Blinded By Hostility: Matthew 27:1-10

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On the morning Jesus was crucified, after the religious leaders had condemned Jesus and took Him off to Pilate, Matthew describes in his gospel that Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, regretted what had happened. Perhaps in an attempt to make things right or to undo what he had done, he returns to the chief priests and leaders with the money he had been paid.

Let’s read about what happened in our passage for this episode. This event is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 27, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

Early in the morning all the chief priests and the leaders of the people decided to execute Jesus. They tied him up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Then Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, regretted what had happened when he saw that Jesus was condemned. He brought the 30 silver coins back to the chief priests and leaders. He said, “I’ve sinned by betraying an innocent man.”

They replied, “What do we care? That’s your problem.”

So he threw the money into the temple, went away, and hanged himself.

The chief priests took the money and said, “It’s not right to put it into the temple treasury, because it’s blood money.” So they decided to use it to buy a potter’s field for the burial of strangers. That’s why that field has been called the Field of Blood ever since. Then what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true, “They took the 30 silver coins, the price the people of Israel had placed on him, 10 and used the coins to buy a potter’s field, as the Lord had directed me.”

In this passage, we discover that not only were all the details of this event predicted centuries prior to it happening, but that the religious leaders probably didn’t realize they were fulfilling prophecy with their actions. Jeremiah had predicted that the 30 silver coins that were used to pay for the Messiah’s betrayal would be returned, and that these coins would be used to buy a potter’s field.

However, as I read this event, the fulfilled prophecy is not the thing that stands out to me the most. Even the amazing idea that the religious leaders, specifically those people who would have known the scriptures the best, would have let themselves so willingly fulfill prophecies concerning the Messiah, is not the biggest thing to stand out in my mind. Judas Iscariot returning the money, while fascinating in itself, is also not the biggest thing I am amazed by in this passage.

The biggest thing I see in this passage is the response the religious leaders give to Judas when he returned the money. Judas tells these leaders in verse 4, “I’ve sinned by betraying an innocent man.

Judas Iscariot realized that he had done wrong and when he realized this, he at least attempted to make it right.

However, in contrast, the religious leaders respond by saying, “What do we care? That’s your problem.

If Judas Iscariot betrayed someone he knew was innocent, then the religious leaders reveal their hostility and prejudice against Jesus through their response that is completely blind to the idea that Jesus is truly innocent. Judas Iscariot knew Jesus’ innocence, and Jesus’ innocence had not changed in any way from the time He was arrested to the point when Judas returned the money. The fact that these leaders don’t care about Jesus’ innocence speaks to the fact that they had already judged Jesus as guilty before actually having a case against Him.

With their response, the religious leaders incriminate themselves even more than Judas Iscariot had, because at least Judas Iscariot had realized what he had done before his life had ended. The religious leaders charged forward into greater guilt because they were 100% responsible for Jesus’ death. Judas Iscariot was merely responsible for the timing of His death, and the Roman government was responsible for the method of death Jesus received.

If one were to take the religious leaders out of the picture, no death would have occurred. Without the religious leaders to pay Judas Iscariot for a betrayal, there would have been no betrayal, and as we will soon discover, Pilate doesn’t discover anything worthy of death in his conversation with Jesus. In this passage, we see just how opposed to God the religious leaders are that they blind themselves to how they break one of the clearest commandments of the Old Testament, which simply says, “Don’t murder”.

On seeing that the religious leaders weren’t going to undo what he had started, Judas throws the money at them before committing suicide. Judas Iscariot was the only disciple to lose his life on the weekend Jesus died, and this was his choice.

However, just like the religious leaders were blinded by prejudice against Jesus, Judas Iscariot was also blind. Judas was blind, or perhaps we should say deaf, to all the warnings Jesus had told the disciples leading up to the cross. Jesus knew He would die that weekend before Judas even had any idea he would be the betrayer. If Judas Iscariot had realized or remembered Jesus’ words and simply delayed the emotional decision to end his life, it’s possible that Judas would have been visited by a resurrected Jesus and received a second invitation to follow, similar to Peter’s experience.

