The Common Denominator: Matthew 9:27-34

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As Matthew shares more of the healing miracles Jesus helped people with, we come to another two miracles that don’t seem very connected. However, these two miracles give us insight into Jesus’ character and how Jesus worked His miracles of healing.

Our passage picks up right as our passage from the last episode ended, and it can be found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9. For this episode, we’ll be reading from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 27, Matthew tells us that:

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28 When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: “See that no one knows about this!” 31 But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land.

32 As they were going out, a mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Him. 33 After the demon was cast out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed, and were saying, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.” 34 But the Pharisees were saying, “He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.”

Let’s stop reading here. In these two miracles, almost nothing is the same. In the first miracle, we see a clear example of Jesus attributing the success of the miracle to the faith of those being healed, but in the second miracle, the passage doesn’t indicated the person being healed had any faith. In the case of the first miracle, Jesus tells the men He healed to be quiet about it, even if they choose to share it with everyone, while the second miracle doesn’t have the same warning.

The second miracle prompts the religious leaders to challenge the source of Jesus’ miracle working ability and attribute Jesus as a messenger of Satan, while the first miracle has no such backlash.

But in these two miracles, we see a big picture summary of all the miracles Jesus did to help people. Within these two miracles, we see Jesus healing the blind and healing the mute. We see Jesus healing disabilities that were caused by demon possession and disabilities that were not. We see Jesus healing based upon the faith of those being healed, and we see Jesus healing regardless of the faith of those present. We also see Jesus healing regardless of whether those He healed would obey His instructions afterwards and we see a healing where no follow-up instructions are given.

In these two miracles, almost every detail is different. However, one detail is clearly the same. With all the unique details of these two miracles, we cannot get away from the common denominator of Jesus. The two blind men followed Jesus and the mute, demon-possessed man was brought to Jesus. In both these miracles, Jesus is present, active, and willing to help in the situation.

Will all the miracles in the gospels, and really with all the miracles in the Bible as a whole, we cannot get around the presence of God the Father, Jesus the Son, or the Holy Spirit being present and active in every significant event.

This is a key theme in the Bible, and those writing the various books that have been assembled into our Bible all believed that God was alive and working in the world during their time period in history. In the case of the gospels, the writers of these four books believed Jesus to be God who became one of us, and they risked their lives to share Jesus’ life with others.

However, too often, in our lives today, we are quick to discount God’s active involvement. We are quick to look at science for an answer, quick to look to an expert for an explanation, or quick to look to ourselves for a solution. In our lives, we are less likely to see God moving in the details, that is except for in one way.

The way every one of us can see God moving in our lives if we want to see Him is when we look at our past. When you look at your past and when I look at mine, there are countless ways that our lives could have been different if things went just a little differently. It’s possible that you have come close to seriously injuring yourself, or even killing yourself, but something happened that changed your path or prevented this accident. When I look at my past, I see a whole collection of unrelated events shaping who I am today.

While some people look back and see a series of coincidental events that randomly brought us to this point, other people, myself included, instead see a series of God-directed events where He was leading and directing our lives up to this very moment in history.

When faced with huge challenges in our present or in our future, it can be easy to forget God’s leading and His working in the past, including in our past lives. However, the way we can trust that God is still interested and in control is by remembering all the times in the past where things could have gone worse than they did, but for some reason they didn’t. We can attribute the series of events that brought us to where we are at right now in life to God.

Sometimes the events in our past are bad or negative. It also can be easy to blame God or to doubt His love because we went through some trial or challenge. However, while God might be worthy of blame for causing or not preventing something bad from happening, the only way we can move forward in our own lives is to forgive God and trust that there must have been a reason we don’t understand behind what happened.

While I don’t have all the answers to life’s tough questions, I do know that this world has anger, hostility, pain, sin, and struggle associated with it. If God were to remove all the bad in the world today, we would have no need of Him and no reason for a new life in a perfect recreated world. Instead, God wants to eliminate sin from the universe forever, and part of keeping sin from resurfacing is letting sin reveal its true colors. Sometimes bad things happen simply to remind us that our eternity is not in a sinful world.

Sometimes when bad things happen, God is reminding us to look forward to a new life with Him in heaven.

