The Parable Of The Sower Part One: Growing Wheat In Galilee

I grew up on a wheat/sheep farm in western New South Wales, Australia. When I started reading and re-reading the parable of the sower a week ago, I naturally started to think about the farming practices involved behind the parable. So here is a summary of my research into the Galilean wheat farming practices that all the parable’s audience would have intuitively understood, but of which we are largely ignorant today.

Before we start, please remember that these people invented wheat farming! The transition from hunting and gathering straight after the global flood to cultivating wild grasses like wheat, rye and barley took place in the very spot where Jesus told the story, the Fertile Crescent between Iraq and Egypt. This land had already been cultivated for thousands of years before Jesus told the story, two thousand years ago! Wheat growing was in their blood.

Growing Wheat in Galilee

The land in Galilee was also very fertile, the best in Israel because of its excellent rainfall on rich red soils. The further north you go from Jerusalem the better the rainfall. The rainfall in Nazareth was about 600mm or around 23 inches and mainly fell in the winter. This was perfect for winter wheat and barley cultivation. In European and American latitudes wheat is grown in summer, but in the hot Mediterranean climate of Israel and Australia wheat is a winter crop.

As a province, Galileans were about 80-90% farmers and Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth would have been no different as the largest tract of arable land in Galilee is just to the south of Nazareth. Down in Jesus’ adopted hometown of Capernaum by the great lake, the rainfall was a little lower at around 400mm or 16 inches. However, this was also the rainfall of my hometown, and we were a very successful wheat farming family. So, grain growing would have, and still does, extend across Galilee and down to the shores of the great lake.

This near saturation of farmers suggests that some of his earthly cousins and family members would surely have been wheat/barley growers. It is also likely that at least one or more of his sisters married a farmer. I would be not at all surprised if Jesus was called out to help with sowing and harvest duties for extended family members when needed before his ministry started. From personal experience on our farm, I can tell you it must have been all available hands to the plough and sickle during the two busy periods of sowing and harvest all over Galilee. This is because all grain growing in ancient Israel relied on manual labour for sowing, weed control, harvesting, and thrashing so it was extremely labour intensive for the whole community. No fossil fuels, no tractors, no harvesters, no artificial fertiliser, and no chemical insect and weed control. Just muscle power.

How Good Was The Harvest?

The return on all this hard labour was usually about tenfold. One unit of seed in the ground for ten units out at harvest time. The use of animal manure was widespread (excuse the pun) as this kept the fields from being flogged out. Its also why the weeds were included in the parable. Animal manure is full of undigested seeds which grew with the wheat when the rains came.

A good crop only came when the natural rains were good. This would push the yield up to around 20-30-fold. An exceptional crop of up to 100-fold had to combine these perfect early and late rains (Jeremiah 5:24, James 5:7) along with plenty of manure fertilisers. These exceptional harvests were known but very uncommon. The seventh-year rest for the whole land also aided in restoring the fertility of the Galilean wheat belt (Leviticus 25, Josephus: Wars, 1:54–66).

The Autumn and Spring Rains

Why were the early and latter rains important for wheat growing? Well, you need moisture to sow and germinate the seed. You also need moisture to plough the ground otherwise the oxen-powered, iron tipped, single-pronged ploughs would only bounce off the hard dry ground. On our farm we had to wait for these early winter rains as well, and there was much consternation if they didn’t come on time. In springtime you also need late rains to fatten the seed and to fill the head up to 3-4 seeds wide for a bumper crop. If the latter rains didn’t come the harvest would be half its potential with fewer and smaller grains, but higher protein levels in the meagre harvest. High protein wheat (above 13%) can be made into bread while low protein wheat (below 11%) goes into cakes and the like.

The annual calendar

The annual rhythm for working the land is succinctly recorded in the Gezer Calendar, a limestone tablet dating from around a millennium BC, the time of Solomon. It describes the agricultural cycle month by month, giving the tasks to be performed at certain times of the year.

Two months gathering (October-November)

Two months planting (December-January)

Two months late sowing (February-March)

One month cutting flax (April)

One month reaping barley (May)

One month reaping and measuring wheat (June)

Two months pruning (July-August)

One month summer fruit (September)

From experience I can tell you that barley ripens up to a month before wheat (but has slightly lower nutritional value) and that is why the two separate entries on this calendar.

The major Jewish feasts and festivals followed this agricultural rhythm: Passover and unleavened bread in the spring just before the barley harvest (March/April), Pentecost seven weeks after the Passover and during the wheat harvest, and the feast of Tabernacles when all harvests were completed (September/October). That’s when food was abundant so that’s when people celebrated and gave respect to their creator for his provision. This is something modern city-based westerners have completely forgotten, to their loss.

Who lived in Galilee?

The region of Jesus’ youth and ministry was often known as Galilee of the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15) as it had many foreigners living alongside the local Jews. The foreigners were more often than not Greek settlers and Roman occupiers. The Greek presence was the result of Alexander the Great’s conquest of Israel and subsequent removal of Jews from their farmlands. Galilee’s best farmland was handed over to the conquerors and that is why there were still ten Greek cities on the other side of the Jordan during Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:25). The Hasmonean revolt in 167-164BC removed the Greek farmers from Galilee as it was mainly a Galilean farmers revolt. They got their farms back. The Greek invasion is also why the New Testament was written in Greek.

During this New Testament era the average farm size was about 2-4 hectares or up to ten acres. This figure comes from Eusebius’s account (Historiae Eccleseastiea, 3:20) of the two grandsons of Judah, brother of Jesus, who declared to the Roman government that they derived their sustenance from an area of 39 plethra (3.4 hectares) which they cultivated with their own hands. This was the farm of two families, so it suggests that the average family derived its livelihood from 1.7 hectares. Several passages from the Talmud refer to about 2.3 hectares as a large field and a substantial inheritance. Multiply those figures by 2.5 to get acres.

Sowing the crop: December-January

The story of the sower has the farmer broadcasting the grain by hand on a cold December or January day. Perhaps that’s when the parable was told as it was current and relevant, but we will never know. I can personally verify this January sowing time for wheat in Israel. In January of 2019 I was visited Beersheba and they had just sowed their grain crops after good rains.

Sowing was done at the rate of about 13 kilos or 30 lbs. per acre or 1/4th of a hectare, about half our modern rates. This lower rate is because we have better wheat varieties and better artificial fertiliser. The land would probably have been ploughed a few times before sowing whenever rains came. Ploughing several times produced a fine textured seedbed, and therefore it was easier for the tiny seeds to make contact with the moist soil, triggering germination. Ploughing after earlier pre-sowing rains also got rid of sprouting weeds. This process has not changed for dryland farming for 2,000 years. We just did it with huge machines over hundreds of hectares…with little human effort.

The grain landing on four different soil types in the parable is explained by the fact that the Galilean fields were very small and nearly all had walking tracks around them for animal and human movement, and as boundary markers. I lived in India in 1981 and can vouch that these narrow tracks are still the norm today around third-world farming villages and fields.

With one single vigorous broadcast a farmer could cover about five lateral metres. If his broadcasting was near the edge of the field, you could have had a few seeds land on the walking track, and a few on the stony edges of that track. Lots of seed would have fallen on the ploughed but weed/thorn infested ground on the edge of the field. Why was this space full of headache plants? It’s because this zone next to the track was where humans and animals would often drop weed and thorn seeds stuck to their garments or their animal’s manure while passing along these tracks. The farmer would make sure lots of seed would was broadcast on the good soil a few metres further in the field that was not contaminated with weeds.

This scenario is probably what the listeners imagined while Jesus spoke. The idea of a Galilean farmer deliberately looking for stony paths, rocky soil and weedy soil separately to sow precious grain into doesn’t make sense and would ruin the message behind the parable.

Once the seed was broadcast it was still sitting on top of the damp soil and had to be ploughed under to a depth of about 7cm or 3 inches.  To do this the farmer typically ploughed again perpendicular to the last direction ploughed to cover the seed. This was often accompanied by branches, or a log dragged behind the plough to smooth the soil. Then, when the grain and weeds germinated it was time for periodic weeding after each rain to remove any competition to the small wheat and barley seedlings.

