Flashback Episode — Seeking God’s Praise: John 12:20-50

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Early on during the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, John includes in his gospel record an event that the other three gospel writers don’t include. In this event, not only does Jesus look forward to His upcoming death on the cross, but God the Father speaks from Heaven one additional time.

While our passage is a little longer than what we typically cover in our episodes, I’m having a difficult time determining what to cut out. So let’s dive in and start reading what John describes happened one of the days Jesus was in the temple teaching leading up to His crucifixion, and we’ll see how far we get in our time together.

Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 20, John tells us that:

20 There were some Greeks among the people who went up to worship during the feast. 21 They came to ask Philip for a favor. Philip was from Bethsaida in Galilee. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew. Then Andrew and Philip told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The time has come for the Son of Man to receive glory. 24 What I’m about to tell you is true. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only one seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it. But anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it and have eternal life. 26 Anyone who serves me must follow me. And where I am, my servant will also be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

At this point, I must pause briefly, because what Jesus has just said here is incredibly powerful. Jesus challenges all of His followers to love Him more than they love their own lives, and while that is a huge challenge for His followers at every stage of history, Jesus follows it by promising His followers that God the Father will honor those who serve Him and who have placed Jesus ahead of their own lives.

When saying this, Jesus knows that this is challenging, and it might be difficult for us to fathom, but He never asked us to do anything He was unwilling to do. Picking back up in verse 27, Jesus continues by saying:

27 “My soul is troubled. What should I say? ‘Father, keep me from having to go through with this’? No. This is the very reason I have come to this point in my life. 28 Father, bring glory to your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven. It said, “I have brought glory to my name. I will bring glory to it again.” 29 The crowd there heard the voice. Some said it was thunder. Others said an angel had spoken to Jesus.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now it is time for the world to be judged. Now the prince of this world will be thrown out. 32 And I am going to be lifted up from the earth. When I am, I will bring all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show them how he was going to die.

34 The crowd spoke up. “The Law tells us that the Messiah will remain forever,” they said. “So how can you say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’? Who is this ‘Son of Man’?”

35 Then Jesus told them, “You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light. Do this before darkness catches up with you. Whoever walks in the dark does not know where they are going. 36 While you have the light, believe in it. Then you can become children of light.” When Jesus had finished speaking, he left and hid from them.

Let’s pause briefly again here, because this brief discussion draws our attention onto the war that the first century culture had in their minds over Jesus. On one hand, Jesus clearly had God’s support and His favor. Otherwise, He could not have performed the miracles He did. However, on the other hand, Jesus kept telling the people that He was going to die, which did not fit with what they understood in the Law and Old Testament that describes the Messiah as lasting forever.

While Jesus could have simply told them that His death wouldn’t last long and that it would end in a resurrection, He instead focused His attention on subtly challenging the people to pay attention to Him and His ministry.

However, part of me wonders if these people were more interested in finding excuses and reasons not to believe in Jesus than to find reasons to believe. Picking back up in verse 37, John tells us that:

37 Jesus had performed so many signs in front of them. But they still would not believe in him. 38 This happened as Isaiah the prophet had said it would. He had said,

“Lord, who has believed what we’ve been saying?
    Who has seen the Lord’s saving power?”

39 For this reason, they could not believe. As Isaiah says in another place,

40 “The Lord has blinded their eyes.
    He has closed their minds.
So they can’t see with their eyes.
    They can’t understand with their minds.
    They can’t turn to the Lord. If they could, he would heal them.”

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

42 At the same time that Jesus did those signs, many of the Jewish leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees, they would not openly admit they believed. They were afraid they would be thrown out of the synagogue. 43 They loved praise from people more than praise from God.

Pausing yet again, I want to point out how powerful this phrase is. John tells us that these “leaders” were more interested in getting praise from people rather than focusing on getting praise from God. Jesus lived His life entirely seeking praise from God. Jesus would not accept praise from people, and I believe this is a challenge Jesus has for His followers as well. We should seek praise from God over praise or fame from this world.

To wrap up our passage, let’s pick back up in verse 44:

44 Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only. They also believe in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me sees the one who sent me. 46 I have come into the world to be its light. So no one who believes in me will stay in darkness.

47 “I don’t judge a person who hears my words but does not obey them. I didn’t come to judge the world. I came to save the world. 48 But there is a judge for anyone who does not accept me and my words. These words I have spoken will judge them on the last day. 49 I did not speak on my own. The Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have said. 50 I know that his command leads to eternal life. So everything I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

In this passage, Jesus tells us that His words will be the judge on the last day. This is important for us to pay attention to because Jesus’ words are recorded for us to know. Not only do we have recorded the words Jesus spoke in the first century while He walked on the earth, but there have been times God spoke directly in the Old Testament. In these instances, we can conclude since Jesus is One with God, that the words and messages God spoke in the Old Testament will also be included as part of the words that judge humanity on the last day.

