Flashback Episode — Forever In Debt: Luke 18:9-14

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Rarely in the gospels do we find Jesus’ audience for a specific teaching defined by the characteristics or character qualities of that group. Usually the groups Jesus addresses happens to be the crowd that was following Him, His disciples, or a specific set of religious leaders, such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, teachers of the Law, or even the scribes.

However, in one portion of Luke’s gospel, we learn that Jesus included an illustration that is so relatable, it may have even happened to one of those in the group Jesus spoke to. This event is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 18, and we will be reading it from the New International Version. Starting in verse 9, Luke writes:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This parable and Jesus’ concluding remarks are powerful for every follower of Jesus to remember.

In the case of the Pharisee’s prayer, everything in it is focused on self, and on building himself up at the expense of others – even including someone standing nearby. In this illustration, the Pharisee comes before God and says, “Look at me and how great I am”. The danger in this approach to prayer is that we truly cannot hide any part of ourselves from God.

God already knew the great things this Pharisee had done and accomplished, and what the Pharisee has described himself doing, specifically tithing and fasting are both positive things. However, the Pharisee had blinded himself to any character flaws, and in his prayer, he did not even remotely hint at needing help from anyone. This Pharisee, like many people living today, suffered from the hidden sin of pride.

I call pride a hidden sin because we cannot see its root in ourselves or in others – but we can see evidence, like this Pharisee demonstrated in his prayer, that it is present. Pride is one of the most deceptive sins, because we are able to identify it in others a lot easier than we are able to identify it in ourselves.

One test I have found to help keep the pride in my life in check, is pushing back against the idea that I must receive the credit for everything I do or have done. Pride needs credit to feel good, and while it is by no means a perfect test that covers all areas, it does help me self-diagnose myself regarding certain aspects of pride.

However, while we might like to think of this Pharisee’s issue being that he brought pride into his prayers to God, under the surface, we can see parallels between this Pharisee and everyone who believes they are “self-sufficient Christians”.

Self-sufficiency is a goal in our culture for many people living today. However, this is one big way that culture stands opposed to God. While the concepts of getting rid of debt and forgiving others are both positive and approved by God, self-sufficiency when taken too far closes us off from acknowledging that we do at times need God’s help. This is a particularly sinister form of pride because while we don’t want to be indebted to anyone, there is nothing that breaks us out of being indebted to God: either we are in debt to Him because we are actively sinning and breaking the Laws He founded the universe upon, or we are in debt to Him for the amazing gift of forgiveness that He has given freely to us. Nothing we can do could ever match or repay Jesus’ death on the cross, so in a somewhat paradoxical twist, the gift Jesus gives us by paying the sin-debt that we owe puts us in even greater debt to God for His kindness.

However, let’s turn our focus onto the tax collector. His prayer is simple: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. The tax collector simply asks for mercy from God because he is a sinner. There is no comparison present, there is no self-exaltation, there is no self-sufficiency, there is only acknowledgment of who he is and that he needs God’s mercy.

Oddly, while mercy and forgiveness are connected concepts, they are unique. It is interesting to draw out the observation that the tax collector does not repent or specifically ask for forgiveness. However, these two concepts are implied because of how Jesus describes the man’s presence during his prayer: The tax collector “stood at a distance”, “would not even look up to heaven”, and simply “beat his breast” while he prayed. None of these characteristics would be shown from someone who was checking off a to-do list before going back to a life of sin.

Everything in this tax collectors prayer draws the focus onto a sinner’s need for God’s mercy. Only when we acknowledge that we are always indebted to God will we be truly able to come before Him humbly and leave justified like the tax collector. Self-sufficiency might win points with culture, but a self-sufficient spiritual life leads to destruction.

As we come to the close of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Acknowledge that regardless of where we are in life, we are indebted to God. It is because either we are living sinful lives, or because we cannot repay the amazing gift Jesus gave to us on the cross. Because we are indebted to God, we should dedicate ourselves to Him and continually seek Him first in our lives.

Also, because we are indebted to God, we should focus time each day on growing closer to Him. This is best done through prayer and studying the Bible for yourself, because when we truly know and realize what He did for us, our lives will never be the same – and our perspective will be forever shifted.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying, never stop short, back down from, or run away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 33: Cam discusses a perplexing angle on two prayers Jesus describes prayed by two very different men. One man was justified, but it might not be for the reason you think.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

A New Name: John 1:35-51

Focus Passage: John 1:35-51 (CEV)

35 The next day, John was there again, and two of his followers were with him. 36 When he saw Jesus walking by, he said, “Here is the Lamb of God!” 37 John’s two followers heard him, and they went with Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them, he asked, “What do you want?”

They answered, “Rabbi, where do you live?” The Hebrew word “Rabbi” means “Teacher.”

39 Jesus replied, “Come and see!” It was already about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him and saw where he lived. So they stayed on for the rest of the day.

40 One of the two men who had heard John and had gone with Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Hebrew word “Messiah” means the same as the Greek word “Christ.”