Harvest time (April)

Harvest was the most exciting, busiest and exhausting time of the year. For me growing up on the farm it was a super-special event with large machinery going 14 hours a day, heavy trucks running everywhere, silos full, storage at a premium, and meals constantly driven out to family members and itinerant workers every day. My whole town would lift if the rains were good and it was a bumper harvest. I am sure it was no different in ancient Galilee, Nazareth and Capernaum.

Reaping was a team effort, and backbreaking work. Teams of people would complete a field, then move to their neighbour’s field until the harvest was complete. Then each family would take care of their own grain from that point on. The faster the harvest, the safer the harvest, both then and now. A corner of each field had to be left for the poor people to glean from and feed themselves. This was a form of self-motivated ancient welfare for which Naomi and Ruth were grateful to be a part of (Ruth 1:22-2:2, Leviticus 19:9, 23:22).

Try to think of their ancient wheat crop as a collection of uneven short spindly plants and not our beautiful scientifically bred, perfectly aligned monoculture of hundreds of hectares in today’s farms. Two thousand years of plant breeding has made a big difference to what wheat looks like.

Threshing the grain from the wheat stalks came next, and wheat does not like to give up its grain! Threshing was extremely laborious and monotonous. To save human effort, an animal was often tied to a pole and would walk around in a circle on a stone base with its feet slowly grinding the grain free from the wheat head. If a farmer was too poor for to own an animal, the family would belt the wheat talks against a rock by hand. After separation the grain was tossed into the air and winnowed in the wind. The chaff would land a few metres away and the heavier grain would land at the labourer’s feet. The chaff became animal feed for the dry season through summer or was used for brick making. I’m sure, as a builder, Jesus was familiar with this practice. Having built a mudbrick home in the 1980’s I can assure you that straw is absolutely essential for mudbrick making.

At this point the wheat was double checked to remove any last remaining stalks and taken to a family silo inside, under or next to their home. I saw many of these mudbrick wheat silos inside courtyards in Panjabi villages in 1981. Each typically contained around 100-200 kilos of grain and would be sealed to prevent vermin from getting inside. A family would need several of these to get through to the next harvest. In Galilee grain was often stored in very large clay pots or in silos dug into the ground beneath the floor of houses.

Most of the harvest was consumed by the family as the year progressed, while some had to be kept for next year’s sowing. They did not buy bread from supermarkets! They made it themselves. Some grain was paid in taxes to the occupying Romans, some went to the priests, and some went to specialists like Jesus who was a builder in the local village of Nazareth before starting his ministry.

Matthew 12:43-45: Who Is “This Evil Generation”

In Matthew 12 we find a short passage that intrigues me. In it Jesus said that when a demon is cast out of a man it wanders around in dry places looking for a new host. Unable to find one it returns to its original host and finds it empty, swept clean and decorated. It then invites seven other spirits more evil than itself to join it. The final condition of that man is far worse than the first.

Now, I always thought Jesus was teaching about demonology. But he wasn’t.

It’s the next sentence that gives us the reason for the teaching. Jesus finished by saying that this is what life will be like for this evil generation. The New American Standard version says it the best: That is the way it will also be with this evil generation. The teaching on demons was just an analogy, it was not meant to be taken literally. He was talking about a whole generation of Israelites, the whole nation. So, what was Jesus referring to?

For a clue, let’s look at one of his other similar statements for a clue. Matthew 24:1-35 gives us great detail about what is going to happen to this generation (Verse34). The passage begins with the disciples calling Jesus’ attention to the physical glory and architectural spendour of the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus immediately tells them that the temple is going to be demolished in violent fashion. Intrigued, the disciples ask for more details so Jesus spends verses 3 to 34 telling them what will happen in the lead up to the destruction of the temple. We know the passage has nothing to do with the end times as it finishes with him telling them this generation will not pass away until all these things have happened. There’s that term again.

Over in Luke 11: 45-53 we see the same term pop up in the same context. An expert in the law attacked Jesus for insulting him (verse 45). To which Jesus made some very strong remarks and finished with the statement that this generation will be held responsible for all the blood of the prophets shed since the beginning of the world.

So now we have three instances of the same term being used for the same purpose; to give a prophetic announcement that the Judaic system of religion with its ridiculous laws, social suppression and control, its inbuilt hypocrisy, onerous systems of worship, and cultural pride would be demolished within a generation.

And it happened just as Jesus prophesied.

In the late first century the Jews rebelled against their Roman occupiers. By 70AD Jerusalem was been retaken and then completely wiped out. Over a million people died in the rebellion and 100,000 were taken to Rome as trophy slaves to be employed building their famous Colosseum. Titan’s victory arch next to the Colosseum still displays the images carved in stone of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. This wholesale destruction of Israel was what Jesus was talking about. The Christians were warned and when they saw the storm clouds on the horizon the fled Israel as told to by Jesus (Matthew 24:15-20). Israel as a nation ceased to exist in 70AD until May the 14th 1948!

In fact, the Book of Revelation is also mostly about this single seismic event. Consider the following clues:

First, the book of Revelation itself opens by telling all who were about to read the document that it concerns events that must shortly take place (Rev 1:1). The original readers were also told, as concerns the book, to heed the things which are written in it, for the time is near (Rev 1:3). Clearly the events prophesied in the book had immediate relevance to the original readers.

Second, the theme of the book is strongly connected with the destruction of Jerusalem (Rev 11:2, 8, 17:18, 18:9, 19-20), an event that historically took place in 70AD.

Third, John speaks of Nero Caesar as still on the throne (Rev 17:9-10), Nero died in June 68AD.

Fourth, Daniel spoke of the future restoration of Jerusalem, the coming of the Messiah, the sealing up of prophecy and vision, and the destruction of Jerusalem along with its temple in Daniel 9:24-27. Daniel also told us that all prophecy would be sealed before the destruction of Jerusalem, and we know from history that Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD.

So, there is a lot more to this little passage than meets the eye. I’m sure the statements about demons coming home to roost in an empty human host are correct, but the bigger picture here is the gigantic spiritual switch from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant as witness by the physical, spiritual, political and religious divorce of the nation of Israel once the birth of the church had been completed.

The rest, they say, is history!




Easter: What Happened Thursday


First, what was the motivation for arresting Jesus? The legal order for the arrest of Jesus came from an organisation called the Sanhedrin (Matt 26:3). This was a group of around 23 elite religious rulers who controlled all daily facets of Jewish life under the watchful eye of the Roman Prefect (John 18:31). They exercised religious and legal power in this most religious and legalistic of cultures. They were the defacto political rulers and they also ran a hated extortion racket at the great temple of Jerusalem by forcing people to exchange their gold and silver money for near worthless copper, then making them buy their sacrificial animals at inflated prices from a select cartel of suppliers (John 2:13-17). The combined religious, political, legal and economic power of the Sanhedrin made its leadership extremely wealthy. There was no separation of church, state and financial power in ancient Israel. It was a perpetual one-party state under the control of Rome.

The ultimate reason for the Sanhedrin’s arrest of the greatest Jew of their generation at that moment was simply a gut-wrenching fear of political revolution, a revolution that would involve a total loss of their cosy control over Jewish political, religious and economic life (John 11:49-50). Consider these preceding events: At the beginning of the week Jesus had been welcomed into the city as a national hero by thousands who clearly saw him as a great prophet (John 12:12-13). In fact it seems he already had international followers among the tens of thousands of religious tourists that had arrived for the annual Pesach or Passover feast (John 12:20-21).  He then launched into a daily barrage of scathing attacks on the priests of the Sanhedrin for corrupting the purposes of God and stealing from the people (Matt 23:1-37). When they tried to counter attack he was able to repeatedly confound them in open public debate (Matt 22:15-45). He taught the people in veiled parables that the days of the Sanhedrin’s power and corruption were coming to an end (Matt 25:1-46). He even spoke of wars, rumours of wars and the destruction of the great temple (Matt 24:6). As the week wore on Caiaphas and his inner circle came to the obvious conclusion the teacher from Galilee was plotting a coup. But they also genuinely feared the people would side with Jesus if he was confronted openly, so they hesitated, waiting for a moment of weakness in their enemy’s movements that was outside the public gaze.

Now we move on to the actual timing of the arrest. It is now Thursday evening, the beginning of Nisan 14 and the evening of the special Galilean feast called Seudah Maphsehket, which we commonly call the “Last Supper”. This special pre-Passover meal was adopted only by the Galileans and its purpose was to remember that it was only the first-born sons of the Hebrews who were in danger from death at God’s hand in Egypt. After the Last Supper there would be a 24-hour fast. The next meal to be eaten was the Passover meal on the special Sabbath Saturday evening.

