The Fateful Choice: John 13:18-30

Focus Passage: John 13:18-30 (NCV)

18 “I am not talking about all of you. I know those I have chosen. But this is to bring about what the Scripture said: ‘The man who ate at my table has turned against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now before it happens so that when it happens, you will believe that I am he. 20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send also accepts me. And whoever accepts me also accepts the One who sent me.”

21 After Jesus said this, he was very troubled. He said openly, “I tell you the truth, one of you will turn against me.”

22 The followers all looked at each other, because they did not know whom Jesus was talking about. 23 One of the followers sitting next to Jesus was the follower Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus whom he was talking about.

25 That follower leaned closer to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “I will dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the man who will turn against me.” So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus said to him, “The thing that you will do—do it quickly.” 28 No one at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas. 29 Since he was the one who kept the money box, some of the followers thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the feast or to give something to the poor.

30 Judas took the bread Jesus gave him and immediately went out. It was night.

Read John 13:18-30 in context and/or in other translations on!

During the last supper Jesus had with the disciples before His crucifixion, John’s gospel includes an interesting statement that stands out when I read it. Part of me wonders how this event would have been different if this one key detail had happened differently.

According to John, when asked who would betray Jesus, Jesus responds by saying, “‘I will dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the man who will turn against me.’ So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him.” (v. 26-27a)

What stands out in my mind when I read this is that it seems as though Judas Iscariot willingly takes the bread and that by accepting the bread, He allowed Satan to enter him. I wonder if in this act, Judas fully accepts the role of betrayer.

I wonder what would have happened differently if Judas had refused the offer of bread from Jesus. If Judas had refused to accept the bread, would that also have meant that He refused to be known as the betrayer. If Satan had not entered him, would Judas have still gone through with turning Jesus in?

In some ways, John’s gospel paints Judas Iscariot as a victim. If Satan entered Judas through the simple act of taking bread from Jesus then the argument could be made that it was Satan who betrayed Jesus, not Judas.

But the plan to betray Jesus had already been put in place before this night. Judas Iscariot already had received the thirty pieces of silver, and he was already looking for an opportunity for the religious leaders to arrest Jesus while He was away from the crowds.

Satan entering Judas at that moment was a mere formality when accepting the bread. Perhaps Judas believed Jesus would not allow Himself to be arrested or condemned. Perhaps Judas saw this as a way to push Jesus forward into claiming the Messianic role that Judas believed He should be.

And unknowingly, Judas Iscariot actually does push Jesus’ mission forward – but not in the way he expected it to go. Seeing how this event unfolds, Judas didn’t need Satan in him to move forward with the plan, but perhaps Satan entering Judas helped solidify that Judas would follow through with the plan.

Judas opened himself to Satan when he refused Jesus’ correction and Jesus’ love. Judas held tight to his own view of who the Messiah was supposed to be, and because of this, there was no way for Jesus to help correct his belief. It was only after the arrest and realizing that Jesus was letting Himself be crucified that Judas realizes Jesus really did have a different picture of the Messiah role than he did – and this realization prompts his suicide.

Jesus wants to teach each of us who He is and what He is like. In every case, this involves us being open to letting Him break down the box we have placed Him in, and letting Him define the boundaries of who He is. The Bible describes One God, and One Truth – and it reveals this to us through the character of the One Messiah, Jesus Christ. We don’t have to make the same mistake as Judas Iscariot. We can let Jesus teach us while we still have time to learn and grow.

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 — When Fools Can Become Wise: Matthew 25:1-13

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In one of the last parables Jesus shared before facing the cross, He describes a set of ten bridesmaids and how only half of these bridesmaids gain entrance into the wedding reception. While this is one of Jesus’ more well known parables, what I find fascinating about it is that most of the time I hear it discussed, it seems as though it is only looked at on a shallow, surface level. After drawing the conclusion that the oil in this parable represents the Holy Spirit, most people seem to discard the rest of the parable with the belief that it simply describes how we must always keep a reserve of Holy Spirit with us.

Or at least that is what the implication is when we too quickly jump to the oil in this parable being associated with the Holy Spirit. When we jump to the conclusion prematurely, we miss some profound truths I believe Jesus wanted us to learn from this sobering illustration.

