God’s Ideal For Your Life: Matthew 19:1-12

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As we jump into another podcast episode, we continue in our journey through the gospels with another challenging passage – this one about marriage and divorce. While I am happily married, divorce has affected my life in a personal way, since my parents are both divorced and remarried. Divorce has become a standard way of life in our culture today, and this is one reason why this episode’s passage is difficult.

The other reason this passage is challenging is because of what it says about marriage, which is a significant topic in culture at this point in history. Many people living in the world today reject the idea of marriage as presented in this passage. However, it might also surprise many people living today to learn that Jesus’ words surprised those listening to Him in the first century as well.

Let’s dive in to this passage and discover what it can tell us about God’s original plan. Our passage is found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 19, and we will be reading it from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Matthew transitions to a new topic by telling us that:

After Jesus said all these things, he left Galilee and went into the area of Judea on the other side of the Jordan River. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and tried to trick him. They asked, “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife for any reason he chooses?”

I will pause here to draw our attention to the similarities with our own culture. From looking at what these Pharisees ask, it would seem like their attitudes towards marriage as a life-long commitment were just as shallow as some people living today.

Continuing reading in verse 4:

Jesus answered, “Surely you have read in the Scriptures: When God made the world, ‘he made them male and female.’ And God said, ‘So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.’ So there are not two, but one. God has joined the two together, so no one should separate them.”

The Pharisees asked, “Why then did Moses give a command for a man to divorce his wife by giving her divorce papers?”

Jesus answered, “Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because you refused to accept God’s teaching, but divorce was not allowed in the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery. The only reason for a man to divorce his wife is if his wife has sexual relations with another man.”

10 The followers said to him, “If that is the only reason a man can divorce his wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus answered, “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but God has made some able to accept it. 12 There are different reasons why some men cannot marry. Some men were born without the ability to become fathers. Others were made that way later in life by other people. And some men have given up marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. But the person who can marry should accept this teaching about marriage.”

In many ways, this is a very challenging passage to tackle, because those who uphold the values shared in this passage are attacked by those who despise what Jesus has clearly described. In an oddly similar way, Matthew introduces this subject matter as the Pharisees bringing Jesus a trick question to trap Him. Similar to today’s judgment of anyone who faces this question, those living in the first century had issues of marriage, divorce, and related subjects on their minds.

However, while some are quick to judge anyone who stands beside how this passage describes marriage, it is worth noting that this passage lays the foundation by first describing the ideal, before spelling out how people rejected God’s idea. Then we learn about the sin found in God’s eyes regarding a decision that is less than His ideal, and we learn about the one exception to the rule.

It is amazing that those following Jesus are the ones who are quick to conclude that it might be better to simply not marry in the first place. Those listening to Jesus answer the Pharisees are the ones who are the most shocked by Jesus’ words.

There is very little wiggle-room present in this passage: God’s ideal for marriage is two people, one man, one woman, and when they join themselves together, the two become one in God’s eyes. This was the case in Eden before sin, and when sin entered the world, it seems like this was one of the most challenging ideals for every generation to deal with since that point.

From how Jesus describes it in this passage, it appears as though divorce wasn’t allowed in any fashion prior to Moses making the exception, but perhaps this was Jesus simply comparing the time of Moses to God’s perfect creation in Eden at the beginning.

It is interesting to note that those who are the most opposed to the ideal picture of marriage that Jesus shares in this passage are those who are the most opposed to Jesus, who don’t believe that God exists, and who simply do not care about whether they “sin” against God’s law or not. I’m sure there are exceptions to this, but I imagine these exceptions are very few.

Probably one of the biggest ideas that is present in this passage regarding marriage is that it is a spiritual union that is demonstrated physically through physical intimacy and the decision of both spouses to remain together and faithful to one another. It is spiritual because this union is one that God sees from His perspective, and it is physical because we can clearly see it in the decision two people make with one another.

This passage concludes with the equally challenging statement Jesus shares – this one in response to His own followers concluding that it may be better to simply not marry in the first place.