Everything Jesus spoke came from God the Father, and everything Jesus did while here on earth was to bring glory to God the Father. God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit love humanity, and that is why Jesus came into this world to give His life for us.

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

Be sure to place God first in your life and to seek His praise. While it might seem crazy to think about, Jesus has challenged each of us to love God more than our own lives. He has called us to follow Him above everything else. Jesus tells us that God the Father will honor those who have placed Jesus ahead of themselves.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with Jesus further. Never let a speaker, author, pastor, or podcaster stand between you and God. God wants a personal relationship with you, and your relationship begins when you pray and personally study the Bible for yourself.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 3: Early on during the week leading up to the crucifixion, John describes Jesus challenging His followers about where they should seek glory and praise. You might be surprised by how far He goes!

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The Second Dream: Matthew 2:1-15

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Moving forward in Matthew’s gospel, we open chapter 2 looking at an event that happened shortly after Jesus was born, but also an event that is almost always included in the Christmas story. This event is the visit of the wise men, and as we will soon discover, this event shares a characteristic that our last passage and episode focused in on.

Let’s read what happened and draw out some things that we can learn from this event. Our passage and event are found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 2, and we will read from the Contemporary English Version. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

They told him, “He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote,

’Bethlehem in the land
    of Judea,
you are very important
    among the towns of Judea.
From your town
    will come a leader,
who will be like a shepherd
    for my people Israel.’”

Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star. He told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too.”

The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 They were thrilled and excited to see the star.

11 When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him. 12 Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.

13 After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”

14 That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, 15 where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.”

Let’s stop reading here because several details stood out to me while reading this passage.

First, I find it interesting that the wise men paid attention to the stars. While there has been much speculation regarding whether the star of Bethlehem was a true star, a planet, or even an angel or band of angels, it is interesting in my mind that the wise men made the connection to a coming king in Judea. Some people believe the wise men were people who had learned from the school Daniel likely founded in Babylon while he was a captive and wise man there many centuries earlier.

It’s also interesting that while the wise men accurately identify the purpose of the star signaling a coming king, they incorrectly assume that the child would be born in Jerusalem. I wonder if they assumed incorrectly, or if they simply did not know but they expected those in Jerusalem to be aware and preparing for the arrival of their Messiah. However, it appears as though those in Jerusalem were more ignorant of the signs of the Messiah’s arrival than they would have thought.

The religious leaders were unaware of anything special in the night sky, but they were very aware of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, especially the one concerning the place of His birth. With how this event is worded, I am curious if the religious leaders knew the purpose of the wise men’s arrival prior to being questioned by Herod. If the religious leaders knew Herod’s tendency towards violence against any threats against his rule, it wouldn’t have surprised them to learn of Herod’s march against the babies in Bethlehem. What is amazing in my mind is that the religious leaders simply hand this key piece of information over, which speaks both to their allegiance to the Roman government and to their ignorance of the Messiah’s arrival.

When reading this event, I am most amazed at Joseph. Just like we saw in the last episode, Joseph has a dream and it immediately prompts him to act. In our last episode, the dream he received changed his plans regarding sending Mary away to accepting Mary and her extraordinary pregnancy, and this dream prompts Joseph and the family to make a midnight escape.

From my understanding, Bethlehem isn’t too far away from Jerusalem, which prompts me to wonder how much lead time Joseph and Mary had to escape. If Joseph’s dream was the same night that the wise men were warned about not returning to Herod, then Joseph and Mary had maybe 6 hours or so to get out. If there was a gap of time between the wise men leaving the region and Herod learning about their departure without returning, then it’s possible Joseph and Mary were already out of the country by the time Herod realized what happened.

In the last passage and this one, we see that Joseph is a man of action, and he is more than willing to follow God’s plan for his life. When God gives Joseph a direction to take, Joseph heads full force in that direction, and this quality ultimately saves Jesus’ life from an early death at the hands of Herod.

In our own lives, we should be as dedicated to following God’s directions as Joseph was. While we might not have as significant of a role in history, God is willing to use us for His glory at the exact moment and place where He has brought us into His story.

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 and choose to obey His will for your life. Don’t let indecision get in the way of following God’s Word and His will for you.

Unsure of what God’s Word says and what His will is for your life. The best place to turn is to prayer and to Bible study. Through prayer and studying the Bible for yourself, you open the door to learning from God’s Holy Spirit and you are better able to grow the personal relationship with God that helps you see His will for your life. While other people can help point you in the right direction, God wants a personal relationship with you without anyone else in the place of a middleman.