I put it to you that the capture of the prophet took place on, or just before midnight on that fateful night. This is because the Last Supper was is a ritual that took from two to three hours to complete, so it would have finished at about 9.00pm. Between then and the arrest the disciples had become extremely tired, even those who had been burly fishermen who were used to night shifts (Luke 5:5, John 21:3-4). In fact, by the time of the arrest some disciples had already fallen asleep three times (Matt 26:39-43). So it is very safe to say the arrest took place around the middle of the night. The text makes it very clear that these men were being held against their will deep into the night by a man spending time in anguished prayer. He was waiting to be arrested long after the normal time for sleep (Matt 26:45). So, why the three-hour wait on a cold and dark hillside? Why did the arrest take so damned long? Had Judas failed in his attempted betrayal when he left the meal at around 9.00pm (Matt 26:23-25)?

As a common informer Judas was useless because everyone knew Jesus was staying in Bethany (John 12:1). So where does he fit into this cascading scene on Thursday night? The record tells us that Judas had met with the priests on Monday or Tuesday and signalled his willingness to do a deal, but the priests took no notice (Matt 26:14). This was because the temple guard could have been dispatched to Mary and Martha’s house at any time during that week of festivities to collect Jesus (John 12:1-2). The delay in arresting Jesus is only explained by the High Priest’s genuine fear of the people and of revolution. The popularity of their enemy had reached a point where they were afraid to act.

Suddenly, at around 9.15 pm Judas brought the Sanhedrin some unexpected news. Jesus was no longer combative, but was actually speaking about his immanent arrest (Matt 26:31). In fact he was waiting to be arrested in a garden just to the east of the great temple (Matt 26:45). It was now or never for the priests to deal with the greatest threat to their power they had ever experienced. This new information precipitated action, and all it cost them was thirty pieces of silver (Matt 26:14-15) which was the going price of a slave at the time.

Judas left the Last Supper when the meal concluded at approximately 9.00pm (Matt 26:23-25). But the arrest didn’t occur until around midnight, so why the three hour delay? This can only be explained by walking through the logistics of the drama. It took Judas around 15 minutes to get to the High Priests home with the news, and probably another 15 minutes to deliver the message to the appropriate person, Caiaphas. Assume it took another 30 minutes for the Sanhedrin to assemble and debate their decision. Assume it took another 30 minutes to organise an arrest party of guards and 15 minutes to walk to Gethsemane. This only takes us to around 10.30pm, not late enough for the disciples, who were fishermen, to have fallen asleep three times. So we have a 60 to 90 minute gap in the drama.

This gap can only be explained if there was a late night deal made with the Roman Prefect Pilate to have Jesus executed early the next day. All executions had to go through Pilate as this privilege had been taken away from the Jews in 15AD. If Pilate had not agreed to process the execution there was no point in arresting Jesus as he would have to be kept alive for the next seven days while the feast was in progress. This stalemate could have stirred up social unrest and possibly rebellion, once people found out their hero was behind bars. Jesus had to be executed the next day before people caught on that the plot was afoot. The solution was to go to Pilate and seal the deal before making the final decision to execute the arrest. Only this action can account for the one hour delay in the arrest and the extended wait in the garden for the arrest party to arrive.

In addition to the logic of this timeline there are three lines of supporting evidence. First, Pilate was ready for a trial very early the next morning on a day when trials a not normally heard, so he must have known about the arrest (Mark 15:1). In addition to this his wife Procula had a dream that evening about the prophet Jesus and early Friday morning she told her husband, just before the trial, to have nothing to do with him (Matt 27:19). People often dream about the last topic of conversation before their go to bed. Finally, Pilate opened the trial the next morning formally, instead of simply going through the legal formalities. The shocked reply of the priests suggests they were not expecting to go through a process of proving the guilt of Jesus from scratch (John 18:29-31).

At an hour to midnight, a large contingent of temple guards (John 18:3) and temple servants (John 19:10) were assembled and briefed by Caiaphas. Judas probably spoke as well because he knew where to go (John 18:2) and he told them he would identify Jesus for them with a kiss on the darkened hillside (Matt 26:48-49). Aware of the Galilean’s threats to overthrow the social order and suspicious of his rumoured supernatural powers, these men left the fortified city walls heavily armed and in great numbers, ready for mass resistance to their cause, ready for a rebellion (Matt 26:47). We can assume forty to fifty men to be in this party, including a contingent of Pharisees and court officials (John 18:3) who would soon act as court “witnesses”. By law it was required that witnesses in a Jewish court case had to be part of the arrest party.

Up on the hillside, the arrest party was first spotted from some distance as the file of torches made its way through the pitch darkness of the olive grove to confront the small party of weary disciples. When they could be seen drawing menacingly closer, Jesus surprisingly stood his ground, forcing his disciples to stay when logic told them to run. Consternation filled their minds. Why wasn’t their leader fleeing the approaching mob? When finally the two groups met face to face a few minutes later, Judas anger replaced fear as was discovered to be a traitor! Some of the disciples began to reach for their weapons. The potential melee was only averted with a stern rebuke from their leader (Luke 22:49-51). Then, for reasons that didn’t make sense at the time, Jesus offered himself without resistance on the proviso that the disciples be left alone (John 18:4-7). This request was granted and Jesus was immediately bound and led away, leaving his band of men stunned.

Reading between the lines it seems that in the swirl of bodies and noise during that confrontation night, both John and Peter managed to intermingle undetected with the mob and secretly gain entry to the city with them (John 18:15). The city gates were firmly shut and guarded at all times after dark that night except during the exit and re-entry of the arrest party, so this is the only conceivable explanation for the appearance of John and Peter in the city later that night at the trial (John 18:15).

As the torch lights file back toward the city, the other nine disciples regrouped a safe distance further up the hill and spent a precious few minutes assessing their options. Once it is realised they were missing Peter and John, as well as Jesus, it undoubtedly created a sense of horror and foreboding in their minds. The only conclusion they could read from their rapidly diminishing set of circumstances was that Peter and John were arrested along with Jesus, and they would be next.

At this point it is most likely that John’s older brother James (Matt 4:21-22) started calling the shots as he is the most senior member of the disciples left (Matt 26:36-37). The things they discussed in those few moments must have centred on securing their own safety and assessing the possibility of the temple guard seeking out other followers of the prophet. This would mean arrests the next day in their village of lodging, Bethany (John 12:10-11). Only one course of action was now deemed sensible, and that was to get over the hill and down to the village to warn them of the tragic arrest of the great teacher and the mortal danger that all now faced them (John 12:1-4).

So nine frightened and bewildered men began to stumble through the pitch darkness for some 1.5 kilometers and arrived at Bethany around 1.00am. After the raising of Lazarus from the dead a year or so earlier, the whole village were followers of the great prophet (Matt 26:6). This fact, combined with the tiny size of homes in that era of foreign occupation and heavy taxation, tells us that only a few of the disciples were staying at Martha’s home. Still, that is where they must have delivered the news first. Already anxious because of the party had not returned at a normal hour, Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ worst fears are now realized. Now all of those now on the run woke up their respective hosts with a story of horror. Within minutes the entire village was awake and listening, weary eyed, to the terrible fate that had just befallen Jesus and his leadership.

Sleep would not have come easily to any of them until nearer to daybreak. But before it did, plans were being sketched into their conversations as to what to do the next day in the face of various threats and developments. They would not be caught off-guard twice. Their leadership was under arrest and the mothers of three of these nine men were trapped in Jerusalem. Amazingly, because of the complete lack of reference to this entire group for the rest of the crucifixion and resurrection drama, we now know exactly what those plans were. There was to be no rescue attempt and no plan to sneak into the city with the flow of traffic the next day to connect with the others. There was just too much chance of arrest at the city gate. These men decided, for their own safety and that of their many friends in Bethany, to simply lay low and wait. At any moment they may have needed to flee further north toward their home district of Galilee. Alternatively, if Peter and John were released, they would need to be in Bethany to meet them. Either way, they chose wisely to stay out of the city.

