mary’s boy had a rather high opinion of himself.

Now let’s head back to the playground squabble in John 8. When the religious leaders asked Jesus if he was a bigger deal than Abraham, and just who he thought he was, here is how he responded:

“‘Very truly I tell you,’ Jesus answered, ‘Before Abraham was born, I am.'”  – John 8:58

Jesus used some seriously weird grammar to make an audacious claim. “Born” is a translation of the Greek word genesthai. It means that Abraham was made – that he came into existence. The word “am,” which Jesus used of himself, is the Greek eimi. It points to essential existence, to timeless being. Jesus didn’t say, “before Abraham came into existence, I came into existence.” He said, “before Abraham came into existence, I AM.” Abraham was a created being – there was a time that he wasn’t around, and then a time that he was. But Jesus said that he himself has always been around. He just IS.

Of course, Jesus didn’t just make up the phrase, “I am.” He plagiarized it from God Almighty. God had used the phrase as an introduction when Moses asked him who he was. At the burning bush, God pointed to the sticker on his chest that said, “Hello, my name is I AM.” And in the scene recorded in John 8, Jesus peeled the nametag from God’s lapel and placed it on his own.

As soon as the words left Jesus’ lips, the religious leaders started reaching for stones to chunk at the blasphemer before them.

It turns out that when Jesus’ opponents asked him if he was greater than Abraham, they were setting the bar way too low. Of course he was greater than Abraham. And Solomon. And Jonah. And the temple. The real question was not who he was greater than, but to Whom was he equal.

We hear the audacious things Jesus said and did, and we ask, “Who do you think you are!?”

And Jesus answers, “I AM.”


Want to explore further?

  1. Read John 8:12-59 and underline all the things Jesus said that strike you as audacious.
  2. Read each of the 23 verses in John in which Jesus used the phrase “I AM” (4:26; 6:20, 35, 41, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1, 5; 18:5, 6, 8)
  3. Who do you think Jesus is? Ponder your answer to that vital question.


Fixing the Sabbath


Here is the Cliffs Notes version of the story from Jesus’ life that we will explore today: Jesus’ disciples had a snack, then Jesus healed a guy with a disability, so the religious leaders started making plans to kill Jesus.

I certainly understand if you think murder is a bit of an over-reaction to the offense of munchies and a miracle. But things will make a little more sense if you pay attention to what Jesus said while those things were happening, as well as noticing what the calendar said while those things were happening.

The story is found in Matthew 12:1-14, Mark 2:23-3:6, and Luke 6:1-11. The three writers agree on the basics of the day’s events, but each highlights different parts of the story.

Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grainfield. Some of his disciples were hungry, so they plucked some heads of grain to enjoy as they walked along. Some Pharisees, key religious leaders of the day, saw what the disciples were doing. They got themselves good and offended and said, “JESUS! YOUR DISCIPLES ARE BREAKING THE RULES! THEY ARE DOING WHAT IS UNLAWFUL!” (I’m pretty sure the Pharisees would be the kind of people who would type their comments in all caps). The disciples’ actions might offend some of us because of their reckless disregard for the gluten contained in their choice of snack. Or maybe we would be bothered by the fact that they are eating grain that does not belong to them (though actually it was an expected act of generosity and care for the poor to allow people to do what the disciples did – see Deuteronomy 23:25, which basically says it is ok to grab a handful of your neighbor’s grain as long as you don’t drive your John Deere onto his land and start harvesting). But what bothered the Pharisees was the day on which the disciples were doing their nibbling. It was the Sabbath.

God had commanded his people not to work on the Sabbath. It was part of the original Top Ten list. First century religious leaders then spilled countless gallons of ink making lists of things not to do on that day, and then spent lots of time saying “gotcha” to people they caught doing those things. They were appalled by the fact that Jesus was letting his disciples get away with their Sabbath snacking, so they took it upon themselves to lecture him.

Jesus responded to the Pharisees’ lecture with a series of audacious statements.