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 2: As Matthew continues describing Jesus’ birth, we learn of a second dream that changes the lives of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, and we discover a little bit more of the character of Jesus’ earthly dad.

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Flashback Episode — Weeping While Others Cheer: Luke 19:28-44

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As we continue our journey focusing on the week leading up to the cross, we come to one of the most well known events in Jesus’ entire life, which was the point in time where He rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey.

While all the gospels describe Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, only Luke’s gospel includes an interesting detail about this event and where Jesus had placed His focus. However, before we get to that, Jesus first needs to get the young donkey to ride on.

Let’s read about what happened from Luke’s gospel, chapter 19, using the New Living Translation. Starting in verse 28, Luke tells us that:

28 After telling this story, Jesus went on toward Jerusalem, walking ahead of his disciples. 29 As he came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives, he sent two disciples ahead. 30 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks, ‘Why are you untying that colt?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”

32 So they went and found the colt, just as Jesus had said. 33 And sure enough, as they were untying it, the owners asked them, “Why are you untying that colt?”

34 And the disciples simply replied, “The Lord needs it.” 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

Pausing briefly, I always find it amazing that Jesus knew exactly what would happen, and that He tells the two disciples exactly what to say when faced with the donkey’s owners who probably thought they were catching two not-so-bright thieves. While we don’t know any of the back story regarding this donkey colt, from how the owners’ responded, we can tell that these owners are willing to trust God with their stuff.

This portion of our event also reassures us that when faced with difficult circumstances surrounding what God has asked us to do, we can trust that He will give us the words to say to bring about His purposes in the world.

Returning to our passage in verse 35,

 35 So they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it for him to ride on.

36 As he rode along, the crowds spread out their garments on the road ahead of him. 37 When he reached the place where the road started down the Mount of Olives, all of his followers began to shout and sing as they walked along, praising God for all the wonderful miracles they had seen.

38 “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!
    Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!”

39 But some of the Pharisees among the crowd said, “Teacher, rebuke your followers for saying things like that!”

40 He replied, “If they kept quiet, the stones along the road would burst into cheers!”

41 But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 42 “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. 43 Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. 44 They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”

In Luke’s gospel, we discover that during the celebration of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, the Pharisees in the crowd had something to disagree with. Actually, this shouldn’t surprise us at all, except to say that it might be a little surprising to discover that there were Pharisees present in this situation. The fact that Pharisees were present in this event makes me think that Jesus likely had his own dedicated team of critics that followed Him wherever He went. I also wonder if some of these Pharisees were commissioned with the task of seeing where Jesus would be staying, just in case the religious leaders decided on a time to arrest Him.

However, this is not all Luke describes. While the crowd cheers for Jesus’ entrance, and the Pharisees sneer at the crowd glorifying Jesus as a coming King, we see a different response from Jesus Himself. Luke tells us that when the city comes into view, Jesus weeps for it.

There are only two places in the gospels where Jesus is recorded as weeping, and this is one of them. The other is when Lazarus was in the tomb and everyone else was crying about His death. While Jesus weeping over Lazarus’ death is significant in its own way, Jesus does something that turns that crowd’s tears into joy.

However, in this instance, there isn’t anything Jesus can do for the city He loves. Jesus knows that His death is the only way for the city’s survival, but more important than Jesus’ death is that the religious leaders must recognize and acknowledge who Jesus is. Jesus’ hands are tied as He realizes that nothing He can do will save the city of Jerusalem from facing destruction.

God offered salvation to His people through Jesus, but they chose to reject Him and this ultimately led to Jerusalem’s destruction when they rallied against Rome and ultimately failed.

In this event, we can learn that when we depend on God and lean on Him for guidance, He will teach us what to say, and He will bring us His peace. While Jesus wept when realizing that the city He loved would ultimately be destroyed, He still loved the city and the people living within its walls. Even if our own lives cause Jesus pain, He still loves each of us and He wants to help heal our hurts.

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

Be sure to always seek God first, and intentionally depend on Him for help facing the challenges that life brings our way. Know that the only place we can find true, lasting peace is through Jesus.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow closer to Jesus personally. While someone else can give you ideas to think about, never let your relationship with Jesus depend on anyone else. Praying personally and studying the Bible personally help grow your personal relationship with Him.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 2: During Jesus’ ride to Jerusalem on a young donkey, Luke describes in his gospel how Jesus stops and weeps while everyone else is cheering. Discover some things we can learn from this whole donkey-ride event that we can apply in our lives over 2000 years later.

