Bible Versions and Permissions

Up until January 1, 2018, verses used in each devotional were from the New International Version of the Bible.

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

I will be going back and adding this passage to each page that used an NIV quotation per their website

I will be using the New Century Version in 2018.

Scripture taken from the New Century Version®. Copyright © 2005 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved

I am using the New King James version in 2019

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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First Things First

Today’s Bible study is a short one. Again, November is National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write a novel of 50,000 words or more in a month, and I have extra work in caring for my wife right now. She is improving, and for that, I thank God. I thought about doing a bit more, but this passage is so important, I decided to stop at the end of this story. Let me leave you with this question: How far are you from the Kingdom of God? I hope this study causes you to look deeply and reflect on your relationship with God.

28. And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all?

Up to now, I would say that the religious leaders were seeking to trap Jesus. I think this is an honest question. I would guess that the Scribes and other religious leaders spent time arguing about that very question, and that this scribe honestly sought Jesus’s opinion. He heard a teacher who had confounded the Pharisees, Herodians, and the Sadducees. Because of that, he sought His opinion. The answer Jesus gave was classic.

29. And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: 30. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. 31. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

Jesus made an important point in His response: the nature of God and our obligations to follow Him are two fold. The two-pronged nature of that relationship is seen in our relationship with God and in our relationship with people. How shall we love God? We love Him with everything that we have. We love Him with every fiber of our being. We show that in what we say, do, and think. Often, God uses the picture of marriage to describe His relationship with the people of Israel. When we’re married, and doing things God’s way, our focus in marriage is on our spouse. What would you say if I told you that I respected my marriage vows 364 days a year, but, once a year I got to have a little fling? That would be ridiculous. God expects me to follow my marriage vows seven days a week, three hundred sixty five and a quarter days a year. Our relationship with God needs to be that intense. If you profess your faith on the day you go to worship, but put it in the desk drawer at work, you’re not following the first, most important command. If you follow your faith 364 days a year, you aren’t following this first, most important commandment.

At the same time. A love for God will inspire a love for people. It’s important to note that Jesus didn’t ask, “Do you want to hear my idea about the second greatest commandment?” He told the scribe without being prompted because, if you can’t love people, do you really love God? That doesn’t mean that all people are lovable, but I can guarantee you that God loves them just the same as He loves me: with everything He has. I don’t have to like everyone, but I have to love them. To me, that includes wishing God’s best for them, no matter what they may have done to me. That’s part of the concept of forgiveness that Jesus talks about elsewhere. Getting back to the marriage picture, when I married my wife, actually before I did, I loved all my in-laws because they were now family. When my daughter got married, I loved my son-in-law immediately, OK, even before they got married. I love his family because they’re now part of my family. When you learn to love God, you learn to love ALL people because those are people that God loves. This doesn’t mean that other people deserve our love. But let’s never forget that we don’t do anything to deserve God’s love, and He calls on us to love other people. ALL other people. If you want to do what God commands, learn to love Him, and then show that love to His creation: mankind.

32. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: 33. And to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.

This response is what makes me think that the scribe asked Jesus this question sincerely, and not as a way to trap Him. As he agrees to what Jesus said, he reminds us of the story of Saul (1 Samuel 15:22) when he’s told that obedience is better than sacrifice, and Micah 6:6-8 when God tells His people that He wants their hearts instead of their sacrifices. With so many negative interactions between Jesus and the religious leaders, this short story in the midst of those confrontational meetings is a refreshing change of tone.

34. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the kingdom of God. And no man after that durst ask him any question.

Jesus recognized the wisdom of this answer. His comment though, may have been a bit disheartening to the Scribe: you’re not far from the Kingdom of God. He probably was looking for Jesus to say something like, “By George, I think he’s got it!” What He said instead was “Oh, so close!” What the Scribe didn’t realize was that the Kingdom of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Not in repeating His teachings. Not in agreeing with His teachings, but in the person of Jesus Christ. You may go to church, read your Bible daily, do good deeds, and if you were to come before Jesus and asked about the kingdom of God He would say that you aren’t far from it. The kingdom of God is found in the person of Jesus Christ and you enter into that Kingdom when you place your life in His hands.

 

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Jesus Turns the Tables On His Attackers

Today we look at two encounters with religious leaders. First, Pharisees and Herodians unite to try to take Jesus down, then, when they fail, the Sadducees do their thing and fail. They couldn’t get the best of Jesus in a discussion. I’ve found the same thing about myself. Anytime I try to argue with Jesus, He wins. Enjoy the Bible study and let God speak to you.

13. And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Herodians, to catch him in his words.

The chief priests, the Sadducees, the Scribes all failed in their attempts to make Jesus trip up. So they sent in the next group: the Pharisees and the Herodians. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and putting the Pharisees and the Herodians together to attack Jesus would have made an impact on anyone who was there. The Pharisees were so strict in their beliefs that they would have nothing to do with outsiders. While they didn’t suggest assassination of leaders like Herod or the Romans, as the Iscarii did, they shunned them and anyone who had anything to do with them. The Herodians wanted to work with Herod. The Pharisees worked with the Herodians to attack Jesus. For those of us who walk with Christ, we know that Jesus can bring together people who once were enemies because they recognize that peace with brothers and sisters in Christ is more important than whatever kept them apart. Here we see these two groups joining together because they felt that bringing Jesus down in the eyes of the people to maintain their power was more important than their rivalry.

14. And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man: for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? 15. Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it. 16. And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. 17. And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.

And these two rival factions came up with an amazing quest that made it sound like they were both arguing for Jesus to support their beliefs, but do it in a way to set many people against Him: they questioned the issue of taxes. Some Jews had problems even handling the Roman coins that had a picture of the emperor on it. This seemed to be the perfect way to divide Jesus’ followers. And, they began their attack on Jesus with flattery. “Oh Jesus, we know that You do what’s right and don’t worry about what people say. We know that You speak the truth of God’s way. (Talk about setting someone up!) Then came the kicker: what do we do about taxes? (I should note that according to some, this was a special tax the Romans put on non-citizens of Rome.) Should we knuckle under to Rome and pay them or should we be proud Jews and refuse?

Jesus called them out. He recognized their hypocrisy in joining together to ask this question. Jesus knew that it was a trap and He let them know that He knew what they were doing. So He asked them to bring Him a coin – a Roman coin. When they brought Him the coin, He held it up and showed both sides, I imagine, and instead of answering, He asked them a question: “whose picture and whose words are on the coin?” Jesus turned the trap back on them, but they still didn’t know it. I think if they had recognized what Jesus was doing they might have answered with another question: “does it matter?” Instead, they gave the obvious answer. Caesar’s picture was on the coin. Then Jesus responded by letting them know that they should give to the government what belongs to the government and give to God the things that are God’s.

Most of us who are followers of Christ get a good laugh at the expense of the Pharisees and Herodians, unless we see this passage while we’re working on our taxes. Without getting into an argument about how much we should pay in taxes, Jesus would remind us that we should give to the government what belongs to the government and, here’s the kicker, give to God what belongs to God. Most of us take care of the first concern, albeit begrudgingly. I wonder how many of us are as responsive to giving God the things that are God’s. Things like recognizing that all that we have, all that we can do, all of our time belongs to God. We settle for giving God a small percentage of our wealth, while thinking that since God has His portion, we can do what we want with the rest. We give God a little bit of time on Sunday and think that takes care of our obligation to spend time with God. We ask God to help us in what we do, but we take credit for the end product. These stories, while setting the religious leaders on their heels, still remind us today that we’re in the same situation as they are – except we have a greater understanding of who Jesus is and we still don’t pay full allegiance to Him. I can’t help but think that the last statement “they marvelled at Him” had more to do with thinking “How are we ever going to trap this guy?” than them thinking, “Wow! He’s right! He’s amazing!”

18. Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying, 19. Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man’s brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother. 20. Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed. 21. And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise. 22. And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also. 23. In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.

Next up on the firing line were the Sadducees. We’re reminded that they didn’t believe in the resurrection, and they used their belief and Scripture to try to trap Jesus. In Deuteronomy 25, God commands that if two brothers are living together and one dies without leaving any heirs to carry on, the brother shall marry his brother’s widow and have children so that the first son can carry on the dead brother’s name. After that, any kids would be his. The Sadducees got extreme in their description, with the total number of brothers being seven. And, while they only mention one woman, what if the other brothers were married too? What a burden on the last brother! The Sadducees used this ludicrous scenario to attack Jesus on the issue of resurrection – especially the resurrection in the end time when all would be resurrected. Their point was that if people are resurrected, something like this could introduce chaos into the whole life after death scenario.

24. And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God? 25. For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven. 26. And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? 27. He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.

I’m going to be honest with you – this answer troubles me. How often do we talk about our loved ones in heaven as if we’ll be living like we did on earth, but in a perfect way. I love my wife and, could only imagine what married life in heaven with her would be like. Jesus let the Sadducees know that their understanding of what resurrection was, which is why they didn’t believe in it, was flawed and, one of the flaws is this understanding of marriage in heaven. It doesn’t exist. In this respect, we will be like the angels who aren’t married in heaven. While on earth, one of my most important obligations is my obligation to my wife. It’s a joyous obligation, and we help bring each other closer to God, but our focus is not on God when we’re focusing on each other. In heaven, the angels have complete focus on God and worship Him day and night. I can’t tell you exactly what heaven will be like, but in this story, Jesus seems to say that when we rise from the dead, all other obligations will have fallen away and we’ll have our full focus on God.

Then, Jesus brought the Scriptures into the argument by noting that when God speaks, He uses the words, “I am the God of Abraham. I am the God of Jacob.” He doesn’t put it in the past tense, but the present tense. God isn’t a God of the dead, He’s the Lord of the living, so when He says “I am the God of…” then that person is alive, whether on earth now or in their resurrected body. Jesus, not being acquainted with the teaching method that involves never telling a child that they’re wrong, but encouraging them with a hint toward the right answer put it bluntly: You are WRONG! I can’t help but think that when we get to heaven, we’ll see that almost all, if not all, of our preconceptions of heaven were wrong, but, God’s plan will be so much greater than we ever imagined, we’ll be so busy rejoicing that we won’t worry about being wrong.

 

 

 

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The Message in Parables

There are times when it’s hard to know just when to break the Bible Study so that it isn’t too long. Today I stuck with the one parable because adding the next story would have made this feel a little long. Besides, during the month of November, I participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) so I try not to overburden myself with commitments during November. 

1. And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country.

Jesus describes a situation that’s still common today: sharecropping. It’s obviously a parable, but let’s look at the setting. A land owner who either can’t or doesn’t want to work the land will rent the land out to people who will farm it. The usual arrangement is that at the end of the growing season, the one who farms will share a portion of their crops with the landowner. I once served in a church where a widow still lived in the home she and her husband had built, but since she couldn’t farm the land, she had sharecroppers. I remember the cantaloupe from that farm was delicious. It can be a good arrangement for farmers with less wealth, because they don’t need to worry about owning the land and the associated costs. The land owner sees their land worked and receives a fair return. Jesus described a man who built a vineyard with all the infrastructure needed to make wine. (And yes, winefat is a real word.) It’s officially the area where the juice of the grapes collect, but it’s used here to describe the whole setup. The landowner, after setting up the process, leased the land to sharecroppers and went off to a far country.

2. And at the season he sent to the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard. 3. And they caught him, and beat him, and sent him away empty.

When the growing season was over, the landowner sent a servant to collect his share of the fruit – the share that had been agreed upon. Instead of honoring their agreement, the sharecroppers captured the servant and beat him, sending him back to the landowner. And the process continued…

4. And again he sent unto them another servant; and at him they cast stones, and wounded him in the head, and sent him away shamefully handled. 5. And again he sent another; and him they killed, and many others; beating some, and killing some.

Pretty soon, it became obvious that the most dangerous job was being this landowner’s servant. The people didn’t honor their agreement and they beat or killed any of his servants that came along. While we don’t know the motivation for doing so, we can guess that the sharecroppers had become greedy and didn’t want to abide by their agreement, or, they decided that it wasn’t right for someone to own land and make a profit off of it and they took their moral outrage out on the landowner’s servants. (If I were to get political here, I might say that the sharecroppers were socialists who thought no one should own land and they believed that the landowner was a fascist for owning land and expecting a profit from it, but I wouldn’t do that.)

6. Having yet therefore one son, his wellbeloved, he sent him also last unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. 7. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.’ 8. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.

With these two verses, we see the plans of each group come to full fruition: the landowner thinks that the people will respect him enough to respect his son, while the sharecroppers see the son and think that if they kill him, they won’t need to deal with the landowner anymore. And, if you have any New Testament knowledge at all, you realize that Jesus has now defined who the people in the parable are for certain. The landowner being God, the sharecroppers being the religious leaders of Israel, and the son, of course, being Jesus. To be fair, I don’t think that the religious leaders of Israel were thinking that by killing Jesus, which was their ultimate plan, they would be getting rid of any influence of God in their lives. I believe that they thought that getting rid of Jesus would get rid of the threat He posed because of eventual Roman interference. Jesus knew their hearts, though, and this parable let them know that He knew what they were doing AND that their plan of attack would put them at odds with God. In the parable, the sharecroppers went through with their plan and killed the son, just as in real life the religious leaders went through with their plan and killed Jesus. Then, Jesus asked an obvious question:

9. What shall therefore the lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others.

The point of the parable is that there is retribution for those who would destroy the work of God. The lord of the vineyard will wipe out the sharecroppers who killed his son and give the vineyard to others. There are many occasions where vineyard is used as a picture of the nation of Israel, and so Jesus’ deliberate choice of a vineyard instead of some other form of crop was designed to make the religious elite see themselves as God saw them. This was, in effect, a last chance parable that Jesus told to help them change their ways. They didn’t, and history shows that Israel was destroyed as a nation and God’s vineyard was given to those who follow Jesus.

10. And have ye not read this scripture; The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner: 11. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? 12. And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.

The religious leaders caught the obvious message of the parable, especially when Jesus pointed out the verse from Psalm 118 that talks about the stone rejected by the builders becoming the cornerstone of God’s building. God brought this about and it is marvelous. It’s hard to imagine that the Jesus broken and bleeding on the cross is the almighty King of Kings and Lord of Lords – but this was God’s doing and it’s amazing. The religious leaders wanted to take Jesus out then, but they were afraid of the people because everyone realized that He was speaking against them. They left, knowing they couldn’t take him out in public, but they continued their plans to destroy Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Recognizing and Exercising Authority

We often have problems with authority – especially when we aren’t the authority. We don’t want people telling us what to do. We’re independent by nature. Still, when it comes to Jesus, He is the authority. His authority comes from His status as God the Son. We need to recognize His authority and follow it. 

