31 Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God;
At Jesus Christ’s Second Coming, everyone will recognize him as the Savior. This was not true at his first coming. The Jews had studied prophecies about the Savior’s coming for centuries, but many of those who heard Jesus failed to recognize him as the Savior. Because Jesus did not free the Jews from Roman control, as they expected the Messiah to do, many of them rejected him and his message.
Today we’re going to discuss what happened when Jesus first announced that he was the long-awaited Messiah. And then we’ll discuss the Lord’s calling of Apostles to help spread his message.
Jesus announces that he is the Messiah
Nazareth (nad-zar-et), which means “watch-tower”, the hometown of Jesus, lies almost smack dab between the Sea of Galilee on the East and Haifa on the Mediterranean Sea to the West. It is about 30 miles from there to the city of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee.
It lies in the middle of a basin, and is surrounded by white limestone hills. In fact, there’s a rather prominent 500-foot hill, Mt. Precipice, just south of the town, which provides some pretty nice views of the southern Galilee region. I’m sure Jesus spent much time up on that hill.
Today the city is known as en-Nazirah, and is presently the largest city in the North District of Israel with more than 60,000 residents. Locals call it the “Arab capital of Israel” because it is made up largely of Arab Israelis, with 69% of them Muslim and 31% Christian; that leaves 0% Jewish.
But 2000 years ago, Nazareth was a secluded agricultural village. There were probably only about 500 residents, including the Joseph and Sons Construction Company. It was here that Jesus preached his first recorded sermon, which we’re now going to read. Let’s turn to Luke, chapter 4.
Here we find Jesus, fresh from his trip down south at Jerusalem where he drove the moneychangers from the temple, and taught Nicodemus about being “born again,” and then, on his way back home to Nazareth, taught a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well about “living water.” He then went to the neighboring town of Cana where he healed the nobleman’s dying son.
Now Jesus finds himself sitting in the priesthood section of Nazarath’s synagogue on Saturday, the Shabbat. The leader had probably just read from the Torah, the five books of Moses, where he would have introduced as the topic one of the commandments. After reading the law, the rabbi would then select someone to read from the writings of the Prophets—something that would provide a “second witness” to what Moses had said. This reading is called the “haftarah” (hahf-TOH-ruh) which means “conclusion.”
For example, if the rabbi had started the meeting with a commandment from the Book of Leviticus about sacrifice, he would then invite an adult male to read a pre-selected passage of scripture, called a “parashot”, about sacrifice from later prophets, like Isaiah and Ezekiel. Back then, these pre-selected passages were—and still are today—a minimum of 21 verses long. After reading the verses, the member would sit back down and offer some personal commentary about these scriptures.
So as was the custom, the rabbi finished reading the law and now looked around the room to call on someone to read from the Prophet scrolls. I’m sure he thought to himself, “Who better to read than the hometown son who was starting to develop the reputation of being quite the miracle worker.” So he called on Jesus, who stood up and went to the front of the room. The rabbi handed him the Isaiah scroll. Jesus opened it up, and rather than reading the pre-approved passage, began reading from Isaiah 61:1–2. And these are the words he said:
א רוּחַ אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, עָלָי–יַעַן מָשַׁח יְהוָה אֹתִי לְבַשֵּׂר עֲנָוִים, שְׁלָחַנִי לַחֲבֹשׁ לְנִשְׁבְּרֵי-לֵב, לִקְרֹא לִשְׁבוּיִם דְּרוֹר, וְלַאֲסוּרִים פְּקַח-קוֹחַ.
ב לִקְרֹא שְׁנַת-רָצוֹן לַיהוָה, וְיוֹם נָקָם לֵאלֹהֵינוּ, לְנַחֵם, כָּל-אֲבֵלִים.
ru·ach a·do·nai El-o-heem al-eye, ya·’an ma·shach a·do·nai oh-dee le·vas·ser a·na·vim she·la ha·ni la·cha·vosh le·nish·be·ray im — lik·roish wee lim de·roar, vel-ah-ahsh·vu·yim pek-akh-ko’-akh.
