Flashback Episode — 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 in today’s world. 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!

Flashback Episode: 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.

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Coming as a King: Matthew 21:1-11

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In our journey through Matthew’s gospel, we have come all the way through Jesus’ life and up to the event that marks the start of Jesus’ crucifixion week. At the beginning of this week, Jesus arrives near Jerusalem, and we discover He has a special plan for entering Jerusalem.

Let’s read what happened and discover what we can learn from this event. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 21, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

As Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem, they stopped at Bethphage at the hill called the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus sent two of his followers and said to them, “Go to the town you can see there. When you enter it, you will quickly find a donkey tied there with its colt. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkeys, say that the Master needs them, and he will send them at once.”

This was to bring about what the prophet had said:

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Your king is coming to you.
He is gentle and riding on a donkey,
    on the colt of a donkey.’”

The followers went and did what Jesus told them to do. They brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus and laid their coats on them, and Jesus sat on them.

Many people spread their coats on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The people were walking ahead of Jesus and behind him, shouting,

“Praise to the Son of David!
God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord! 
Praise to God in heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, all the city was filled with excitement. The people asked, “Who is this man?”

11 The crowd said, “This man is Jesus, the prophet from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.”

We’ll stop reading here, because I want to draw our attention onto an interesting parallel that not many people might have noticed. In this passage, we see a potential fulfillment of one of Jesus’ earlier prophecies. While I don’t know if this is the exactly intended understanding for this earlier verse, one understanding of this verse does fit with what we just finished reading.

Earlier this year, a few months ago, we focused on a passage that ended with Matthew 16:28. For that episode, we read the passage from the Good News Translation, and this verse said: “I assure you that there are some here who will not die until they have seen the Son of Man come as King.

In the passage we finished reading, Matthew draws out the point that Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was prophesied in Isaiah as the way He would enter the city as a king. While most translations frame Matthew 16:28 as Jesus saying, “Son of Man coming in his kingdom”, I wonder if this entrance into Jerusalem partially fulfills this.

There are two big challenges I see to this understanding. The first is whether Jerusalem would be considered as Jesus’ kingdom. For the majority of the Old Testament, Jerusalem is used as a metaphor for God’s city and for God’s people. While I don’t know if this event signifies a symbolic blend of these two ways of understanding the city, it is significant to note that Jesus is rejected by the people in Jerusalem most significantly after He enters it as a king. On the Sunday before the Passover, Jesus enters the city as a king, and the following Friday, He is hoisted up on a cross to die.

Jerusalem as Jesus’ symbolic kingdom is a fascinating idea, but Jesus was to become king of more than just one city or one people.

The other big challenge I see in this understanding is when Jesus says that some of the disciples wouldn’t face death before seeing this. I see no reason to doubt that all 12 disciples were present for this event. Even if Judas Iscariot was plotting a way to go see the religious leaders to plan for a betrayal during this entrance into the city, Judas would still need to enter the city. This would mean that all 12 disciples were present for this grand entrance into Jerusalem, and the way Jesus’ earlier prediction is framed, only some of the disciples would witness it.

When we look at the context of Jesus’ prediction, we find that just one verse earlier, Jesus describes returning from heaven with God’s glory and a host of angels with the purpose of repaying everyone for what they have done. The simplest understanding of Jesus’ prediction in the next verse is that Jesus is still referring to His second coming.

However, if it refers to the second coming, all the disciples have died, and they have been dead for close to 2,000 years. This makes the simple understanding of Jesus’ prediction challenging as well.

As we talk about this, I wonder if Jesus coming as a King, or coming into His kingdom is a multiple step process. As I connect the dots in my mind, I see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words beginning the moment He rode into Jerusalem as a king. The next dot that is connected is Jesus hanging on the cross. Jesus came as a king and was rejected by the people. Jesus died a death He didn’t deserve. The next dot is Jesus’ resurrection, where He returns to life which marks another step Jesus takes in the progression into His kingdom. After the resurrection, Jesus ascends to heaven with the remaining disciples watching, and this was a visible sign for all present that Jesus was leaving to return to God. The final dot is marked by Jesus’ return that is promised throughout the gospels and the rest of the New Testament.

Jesus’ entrance into His kingdom is bigger than one event can hold. All 12 disciples were there witnessing the beginning step of this process, only some of them were there to witness the next few steps, but all God’s people will be present or resurrected for the last great finale when Jesus returns as King!

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, seek God first in your life. Be sure to place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus so that when Jesus returns, you will be excited and happy to meet Him rather than fearful and afraid. God wants you in heaven, and Jesus came to make the way possible for you to be forgiven!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. If you disagree with anything that I shared in this or any other episode, that doesn’t bother me. Instead, my challenge for you is to use the Bible to put together and develop your own beliefs. I would rather see you pick your own beliefs based on what you read and study personally from the Bible than to take anyone’s interpretation at face value!

