Keeping Secrets and Missing Opportunities: Matthew 17:1-13


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As we move through Matthew’s gospel, we come to an event that I wonder if it caused division among the disciples. In this event, Jesus takes the three closest disciples, He lets them experience something amazing, and then He tells them to keep quiet about what they saw until after He has been raised to life.

I wonder if the remaining disciples felt a little put off because of this, or if they simple accepted that the inner circle of three disciples got to learn something they didn’t.

Let’s read about what happened, and because this is in Matthew’s gospel, and because Matthew’s gospel was written after Jesus returned to life, we have this event included for all of us to know. Our passage and event, like all the passages and events found in this year of podcasting through Matthew, is found in Matthew’s gospel. Our passage for this episode is found in chapter 17, and we will read from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John (the brother of James) and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone.

Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His face became as bright as the sun and his clothes as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll put up three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He was still speaking when a bright cloud overshadowed them. Then a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am pleased. Listen to him!”

The disciples were terrified when they heard this and fell facedown on the ground. But Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!” As they raised their heads, they saw no one but Jesus.

On their way down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.”

10 So the disciples asked him, “Why do the experts in Moses’ Teachings say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus answered, “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again. 12 Actually, I can guarantee that Elijah has already come. Yet, people treated him as they pleased because they didn’t recognize him. In the same way they’re going to make the Son of Man suffer.”

13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptizer.

In this passage, I am amazed at a number of things. First, I am amazed that Peter actually had what was necessary to set up three tents with him. Unless Peter’s promise was an empty promise, Peter had planned ahead and he had what was necessary for three tents.

However, I am also amazed at Jesus’ brief conversation with Moses and Elijah. I wonder if these two men came at this point to encourage Jesus at this point in His ministry, or if there was some other message they had for Him. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus would have been great friends, not just from the time these men spent on earth, but because they had also spent centuries together in heaven prior to Jesus coming as a baby.

I am also amazed that God the Father speaks again. I wonder if those off the mountain heard thunder, or if the sound was strictly confined to those in that small group of people on the mountain. It is interesting that God the Father tells these three disciples to listen to Jesus, and this is interesting in my mind because of what Jesus tells them next. After helping the disciples to their feet and telling them to not be afraid, Jesus tells them on the way down from the mountain: “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.” (v. 9)

This statement would be the perfect opening to ask Jesus what He meant and to get more details about what would happen on the crucifixion weekend, but the disciples miss or pass on this opportunity.

Instead, the disciples ask a different question, and one that might be fresher on their minds after briefly seeing Elijah with Moses on the mountain. They ask why the experts in Moses’ Teachings say that Elijah must come first. While this is just the way this translation chose to translate the word for scribe, I find it a little amusing that experts in Moses’ teachings would be talking about Elijah. Moses lived many centuries before Elijah, and nothing in Moses’ teachings would even mention Elijah.

However, I digress a little. Jesus responds by predicting Elijah’s return, before then shifting His focus and saying that Elijah had actually already returned, but the people didn’t recognize Elijah’s return and they mistreated him. Jesus paralleled John the Baptizer’s suffering to His own suffering that would be coming up.

The disciples rightly conclude that Jesus was talking about John the Baptizer, and that John, who was Jesus’ forerunner in ministry, was the person who picked up the mantel of Elijah to prepare the way for Jesus’ ministry. I’ve seen some people claim that John the Baptizer was a reincarnated Elijah, but the Elijah that appeared to the disciples on the mountain had a head, and no hint in this event suggests that anyone present believed Jesus to be talking with John the Baptizer while He was on the mountain.

It is interesting in my mind that Jesus subtly shifts the focus to His suffering. Just a few statements earlier, Jesus references His resurrection, and now Jesus referenced His suffering. I think Jesus was trying to get these disciples to ask Him questions about the upcoming crucifixion weekend, and of all the disciples, these three disciples were looked up to as being the leaders.

The disciples would need leadership especially during crucifixion weekend, and they would have benefitted greatly if one or more of this inner circle of three disciples had listened to Jesus and understood what Jesus was trying to teach them about His mission.

However, the disciples missed Jesus’ clues, and they miss this chance to ask Jesus the question He really wanted to be asked.

I believe this is the same in our own lives. I believe that too often, we have our own motives, agendas, thoughts, and perspectives, and that we miss opportunity after opportunity to come to God with the question He wants us to ask. I am probably as guilty as most everyone else in this regard. However, understanding this can help me change and grow.

Jesus came to give His life for you and for me, and Jesus’ death brings life to God’s people. God has a mission and a reason for each of us being alive at the point He has placed us in history, and when we understand why we are here, we are better able to live the mission God has placed before us.

