After Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah in Jerusalem, He didn’t return to the Galilee region. Instead He traveled to the place where it all began—where John baptized those coming to him with a repentant heart. While Yeshua was there across the Jordan, word came to Him that His good friend Lazarus, who lived in a village just outside of Jerusalem, was very ill.
The region around Jerusalem was the center of power for those who hated Yeshua and sought to kill Him. However, Yeshua used this opportunity to demonstrate one last sign to the people before His crucifixion. Why would Yeshua put Himself within the reach of those who sought His destruction? What was so important about this sign?
In Luke’s gospel, chapter 16 verses 19 through 31 we find the puzzling parable of the rich man and Lazarus, a poor man. I suppose no two people could have less in common. While the rich man wore the finest of apparel, the poor man wore rags and suffered from disease with open sores.
During this trip to Jerusalem during and immediately following the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah, Yeshua taught using many difficult parables. How are we to interpret these difficult to understand words of the Master? How do we put ourselves in the minds of the disciples and Pharisees of Yeshua’s day to receive His words as they would have?
A good portion of Yeshua’s teaching occurred on the Sabbath while He was a guest for a Sabbath meal. On one Sabbath, He was invited to the home of a prominent Pharisee so he and his other guests could examine Yeshua’s teaching. Would Yeshua heal on the Sabbath, and how would He justify it?
While at the dinner, Yeshua, in turn, observes the guests and their competition for the best seats at the table. His teaching on this Sabbath reflected His observations. Who would be invited to the banquet table in the kingdom of heaven and how will the seats be assigned? What is the significance of the banquet table?
Following the Feast of Tabernacles or Sukkot, Yeshua and His disciples returned to the Galilee. But they didn’t find much respite from the near constant hounding by Herod Antipas who was bent on putting a stop to Yeshua’s exploits. More and more, the people were speaking of Yeshua as the desired king of Israel, a title and office which Herod Antipas was determined to obtain.
Knowing the hostility and enmity that He faced in Jerusalem just a few weeks prior, why would Yeshua risk another trip to Jerusalem, the very heart of His enemy’s territory, when it was not required of Him? Why would He risk being arrested or even killed “before His time?” There is much more to this journey than simply celebrating this minor and relatively new festival.
Yeshua prayed regularly. His disciples observed Him praying and desired to pray as He did. This was a typical practice among rabbis and their disciples. A rabbi would usually include his own short prayer or benediction with the regular daily prayer called the Amidah, or standing prayer. The use of this prayer by a disciple would identify who his rabbi was. So, Yeshua taught them a prayer, then afterwards, He told a parable and concluded it with the instructions to ask, seek, and knock.
Is this verse saying that God is obligated to give us whatever we ask for as if He was a vending machine in which we deposit our prayers and out pops our selection? Or are there guidelines for our asking, seeking, and knocking? What is the context of this verse and what does it reveal about the character of our God?
At the end of last week’s teaching, we observed Yeshua in the Temple courts declaring that He was the living water following the highly anticipated and powerful Ceremony of Water Pouring during the Feast of Sukkot. For Yeshua to make such a public pronouncement, when he vowed to attend this pilgrimage feast in secret, was a dangerous thing to do. Many political and religious leaders in Judea sought him arrested or killed. But even with the danger at the hands of His enemies, Yeshua returned to the temple the next day. In the Temple courts, Yeshua began to teach openly, and crowds of people gathered around him to once again hear the words of the Master. This certainly drew the attention of the authorities. Was this their chance to arrest Him? Was this their chance to put an end to this up-start teacher who challenged the authority of the religious leaders? What was their plan? How would they trap Him into making a serious mistake?
After His transfiguration, Yeshua began to explain the suffering and type of death He would face. He began an extensive tour throughout Israel preaching the good news of the kingdom and teaching His disciples about the time to come. The controversy about Yeshua’s identity, goals, and purpose continued to grow. Some people sought Yeshua out eager to be His disciples while others sought to kill Him. At the time of the fall feast of Sukkot or Tabernacles, Yeshua was in the Galilee carefully avoiding Judea because the Jewish authorities wanted to kill Him.
The Torah requires that all males go up to Jerusalem three times a year to worship the LORD during the pilgrimage fests. Sukkot is one of those three pilgrimage feasts. How could Yeshua fulfill the command to go up to Jerusalem while at the same time staying out of the hands of those who wanted to kill Him?
In the Gospel accounts we see that Yeshua made frequent trips from His headquarters in Capernaum on the northern shore of the Galilee to Jerusalem, almost always at the time of the Feast days. The time of Passover was approaching with the Feast of Unleavened Bread beginning the day following Passover, and since it was a pilgrimage feast, all males were required to go up to Jerusalem, specifically to the Temple, at this time each year.
There were several routs one could take from the Galilee to Jerusalem, the most direct route would mean traveling through the dangerous territory of the sometimes-hostile Samaritans. Why did Yeshua choose this route for their journey? After the transfiguration event, and knowing the fait that awaited Him in Jerusalem, Yeshua was determined that His disciples understood the dangers and costs that they too would face in the years to come as one of His disciples.
What does the Master Yeshua tell those who want to follow him? What must be the priorities as a disciple of Yeshua? What is the cost of true discipleship?
After the transfiguration, the disciples recognized that they were truly disciples of the long-awaited Messiah. Peter, James and John had seen their Master Yeshua shining with light in the presence of the great prophets Moses and Elijah. I can imagine that they could hardly wait for Yeshua to declare Himself and set up His kingdom. Surely they would have positions of authority in the Kingdom. But Yeshua would demonstrate and teach them that the Kingdom of Heaven does not operate the way world does starting with the inability of the other nine disciples to cast out a demon, continuing with Yeshua’s repeated assurance that He came to suffer and die, and finally, turning the whole hierarchy of greatness on its head.
Last week we saw Yeshua healing two blind men and again feeding a multitude of people with what appeared to be meager provisions only to find that there was plenty of leftovers. After most such busy times, Yeshua would go to a hill or mountain to spend time in prayer. He sometimes took several disciples with him. On this occasion he took three, Peter, James and John. But this time was different; this time something extraordinary happened. On this mountain, on this day, the disciples encountered the very Glory of the divine Yeshua; transfigured before their eyes! Mountains are a common place for Yeshua and the disciples to find solitude to pray and to seek out divine revelation. The scriptures have many examples. But what is the significance of this encounter with Moses and Elijah? What was the purpose of these specific disciples being allowed to see a glimpse of the kingdom of God and the glory and majesty of Yeshua that was yet to come?