So, now we have set a scene where most of Jesus’ disciples are absent for the rest of the crucifixion drama, while a small party are marooned inside the city walls, completely cut off from their friends This party consisted of Joanna, who was the wife of king Herod’s palace manager, Mary mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene the ex-prostitute, Salome mother of James and John, Peter and John. It is this unlikely group that now gains a ringside seat into our planet’s most history-altering event. John, through his connections and influence with the priests, becomes their leader. Peter’s character faults are soon exposed and he disappears from view until Sunday morning. The women are free to come and go as they wish.


After the drama of the arrest, Jesus was taken straight back to the home of Annas, father-in-law of the Caiaphas the High Priest, for preliminary questioning. This note in the narrative tells us a lot about this man’s lingering authority in the Sanhedrin. Then it was on to the nearby home of Caiaphas (Matt 26:57-8, John 18:12-13). There were two options available to the arrest party as to how to get to the homes of Annas and Caiaphas once inside the walls. The arrest party most likely took Jesus via the temple grounds so as to avoid the route through the residential streets of the city where they could have been spotted by any of the thousands of admirers of the great teacher.

Who was this High Priest (whose very tomb was possibly unearthed in 1990)? Joseph Caiaphas, the sworn enemy of Jesus, had been High Priest since 18AD and would remain in that powerful position for half a decade after this trial. The High Priest ruled the everyday affairs of Israel. Roman consent was only needed for the more important matters, such as this trial as it involved capital punishment. Caiaphas had married the daughter of the previous High Priest Annas, who had been forcibly removed by the Romans for executing capital sentences, but who still obviously held real political power. So we know this supreme position in the Jewish world was jealously guarded within an extended family structure that included Annas’ five sons and son-in-law. Caiaphas was at the peak of his tenure and had every motive in the world to make sure no one, absolutely no one, usurped his family control over the nation. A few months earlier he even threatened to kill the recently “resurrected” Lazarus in light of the thousands of Jerusalemites who were becoming admirers and followers of the upstart Galilean healer (John 12:10-11). A few years further on in history we find him threatening Peter and John for healing a crippled man (Acts 4:1-7). In the mind of this man power ruled supreme and any threat, no matter how justified, philosophically consistent, prophetically compelling or politically popular must be crushed. Caiaphas knew his family’s unpopular neck was on the line if the population turned on him.

Waiting for the arrest party to arrive at Caiaphas’ home was the full body of the Sanhedrin, the supreme court of all matters religious. Interestingly, some of the Sanhedrin are known to us. Nicodemus and possibly Joseph of Arimathea, both secret admirers of the prophet, were reluctantly present (John 3:1, Mark 15:43). In all likelihood Annas’ own sons John and Alexander were present (Acts 4:6). The official ruler of the Sanhedrin, the very wise and learned Gamaliel, was there also (Acts 5:34). In fact, he should have directed proceedings, but was usurped in this instance by Caiaphas. Once joined by the mob and the guards, we can imagine a crowded, noisy, adrenaline-filled courtyard (John 18:15) of up to one hundred people, with faces dimly lit by a few candles and olive oil lamps. Their noisy entrance was to be brusquely quietened after a few minutes by Caiaphas as he rose to speak. Three of the disciples were watching from the corners of the room. They were John, Peter and Judas. John was known to the High Priests family, and was probably a close relative through either his mother Salome or his father Zebedee (John 18:15, Matt 4:21). Then there was Peter, who only got in to the courtyard because of John’s personal influence at the front gate (John 15:16), and whose Galilean accent would soon give him away (Matt 26:73). Finally there was Judas the thief and betrayer, who was so disgusted with the outcome of his doing that later he committed suicide (Matt 27:3-5, John 12:6).

So, with the timeline now understood, we can safely assume the Jewish trial of Jesus (Matt 26:57-75) took place in the very early hours of Friday morning. This is a very strange time indeed, since in Jewish law a capital charge against a man could not be heard after dark. Adding to the illegality of the trial was the fact that only accusers and witnesses could execute an arrest. In this case it had been the temple guard accompanied by a motley crew of friends, palace servants and priests assembled at the last minute. Now they had to hastily concoct some fabricated evidence against Jesus. First there were several unnamed charges brought against Jesus based on fabrications and lies (Matt 26:60). This makes sense given the last minute nature of the arrest party and the lack of time the witnesses had to collaborate their lines of argument. In the Jewish legal system witnesses and prosecution lawyers were one and the same people. This first line of accusation quickly fell apart as witnesses contradicted each other, so it was overthrown.

Then some someone, probably a court official or Pharisee with a little more intelligence, spoke up and suggested a more valid line of accusation by stating that Jesus had committed the crime of threatening to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days (Matt 26:61). The penalty for this crime of sorcery was death. This was much more promising. However Caiaphas knew it would not carry any weight with the Roman Prefect, Pilate, as it only involved speculation within a religious system and no obvious threat to Roman power.

The fact that the High Priest Caiaphas wasted time on these charges suggests that he was not all-powerful to work his will on the Sanhedrin. He had to satisfy their very strong tradition of abiding by Jewish legalities. In their system of jurisprudence there were three classes of evidence. Vain evidence resulted in the death of the witnesses because they were obviously lying to get the accused punished. Standing evidence looked good but needed more proof. Adequate evidence resulted in the establishment of guilt and immediate punishment. Today we call it “beyond reasonable doubt”. Frustrated that the vainness of witnesses and weakness of their accusations, Caiaphas had to finally break with legal tradition again and cross examine the prisoner himself. Perhaps it was the clue “in three days” that inspired Caiaphas to lunge in. Was Jesus talking about his own claim to divinity, kingship and royalty?

Taking leave of the legal proprieties, Caiaphas now used this ace card and accused Jesus of a false claim to divinity, of being the Messiah, a claim that carried the death penalty. After watching Jesus previously defend himself with stoic silence he also added “I adjure you by the living God” which is the most solemn oath in the Hebrew legal code (Matt 26:63). To not answer when thus challenged in a Jewish trial was in itself grounds for stoning. Jesus was caught, so he answered for the first time. The answer we are given in the gospels is “I am” (Mark 14:62), “You have said” (Matthew 26:64) and “You say that I am” (Luke 22:70). The discrepancy lies in the fact that, to a cultivated Jew, courtesy forbade a direct answer. His answer was affirmative and this alone was going to carry weight with both the Sanhedrin and the Roman Prefect. The time was now somewhere around, or just before the first glow of morning as the record tells us that a local rooster started crowing (John 18:27). So it was probably now around 4.00 am. With guilt secured, it was time to rest up a few hours before heading, en masse, over to Pilate’s Jerusalem residence for the early morning show trial before Pilate.

Matthew 12:46-50: Who Is My Family?

Today I am going to dive into an interesting event that happened during Jesus’ ministry which gives us an insight into both his natural family and spiritual family. My notes below are full of background speculation about his family but I believe as you read on you will agree that it is very plausible speculation.

In three Gospels (Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21) we get the same story about Mary and several of Jesus’ brothers coming to meet him. They waited outside the building and Jesus was soon made aware of their arrival. He then gave a small sermonette, telling the crowd that his true family were not his flesh and blood but those who were obedient to his father (Matthew 12, Mark 3), or hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 8).

Jesus’ Natural Family

As a human, Jesus was born into and raised by a human family. So, the scene begins with the arrival of Mary and several of Jesus’ brothers. So, who were they? We know from Matthew 13:55-57 that Jesus had four younger brothers born to Mary and Joseph. They were James, Joseph, Simon and Judas. The passage also says, are not his sisters all with us. This implies at least three younger sisters, possibly four but we will go with three.

So, we are talking of a family that had at least 8 children if you include Jesus. Assuming Mary was 18 years old when she became pregnant with the Lord, and Jesus was around 32 years old at the time of this incident, this would put Mary at around 50 years of age when she came to see him. She would very likely have had one or more teenage children still living at home, while several of her adult children were probably married with their own families.

At her age she could still probably get around in a spritely fashion and could also afford to leave her younger children at home in the care of older siblings and travel a bit. So, for one of the few times in her life, she did.

The fact that she turns up in the company of her sons and without her husband is instructive. These sons would have been two or more of the four boys mentioned above, but probably those that were still single and working locally near the family’s Nazareth home. Where was Joseph? He was not mentioned so must have been either deceased or incapacitated. Since he was a lot older than Mary when they married this is a fair assumption.