That’s what it would have sounded like, more or less. Probably less than more. It took me about three hours to figure out how to say that in Hebrew. I sure hope it comes in handy someday.
At any rate, let’s look at the English version of these verses. Because what Jesus said was quite profound.
18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,
19 To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
These words were written by the prophet Isaiah, who was speaking as if he were the Messiah. They were very familiar to the Jews, who revered the Prophet Isaiah the way we revere the Prophet Joseph Smith. But the verses Jesus read were not on the rabbi’s pre-approved list. To this day, they still aren’t on the pre-approved list. Furthermore, Jesus changed some of the words, or at least the words in Luke are different from the words in the Old Testament (we don’t know which one is more accurate or whether Jesus exercised his prerogative and changed the words on his own). Now both of these things would have gotten anyone in trouble with the leaders of the synagogue, because you just don’t change things. As Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof liked to proclaim, you don’t break with “tradition.”
But it is what Jesus did next that really got the people upset. Let’s read on.
20 And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.
21 And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
Wow! This was about as bold as one can get. In these nine words, Jesus just declared himself to be the long-awaited Messiah, the person who would redeem and restore the Israelites back to glory.
And I testify that Jesus is the promised Messiah. He has done that which no one else can do and has enabled the children of Israel to obtain salvation and exaltation.
But the Jews at that time, were looking for a political Messiah, one who would restore the nation of Israel to its earthly glory; not some future heavenly glory. While it is true that the Lord didn’t protect and restore the political nation of Israel, he will certainly do so in the future, at his second coming.
So after Jesus made his truthful declaration that he was the Anointed One, I can imagine a number of people in the synagogue were just a tad peeved. They saw this as birkat hashem, or blasphemy, which, according to Moses (Leviticus 24:10-23), was a stone-able offense.
After all, this was Jesus, whom they assumed was the son of Joseph, the local carpenter. This was a member of their lowly village. For 30 years they had watched him grow up, as well as his four half-brothers and three half-sisters. This was a small town after all, and they knew everything about everyone. And so this is what they said to Jesus.
22 And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?
We’re all familiar with the idiom “familiarity breeds contempt.” It seems to be human nature that we do not respect someone we know well enough to also know his or her faults. And while Jesus was capable of sinning, he chose to remain sinless. Furthermore, because Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52), in my mind that necessarily means that he wasn’t always perfect or complete. His perfection came after his resurrection. And surely some of these villagers remember him in a less than perfect state, a less than complete state.
But that wasn’t the only thing bothering the Nazarenes. Yes this was just Yeshua ben Yosef, whom they all knew, but this same man had been going around Judea, Samaria, and Galilee performing great miracles. And up this point, Jesus hadn’t performed any miracles in Nazareth. Of course the Messiah knew the thoughts of their hearts, and so he told them what they were thinking.
23 And he said unto them, Ye will surely say unto me this proverb, Physician, heal thyself: whatsoever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in thy country.
24 And he said, Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.
25 But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land;
26 But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow.
27 And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.
And that, my friends, really got the crowd riled up. Why? What did Jesus say that was so offensive?
Well, as I mentioned, the people of Nazareth hadn’t seen the miracles that Jesus had performed elsewhere. They wanted him to prove that he was the Messiah by performing some sort of miracle, like turning water into wine or healing a dying boy. But Jesus knew that they were just seeking for a sign, and in his own words, it is a “wicked and adulterous generation that seeketh after a sign” (Matthew 16:4).
So the Lord astutely pointed out that both Elijah and Elisha, some of the greatest prophets who had ever lived, were also dishonored by their own people. So rather than being a blessing to the Israelites, they conferred great blessings upon foreigners. And it wasn’t just any foreigners—it was the Gentiles and the lepers! Surely they were better than the unbelievers and the diseased!
But they weren’t. And to prove it, let’s look at what happened next.
28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath,
29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.
30 But he passing through the midst of them went his way.
Remember that rocky 500 foot hill I mentioned earlier? Because they viewed what the Lord said was blasphemy, and because their feelings were hurt, they seized the Lord and took him to the brow of the hill so they could hurl him down the rocky cliffs.