In the two miracles we looked at in Matthew’s gospel, there weren’t many similarities. However, both miracles had Jesus, and when we face trials in our lives, Jesus is the best place for us to look to and the best Person for us to lean on!

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

Always intentionally seek God first in your life and choose to trust Him and lean on Him when trials, challenges, and problems come into your life. Blaming God doesn’t solve anything, but trusting God helps us move through whatever trial comes our way and out the other side. Sometimes, when bad things happen, we are reminded that God is preparing a better place for us without all the sin and negatives in our current world. In other times, bad things happen to give us a connection point for others who may be facing what we have faced. Only God has all the answers, and we should look to Him when we question what is happening around us.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Grow your personal relationship with God so that you will have the faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus to withstand all the storms that Satan wants to throw our way. Our world is getting crazier each day, and only by staying connected to God can we remain grounded in Him.

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

Year in Matthew – Episode 18: In two very different miracles, Jesus subtly teaches us about His character and how God works through the craziness of our lives.

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Flashback Episode — Pushing Past our Fears: Matthew 25:14-30

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After Jesus shared the parable of the ten bridesmaids, He follows up by sharing another fairly well known parable. This follow-up parable is our focus for this episode, and it is often called the parable of the three servants. Similar to the parable of the ten bridesmaids, we hear this parable so frequently shared out of the context of the end-times discussion that we think Jesus shared it at some point in the middle of His ministry.

However, we know from our journey through the week leading up to the cross that the real context of this parable is the end times, and it is part of Jesus’ long response to the disciples about what the end time will be like.

Let’s read this parable and discover what addition details Jesus wants to share with us regarding the Kingdom of Heaven during the end times. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, and we will be reading from the New Living Translation. Starting in verse 14, Jesus continues by saying:

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

Let’s pause briefly here, because three big ideas are present in this opening that we may miss if we read through this parable too quickly.

The first big idea in this opening that we are tempted to miss is that the master strategically divided the silver, “it in proportion to [each of the servant’s] abilities”. This meant that the master paid attention to the servants and He knew that there were differences in each. Instead of giving each servant the same amount, the master strategically divided up 8 bags among the three servants.

This also tells us that while God might not give blessings equally, He is strategic with His gifts. He will not give us more than we are capable of handling.

The second big idea we see relates very closely to the first. While it might be easy to get caught up on the unfairness of each servant receiving a different amount, the truth is that every servant did receive something. It would be foolish for the servants to compare with each other and speculate why others got more or less than them. In the same way, it does us no good to compare our blessings or experiences with each other because all we will discover is that they are simply different.

While we might not understand why God has blessed someone else more or less than it seems He has blessed us with, our focus should instead be on using what He has blessed us with to help others, and not worry about playing the comparison game. The comparison “game” is really a trap to distract us from doing what is truly important.

The third big idea is in the last phrase we read in verse 15: “He then left on his trip.” When we read this statement, it is worth noting that there is no indication when the master will return. It could be days, months, years, or even decades later. There is no hint at the length of time, except to say that it probably was longer than a day or a week because the master expects the servants to have enough time to do something with the money.

This also tells us that Jesus’ return will likely be later than what we might think, plan for, or realize. This shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, we have been blessed with more time to grow the blessings God has given to us – even if the blessing we have only feels like one bag of silver.

Continuing reading in verse 16, Jesus then tells us:

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’

23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The challenging part of this parable for me comes down to the comparison trap that we talked about earlier. All too often, it seems like I can look around and see people who appear much more blessed than me. I am also aware that other people might look at me the same way – as being more blessed than them.

However, while it is easy to look at those who appear to have more blessings, the only direction this really takes us is down. We feel blessed less when we focus on those who have been blessed more, and this makes us feel like the few blessings we have to admit to being given are only equivalent to one bag of silver, and that it would be better to hide these blessings rather than use them.

This is a huge trap. All three servants faced this trap, and it is a trap of fear. Hiding what God has given to us, or purposely sitting on the sidelines when we could be in the game, is falling to the trap of fear that the one-bag servant was guilty of. While this servant wasn’t the star performer of the servants, the master still gave him a chance, and he still received blessings – according to his ability – which meant that even if he didn’t believe he had anything special to offer, the master saw some potential there.

