Leading People to Jesus: John 6:1-15

Focus Passage: John 6:1-15 (NASB)

In one of the most famous events in all four gospels, Jesus turns what is a hopelessly small meal for a small boy into a lunch that was able to feed over five thousand people. However, while all four gospels include this event, only the gospel of John gives details about where the food came from – and how the food ultimately reached Jesus.

After Jesus has challenged the disciples to get food, we read about an unlikely turn of events. “One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, ‘There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?’” (v. 8-9)

What stands out to me in this event is the appearance of Andrew. This lesser known disciple was the brother of the famous disciple Simon Peter, the one who was looked to as a leader of the group of disciples, and the one who always seemed to either say something that was out of line or something that was incredibly profound.

Aside from Peter, James, and John, who were Jesus’ closest disciples, most of the other disciples don’t show up much by name in the gospels. There are Thomas, Matthew, Philip, and Andrew who occasionally appear, and there is Judas Iscariot who was the one to betray Jesus.

However, John tells us in his gospel that this was Andrew who brought the boy with his lunch to offer it to Jesus. This event in some ways echoes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, where Andrew chooses to follow Jesus, and then he goes to get his brother and share with him the news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Andrew is the model disciple who is always seen bringing people to Jesus. While he wasn’t one of the most famous in the group of twelve, he may have been the most persuasive.

In our own lives, we might not be the most famous followers of Jesus, but we still can share what we know with others and we can still help others by simply bringing them to Jesus.

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 — Ready for His Return: Matthew 24:36-51

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In response to a question several of the disciples have regarding the time of the end and Jesus’ return, Jesus challenges all His followers throughout time by including an interesting parallel. Mixed within this parallel is the topic of date setting and predicting the end of the world, and this seems to be a favorite activity of various groups of people throughout history. However, it’s strange in my mind that a startling percentage of these predictions come from people who should know Jesus’ words at the opening of our passage because many of these end-of-the-world theorists have a Christian background and they are clearly predicting Jesus’ return.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, and we’ll be reading it from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 36, Jesus continues by telling His disciples:

36 No one knows the day or hour. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows. 37 When the Son of Man appears, things will be just as they were when Noah lived. 38 People were eating, drinking, and getting married right up to the day that the flood came and Noah went into the big boat. 39 They didn’t know anything was happening until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man appears.

Let’s pause here for a moment to focus attention onto an interesting piece of information: If Jesus doesn’t know when He will return, it makes no sense to think that a clever, or even an “inspired” human would be able to figure it out. Also along these same lines, it is illogical to believe that God would tell a sinful human His plan before telling His own Son!

However, what if Jesus now knows when the end will be while He didn’t when on earth with his disciples? It is definitely possible that at some point between Jesus’ return to heaven and now, Jesus has asked and received the definitive answer regarding His return and the end of our world. However, Jesus makes no indication of wanting to ask or know specifically when, which leaves us with our illogical problem: If Jesus doesn’t know when He will return, it seems like wasted energy for us to try to figure it out.

Following this statement, Jesus makes an interesting comparison to the time leading up to the flood. Prior to the flood, people were going about their lives as normal, and the end of their world happened without them being prepared. However, in Noah’s world, plenty of signs and warnings were present that should have prompted the people to pay attention. While it might be easy to tune out a preacher carpenter after a number of years of preaching and building, when the boat was finished, and animals started miraculously coming to take their place on the boat, that should have at least turned some heads. The only way those in Noah’s generation missed the boat was because they were ignoring the signs and warnings around them.

The parallel in our world is that we can be easily distracted away from paying attention to the warnings that our world is ending soon. Jesus continues in verse 40 by describing how His return will be both subtle and a surprise:

40 Two men will be in the same field, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. 41 Two women will be together grinding grain, but only one will be taken. The other will be left. 42 So be on your guard! You don’t know when your Lord will come. 43 Homeowners never know when a thief is coming, and they are always on guard to keep one from breaking in. 44 Always be ready! You don’t know when the Son of Man will come.