42 Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.” This name can be translated as “Peter.”

43-44 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he met Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Jesus said to Philip, “Come with me.”

45 Philip then found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Philip answered, “Come and see.”

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said, “Here is a true descendant of our ancestor Israel. And he isn’t deceitful.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God and the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered, “Did you believe me just because I said that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see something even greater. 51 I tell you for certain that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man.”

Read John 1:35-51 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

One of the most intriguing things Jesus did in His ministry was giving one of His disciples a new name – and it seems as though Simon, son of John, was the only disciple Jesus “renamed” – though we might simply say Jesus gave him a nickname. This disciple is more famously known as the name Jesus gave him, Peter, and many times both names are used together to form “Simon Peter”.

Not only is giving Simon a new name an interesting thing to do, Jesus does this almost immediately after meeting him. Verse 42 of our passage describes this: “Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, ‘Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.’ This name can be translated as ‘Peter.’

Simon Peter was one of Jesus’ first disciples, and while there would be another disciple named Simon in the core group of twelve, this other Simon almost certainly would not have been a follower of Jesus at that time.

So why might Jesus give Simon Peter the new name – immediately after meeting Him?

In my mind, this is because Jesus saw the potential in this Simon, and the name Cephas (i.e. Peter) was a much better name for him knowing what he would become in the future.

While Simon Peter was the only disciples we know of that Jesus gave a new name to, we can take this detail of this event and apply it to our own lives.

Jesus does not see us simply where we are today; He sees us through the eyes of what we will become in the future. If our current name doesn’t fit us, He will give us a new name when He returns – and the name He gives us will fit us perfectly!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Praying Like Jesus: Mark 14:32-42

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Most of the time, when thinking about where to start reading on the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, we begin when Jesus and His followers arrive in Gethsemane, and Jesus starts the night out in prayer. While we have just finished looking at a powerful prayer Jesus prayed from John’s gospel, Jesus wasn’t finished with His prayers this night.

Several of the gospel writers include Jesus praying in Gethsemane and for our time together in this episode, let’s focus in on Mark’s gospel, and maybe pull in a detail or two from another gospel if we have time. Our passage is found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 14, and we will be reading from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 32, Mark tells us that:

32 They came to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him. Distress and anguish came over him, 34 and he said to them, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch.”

35 He went a little farther on, threw himself on the ground, and prayed that, if possible, he might not have to go through that time of suffering. 36 “Father,” he prayed, “my Father! All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.”

37 Then he returned and found the three disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Weren’t you able to stay awake for even one hour?” 38 And he said to them, “Keep watch, and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

39 He went away once more and prayed, saying the same words. 40 Then he came back to the disciples and found them asleep; they could not keep their eyes open. And they did not know what to say to him.

41 When he came back the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come! Look, the Son of Man is now being handed over to the power of sinners. 42 Get up, let us go. Look, here is the man who is betraying me!”

In this passage, we discover that Jesus prayed three similar, if not identical, prayers. In these prayers, we discover some amazing ideas, both about Jesus and about God the Father. While it would be nice to know more of Jesus’ prayer here than what is included, it is likely that only God and the angels know, since these three closest disciples could not keep their eyes and ears open. While it’s possible that the other disciples did stay awake, they were outside of earshot of Jesus’ prayer, and possibly talking amongst themselves.

Our passage includes the simple, profound opening to Jesus’ prayer and in this prayer, we see Jesus’ humanity, His humility, and His heart. Jesus opening to His prayer is basically, “Father, All things are possible for you. Take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet not what I want, but what you want.

In these four phrases, we see an amazing progression. First, Jesus starts out by acknowledging God as His Father. Jesus describes God the way He teaches us to describe God, simply as our Father.

Next, Jesus acknowledges that anything and everything is possible for God. If God wanted to, He could do anything. Jesus describes the all-powerful, or omnipotent, nature of God.

Then, after laying the foundation of God’s ability to do anything, Jesus makes the request. Jesus asks for the cup of suffering to be taken away from Him. While there were many layers of suffering that Jesus went through that night, we cannot even begin to know or understand what Jesus was going through. Some scholars say that here in Gethsemane, Jesus was receiving the weight of the sins of the human race on His shoulders, and it nearly crushed Him. In this request, we see Jesus’ humanity and a request for help.

If Jesus’ prayer had ended here, it’s possible that God would have come down and rescued Jesus, abandoning the human race to sin. God had placed the cross within Jesus’ power to face or not face, as we saw looking back at how John’s gospel introduces us to the Last Supper, and if there hadn’t been an additional line, we might not have a crucifixion to look back to.

Instead, Jesus follows His request with a bold statement of submission: “Yet not what I want, but what you want.” In this statement, Jesus basically lets God know His request, but He leaves it up to God whether this request is in the best interest for God’s plan. While the cross was Jesus’ decision to make, Jesus’ prayer tells us that He doesn’t make the decision alone.

