The 12 disciples found that their calling required stamina as well as dedication.
Jesus’ fame became so great that, wherever He appeared, He was thronged with multitudes that came to be healed or to watch Him just out of curiosity.
And there were religious enemies. They kept to the fringes of the crowd, ready with trick questions and watching for evidence of wrongdoing. They wanted Jesus imprisoned or even put to death to silence Him.
One day after Jesus had ministered to a multitude of people from all the surrounding areas, he slipped away from the crowds. Taking His newly chosen 12, He led them up a mountain slope to a secluded place. There they sat down and Jesus talked to them privately. The 12 heard the greatest sermon ever preached (Matt. 5-7). Jesus urged them to practice righteousness and to strive for perfection.
“Blessed,” He said, “are those who are concerned for fellow humans and who are merciful in their attitude toward their neighbors.” He promised that their reward would be great in the Kingdom of God.
Explaining that He had come to keep His Father’s law perfectly to magnify it further, He set forth requirements for a standard of excellence higher than the letter of the law required. His Father would observe the intents of the heart, the inner motivations and desires.
Jesus spoke of murder, adultery, swearing, revenge, hatred and needless anxieties. He discussed attitudes that govern the amount men give in tithes and offerings. He gave an outline for prayer and warned the disciples (and us) to not use memorized words. He explained how to fast. He cautioned against judging other people or harboring critical attitudes.
Encouraging His disciples to seek the Kingdom of God above all else, he assured them that their needs would be provided. He made it plain that those who follow Him must go above and beyond a normal concern for others and maintain single-hearted devotion and obedience to God the Father.
Jesus returned to His own home in Capernaum. Again He was deluged with followers.
One day a group of the Jewish elders arrived to see Jesus. They had come on behalf of a Roman centurion, or captain over 100 men. “We have come to ask you to heal the centurion’s servant,” the elders explained. “This officer has built us a new synagogue. He loves our nation and he’s a popular fellow among our people. He deserves your help.”
Jesus arose. “I’ll go and heal his servant.”
As the elders escorted Jesus from His house and started along the street, they were met by friends of the centurion.
“Hello, sir!” greeted one of the group. “May we speak with you for a moment?”
“Hello. Yes, of course. How may I help you?” Jesus stopped and the elders paused behind Him.
Jesus’ warm greeting put the man at ease. “A good friend of ours, a centurion, needs your help,” the man began. “A servant whom he cherishes is critically ill.
“Earlier he sent these gentlemen to bring you to his house,” he said, nodding at the elders. “But since then he has reconsidered, and he asked us to bring you this message: ‘I must not trouble you, Lord. It would be presumptuous of me to ask you to come to my house, let alone to step under my roof. I am not worthy. Just say the word and my servant will be healed. I know that the disease he has will be as obedient to you as my soldiers are to me. I tell them to go, and they go! I say to come, and they come!’”
Jesus was astounded. “Nowhere in Israel have I found such faith!” He exclaimed. Turning to the group, He told them: “Many gentiles will come from the east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of God, but some of the children of Israel will be on the outside where they will weep with regret. Others will grind their teeth in anger.”
He turned back to the officers’ friends. “Go back to the centurion. His servant will be healed just as he believed.”
“Thank you very much, Lord.”
And it was true. The servant was healed within the hour (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10).
Continuing His Galilean ministry, Jesus traveled to Nain to preach the Gospel there. With His disciples, and the by now normal crowed trailing behind, he began the journey.
As they approached the gates of Nain, a funeral procession was winding its way out to a cemetery. A widow followed the procession of her only son, and many of the town’s citizens mourned with her.
Jesus waited until they began to pass along the road where He had respectfully paused with His disciples. Falling into step beside the weeping mother, He touched the coffin and signaled those who carried it to put it down. The procession came to a stop.
“Don’t cry,” He told the mother. She looked up to see who had spoken, wiped her eyes and stopped sobbing.
As though waking from a deep sleep, the lad opened his eyes and looked about in bewilderment. He sat up. A cry of awe and fear went up from those who were gathered about and several people screamed. One fainted. The mother clasped the boy to her bosom as happy tears streamed down her face.
“He’s a prophet,” exclaimed one citizen of Nain. “God has come down to earth!” said another.
The details of the miracle swept the countryside (Luke 7:11-17).
The news that Jesus had miraculously raised the dead to life reached John the Baptist in a fortress near the Dead Sea, where John had been imprisoned by Herod Antipas. John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the Messiah – or not” (Matt. 11:2-25; Luke 7:18-28?
In response Jesus instructed John’s disciples to report to John the miracles they had seen: The blind received their sight, the lame walked, lepers were cleansed, the deaf were given hearing, the dead were raised and the Gospel was preached. Jesus tried to reassure and encourage John, reminding him, “Blessed is he, who is not offended in me.”
Jesus praised His cousin, adding that there was no man greater than John, and that John had ministered in the office of Elijah.
The Pharisees were influential religious leaders and well known in their communities. They not only interpreted the law precisely, but they added many traditions that they kept even more strictly. Jesus denounced those traditions.
A Pharisee named Simon asked Jesus to his home for dinner and Jesus accepted. As they reclined on a couch at a table during the meal, a woman came to Jesus and broke open a box of ointment. With loving hands she began to smooth the perfumed oil over His feet (Luke 7:36-50). She wept softly as she knelt beside Him, and her tears mingled with the oil. It was an act of adoration and Jesus did not prevent her from performing this service of love.
But the host, Simon, was embarrassed. Why has this woman, a sinner come? He wondered to himself. If this man Jesus were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching Him. She is a sinner!
Simon leaned lower on an elbow, his head down. It was too late to order his servants to put her out – it would create too much attention. Better to pretend to ignore it. He selected a date from a dish and nibbled on it.
“Simon, I want to tell you something,” Jesus said.
Simon looked up. “Tell me, rabbi.”
“There were two men who owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him 500 pence. The other owed him only 50. Neither of them had the money to pay him back so he canceled the debts of both. Which of those two men would love him more?”
“I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled loved him more.”
“That is correct.” Jesus nodded His head. “Do you see this woman?” He gestured. “I came into your house and you provided no water for my feet to be washed. She’s washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss in greeting but this woman has kissed my feet constantly and oiled them with ointment. Her many sins are forgiven. She loves much. He who is forgiven little will love little in return.”
Turning, Jesus spoke directly to her. “Because of your faith, your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
Giving His feet a final kiss, the woman thanked Him and went out, her face radiant.
Simon’s face was dark with resentment. As soon as the meal was over Jesus excused Himself and left the house.
Be watching for further installments of Stories from the New Testament.