Let’s read this parable, and as we do so, let me challenge you to ignore the thought that the oil represents the Holy Spirit, at least temporarily, and instead, let’s look for ways the two groups of bridesmaids are similar as well as different. When I challenged myself to read this parable looking for similarities and differences, an amazing set of truths appeared that I had never seen before.

This parable is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, and let’s read it using the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Jesus tells those present:

“Here is what the kingdom of heaven will be like at that time. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish. Five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t take any olive oil with them. The wise ones took oil in jars along with their lamps. The groom did not come for a long time. So the bridesmaids all grew tired and fell asleep.

“At midnight someone cried out, ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the bridesmaids woke up and got their lamps ready. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out.’

‘No,’ they replied. ‘There may not be enough for all of us. Instead, go to those who sell oil. Buy some for yourselves.’

10 “So they went to buy the oil. But while they were on their way, the groom arrived. The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding dinner. Then the door was shut.

11 “Later, the other bridesmaids also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. I don’t know you.’

13 “So keep watch. You do not know the day or the hour that the groom will come.

This is one of Jesus’ more challenging and harsh parables. Not only was half of the intended wedding party shut out, it seems as though the groom was entirely too quick to simply forget who they were. Well, actually it wasn’t the groom Himself who forgot, but the servant tasked with watching the door who did not know these other bridesmaids.

However, let’s take a moment and look in this parable for similarities and differences between the two groups of bridesmaids. One of these groups is identified as being wise, while the other group is identified as being foolish.

As I read through this parable, in the first section, it appears as though there is no visible difference between the two groups. All ten bridesmaids have lamps that are burning and shining brightly. The only difference is we can note is that those in the wise group had a backup plan in place, just in case the groom did not arrive on time. This key difference tells me that in order to be wise according to this parable, we must hope for the best but plan for the worst – to use a tired cliché. The wise bridesmaids would be happy if the extra oil they packed with them was not needed, but they knew that having oil saved at home would not benefit them as they were posted to light the entrance into the wedding reception.

In contrast, the foolish group did not anticipate a delay, and because of this, they only brought exactly the amount of oil they believed necessary for the evening.

During the second phase of the parable, all ten bridesmaids fall asleep, and all ten lamps go out. When I read this part of the parable, I am surprised because there are no differences between the wise bridesmaids and the foolish ones. They all became tired and fell asleep.

When hearing this parable talked about by others, most people miss this similarity. While everyone would love to say they were the one bridesmaid who stayed awake, this parable does not leave room for this case. When hearing this parable talked about, too often the theme that gets concluded is that we are to stay awake and not fall asleep – but this conclusion misses the truth that all five wise bridesmaids did fall asleep. Instead, there must be something more that we should pay attention to, and it comes after the bridesmaids are woken up.

The third portion of this parable happens after the bridesmaids are woken up. This is where we see the clearest differences between the wise and foolish groups. The wise bridesmaids quickly begin trimming their lamps and get them lit in preparation for the groom’s arrival, but the foolish bridesmaids run into the realization that they don’t have any oil.

Probably the biggest difference between the wise and the foolish happens in this last portion of the parable. The wise bridesmaids tell the foolish that they don’t have enough oil to share, and the foolish bridesmaids leave their post in the middle of the night to go and try to find someone selling oil. This was not the era of the 24 hour supermarket, so purchasing oil in the middle of the night would likely involve knowing a merchant and waking them up.

Regardless of the amount of time that it took the foolish bridesmaids to acquire their oil, when they return they find that it is too late.

Looking at this parable, I see the powerful truth that we should plan in advance for a time (or times) when we will fall asleep. Sleeping is inevitable, but it can be prepared for. Also in this parable is the truth that what we do after we have woken up is just as important. While not having oil would have been a disgrace for a bridesmaid in that time, leaving and being absent from one’s post would have been even worse.

If I analyze what happened in this parable, I think that the wisest thing for one of the foolish bridesmaids would have been to stay nearby and simply asked to enter the reception with the guests.

But what if the oil that was missing does represent the Holy Spirit? If this is the case, and the groom represents Jesus, then the only true source for receiving more Holy Spirit would be coming with the groom. By leaving and going to a merchant to find oil, the foolish virgins doubly miss out because they miss the true source of oil in favor of leaving and looking for something inferior.

Running with the thought that the oil represents the Holy Spirit, if one of the foolish bridesmaids was wise enough to have stayed, it is likely that Jesus, the groom, would have been happy to give some Holy Spirit oil to a bridesmaid in need. Giving is a part of Jesus’ nature, and helping those who need help is a part of who He is.