But is wasn’t meant to be. The Lord’s time to die had not yet come. The mob couldn’t go one step farther than their victim would permit. We’re not quite sure what happened on that hill, but it sure sounds like a miracle to me because Jesus slipped out their midst unharmed.
Then what did the Lord do? He left Nazareth. For good. Never again would he call this his home. He was soundly rejected by his own people and so he left, and traveled the 30 miles or so over to Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Where he was welcomed with open arms.
Now, let’s see if we can’t find a couple of take-home lessons from this story.
- What lessons can we learn?
Here are three quick observations.
First, in general, the world seems to find plenty of reasons to reject the Savior and his teachings. Just ask a returned missionary for real-life examples. But then you also need to ask yourself if there is anything you are doing, or are planning on doing, that might be viewed as a rejection of the Lord and his teachings. If there is, then let’s think about not doing it. J
Second, perhaps we need to be careful not to reject truth when it is presented to us. For example, do we heed the words of the modern prophets or do we reject them with our inaction?
Third, what can we do to strengthen our conviction that Jesus really is the Christ, the Promised Messiah?
Jesus identified his disciples
Let’s return to the scriptures and resume the story in Luke, chapter 5.
1 And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,
Lake Gennesaret is the largest freshwater lake in Israel. It is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, which makes its circumference about 33 miles. Utah Lake, by way of comparison, is almost twice as long and not quite twice as wide, with a circumference of 76 miles. Lake Gennesaret’s maximum depth is 141 feet. It is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth. It is connected to the Dead Sea via the Jordan River. It is also called Lake Tiberias, the Sea of Kinneret, the Sea of Ginosar, and the Sea of Minya.
What other name do we call this lake? The Sea of Galilee.
2 And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.
By the way, the two most common types of fish in the sea are the Short Jaw Tristramella (a Cichlid) and Tilapia. Fisherman pull out about 100 tons of fish each year.
3 And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.
Simon bar Jona, which means Simon the son of Jonah, was living in Capernaum at the time, along with his wife and kids. It also looks like his brother, Andrew, lived in the same house. There they made their living as fishermen, and were probably good ones, because they also hired people to go out fishing with them on multiple boats.
Now this isn’t the first time Jesus met Simon. Simon’s brother, Andrew, had been a disciple of John the Baptist up to the point where John pointed out Jesus and said to Andrew, “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Jesus then told Andrew to, “Come and see,” which he did. Pretty soon after that Andrew went and told Simon that he had found the Messiah and brought Simon to see Jesus. That’s when Jesus gave Simon a new name, Cephas, which means “a stone.” By the way, in the Gospel of John, John says that the Greek version of Cephas is Peter. Hence he was known as Simon Peter or just Peter.
After that, the two brothers became some of the first disciples or followers of Christ. At this point in time they had journeyed back to their lakeside home in Capernaum to continue to earn their living. That had to go home and earn the bacon for their families. Well, maybe not bacon, since that definitely wasn’t kosher.
When Jesus entered Capernaum, it wasn’t long before the crowds gathered and wanted to be taught. Jesus sought out Simon on his boat, climbed aboard, and Simon moved the boat a little ways out from the land. The Lord then used Simon’s boat as a platform to teach the people. What he taught, unfortunately we just don’t know.
What we’re going to focus on next is what happened after the Lord’s lesson.
4 Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.
5 And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.
Here we have a glimpse at the character of Simon. He truly was a disciple. He was willing to do whatever his master said to do.
6 And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake.
7 And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.
9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken:
10 And so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. And Jesus said unto Simon, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
11 And when they had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.
Isn’t that beautiful. Here we had four fishermen. Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John. What better way to catch their attention than to miraculously catch more fish they could ever imagine. It is also quite dramatic and shows that the Lord knows that sometimes you’ve got to do something big to capture people’s attention.
It also shows us how Jesus is ultimately concerned with the individual. I suspect that if he were talking to someone other than a fisherman, he would have used a different metaphor, one that meant a lot to that person. The Lord intentionally goes about touching people one by one. Not only is he great at teaching large groups of people, but he is also great at considering the needs of a single individual and then customizing his message so that the learner values it intrinsically and thoroughly, sinking the message deep into their hearts. This is the hallmark of a master teacher. And Jesus, was certainly the greatest teacher of all time.