20. And in the morning, as they passed by, they saw the fig tree dried up from the roots. 21. And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Master, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away.

We finally get to the end of the Markan sandwich and Peter is amazed at the result of Jesus’ curse on the tree. Jesus had declared that no one would ever eat fruit from the tree again, and now it had withered and died. So what’s the point? The cleansing of the Temple occurred in the middle of this story and I believe that the story of the fig tree was a pronouncement on Israel – Israel had withered and died because they had gotten so caught up in their understanding of what God wanted, that they never stopped to consider God’s desires and, even more, they never stopped to consider the heart of God. In their minds, they had boxed God into a corner and anyone who didn’t fit into that little box was looked on with disdain. They lived as if they thought God was lucky to have them on His side. The result was that they denigrated people that God loved. They were full of leaves, that seemed to indicate life, but they had no fruit of God in their lives. Just as the fig tree withered at the roots, the Judaism of the Pharisees and Sadducees was lifeless and disconnected from God – it was withered on the vine.

22. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. 23. For verily I say unto you, That whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass; he shall have whatsoever he saith.

The key here is when Jesus tells them to have faith in God. The Pharisees and Sadducees had faith in their own ability to interpret God and His ways – but the problem was they didn’t need to establish a relationship with God in the way they lived. Jesus put the focus on their faith in God, not in themselves. With that kind of relationship, it’s possible to determine what God wants and pray that way. What gives us the power to pray in faith, in the kind of faith that would move mountains? We would have to know that God wanted that to happen. When we have that kind of relationship with God that we hear from Him and pray accordingly, God things happen. It isn’t the words that we say. It’s the power of God working in our lives. It’s the relationship with God that leads our prayers, not our own desires.

24. Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.

And this verse seems to contradict what I just said. I realize that. If my prayers depend on my belief, then I don’t have a strong belief. That’s the only explanation I have when I think about things I’ve prayed for that haven’t happened the way I prayed. People I love haven’t been healed miraculously. People I love have died and gone through difficult circumstances when I’ve asked God to spare them. I don’t think I’m the only one who’s gone through this. I’m also sure that I’m not the only one who’s been shamed by others for my prayers not being answered. If you go back to the beginning of this story, what did Jesus want? He wanted fruit from the fig tree. He didn’t get it. Was it a lack of faith that Jesus didn’t get what He desired? Ultimately, there was something more important than Jesus satisfying His hunger, and that was a lesson on having faith in God.

What I believe is that when we’re in a close relationship with God through Jesus Christ, He will guide what we desire so that our desires are in line with His will. When we know that we desire what God wants, then it’s easy to pray for those desires and to believe that God will provide them.

25. And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. 26. But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.

I tend to think that a lot of people don’t like this verse because it seems to indicate a conditional forgiveness. We’re only forgiven when we forgive others. Let’s think about this. We expect God to forgive us when we do wrong, don’t we. We ask Him for forgiveness, but then we secretly can’t forgive ourselves and we keep remembering our sin. Even though God has forgiven us, we don’t experience the fullness of joy we should have because He’s forgiven us. The important point here is that if we can’t forgive ourselves when God’s forgiven us, we tell God that we have higher standards than He does. Let that thought sink in. Meanwhile, if we can’t forgive others when we have something against them, we have a similar problem. If God forgives us any and all sins, He forgives anyone else the same way. God doesn’t wait to for me to beg forgiveness before He forgives me, He forgives me. In the same way, we must forgive others. Don’t wait for them to ask, imitate God and start forgiving right away. When you don’t forgive others, it weighs on you and you can’t experience God’s forgiveness in its fullness.

27. And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, 28. And say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?

The chief priests, the scribes, and the elders might describe what Jesus did as returning to the scene of the crime. But, there He was walking in the Temple the next day. I wonder if the moneychangers and the vendors had cleaned things up and thing were back to normal, or the destruction was still evident. I think there were at least some signs of destruction and that was the reason for the question. They were asking Jesus what right He had to teach the way He taught and to destroy the system they had set up in the Temple. They wanted to know if Jesus decided to do this on His own initiative, or perhaps they wondered if the Romans had sent Him. If the Romans had sent Him, it might be a precursor to even greater trouble.

29. And Jesus answered and said unto them, I will also ask of you one question, and answer me, and I will tell you by what authority I do these things. 30. The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men? answer me.

Jesus didn’t back down. He also didn’t give them an answer they could use against Him. He threw the question back in their faces, and I doubt the Jewish authorities were accustomed to that. Jesus not only asked the question, He demanded an answer. The question He asked as one designed to get people involved. When John was baptizing, did he do it on his own authority or the orders of others, or did it come from heaven and, by extension, God? The religious authorities tried and failed to trap Jesus so many times. Now, Jesus had them in a trap – and they recognized it.

31. And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then did ye not believe him? 32. But if we shall say, Of men; they feared the people: for all men counted John, that he was a prophet indeed. 33. And they answered and said unto Jesus, We cannot tell. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Neither do I tell you by what authority I do these things.

The religious authorities recognized the trap immediately. If they said John’s baptism came from heaven, the next, obvious question would be to ask why they didn’t believe John and his message. On the other hand, the common people who were in the area believed that John’s baptism was a real thing that came from God, and if they were to say that his message and the baptism came from men, they’d get in trouble with the people. It was the kind of trouble that might upset the whole religious authority applecart that they’d established. So, their answer to Jesus was that they didn’t know. They punted. They refused to take a stand. Jesus probably laughed at them as He said that He wasn’t going to answer their question. If they refused to answer a question that appeared to be obvious, how would they take the truth that Jesus could tell them. Truly, the fig tree of the religious authorities had withered and the influence they wielded over the people would be insignificant when compared to what Jesus would do as He rose from the dead.

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Anger Cleaning at the Temple


Today’s Bible Study is a little short, but, given the situation, noted in the video, this story fit right in as a story by itself. I pray that God uses this to draw you closer to Him. 

15. And they come to Jerusalem: and Jesus went into the temple, and began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; 16. And would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.

After cursing the fig tree, Jesus went into the Temple. If you think of the previous night’s activity as a surveillance mission, we see that He knew where to go as He began to throw people out of the Temple. At this point in time, the corruption of those buying and selling in the Temple was so great that it had become a house to prey instead of a house to pray, and those doing the preying were the ones buying and selling – most likely buying the animals from people who brought their own to sacrifice because it wasn’t good enough, and then selling another animal back to them at inflated prices. Those who traveled to Jerusalem, especially during the time of Passover, had no other option but to take the deal. Would you take a week to walk back home and then tell people you didn’t get a chance to offer your sacrifice because it was blemished? And, then when the deal was made, the payment was to be made in Temple drachmas which the nice money changers could arrange to sell you at a hefty premium. Jesus was appalled at what the Temple had become and He took action.

Some apply this story to the idea of selling anything in church. I don’t know if that’s a proper application if things are being offered at a fair price AND it doesn’t become the focus of the worship or a necessity to engage in worship. A worship band or a singer selling their music or a special speaker selling their books after the service may help people continue in the spirit of worship that they just experienced, but making someone buy something so they can sit in the worship service would be a problem.

