Trials Produce Fruit: Luke 13:1-9

Focus Passage: Luke 13:1-9 (NIV)

 1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

Read Luke 13:1-9 in context and/or in other translations on!

During one of the parables Jesus shares, we learn about a vineyard that has a fig tree that is not producing fruit. In this journal entry, I want to dig in to what the manager of the vineyard promises to do for the coming year, and analyze whether his methods are more likely to result in fruit, or lack of fruit.

In verse 8 we read the manager’s response, “Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.” The manager asks for more time, and promised to give extra special attention to this fig tree with the hopes that it will bear fruit. This manager seems to promise the fig tree everything it needs to survive, and then some, as a last chance effort to convince it to be fruitful.

We could say that this tree has one “easy” year ahead of it.

But what the manager does not know, that we do, is for plants to be the most “fruitful” they must be “pruned”, and pruning hurts. Pruning involves taking everything away that is not necessary (all the “dead” stuff) and it involves hurting what is left.

The manager would be best suited to cut 60% of the branches off the fig tree, in addition to the digging and fertilizing), because through trials we become fruitful. Trials show others what we are made of, and they bring out our “fruit”.

So what does this say about our lives today?

Are you living a “good” or “easy” life? If so, you may not be as fruitful as God would want you to be.

Have you overcome a major trial or setback? If so, what has it taught you and are you using what you learned from it to help those around you?

Often times, the trials in our past are the seeds God uses to bless those we meet. Our journey to God’s ideal for us might follow a path of overcome trials.

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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Adding Jesus to Baptism: Matthew 3:13-17

Focus Passage: Matthew 3:13-17 (NASB)

When I look at how Jesus began His ministry – or at least how He steps onto the scene when it was time for Him to begin His ministry, I am amazed at the symbolism we can find in Jesus wanting to be baptized.

While John was baptizing people as a public way of showing those who intentionally chose to repent and turn away from their past life of sin, Jesus had no past life of sin to repent of. Because of this, John is completely justified in my mind for pushing back at Jesus for wanting to be baptized.

However, Jesus had something different in mind to be His symbol. The baptism at the beginning of His ministry was to foreshadow the death and resurrection at the end of His earthly ministry. In these two events that act like bookends to Jesus’ years of ministry, we see Him begin by submitting Himself to humanity, first represented by John in baptism, then later to the mob, the religious leaders, and to the Romans on the weekend He was crucified.

For Jesus, the baptism at the start of His ministry was not only an example for us, Jesus takes the promise resurrection following death and He attaches the example of His life and sacrifice to it in addition to the already present symbolism of dying to our past sins and being resurrected with a fresh start.

This brings us to another one of the big ideas I see in this passage: In His baptism, Jesus humbled Himself below humanity as a way of foreshadowing His sacrifice for humanity on the cross. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a sacrifice for each of us.

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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Flashback Episode — Giving Like God Gave: Matthew 7:1-12

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As Jesus nears the end of His famous Sermon on the Mount, He challenges those in the crowd, as well as His followers, about a couple things before giving them a big promise that directly relates to how God answers prayers. If you have felt condemned by God, or if you’ve felt as though your prayers are going unheard, perhaps this portion of Jesus’ sermon was shared just for you, and perhaps for people who have felt similar to you.

Let’s dive in and discover what Jesus taught those present about God. Our passage for this episode is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Jesus tells the crowd of followers:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Let’s pause briefly here to focus on some of what Jesus has just shared. In this portion of our passage, Jesus challenges His followers to only judge others in the same way they would like to be judged. What is interesting about this challenge is that when we judge others, we look at their actions and we assume their intentions from their actions.

However, when we judge ourselves, we look at our intentions and filter the meaning of our actions through our intentions. This is like saying that we judge others by what they did, but we expect to be judged for what we do by why we did it.

This is what Jesus warned us about, because if we judge others by their actions, we will ultimately be judged by our actions as well. Knowing this spiritual rule, we should be even more forgiving and loving towards others, because if we “judge” others through the filter of “forgiveness” and “reuniting people together” then that is how we will be judged, which is another way of saying that we will also experience forgiveness and acceptance.

When we look at other people, we are quick to see even the tiniest fault they have, but when we look at ourselves, we are blind to the biggest faults of our own. If we want to help others with their problems, we should first be conscious, aware, and working to remove the huge faults from our own life as well. We probably should also be careful and cautious about how we approach offering our help to others. If the person we want to help is aware of their speck but also aware of our plank, then it is unlikely they would want our help and it is unlikely they will change their minds regardless of how insistent we are offering our help.