So as I learned while studying this parable, it is wise for us to plan for a time when we will fall spiritually asleep. Falling asleep is inevitable. But what matters is our planning on the front end, and the choices we make after we have been woken up. Never leave your post, because only when you are living for Jesus will He give you the Holy Spirit and let your life shine for others to see.

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

Continually seek God first in your life and choose to stay with Him regardless of the temptations you face that try to trick you into leaving your post. Whether you began your walk with Jesus as a wise person or as a fool, your decision to stay or go after being woken up matters more than your preparation beforehand. Choose to stay, even if you don’t have the oil you feel you need, because the best source of oil is coming your way.

Also, continue studying the Bible for yourself to learn more about God, about Jesus, and about the Holy Spirit. When we prayerfully read and study the Bible, we grow our relationship with God and He will help us become spiritually wiser and able to discern truth from error. It is a mistake to solely trust a pastor or a podcaster for truth. While we may be sharing as much truth as we know, eternity is too important to leave the details to someone else – that is, someone other than Jesus.

And as I always end each set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 41: Cam discusses the parable of the ten bridesmaids, and some of the things he learned when focusing in on the similarities and differences between the wise and foolish bridesmaids.

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

Reaching Pigs Without Pearls: Matthew 7:1-6

Focus Passage: Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV)

“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.

Read Matthew 7:1-6 in context and/or in other translations on!

One of the oddest things for Jesus to teach comes right after Jesus shares a message about hypocrisy and being intentional about how we should help others. Taken by itself, it may be one of the meanest of Jesus’ teachings – but even while it may not be politically correct, the theme that is shared may surprise you.

After drawing our attention onto how we should focus on personal growth in order to truly be able to help others (this equals fixing issues in our lives before helping others do so), Jesus seems to switch topics by saying, “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.” (v. 6)

I wonder if this idea confused any of those in Jesus’ audience. Is Jesus being literal here, or are dogs, pigs, and pearls metaphors for something else?

If we take the context of this passage and focus on how Jesus has just finished sharing about removing the speck from our brother’s eye, I wonder if Jesus hasn’t actually changed topics, but instead is broadening the focus of His idea to now include other non-family members. If this is the case, then dogs and pigs may symbolically mean people who are unreceptive or hostile to spiritual truth.

Continuing along with that thought, in the Old Testament culture, as well as in the first century, there were clear boundaries between the sacred and the secular – even more so than boundaries that are present between these areas today. Dogs and pigs are not clean animals (based on the Jewish dietary law), therefore they could easily represent those who have aligned themselves against spiritual truth.

If the term pearl is a metaphor as well, then perhaps it might be compared to wisdom. There is the expression “pearl of wisdom” and that may be relevant for our discussion as a way to link these ideas.

With all these metaphors in place, I wonder if Jesus is telling His followers to be cautious about sharing wisdom and spiritual truth with those who are hostile towards it. Those who do not value the things of God are not going to value or appreciate more things sent their way. If we choose to intentionally share spiritual truth with someone who will not value it, or with someone who is opposed to it, we paint a target on ourselves with nothing positive coming from the situation.

Does that mean we write off those who are opposed to Christ and Christianity? Absolutely not!

It does instead mean that we must approach these people differently. These people may be more impressed by our actions and attitudes (specifically our Christ-like love) than with our Christian clichés and our thought-challenging proverbs.

Jesus came into a world that was filled with these metaphoric dogs and pigs. Instead of preaching religious clichés like had been done up to that point, Jesus took a relational approach, and won many people over by simply loving them. Jesus’ example shares how we can reach people who are opposed to God, and it is through our love and character, not through our spiritual teachings.

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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Replacing a Murderer: Luke 23:13-25

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After Pilate’s conversation with Jesus, and after Herod has sent Jesus back without finding anything worthy of death, Luke’s gospel describes the shift that took place that transitions from Jesus simply being released to Jesus being crucified. In Luke’s gospel, we discover two fascinating ideas present in this transition.

Our passage for this episode is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 23, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version. Starting in verse 13, Luke tells us that after Herod had sent Jesus back:

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people. 14 He said to them, “You brought me this man. You said he was turning the people against the authorities. I have questioned him in front of you. I have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Herod hasn’t either. So he sent Jesus back to us. As you can see, Jesus has done nothing that is worthy of death. 16-17 So I will just have him whipped and let him go.”