In this entire event, we see the religious leaders recognizing that they are acting outside of God’s will by paying for a betrayal and pressing for a death where it was not deserved. They recognize that the money they used to buy the betrayal is tainted and shouldn’t be given directly to God. They knowingly, or unknowingly fulfill one of the most amazing Old Testament prophecies that described exactly what would happen with the blood money.

In our own lives, when we fail God, it is easy to think that we have no hope for a future. However, Jesus came to replace our hopelessness with the promise of a new life with God in heaven. Jesus took the punishment for our sins even though He was innocent, so that we could receive the reward that He deserved for living a sinless life.

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 and place Him first in your life. If you ever mess up and feel like you have failed God, the best response you can make is to humbly go to Him in prayer and ask for forgiveness. God is always willing to forgive a humble and repentant person who asks.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal connection with God and to grow your relationship with Him. A personal relationship with God leads to life now, and not just eternal life in the future. A personal relationship with God leads to a better life in our current lives in spite of the sin that’s present. The best relationship with God we can have will have a foundation of prayer and personal Bible study.

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

Year of the Cross – Episode 38: When Judas Iscariot tries to return the money he was paid to betray Jesus, the religious leaders have an interesting response. Discover what happened and what we can learn from one of the darkest passages in the entire Bible.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Past, Present, and Future Persecution: Luke 21:5-19

Focus Passage: Luke 21:5-19 (NASB)

This entry’s passage is just the first piece of a much longer passage where Jesus unpacks some of what will be coming down history’s timeline: Persecution, wars, rumors, famines, earthquakes, and more.

The specific detail that we will focus on in this entry has to do with a short phrase related to the timing. In verse 9, we read “When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately.” [Italicized words not in original Greek]

In this verse, Jesus is describing something that will happen before the end. But it gets even a little more interesting when we compare how Luke starts verse 12 when comparing it to the other gospels with this teaching: But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake . . .” (v.12)

Luke’s passage places the persecution Jesus’ followers face before the wars that happen before the end, while Matthew indicates that it happens afterward (Matthew 24:9) and Mark phrases it in a way that could mean at any or every point in time in history (Mark 13:9).

What this tells me is not that the gospel writers are confused by Jesus’ words, but there could easily be more present in Jesus’ predictions. For example:

  • Using Mark’s version, we can understand Jesus to be saying there will always be people/nations that are not accepting of the gospel, and at any point, we could be called to give a defense;

  • Using Luke’s version, we could look at points in history where the followers of Jesus were persecuted in major ways, and there are plenty of examples of this;

  • Using Matthew’s version, we can understand that in the future, there may be one big push to get rid of all of Jesus’ followers.

While the three gospels that include this teaching all are unique, they all give a different credible angle to Jesus’ words, and I believe that even though each is distinct on this point, they are all true predictions.

In these three gospels we have past, present, and future persecution – all happening before and during the end. Persecution does not provide a safe foundation to lean on when determining where we are in history’s timeline. Persecution fulfills a different task – prompting us to ask God how long will He wait to return and giving us the opportunity to be like Jesus and let the Holy Spirit speak through us.

This discussion pushes me to one big conclusion: Don’t be stressed out or worried about where we are in history. Jesus shares things in this passage that let us know we are at the beginning of the end or before the end itself. That means we still have time; we still can share Jesus to others; we can still fulfill Jesus’ great commission. Our primary focus should always be pointed to Jesus and moving forward with the mission He has given to 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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Bad Preacher, Good Preacher: Luke 3:1-18

Focus Passage: Luke 3:1-18 (NLT)

It was now the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, the Roman emperor. Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea; Herod Antipas was ruler over Galilee; his brother Philip was ruler over Iturea and Traconitis; Lysanias was ruler over Abilene. Annas and Caiaphas were the high priests. At this time a message from God came to John son of Zechariah, who was living in the wilderness. Then John went from place to place on both sides of the Jordan River, preaching that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. Isaiah had spoken of John when he said,

“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
    Clear the road for him!
The valleys will be filled,
    and the mountains and hills made level.
The curves will be straightened,
    and the rough places made smooth.
And then all people will see
    the salvation sent from God.’”

