Micah 7: 3-6
Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire—they all conspire together. The best of them is like a brier, the most upright worse than a thorn hedge. The day God visits you has come, the day your watchmen sound the alarm. Now is the time of your confusion.
Quoted by Jesus in the book of Matthew
For whatever reasons (a few are mentioned in the Bible) Jesus’s parents, their families and close friends, thought that his birth was going to be important. Like most devout Jewish couples two-thousand years ago, Mary and Joseph hoped their child would become the Anointed One—the Messiah promised by the prophet Isaiah—who would rule ancient Israel and the world with a righteous sword. Despite their hopes and plans, things went wrong from the start.
For one thing, their Roman occupiers decided to conduct a census, which disrupted everyone’s plans, because the Romans required that every Jew return to their ancestral towns to be counted.
The family lived in Nazareth; now they would have to travel to Bethlehem; Mary was full-term pregnant. Worse, when they arrived, no place was available to birth the baby. They ended up bedding down in a stable for farm animals. It was a place unfit for human birth, by modern standards.
For whatever cause—gossip, religious fever, hysteria in the displaced population, hatred of Rome, whatever—more than a few people believed that this birth might have a political upside. Roman spies became aware, and Herod, the governor, decided to nip the hysteria in the bud. He ordered an infanticide; his agents assassinated every male child under the age of two.
Fortunately for Jesus, some wealthy people found the Joseph and Mary family before Herod; they gave them the resources they needed to flee Bethlehem; the family traveled to Egypt; they did not return to Nazareth, Israel, until Jesus was eight years old.
Egypt was the ancient birthplace of Judaism. Moses (of the Exodus) and Joseph (of the coat of many colors) were historically prominent; the details of their lives were the tapestry on which much of the Torah was written.
Joseph enabled free Jews to come to Egypt in ancient times, mainly to help his extended family avoid a famine emergency in Israel. They settled and eventually became slaves of the pharaoh. Hundreds of years later, in 1311 BCE, Moses led the exodus of Jewish slaves out of Egypt. When Jesus moved there almost a millennia and a half later, Egypt had evolved to become a sanctuary Roman province for a sizable Jewish population. And it had become a safe harbor for both libraries and intellectuals.
No one knows for sure if Jesus lived in cosmopolitan Alexandria or some other city, or what exactly happened in Egypt, but after Jesus returned to Israel, he knew things. He wasn’t just skilled with his hands like his father, Joseph, who according to tradition made a living in carpentry; most scholars today believe he was a builder, certainly, but more likely a stone mason.
Jesus learned to read and write Hebrew and probably hieroglyphics (almost certainly), and perhaps more. Modern people might use a term like child prodigy. The things he said and did proved not only to his family, but to the rabbinical class in Israel that he would likely become, some day, a force of nature.
When Jesus was twelve, his parents caught him studying secretly at the Temple in Jerusalem. It seems likely to me that Temple leaders already had their eyes on him; he had come to them from out of Egypt, after all. They knew very well the Bible prophesy, Out of Egypt I have called my son—a reference to the Messiah. The rabbis may have been working with Jesus for some time, perhaps even before his bar mitzvah—perhaps soon after his return from Egypt some years earlier. It’s possible.
Jesus of Nazareth had a special way about him that set him apart, even as he matured into adulthood. According to one gospel writer, people saw and liked it. Luke wrote in his little book that …Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Enough said.
People hoped that Jesus might become the promised military leader who every Jew yearned would rise up to throw the Romans out of the Holy Land. At the end, Jesus would do much more than that, but not in the way people thought.
His life fulfilled the ancient Scriptures in every way possible. Bible scholars know that, now. Seminaries offer courses on the many hundreds of passages from those ancient Scriptures that describe and predict every detail of Jesus’s life and mission.
But back then—in year zero—the problem was that no one in Israel really understood the prophetic texts upon which they were betting their future. It wasn’t clear to anyone that the Messiah was not going to be a military commander. The truth of life was much different and more satisfying than anyone then could imagine.
Comment by the Editorial Board: As is Billy Lee’s custom, he sometimes collects sayings by famous people and makes essays out of them. He did it for William Shakespeare, Miguel Angel Asturias, and Blaise Pascal; he even did it for himself in two collections of his own tweets first published on Twitter.
In this essay Billy Lee has collected many (not all) of the sayings of Jesus as remembered by four of his followers who wrote the tracts that modern people call the four Gospels. In these tracts Jesus tells a lot of stories, which religious people call parables. They make up big portions of the Gospels.
