Leaving Open Questions: Matthew 16:21-28

Focus Passage: Matthew 16:21-28 (GNT)

21 From that time on Jesus began to say plainly to his disciples, “I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life.”

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “God forbid it, Lord!” he said. “That must never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned around and said to Peter, “Get away from me, Satan! You are an obstacle in my way, because these thoughts of yours don’t come from God, but from human nature.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you want to come with me, you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. 25 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake, you will find it. 26 Will you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not! There is nothing you can give to regain your life. 27 For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his deeds. 28 I assure you that there are some here who will not die until they have seen the Son of Man come as King.”

Read Matthew 16:21-28 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Shortly after Jesus rebuked Peter for speaking out against His death, Jesus shared a profound phrase and prediction that may be challenging for us to grasp or understand. While the statement sounds simple and straightforward, it can be understood, and perhaps even misunderstood, in several different ways.

Matthew tells us that Jesus told this statement to His disciples, and while Mark and Luke include this teaching, these two gospel writers have other followers included within earshot of Jesus’ message. Following talking about the challenge of being a true disciple, Jesus tells all those who were present, “For the Son of Man is about to come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he will reward each one according to his deeds. I assure you that there are some here who will not die until they have seen the Son of Man come as King.” (v. 27-28)

Both sentences in these two verses are powerful individually, but together, they give an amazing message regarding where Jesus’ ministry will ultimately end. Both statements refer to Jesus’ second coming, and with this time frame in mind, we see two other details in place:

  • When Jesus comes, He will reward each person according to His deeds. (v. 27)

  • There are some (i.e. more than one) who were present there who will not die until they have seen this event. (v. 28)

The first statement is easier to grasp. When Jesus comes, the reward that is brought will be based on what we have done. The trick or challenge with this statement is where belief fits in. On the surface, this statement sounds like a person’s actions being used to justify his or her salvation, but then does it nullify faith?

In the first statement, while we could see it as supporting a works based salvation, it doesn’t really address salvation as a topic. Instead, it talks about rewards based on our deeds. Every one of us have sinned, and the only “reward” that sin can bring is death. One thousand righteous actions mixed together with one sinful action still results in the reward of death. God could reward all those righteous actions first, but when He gets to the single sin, death comes – and its consequence is more serious than the rewards given for our righteous deeds. This statement actually promises death for everyone because everyone has sinned.

Salvation fits into the first statement because when we put our faith, trust, and belief in Jesus, He gives us His life as a reward, so when receiving our rewards, we receive the reward Jesus should have received because He took the reward (the death) we deserved. This is how I understand the first statement.

I don’t really understand the second statement. This statement also sounds simple, but is Jesus talking about death as perishing in the second death, or simply ceasing to live on this earth during the present age?

When Jesus went to the mountain and was “transfigured”, did this act give Him the appearance of coming as King, or does this second statement refer exclusively to the second coming?

Does this “not facing death before the second coming” say that some of these followers would be immediately taken to heaven, either at their death or right before their death?

Is this a statement meant for all of Jesus’ followers throughout history, or is it a statement meant for those listening to His words at that moment?

I have some ideas regarding all these questions about the second statement, but sometimes it’s best to leave the questions open, because when we have answered the questions we have, there is nowhere else to grow. Answering questions caps our growth. It is only by searching for answers that we can continue to grow, and when we have found answers, we continue growing by asking more questions.

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The Sin Loop: Mark 9:38-50

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As we approach the half way point in our year looking at Mark’s gospel, we come to a passage where Jesus give a very strong warning and challenge to a specific group of people. While it might be easy to skip over this warning under different circumstances, this challenge is prompted after Jesus is told about something His followers did. Of all the warnings and challenges, this one stands out as being one of the most significant and serious in my own mind. However, this challenge, while it is very serious, also contains within it a promise that is easy to miss if we are not paying attention.

This passage and challenge are found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 9, and we will read from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 38:

38 John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is for us. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because of your name as followers of Christ, truly I say to you, he will not lose his reward.

Let’s pause reading briefly because while Jesus has more to say, I want to emphasize some details in the first portion of this passage. First, it is worth paying attention to John’s opening and telling Jesus that he and some of the other disciples saw someone who wasn’t a part of their group casting out demons in Jesus’ name. John says that they tried to prevent him. However, Jesus pushes back with a powerful counter-intuitive truth: Christianity was never meant to be an exclusive club for sinners saved by grace. Christianity is united by people following Jesus Christ and giving Him the glory, the praise, and the credit for everything.

Jesus emphasizes this truth by telling His disciples that anyone who is not against Jesus is for them, and those who are performing miracles in the name of Jesus have God’s approval to do so. If someone cannot perform a miracle in Jesus’ name, then they are likely misusing Jesus’ name and/or they are missing a relationship with Jesus in their lives. Miracles that succeed using Jesus’ name can only happen if the one doing the miracle has the Holy Spirit in his or her life. Whoever helps someone else in Jesus’ name will not lose the reward God has promised them.

However, Jesus isn’t finished sharing. Continuing the theme of helping others, Jesus turns the tables starting in verse 42, saying:

42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, 44 [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.