When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”

10 The crowds asked, “What should we do?”

11 John replied, “If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.”

12 Even corrupt tax collectors came to be baptized and asked, “Teacher, what should we do?”

13 He replied, “Collect no more taxes than the government requires.”

14 “What should we do?” asked some soldiers.

John replied, “Don’t extort money or make false accusations. And be content with your pay.”

15 Everyone was expecting the Messiah to come soon, and they were eager to know whether John might be the Messiah. 16 John answered their questions by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 17 He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” 18 John used many such warnings as he announced the Good News to the people.

Read Luke 3:1-18 in context and/or in other translations on!

Before Jesus stepped onto the scene, a man named John the Baptist began a ministry to help prepare people for the coming Messiah. John’s ministry was so effective, powerful, and challenging that some people even wondered if John was actually the Messiah himself.

However, when John learns of this rumor, he answered it by saying, “I baptize you with water; but someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is ready to separate the chaff from the wheat with his winnowing fork. Then he will clean up the threshing area, gathering the wheat into his barn but burning the chaff with never-ending fire.” (v. 16-17)

Interestingly enough, John wraps up another challenge in his answer that he is not the Messiah. In John’s challenge we see an interesting idea: Jesus is going to come and separate people. If John’s ministry was challenging and it divided people, Jesus’ ministry would only amplify the division.

I wonder if in some ways, John’s ministry was easier to latch onto. John gave clear requirements and clear expectations, and it seemed like John challenged people before he accepted them. When Jesus came, He took an opposite approach. Instead of challenging people first, Jesus seemed to love, heal, and accept them first, before then challenging them.

Jesus’ ministry was even more dividing because it showed the people who believed in hierarchy and social status that Jesus was stepping over the line. Jesus came as a representative from God, but it seemed like He was more interested in spending time with those “at the bottom of the social ladder” than with those at the top.

While we have plenty of examples of Jesus interacting with people of all social statuses, the most dividing thing He did was accept those at the bottom in an unconditional way. John the Baptist’s ministry was very conditional: Repent, be baptized, and change the focus of your life. If you do this, then you will escape the coming judgment.

John was the New Testament’s “Fire and Brimstone” preacher. Jesus came as a loving teacher. In an odd sort of “good cop, bad cop” illustration, John takes the role of “bad preacher”, while Jesus takes the role of “good preacher”. Both ministries were effective, and perhaps John chose His role to help people gravitate more towards Jesus when Jesus ultimately steps into the ministry scene.

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 — Forever Fruitful: Mark 11:12-14, 20-26

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One of the more perplexing things Jesus ever did or said can be found during the week of His crucifixion. During this week, as Jesus was staying with friends in the town of Bethany and traveling into Jerusalem during the day, we read in two of the gospels about a time when Jesus passes by a fig tree and curses it for not having figs.

While this seems like an ungodly thing to do, the only reason for Jesus to have done this would be because He wanted to teach us something. Let’s read what happens from Mark’s gospel, chapter 11, using the New Century Version. Starting in verse 12, Mark tells us that:

12 The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, he became hungry. 13 Seeing a fig tree in leaf from far away, he went to see if it had any figs on it. But he found no figs, only leaves, because it was not the right season for figs. 14 So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And Jesus’ followers heard him say this.

In my mind, it would be one thing for Jesus to curse the fig tree if it should have had figs on it, but Mark clearly tells us that this was not the season for figs. This would mean that no fig tree in the area would have had fruit on it. In my mind, Jesus’ statement was in many ways unrealistic because the fig tree was simply doing what God had designed it to do, and that meant that there would be some times in the year that it did not have figs – including the time when Jesus spoke these words.

However, with the way that Mark describes Jesus’ sudden hunger, I wonder if this was something that was Holy Spirit inspired, because there was no other reason for hunger. Jesus and the disciples probably had recently finished eating their breakfast before starting their journey to Jerusalem that day.