Jesus left Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry some two years earlier and had set up his home base in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). So, Mary would not have seen much of her son for the last two years. At some point Mary would have heard so many reports and rumours about her son that she expressed a wish to her children that she wanted to go and see for herself firsthand what her now famous first son was up to. Every proud mum loves to see their kids achieve great things and Mary would have been no different, probably more so because of who she knew her son to be.

Or perhaps she was annoyed from listening to her adult male children dismissing these reports of what Jesus was doing and calling him a crazy man (Mark 3:21, John 7:3-5). Was there sibling jealousy that she decided to address by taking some of them to meet Jesus and see for themselves what he was doing? After all we know that his brother James was not a follower until after the resurrection. These men knew Jesus from childhood so it would have been a monumental mental shift for them to come to accept him as the Messiah.

Regardless of the rationale for the trip, it would have been inconceivable that an older woman would travel alone in that era (Luke 10:25-37), so she was chaperoned by her sons along the dusty Galilean roads from Nazareth to lake Galilee where we know Jesus was at the time (Matthew 13:1-2). The journey would have taken two days as it is around 40 kilometres from Nazareth to the lake, and 50 kilometres to Capernaum.

The distant memory of the angelic visitation, the three wise men and the drama of Jesus early life, as well as the miracle of the water turned into wine in Cana (John 2:9), would have come flooding back to her as reports started to come to her in Nazareth of miracles, healings, the dead being raised, and the prickly confrontations with the religious authorities. These thoughts would have filled her with anticipation as she walked.

And this is where the Biblical narrative cuts in.

After Jesus had finished teaching in this house he moved down to the lake and taught large crowds from a boat just offshore (Matthew 13). This was when he told them the stories of the sower and the four types of seeds, the wheat and the tares, the great catch of fish, the yeast, the mustard seed and the pearl of great price. So, Mary and the brothers of Jesus were present for all these powerful messages. Were any of them sent as a hint to his brothers about their fate if they continued their mockery and disbelief?

After Jesus had finished teaching he then proceeded to travel back to his hometown of Nazareth (Matthew 13:54-58). We can safely assume he was travelling with his mum and the brothers that come with her. We can also safely assume he was going back to pay a visit to his human family and would have stayed with them while there. Once again he started teaching in the local synagogue, but was on the whole rejected by his hometown.

Jesus’ spiritual family

As the creator of the universe and second in the trinity, Jesus was already part of a spiritual “family” and dearly wanted us humans to join it. This is why he often spoke about his Heavenly Father and himself as the Son of God. His most important instructional prayer began with the single word; Father (Matthew 6:9-13). These are human terms that we can relate to, otherwise it gets a bit complicated for our small brains.

So in this passage Matthew recorded for posterity the fact that Jesus shifted the perspective for his listeners to the reality that pervades all the physical and spiritual dimensions of the universe and beyond. This reality was the very essence of his mission on earth. His purpose was to depopulate hell and populate heaven, to invite humanity into a spiritual family that would enjoy the presence of our generous creator-dad forever. Jesus was telling everyone who would listen in that room that God was not a tyrant, not a stern legalistic judge, not demanding we grovel through a lifetime of duty and works, not uncaring and not distant. He was a loving, caring abba, a dad.

He was on a mission to adopt us back in to his family!

So, why wouldn’t he have said what he said, even though on a human level it may have been confronting for the family. But for all the others there that day it was a lightning bolt of revelation and hope. For those locked out of the straitjacket of the ridiculous religious systems of ancient Israel this was the most amazing news: For the prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), the tax collectors (Matthew 9:10), the Samaritans (John 4:39), those living beyond the borders of Israel (Mark 3:8), the poor in spirit, the physically poor, the meek, the mourners, the hungry, the merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-11), the prodigals (Luke 15: 11-32), and women (John 12:3), the  demon possessed (Matthew 8:28-34), the sick and lame (Matthew 9:27-34).

The list goes on for 2,000 years. These people now had a family. They had a future. They had hope. They had heaven. We too have a future and hope and heaven if we accept the free gift of adoption into this family through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The promise continues. The brokenness of sin and Satan that infects almost every human on the planet has a cure, not in drugs, alcohol, fame, fortune or pride, but in the heart healing adoption into the most loving family in the universe.

Passing On The Blessing

This eternal promise was brought home to me powerfully six years ago. After having raised our three children to adulthood and accumulated enough to be able to do a spot of travelling in retirement, we were confronted with a life-changing choice. My wife’s stepfather’s eleven year old grandchild needed a home. She had been raised by my wife’s mum until my wife’s mum died when the child was six, then by her grandfather on his own until he too died when she was eleven. We were next in line…if we would accept her into our family. My wife had known for many years in her heart that we would eventually be raising this cherished child. I didn’t!!!!

So, as I was emotionally wrestling, praying and thinking things through, the Holy Spirit spoke very clearly to me one day and said I adopted you into my family so now its time to pass on the gift and blessing. Boom! Gone were my dreams of travel, a comfortable retirement and helping my wife through her continuing cancer journey. After the Lord spoke it was all over. How could we not take on a precious child of God who was either going to be living with us in a warm, stable family near to all she had known all her life. The alternative was with strangers in foster families and brokenness, abandoned by us.

That was six years ago. It was tough initially as we were nurturing a broken soul, but now, looking back I would not have swapped it for the world. God is good.

Because God is dad!



Gold Is On Its Way Back As The World’s Reserve Asset

1. The Background

Yesterday I listened to a financial podcast that I thought was so important I have listened to it again and spent some time today summarizing it for you. It delves into the true nature of global financial markets and how they are going to evolve over the next decade and even longer. Here is the link if you want to listen to it for yourself when you have finished reading.

2. Bretton Woods

For thousands of years gold was the only currency used for significant international transactions inside Europe, across the Middle East, on the Silk Road, and in Asia. So, in 1944 when an agreement was forged between the emerging victors of World War Two that would see the American dollar become the world’s reserve currency, there was no question that it was to be backed by gold. After all, the Americans had amassed 20,000 tonnes of it during the war as their allies sold gold to buy arms. Under this new Bretton Woods agreement all nation states could deal with each other with the convenience of a single currency, or simply swap their US dollars for gold at US$32 an ounce if preferred.

However, the USA soon began running deficits to fund the Vietnam war and welfare (rather than tax its citizens) and to supply the world with the dollars everyone else needed to trade with each other. This deficit spending led to a run on the dollar as other nations like France literally swapped their paper dollars for plane loads of gold. 12,000 tons in all left the United States in the late 1960’s.

So, in 1971 Richard Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard, temporarily of course. The whole world quickly followed, otherwise their currencies would have endlessly appreciated against the US dollar. To give the US dollar continued legitimacy as the worlds reserve currency now that it was off the gold peg, it was eventually decided to peg it to oil in a famous deal worked out between Henry Kissinger and the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter. The Saudi’s would from then on only sell oil to the whole world in US dollars in exchange for US military protection. Hey presto, the world still needed the US dollar. The new system worked but was wide open to abuse by the Americans, hence the rampant inflation of the 1970’s. In 1980 the American central bank, under Paul Volker, inflicted great pain on its own economy to save the international dollar reserve asset system and destroy that terrible episode of inflation.

However imperfect the system, it seemed to work because for the next 25 years oil traded between 15 and 30 dollars a barrel. Foreign central bank reserves of US dollars and bonds could buy a fairly consistent amount of oil or be sold to balance a nations books. America kept itself disciplined after the debacle of 1970’s. Trust was restored.

3. America Changes Course

Then in around 2005 everything changed. Oil jumped above $30 and kept going. The inevitable issue of peak oil had arrived and Asia’s consumption of oil was skyrocketing Compounding the problem was the small issue of the Americans piling on astronomical amounts of a financial drug called subprime debt. The USA now faced a choice. They could have once again killed their economy to save the international financial system like they did in the early 1980’s under Volker, or they could pander to their domestic voters and powerful banks and let oil rise, thereby sacrificing the long-term value of other nations reserves of American dollars.

They did the latter and let oil run to around US$147 a barrel in 2008. The oil-dollar peg was breaking down, just as the gold-dollar peg did 34 years earlier.

In essence the Americans had decided to shaft all countries that had trusted them and horded massive amounts of US currency and bonds as part of their core financial reserves. The Americans printed $3 trillion out of thin air to get themselves through the 2008 crisis, and $6 trillion to get through covid. The discipline of raising interest rates to save the global system and at the same time crashing the American system is no longer politically acceptable.

