Flashback Episode — Close to the Kingdom: Mark 12:28-34

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During the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, it seems as though all the various groups of religious leaders collectively decided that now was the time to trap Jesus with His own words. Near the end of their challenges, after a religious group known as the Sadducees had given their challenge, the gospel of Mark tells us that one of the teachers of the law had a question for Jesus.

From this teacher’s question, it is unclear if other teachers sent him with this question, or if he had been present earlier in Jesus’ ministry when another leader asks a very similar question, but whatever this teacher’s background, the reaction he gives to Jesus’ response is powerful.

Let’s look a little closer at what happened and at what was said. This event can be found in the gospel of Mark, chapter 12, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version. Starting in verse 28, Mark tells us that:

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.” From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

What stands out to me most in this conversation is that this teacher responds in a way that validates Jesus’ response. In this passage, we hear Jesus give an answer, then it is a little surprising that this teacher backs up Jesus’ response and agrees with Jesus’ words rather than following up with another question or idea to challenge Him.

Part of me wonders who this teacher was, and if this teacher may have been one of the secret Jesus-followers present in the religious elite. The phrase that stands out most in my mind is that this teacher concludes his remarks by saying that loving God and our neighbors are, “more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices”.

Earlier, this same question regarding the most important commandment had prompted Jesus to share a parable related to identifying who our neighbor truly is. In that case, it appeared that the question regarding the most important commandment was simply a set up question for the real one about defining who our neighbor is.

However, in this event, it seems that this teacher was truly interested in focusing the attention of everyone present onto the characteristic of love, and it seems as though Jesus was happy to do this.

Even though the teacher successfully shifted the focus onto the key portions of the law and commandments, Jesus comments at the close of this conversation in verse 34 that this teacher is “not far from God’s kingdom”. On the surface, it appears that everything this teacher asked, said, and replied to was correct in Jesus’ eyes, but even with the right answer, Jesus still implies that this man is still has not found God’s kingdom. Close to God’s kingdom is good, but it’s better to be included in God’s kingdom.

From looking at the nuances included in this passage, I can come up with two things this teacher may have missed prior to this conversation with Jesus that would have led to Jesus stating that he still needed something more to make it into God’s kingdom.

The first is that this teacher had all the right answers, but nothing is implied or stated that said this teacher followed through with his love for God and his love for his neighbor with tangible action. Having the right answers is great, but they don’t mean anything when faced with reality. In my mind, Jesus might be challenging this teacher to live the life that is being described. While the teacher has said that loving God and others is more important than even sacrifices, Jesus may have known that this teacher had been poorly modeling this attitude in his own life. Love is only as valuable as it is visible and helpful to others. Love that is hidden does not have any value in the big picture.

The second thing that I could see Jesus implying with His comment that this teacher was not far from God’s kingdom is that all that was left for this teacher was to accept Jesus as his substitute and to make the commitment to put his hope, trust, faith, and belief in Him. Another way to say this is that it does not matter how much we say we love others, or how much we love God. The key thing that matters is that we have placed Jesus first in our life.

The most loving person in the world who has rejected Jesus will still be lost when faced with the judgment. This is because there is nothing we can do, say, act, or pay that will get us into God’s kingdom on our own merit. Instead, the way into God’s kingdom is by accepting Jesus into our hearts and lives, and perhaps, in the case of this religious teacher, he was not far from God’s kingdom because he was on the verge of accepting Jesus into His heart and life.

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

If you have not accepted Jesus into your heart and life, now would be a great time to do so. We accept Jesus into our hearts when have the realization that nothing we do can earn our own salvation, and we make the commitment to depend on Jesus 100% for our eternity. We then choose to live moving forward with the faith that Jesus has taken care of our past, and that He has secured our future, and that everything we do today is done as our way of saying “Thank You” for giving us the gift we truly don’t deserve.

Also, as I always include in these challenges, be sure to continue study the Bible for yourself in order to grow and strengthen your personal relationship with God and Jesus. When we have a strong connection with God, we will be able to clearly see Him working in our lives, and we will be more in touch with His will for each of us.

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

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 39: Cam discusses a religious teacher’s question for Jesus, and what we can learn from their conversation about what the greatest commandment is for God’s followers.