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

Year in Matthew – Episode 37: When Jesus entered Jerusalem, this event fulfilled at least two Old Testament prophecies. But did this also begin the fulfillment of one of Jesus’ earlier prophecies about His coming as a King? Discover how this event might be more significant than we first realize, and how this event foreshadows Jesus’ return!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — The Second Trial: Luke 22:66-71

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When describing all that happened following Jesus’ arrest and leading up to the cross, all four gospels describe the details differently. Each gospel writer has the details in a unique, but similar order, and some events that are placed in different places in each gospel’s “order of events” may actually describe the same event.

While these discrepancies might be reasons for a skeptic to doubt, all this uniqueness in my own mind speaks to four independent investigators asking witnesses questions of a single event. It’s possible that the order of the details is different, and that makes piecing the timeline of the event together a little more difficult.

This brings us to our passage for this episode. Two weeks ago, we read Mark’s gospel, which described a trial Jesus faced at night. This trial had numerous false witnesses contradicting each other, and when it looked like the trial was about to fall apart, in almost desperation, the high priest challenges Jesus on His claim of being God’s Son.

However, in Luke’s gospel, the first trial we see take place is after Peter’s denial and it happens when morning came. Luke doesn’t describe any false witnesses, but he does draw our attention onto the direct challenge of the religious leaders that they use to condemn Jesus.

In my mind, as I piece the gospel record together, there were two trials. The one during the night was a practice trial to get information that these leaders could then challenge Jesus on during the official trial in the morning.

Let’s read about the morning trial that Luke describes. This event is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 22, and we will read it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 66, Luke tells us:

66 In the morning the council of the people’s leaders, the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings, gathered together. They brought Jesus in front of their highest court and asked him, 67 “Tell us, are you the Messiah?”

Jesus said to them, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. 68 And if I ask you, you won’t answer. 69 But from now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.”

70 Then all of them said, “So you’re the Son of God?”

Jesus answered them, “You’re right to say that I am.”

71 Then they said, “Why do we need any more testimony? We’ve heard him say it ourselves.”

Let’s stop reading here because this marks the end of this trial. Following this, the religious leaders take Jesus to Pilate.

However, what I find interesting in Luke’s trial that makes me think this was a different trial than what Mark describes is that the religious leaders open with a direct question and Jesus responds with a similar, but distinctly different answer.

The religious leaders are working against the clock because they have the Passover to get ready for, and they want Jesus condemned to death as quickly as possible, since this is likely the only chance they feel they will get.

After fishing for information and for a charge to bring against Jesus during the time they had Him at night, the religious leaders settle on Jesus’ claim of divinity and His role as God’s Messiah. They take this information to the official trial that is first thing that morning.

In Luke’s official trial, I am amazed at Jesus’ response, especially after a passage we read earlier this year. In this response Jesus gives, I believe He directly references the question He asked the religious leaders that they could not answer.

Earlier that week, Jesus had presented a divine picture of the Messiah when He quoted David saying in the Psalms: “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Take the honored position—the one next to me [God the Father] on the heavenly throne until I put your enemies under your control.’(This event can be found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 20, verses 41-44.)

Now with that in mind, let’s read Jesus’ response again during Luke’s trial. Verses 67-69 tell us that Jesus responded by saying, “If I tell you, you won’t believe me. And if I ask you, you won’t answer.  But from now on, the Son of Man will be in the honored position—the one next to God the Father on the heavenly throne.

Do you see the similarities in these two verses?

Reading these two passages together gives me a picture of what Jesus is doing right now. Following Jesus’ return to Heaven, God the Father gives Him the honored position next to Him and Jesus is reigning in Heaven as the “Defeater of Sin and Death”. These two passages together describe the time we are currently living in, which is a time where Jesus is victorious but sin hasn’t yet been destroyed.

In this passage, we discover that Jesus not only responded strategically here, but He responded in the exact way that the religious leaders needed Him to respond to condemn Him to death.

Also, with this response, the religious leaders condemn themselves. Not only do they reject that Jesus is God’s Son, but they also reject Jesus as God’s Messiah, and they reject God Himself because they don’t believe Jesus fits their picture of God.

By rejecting both God the Father and Jesus as the Son and the Messiah, their judgment displays their allegiance to the powers of this world and not to the religion they claimed to follow. These religious leaders had taken their tradition and formed it into their religion in place of the religion God had given to Moses for the people.

It is no wonder the religious leaders rejected Jesus. Jesus came with an accurate picture of God that said every human being is a sinner who needs a Savior. While the religious leaders intellectually believed this, otherwise they would not have judged Jesus as a sinner, they disliked this truth being shared openly by an outsider.

It is the same way with us today. While it is not pleasant to see ourselves as sinners, that is who we are. Through Jesus’ sacrifice, we are victorious sinners who have had our sins washed away, but until Jesus returns to rid the world of sin, sin will always be something our lives are challenged with, and sin is always something that is included in our past.

This is the way God designed it to be, because if there was no sin in our past, not only would we be deceiving ourselves, but we also would be rejecting the need of a Savior to wash us clean. Jesus came to save sinners, and those who don’t see themselves as sinners needing a Savior won’t accept the gift that Jesus freely offers to those who place their faith in Him.