That powerful and fundamental change was the slow and almost imperceptible beginning of the end of the petro-dollar financial system. As proof of the sea-change it caused among central banks around the world you only have to note that:

1: they have now almost completely stopped buying new US government debt.

2: They are in some cases getting rid of their US bonds completely, and they have invested three times more gold bullion than US bonds since 2014.

3: Gold is also being repatriating from America to individual central banks by the thousands of tonnes.

4: The Chinese now buy oil in yuan and the seller can swap that yuan for gold if they wish

5: Finally, the Bank of International Settlements (the central banker’s central bank) has recently made the trading of paper gold contracts more expensive than trading physical gold. This suggests that they want physical gold to play a much larger part of a any future financial system than the existing paper derivative gold market.

After America’s decision to run the printing presses in 2008, across the Pacific, China immediately began the process of creating payment systems so they could switch their oil purchases from US dollars to other currencies. They knew their trillions of US bonds would start to depreciate rapidly and buy less and less oil and other goods as time went on. They need a lot of oil, so this was a matter of national security. The Belt and Road program is also part of this ongoing process. Many other countries are following in their wake.

Russia also saw the writing on the wall and gradually sold all their US bonds, bought thousands of tonnes of gold and started selling oil in Euros and Chinese Yuan as much as possible. The Europeans would also like to do the same, that is, buy oil with their own currency. In fact, every country would like to be able to have the privilege enjoyed by the Americans of being able to print money out of nothing and buying oil!

However, at this stage the world does not trust the Chinese, European or Russian currencies, so most countries are stuck with the US dollar for the time being, until the world can find a trusted neutral reserve currency.

The whole world now knows that the Americans will simply print their way out of all economic tight spots forever, slowly destroying their currency in the process. Covid gave us another $6 trillion in new US dollars, the retirement of the American baby boomers will give us many trillions more. The next financial crises in America may see $9 trillion printed. The American dollar is therefore doomed.

But this is only half the story. Something happened in early 2022 that changed everything, and the world is now going to be moving much more rapidly out of the US dollar and into a new financial system than previously thought. This is because of the war in the Ukraine. Lets call it Bretton Woods Mark Three.

4. Where to From Here?

Early on in Russia’s war of aggression against the Ukraine, the Americans did something never before seen in the Bretton Woods era. They unilaterally decided to confiscate the foreign reserves of the Russian Central bank. This had never been done before and will forever change the future of the world. This was an event so significant that we will look back on it as the equivalent of Bretton Woods Mark Two, ie, the Americans coming off the gold standard in 1971.

This one single action sent a chilling message to all the world’s nations that all the US bonds they hold are potentially worthless and therefore no longer to be trusted. Any nation that has ever been in America’s bad books, and that’s a long list if you go back far enough, is now super-incentivized to get completely away from using US bonds as part of their foreign reserves. That could put some $12 trillion up for sale for something better. This single act of financial aggression will send the whole world headlong out of the US dollar reserve currency system, which means out of the petro-dollar system. Nations will be parking their wealth elsewhere. But where?

This exit from the US dollar will result in US interest rate rising as US bonds are dumped on international markets. This will sharp rise in interest rates will crash the US economy and then the global economy. The US government’s mountain of debt will implode as the interest on that debt jumps from the current 20% of the federal budget and begins to consume 30, 40, 50% of all tax receipts. The current pattern of ludicrous 10% budget deficits in the USA will also be unsustainable. The discipline that was avoided in 2008 is on its way!

Foreigners have already stopped funding America’s debt and America’s own banks will also soon refuse to fund their own government’s deficits. This will result in their central bank funding the government directly. This is what happens to all fiat currencies in their death throws. Print. Print. Print. Think Zimbabwe or Weimar Germany.

In addition, and right on cue, we are seeing the peaking of the US shale revolution. The USA will soon become dependent on foreign oil once again, hence the race to become best mates with Iran and Venezuela is on. Russia gives us 10% of the world’s oil exports and most of Europe would seize up if it didn’t take Russian oil. Russia will now only take all payment in rubles or gold. Ten percent of the petro-dollar system just imploded.

Oil is going way up over the next five years. Either the world economy shrinks to match the current price of oil, or we all get used to paying much higher prices with its knock-on inflation. This is another deathblow to the petro-dollar system and the US dollar that rides on its back.

5. Now For The Good News

The new era we are entering will have some upside. The holders of gold, both governments and citizens, will become fabulously wealthy as the world moves back to gold as a trusted neutral asset for the payment of international transactions. However, the price of gold will have to rise dramatically in dollar terms to create the necessary liquidity to run the new system. To give you an idea as to where gold is going, it has to rise twenty-fold to provide the value and foundation needed to equal the current global oil market and therefore be used to trade it globally. Nations will once again trade their goods for gold or some derivative of gold that is interchangeable with the physical metal. Gold will be the primary global reserve asset, probably before 2030. Savvy central banks already know this and have been accumulating gold for the last decade.

The industries that left America for cheaper production sites overseas will come home as the US dollar devalues and they no longer have to run deficits to provide the world with dollars. The re-industrialisation of America has already begun but will be a sight to behold by the end of this decade. It’s their government that is at fault here, not their world beating industries. Hillary Clinton’s “deplorable” employees from the flyover rustbelt states will have the last laugh as the bankers on the coast’s suffer.

China will also suffer badly. It must sell $1 trillion of US bonds to be free of its petro-dollar reserves. This raises the value of its currency and kills its competitiveness. It will be the same for any other untrustworthy middle-income dictatorship that has benefited from the booming global supply chains of the last 20 years. They will also have to pay a lot more for the raw commodities they purchase. Commodities are king this decade.

Banks will shrink as the old game of issuing ever-increasing debt on ever-decreasing interest rates will go into reverse. Banking will no longer be the big game in town, or be able to bribe the political elite. Wages and salaries will rise in all developed countries as the boomers retire, industries re-shore. and there are not a lot of workers around.

Capital will become more expensive, removing the thousands of zombie companies that have been allowed to survive on the cheapest interest rates in all of history. The efficient allocation of capital will reassert itself and lead to great innovation.

The American military will welcome the reshoring of strategic industries. The Arabs will start to sell oil in yuan and other major currencies and may have already done so. The rising oil price will accelerate the move toward an electric world and provide a boon to green commodity exporters. All commodities and making stuff will rise back to its historic average levels.

Housing will eventually become cheaper relative to wages as interest rates go up, allowing ordinary people to once again afford a home.  But the pain for over indebted homeowners must come first.

The everything bubble in stocks, real estate, derivatives and all types of debt instruments will burst. They have benefited the most from the relentless fall in interest rates that led to the debt riddled era. Main St will overtake Wall St.

Got gold?




Jesus Made the Universe but Wasn’t Allowed To Eat Some Wheat!!!

When I was a kid growing up on our wheat farm in New South Wales, we would take great delight in grabbing a few heads of grain from a paddock that was going to be harvested in a week or two, de-husking the scratchy dry plant matter between our soft palms and crunching on the slightly nutty but very hard individual grains.

Now, as a follower of Jesus, I realise that he created that wheat. He designed the hideously complex DNA/RNA coding and duplication systems, the proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, the cell structures, the wheat’s different atomic elements and all their crazy sub-atomic quantum particles, the laws of physics and chemistry that hold every wheat molecule together, and the climatic processes that converge to produce nutritious food for us humans. He did the lot in an instant, while making the rest of the universe with ease!

So, imagine the insane level of frustration he must have felt when abused by some pedantic religious leaders for allowing his men to eat some unharvested wheat one sabbath! The passage is in Matthew 12:1-8. He made the universe and the wheat but, by some twist of that superb Jewish knack for inventing religious rules and regulations, he and his men were in the sin bin for eating it. By some twist of some previous religious leader’s anal imagination, it had been decreed as “work”.

This attack from those of the “old wine” defending the “old wineskins” deserved to be slammed back in its box and buried once and for all. So, Jesus went on the attack in a way not seen anywhere else in scripture outside Matthew chapter 23. Like Muhammad Ali, he first softened up his opponents with some blows of moral guilt: He showed them that David had done this very same thing long ago (1 Samuel 21:1-6), yet he was their hero. Then he stated the obvious: If you can’t feed yourself while hungry and travelling on a sabbath, then what justification was there for the priests to do their temple work on the sabbath?