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

Facing the Important Decision: Luke 23:1-12

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After Jesus was arrested and condemned, the religious leaders take Him to Pilate. The religious leaders do this because they did not have the legal right to execute anyone since they were under Roman rule. Only the Roman government could sentence someone to death, and that is exactly what these religious leaders had decided Jesus deserved.

Let’s read about what takes place from Luke’s gospel, chapter 23, using the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Luke describes what happened:

Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”

Pausing briefly here, it is interesting to look a little closer at the charge the religious leaders accuse Jesus of. This charge, while worthy of death in Rome’s eyes, doesn’t fit with what Jesus has actually taught. It would be foolish for these leaders to think that Pilate didn’t have a handle on who Jesus was and have already assessed Jesus’ threat to the Roman occupation of this region.

The claim these leaders bring against Jesus is about as generic of a charge as you could find, and it also breaks one of the Ten Commandments. When looking at this charge, while Jesus did claim to be the Messiah, we don’t find Him anywhere opposing paying taxes to Caesar. Instead, we have Him brilliantly answering the question of taxation in favor of paying Roman currency to the Roman government.

In the charge the leaders bring against Jesus, they break the commandment regarding sharing false testimony about one’s neighbor. While this seems minor when compared to the other commandment these leaders are clearly breaking, which is the commandment about not murdering someone, it is interesting to see that these leaders are clearly breaking God’s Law in order to protect their tradition.

It’s also interesting to note that this might hint at the truth that once someone breaks one of the commandments, it is easier to break the others.

However, how does Pilate respond to this charge. Let’s continue reading to discover what happened. Picking back up in verse three:

So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.”

Let’s pause here briefly because this doesn’t seem like much of an interrogation. John’s gospel describes in greater detail a conversation that Jesus has with Pilate. With how the gospels are written, and the unique details that each includes, it’s possible that John’s gospel’s conversation happens at this point, but it could also happen at the end of our passage for this episode.

For that reason, next week, we’ll look at John’s gospel and this conversation Jesus has with Pilate a little more closely.

With that said, after Pilate announces to the religious leaders that he doesn’t find any basis for a charge against Jesus, we continue reading in verse 5, which tells us:

But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.”

On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. 11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. 12 That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies.

It is interesting in my mind to read Luke’s concluding note about Herod and Pilate becoming friends that day. Herod and Pilate were likely two of the most opposite people one could find, and they hated each other – that is until they both had met Jesus. While neither likely placed their faith in Jesus after this point, it is fascinating to see that a shared experience is enough to turn enemies into friends.

It’s also interesting to wonder why Herod was in Jerusalem at that time. While it was a Jewish festival and a time for Jews to travel to Jerusalem, Herod wouldn’t have cared about that. Part of me wonders if this was because not long before this, when being pushed out of a town, the religious leaders warn Jesus that Herod is out to kill Him. In response, Jesus tells them to tell Herod a somewhat odd message, but one that might have been understood in Herod’s mind to relate to this weekend. It’s possible Herod was in Jerusalem because he believed he would get to meet Jesus, and because Jesus sent him the message that He did.

However, Herod’s meeting with Jesus wasn’t all that fulfilling. Herod wanted to see a miracle, or at least hear a response from Jesus to any of the questions he had or about the accusations of the religious leaders. After getting tired of the silence, Herod dresses Jesus up like a king for fun, and sends Him back to Pilate.

It is interesting in my mind why Jesus would remain silent in front of Herod, but He would respond to Pilate. Perhaps Jesus knew the attitude and heart of each leader, and He knew that Herod was unreachable. From what we read described in this passage, Herod comes into his meeting with Jesus with an agenda and an expectation. If Jesus had done anything to satisfy Herod’s agenda, Herod would likely have released Him. Herod had heard about Jesus, and he wants something to satisfy his curiosity.

If Jesus had performed a miracle for Herod, not only would God not receive any of the glory, which was one of the main reasons Jesus did miracles, but Herod likely would have released Jesus as a token of gratitude. Herod was outside of his jurisdiction in Jerusalem, and because of this, he could not execute Jesus here. Herod could have carted Jesus away to the area he did have jurisdiction over and kill Him there, but that wouldn’t have satisfied prophecy, and silence doesn’t warrant death.

Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate because Jesus isn’t being fun, and because Jesus isn’t responding to his demands.

In this passage, and in the discussion Jesus has with both Herod and Pilate, we discover that Jesus strategically responds in a way that maintains His innocence, but that also does not prompt Him to be released. Neither leader believed Jesus was worthy of death, but neither leader was willing to free Jesus against the wishes of the religious leaders.

This dilemma is similar to a choice that we all must make in our lives. The choice is simple to describe, but challenging to decide. The choice is this: What will you decide about Jesus?

When you think about Jesus, will you think of Him as a Jewish carpenter who had some profound things to say and who died too soon because He was betrayed by someone He thought was a friend. Or when you think about Jesus, will you see Him as God who came to earth as a human and who chose death to pay the price for our sins when He did not deserve them. One way paints Jesus as a man, the other way paints Jesus as a Savior.

Culture wants you to leave Jesus as a man in the pages of history because it is the easy thing to do. However, if Jesus came to be our Savior, then there is no more relevant of a time than today to place our hope, faith, trust, and belief in Him to save us for eternity!

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

If you haven’t made the decision about who Jesus is yet, take the time to make your decision today. When your life ends, it would be a tragedy if you were left on the fence and Jesus ended up being important. Through my personal study, I have chosen Jesus, as you likely have guessed, and I believe this decision is the only decision that matters from the perspective of eternity.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. God wants a personal relationship with you, and while He sends people into our lives with ideas and good things to think about, He doesn’t want anyone getting in the middle of your 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, chicken out of, or abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of the Cross – Episode 39: When Pilate and Herod meet Jesus, they end up becoming friends when they had been enemies. Discover how this friendship might have happened, and the important decision we all must make before our lives end.

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Flashback Episode — A Manager for God: Mark 12:1-12

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When I read from the gospels and focus on the parables Jesus spoke to the various crowds and other groups of people, I occasionally wonder how much of the underlying truth in what is shared actually gets understood by those in Jesus’ audience. There are some places in the gospels where we are told that the people would hear Jesus words, but miss understanding the meaning of His message, and this is quoting from an Old Testament Prophecy.

However, there are other parables that don’t seem to be as misunderstood. One example of a parable like this is shared during the week Jesus was crucified, and in some ways, I wonder if this parable helped build confirmation bias in the religious leaders that they needed to get Jesus out of the picture.

This parable and event is recorded in three of the four gospels, and for our time together, let’s focus on Mark’s version of what happened. We will be reading from the gospel of Mark, chapter 12, using the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us:

Then Jesus spoke to them in parables: “Once there was a man who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a hole for the wine press, and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to tenants and left home on a trip. When the time came to gather the grapes, he sent a slave to the tenants to receive from them his share of the harvest. The tenants grabbed the slave, beat him, and sent him back without a thing. Then the owner sent another slave; the tenants beat him over the head and treated him shamefully. The owner sent another slave, and they killed him; and they treated many others the same way, beating some and killing others. The only one left to send was the man’s own dear son. Last of all, then, he sent his son to the tenants. ‘I am sure they will respect my son,’ he said. But those tenants said to one another, ‘This is the owner’s son. Come on, let’s kill him, and his property will be ours!’ So they grabbed the son and killed him and threw his body out of the vineyard.

“What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do?” asked Jesus. “He will come and kill those tenants and turn the vineyard over to others. 10 Surely you have read this scripture?

‘The stone which the builders rejected as worthless
    turned out to be the most important of all.
11 This was done by the Lord;
    what a wonderful sight it is!’”

12 The Jewish leaders tried to arrest Jesus, because they knew that he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

As I read the conclusion of this passage, it appears that the Jewish leaders who were in the crowd realized they were the villains in Jesus’ parable, and they did not like it. Some of these leaders even started to move towards Jesus in order to arrest Him before being pulled back by other leaders who were afraid of the crowd’s response.

But what I find most amazing about the leaders hostile response is that it essentially confirms the plotline of Jesus’ parable – and it subtly confirms the character of Jesus as the vineyard owner’s son. Whether they intended to do so or not, the reaction of these religious leaders in Jerusalem validate Jesus’ claim to be God’s Son, while in the same moment incriminating themselves as the hostile tenants.