First, he blasted their legalism. He reminded them that David broke the rules by entering the tabernacle and eating consecrated bread, and that priests in the temple broke the rules by working on the Sabbath. He implied that the Pharisees were more obsessed with “the rules” than God was, and that they needed to get over themselves and quit trying to out-holy the Holy One. Jesus told the Pharisees that they had it upside down when they valued rules more than they valued people.

Second, Jesus told them that their interpretation of the Sabbath was backwards. He said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God knew that we would be unable to live the life he wanted us to live if we were frantic and frazzled and worn out and wiped out from whirling around 24/7. So he gave us a gift: he told us to take a day off every week. The Pharisees had taken a day God intended for burdens to be released and made it into a day of carrying the huge burden of obsessing over how many steps we could take or how many ounces we could carry without making God mad. God’s vision for Sabbath was not that if we disobediently did yardwork that day, fire would fall from heaven and consume us and our mulch. God’s vision for Sabbath was that he loved us enough to give us the opportunity to rest. The Sabbath was a comfortable recliner given to us by God; the Pharisees insisted that people carry it on their backs. Jesus informed them that by their attempts to transform a lavish blessing into a legalistic burden, they were the ones who had actually broken the Sabbath.

Third, Jesus declared that he was Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28). Wow! He had the nerve to claim that on the heavenly organizational chart, he was higher than God’s law (in the same conversation he also announced that he was higher on the org chart than the temple – see Matthew 12:6). So if he wanted his disciples to have a bite to eat on the Sabbath, that was his prerogative to allow them to do so, no matter how badly it offended the Pharisees.

Just in case the Pharisees weren’t furious enough, Jesus walked straight from the grainfield to their synagogue. He spotted a man with a shriveled hand that needed healing. He could have just whispered to the guy and asked him to clandestinely touch his cloak and receive a cure, but he wanted to keep provoking the religious leaders, so he had the guy stand up in front of God and everybody. Jesus again challenged the backwards value system of the religious leaders, reminding them that though they were appalled by the thought of healing the man on the Sabbath, they wouldn’t hesitate to pull their sheep out of a pit if it fell in on the Sabbath. Then Jesus did the “work” of healing the man and making him as good as new. By then the Pharisees had had enough of Jesus’ audacity, and they went out and started plotting his execution.

Those Sabbath adventures help us to keep our priorities in line with reality:

People > sheep.

People > Sabbath.

People > rules.

Jesus > everything.


Want to explore further?

  1. Read the three different Gospel accounts of the Sabbath controversy (Matthew 12:1-14, Mark 2:23-3:6, and Luke 6:1-11). What is unique about each account?
  2. Search for the word “Sabbath” in the Gospels on Read some of the other passages that describe Jesus breaking the rules of the religious leaders.
  3. What would it look like for you to prioritize people over rules today?

Jesus Is Worth It


Three times in the Gospel of Luke we read about Jesus having dinner in the home of a Pharisee. Casa de Pharisee is a surprising place to find him, since Jesus and the Pharisees were not exactly BFFs. That probably had something to do with the fact that Jesus kept calling them names like “hypocrite” and “snake,” and he kept saying things that set off their theological propriety alarms. They weren’t very fond of his audacious habit of doing things only God could do, like forgiving sin and redefining the Sabbath. And it bugged them that he had really low standards for table fellowship, showing an annoying tendency to welcome sinners and eat with them.

But Jesus also welcomed Pharisees and ate with them. All three times we read about him in their homes, we see him conducting a clinic on how not to get invited back. He lectured and critiqued his hosts, and he told stories in which he used them as an illustration of what not to do.

The first Pharisee host to experience Jesus’ rudeness was named Simon, and his story is recorded in Luke 7:36-50. Simon invited Jesus and some other guests to dinner, but before they got to dessert an awkward party crasher showed up. A local woman “who lived a sinful life” (v.37) heard that Jesus was there and invited herself in. She stood behind Jesus, weeping. Then she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wipe them with her hair. Then she started kissing his feet and pouring perfume on them.