God sees potential for His Kingdom in each and every one of us. While we might not see ourselves as He sees us, God has placed us on this earth for a reason, and even if we don’t see or know His reasons for why we are here, we should move forward focused on serving Him with whatever He has given to us.

Don’t let fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, or fear of failure get in the way of moving forward along the path God has placed before you and I. Fear could have derailed any of the three servants, but it didn’t have to derail any of them either. So regardless of whether you feel as though you’ve been given an oversupply of blessings or if you struggle to even find one blessing from God, focus on serving Him and using what He has blessed you with for His glory and advancing His Kingdom!

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

Always seek God first and focus on serving Him ahead of being fearful, scared, or timid about using what He has blessed you with. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to someone else, that trap doesn’t lead anywhere positive. Instead, focus on what you can do for God and how you can live for Him today, and every day moving forward.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself and focus on growing closer to God personally. When we grow close to God and lean on Him for help, support, and direction, He will lead us along the path He created us to walk, and He will bless us in ways we will only realize after His story is finished. But don’t take my word for it, pray and study the Bible for yourself to see for yourself how this is true for many of the Bible’s heroes of faith.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 18: While it is easy to focus on the servant who only received one bag of silver in Jesus’ parable of the three servants, fear was something each of these servants faced. Discover what this parable teaches us about facing fear, and we can apply this truth into our lives.

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The Double Miracle: Matthew 9:18-26

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A short while after Jesus called Matthew to be a disciple, we discover a set of two miracles that display some unusual characteristics. Neither miracle is really like the other, but without both of these miracles put together, neither one would be as significant.

Let’s read what happened and then look for some things we can learn from this event. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 18, Matthew tells us that:

18 While Jesus was saying these things, a leader of the synagogue came to him. He bowed down before Jesus and said, “My daughter has just died. But if you come and lay your hand on her, she will live again.” 19 So Jesus and his followers stood up and went with the leader.

20 Then a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came behind Jesus and touched the edge of his coat. 21 She was thinking, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”

22 Jesus turned and saw the woman and said, “Be encouraged, dear woman. You are made well because you believed.” And the woman was healed from that moment on.

23 Jesus continued along with the leader and went into his house. There he saw the funeral musicians and many people crying. 24 Jesus said, “Go away. The girl is not dead, only asleep.” But the people laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been thrown out of the house, Jesus went into the girl’s room and took hold of her hand, and she stood up. 26 The news about this spread all around the area.

In this event and this set of two miracles, we discover among other things, that Jesus was focused on helping each individual exactly how they needed help. It is also interesting in my mind that Matthew really summarizes this event and these two miracles.

In the other gospels that include this event, the synagogue leader who asks for help asks Jesus while His daughter is still sick and not dead yet. The other gospels also draw out the woman’s healing and her desire to remain hidden. In the other gospels, it seems that Jesus stops everything to discover the woman who touched His garment, and it delayed His progress to the synagogue leader’s home to the point that messengers were able to arrive and tell the synagogue leader that his daughter had died.

While Matthew summarizes many things about both these miracles, one thing Matthew does not skip over is Jesus’ reaction to the funeral musicians and those crying. Matthew also does not skip over sharing the woman’s thoughts and her belief that simply touching the edge of Jesus’ clothing would heal her.

Matthew includes the detail of the woman having faith in perhaps the least significant action she could think of. Touching the edge of Jesus’ clothing is pretty insignificant, but she believes that is all she needs to be healed. She may have been embarrassed about her condition, and would rather not have to explain it to a bunch of men why she was needing to be healed.

However, Jesus doesn’t want her faith or her miracle to be lost in the commotion of Him going to help someone else. Jesus stops just long enough to make sure she was healed and to draw attention onto her faith and her story so that we would be able to read and know it from what was recorded. If Jesus had not stopped, this woman’s miracle would have never been known outside of a handful of people.

Matthew also does not summarize or minimize Jesus’ reaction to those who were preparing for a funeral at the synagogue leader’s home. Jesus tells them all in verse 24, “Go away. The girl is not dead, only asleep.” However, those present laughed at Jesus. They knew the girl had died. A doctor had probably already called the time of her death a short while earlier.