Let’s pause reading again. Many people believe what we just read relates to a secret rapture, but the context of this passage and verse tell us this is Jesus’ return. However, why then do these verses seem to describe a subtle return while other passages describe a return where there is so much turmoil that the earth feels like it will fall apart?

I believe the answer lies in the focus of these verses, and specifically what Jesus is describing and what He is not.

Nothing in these verses describes what takes place the minute Jesus returns. Instead, all it tells us is what people are caught doing when He appears. This passage basically tells us that the day Jesus returns will start like pretty much any other day. People will be getting up, going to work, and His return will be a surprise.

This passage doesn’t focus on the trauma of the world breaking apart at His arrival, but to the important truth that being ready for His return is an internal thing. Being ready for Jesus is a matter of where our hearts and lives are focused, and on our relationship with God. While our outward lives might not look significantly different, God knows our hearts, our minds, and our focus, and these things play an important role in our salvation.

Jesus challenges us again with the clear statement that we don’t know when He will return. While it doesn’t say that we will never know, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that we won’t know it until it happens. Jesus describes His return like a thief trying to catch a homeowner off guard. While Jesus isn’t going to come secretly to steal His people away, His return will catch everyone who isn’t paying attention to the warnings around them off guard.

While believing in Jesus and trusting in His sacrifice leads to salvation, Jesus finishes our passage by telling us what we should instead focus on. Up to this point, we have seen how it isn’t worth our time or energy to predict or speculate regarding the date or time He will return. Instead, let’s finish our passage and discover what He wants us to focus on instead. Continuing in verse 45, Jesus asks:

45 Who are faithful and wise servants? Who are the ones the master will put in charge of giving the other servants their food supplies at the proper time? 46 Servants are fortunate if their master comes and finds them doing their job. 47 You may be sure that a servant who is always faithful will be put in charge of everything the master owns. 48 But suppose one of the servants thinks that the master won’t return until late. 49 Suppose that evil servant starts beating the other servants and eats and drinks with people who are drunk. 50 If that happens, the master will surely come on a day and at a time when the servant least expects him. 51 That servant will then be punished and thrown out with the ones who only pretended to serve their master. There they will cry and grit their teeth in pain.

The conclusion to our passage describes in a broad way what we should be focusing on. Those who Jesus calls faithful and wise servants are the ones who are doing their job when the master checks in on them. Faithful and wise servants are responsible regardless of whether the master is present or absent, and regardless of whether the master is only gone for minutes or whether he is gone for millennia. It’s possible that Jesus’ return will be after we have died in this life.

However, we are called to focus on something different. It is not up to us whether we will be alive when Jesus returns, or resurrected when He appears. Instead, God brought us into the world at the time He did because He has a task for us to accomplish. While our role in the world might look different from everyone else’s, the ultimate task God has given each of His servants is to lead people to Jesus. In everything we focus our attention on, we should focus on the ultimate task of a faithful, wise servant, and that task is modeling Jesus’ love for others while leading people to Jesus.

All of God’s wise and faithful servants will be saved when Jesus returns, and this includes both those who are living at the time, and those who have been awaiting resurrection.

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

As I often begin each set of challenges by saying, be sure to seek God first and be sure to focus on the highest calling a faithful and wise servant of God can have, which is leading others to Jesus. When Jesus returns, the only thing that will matter is whether we have given our heart and our lives to Him and the only relationships that will survive are with those who have also placed God first. This is why it’s important we share Jesus with everyone. If we want to see someone in heaven, we need to help them grow a relationship with Jesus!

Also, always be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself, because a personal relationship with Jesus is the only thing that matters when He returns. While pastors, speakers, authors, or even the occasional podcaster can give you some interesting thing to think about, always take what you hear or read and test it with what the Bible says. When we test words and ideas through the Bible’s teaching, we discover God’s truth.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 16: When Jesus describes His return as catching people off guard, how should we understand this in light of how earth-shattering His return will be? Discover what we should focus on doing, and what is not worth our time in this challenging and often misunderstood passage from the gospel of Matthew.