But regardless of the cause of Jesus’ hunger and regardless of the fact that this was not the season for figs, Jesus seems to do something in these verses that conflict with a loving God. Most people would agree that a loving God would not sentence a tree to death for no reason.

Mark continues in the verses that follow describing what Jesus and the disciples did while in Jerusalem. It is as though this strange event that morning gets swept under the rug. It is like Jesus minimizes this outburst against the tree.

However, what Jesus appears to minimize, the disciples are paying attention to. Mark tells us later in the chapter what happened the following morning. Skipping down to verse 20, we learn that:

20 The next morning as Jesus was passing by with his followers, they saw the fig tree dry and dead, even to the roots. 21 Peter remembered the tree and said to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed is dry and dead!”

22 Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. 24 So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you. 25 When you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. [ 26 But if you don’t forgive other people, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.]”

What the disciples may have been confused about the day before becomes an object lesson for them from that point forward. In these verses, we get one of the most powerful promises related to prayer that is found in the entire Bible. This promise seems to imply that if we truly believe with no doubt that God will do something for us when we prayerfully ask it, He will do it – regardless of what the request is.

A number of Christian groups have rallied around this idea by saying that we can “Ask God for something”, “Believe that He will give it to us”, then “Claim this promise” in order to ultimately receive it. I will say that there is tremendous power in this promise and this belief, but in some ways, by framing God in this way, we cheapen His existence into being just a genie in a bottle – or in other words, Someone who is simply standing by to give us whatever we want to ask on a whim.

The verses that surround this promise are powerful in that they give context to Jesus’ words. Immediately prior to Jesus beginning this promise, we get the context of seeing an answered prayer, and the first foundational element of this promise is having faith in God. Faith in God is another way of saying trusting in God, and the only way we can really trust God is if we are actively moving towards Him.

After the part of Jesus’ words that most people focus on we read a challenge regarding anger, and the challenge is that if we realize during prayer that we are angry with someone, we should stop the prayer and forgive that individual. Forgiveness doesn’t have to be done in person, and in some cases, forgiving someone to their face is not possible.

Instead, forgiveness is releasing someone from a debt that you feel they owe. It might not be a payable debt, but it is something that you are holding them accountable for. Jesus tells us that we must forgive others in order to be forgiven ourselves, and this should be at the heart of our prayers because this is at the heart of Jesus’ promise.

While God can answer any prayer He wants to, it appears when we look at this event in context, the focus points towards our forgiving nature mixed with our belief in God and lack of doubt that together unlock the true power of this promise. The implication, at least with how I read these verses, is that someone who doesn’t trust in God, and someone who may trust in Him but who is not forgiving others will have limited their prayer lives and will have stopped short of where God wanted them to be.

Jesus has challenged us to trust God with everything, He has challenged us to live a life without doubt, and He has challenged us to forgive everyone, regardless of the circumstances. While these are not easy challenges, accepting each of these challenges, and living a life that aligns with these characteristics will transform our prayer lives and allow us to claim Jesus’ promise for ourselves.

When we live a life that is continually growing towards God, trusting Him with everything, and forgiving others without condition, we are being fruitful at the highest level possible, because these characteristics reflect God’s attitude towards us.

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

Continue to seek God first in your life and place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Him and His promises. If you ever find yourself in a place where you feel someone else owes you something, choose to forgive that person so you can claim Jesus’ promise that God has forgiven you. Jesus says that God’s forgiveness towards us is based on how forgiving we are towards others, and while I don’t know about you, I want God to be overwhelmingly generous when it comes to forgiving me – and according to Jesus, this can only happen when I am overwhelmingly generous when forgiving others.

Also, continue studying the Bible for yourself, to learn more about God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit and to grow closer to each of them. When we are living lives within His will, and reflecting His character, we will be able to claim His promises related to prayer and ask for powerful things to happen.

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 37: Cam discusses Jesus cursing a fig tree, and what we can learn from this strange event during the week of Jesus’ crucifixion.

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