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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trusting in God: Matthew 8:14-27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He took our sicknesses
    and removed our diseases.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Enduring to the End: Mark 13:1-31

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During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, we read about a point where Jesus’ three closest disciples have some questions, and they pull Jesus aside to get some answers. To set the stage for this event, and for Jesus’ response, we read about a brief prediction Jesus shares as He and the disciples were leaving the temple.

Our passage is found in several of the gospels, but for our time together in this episode, we will look at Mark’s gospel, chapter 13, and we will read from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us that:

1 As He was going out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, behold what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” 2 And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another which will not be torn down.”

Pausing our reading briefly here, I wonder if the disciples, and perhaps the unnamed disciple who made the original statement, were bothered by Jesus’ prediction that the temple would be destroyed.

Because this was on their minds as the afternoon passed and evening came, we discover that some of the disciples want a little more information.

Picking back up reading in verse 3, Mark tells us that:

3 As He was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew were questioning Him privately, 4 “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are going to be fulfilled?” 5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be frightened; those things must take place; but that is not yet the end. 8 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will also be famines. These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

9 “But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. 10 The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. 12 Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. 13 You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.

14 “But when you see the abomination of desolation standing where it should not be (let the reader understand), then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains. 15 The one who is on the housetop must not go down, or go in to get anything out of his house; 16 and the one who is in the field must not turn back to get his coat. 17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 But pray that it may not happen in the winter. 19 For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will. 20 Unless the Lord had shortened those days, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom He chose, He shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers that are in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.

28 “Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, you too, when you see these things happening, recognize that He is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

In this long passage, Jesus shares a broad look at the future of the world. While there are plenty of specific parts we could focus on within Jesus’ response, the part I want to focus in on for the rest of our time together is the last few verses. Jesus concludes this teaching by telling the disciples that they should pay attention to what is happening around them in the world and know that when we hear and see things happening, such as wars and rumors of wars, that we can be reminded that Jesus is coming soon.

While Jesus promises that the current generation of people would not pass away until all these things took place – which is something that is perplexing in itself and something that would take too much time than we have left to dig into – the closing words in Jesus’ message is one of the biggest promises we can find in the entire Bible. Jesus tells these disciples in verse 31 that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.

This promise is powerful, because it reminds us that with whatever happens in this life, and whatever Satan tries to throw at us to take our focus off of God, in the end, Jesus’ words and His message will survive. Jesus’ words last forever. Jesus’ words last longer than sin. Jesus’ words bring eternal life.

We are reminded and challenged with the truth that we will be hated and abused by people in this world because we follow Jesus, but those who endure to the end will be saved. We are challenged to endure to the end of our lives or until Jesus returns, and the reward for our endurance is eternity – specifically an eternity in a sinless, perfect, recreated world.

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

Be sure to always place God first and to stay loyal to Him. Choose to endure and ignore those who try to challenge our faith because we know from Jesus’ promise that those who endure to the end find salvation.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God each and every day. While pastors, podcasters, authors, or speakers can give you great ideas to think about, only through personal study can you grow a personal relationship, and a personal relationship with God is one key part of being saved!

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 15: Discover what we can learn when three of Jesus’ closest disciples ask Him about what will happen leading up to the end of the world.

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

Faith to Pray: Matthew 8:5-13

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Following Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, we discover that He traveled back to Capernaum. On arriving there, Jesus is met by someone who seems to have a normal sounding request, but who Jesus is impressed by His response, and how this response demonstrates an unusual level of faith.

Let’s read what happened and discuss some things we can learn from this event. Our passage and event are found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 8, and we will read from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 5, Matthew tells us that:

When Jesus entered Capernaum, a Roman officer met him and begged for help: “Sir, my servant is sick in bed at home, unable to move and suffering terribly.”

“I will go and make him well,” Jesus said.

“Oh no, sir,” answered the officer. “I do not deserve to have you come into my house. Just give the order, and my servant will get well. I, too, am a man under the authority of superior officers, and I have soldiers under me. I order this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and I order that one, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and I order my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was surprised and said to the people following him, “I tell you, I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this. 11 I assure you that many will come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven. 12 But those who should be in the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness, where they will cry and gnash their teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the officer, “Go home, and what you believe will be done for you.”

And the officer’s servant was healed that very moment.

In this short event, I find it amazing that Jesus is surprised by this Roman officer’s faith. This officer did not need to actually see a miracle to believe one was going to happen. All this man needed was the promise and the assurance of Jesus to know that the servant would be made well. This is a powerful statement of faith.

While it might be easy to jump onto the idea that the Roman officer simply didn’t want Jesus to come to his home, I don’t think this would have been an issue if the Roman officer believed Jesus needed to be present to work a miracle. Instead, from looking at this man’s faith, I believe he wanted to hear the command from Jesus and to not take up any significant portion of Jesus’ time actually traveling to his home.

However, another fascinating thing in my mind is what Jesus tells those following Him before answering this Roman officer’s request. Verses 10-12 record Jesus telling those following Him: “I tell you, I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this. I assure you that many will come from the east and the west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of heaven. But those who should be in the Kingdom will be thrown out into the darkness, where they will cry and gnash their teeth.

In this short statement, Jesus says that many will come from east and west and will be included in God’s kingdom, however those who should be in the Kingdom will instead be thrown out. This short statement is a promise for you and me, and it is a warning as well. In Jesus’ words, I see myself as being included in those who come from the east and west because I am not Jewish, and because I live on the other side of the world compared to where Jesus spoke these words. I believe that I have been invited and adopted into God’s family through what I have read and learned about Jesus and even though I am not an original family member in God’s family, being adopted into His family is just as significant.

I also believe that if you aren’t a part of God’s family, you have been given an invitation to be adopted into His family as well!

However, Jesus shares a warning in this statement as well. In this warning, Jesus challenges those who should be in the kingdom that they will be thrown out. Part of me wonders if this is because they rejected Jesus while trying to uphold their tradition and their picture of God. By trying to hold onto their view of God, they missed out seeing the Messiah God had sent to them.

In this warning, I see a warning for everyone who believes themselves to be a part of God’s family. This is a warning to stay connected to God and open to what He is doing in the world around us. I believe even those who are adopted into His family can be thrown out if we try to hold onto a false picture of God.

However, in this event, I see a challenge for both those who are part of God’s family, and for those who are adopted in. We can call this challenge “The Roman Officer’s Challenge”. This Roman officer displays a faith that we are called to have. This faith says that we will trust God and claim His promises for us without having to directly see His moving in our lives or in the details of our specific request. This means that when we pray, we trust that God will answer our prayers the instant we pray them, and that His answers will appear at the best moment in history for them to appear. Often, the time when we pray and the best time for God to work in a situation are two different times.

I won’t even begin to claim I know the best times for our prayers requests to be answered, but I do know that I don’t have to know this in order to have powerful, effective, and trusting prayers. Instead, in this event, Jesus challenges His followers to have faith like this Roman officer and to believe our prayers have been answered because God loves us, because He listens to us, and because He knows the best way to answer our requests.

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, be sure to intentionally seek God first and to place Him first in your life. When you pray, intentionally pray with trust that even if you never see the answer to your prayer in this life, know that God has answered your prayer in the best way possible from eternity’s perspective.

Also, intentionally pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. A personal relationship can only be grown best from spending time with each other and spending time with God in prayer and Bible study is the best way to grow a solid foundation for a life with God.

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 14: When Jesus arrives back into Capernaum, discover how a seemingly normal request for help turns into an amazing example of faith that Jesus challenges His followers to model. This type of faith should be at the heart of all our prayers to God!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.