Luke describes Simon’s reaction:

“When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.'” -Luke 7:39

Simon’s internal monologue reveals a fundamental assumption of the Pharisees: holiness requires separation from that which is unholy. The goal of the Pharisees was to be holy, to obey God’s law, and to help others to do the same. And they assumed that the way to stay pure was to stay as far as possible from that which was impure. The title “Pharisee” most likely comes from a word that means “separated one.” They invested a tremendous amount of energy in avoiding people and situations that might contaminate them.

Simon assumed that Jesus would share his pious repulsion from sinners. So the fact that Jesus was not saying, “Eww, gross” and running from the building to get away from the flawed female at his feet must have meant that he didn’t perceive what a sinner she was, which must have meant that he was not all that folks made him out to be.

But Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s sinfulness. He simply was not frightened of it the way Simon was. Jesus chunked the Pharisees’ ethic of quarantine from sinners and lived an ethic of embracing sinners. Jesus had the audacity to believe in reverse contamination – that his goodness would rub off on the sinful people around him. He touched lepers, and he rubbed shoulders with tax collectors, and he let sinful women do embarrassing things with his feet.

Luke 7:40 tells us that Jesus “answered” Simon, which is interesting and more than a little unsettling since v.39 says that Simon was talking to himself. Jesus told Simon a story about a moneylender who had two clients who couldn’t pay him back. One owed two months’ salary, the other owed two years’ salary. The lender graciously forgave both debts. Jesus teed up an easy question for Simon: which of the two clients would love the moneylender more? Simon gave the obvious reply that the one who had been forgiven more would love more.

Jesus then clarified that the nice little story was being enacted in real life at Simon’s dinner party. He basically said, “Let’s do a little comparison and contrast, Simon. I came to your house, and you didn’t even think I was worth basic hospitality: you didn’t give me water for my feet, or a peck on the cheek, or oil for my head. But this woman has not stopped adoring me since she arrived. She has poured out bountiful love along with her tears and her perfume.”

Jesus said that the woman’s abundance of affection flowed from her awareness that she had been forgiven a massive debt. Her love was fueled by gratitude for God’s grace. Simon, on the other hand, didn’t feel a need to show much love to Jesus because he didn’t think he owed Jesus that much. The fact that Simon viewed himself as a decent chap who didn’t need a lot of grace left him incapable of going overboard in his love for Jesus.

I confess that the scene at Simon’s table is deeply convicting for me personally, because I have much more in common with Simon than with the woman. You won’t often find me crying at Jesus’ feet. You won’t often see me going overboard in expressing my love for him. And I have to wonder if that lack of abandon is because on some level I don’t recognize that Jesus is worth it – I don’t grasp how much he has done for me – I don’t realize how big of a debt he has forgiven.

After Jesus finished hitting Simon (and me) right between the eyes, he turned to the woman and told her that her sins were forgiven. That pronouncement got the other dinner guests all stirred up over Jesus’ audacity, wondering just who he thought he was. Then he told the woman that her faith had saved her, and she could go in peace.

At the table of Simon the Pharisee, we learn that there appear to be no limits to Jesus’ willingness to extend grace. His willingness to offend is equally expansive.

What would happen if we dropped our Pharisaical pretentiousness, joined the sinful woman on the floor, and gave Jesus the lavish love he deserves?


Want to explore further?

  1. Read Luke 11:37-54 and 14:1-24, the accounts of the two other times Luke describes Jesus dining in the home of a Pharisee. What jumps out at you about these stories?
  2. Search for “Pharisee” on and scroll through a few of their encounters with Jesus. What do you think they found so threatening about Jesus?
  3. How would Jesus’ audacious words and actions have impacted you if you had been one of the other guests at Simon’s table? How do they affect you today?

This Cup is the What!?


When you hear “Communion” or “Lord’s Supper,” I bet the word “audacity” doesn’t come to mind. It is just that nice worship ritual where you eat a bland bite of cracker and swallow a sip of wine (or grape juice if you are a Baptist like I am), maybe praying a prayer of gratitude, or a prayer of confession, or a prayer that the people serving the elements don’t drop them all over the floor. That last one might be just me, I’m not sure. But anyway, the experience doesn’t necessarily have an overly revolutionary flavor.