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

Choosing Between Two Masters: Matthew 6:19-24

Focus Passage: Matthew 6:19-24 (CEV)

19 Don’t store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. 20 Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. 21 Your heart will always be where your treasure is.

22 Your eyes are like a window for your body. When they are good, you have all the light you need. 23 But when your eyes are bad, everything is dark. If the light inside you is dark, you surely are in the dark.

24 You cannot be the slave of two masters! You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Read Matthew 6:19-24 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

If Jesus made any obvious, challenging statements during His ministry, a statement in the passage we are focusing on is likely to show up on the list.

One of the relevant things Jesus liked to talk about was money, but this was not because He was fixated on gaining wealth, but because He knew those in His audience living in the first century did have a tendency to focus on what they had in their bank accounts and on growing that number. This characteristic of human nature is probably the one that is the most universal throughout human history.

Into this discussion, Jesus gives a very obvious statement – one that most everyone can agree on: “You cannot be the slave of two masters!” (v. 24a)

In case there was any doubtful thoughts in the minds of those present listening, Jesus explains further, “You cannot be the slave of two masters! You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than the other.” (v. 24a)

With this emphasis in place, Jesus has the whole crowd in agreement. Even in situations where one has two bosses, an individual will not be equally loyal to both. If the two bosses agree on something, then everything is great, but if they disagree, then the individual may be forced to choose who gets the greater loyalty.

While this is a very practical, but obvious statement, Jesus then hits His key point for this illustration: “You cannot serve both God and money.” (v. 24b)

“Wait Jesus,” I can hear many in the crowd saying. “You mean we cannot be rich and servants of God?”

This conclusion is what many people who have read this verse have concluded, but I don’t think it is as straightforward as that. Otherwise, one’s estate would be a great measure of their Godliness.

Instead, I believe Jesus’ hinge statement in the middle of this verse is the key that we must pay attention to: “You will like one more than the other or be more loyal to one than the other.

This relates to the money discussion because while following God’s principles can lead to very wise money management, there may be times when God calls you to give. It is in the times when we are called to give freely that serving money clashes with serving God. It is in these moments when we must choose whether serving God is the higher priority, or serving the growth of our bank account.

When following God increases our bank accounts, we feel this is a win-win. But when God calls us to give, we learn where our loyalty and focus really is.

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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Trusting in God: Matthew 8:14-27

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When reading Matthew’s gospel, we quickly find that when he wrote his gospel, he likes focusing in on Jesus’ teaching and on some key events, and this means that at times Matthew’s gospel speeds through some events, while at other times, a great deal of focus is given to one event.

Almost in contrast to Matthew’s big focus on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which covered three chapters, our passage for this episode speeds through several loosely connected events. Usually we’d find these events split apart, but for the case of our episode and our focus on Matthew’s gospel, I thought it might be neat to pull these events together just like Matthew did.

Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 8, and we will be reading from the New Living Translation. Starting in verse 14, Matthew tells us that:

14 When Jesus arrived at Peter’s house, Peter’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a high fever. 15 But when Jesus touched her hand, the fever left her. Then she got up and prepared a meal for him.

Let’s pause briefly here because this is the first “event” in our passage. It is fascinating in my mind that Peter’s mother-in-law focused on serving Jesus before even helping herself to food. In her mind, the best way for her to say “Thank You” to Jesus was to prepare a meal for Him. It’s also interesting that since Peter has a “mother-in-law”, this means that Peter was married, even if we don’t know anything about his wife.

Continuing on to the next event, which starts in verse 16, Matthew continues by telling us:

16 That evening many demon-possessed people were brought to Jesus. He cast out the evil spirits with a simple command, and he healed all the sick. 17 This fulfilled the word of the Lord through the prophet Isaiah, who said,

“He took our sicknesses
    and removed our diseases.”

18 When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he instructed his disciples to cross to the other side of the lake.