While it seems strange to think of a landowner killing misbehaving tenants in today’s culture, I wonder if that was not as strange then. Perhaps this translation of the Bible tried to smooth over the idea of these “tenants” actually being slaves who were left with the responsibility of managing the vineyard. In this case, even if it is not politically correct in today’s western culture, killing a slave is not as unheard of.

However, note that regardless of the culture, these tenants or slaves, whichever term we want to use, have shown themselves to not value life or the privilege of managing the vineyard. They were given what some might call a dream job, and they let themselves become arrogant and prideful. While God doesn’t like those who are arrogant or proud, the real issue that we see with the tenants in the vineyard is that they are unwilling to return the owners share of the harvest.

In this subtle detail, we see a clue into a big truth that is just as applicable to western, non-agriculture societies as well as the culture Jesus lived in. When a tenant mistakenly believes himself or herself to be an owner, they risk becoming greedy and resentful towards the true Owner. While God isn’t making a statement against the concept of land ownership in this parable, He is instead pointing our attention to the truth that no-one truly owns anything in this universe aside from the One who created it.

While we have been gifted with the freedom of choice, and the responsibility of managing various amounts of time, talent, money, stuff, and in some cases, even property, the truth is that we don’t truly own anything the government might claim we own. When we shift our focus onto thinking we are managers instead of CEOs, we have a better frame of reference for handling the times when God asks us to return His portion to Him.

The religious leaders during the generation Jesus walked on the earth might have verbally claimed to serve God. However, the way they acted and the organization they developed themselves into was one that acted like a CEO on spiritual (and non-spiritual) matters, rather than one that acted like a spiritual aid with the aim of helping others. With this mindset, it’s no wonder why God couldn’t step in with the truth that He was still the rightful landowner – the tenants had tricked themselves into believing a lie.

When a tenant mistakenly believes himself or herself to be an owner, they risk becoming greedy and resentful towards the true Owner. But when we shift our focus onto thinking we are managers instead of CEOs, we have a better frame of reference for handling the times when God comes and asks us to return His portion to Him.

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

Continue seeking God first in your life. Choose to see yourself as a manager who has been entrusted with things that God values – things such as your time, talent, wealth, and property, as well as your spouse and children if you have them, and even your attitude. All of these things are things that God has entrusted you with. The challenge is to see yourself as a manager, and be open to God’s leading, guiding, and suggestions where He chooses to insert them.

Also, continue to study the Bible for yourself so you can better recognize who God is and what He is like, so that when the voices of culture try to speak their opinions onto what God has entrusted you to manage, you will be able to discern the wise suggestions from the foolish speculation. Remember, God is the true Owner, and we are to defer to Him for the best way to manage what we have been blessed with.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never believe yourself to be more or less than the person God created you to be and never stop short of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 38: Cam discusses a parable Jesus shares about some hostile, wicked tenants, and what the religious leaders validate about themselves when Jesus shared this parable.

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

Blinded By Hostility: Matthew 27:1-10

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On the morning Jesus was crucified, after the religious leaders had condemned Jesus and took Him off to Pilate, Matthew describes in his gospel that Judas Iscariot, the betrayer, regretted what had happened. Perhaps in an attempt to make things right or to undo what he had done, he returns to the chief priests and leaders with the money he had been paid.

Let’s read about what happened in our passage for this episode. This event is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 27, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 1, Matthew tells us that:

Early in the morning all the chief priests and the leaders of the people decided to execute Jesus. They tied him up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Then Judas, who had betrayed Jesus, regretted what had happened when he saw that Jesus was condemned. He brought the 30 silver coins back to the chief priests and leaders. He said, “I’ve sinned by betraying an innocent man.”

They replied, “What do we care? That’s your problem.”

So he threw the money into the temple, went away, and hanged himself.

The chief priests took the money and said, “It’s not right to put it into the temple treasury, because it’s blood money.” So they decided to use it to buy a potter’s field for the burial of strangers. That’s why that field has been called the Field of Blood ever since. Then what the prophet Jeremiah had said came true, “They took the 30 silver coins, the price the people of Israel had placed on him, 10 and used the coins to buy a potter’s field, as the Lord had directed me.”