49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

In the last section of our passage, we come to a very challenging idea: It would be better for us to cut a part of our body off if it causes us to sin than to risk our salvation. This is a challenging part of our passage because it implies that God wants us to injure ourselves. The implication is that our body controls our head.

While some people may let their bodies and their impulses control their lives, when given the choice of hell or losing a part of your body, I would imagine most people would recoil and acknowledge that any part of their body could be brought into control. Choosing between facing hell or losing a part of your body is like choosing between two significantly bad options when a third option exists.

The third option is banishing the sin from your life and bringing whatever part of your body into control so it does not cause you to sin any more. It may be significant that Jesus uses the example of hand, foot, and eye in this graphic illustration. Our hands can symbolize what we do, our feet symbolize where we go, and our eyes symbolize what we focus on.

In each of these cases, we have the freedom to choose. We can choose to do something wrong, which some people might define using the word sin; we can choose to go somewhere that is not spiritually healthy; and we can choose to focus on things that are not beneficial for our lives. While looking at these three ideas, it’s amazing in my mind that these three ideas create a loop. However, the progression this loop takes is in reverse order of what Jesus shared. The loop looks like this: Focus leads to movement, and movement leads to action. However, action then also prompts us to focus more, leading to more movement, and more action, allowing the loop to continue.

If we are stuck in a loop of sinning, we may have to do something drastic to break this cycle. While I don’t suggest maiming yourself or cutting a part of your body off, I think that given the choice of hell or being crippled, you would look intentionally for a third option.

Our third option comes in Jesus, and in the Holy Spirit. Verse 49 tells us that “everyone will be salted with fire.” While I haven’t done much study on this verse, it is possible that one way to understand Jesus’ words here relate to experiencing the Holy Spirit. Everyone gets the option of receiving and feeling the Holy Spirit’s fire. However, depending upon who the person is, the Holy Spirit’s fire can harden their hearts against God, or it will soften their hearts to hear His message. Everyone is given the option to choose Jesus or not. It is a choice we are freely given, and one that we all must make.

While there is much more we could discuss on this angle of the subject, don’t let the skeptic inside you ask the questions about everyone who doesn’t know about Jesus, or who couldn’t have known. This passage and challenge isn’t about them. This passage and challenge is about you. “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Let the Holy Spirit into your lives and let the Holy Spirit help you become who God created you to be!

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, intentionally seek God first and let the Holy Spirit fill your life. Choose to let God help you move away from sin and intentionally control your bodies and actions in a way that builds up your life towards God’s ideal and don’t let your lives drift into a loop that feeds sin. We can choose what we will focus on, where we will go, and what we will do, and while some people have more freedom in these areas than others, we all have enough freedom to choose to sin or not to sin in any given situation.

Also, continue praying and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. God wants a personal relationship with you, and He wants to help you break free from the sin that is holding you back in your life.

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 let sin or temptation steal you away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 25: In one of Jesus’ most challenging warnings, discover how this warning includes a promise for all of God’s people and how this promise is something we can claim when sin wants to take control of our lives.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Rejecting the Invitation: Luke 14:7-24

Focus Passage: Luke 14:7-24 (GW)

 7 Then Jesus noticed how the guests always chose the places of honor. So he used this illustration when he spoke to them: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding, don’t take the place of honor. Maybe someone more important than you was invited. 9 Then your host would say to you, ‘Give this person your place.’ Embarrassed, you would have to take the place of least honor. 10 So when you’re invited, take the place of least honor. Then, when your host comes, he will tell you, ‘Friend, move to a more honorable place.’ Then all the other guests will see how you are honored. 11 Those who honor themselves will be humbled, but people who humble themselves will be honored.”

 12 Then he told the man who had invited him, “When you invite people for lunch or dinner, don’t invite only your friends, family, other relatives, or rich neighbors. Otherwise, they will return the favor. 13 Instead, when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the handicapped, the lame, and the blind. 14 Then you will be blessed because they don’t have any way to pay you back. You will be paid back when those who have God’s approval come back to life.”

 15 One of those eating with him heard this. So he said to Jesus, “The person who will be at the banquet in the kingdom of God is blessed.”

 16 Jesus said to him, “A man gave a large banquet and invited many people. 17 When it was time for the banquet, he sent his servant to tell those who were invited, ‘Come! Everything is ready now.’

 18 “Everyone asked to be excused. The first said to him, ‘I bought a field, and I need to see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I bought five pairs of oxen, and I’m on my way to see how well they plow. Please excuse me.’ 20 Still another said, ‘I recently got married, and that’s why I can’t come.’

 21 “The servant went back to report this to his master. Then the master of the house became angry. He told his servant, ‘Run to every street and alley in the city! Bring back the poor, the handicapped, the blind, and the lame.’

 22 “The servant said, ‘Sir, what you’ve ordered has been done. But there is still room for more people.’

 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go to the roads and paths! Urge the people to come to my house. I want it to be full. 24 I can guarantee that none of those invited earlier will taste any food at my banquet.’ ”

Read Luke 14:7-24 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Of all the different characters included in our passage/parable, let’s turn our attention to the original invitees; those who were first invited but who blew off their invitation.