Before moving to the second section of our passage, Jesus shares an interesting metaphor warning us to not throw sacred things to dogs or pearls to pigs. While this has been understood to mean a number of things, or to suggest a number of different things, I think Jesus is warning us to not be too quick about sharing spiritual things with those who are not interested in spiritual matters. This would be like advising us to not take what is precious to us and give it to a pack of dogs or a herd of pigs. Neither group of animals would value it like you might hope they would, and in the same way, people who are unconcerned about spiritual things are not going to care about the spiritual things that you want to share. They might even hate you for it.

However, Jesus then turns his attention onto prayer and onto how we should expect God to answer our requests. Continuing in verse 7, Jesus tells those present:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

In this passage, when we pray and when we ask God for the things we need, sometimes it seems as though He is ignoring us. However, according to this promise, God will give us what we ask for, help us find what we seek, and will open the doors we knock on. This seems simple enough, except for what Jesus then follows up by saying.

Jesus challenges those present when they think about a parent/child relationship that those in the parent role want to give what is good, helpful, and safe to their children. Jesus says that this is even the case with evil people. However, what about God, who knows the end from the beginning, and who knows exactly what we need even if what we need is not what we are asking for?

If we are asking for what God sees as a snake or a stone, which in this context are two things that are not beneficial for us, do you think God will give us something He knows will hurt us? While our requests are sincere and from our perspective, we are asking for what we believe we need, God has a much bigger perspective and a much bigger goal for our lives than we can imagine. God’s ultimate goal is saving us, and as many people as possible for eternity, and with that perspective, if what we are asking for will put God’s goals in jeopardy, then He isn’t going to answer our prayer in the way we think He should answer it.

When we pray, we should pray with trust in God that the answers He sends are exactly what we need to help us, and those around us, to be saved for eternity – even if the answers He sends are not the same as the prayers we prayed.

It is interesting in my mind that Jesus concludes this idea by saying that the law is summed up in the phrase “do to others what you would have them do to you”. Jesus has just been talking about prayer and about God’s gifts to us. It is as though this thought could extend beyond just our interaction with each other and it give us a frame of reference to understand God as well.

Within the context of Jesus’ message, we can understand Jesus telling us that God gave us everything He had, including His own Son to take the punishment for our sins — and while God doesn’t require the same back from us, it is what He desires to see. God did for us what He would want us to do for Him!

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

As I always challenge you to do, be sure to seek God first and to love God like He has loved you. When looking for examples of how God has loved you and placed humanity first, look no further than what Jesus did for us. Jesus left Heaven, became human, suffered ridicule and rejection from those who should have known better, and ultimately Jesus gave His life. The Bible teaches that after Jesus’ resurrection and return to heaven, He is still ministering on our behalf before God’s throne in the Heavenly sanctuary. Jesus has given Himself entirely to humanity!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word for anything, or anyone else’s word for that matter. Instead, study out God’s truth for yourself in prayer and Bible study to know for yourself what He teaches us through His Word.

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

Flashback Episode: Year in Matthew – Episode 12: Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares several warnings before teaching us about how God answers our prayers. Jesus then sums up the Law by describing it in one phrase, which many people might be familiar with, but which the context make this phrase extra powerful!

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

Focused on Every One: Luke 2:1-20

Focus Passage: Luke 2:1-20 (NASB)

Of the gospel writers, only Matthew and Luke really focus in on Jesus’ birth story. John begins his gospel looking at the significance of God coming into the world, and Mark begins with a few verses leading up to John the Baptist and Jesus’ baptism, but only Matthew and Luke dive into Jesus’ birth – and Luke devotes more verses and details to this event.

This information makes a phrase from our passage stand out in my mind. In verse 19, we read, “Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Luke opens his gospel by detailing that even though others have compiled the details of Jesus’ story, he would do the same, compiling a record of Jesus’ life from the eyewitness accounts that he had access to. This method makes Luke an interviewer and editor more than simply a writer.

But then why does verse 19 stand out in my mind?

About the only way for Luke to know if Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart would be if he had spent time with her himself. Reading the first 2-3 chapters of Luke while asking who Luke would have learned this information from, we can only really conclude that it was Mary herself – if Luke is being honest that he only included eyewitness reports.

Only Mary would know what was special to her, and only Mary would recall the wonder and perplexity of what was happening in this miraculous, extraordinary birth.

But while this was significant then, what big takeaway is there for us living today?

Firstly, it helps give authenticity to Luke’s gospel. But more important than this, understanding how Luke frames this event gives emotion in addition to simply sharing the facts of what happened in these early chapters of his gospel.

While Luke was an interviewer, He focused on including relatable details in this extraordinary event. He was not simply recording a set of facts that happened like a courtroom secretary. Instead, he wants us to understand not only what happened at that point, but how we can relate with what happened then and how these events are significant to us today.

Luke’s gospel begins to take the record of Jesus’ ministry from being one that focused mainly on God’s mission and fulfilling prophecy towards one that deeply cares for individuals and shows God’s love for each of us personally. Luke helps us see how God focuses not just on everyone as a big group, but every one of us individually.

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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