In this passage, we discover that not only were all the details of this event predicted centuries prior to it happening, but that the religious leaders probably didn’t realize they were fulfilling prophecy with their actions. Jeremiah had predicted that the 30 silver coins that were used to pay for the Messiah’s betrayal would be returned, and that these coins would be used to buy a potter’s field.

However, as I read this event, the fulfilled prophecy is not the thing that stands out to me the most. Even the amazing idea that the religious leaders, specifically those people who would have known the scriptures the best, would have let themselves so willingly fulfill prophecies concerning the Messiah, is not the biggest thing to stand out in my mind. Judas Iscariot returning the money, while fascinating in itself, is also not the biggest thing I am amazed by in this passage.

The biggest thing I see in this passage is the response the religious leaders give to Judas when he returned the money. Judas tells these leaders in verse 4, “I’ve sinned by betraying an innocent man.

Judas Iscariot realized that he had done wrong and when he realized this, he at least attempted to make it right.

However, in contrast, the religious leaders respond by saying, “What do we care? That’s your problem.

If Judas Iscariot betrayed someone he knew was innocent, then the religious leaders reveal their hostility and prejudice against Jesus through their response that is completely blind to the idea that Jesus is truly innocent. Judas Iscariot knew Jesus’ innocence, and Jesus’ innocence had not changed in any way from the time He was arrested to the point when Judas returned the money. The fact that these leaders don’t care about Jesus’ innocence speaks to the fact that they had already judged Jesus as guilty before actually having a case against Him.

With their response, the religious leaders incriminate themselves even more than Judas Iscariot had, because at least Judas Iscariot had realized what he had done before his life had ended. The religious leaders charged forward into greater guilt because they were 100% responsible for Jesus’ death. Judas Iscariot was merely responsible for the timing of His death, and the Roman government was responsible for the method of death Jesus received.

If one were to take the religious leaders out of the picture, no death would have occurred. Without the religious leaders to pay Judas Iscariot for a betrayal, there would have been no betrayal, and as we will soon discover, Pilate doesn’t discover anything worthy of death in his conversation with Jesus. In this passage, we see just how opposed to God the religious leaders are that they blind themselves to how they break one of the clearest commandments of the Old Testament, which simply says, “Don’t murder”.

On seeing that the religious leaders weren’t going to undo what he had started, Judas throws the money at them before committing suicide. Judas Iscariot was the only disciple to lose his life on the weekend Jesus died, and this was his choice.

However, just like the religious leaders were blinded by prejudice against Jesus, Judas Iscariot was also blind. Judas was blind, or perhaps we should say deaf, to all the warnings Jesus had told the disciples leading up to the cross. Jesus knew He would die that weekend before Judas even had any idea he would be the betrayer. If Judas Iscariot had realized or remembered Jesus’ words and simply delayed the emotional decision to end his life, it’s possible that Judas would have been visited by a resurrected Jesus and received a second invitation to follow, similar to Peter’s experience.

In this entire event, we see the religious leaders recognizing that they are acting outside of God’s will by paying for a betrayal and pressing for a death where it was not deserved. They recognize that the money they used to buy the betrayal is tainted and shouldn’t be given directly to God. They knowingly, or unknowingly fulfill one of the most amazing Old Testament prophecies that described exactly what would happen with the blood money.

In our own lives, when we fail God, it is easy to think that we have no hope for a future. However, Jesus came to replace our hopelessness with the promise of a new life with God in heaven. Jesus took the punishment for our sins even though He was innocent, so that we could receive the reward that He deserved for living a sinless life.

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

As always, be sure to seek God first and place Him first in your life. If you ever mess up and feel like you have failed God, the best response you can make is to humbly go to Him in prayer and ask for forgiveness. God is always willing to forgive a humble and repentant person who asks.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal connection with God and to grow your relationship with Him. A personal relationship with God leads to life now, and not just eternal life in the future. A personal relationship with God leads to a better life in our current lives in spite of the sin that’s present. The best relationship with God we can have will have a foundation of prayer and personal Bible study.

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

Year of the Cross – Episode 38: When Judas Iscariot tries to return the money he was paid to betray Jesus, the religious leaders have an interesting response. Discover what happened and what we can learn from one of the darkest passages in the entire Bible.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.