Also notice the response of Peter. After witnessing this miracle, he immediately recognized his own unworthiness in the face of such power and righteousness. Humility is the mark of a true disciple. And it is always followed up with a wholehearted commitment—even if it means forsaking everything you have. Which is what these four men did. From this time forward (except for a brief moment after the Savior’s resurrection when they didn’t know what to do) it appears that these four men not only became the leaders of the Church, but they each sacrificed their lives as they worked to harvest souls and bring them within the wide sweep of the gospel net.
Now let’s continue on with our reading. Let’s jump down to verse 27 and 28.
27 ¶And after these things he went forth, and saw a publican, named Levi, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me.
28 And he left all, rose up, and followed him.
- What is a publican?
A tax collector. At that time the Roman Empire didn’t have an IRS organization to collect taxes from each individual. After taking a census in a province, they would then figure out how much that province owed. Then, public contractors, the publicani, would bid for the opportunity to collect different types of taxes. Sometimes they would even pay the money up front and then go around and collect the tax revenues. Anything the collected over and above the bid amount was theirs to keep as profit. Sometimes it was an honest profit, sometimes it wasn’t, and some publicans made off like bandits. Because the Romans usually hired locals to serve as publicans, and because the Romans were an occupying force, the publicans were usually despised by the people, just like IRS agents are despised today. No one likes taxation without representation, and the independent-minded Jews certainly didn’t have any say in the matter.
- What other name was Levi known by?
Matthew. So Matthew was the next to leave all, rise up, and become one of the Lord’s disciples.
And so Jesus continued on, identifying individuals, one at a time, who would be willing to change their lives, forsake all, and follow in his footsteps.
It is my testimony the living Savior is still out and about today, doing exactly the same thing, trying to find true disciples who are willing to listen to his voice and follow him. To help him do that, the Lord has called servants to help him gather his disciples.
Which leads to this rhetorical question. How do we respond when the Lord, through his servants, asks us to do something?
Jesus calls his Twelve Apostles
- I’ve been using the word “disciple” a lot. What does that word mean?
According to the Bible Dictionary, a disciple is a pupil or learner. They are like an apprentice to a master, or a mentor, or a teacher. Good disciples will learn what they need to know from someone and then teach what they have learned to others. They don’t horde the knowledge and skills and keep them secret; they pass it along through their words and deeds.
We are each disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now whether we are good disciples or not is completely up to us.
- What does the word “apostle” mean?
According to the Doctrine and Covenants, an Apostle is a disciple who has been called to be a special witness of Christ (D&C 107:23). The word “apostle” comes from the Greek apostolos, which means “one who is sent forth”, like a delegate. The members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles are ordained and sent forth to testify to the world that Jesus is the Savior and Redeemer of mankind. In essence, Apostles are called to do what Jesus himself did in the synagogue in Nazareth—declare that he is the Messiah, the Savior.
- Why are apostles necessary?
Because the time had finally come for the Lord to organize his church on the earth. He knew he wouldn’t be able to personally take care of the needs of all his followers. And he also knew that he wouldn’t be around forever. So he needed to set up an organization that would be more-or-less self-sustaining.
And to do that, he needed to identify 12 disciples whom he could ordain to be Apostles. These Apostles would need to be men who had no formal training for the ministry, but were humble, obedient, hardworking, and were willing to sacrifice everything to follow the Lord.
We read about the calling of the original Twelve Apostles in Luke, chapter 6.
12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
13 ¶And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles;
Notice that even Jesus had to spend time preparing himself before he called his apostles. He prayed all night for inspiration from Heavenly Father. Isn’t it comforting to know that today, our Church leaders do exactly the same thing? They pray and seek inspiration to know whom the Lord would have serve in each calling. That begs the question, should we do any less as we face important challenges and decisions in our lives?