Jesus shares that not everyone can accept this teaching about marriage. This was true for those living in Moses’ time, as it was in Jesus’ time, as it is living in today’s time. Every generation has a percentage of people who cannot accept this teaching about marriage. This passage describes some of these people as those who were born without the ability to become fathers. Others are described as having something happen to them which stopped them from being able to become fathers later in life. A third group is described as people who choose to avoid marriage because they wanted to dedicate themselves more fully to the kingdom of God. This passage describes three very relevant groups of people who cannot accept this teaching about marriage, but it also concludes by saying that those who can and do marry should accept this teaching.

Does this then mean that those who cannot accept Jesus’ teaching and God’s ideal for marriage can simply ignore it and do their own thing, regardless of whether God would consider it sinful or not? I doubt that.

Instead, I believe it means that those who have chosen to stay single, along with those who were born in a way that keeps them from becoming parents and those who were injured in some way that stops their ability to procreate, have been brought into the world with a gift and an opportunity that the majority of people don’t have. This opportunity is the ability to be more able to dedicate themselves to God’s mission for their lives – and each person in this non-marriage group will have a unique way this is possible.

Jesus led the single people as one who chose to remain single for God’s kingdom, while the most famous disciple, Peter, was married. We know this because the gospels describe Jesus visiting and healing his mother-in-law, and someone only has an in-law when they are married.

This passage points us to God’s ideal for marriage, but it also describes the truth that marriage is not a right that is given to everyone. Marriage is a gift God has given to humanity that some people can accept, but for those who cannot accept God’s gift of marriage, God has other gifts that are less obvious, but not in any way less significant.

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

In whatever you choose to do regarding marriage, or remaining single, seek God first in your life. I speak from personal experience that only when we place God first in our lives will marriage or singleness make sense in His big plan for our lives. If you have not married, let God lead you to marriage if that is part of His will for your life, and if you have gotten married, resolve to stay committed to your spouse regardless of if times are tough or challenging. Staying married through challenging times says more about your character than it does about your difficult spouse.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself, because I believe God wants to speak personally into your life and your situation. Don’t let someone else dictate your relationship with God.

And as I always end every 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!

Year 4 – Episode 33: Discover what Jesus teaches about marriage, and how you can apply this teaching regardless of whether you are married, single, divorced, etc.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Jesus the Magnet: John 12:37-50

Focus Passage: John 12:37-50 (GNT)

 37 Even though he had performed all these miracles in their presence, they did not believe in him, 38 so that what the prophet Isaiah had said might come true:

         Lord, who believed the message we told?
      To whom did the Lord reveal his power?

 39 And so they were not able to believe, because Isaiah also said,

 40 God has blinded their eyes
      and closed their minds,
   so that their eyes would not see,
      and their minds would not understand,
      and they would not turn to me, says God,
      for me to heal them.

 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

 42 Even then, many Jewish authorities believed in Jesus; but because of the Pharisees they did not talk about it openly, so as not to be expelled from the synagogue. 43 They loved human approval rather than the approval of God.

 44 Jesus said in a loud voice,
         Whoever believes in me believes not only in me but also in him who sent me. 45 Whoever sees me sees also him who sent me. 46 I have come into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 If people hear my message and do not obey it, I will not judge them. I came, not to judge the world, but to save it. 48 Those who reject me and do not accept my message have one who will judge them. The words I have spoken will be their judge on the last day! 49 This is true, because I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has commanded me what I must say and speak. 50 And I know that his command brings eternal life. What I say, then, is what the Father has told me to say.

Read John 12:37-50 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In our passage for this journal entry, we read a side-note that John includes in his gospel about the reaction Jesus had on those who He was teaching and preaching to. The big idea I want to draw our attention to comes from something that Jesus says in verse 40: “God has blinded their eyes and closed their minds . . .”

What is even more startling about this is the reason Jesus gives in the very next verse: “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”

Isaiah prophesied that God will blind their eyes and close their minds because he saw Jesus’ glory.

This passage then makes me believe that God’s glory, shining through Jesus, could be similar in a way to a magnet: attracting some people and repelling others. The same glory shining down could, similar to the sun, harden “clay-like” hearts that are unreceptive, or soften “butter-like” hearts that are receptive: same sun (i.e. same glory); opposite results.