18 But the whole crowd shouted, “Kill this man! But let Barabbas go!” 19 Barabbas had been thrown into prison. He had taken part in a struggle in the city against the authorities. He had also committed murder.

20 Pilate wanted to let Jesus go. So he made an appeal to the crowd again. 21 But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

22 Pilate spoke to them for the third time. “Why?” he asked. “What wrong has this man done? I have found no reason to have him put to death. So I will just have him whipped and let him go.”

23 But with loud shouts they kept calling for Jesus to be crucified. The people’s shouts won out. 24 So Pilate decided to give them what they wanted. 25 He set free the man they asked for. The man had been thrown in prison for murder and for fighting against the authorities. Pilate handed Jesus over to them so they could carry out their plans.

In this passage, Luke tells us that Barabbas had taken part in an uprising against the authorities and that Barabbas had committed murder. In an interesting, though disturbing twist, the religious leaders are guilty of both of these things. The religious leaders are set on murdering Jesus who has done nothing that would legally warrant death, at least in the eyes of both governors in the area, and the religious leaders and their crowd of supporters are getting so worked up over this one issue that they probably would have started a riot-rebellion in the city, just like Barabbas.

Also, in an odd sort of way, the religious leaders, while claiming to support Rome, are really allying with one of Rome’s enemies. By requesting Barabbas’ release, these leaders say with their actions that they would rather be led by a rebellious murderer than by a loving, miracle-worker who happened to push them spiritually.

Another thing that I find fascinating in this passage is that Jesus willingly takes the place of a commandment-breaker. Not only is Barabbas guilty of murder, which is breaking one of the least contested laws in the Ten Commandments, Barabbas is also guilty of rebelling against the rulers of the land. While there is little that we can redeem from Roman culture that is worth mentioning here, God clearly saw the Roman Empire rise into power, and through Daniel’s prophecies, we discover that God may have even directed some of the events to take place.

While governments are not always positive, and while many things in governments around the world are not redeemable in any way, shape, or form, it is worth noting that these negative governments are only in place because God has let them be in place. While sometimes rebellion makes sense, I think that the attitude David has in the Old Testament may be a better approach to facing human governments.

In the Old Testament, David knows he will ultimately replace Saul as king of Israel. The prophet Samuel has anointed him, and he has the respect of many of the people after defeating Goliath. However, David is unwilling to press forward into the position everyone knows He is destined to be. Multiple times, David has the upper hand against Saul, and every time, David restrains himself and his men from lifting a hand against Saul, the ruler of the people. Saul repeatedly sets out to kill David, and while every time fails, many of these times result in Saul calling off the pursuit after David has clearly shown that he does not wish to harm Saul.

Barabbas is the complete opposite of David. Barabbas would likely have killed the emperor of Rome if he were given the chance. And Barabbas was the sinner Jesus chose to replace that weekend. Since Jesus was part of writing history, He could have picked any time and anyone to replace. Jesus chose to take the place of one of the worst people in society to show us God’s love towards us, and to give us a picture of God’s loving us while we were still rebellious sinners.

There were always going to be three crosses that weekend, and the center cross would have had Barabbas on it if it weren’t for Jesus. Jesus died that weekend not just for Barabbas, but for every rebellious person, every sinner, and everyone who has broken God’s law at any point in their past and at any point in history. With Jesus’ death, He is able to promise us a new life with Him and a future eternal life with God forever.

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

As always, be sure to seek God first in your life. Thank Jesus today for what He did for you and I on the cross that weekend, and thank Jesus for the gift He offers to you and me when we place our faith, belief, and trust in Him.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and discover the truth that God has for your life. While pastors, speakers, authors, or even bloggers or podcasters can give you ideas to think about, always filter what you hear, see, and read through the lens of the Bible. The Bible has stood the test of time as a reliable guide for our lives, and when something in our lives doesn’t make sense, the Bible should be the first place we look to for an answer.

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

Year of the Cross – Episode 41: When the religious leaders demand that Barabbas be released, we discover that Jesus loved humanity enough to step into the punishment of a rebellious murderer. Jesus was willing to take the worst possible punishment of the worst reputable person in society on Himself, because God loves each of us that much.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.