17. And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves.

Although I didn’t use this word earlier, Jesus was angry at what was happening. As He dealt with the problem in His anger, He used God’s word to justify His anger. (Isaiah 56:6-7) The shocking commentary is that God’s House of Prayer for all nations has become, instead, a den of thieves. (See Jeremiah 7:11) My pastor preached on this a while ago and he mentioned that by calling it a den of thieves, He wasn’t talking about the danger of the situation in the Temple, He was talking about the quality of the people. Instead of all nations gathering for prayer, the Temple had become the gathering place of thieves. There’s a popular meme going around that says, “When you ask ‘What would Jesus do? Remember that throwing over tables and throwing people out are possibilities.”

18 And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

Do you know why the scribes and chief priests heard what Jesus said? They heard it because He wanted them to hear it. Jesus was calling these guys out because they were the people responsible for maintaining a godly atmosphere in the Temple and they had neglected their duty. I have no doubt that they were profiting financially from all the goings on – getting some kind of a kickback from the merchants. And these so-called leaders were afraid of Jesus because of what Jesus taught – not only as a general rule but also in this specific incident. Jesus had torn back the curtain on their perfidy and they would never be able to practice it, nor gain the respect of the people again. As long as Jesus was alive. Their only option to remain in power was to destroy Jesus and remove Him as a threat.

19. And when even was come, he went out of the city.

After a day of clearing out the Temple and teaching the way of the Kingdom of God, Jesus and the disciples left the city and returned to Bethany. I imagine Jerusalem was a bit of a madhouse in the days leading up to Passover, especially given the rumors of a Messiah entering the city and the way Jesus upended the goings on in the Temple. Anytime you have a festival going on, you have a mixture of the best of people enjoying themselves, or coming to worship in this case, and those who would take advantage of true worshipers. It’s loud and joyous and, at times, dark and dangerous. That may be a part of what made Jesus angry: the very people who should have been protecting the worshipers were the ones taking advantage of them. This was the filling of the “Markan sandwich.” Today will be short for reasons explained in my video and we’ll look at the top of the sandwich next week.

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Fit For a Spy Novel!

It’s been an “interesting” week, but most of our issues have been “First World Problems.” This week, we look at the Triumphal Entry and I saw it through the lens of a spy thriller. I hope this makes sense and helps you grow in your faith.

1. And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, 2. And saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. 3. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither.

As we read these verses, we’re entering into the last week before the crucifixion. This appears to be the one prophecy of the Messiah that Jesus deliberately fulfilled (cf. Zechariah 9:9) Perhaps more interesting is that this reveals what we should have suspected: there was a lot going on in the background that not only did we not know about, the disciples who were with Jesus all day long, every day, didn’t know about. We’ll see this same pattern later before the Last Supper, but I have no doubt that Jesus had arranged for one of His followers, who remained nameless, to provide this colt for Him to enter Jerusalem. Jesus sent the disciples to pick up this colt and it’s interesting that He knows that no one has ever ridden on this animal. It’s also interesting to me that Jesus didn’t tell them to contact anyone, perhaps to spare them harm should inquiries be made by the Pharisees or the Sadducees later (?), but to see this colt, untie him and bring him to Jesus. While Jesus told them not to initiate contact, He gave them would would be considered a countersign to let the owner know that the right people were taking this colt. It’s fitting that the beginning of the end of this mission from God should have some old-fashioned spycraft at the start of things. The promise “send him hither” was a promise to send the colt back after He had entered Jerusalem.

4. And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. 5. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? 6. And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go.

I should remind you that when I speculate like this, I could be wrong. I expect you to read the verses for yourself and come to your own conclusion. I’m sharing my beliefs of what these verses mean, but you should always seek God’s guidance as you read to find what He wants you to find. That disclaimer aside, the unnamed disciples went into town and there at the crossroads was a building and the colt, the donkey colt, tied up just like Jesus had described. As they went to untie him, a few people came up and asked them what they were doing. Again, I’m speculating here, but I think the owner of the colt arranged for people to be watching to make sure the colt went to whom it was supposed to go. I also think that this verse indicates that it was a pretty large group that could take out any donkey thieves who weren’t intended to claim it. The crowd melted back when they realized the right people were picking it up.

7. And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. 8 And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. 9. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: 10. Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest.

They brought the colt to Jesus, and I tend to believe that He was waiting outside the city gates, and they cast their garments on the colt. I tend to believe that this was a makeshift saddle, especially since the colt had never been ridden. I have no doubt that Jesus could have calmed any donkey or horse He rode, but the garments protected the donkey as much as they protected Jesus. A crowd had gathered, perhaps spurred on by those who followed Jesus that we don’t hear much about, but were always around – for example, remember the criteria for picking a new apostle in the early chapters of Acts. Perhaps other disciples passed the word that Jesus was entering the town. Whatever the reason, a contingent of people large enough to upset the Pharisees showed up and laid palm branches, clothes, and straw along the path crying out in praise ahead of Him and after Him. In short, they were causing a huge ruckus and their shouts let everyone know that they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. I believe that they still had a different concept of what the Messiah would be like, but they were enthusiastic in their welcome.

11. And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. 12. And on the morrow, when they were come from Bethany, he was hungry: 13. And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. 14. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He went to the Temple and looked around. I don’t know if, in His humanity, He realized how bad things had gotten in the Temple or if He went into the Temple to engage in surveillance for planning the next day’s response, but I have no doubt that Jesus was disturbed that the Temple had become a place where thieves gathered to fleece those who came to worship. Perhaps He had come to pray and the scene disturbed Him so much that He couldn’t pray. They went back to Bethany, I believe to the home of Lazarus, and set out the next day. Jesus was hungry and He went to a fig tree He saw along the way. When He saw that there was no fruit to satisfy His hunger, He cursed it in front of the disciples, and went on His way.
I’ve got to be honest with you, this story seems so unlike Jesus that I’ve had trouble dealing with it. I do believe, as we will find out next week, that Jesus did this as a parable of what was about to happen at the Temple and what the results of the Resurrection would be. This story is the first slice of a “Markan Sandwich” that we will finish next week.

 

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Seeking Jesus and Learning To Minister To Others

So, the video doesn’t show right in the draft and edit mode, I tried to preview to see if you could see the appropriate opening screen…no can do. So, I’m flying blind today, folks. I hope this works and that God speaks to you as you go through this.  

35. And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, come unto him, saying, Master, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. 36. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you?

As we look at these next few verses, it’s important to remember that Jesus has just told them about His upcoming crucifixion and resurrection. Perhaps this question was asked in light of the promised resurrection, but I doubt it. I believe that James and John heard what Jesus said, but refused to acknowledge His words. Were we to include the thoughts behind the words, and, again, this is my speculation, it would sound something like, “Sure Jesus, not going to happen. We know what’s really going on and we want you to do whatever we ask.” Notice the wisdom in Jesus’s response. Most of us, when someone asks for a favor respond with “Sure, what do you want?” Jesus answered by asking, “And what is it you want?” He refused to commit Himself until He knew the question. We would do well to respond in a similar manner. When we don’t, we’re either locked into an action we don’t want, or we’re pressured into doing something we don’t necessarily want to do. The rule to remember is clarify expectations before committing to action.

37. They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory. 38. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? 39. And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: 40. But to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.