This marks the bounds of the second event. The big focus of Matthew’s gospel is describing how Jesus’ healing and casting out demons fulfilled God’s promise through the prophet Isaiah. While Matthew likely wanted to include more details and stories regarding those who were healed, it’s likely that not much time was given to uncovering the stories of those who came to Jesus. Also, Matthew wouldn’t have had enough space available to focus on sharing the stories of all these people.

Matthew’s big focus is letting us know that Jesus fulfilled God’s promise and prophecy regarding the Messiah through His ministry of healing and casting out demons.

As Jesus and the disciples were preparing to leave, Matthew then describes another event that is often looked at separately. Continuing in verse 19, Matthew tells us that:

19 Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”

20 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”

21 Another of his disciples said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

22 But Jesus told him, “Follow me now. Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead.”

This marks the end of another event we usually look at separately. In this event, a couple of individuals wish to dedicate their lives to Jesus and become disciples. When reading what Matthew describes here, we don’t have any idea if the religious teacher is discouraged by Jesus’ words about not having a home, or if he decides to follow the homeless Messiah.

However, when looking at the details of the second individual, who asks to return home to bury his father, we see this person described as a disciple, which subtly indicates that he got in the boat with Jesus and did not return home. While I don’t have any idea which disciple this was, it is an interesting invitation that is worth noting early on in Jesus’ ministry. The big idea I see in this short event is that we should not expect special treatment as disciples of Jesus, and we should be placing God’s purpose and mission ahead of everything else in our lives when we follow God.

Matthew then describes a powerful event that leaves an impression on all the disciples. Continuing in verse 23, Matthew tells us:

23 Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. 24 Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. 25 The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

26 Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.

27 The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”

Let’s stop reading here, now that this event is finished. This fourth event is amazing because it demonstrated Jesus’ power over the natural elements.

However, while most people look at this last event and they focus on Jesus’ command of the weather, it is amazing in my mind to see the challenge Jesus gives is a challenge related to trust in God and trust in God’s protection. While the disciples are scared of dying, Jesus is sleeping in the back of the boat. When they wake Him up to help them, Jesus challenges their lack of faith and their fear before simply challenging the weather to change.

Looking at all four of these events together, we see an interesting theme of trust in God, and that God will provide exactly what we need when we need it.

In our first event, Jesus helps Peter’s mother-in-law who then says thank you by serving Jesus. She trusted that she would be fine helping serve Jesus a meal before even getting herself something to eat.

Looking at the second event, everyone who came looking for Jesus’ help had trust in God that Jesus would be able to help them, and Jesus did not disappoint their trust.

Coming to the third event, the two individuals who came to Jesus looking to be disciples had the question of trust pushed back at them. Would they trust Jesus knowing that Jesus had no home, and would they put following Jesus ahead of the societal demands of family? That is a question we all end up facing in varying degrees when we choose to trust and follow Jesus.

And in the fourth event, we see Jesus challenging all the disciples related to trust in God and His protection when they all face the worst literal storm of their lives.

In all these events, we can see and know that trust in God is never a bad choice, and when we choose to trust God, we will never be disappointed. Yes, sometimes trusting God brings storms into our lives, but with our trust in God, He will help us move through the storm and keep us safe until the other side. Even if the storms of this life end in death, God is more than willing to keep us safe until He returns and raises us back to life.

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 in your life and intentionally place your trust in Him. Know that trusting in God is never a bad choice and with whatever comes our way, we are better equipped to deal with life’s challenges when God is at our side than when He is not.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Don’t take the word of any pastor, author, speaker, or podcaster for what the Bible says. Study out everything you learn with what the Bible teaches to know firsthand if it is truth or not. God has kept the Bible safe for thousands of years, and if we trust Him to keep us safe for eternity, He is more than capable of keeping His message of salvation safe for a few thousand years of sinful, human history.

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 fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 15: In four consecutive, but seemingly unrelated events, discover how one big central them in them all is trust, and specifically trust in God and Jesus. Discover what this tells us about Jesus and how this challenges our faith living over 2,000 years later.

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