In this prayer, and how Jesus ends it, we discover a powerful truth about God the Father. If God the Father did not love the human race, Jesus would not have faced the cross. Jesus asks the Father to take the cup of suffering away from Him, but He leaves it up to God.

Jesus’ prayer, and God’s response, or lack thereof, shows us the truth of the most famous passage in the entire Bible: John 3 verse 16. This passage John included early on in His gospel tells us that “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not die but have eternal life.” God the Father loved us enough to let Jesus face the cross to save each of us, and this is powerful to know.

God does answer Jesus’ prayer in a way that is helpful but not one that sacrificed the mission. Luke’s gospel described what happened. Luke 22, verses 43 and 44 tell us that after Jesus prayed this prayer: “An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. In great anguish he prayed even more fervently; his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” Luke tells us that an angel appears to encourage Jesus and He prays even more passionately after this. Luke describes Jesus’ sweat appearing like drops of blood, and whether this was because Jesus had actual blood mixed with His sweat, which is possible, or whether Jesus’ sweat was dripping off His body like blood would if He were cut and the wound hadn’t closed up yet, we see how emotionally intense this night and prayer was to Jesus.

While it would be nice to know more of Jesus’ prayer following this, what we have in Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane is another powerful model we can use when praying to God. When praying using Jesus’ model, we begin by acknowledging God as our Father, and we acknowledge His ability to answer our request. Nothing is impossible for God to accomplish.

We then make our request like Jesus did, before finishing by asking God for His will to be done with our request, and not our own.

After praying in this way, we should move forward in life trusting that God has answered our prayer, and if our request isn’t granted the way we prayed, then we can know that our request isn’t beneficial for God’s kingdom like we might have thought it would have been. I doubt God will answer any prayer we pray that would result in us being excluded from heaven. God looks at life through the lens of eternity, and His ultimate goal is saving as many as possible for eternity.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

If your prayers to God have been more self-serving lately, the challenge I have for you is to frame your requests the same way Jesus framed His request. I don’t believe God is annoyed when we ask for things, but when we ask God for help or things, we should acknowledge that His will should be done. In this way, we clearly remind ourselves that God is first in our lives and we submit to His direction and leading.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. While pastors, authors, speakers, or even a podcaster can give you ideas to think about, never put anyone between you and God. God wants a personal relationship with you, and He doesn’t want to filter His truth to you through other people.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 33: While in Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus prays a passionate prayer to God about the cup of suffering He is facing. In this prayer, we can discover how to pray like Jesus prayed, even when it appears like our requests are not being answered.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Close To Us: Matthew 26:1-5

Focus Passage: Matthew 26:1-5 (NCV)

After Jesus finished saying all these things, he told his followers, “You know that the day after tomorrow is the day of the Passover Feast. On that day the Son of Man will be given to his enemies to be crucified.”

Then the leading priests and the elders had a meeting at the palace of the high priest, named Caiaphas. At the meeting, they planned to set a trap to arrest Jesus and kill him. But they said, “We must not do it during the feast, because the people might cause a riot.”

Read Matthew 26:1-5 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Every so often, a detail that I never noticed before jumps out at me in an unassuming passage. This “conspiracy passage” where the leading priests and elders meet to discuss how to arrest Jesus is no exception.

Depending on the translation used, we find that the high priest lived in a palace. Many translations use this word, while a few simply say home, court, or another similar word. The implication in Matthew’s passage is that the priests (especially the high priest) were getting wealthy off of the people. By living in a luxurious home, the high priest was separating himself from the people with his wealth.

This is not a statement on whether wealth is good or bad. It is more a statement on focus and generosity. As the Jewish nation grew, it would become more prosperous, and as the leader in any area (in this case the spiritual area), the more people you have influence over, the more money would come your way. But as the leader of the spiritual area in culture, the high priest would be a clear representative of God, and living in a palace, separated from the people, is not an accurate representation of God’s character.

Jesus came and changed that. He came to show us that God is not a “distant” God, but that He wants to live with us. God does live in a palace, but He wants us to join Him in it. I’m doubtful if the high priest was all that willing to open their home to anyone/everyone.

The high priest probably was tempted by greed. Greed is an issue for almost all people who live in cultures that have a monetary exchange system. One doesn’t have to have money to be greedy, but when one does have money, the greed is amplified all the more.

Jesus’ presence in culture, and His focus on the people, challenged the priests’ position and the status quo that had placed them on top of both the spiritual and economic ladders. They did not like Jesus’ growing influence, so they plotted against Him.

But even though they plotted Jesus’ death, Jesus still came – and death was at the core of His mission. This is because God does not want to be seen as a distant God, but as a God that reaches out to us, who takes the first step, who wants to restore the broken relationship. This is before we have “done” anything.

God is wealthy. He does live in a palace in heaven. But instead of increasing the distance we would have to travel, He especially wants to be close to us and He bridged the gap that sin caused.

Jesus came and He won.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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