The one thing that really stands out in my mind about this group is that these people are who we could call “convenience friends” – friends who are only friends when it is convenient for them. They seem to be friendly with the man who was hosting the banquet occasionally, but the friendship was pretty low on their priorities. They seem to have placed other tasks ahead of attending.

However, what happens if we turn this around onto us. How “convenience friend-like” are we being with God/Jesus? Are we only interested in doing our own thing, but then at the moment we need help, we are praying and asking for assistance? Or are we willing to put the tasks aside to enjoy the friendship?

While the spontaneous invitees only have to accept the invitation to be included, these “convenience friends” seem to have to reject the invitation to be excluded. The way they exclude themselves is that they have placed other priorities ahead of God. In the three excuses, we see three categories that often can take precedence over our relationship with God.

In our lives, do we let our material possessions come first? Like the man who wanted to go check out a piece of land (that he already bought), are we constantly needing to check out our balance sheet like it is a score-card for our success? This man gives up a relationship with God for some stuff. Is this a path we really want to head down?

However, what if we let our career come first? Like the man who needed to test out his new oxen, do we place our focus on how much we can accomplish, or how much status we can acquire with what we do? This man gives up a relationship with God for a bigger paycheck. Is this a path we really want to head down?

The last original invitee is a little trickier, because what if we place our family and spouse ahead of God? Like the person who simply didn’t want to come because he just got married, are we more interested in spending time with our spouse than spending time with God? Are we really thinking that these two relationships have to be in conflict? Is there any logical reason that the host who invited this person wouldn’t have also extended the invitation to his new wife? This man gives up a relationship with God for a relationship with a person – someone who he could have easily had a relationship with as well. Is following this man’s example a path we really want to head down?

I hope your answer is “No” to each of these three paths. Instead I hope that you choose to place having a relationship with God as the highest priority in your life. The myth that we can easily fall into is that having a relationship with God doesn’t allow for these other successes. Instead, God is interested in being first in our lives, and helping us be the best we can be in these other areas.

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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Taking Your Spiritual Temperature: Luke 2:21-38

Focus Passage: Luke 2:21-38 (GNT)

21 A week later, when the time came for the baby to be circumcised, he was named Jesus, the name which the angel had given him before he had been conceived.

22 The time came for Joseph and Mary to perform the ceremony of purification, as the Law of Moses commanded. So they took the child to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, 23 as it is written in the law of the Lord: “Every first-born male is to be dedicated to the Lord.” 24 They also went to offer a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons, as required by the law of the Lord.

25 At that time there was a man named Simeon living in Jerusalem. He was a good, God-fearing man and was waiting for Israel to be saved. The Holy Spirit was with him 26 and had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s promised Messiah. 27 Led by the Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple. When the parents brought the child Jesus into the Temple to do for him what the Law required, 28 Simeon took the child in his arms and gave thanks to God:

29 “Now, Lord, you have kept your promise,
    and you may let your servant go in peace.
30 With my own eyes I have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples:
32 A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles
    and bring glory to your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother were amazed at the things Simeon said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against 35 and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.”

36-37 There was a very old prophet, a widow named Anna, daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for only seven years and was now eighty-four years old. She never left the Temple; day and night she worshiped God, fasting and praying. 38 That very same hour she arrived and gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free.

Read Luke 2:21-38 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During the days that followed Jesus’ birth, we are introduced to a man named Simeon, who met Joseph, Mary, and Jesus while they were visiting the temple in Jerusalem. Simeon was brought there because he obeyed the Holy Spirit’s leading, and something that Simeon says about Jesus always amazes me when I read it.

In Simeon’s thanks and praise to God, he says this statement about Jesus: “With my own eyes I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: A light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.” (v. 30-32)

Simeon recognizes Jesus’ mission before almost anyone else had. He acknowledges that Jesus would be a light to the Gentiles in addition to bringing glory to Israel. The general consensus at that time was that the Messiah would come to save the people of Israel from Rome, and that God’s Chosen One would exclusively focus on God’s people (i.e. the people of Israel).

But Simeon sees the bigger picture, and He also understands a broader role for the Messiah. The only way He really could know this is through the Holy Spirit, and from how Simeon is introduced in this passage, it is very likely that these words were spoken about Jesus through the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.

Simeon also has some challenging words as well – specifically for Mary, Jesus’ mother: “This child is chosen by God for the destruction and the salvation of many in Israel. He will be a sign from God which many people will speak against and so reveal their secret thoughts. And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart.” (v. 34-35)

The life Simeon predicted for Jesus was not one where everybody loves Him. Simeon warns Mary that many people will speak against Jesus, and that how they treat Jesus will reveal their thoughts and feelings towards God.

It is the same with us living 2,000 years later. The easiest way to learn the spiritual temperature of someone’s heart is by simply bringing Jesus into a conversation. In this way, Jesus continues to be a sign from God that reveals the thoughts of those who have taken a stand against God.

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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