Billy Lee decided not to include these stories—these parables—in his collection, because they not only take up a lot of space, their meanings can be difficult for the uninitiated to figure out. It takes effort to work through them.
For the purposes of this essay Billy Lee has chosen to focus on the easier to understand admonitions and warnings of Jesus—uncut, unfiltered, and uncensored; no hidden meanings; everything in the open; everything in plain sight for any serious person to read and ponder in wonder, because it is these things that seem to border on the miraculous; these are the words that have compelled and comforted believers for centuries.
The words of Jesus are known to have broken down some of the cruelest humans who have ever lived; His words have dropped more than a few hardened haters to their knees, many of them in tears.
Through his words Jesus assures the poor and the ruined (the neglected refuse of hurting humans, which is almost all of humanity) that a reckoning is coming. They will be rescued by love—even as justice rolls down from the mountain-tops like a mighty river.
History and experience tell those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear that it’s true. Jesus is the way. He sets things right.
from Matthew’s Tract
It is written: People will not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Stop doing bad things, for the kingdom of heaven is nearby.
…follow me, and I will send you forth to fish for people.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
…until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.
…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
All you need to say is simply yes or no; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.
…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your father will not forgive your sins.
You cannot serve both God and money.
So do not worry, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.
Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father who is in heaven.
I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.
…learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard…
…when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
…the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it.
For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.
…you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
Come to me, all you who are weary and overly burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
If you had known what these words mean, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent.
Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined…
Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…
…whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.
…the deceitfulness of wealth chokes the word, making it unfruitful.
The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When someone finds it, they hide it again, and then in their joy sell all they have and buy that field.
…the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away
…every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
…if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, Move from here to there, and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.
…whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
…your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan…
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?
…forgive your brother or sister from your heart.
If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.
...it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
…with God all things are possible.
But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.
…prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.
…the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.
…many are invited, but few are chosen.
At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. ? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
…you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.
…on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog…
…you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
…the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.
I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done…
…all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Excerpts collected and edited by Billy Lee
from Mark’s Tract
…whoever is not against us is for us…
No one is good—except God alone.
Excerpts collected and edited by Billy Lee.
Due to its unusual presentation, we are recommending that the full Gospel of MARK be read in one session. Interested readers can click the link to access content. The tract is 11,300 words, which are gathered into 16 chapters. A typical reader will need about one hour. The Editorial Board
from Luke’s Tract
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
…no prophet is accepted in his hometown…
I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you…
…whoever has been forgiven little loves little.
…for whoever is not against you is for you.
Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
…rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
…everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
…you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them…
Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge.
Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.
This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.
Do not be afraid, little flock, for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor.
Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning…
From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
I have come to bring fire on the earth… Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
…unless you change your evil ways, you too will all perish…
What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.
Make every effort to enter through the narrow door…
…those who humble themselves will be exalted.
…when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.
…those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.
…remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying, I am sorry; I will change, you must forgive them.
The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, Here it is, or There it is, because the kingdom of God is within you.
…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?
What is impossible with man is possible with God.
…the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
…if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…
The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.
I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
…pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
…today you will be with me in paradise.
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.
Excerpts collected and edited by Billy Lee
from John’s Tract
…no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.
…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, You must be born again. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
…whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth…
…just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.
…whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.
…as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself…
You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me…
…the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
…my father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.
…the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.
…where I am, you cannot come.
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.
I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
…you have no idea where I come from or where I am going…
I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.
…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
…you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
…whoever obeys my word will never see death.
…before Abraham was born, I am.
I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.
I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.
I am God’s Son…
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.
…you will see the glory of God…
…unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.
The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.
I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.
As I have loved you, so you must love one another.
Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.
I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.
I am the way and the truth and the life.
I am in the Father and the Father is in me…
Because I live, you also will live. Someday you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
…the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
…apart from me you can do nothing.
Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no person than this: to lay down their life for their friends.
You did not choose me, but I chose you…
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.
If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.
They hated me without reason.
…the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.
I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
I came from God.
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart. I have overcome the world.
Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.
…your word is truth.
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
My kingdom is not of this world.
…my kingdom is from another place.
…the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth hears my voice.
I am thirsty.
It is accomplished.
Excerpts collected and edited by Billy Lee
Isaiah 6: 8-10
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?
And I said: Here I am! Send me.
He said: Go and tell this people: Be ever hearing but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.
Acknowledged by Jesus in the book of Matthew; He was the one who volunteered and was sent.