But the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper was one of the most audacious things Jesus ever did.

Matthew (26:17-30), Mark (14:12-26), and Luke (22:7-23) all tell the story. In order to be properly offended by what Jesus did, we need to realize that he did it at no ordinary meal. He was eating the Passover with his disciples. It is so important for us to get this point that the Gospel writers practically beat us over the head with it. Luke’s account, for example, mentions four times in a span of eight verses that they were eating the Passover meal – in verses 8, 11, 13, and 15. We get it, Luke. It’s Passover.

Passover was a big deal. It was the celebration of God’s deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery. It looked back to the time when God worked amazing miracles to rescue them and to make good on his promise to make them into a great nation. It pointed to the highlight of their history, and to the clearest demonstration the world had ever seen of the nature and power of their God. Every year, the Passover celebration grounded them in their relationship with God, reminding them of God’s most dramatic saving act.

Every year, they celebrated Passover the same way. There was a right way to do it, with most of the instructions dating all the way back to Exodus chapter 12. Each element of the meal told part of the story: the lamb reminded them of the lamb slain so that the blood could be put on the door frames so that the death angel would pass over their homes and spare the lives of their firstborn children. The bitter herbs reminded them of the bitterness of their slavery. The unleavened bread reminded them of the haste with which they had to eat before making a quick exit from the land of slavery, with no time for the bread to rise. The wine reminded them of the blessing and joy of the deliverance God was providing for them, and it was red to remind them of the blood of the lamb. Each year at Passover, the head of the family or the host of the meal would have the privilege of reminding everyone at the table of what God had done for them. There was basically a 1500 year old script to guide the proceedings.

That night with his disciples, Jesus went radically off script.

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you.'” – Luke 22:19

Wait, what!? The bread represents the haste with which their ancestors high-tailed it out of Egypt, right? Your body? What do you mean, Jesus? And what are you talking about your body being “broken” and “given” and “for us?”

“Do this in remembrance of me.” – Luke 22:19

Huh!? I thought this was supposed to be in remembrance of the Passover, of that big saving act for our ancestors! You are making it all about you!

“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.'”

What!? Your BLOOD!? Gross. YOUR blood!? I thought it was about the lamb’s blood! And a new covenant? I thought we were celebrating the covenant God made with us through Moses? What’s going on here!?

It is impossible to miss the audacity of Jesus’ words and actions.

Imagine if I showed up at the church I serve as pastor one Sunday and announced that we would be changing curriculum for all of the church’s classes. Instead of studying the Bible, we would begin studying my autobiography. Instead of singing songs of praise to God, we would have new songs written – about me! We would devote the month of December to celebrating my birthday. The church would rightly run me out of town for having the nerve to suggest something like that!

Jesus did something just as bold. He made the Passover celebration all about himself. He said, “If you want to see the clearest picture of the saving power of God, don’t look at the Passover and the Exodus. Look at me. God’s mighty deliverance of his people from Egypt is about to get bumped down to number two on the list of amazing acts of divine rescue. Because my body is going to be broken – for you. And my blood is going to be spilled – for you. And through my death God is going to establish a new and better covenant, a new foundation for his relationship with people.”

Jesus hijacked a centuries-old celebration. He said that the biggest thing God had ever done was nothing compared to what he was about to do through him.

What marvelous audacity!


Want to explore further?

  1. Read all three Gospel writers’ versions of the Lord’s Supper scene. What commonalities do you see? What are some distinct emphases you notice from each writer?
  2. Read Exodus 12 to get a fuller picture of what the disciples thought they would be celebrating that night.
  3. How does an understanding of Passover, and that Jesus believed he was doing something even bigger than Passover, inform our understanding of Jesus?
  4. How will your next experience of the Lord’s Supper be different?


