While reading the Bible with my youngest son one evening, the New Living Translation’s rendering of the following verse caught my attention:
One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.
Luke 5:17 NLT
The part of this verse in parentheses was a phrasing that I hadn’t noticed before. Other translations explain where these people were from more “matter-of-factly”, but the meaning seems to be pretty consistent. The NLT’s rendering almost gives a bit of foreshadowing, and makes it sound as if these groups are coming out of the woodwork.
Regardless of the translation, though, we find later in this passage (Luke 5:17-26), that similar groups of people (“Pharisees and teachers of religious law”) question Jesus’ authority when He forgives a paralyzed man’s sins. Throughout the gospels, we find that various related groups seem to regularly be working against Jesus.
Now, I’m not condemning these groups as a whole. There were some from their ranks who believed and followed Jesus, and I suspect that some – perhaps many – of those who came from other regions to hear Jesus were genuine. However, certain people in these categories were certainly avid detractors of Jesus’. I’d like to give those in this verse the benefit of the doubt, and imagine that they had come from far and wide to genuinely listen to Jesus (like the Queen of Sheba came to listen to Solomon, per 1 Kings 10:1-10), but at some point, Jesus’ opponents made an effort to seek him out.
Things haven’t changed much today. Those who wish to find fault in the message of Jesus Christ may come from anywhere. They are present online, at work, at school, out in public, sometimes in government, or just in the news. Some flaunt their anti-Jesus beliefs openly, while others lurk in the shadows, trying to undermine His message (and His people) from behind the scenes.
Still, the history lesson that we learn from this chapter in Luke contains some valuable teaching for us today (just as it has been throughout history since Jesus’ ministry on earth).
For one thing, when followers of Jesus meet resistance, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus prophesied that His disciples would have trials (see John 16:33). I work in a professional environment, where the discourse is usually polite and respectful. Still, I occasionally run into a situation – whether with co-workers, or elsewhere out in the world – where my beliefs are put to the test, or someone blurts out a claim that I simply cannot agree with (although I can still be courteous and loving). Just because some of us might live in an environment where our faith is not challenged too often – even as many people live in quite the opposite situation – doesn’t mean that we should be shocked when we encounter someone opposed to Christianity.
For another thing, we shouldn’t be afraid. Even when certain voices in certain areas of media, entertainment, and politics move further and further from the truth, we have nothing to fear (see Matthew 10:28). One of the great things about the truth is that it is not changed – in fact, it is not even impacted – by those who claim that it is not truth. Real truth – including Jesus Christ, who is the Truth – can wait for facts, reality, and fulfilled promises to prove it out. Like the Israelites thrown into a furnace (Daniel 3:19-30), the truth can survive without being harmed or disfigured, until the bindings placed on it by others are burned away and it is invited to step forward.
Finally, when we meet someone – maybe online – who ridicules our faith, we should continue to live in the power and truth of Jesus Christ. He stands with His followers, took the penalty for our sins, and endured the insults of other people (see Hebrews 12:2-3). Surely, with His exceedingly better example, we can stand with Him and field a few complaints without getting hostile or vengeful.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.