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Named by the Father: Matthew 1:18-25

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While it might seem strange starting out the new year looking at a passage from the Christmas story, this happens to be where Matthew begins. Well actually, before looking at Jesus’ birth story, Matthew takes a look at Jesus’ genealogy and traces it back to Abraham. While planning for this year, I quickly realized that Matthew has too many events in it than we are able to cover in our year. Because of this, I thought we could move through this gospel looking at some of the highlight events, and focusing in on some of the events that only Matthew includes.

This then leads us to focus a couple episodes here at the beginning of our year in this gospel on Jesus’ birth, because while Luke also focuses on this event, both gospels share different details.

Matthew sets the stage by including the tension that was present when it was discovered that Mary was pregnant. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 1, and we will read it from the New American Standard Bible. Starting in verse 18, Matthew tells us that:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. 19 And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly. 20 But when he had considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” 24 And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, 25 but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.

While reading this, I am amazed at Joseph. This passage gives us a glimpse of Joseph’s character, and it is one of only a few passages that focus on Jesus’ earthly dad. In this passage, Matthew describes Joseph as a “righteous man”, but the subtle implication is also that he did not believe Mary when she insisted that her pregnancy was of divine origin. Joseph decides to send Mary away secretly because he does not want to disgrace her in a public way. This choice shows us a piece of Joseph’s character. While Joseph had every right and opportunity to publicly shame Mary for her pregnancy before his dream, he resolved to keep the issue as a private matter in order to help Mary keep her reputation more intact.

However, after resolving on a plan of action, Joseph has a dream that changes his plans. The timing of this dream is interesting in my mind. I wonder if Joseph had been deliberating on a plan of action for several days or weeks before making up his mind, or if this was something Joseph had decided on the same day he learned about the pregnancy.

Regardless of the timing details that are not included in this passage, it is fascinating that the angel appeared in the dream only after Joseph had made a decision. I wonder if this shows us a little piece of how God acts. Sometimes, God will wait for us to make a decision before He steps in to help us shift our decision onto His path for us.

If this is the case, then it does us no good to wait and stall making a decision because we want God’s input, because God is waiting for us to make the decision for ourselves before stepping in if needed to help us shift our choices onto His paths.

After Joseph had the dream, he changed the course of His life to match the message he was given. Instead of sending Mary away quietly, Joseph moves through the marriage proceeding, and it’s possible he accelerated the plan simply to help this situation be less awkward for his new wife. It is possible that Joseph wanted this pregnancy to be less obvious that it was not his, even though he kept her a virgin as Matthew described.

This dream completely changed the course of Joseph’s life. Joseph took this dream to heart and he followed through with what the angel told him. In this dream, we have an angel validating Mary’s unbelievable story, and the angel also, interestingly enough, calls Joseph a “son of David”. I’m curious if Joseph knew his genealogy enough to know that he was a descendant of David. I wonder if this is one reason why Matthew opens his gospel by not only connecting Joseph to David, but also to Abraham as well. Either way, this greeting is a powerful one to pay attention to because the Messiah that God promised was to be one of David’s descendants, and if I’m not mistaken, one of Abraham’s descendants as well.

The angel validates Mary’s testimony about the pregnancy, and the angel also gives Joseph the name that they should give the Baby. When we look at the story of Zechariah and the birth of John the Baptist in Luke’s gospel, we discover that the father was the one to officially name the child. It is only after Zechariah officially writes down John’s name that he is able to speak again.

Bringing this information over to Joseph and Mary’s story in Matthew, it is as though through this angel, God the Father is telling Joseph, the earthly dad, what to name His Son. This is a powerful exchange between these two father roles and we can easily miss this detail if we are not paying attention.

Joseph’s role is a significant role in Jesus’ story. Joseph’s role is similar to an adoptive step-father, since Jesus is not directly his, but Joseph is also responsible for raising Jesus. While we don’t know much about Joseph’s character, we do know that Joseph succeeded at his role of being Jesus’ dad because of the man Jesus grew up to be.

As we come to the end of this first passage in our year in Matthew’s gospel, 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 let Him lead and guide you along the path He wants you to take. While sometimes God will show us a decision we should make before we have made it, don’t wait to make decisions, because God might be waiting for us to make the decision before stepping in if necessary. We should intentionally move through life and be open, willing, and expecting God to step in and correct our course when necessary.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to grow personally closer to God each and every day. While other people can give you things to think about, only through personal study, personal prayer, and time can someone grow a personal relationship with Jesus. Continue growing your personal relationship with Jesus, starting today!

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

Year in Matthew – Episode 1: Near the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we discover several powerful insights into the character of Joseph, who was Jesus’ earthly father, and a dream that changed his life forever.

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