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 choose to ask God the questions that He leads you to ask. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn, grow, and discover God’s mission for your life because you were too narrow-minded to ask God the question He was trying to prompt you to ask. Instead, be open to asking God questions, and especially be open to listening for God’s response.

This is best done through prayer and personal Bible study. When we pray and study the Bible for ourselves, we can learn from God through the messages and words He has preserved for thousands of years, and we can learn the truth He wants to teach us. While God can and often does use other people to help lead and guide us, we should always bring what others teach and test their truths against what the Bible teaches. The Bible is God’s Source of Truth, and His truth will never contradict the Bible!

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 abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 31: In one of the most special events Jesus shares with three of His closest disciples, He tells them to keep this event a secret until a certain point in the future. Discover what this event was and a huge opportunity these three disciples miss because their minds were focused on something else.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Responding to the Gospel: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

Focus Passage: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 (NIV)

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

 

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In one of His most famous parables, Jesus teaches the crowd about different types of hearts and different ways people can accept Jesus’ message by comparing it to various types of soil that a plant could grow in. In this parable, Jesus describes four types of soil, and in many ways, these four types of soil represent the different ways we can apply Jesus’ message, and these four types of soil can also represent the different ways other people can apply God’s message when it is shared with them.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include this parable, and there is very little difference in how each gospel describes Jesus’ words. Looking at Mark’s gospel, we learn about soil that is on a path, soil that is rocky, soil that is thorny, and soil that is good for growth. Left on our own, we might come up with all sorts of ideas for what these types of soil represent, but Jesus shares the meaning with the disciples, and these four gospel writers all include Jesus’ explanation: “Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” (v. 15-20)

Mark describes Jesus’ explanation that there will be people who hear the gospel message, but who fall away. If these people immediately dismiss it, they are like the seed that landed on the path – Satan quickly causes them to dismiss it. The gospel message looks stupid to this group of people, so why should they even try it out.

If those who hear the gospel message receive it with joy, some might be pulled away because of pressure from the world. These people are like the seed that fell among the rocks, because the seed wasn’t able to grow with strong roots. Because following Jesus’ teachings can be difficult and counter cultural, this group of people determines that the cost of following is too high and they give up from external pressures to conform.

There are also people who hear the gospel message, and who let it take root and grow, but their own minds cause them to doubt, stumble, and struggle. These people are like the seed that fell among thorns, and the thorns choke the gospel out of them. Because Christians also face internal pressure as we grow our faith and trust in God, this group of people gives up because their minds, hearts, and desires are focused on other things and these other things do not line up with placing God first.

But there are those who successfully navigate the challenges of Satan, the culture of the world, and the pressure of the mind, and these people are like the seed that landed on good soil. Each seed that landed on good soil produced a great harvest, but each seed was still not equal.

This parable prompts me to be aware of the challenges and pressure that will come my way when hearing the gospel message and it helps me understand what others may experience when their faith is challenged. This parable pushes me to be more resolved in my commitment to God, because it shares that this is the only way to mature and be a spiritual success.

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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Growing Your Spirituality: John 3:1-22

Focus Passage: John 3:1-22 (NCV)

There was a man named Nicodemus who was one of the Pharisees and an important Jewish leader. One night Nicodemus came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we know you are a teacher sent from God, because no one can do the miracles you do unless God is with him.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot be in God’s kingdom.”

Nicodemus said, “But if a person is already old, how can he be born again? He cannot enter his mother’s womb again. So how can a person be born a second time?”

But Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born from water and the Spirit, you cannot enter God’s kingdom. Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit. Don’t be surprised when I tell you, ‘You must all be born again.’ The wind blows where it wants to and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. It is the same with every person who is born from the Spirit.”

Nicodemus asked, “How can this happen?”

10 Jesus said, “You are an important teacher in Israel, and you don’t understand these things? 11 I tell you the truth, we talk about what we know, and we tell about what we have seen, but you don’t accept what we tell you. 12 I have told you about things here on earth, and you do not believe me. So you will not believe me if I tell you about things of heaven. 13 The only one who has ever gone up to heaven is the One who came down from heaven—the Son of Man.

14 “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up. 15 So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.

16 “God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him. 18 People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty. Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son. 19 They are judged by this fact: The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light. They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things. 20 All who do evil hate the light and will not come to the light, because it will show all the evil things they do. 21 But those who follow the true way come to the light, and it shows that the things they do were done through God.”

22 After this, Jesus and his followers went into the area of Judea, where he stayed with his followers and baptized people.