While God’s glory, shining through Jesus, is the same glory that shines towards everyone, perhaps the focus and choices in our lives plays a role in whether we are attracted to God, or repelled away from Him. It seems as though there is no real middle ground: Either Jesus is the Son of God and the person He claimed to be, or He is the greatest imposter who ever lived. Lots of culture would lean towards the idea of Jesus being a “good teacher”, but this belief is based in complete ignorance from people who want to not irritate either side. Read Jesus’ teaching, and you’ll be forced to pick from either “Son of God” or “potentially sincere, but solidly delusional, counter-cultural teacher”.

But in either case, our big idea remains: God’s glory, which shone through Jesus, polarizes people. Some people will be attracted, and others will be repelled.

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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The Eyewitnesses: Matthew 28:11-15

Focus Passage: Matthew 28:11-15 (NASB)

The eyewitnesses to the resurrection were a very unlikely group of people. Jesus’ disciples, who He had tried to share details with, were nowhere to be found; they were hiding in an upstairs room with the door locked. The actual eyewitnesses were placed at the tomb by the people who heard what Jesus said, and were the most nervous about it. The religious leaders and chief priests placed guards by the tomb to make sure that it was not disturbed.

Something I find interesting about this event is about what gospel actually includes it: Matthew. Of all the gospels I would have expected to find this in, the most likely one would be Luke, the researcher and interviewer of the eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life.

But Matthew is the one to share about this event, which makes me wonder if he made friends with one of the guards who was bribed, and learned what happened surrounding the chief priests bribing the guards. Or perhaps Matthew, being a tax collector by trade, noticed the shift in lifestyle that the eyewitness guards had following this event, and he concluded that a large sum of money changed hands because the guards now had a greater level of luxury – something that if it had been anyone else would have created higher taxes for them.

But I also wonder if one or more of the guards actually converted to Christianity following this event. I wonder if some of them helped start the rumor, but when Jesus began appearing to people during the weeks following the resurrection, they gave up the lie in favor of sharing the truth. I wonder if being an eyewitness to the actual resurrection actually changed the hearts of some of these rough, calloused soldiers.

For Matthew to have known and included this detail when Luke did not tells me that Matthew included it for a purpose, and that purpose was not only to describe how far the priests and leaders had gone to rejecting Jesus, but perhaps also to let us know that not all of the guards held fast to the lie. Some of them may have even become followers of the resurrected Christ!

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 — Answering Our Prayers: Luke 18:1-8

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While reading the gospel of Luke, I came across a parable that struck me as just a little odd. While it isn’t the strangest parable I have read in the gospels, it would be in the top five if I created a list ranking strange or unique parables Jesus told.

Lucky for us, Luke prefaces this parable by telling us why Jesus shared it, and in it we see hints at how God responds to prayer. Our strange parable is found in Luke, chapter 18, and we’ll begin reading in verse 1 from the New Century Version:

Then Jesus used this story to teach his followers that they should always pray and never lose hope. “In a certain town there was a judge who did not respect God or care about people. In that same town there was a widow who kept coming to this judge, saying, ‘Give me my rights against my enemy.’ For a while the judge refused to help her. But afterwards, he thought to himself, ‘Even though I don’t respect God or care about people, I will see that she gets her rights. Otherwise she will continue to bother me until I am worn out.’”

The Lord said, “Listen to what the unfair judge said. God will always give what is right to his people who cry to him night and day, and he will not be slow to answer them. I tell you, God will help his people quickly. But when the Son of Man comes again, will he find those on earth who believe in him?”

And that’s the parable. This one of Jesus’ parables is known as “the parable of the persistent widow”, and in my mind, it is an odd one for Jesus to have shared.

Probably the most backward comparison Jesus could make is between an uncaring judge who doesn’t respect God and God the Father, who loves and cares about each of us.

However, before we get too caught up on how Jesus misaligned these two characters in His illustration, let’s bring our focus back around to how Luke introduces the parable. Luke says in verse 1, “Jesus used this story to teach his followers that they should always pray and never lose hope.