Then he went in for the killer blow. Well actually three killer blows.

In three short sentences between verses 6-8, Jesus demolished the entire Jewish religious system. First, he declared that he was greater than the entire Old Testament temple system. Ouch. Bam! Then he destroyed the entire Old Testament system of sacrifices by quoting Hosea 6:6. Bam. Bam! Then he decreed that the sabbath itself, the basis of the attack against him, was defunct by announcing that he was Lord over the Sabbath. Bam. Bam. Bam! Fight over with a knockout.

Think about it as if you were the creator of the universe and this happened to you. It would be like the queen of England being subject to a strip search on her arrival at Timbuctoo airport, times a million!

The Jewish religious leaders had twisted the idea of a sabbath rest for communion with the Lord into a power structure for controlling people and keeping them away from their Lord. The temple system was designed to symbolically wash away sins so they could enter the Lord’s presence, but they had turned it into a greedy money-making machine. Now their Lord was present and right next to them so there was no need for either of these two shadows of the future. The new wine, housed in a new wineskin had arrived.

The oxymoronality (a new word I just invented) of this scene and passage defies description! I’m frustrated just writing about it so imagine the degree to which Jesus would have had to control his emotions to get his point across to these blockheads. No wonder there was no love lost between him and the pharisees right through the gospels. This is their rationale for why they killed him (John 11:50). He was in the process of destroying their entire civilization and building a new one based on eternal relationship with the creator of the universe instead of shadows and rules.



Why Were Prostitutes Attracted to Jesus?

Here’s the thing, the Pharisees often accused Jesus of hanging around with tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 9:10-11, Matthew 11:19, Mark 2:15, Luke 5:30, Luke 7:34). However, when Jesus himself talks about Tax collectors and sinners, he actually uses the words tax collectors and prostitutes (Matthew 12:32-33). This suggests that the Pharisees were using the word sinners as a euphemism for prostitutes. A bit like the terms lady of the night or fallen woman. If so, then Jesus was indeed hanging around with some of the most despised men and women of Israel. The strength of this assumption is confirmed by the massive reaction of the Pharisees when Jesus’ feet were anointed by a woman of the city, who was a sinner while having dinner at a Pharisees home (Luke 7:36-50).

There’d always been prostitutes in ancient Israel, but not nearly on the scale of the pagan cultures surrounding them where slave women were often thrown into prostitution as a form of profit for their owners, and many of their temples were also full of cult prostitutes. However, at this particular time in Jewish history prostitutes were thick on the ground in Israel, but why?

Jewish women came to this degrading “profession” for several traditional reasons and one very new reason:

First, a poor woman who lost her husband would sometimes have no choice but to start selling her body. The only ancient welfare system for women and children was the family, and if that was gone due to war or famine, then a woman was on her own. I know a man who lived Kazakhstan just after the fall of Communism and he said prostitution was endemic as people had lost their welfare system, were poor and desperate for any form of income.

Second, if a Jewish marriage was childless then the woman was always blamed and would sometimes be rejected by her husband and his family, driving her to desperate measures. This still often happens in developing countries where children are considered a prime reason for marriage and needed for the farm or small business. The woman at the well in John 4 was probably in this situation. She had had five husbands and a boyfriend, with no children mentioned. She must have been terribly rejected by her village because of her so-called curse, hence her appearance at the well during the middle of the day.

Third is the elephant in the room, the Roman invasion in 63BC. With it came thousands of young testosterone-fueled men who were banned from raping local women and from marrying them as well. This created a huge new demand for paid prostitutes. Jewish society was quickly corrupted on a scale not seen before. Polite Jewish society was shocked at this rapid downhill decline in social standards. No religious rabbi would therefore be seen dead with this new underclass. They were rejecting Gods laws and standards so deserved to be rejected.

tax collectors and prostitutes were always lumped together in scripture because as Jewish tax collectors were hanging around the Romans a lot for business purposes, they became somewhat Romanised. The Roman banquets they attended usually included prostitutes for the after-dinner “entertainment” and the tax collectors must have taken on this culture as the term tax collector and sinner/prostitute became inseparable. The woman who broke her alabaster perfume bottle over Jesus’ feet had met him was most likely one of these women (Matthew 26:6-7).

Now the big question is why did Jesus, God in human form, Immanuel, the lamb of God who took away the sins of the world, the pure and righteous son of the creator of the universe, hang around with tax collectors and prostitutes? Surely he could target better people to launch a global spiritual transformation! However, Jesus was an astute sociologist as well as a spiritual doctor. In Matthew 9:12-13 he said, it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Jesus also knew the rank hypocrisy of the upper-class religious leaders toward tax collectors and prostitutes. The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the parables of the lost coin, and lost sheep (Luke 15:3-10), the story of the two debtors (Luke 7:41-50), and the story of two men going up to the temple (Matthew 21:28-33) were all told in response to accusations of Jesus hanging around with the wrong crowd and being one with them. Jesus needed to constantly expose their hypocrisy. The woman caught in adultery also emphasized the hypocrisy of condemnation of the elite toward those whose sin is open as compared to their own hidden sin. She was not condemned but also told not to continue in her ways.

At the start of his ministry Jesus said he came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18-19). His mission was redemption, not religion or rules. He came to set the human heart free to commune with our loving heavenly father and you can’t do that from a distance, you can’t do it by hanging around with the nice people. He didn’t condone prostitution but knew most of those involved in it were full of shame, self-loathing and guilt, that they hated what they were doing and were being abused relentlessly. They needed grace not judgement. The heart of compassion wants to help set people like this free. If a broken prostitute could be brought back into relationship with the Father of Lights, then any human could be. This was a radical shift in human understanding of the divine.

This is why the woman with the bottle of perfume was full of tears. She knew she was finally free from sin because of no one else but Jesus (Luke 7:36-49). A friend of mine once ran a shelter for prostitutes in India. One lady they rescued had been sold by her uncle into this most abusive of lifestyles. After she had been finally rescued and heard that she was loved by God despite what she had been through she cried out of relief for three days and nights straight! Now can you appreciate the power of those tears at the feet of Jesus!

To learn a whole lot more about the sheer horror of prostitution and the massive toll it takes on the lives of those unfortunate enough to be caught up in its satanic claws please read this story from the BBC about Brenda Myers who was trapped in prostitution for 25 years from the age of 14. She was shot five times, stabbed thirteen times and beaten senseless too many times to remember…until the day she called out to God for help.

Why Were Tax Collectors Attracted To Jesus?

Jesus was no ordinary Rabbi. He was constantly being accused of mixing with the most undesirable elements of Jewish society and of actually being one with them. Consider the following passages:

Matthew 9:10-11: Why does your teacher mix with tax collectors and sinners?

Matthew 11:19: A friend of tax collectors and sinners

Mark 2:15: Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?

Luke 5:30: Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?

Luke 7:34: Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.

Luke 15:1: This man welcomes sinners and eats with them

Today I will examine the first half of these accusations regarding tax collectors, who are called publicans in some older Bible translations. If you thought publicans meant owners of pubs like I did then you need to do a quick mental swivel as it always means tax collector in the New Testament. The Latin word for tax collector is publicanus. Public revenue in Latin is publicum.

Tax collectors were seen right throughout Israel as traitors and oppressors. They were an outcast of the highest order, on the same level as a prostitute as you can see from the quotes above. Their offerings were not accepted at the local synagogue or the temple in Jerusalem. Their money was seen as stolen.  They could not give testimony in court cases. They had to leave their profession behind and publicly convert back to Judaism if they wished to be accepted as a Jew again. They were considered a pagan and a financial prostitute (Matthew 18:17), the lowest of the low, the filthy rich.

The typical tax collector had taken up a franchised contract with the occupying Roman authorities to supply the machinery of the Roman Empire with finances, military supplies, building materials etc. If they collected more than the contract stipulated then they got to keep the rest, if less, then they were in trouble. Tax collectors often came from the riffraff of the upper-class, therefore they would regularly use sub-contractors so that they didn’t do the actual dirty work.

Tax collectors also often operated as local money lenders and loan sharks, lending some of their ill-gotten excess taxes to the poor at exorbitant interest rates. They were fleecing their people twice over. Part of their duty, as agents of the state, was also to report misbehaviour such as smuggling and stealing. The threat of violence was par for the course, and still is.