Job One


Jesus came into a world that focused on the vertical dimension of the life of faith. Most first century Jews would have acknowledged that faith has both a vertical dimension (between me and God) and a horizontal dimension (between me and other people), but they would have assumed that the most crucial part was the vertical part. They figured that what God most wanted was for them to avoid worshipping idols, to offer the correct sacrifices, to get the Sabbath right, to say the right prayers, to tithe properly, and so on.

One of the audacious things Jesus did was to elevate the horizontal. He insisted that the way we treat other people matters deeply to God. He taught that our relationships with people have an impact on our relationship with God, and that those horizontal relationships are actually the best indicators of the health of the vertical relationship.

One clear example of this tendency to elevate the importance of human relationships is in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where he describes a specific case in which we should prioritize the horizontal over the vertical:

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift on the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” – Jesus, Matthew 5:23-24

No other rabbi would have the audacity to tell people to keep God waiting while they go and straighten things out with a cranky neighbor. The instruction becomes even more surprising when we realize the major production involved in giving a gift at the altar: For Jesus’ original hearers, it meant traveling a great distance to the temple in Jerusalem, undergoing extensive purification rituals, and purchasing an animal to offer. Jesus said that if they went through all of that and then remembered someone back home they had wronged, they should leave Billy the newly purchased goat running loose in the temple and travel all the way home to try to make things right.

How we treat people is a big deal to Jesus.

My favorite example of Jesus elevating the horizontal is recorded in John’s Gospel. It comes at a pivotal moment: Judas has just walked out of the room to go turn Jesus in. Jesus knows that this will be his last chance to say anything to his disciples before he dies. So he tells them he won’t be with them much longer, and then he utters these profound words:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – Jesus, John 13:34-35

I would excuse you for arguing with Jesus that his command to love isn’t all that new. What is unquestionably new is the metric he tells them to use to quantify that love: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Wow. That’s a lot of love. Jesus is saying, “You remember how I welcomed you when nobody else would have you? I want you to love like that. You remember how I gave you a second chance, and a third and a fourth chance when you kept blowing it? I want you to love like that. You remember how I served you, even washing your feet? I want you to love like that. You remember how I spoke the truth to you even when it wasn’t pleasant? You remember how I fed you when you were hungry? You remember how patient I was with all of your questions and doubts? I want you to love like that.”

Jesus says he wants his kind of love to be the identifying characteristic of his followers – he wants it to be how people recognize us. That’s how our discipleship shows: Not by the beliefs we profess, or by the rules we follow, but by the love we demonstrate. Jesus says that job one for his followers is to love like he loved.

Jesus shares this profound instruction with his disciples, and they apparently don’t hear a word of it. Peter speaks as soon as Jesus pauses (no shock there), but he is still stuck on the thing Jesus was saying before giving his big new command. Peter just asks Jesus where he is going. It is one of many times we see the disciples being the “duh”-sciples, not getting it at all when Jesus says something profound. But I’m glad they don’t get it the first time, because Jesus takes the opportunity to reiterate his instruction just a couple of chapters later, this time taking its practical application to even more audacious depths:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – Jesus, John 15:12-13

Again, Jesus gives the command to love. Again, he tells them his love is the pattern. But then he tells them exactly what “as I have loved you” means: it means laying down your life for the ones you love. Jesus lets them know that love is more than warm feelings or good intentions. It is sacrifice. And he is just hours away from showing them how it is done.

Then, I suppose just in case Peter has zoned out again, he says it one more time in verse 17: “This is my command: Love each other.”

It is the culmination of a teaching ministry that audaciously elevated love for people to a higher place of prominence than anyone who came before him.

“Here’s what I command: love like I have loved you. Period. Full stop. That’s not only the first item on the list. It is the list. Love!”


Want to explore further?

  1. Check out a few other passages in which Jesus elevates the horizontal: Matthew 7:12, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 6:27-36
  2. Read all of John 13. Pay attention to the stark contrast between Jesus’ unfailing love and the failures of his disciples.
  3. Jesus says your primary assignment is to love like he loved us. What is a practical way you can fulfill that assignment today?