It seems like the goal Jesus has is an illustration teaching persistence related to prayer. Perhaps even though we know that God is not like that uncaring judge, we might feel that way if we pray, and pray, and pray and don’t feel as though we have received an answer.

But if we look closely with how Jesus concludes this passage, we see an interesting paradox. In verse 7 we read Jesus giving us a promise when He says, “God will always give what is right to his people who cry to him night and day, and he will not be slow to answer them.

The paradox in this verse is that those who are persistent in their prayers will receive quick answers – but then it seems as though God might stall answering if we are not persistent. I have no idea what prompts the responses God gives, or why He chooses the answers He gives to prayers, but I do know there are four possible responses He gives when we pray:

The first possible response to prayer is giving us a “Yes” answer to our request. By far, this is our preferred answer, but it seems as though God only gives us the “yes” answer if He knows it will benefit us or those around us. The promise Jesus shared is that “God will always give what is right to His people”, so if we receive a yes, then we can trust God knows that our request will benefit us and those around us.

The second possible response to prayer is giving us a “No” answer to our request. In some ways, this might seem like the least preferred answer, but actually it isn’t. For some people, receiving a clear “no” is actually a blessing because they trust God has something better in mind for them. Jesus’ promise that “God will always give what is right to His people” filters the requests that are answered with a “no” as being outside what is right. While we might want the things we are requesting, God can see how these things would not be an ultimate blessing to us in the long run.

The third possible response to prayer is giving us a “No, but here is something better” answer to our request. In my own experience, this is usually the response I receive. Perhaps I don’t know how to pray, or maybe I simply pray too small, but once I realized this possible response to prayer, I actually see that many of the times it feels like God is saying “no”, He is may really be saying, “No, but here is something better”. When I claim Jesus’ promise that “God will always give what is right to His people”, I can trust that God has something better in mind when I don’t get exactly what I want. For this response and the next one, it’s up to me to learn patience and to not lose hope that God has something great in mind to give me instead.

The fourth and final possible response to prayer is giving us a “Not yet” or a “Wait” answer to our request. This is probably the most painful response we can receive because we want what we want and we want it now! However, a “not yet” answer to prayer is not a “no”, it is simply a delayed “Yes” or a delayed “Here is something better”. While I have no idea when the right time will be, I do have the promise that “God will always give what is right to His people”. Part of God giving us what is right is answering our requests at the right time and in the right way.

The last part of the promise tells us that God “will not be slow to answer” our requests. This means that even if we feel like we are talking to the ceiling without any luck, our prayers are passing through time and space and they ultimately reach God on His throne. God answers our prayers quickly, so if we don’t feel like we have received a response, chances are that the answer is either a “No, but here is something else”, or a “Not yet”.

Both these responses have an element of waiting involved. The “something else” God may give us might not be what we had hoped for, but in time we will see how His response was best for us in the long run.

However, the promise ends with a touch of pessimism. Jesus finishes verse 8 off with a question saying, “But when the Son of Man comes again, will he find those on earth who believe in him?

God is quick to answer the prayers of His people, but with the way the world and culture is heading, we are speeding towards a place where people might simply give up on Him. God wants to answer our prayers with what is best for us, but if no one is praying to Him, there will be no prayers that He can answer.

Does God need our prayers to help us?

Easily I can answer that with a “No”, but God values our freedom of choice and our free will over forcing good into our lives. Even though it might bring Him pain to watch, He will stay out of our lives if we choose to reject Him, and if we are indifferent to Him, then any blessings He gives may be more subtle than clear.

God doesn’t want to stay an arm’s length away from us. He wants to be right next to us. But He will only come near to us when we ask Him to and move towards Him.

As we close out another podcast episode, here are the challenges I want to leave you with:

Intentionally seek God first and claim the promise He gave us through this strange parable that “God will always give what is right to His people”. Continue studying the Bible for yourself, learning directly from the Holy Spirit and the message about God that has been preserved through history. And as I always end each podcast by saying in one way or another, never stop short or quit growing towards where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 2 – Episode 33: Cam focuses in on a strange parable that Jesus gave, and specifically at the promise that Jesus concludes the parable by saying.

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