So whom did the Lord call? Who were the original 12 apostles? We’ll find a list here in verses 14 through 16. We’ll also find a list over in Matthew chapter 10. In fact, let’s jump over to Matthew 10. Verses 2 through 4 list the names. But I’m now going to give you the list of the 12 Apostles using the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek name which Jesus would have used.
- (Peter) Shim’on (Shim-own) Bar-Jonah, whom Jesus names Kephas.
- (Andrew) Arye Bar-Jonah, Peter’s brother. Another son of Jonah.
- (James) Ya’akov Ben-Zavdai. The son of Zebedee.
- (John) Yochanan Ben-Zavdai. Another son of Zebedee.
- (Philip) Avichayil. Philippos is a Greek name. He may have been a Jewish Greek.
- (Nathanael) Na-tahn-aye-el Bar-Talmai
- (Thomas) Yehuda Tau’ma; or Didymus in Greek. He was a twin, probably the younger.
- (Matthew) Mattityahu Bar-Halfai. The son of Alphaeus.
- (James) Ya’akov Bar-Halfai. Another son of Alphaeus.
- (Jude) Yehuda Bar-Taddai.
- (Simon) Shim’on Kananim. Also known as “the Canaanite” and “the Zealot”.
- (Judas) Yehuda Bar-Shim’on. Called Iscariot probably because he was from the village of Kerioth.
Jesus ordains and instructs the Twelve Apostles
1 And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
- They have the power to heal those who physically sick as well as those who are spiritually sick.
Let’s jump down to verses 6 and 7.
6 But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
7 And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
- They are sent to the lost sheep of Israel to preach that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
8 Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give.
- They are to use their priesthood power to bless and heal people.
11 And into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence.
12 And when ye come into an house, salute it.
13 And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it: but if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.
14 And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words, when ye depart out of that house or city, shake off the dust of your feet.
- They are to seek out those who are prepared to hear the gospel.
19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak.
20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.
- They are to teach as guided by the Spirit.
39 He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.
- They are to give their lives entirely to the Savior’s work.
Now these are just some of the responsibilities that were given to the original Twelve Apostles. Several sections from the Doctrine and Covenants confirm that modern apostles are under the same mandate. (See D&C 107:23, 33, 35; 112:14, 19–22, 30–31.)
In my own life, I’ve seen the latter-day Apostles fulfill these responsibilities. As I’ve listened to these wonderful men speak to us over the years, I testify that I have felt the Holy Ghost bear witness to my soul that these are true representatives of the Father. I have fond memories of the scratchy voice of President Kimball, of the messages of compassion from Elder Ashton, of the booming authoritative voice of Elder McConkie, of the poetic wordsmithery from Elder Maxwell, of the soaring stories from President Uchtdorf. But all of these messages are relatively worthless unless we take them to heart. Unless we become disciples, like they have become disciples.
There are three verses from Matthew 10 that sum up the blessings that we can receive when we follow the Apostles.
40 ¶He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.
41 He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.
42 And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.
We can add some modern revelation to that. It is found in D&C 124:45–46.
45 And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place.
46 But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them.
If we want to receive those who Jesus has sent, if we want to be blessed by following the Apostles, there are really just two things we need to do. First, we can prayerfully study their messages. And second, we can seek to incorporate those messages into our lives. That’s really all there is to do it.
Spencer W. Kimball said:
No one in this Church will ever go far astray who ties himself securely to the Church Authorities whom the Lord has placed in his Church. This Church will never go astray; the Quorum of the Twelve will never lead you into bypaths; it never has and never will. (in Conference Report, Apr. 1951, 104).
I testify that Jesus Christ is the true Messiah and that the Twelve Apostles are special witnesses of him. How do I know that? Not because of any physical knowledge that comes from my five senses. I haven’t seen the resurrected Christ. I wasn’t present when the Apostles received their special witness. But those are physical manifestations. The knowledge of these truths that I have—that you have—isn’t physical. We don’t have to see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or reason them into reality. It is beyond the physical; it is entirely spiritual. And we are—at our core—spiritual beings. We all know these things are true because the Holy Ghost has borne witness to our spirits that it is true. For that witness in my own life, and for the witnesses of those Apostles who have seen and heard and touched, I shall be eternally thankful.