James and John didn’t know what they were asking for. They thought they were asking for the two favored seats of power when Jesus, as Messiah kicked the Romans out of Israel and became King of Israel. They still thought the glory of Jesus was to be found as king of a small backwater country. Jesus knew that they didn’t know what they were asking for and that the decision was out of His hands. James and John saw these places as seats of glory, in truth, the earthly seats on the right and left hand of Jesus in His glory were actually occupied by the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. As to Jesus’s heavenly realm, we have no earthly idea who will be in those seats, if those seats even exist. Jesus seemed to set standards for those who might occupy those seats: drinking the cup He drank and being baptized like He was. Remember that this is the cup that Jesus prayed about in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed for it to be taken away, but it wasn’t. His “baptism” for this answer was His death on the cross. Jesus knew that He would experience the cup of God’s wrath and the cruel death on the cross, James and John had no idea what was coming for Jesus when they let Him know that of course they could endure His cup and baptism. As we read the words that tell James and John that they would endure that cup and that baptism, it should remind those of us who follow Jesus shouldn’t expect an easy life, but that in the midst of dealing with the evil of this world our hope is in Jesus Christ.

41. And when the ten heard it, they began to be much displeased with James and John.

The other ten weren’t happy with James and John. I wonder if they were displeased because they hadn’t thought to ask Jesus for those honors earlier. From the outside, it looks like they were just unhappy with James and John trying to influence Jesus by asking that question. I think their inner thoughts were displeased that James and John had asked for the seats that they felt like they deserved.

42, But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. 43. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: 44. And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all.

Jesus understood that the indignation of the other ten disciples dealt more with their thirst for honor and power than with concern for the sake of the kingdom, and He gave them an example they could understand from real life. When Jesus talked about the Gentiles here, I have no doubt that He and the disciples knew He was talking about the Romans who exercised their power according to their position on the political pecking order. It seems to be the same today, whether it be found in politics, business, or any other social organization – and I would include the church in that description. Those higher up will exercise their authority, and the power flows down with people exercising as much power as their position allows to show how important they are. Those who would go beyond the bounds of their power often run into problems with their “superiors.” Jesus taught them to stop thinking about and playing those power games, instead, those who want to be great in God’s Kingdom will find ways to serve others. Those who want the positions of power in God’s kingdom will only get them as they recognize that they’re called to serve. True power is found in God’s Kingdom when we forget about power and find ways to serve others.

45. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Jesus finished this teaching by giving them the example of His own life. They knew that He was the Messiah, although they had different expectations of Jesus once He owned that title than He exhibited. He pointed out that His ministry, His service showed His power and that His coming death would free people from their sins.

46. And they came to Jericho: and as he went out of Jericho with his disciples and a great number of people, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the highway side begging. 47. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, and say, Jesus, thou son of David, have mercy on me.

As Jesus continued His journey, He left Jericho. On the road out of town, He and the crowd that followed Him ran into Bartimaeus who was begging by the side of the road. Bartimaeus was blind and begging was an honorable profession for those with disabilities back in those days. It gave the Jews a chance to give alms and thus practice their religious beliefs. When Bartimaeus heart that Jesus was walking by, he made the decision to call out and get His attention. He cried out for mercy, which could have many different meanings to someone begging.

48. And many charged him that he should hold his peace: but he cried the more a great deal, Thou son of David, have mercy on me.

The crowd reacted by telling him to shut up and stop making a fool of himself. I imagine they tried to remind him that Jesus was a busy person and He wouldn’t have time to talk to a blind beggar by the side of the road. Bartimaeus wouldn’t be dissuaded from his goal of seeking an encounter with Jesus, no matter how disgusted the crowd might be. He shouted louder.

49. And Jesus stood still, and commanded him to be called. And they call the blind man, saying unto him, Be of good comfort, rise; he calleth thee. 50. And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus.

Jesus heard the calls of Bartimaeus and, echoing His previous words to the disciples about serving all people, stopped and called for the people to get Bartimaeus to come to Him. In one of the greatest reversals of mob behavior in history, they stopped telling Bartimaeus to shut up and urged Him to go to Jesus. Bartimaeus didn’t waste any time. He threw off his garment and rushed to see Jesus.

51. And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight. 52. And Jesus said unto him, Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole. And immediately he received his sight, and followed Jesus in the way.

Jesus’s response might seem familiar: “What do you want me to do?” In other words, Jesus was asking Him what this mercy that he was calling for looked like. Did he want a blessing, a prayer, money, food, or what? Bartimaeus responded immediately – he wanted to be able to see. He wanted to be able to see the beauty of creation. He wanted to see his way around the town. He wanted to see his family. He wanted to become a useful member of society – which difficult for people with disabilities to become then. His wish was a statement of faith, knowing that Jesus could restore his sight. Jesus recognized and honored that faith by healing him. Jesus healed Bartimaeus who then followed Jesus in the way. I take this literally in that I think Bartimaeus walked with Jesus. It could mean, however, that he lived in the way that Jesus would teach people to live. Whatever the situation, Bartimaeus was a new person in Jesus Christ. This story reminds us that we need to reach out for Jesus, no matter what others around us do and we need to be specific in our requests. As you pray today and in days to come, seek God and ask Him specifically for what you want.

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The Perils of Wealth and the Wealth of the Resurrection

I got an unpleasant surprise when I came to my blog today, the Word Press company changed the editor completely. I’m still trying to figure things out. In their attempt to make things easy, everything’s become more complicated. Sounds like life these days, doesn’t it. Anyway, today we learn how worldly wealth can lead us away from God. There is a peril there. True wealth comes from our relationship with God and that begins with the Resurrection.

17. And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? 18. And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God.

As Jesus continued walking, a man, whom we later discover to be wealthy, ran up to Jesus, knelt before Him, and after calling Him “Good Master” (or good teacher) asked Him what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus made a point of noting that this one had attributed to Him a quality that belongs only to God. Jesus didn’t deny that He deserved that mention, I think He was pointing out to those around that this man had recognized this quality of God in Him. We recognize this truth as taught in Psalms 14:1 and later expanded upon by Paul in Romans 3:12. Goodness, in it’s full understanding, applies only to God. Jesus pointed this out in His question to this man. While this man receives a lot of negative comments because of the conclusion of this conversation, note that this was a wealthy man, who realized that money wasn’t enough for fulfillment in life, and was willing to humble himself enough to kneel before a country rabbi, who admittedly had done some amazing things, and ask Him how to obtain eternal life.

19. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. 20. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

Jesus then gave him a shortened list of the ten commandments. It’s interesting to note that these six commands are the six that involve dealing with other people. The first four commandments deal with our relationship with God, the last six deal with our relationships with others. This is my speculation, but perhaps Jesus did this because we really can’t talk about those first four if we don’t have the last six down. I should note that I’m equating Jesus command “Do not defraud” with the last commandment that says don’t covet, because if you covet something, you might be willing to defraud someone to get it. That, of course is speculation, but all the other things Jesus mentioned fit in with the list of the Ten Commandments. This rich guy, without much thought apparently, looked at his checklist and said, “Yep, I’m good there.” He claimed to have kept them from the time he was young. I don’t know how true this man’s answer was, but I have no doubt that he believed he had been doing right.

21. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. 22. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

More important than following a written list of rules and regulations, is the attitude of the heart. Jesus recognized that this man had a heart problem related to his wealth. He trusted in his wealth instead of trusting in God, and so Jesus gave him an outlandish suggestion: sell everything, give the proceeds to the poor to gain treasure in heaven, and then, take up his cross and follow Jesus. In other cases, Jesus told people why they shouldn’t follow Him, or He told them not to follow Him. Here though, He recognizes that this man’s heart issue was that he trusted in his possessions instead of trusting in God. Taking up his cross, being willing to follow Jesus to the death, would test his faith in ways that he would never have imagined. He wasn’t willing to do that. He left sadly, because he didn’t like the answer Jesus gave him. His possessions were more important to him than trusting God and developing a relationship with Him. This young man isn’t much different than many of us, me especially. Too often I find myself seeking to know the will of God so that I can consider it rather than follow Him no matter where following Him may lead.

23. And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God! 24. And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! 25. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

Jesus pointed out a fact that goes contrary to what most people believed at the time, and that many still believe: entering the kingdom of God is almost impossible for people who are wealthy. The issue, of course, isn’t the amount of money they have. The issue is where they place their trust. I’ve known some wealthy people who recognized that their wealth was a gift from God that involved the responsibility to use that wealth to further God’s kingdom. I’ve also known people both wealthy and not so wealthy who worried so much about money: how to get it and how to keep it, that it was obvious that what wealth they had was more important than their relationship with God. Jesus recognized that attitude in this rich young man, which is why He gave him that command. It’s not a command for all people, it’s a command for those who have placed money and things above God. Notice that when Jesus talked about the difficulty in entering the kingdom of God He said that it was hard for people who trust in their riches to enter the kingdom of God. I’ve heard many people seek ways to take verse 25 literally and explain what Jesus meant by the phrase “eye of a needle.” While it’s possible that Jesus was referring to a literal situation, I believe that He was using hyperbole to make His point. The obvious take from what Jesus was teaching is that we shouldn’t let anything interrupt our relationship with God.

26. And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? 27. And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

While we see what Jesus said and nod, this was an astonishing teaching back in those days. According to beliefs at the time, wealth was obviously a sign of God’s favor so that if a person was wealthy, not only had God blessed them, there was no doubt that they were bound for an eternity with God. So when the disciples responded to the teaching that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven, their astonishment was real because Jesus had just turned what they believed upside down. It’s said that the teaching of Lazarus and the rich man was a flip of a contemporary teaching where the traditional story had the rich man enjoying the luxuries of heaven and Lazarus served him. Entry into the Kingdom of God, salvation, is not a function of wealth, or lack thereof. Those are signs that men impose and Jesus said that doing things man’s way make it impossible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The only way anyone can enter the Kingdom of Heaven is through God. He provides that entry by His grace through Jesus Christ. That’s what makes it possible to enter into God’s Kingdom.

28. Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee. 29. And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel’s, 30. But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life. 31. But many that are first shall be last; and the last first.

I think the disciples were flustered. I think their beliefs were shattered. Peter tried to pick up the pieces. He asked, in effect, since they had done what Jesus had asked the rich young man to do, were they OK? Jesus let him know that it would be worth it in the end. They may have left land, houses, fishing gear, and family to follow Him, but they would be blessed. They would endure persecution, but they would receive far greater than they gave up, including eternal life. Many people have made great sacrifices for their faith. Some have given up their lives to follow Jesus. The one question every single one of these people had was “Is the sacrifice worth it?” I have no doubt that anyone who has made those sacrifices would say that they gave up nothing to gain everything. As to the last sentence in that passage, I think it refers to those who would seek to show themselves better than others, those who think they have special privileges, those who would sacrifice others to gain preeminence in this life. They may be first here, but they will be last in the Kingdom of Heaven – if they even make it. I believe this statement is a call for humility in the church and a teaching to focus on serving others instead of seeking to be served.

32. And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, 33. Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: 34. And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.

I’m going to be honest here. There are parts of this passage that I have difficulty understanding. What do we know? Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem and was leading the way for the disciples and a number of other followers. What I don’t know, is why the disciples were amazed and I don’t know why the people following were scared. Were rumors flying around about what might happen to Jesus? Were the disciples amazed because they saw Jesus advancing to Jerusalem in spite of the threat of arrest? Were they amazed because of the resolve they saw as Jesus made His way to Jerusalem? Were the people worried because of the rumors or because they were sure that what they saw in Jesus was bound to lead Him into conflict with the Pharisees and other religious leaders or even with Rome? Whatever the situation, there was a lot of tension and uncertainty among the disciples and the others who followed Jesus. Jesus told them exactly what would happen, but that didn’t make them feel any better. He explained that He would be delivered to the religious leaders in Jerusalem who would then deliver Him to the Gentiles after condemning Him to death. He foretold the mocking and the scourging He would endure and noted that they would ultimately kill Him. He added that He would rise again, which the disciples never did fully comprehend would happen until after it happened. All of us are like that when people tell us things we don’t want to hear, or when they tell us things that seem too unbelievable. After the resurrection, it all made sense, but at this point in time, the disciples just didn’t get it.

As we read these verses, we’re reminded that the resurrection wasn’t an afterthought of the disciples used to explain why they still followed Jesus after He was crucified; it was a pivotal teaching of Jesus. He taught them about it again and again. If the disciples were trying to sugar coat things, or make themselves look good, they would have written gospels that showed their faith in the resurrection and not the doubt and confusion at the cross. Vignettes like this that are seen in different places in the New Testament show the credibility of the gospels in telling the story of Jesus. Sometimes, it’s not the pure faith of the disciples that convinces me of the truth of the gospel, it’s the expression of their doubts and fears and the continuing love of Jesus in the face of that doubt and those fears. How often do we act as if we need everything to be going right around us so that people will believe our message. Maybe, others are just as messed up as I am and when I’m honest about my fears and failures, they can relate to the good news of Jesus because they’ve seen the real me when I’ve gone through the bad times.

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Dealing With Divorce and the Importance of Children

The County Courthouse – where wedding dreams begin, and too often die. Divorce is a touchy subject these days. What does Jesus say about marriage? About divorce? I don’t have all the answers, but I think God’s plan always includes grace!

1. Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Reddit does this thing where well known people will have an “AMA” session. AMA means “Ask Me Anything.” In our church we occasionally take Wednesday Night services to have a “Grill the Pastor” night where we can, as might be expected, ask him anything. I think that’s how Jesus did most of His teaching. We usually see the questions the religious leaders ask, but I think that Jesus may have started teaching the people, but as He taught, they interrupted Him with questions. While many people focus on the miracles of Jesus in the Bible, most of the miracles grow out of His teaching or provide a platform for Jesus to teach an important lesson. And sometimes, the teaching got sticky.

2. Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3. “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4. They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

This is one of the sticky questions: divorce. Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? The first thing to note here is that the woman is not taken into consideration here. They didn’t ask if it’s lawful for a woman to divorce her husband. That’s part of the cultural situation where women were not treated equally. In today’s world, we could expand the original question to ask if a woman is permitted to divorce her husband. Jesus turned the question around just enough to make te Pharisees uncomfortable when He asked what Moses commanded. The Pharisees didn’t answer the question Jesus asked, probably because they knew that there was no place in the law of Moses that commanded divorce for any specific situation. Instead, they continued trying to get their point across by noting that Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.

With that, Jesus and the Pharisees clarified two things about divorce: the first is that there is no situation where divorce is commanded; the second is that divorce is permitted. While it’s permitted, we should recognize that the certificate of divorce was actually an important law designed for the protection of the women who were divorced. A woman who had that certificate, while unable to marry in certain circumstances, would generally be allowed to remarry. It would also show that her separation from her husband was legal and she was not a wanton woman who was looking for one night stands. Woman who committed adultery were liable to be stoned, see John 8, and a man who had written such a certificate could not claim that his ex-wife was actually engaged in adultery.

5. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. 6. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. 7. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; 8. And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. 9. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

Jesus’ answer reminds us that what is allowed, may not always be good. What is lawful, may not be moral. What is permitted, may not be good. The principle is an important principle in today’s world. As followers of Christ, we should never resort to legal wranglings to justify our behavior; our ultimate goal is to follow God instead of following the law. In some cases, we follow the law because God commands us to respect civil authorities and there is no specific word from God on some issues. There are other situations, though, where we must choose between obedience to God and obedience to man’s laws. In those cases we must follow God.

Back to the issue of divorce, though. Rather than talk about specific issues of specific marriages, Jesus reminds us of God’s plan. God created male and female for companionship and union. It is NOT good for man to be alone. This does not mean that everyone is commanded to be married, but it does remind us that marriage is a part of God’s overall plan and the marital union is so sacred that it should never be entered into lightly and it should never be ended lightly. A Christian marriage is one man and one woman joined by God so that the two people become one flesh. One flesh, while it refers to sexual union, it’s a reminder that the unity of marriage is so strong that it should never be broken lightly. Are there reasons for divorce? Yes. It’s permitted. But note that Jesus said that it was permitted because of hardness of heart, or sin. We’ll discuss possible reasons for divorce in a bit. The most important thing to remember, though, is that since divorce involves sin, forgiveness is always available whether the divorce was caused by one person’s sins, or by both person’s sins. As followers of Christ, we should never act as if divorce is the unforgivable sin.

10. And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. 11 And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. 12. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.

Once they got back to the house, the disciples were able to explore the question privately and asked Jesus what He really meant. Jesus made it clear that if a person divorces their spouse and marries another person, they’re committing adultery against them. In other situations Jesus pointed out that unless the person was put away because of adultery, divorce and remarriage caused a person to commit adultery. If they had already committed some sexual sin, then the divorce didn’t cause them to commit adultery. While many take Jesus’s teaching on this issue to say that sexual sin could be a reason for divorce, Jesus never commands it. I believe, that if you look at those passages closely, He’s not saying, divorce someone if they commit adultery, He’s saying, that you make them commit adultery if you divorce them, unless they had already been committing adultery.

So, what would be grounds for a divorce? Is adultery a reason to divorce a spouse? Yes, but the truth of the matter is that there are ways to work through that sin and bring reconciliation between the husband and wife. It would never be easy to gain full trust again, but based on the testimony of people who have been through that healing process, it’s possible. That being said, while my general rule would be to help people work through problems in a marriage, I would never advise either spouse to stay in a situation when they and/or their children were in danger of physical harm from their spouse. Is it possible to work through that issue with counseling? I don’t know. But if you are committed to working through a problem of abuse like that, don’t stay in the situation where the abuse occurs.

While my teaching may not apply to your specific situation there are a couple of things that are general principles. The first, Christian marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman that leads to oneness and unity under God’s leadership. It should not be entered into lightly. It should not be dissolved lightly. There are underlying sin issues in any divorce but there is never a reason for Christians to have a judgmental attitude towards people who are divorced. Forgiveness for any and all sins is possible with God. His forgiveness cleanses us and gives us the power to forgive others. Forgiving others does not mean that you treat the other person as if nothing has happened. Sometimes you can forgive, but need to stay away from the other person.

13. And they brought young children to him, that he should touch them: and his disciples rebuked those that brought them. 14. But when Jesus saw it, he was much displeased, and said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. 15. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein. 16. And he took them up in his arms, put his hands upon them, and blessed them.

There’s a popular meme theme people use: “Things Jesus never said,” where they use that phrase and then quote a popular saying or even a Christian teaching that isn’t in accordance with the words of Jesus. A saying that would fit in this meme is “Children should be seen and not heard.” The rationale behind that phrase is that while children may be cute, their ideas and their words are unimportant. And here’s the logical conclusion to that statement: if their ideas and words are unimportant, they are unimportant. That was the popular opinion in the days Jesus walked the earth. It’s still a pretty universal opinion among many people. I think the disciples thought everyone believed that, except the mothers of those children, and when these mothers brought their kids to Jesus, they wanted to spare Him the embarrassment of saying, “Go away, kid, ya bother me.” (Yes, said in the voice of W.C. Fields) The disciples gave these mothers attitude and sent the kids away. Only, Jesus saw it, and He was ticked. The first rule of following a teacher, any teacher but especially Jesus is, don’t tick off the teacher. Jesus let them know in no uncertain terms that they should let the children come to Him and they should stop preventing them from seeing Him.

Then, Jesus made a remarkable statement: if you don’t receive the kingdom of God “as” a little child, you won’t ever receive it. I don’t believe the word “as” there means when, I think it means with the qualities of a little child. What are the qualities Jesus has in mind? Realizing that I am only guessing on this issue, I think Jesus recognized the innocence of the children. Do children do wrong? Of course, but often they don’t realize why something is wrong and they do things with a good heart. They have a true sense of joy, unless someone robs them of that spirit – and Jesus had words for people like that. Their carefree and don’t worry, in general, what people think of them. As we grow older, our innocence fades into cynicism; our joy is tempered by the problems that overwhelm us, and our carefree attitude is swept away by our desire to fit in with the crowd. Again, I may be completely wrong in my understanding of what Jesus had in mind, but when we come to Christ, we do need to lose our cynicism, our fears, and our desires to be popular and trust God to take care of those concerns in our lives.

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The Cross, The Team, and Avoiding Hell

If you look at the titles up there, you’ll realize I stil have work to do to learn how to fix things up. Anyway, last Saturday night, I realized that I hadn’t posted. Sunday I was worn out from church activities (yes, even with most stuff online) and then, the week went downhill in a hurry! But I’m back today.

30. And they departed thence, and passed through Galilee; and he would not that any man should know it. 31. For he taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. 32. But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.

When I first read verse 30, I thought what Jesus didn’t want men to know was the story of what had just happened. While that fits in with the idea that Jesus didn’t want people seeing Him as an exorcist or a miracle worker instead of hearing the message of the Kingdom of God, further study leads me to believe that He wanted to travel incognito so that He could spend some time teaching the disciples. People mobbed Jesus wherever He went, and I wonder if He was concerned that He wasn’t teaching the disciples like He wanted to teach them. If you’ve ever tried to accomplish a task, or spend a few minutes relaxing, and had people interrupt you constantly, you’ll understand how Jesus felt. Everything that Jesus did was good and necessary, but He needed to focus on the disciples. Not that this time did much good because as He revealed what would be happening, they were like the people described in Isaiah 6:9 – ever hearing, but not understanding; ever seeing, but not perceiving. Jesus taught them again and again that His near future held no throne, nor hope of overthrowing the Romans; His future was the Cross and the Resurrection. The disciples heard His words, but tried to spiritualize them instead of taking them at face value because the idea of the cross was too horrendous to imagine and the concept of resurrection was so outlandish that it didn’t make any sense. Jesus told them the unvarnished truth about His near future and it was so clear, that because it was so outlandish the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying.