However, I wonder if Jesus intentionally set the stage for this event by making sure that He hadn’t arrived before the girl had died. I wonder if Jesus wanted to challenge the faith of everyone present and if He wanted to teach us that death is nothing to be feared. When we read the Bible, we cannot get around the metaphor, both in the gospels and in the other parts of the Bible, that death is compared with a sleep.

In the context of Jesus’ statement here, those who viewed death viewed death as the end of life, with no immediate hope of a resurrection. If those present had believed in an upcoming resurrection, it is likely there wouldn’t be any tears present. It is clear in this event, that the crowd of mourners and funeral musicians did not have faith that Jesus could reverse death. Because they didn’t have faith, I believe this is why Jesus kicked them out of the house.

It is also interesting that if those present believed the girl to be in a much better place now that she had died, then they may have been sad at her death, but they wouldn’t have wished for her to be brought back to life. In this frame of view, Jesus resurrecting anyone, including Himself, would be one of the cruelest things for Him to do.

I don’t believe it is a coincidence that death is referred to as sleep in the Bible. The Bible contains many metaphors that God has written into the details of our physical world to teach us about spiritual truths. I believe sleep teaching us about death is one such truth.

While there are many physical and biological reasons for sleep and how our brains need sleep to function well, the spiritual component of sleep is simply rest from our daily work. If the day represents our life and sleep represents our death, then there is nothing to be afraid of when we ultimately lay down to rest at our life’s end because we know morning is coming. Following our rest in death, morning brings us a resurrection into a new life with God.

Whether we are close to death in this life or whether we have a lot of life left, we can know and trust that with whatever happens, God has placed us alive on this earth for a reason. We can know and trust that when we have accomplished what He has placed us here to accomplish, He will let us rest in peace until morning comes and the trumpet of resurrection sounds.

While we don’t know the rest of this girls story, what we do know is that from that moment forward, her life was a clear gift from God. This girl’s story would be significant and important in God’s eyes, because He had given her a new life, and her new life foreshadows our new lives when we are resurrected at Jesus’ return!

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 place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus and in His promise of a new life with God. While our new life with God begins at the moment we choose God, our ultimate new life with God begins at the moment He returns to take us home!

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word, or any pastor, author, speaker, or podcaster’s word for any spiritual truth. Instead, test everything through what the Bible teaches to discover God’s truth for your life with Him.

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 17: While on the way to help a synagogue leader, Jesus gets to shed light on an almost missed miracle while also setting the stage for an even more amazing miracle still to come. Discover how neither of these two miracles would be the same without each other and without Jesus drawing our attention onto God’s truth and love.

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Flashback Episode — Making the Wise Choice: Matthew 25:1-13

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In response to the disciples asking Jesus about the end times, Jesus shares not just a series of predictions regarding what the world would be like when He returns, but He also shares several parables that focus on this event. The first parable Jesus shares about the end time is our focus for this episode.

This first parable is probably one of Jesus’ most famous parables, and it has some profound ideas when we look a little closer at its details. This parable is known as the parable of the ten virgins or ten bridesmaids.

Let’s read this parable and then unpack some things we can learn from it. This parable is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, and we’ll be reading from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Jesus tells the disciples:

“Here is what the kingdom of heaven will be like at that time. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went out to meet the groom. Five of them were foolish. Five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but didn’t take any olive oil with them. The wise ones took oil in jars along with their lamps. The groom did not come for a long time. So the bridesmaids all grew tired and fell asleep.

“At midnight someone cried out, ‘Here’s the groom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the bridesmaids woke up and got their lamps ready. The foolish ones said to the wise ones, ‘Give us some of your oil. Our lamps are going out.’

“ ‘No,’ they replied. ‘There may not be enough for all of us. Instead, go to those who sell oil. Buy some for yourselves.’

10 “So they went to buy the oil. But while they were on their way, the groom arrived. The bridesmaids who were ready went in with him to the wedding dinner. Then the door was shut.

11 “Later, the other bridesmaids also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

12 “But he replied, ‘What I’m about to tell you is true. I don’t know you.’