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

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Be sure to recognize that you are a sinner who needs a Savior and that your past needs Jesus’ sacrifice to cover it. Choose today to live a victorious life that doesn’t look like your sinful past, and choose to live each day moving forward for Jesus.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God and to Jesus each and every day. Through prayer and Bible study, you grow your personal relationship with God and through the personal relationship with God, you are able to discover and learn the truth that God wants to teach you. While others can give you ideas to think about, filter everything you learn through the truth of God’s Word.

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!

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 37: In the gospel of Luke, we read about a different trial Jesus faced that morning, and with the question the religious leaders ask Jesus during this trial, we see an amazing picture of who Jesus claimed to be, and what He is doing in Heaven right now!

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Receiving Jesus’ Reward: Matthew 20:1-16

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As we come closer to the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew’s gospel, we come to a parable Jesus shares about a landowner hiring workers for his vineyard. Like many of Jesus’ other parables, this one is attributed to the kingdom of heaven.

However, as I have read this parable, I have always been amazed at the implications and things I learn from the details in this parable, and I’m sure that this time will be no exception. Let’s read what Jesus shared and then unpack some things we can learn from this teaching. Our parable and passage are found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Jesus tells those present:

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Whenever I read this parable, one portion of the parable bothers me when we compare it with how this parable is framed. At the start of this parable, Jesus frames this parable as being about the kingdom of heaven, and at the end of the parable, we find people who are being rewarded by this landowner who are grumbling against the landowner because they don’t feel they have been treated fairly.

This detail comparison strikes me as odd because regardless of what represents the kingdom of heaven in this parable, I find it challenging to picture people complaining about the unfairness this parable presents.

Don’t misunderstand me though. Looking around at people here on earth, including those in the church and those out of the church, I can easily picture a group of people accusing God of being unfair. However, it is harder for me to picture this happening in heaven.

However, while God, who I believe is represented by this landowner, is being accused of being unfair, is there anything actually unfair happening in this parable?

If we judge this parable through our human standards, we might be able to make a case that what the landowner does is unfair. After all, those who worked for fewer hours should receive less than those who worked for more hours, especially with all other variables being the same. If someone who came later in the day worked harder and produced more than someone who was present but not all that diligent, then a case could be made for paying the one who performed better for a shorter period of time the same, or worse for that matter, as someone who worked longer but who wasn’t as productive.

However, the details of this parable remove the accusation of the landowner being unfair. Those who began first thing in the morning agreed to being paid a fair day’s wage. After the day’s worth of work, they seem to have forgotten what they had agreed to. However, forgetting the details of an agreement doesn’t make the agreement any less binding and it doesn’t make what was agreed upon any less fair.

Those who worked a full day were paid what was fair for a full day’s worth of work. In contrast, those who started later get more than they deserved for their work. Those who started later get to experience generosity because they receive more than they would have normally earned for the time they spent working.

It is interesting when we take this idea and extend it into the spiritual realm. If we ignore for a moment that those who worked the longest complained, we can see an amazing spiritual parallel in what Jesus did for us.

Let’s take the day of work in the vineyard in this parable and translate it into a lifetime of service. When we look at our lifetime service record, the only one in history with a spotless record is Jesus. Jesus began way before we even knew anything about God and Jesus will continue long after memory of us has faded from those alive on this planet.

If anyone has served for a long time, it is Jesus. Anyone and everyone who serves God is someone who started after the start of the workday because when we were born, regardless of how smart we were or what family we were born into, we had no understanding of serving God.

This also means that when God pays us for our lifetime of service, He gives us more than we deserve. Instead of limiting the reward He has planned to give us and basing it on how well we served, God decides to reward us as though we served Him like Jesus served. We are given the rewards of perfect service when our service record is anything but perfect.

And the amazing thing about this understanding of this parable is in the last phrase Jesus shared in this parable. In verse 16, Jesus tells those present, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Jesus deserved to be rewarded for His life of service, but Jesus chose to be last and to place us first. Jesus is the only one with a spotless record of service, but instead of leaning on His perfect record, He decides to trade it with our imperfect record and take the punishment for our sins. I can understand those who are skeptical of a selfless God like this, but would a God of love act any other way?

Looking at the details of this parable, and how the landowner continues to seek out people to help in his vineyard, we can conclude that God is always looking for more people to help in His vineyard. While the workday is still in progress, it is never too late to accept God’s invitation to work with and for Him.

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

As I always open the challenges by saying, intentionally seek God first and place Him first in your life. Choose to accept Jesus’ gift of His service record in place of your own. Choose to accept God’s invitation to serve in His vineyard and discover what life is like with God.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to intentionally grow closer to God each day. Through prayer and Bible study, we are able to open our hearts to God and we are able to let Him enter our lives. Prayer and Bible study help us serve others better and these habits help us live the life God has called us to live.

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 36: In the parable of the vineyard workers, discover how God is extraordinarily generous with us and how we ultimately are rewarded with more than we deserve.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.