Read John 3:1-22 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During a late night secret meeting, a Pharisee, named Nicodemus, found Jesus because he wanted to have a conversation with Him. Perhaps Nicodemus had some questions of his own, or maybe he had been chosen by a group of Pharisees to go and find out what Jesus was all about. We don’t know which, but what we do know is that because this meeting happened at night, Nicodemus wanted this meeting to be kept confidential.

In their short discussion, Jesus makes an incredibly simple but profound comparison that emphasizes an important spiritual truth. Early on in the conversation, Jesus tells Nicodemus: “Human life comes from human parents, but spiritual life comes from the Spirit.” (v. 6)

When stated out loud or in writing, it sounds so simple, but think about it for a minute or two and it will become profound. Our parents gave us human life, but only God can give us spiritual life.

In the holistic and dualistic world we live in, we are tempted to think that we have complete control over our spiritual lives. If we go to certain places, say certain phrases, rest in certain ways, or do certain things, we are tempted to believe this will automatically make us more spiritual.

But according to Jesus, that idea is flawed because only the Spirit (i.e. The Holy Spirit) can give/grow a person’s spiritual life. This means that any control we have is minimal when compared with the Holy Spirit’s role. If we do have any control, it is in seeking out ways to meet and work with the Holy Spirit. The rest is entirely up to Him.

The rituals, habits, and actions that we often associate with spirituality are not necessarily all bad – but if any of it directs a person anywhere but towards Jesus, then it is a distraction and not truly a way of growing your spirituality. The Holy Spirit grows one’s spiritual life, and the Holy Spirit’s role is to point people towards 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 — Receiving Peace and Victory: John 16:16-33


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Over the past several episodes, we have been focusing in on Jesus’ last opportunity to share with the disciples before being betrayed and arrested. At this point, Judas Iscariot has likely already gathered the mob and soldiers who would arrest Jesus, and there isn’t much time left for Jesus and the remaining disciples to be together.

As Jesus begins to wrap up what He wants to share with His remaining followers, we come to our passage for this episode. This passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 16, and we will be reading it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 16:

16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”

17 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”

19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

25 “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. 27 No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. 28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

29 Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. 30 Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”

31 “Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. 32 “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

In this conclusion to Jesus’ message to His disciples, we see an interesting miscommunication. Jesus shares that while He has been speaking figuratively, He points forward to a time when He won’t have to use figurative language.

In response, the disciples exclaim that they are happy now that He is speaking clearly and without figures of speech. This response to Jesus’ message is followed up with a statement they likely unanimously make that now, after hearing this, they all believe that He came from God.

Jesus then responds by challenging them on this very point. If they truly all believed and knew what would happen, then they would not have been surprised or scared when the mob arrived to arrest Jesus. And even if they were surprised, they wouldn’t have abandoned Him.

However, in Jesus’ challenge to His disciples, we see a massive idea within His words that is a promise we can take and apply into our own lives. Verse 32 tells us that Jesus told the disciples: “You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

This truth is incredibly powerful. Regardless of what our circumstances look like, how we feel, or what Satan tries to tell us to discourage us, when we believe in Jesus, we are never alone. God the Father, and His Holy Spirit are always with us. Even if everyone else has abandoned us, God is still faithful, and His presence matters more than the presence of anyone else.

The reverse is also true. Even when we feel like we have failed God and left Him all alone, He is willing to accept us back when we are ready to come back. All the disciples failed Jesus, and Jesus was willing to accept back all the disciples who were willing to come back. The only disciple who didn’t return was Judas Iscariot, who committed suicide when realizing that He was responsible for Jesus’ death, and his decision could not be undone.

As Jesus wraps up this last message to His followers, He gives all of us a promise. Verse 33 shares this promise, which says: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

When we follow Jesus, He does not promise us a life that is trouble free. Our lives might include more trouble because of our decision to follow Him. However, we are to live each day with the peace God gives us, and this peace is built on the truth that Jesus overcame the world. Jesus overcame sin. Jesus overcame death. Jesus promises to include us in His victory when He returns as King!

This promise is one worth celebrating, especially when we look at how sin-filled the world is today!

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

Always seek God first and let His Holy Spirit influence your life. Trust that God knows the future; that He knows what will happen; and that through Jesus, He defeated Satan and overcame the world. Let God’s peace guide you through life and draw you to Him.

Also, always be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. A personal relationship with God is the best way to experience the peace He offers, and it is the best way to experience Jesus’ victory in your own life while sin is still present in this world.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 31: In the last part of His message to the disciples on the night He was betrayed, Jesus talks about receiving His peace because He overcame the world. Discover why this is important to us living 2,000 years later.

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