13 “So keep watch. You do not know the day or the hour that the groom will come.

While it is never pleasant to think about the door being closed on anyone, or being rejected by God, the clear warning in this parable is that a group of people will lose out on salvation when they had every opportunity to be included. This group of people the parable describes as foolish bridesmaids.

However, when we look at this parable, we should ask, what makes these bridesmaids foolish, and what makes them distinctly different from those who are wise.

The first distinction the parable makes is that the foolish bridesmaids did not take extra oil with them. This distinction sets the stage for everything else that happens afterwards. If the foolish bridesmaids had had enough sense to at least bring some extra oil, there wouldn’t be any distinction between them and the wise bridesmaids for the rest of the parable.

This leads us to the first big thing that we can learn from this parable: Plan for Jesus, who is represented as the groom, to return later than you might expect. We have no idea when He will arrive, but chances are it will be after people are finished with date setting.

The second portion of this parable is where we might be tempted to focus in on. This portion of the parable is when all ten bridesmaids fall asleep waiting for the groom to arrive. But this detail, while relevant to the big theme of the parable, does not tell us much about the differences between the wise and the foolish bridesmaids. Falling asleep does not make a wise bridesmaid foolish.

However, when we transition to the third section of the parable, we discover something interesting. The foolish bridesmaid’s lack of planning ahead has caught up with them. While the wise bridesmaids have addition oil for their lamps, they only have enough oil for themselves, and not enough to share.

This detail is crucial for us to pay attention to, because this is why I repeatedly stress that our relationship with God must be personal. It doesn’t matter how spiritual or close to God someone else is, their relationship will not get you into heaven. The only good they can do is inspire you and help you get your relationship with God stronger. Salvation is personal, and when we look at how this parable ends, salvation is based on being known by God.

But not bringing extra oil isn’t the worst mistake the foolish bridesmaids make. When realizing that they don’t have oil, they leave their post seeking a merchant or someone to sell them oil so they can be equipped for the groom’s arrival.

By leaving their post, the foolish bridesmaids ultimately miss out on the groom’s arrival and are excluded from the wedding celebration.

Some people a lot smarter than me say that the oil in this parable represents the Holy Spirit. I don’t have any reason to doubt that. However, I also caution you, if you are someone who believes this, don’t stop your thinking there. I would expand the oil in this parable to represent any experience, feeling, or thing that you think you need to have in order to have a relationship with God.

If you spiritually wake up and realize that you are not as close to God as you once were, the worst thing you can do is leave your faith, looking for that item, experience, or feeling elsewhere. Instead, the best thing for you to do is return to the basics, open your Bible, and simply read. Remain at your post and focus on growing closer to God through reading His word. I believe that, while this parable doesn’t include anyone in this gray area, everyone present who wants entrance before the door is closed will be welcomed in.

While these foolish bridesmaids might lose out on the status of the position of being a bridesmaid, I still believe they could be included as guests if they had stayed and been present at the door before it closed. If the oil in this parable does exclusively represent the Holy Spirit, then the best Source for this oil would be arriving with the groom, and not having oil would have been an easily solvable problem.

To sum this parable up, leaving your post as a bridesmaid is the worst thing you can do. If you don’t feel as close to God as you may have at some point in your past, don’t look outside your Bible for the solution. Instead, open your Bible and rediscover the God who loved you enough to send His Son to die in your place for your sin. Let God’s story retransform your heart and supply you with the oil you need to be a wise bridesmaid!

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. If you don’t feel close to God right now, the best place to go is to your knees in prayer, and the best thing you can do is open your Bible and rediscover the God who loves you because of who He is, and not because of what you have done or what you can do for Him. We can’t do anything for God. He does everything for us!

As always, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself, because your salvation is based on your personal relationship with God and on God knowing you when He returns. Those left on the outside are those who God doesn’t know, and don’t let that be you. Intentionally grow so close to God through prayer and His word that He cannot help but know you!

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 17: When Jesus tells the disciples the parable of the ten bridesmaids, we discover within this parable some amazing ideas on how we can avoid the fate of foolish bridesmaids and being excluded from the wedding feast.

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