33. And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way? 34. But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

Once they got home, Jesus hit them with a question: “What were you arguing about along the way?” Here’s a hint: Jesus knew exactly what they were arguing about. If you’ve ever been around children, you know that kids will start arguing about silly things and that one way to stop them is to ask what they’re arguing about. You know what they’re arguing about, but they’re too ashamed to admit it. Jesus knew what they were arguing about and it must have particularly grieved Him because this argument happened immediately after Jesus taught them that He was destined for the cross and not the crown. I’ve got to admit that if I were in that situation, I might have exploded in anger. I would have shouted something like, “Do you mean to tell me you STILL don’t get it? Stop arguing about who’s the greatest and what seat you’ll get in the Kingdom because it’s not coming and if it were coming, you wouldn’t get to choose anyway!” They kept quiet, and Jesus proved why He is Messiah and people like me are not.

35. And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all. 36. And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them, 37. Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

Instead of yelling, Jesus taught them in an amazingly calm manner. There is perhaps no greater tenet in the Christian Church than the understanding that greatness is found in service. Perhaps we should add that there is no more ignored tenet than this either. Like the disciples, we pride ourselves on our place in the Kingdom of God and begin to think of certain tasks as being beneath us. Jesus not only taught them that the Kingdom grew through service, He gave them an example by taking a child in His arms. In this culture, at this time, women and children were low on the social scale. Real men wouldn’t worry about children or women, instead, they’d focus on more “important” issues. Jesus noted that if you wanted to receive Him, you’d care for the children. In modern terms, we might say that if you want to receive Jesus, care for the homeless and the outcast. The result of that is growth in our relationship with God because when you receive Jesus, you receive and welcome the fullness of God.

38. And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us. 39. But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. 40. For he that is not against us is on our part. 41. For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

John, as all good students have learned to do changed the subject to avoid the uncomfortable nature of the discussion. He did it by bragging on the group and their commitment to doctrinal purity. Apparently, someone who had either heard of or encountered Jesus recognized the power in His name and was going around casting out demons in an unauthorized manner, because he wasn’t a follower of the group. John was telling Jesus that even though they didn’t care for children, they were making sure to maintain the exclusive nature of the group by letting people know that only they could use the name of Jesus to cast out demons. We have a lot of denominations who seem to think that they’re the only right denomination and all the others are terrible people who shouldn’t even be called followers of Christ because of <insert reason here>. I believe that the different denominations have unique perspectives on some issues, but I don’t believe any denomination, especially the one my church belongs to, is perfect. I don’t need to try to stop those other denominations or make them conform to what I believe. Jesus made it clear that the battle we should be fighting is the battle against evil. This man, who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name was on their side in that battle and Jesus told the disciples that since he wasn’t against them, he was for them. It’s easy to forget what battle we’re fighting and the purpose of our fight if we start worrying too much about our place in the Kingdom of God rather than about our call to serve in the Kingdom of God. Our call is to battle evil. If someone’s working on our side, rather than rebuke them, we must work with them. Jesus also noted that anyone working miracles in His name, could not speak evil about Him. It wouldn’t make sense for someone to say something like, “I rebuke you demon in the name of that fraudulent teacher named Jesus.” If one is to use His name in the battle against evil, one must recognize who He is as Messiah, as God the Son. And in that final section, Jesus notes that even something as simple as a cup of water given because of the name of Jesus is worth a reward. Of course, giving a cup of water back then wasn’t as simple as it would be now. Now, we have all kinds of sources. We can go to the tap, or we can go to the store and buy bottled water. We can keep it cold or at room temperature. Back in Jesus’s day, water came from a well. The well would have to be uncovered and the person getting the water would have to drop a bucket into the water and then pull it back up just to have water to give. Sometimes we forget about the extent of sacrifice needed for some people to do what seems to be a simple act of ministry. Jesus noted that they would not lose their reward in heaven for that ministry. Ever think God misses the things you do to serve others? He doesn’t and you will not lose any rewards for serving Him.

42. And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

It’s important to remember that in these next few verses, Jesus is not offering a prescriptive punishment as a solution for the wrongdoing that might happen. He is instead pointing out the eternal consequences of earthly actions. He began this section by, once again, reminding us to care for and nurture children. So often, while their faith is innocent, there’s a profundity in the midst of their simplicity. When we think about not offending children, it’s easy to look at those people who lack any kind of faith and seek to keep others from having faith – those who would belittle any show of faith and embarrass children for having such faith. What’s more difficult to see is that we offend little ones when instead of taking their faith seriously, we patronize them by calling their faith statements cute without following up and encouraging them. When we don’t encourage our children in their faith, when we’re afraid to challenge them to grow in their faith, when we ourselves live in such a way that children can’t see how our faith has impacted our lives, we are offending their faith. While it’s not a prescriptive solution in that we need to tie a bunch of millstones around people’s necks and cast them into the sea, Jesus basically said that our lives weren’t worth living if we cause little ones to stumble and lose faith. Let’s face it, if Jesus were to have made this as a literal statement, we’d have a millstone shortage. If you’ve done this in the past, and I can guarantee that I have, there is hope in the grace and forgiveness of Christ.

43. And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 44. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 45. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: 46. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. 47. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: 48. Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Let’s face it: as Christians we don’t like to talk about hell and eternal punishment. We love to talk about redemption, forgiveness, grace, and the eternal joy of heaven. But the reality is that Jesus talked about hell. His teaching is that hell is so terrible that it would be better to be a one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged person in heaven than it would be to have a complete body in hell. The torment in hell is endless: the worm doesn’t die and the fire isn’t quenched. I don’t know how literal this discussion of hell is, because I believe Jesus is using hyperbole to make His point, otherwise, we’d have a lot of one-eyed, one-handed, one-legged people hopping around, and I would be one of them. What’s the point then? While some people would say that hell itself is part of the hyperbole and insist that it didn’t exist, I think that Jesus is telling us that hell is real and that we should do anything we can to avoid it for ourselves and others. Some use the phrase “Go to hell,” in a very flippant way, but if we understood the horrors of hell, we would do anything to avoid it ourselves AND we would do anything we could to help others avoid it. The only message by which men can be saved from the fires of hell and be saved from their own sin is found in the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus us commanded us to share the gospel and if love for others doesn’t compel us, fear of hell for others should cause us to proclaim His love and grace.

49. For every one shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. 50. Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another.

If you want to have fun, look at the commentaries talking about verse 49. There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of this verse. I believe, and am willing to be shown how wrong I am, that in verse 49 both salt and fire refer to the purifying process and preservation from corruption. Ultimately, the choice of how we’re purified comes down to the question of will we be purified by the baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit or will we endure the endless purification in the fires of hell. Every sacrifice is accompanied with salt because salt purifies and protects from corruption. If hell is real, and I believe it is, then the fires of hell are meant less as punishment and more as purification. If that’s so, I wonder what people in hell are being purified for? Is there a second eternal chance? See how this verse can confuse. I don’t believe that hell purifies us for a second chance to enter into heaven, but this is one of those verses where I have to say that I trust that God will do what is right in His eyes and we will all praise Him for it. You can see how difficult it is to interpret the meaning, though. Then, we see a verse that shares a concept in other gospels. As good is, if salt loses its flavor, or saltiness, what good is it? There is no good to salt that has lost its saltiness. Jesus then said to have that salt, that purifying power that protects from corruption inside ourselves and have peace with each other. In today’s terminology, when we call someone “salty,” we tend to think that the person is abrasive and on the edge of civil behavior. When Jesus tells us to be salty, He’s talking about that sense of peace that comes from a pure life. When our lives and our hearts have been purified by God, we will live at peace with others.

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