What Jesus Said


Jesus said some audacious things. Let’s take a quick look at a few examples. We’ll grab one from each Gospel just to be fair.

“Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” – Jesus, Matthew 13:17
Jesus was speaking to his disciples, and he basically said that Isaiah and Ruth and all of their other favorite faith heroes would have loved to switch places with them, because they got to hang out with him. He boldly claimed to be the high point of history, God’s feature attraction after centuries of previews. Pretty audacious, huh?

“Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” – Jesus, Mark 9:41
Those words are pretty audacious, too. Jesus claimed the title “Messiah” for himself, which is no small thing. And he said that he is so important that people will receive rewards and blessings for treating his friends well.

“Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” – Jesus, Luke 23:43
Jesus spoke these words to the terrorist dying on the cross next to his. He had the audacity to declare himself in charge of the heavenly guest list, and to announce that heaven was open to a guy whose only qualification for entrance was that he had asked Jesus to put in a good word for him.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.” – Jesus, John 8:51
That statement was so audacious that the people who first heard Jesus say it immediately accused him of being demon possessed. They pointed out that some pretty swell folks like Abraham and the prophets died, so Jesus would have to be pretty crazy to claim that doing what he said would make people death-proof.

Audacious words, huh? But none of those statements are really the point of today’s post. We’ll come back to those specific audacious sayings in the future and examine them in further detail. But for now, I’d like for you to notice something about the way Jesus said all of them. Did you catch the repeating phrase? Look again, and notice how Jesus began each of the four statements:

“Truly I tell you…”

In the Gospels, that phrase is the drumroll before several of Jesus’ major announcements and pronouncements. It was a catchphrase of Jesus, a way that he signaled that people better be paying attention because it was about to get good.

Even people who are skeptical about how reliable the Gospels are in conveying the actual words of Jesus have no doubt that he really used that phrase. It shows up too many times in too many independent sources to be made up. And it is not a phrase that any follower of Jesus used later in the New Testament, so we know it is not just a “church saying” that somebody wrote into the Jesus story.

The phrase shows up 79 times in the Bible. All 79 times are in the Gospels. All 79 times, the phrase is on the lips of Jesus.

The word translated “truly” is the Greek word amen. That’s right – Jesus started all of these sayings with the word we usually use when we are wrapping up a prayer and we want to let God know we are bringing it in for a landing. The Greek language actually just hijacked the word amen from Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament. It comes from a word meaning “confirmed” or “verified.” It is a word normally used at the end of a statement to affirm its validity. Jesus distinctively used it to begin his statements.

So what Jesus does with the word “truly” in that unique phrase is unprecedented. But what is really mind-blowing is what he does with the “I tell you” part of the phrase. Jesus uses the phrase to claim an audacious amount of authority.

Other rabbis of Jesus’ day buttressed the authority of their words by quoting other recognized experts. Their teaching would be full of “Rabbi Hillel tells you…” or “Moses tells you…” or “the teaching of the elders tells you…”

Jesus came along and simply said, “Truly I tell you…” No need to quote any other authority. There was no higher authority he could quote. Jesus just quoted himself.

He didn’t even say, “thus says the Lord” like the Old Testament prophets did. He just said, “thus says ME!”

Jesus used a phrase 79 times in the Gospels that made it clear that he believed that his words had weight and value and impact and importance simply because he was the one saying them.

“Truly I tell you…”

Don’t you love the audacity of that?


Want to explore further?

  1. Grab a Bible (one with Jesus’ words in red would make things easier). Pick a Gospel, and scan Jesus’ words until you find an example of him beginning a statement with the phrase, “Truly I tell you…”
  2. Go to and type the phrase “truly I tell you” in the search bar. Scroll through several examples of Jesus using the phrase, and notice the variety of statements with which he used that unique prelude.
  3. Read the audacious claim Jesus made about his words in Mark 13:31.
  4. Ponder what it means for your life today that Jesus claimed that his words have such authority.