Being in close contact with the Roman state, and despised by their own people, they frequently took on the lewd culture of the occupying Romans as well. Their formal functions were often lavish Roman style banquets complete with sexually oriented Roman style entertainment! The public artwork dug up at Pompeii gives us a very graphic picture of this ugly lifestyle. This is another reason why we see the terms tax collector and “sinner” lumped together so often by the Pharisees. “Sinner” was a euphemism for prostitute.

This all begs the question of why Jesus would hang with these people? Two of these tax collectors, Matthew and Zacchaeus, are recorded as becoming followers of Jesus and immediately tried to influence their peers to follow Jesus as well (Matthew 9:10, Luke 19:1-10). But there would have been many more during those hectic three years of Jesus’ ministry who became followers, particularly as Jesus said to his disciples on their first practical assignment to only target the Lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 10:6), which would have obviously included tax collectors, especially for Matthew as he knew a lot of them!

Jesus gave us several reasons why he particularly targeted this group, the lowest of the low in Jewish society, for redemption and the Kingdom. In Matthew 9:12-13 he said to his accusers that It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. He said to his accusers in Matthew 11:19 that the Wisdom (of his approach) will be proved right by her actions. In Luke 15:1-31 he gives extensive teaching in response to his accusers that includes the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. A solid answer indeed.

The story of the prodigal son, given as it was in direct response to accusations of hanging around with tax collectors and sinners, is particularly pointy. The Prodigal son in the parable specifically represents tax collectors and “sinners”! The jealous stay-at-home son in the parable represents his Pharisaic religious accusers! They must have been smarting after hearing this unflattering portrait of themselves. Jesus was declaring that the kingdom of God was not for self-righteous rule keepers but for the repentant, the contrite and the desperate, as exemplified by the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-10). John the Baptist had preached this same message before Jesus and many tax collectors had responded to him also (Matthew 21:32, Luke 3:12). This group knew they needed help. The Pharisees didn’t.

This new concept that anyone could enter into a relationship with our heavenly father based simply on redemption and repentance instead of religion and rules was a huge paradigm shift for the Jewish mind to take on board. It was radical. It was new wine and new wineskins. It was exciting for those who were despised and rejected, threatening for those in power.

Jesus knew well the arrogance of the old Jewish wineskin of laws, rules and pride so he backed it up his story of the prodigal son with further teaching about a proud Pharisee and a contrite tax collector going to the temple but only the repentant tax collector, begging for divine mercy, was accepted by our heavenly father (Luke 18:9-14).

And that’s still not the end of it! In Matthew 21:28-31 Jesus is teaching on the temple steps in Jerusalem and yet again being interrogated by the Jewish religious leaders. So, he told them a story about two sons sent to work by their father. One said No, but later went. The other said Yes but didn’t go. Then the punch line: I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you! Ouch.

This continual engagement with tax collectors was therefore not random at all but specifically planned as the ultimate example to an incredulous population of the true meaning of redemption. Those who were previously and absolutely completely cut off from God because of their sin now had hope. There was no greater example that Jesus could give the Jewish people of the reality of grace and redemption in his new kingdom.

No wonder they decided to kill him! This was deeply threatening to the power and status of the religious elite. Their whole worldview paradigm was under threat. How dare he! The Way, the Truth and the Life spoke eternal divine Truth to entrenched religious power. Truth paid the price, but Truth rose from the dead. Truth then sent this wonderful gift of grace and mercy to the whole world, and the world has never been the same since!






An Amazing Story of Multiplication

How many Western churches do you know that are proclaiming the Kingdom, seeing multiple miracles and healings and training an army of workers to reach the abundant harvest that is waiting to be set free? I live in Queensland, Australia, and even in the most evangelical of the abundance of churches here there is very little of the last two happening across the board. The churches here are stuck in attractional Christianity: Put on a great show and they will come. But they aren’t coming any more.

However, several years ago I visited one church in Brisbane that was radically different and was seeing an abundant harvest of souls both locally and internationally. It’s called the Tivoli Miracle Centre run by Joel Shaw. They are very busy training every church member with a micro gospel sharing skills system called Four Fields and they are seeing many come to faith in their very multicultural community.

As far as I know they are the only church in this part of the world with such an emphasis on upskilling their people in how to share the good news day by day, every day. New believers were immediately trained to then pass on their new faith to others and to form small groups where deep discipling can take place.

I saw numerous relational maps on the wall showing ever-expanding networks of new believers in the community being pastored by church members in small groups. They were hidden in the community and church for them was in a house, but they were vibrant and ever growing. The person who saw them come to faith was their pastor and mentor until they were pastoring and mentoring others.

I heard stories of little lady “nobody” believers that had come to Australia to study and then heading back to their homelands of Ecuador and Mongolia and starting rapidly growing movements of dozens and hundreds by using the same skills they had learned in Brisbane.

Recently Joel had to change his training systems because of Covid. Instead of training people in-house he now trains on zoom. The numbers have now exploded to over 500 students in 71 training groups in three time zones and four languages around the world in countries such as Myanmar, some closed Muslim countries, South Africa, Japan, Zambia, the Philippines, the USA, Germany, Spain and India! Click on this link to hear him describe some of this amazing story (but go to the fourth minute before starting). He describes people getting saved in large numbers in those countries every week and being discipled in small groups, leaders being trained to take the Gospel to their local community and forming small relational church groups. Multiplication has begun.

Lord, PLEASE raise up hundreds of churches like this one!

The Logic and Flow of Matthew Chapters Five to Ten

There are three distinct actions in the following passage. See if you can find them:

“Jesus went through all their towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore to send out workers into the harvest field” (Matthew 9:35-38).

Here is the breakdown:

  1. Lots of teaching and preaching around Galilee
  2. Healing all their diseases and sickness
  3. Then asking the father for many more harvest workers

Now let’s go back a few chapters and work forward from Matthew 5 to 10:

  1. In Matthew 5-7 we see Jesus preaching and teaching at the sermon on the mount
  2. In Matthew 8-9 we see 10 examples of Jesus healing and performing miracles
  3. In Matthew 10 we see Jesus sending out the 12 disciples as extra harvest workers

Look familiar? Matthew 9:35-38 is Matthew’s very clever summary of the first two sections and the pivot to the third. I’d never seen the connection before! Those first two sections are clearly a means to an end, advertising the truth, drawing us on to the key section, Matthew 10. The harvest is the real goal, not just teaching and healing. Total social transformation was what Jesus wanted all along. Galilee was the experiment to see if it would work.

That’s why Matthew 10 is a very detailed recording of what Jesus said to do and one of the most important chapters in the New Testament. It is a full description of how 12 ordinary men could transform Galilee. Galilee was the template, the trial run, for the future transformation of the world.

The 12 were first given authority to do what Jesus had been doing. They were then sent out, probably in great fear and trepidation, to towns and villages all over Galilee to repeat what Jesus had been doing: Heal the sick, cast out demons and tell them the joyful news that the kingdom of God has arrived on earth.

And off they went.

Did it work? YES! Luke 9:1-9 briefly describes the same event as Matthew 10 but gives us the results. In verse 6 it says that they set out and went from village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere. They even aroused the concern of the local political ruler, Herod the Tetrarch. Rumours were pouring into his court from all over Galilee that John The Baptist, whom he had already beheaded, was resurrected and doing these things, or it might be Elijah or some of the other prophets come back to life. The disciples obviously created quite a stir. Truth was speaking to power. The disciples must have come back pumped!

But here is a curious thing: Why does Matthew 10 go into incredible detail about the instructions they were given by Jesus when Luke hardly says anything. I believe Matthew recorded the details he heard personally for posterity, while we know Luke was only recording these events years after they happened as a second-hand historian. Matthew knew that what he heard from the master was THE blueprint and THE methodology for the future global harvest, first nutted out in Galilee. Later, after Jesus rose from the dead, the brief would be expanded to the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20), but the blueprint would be exactly the same.

And it worked for the first few hundred years, until the church rediscovered religion and shoved the new wine of the Good News into the old wineskin of dead human institutions. The rest is history until today as the modern church rediscovers the power of Matthew 10’s instructions, with results equal to what you just read about from Luke 9.