Flashback Episode — The Only Gift of Value: Mark 12:41-44

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After being challenged by the religious leaders, asking His own question to stump them, and challenging both the leaders and the crowd listening in about what they should pay attention to and focus on, it appears that before Jesus left the temple that day, He decided to take a strategic break to teach the disciples an object lesson.

Both Mark and Luke include this short event, and when we look at what happened and compare it with what Jesus taught, we discover some amazing principles. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 12, and we will read it from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 41, Mark tells us that:

41 Jesus sat near the Temple money box and watched the people put in their money. Many rich people gave large sums of money. 42 Then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which were only worth a few cents.

43 Calling his followers to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow gave more than all those rich people. 44 They gave only what they did not need. This woman is very poor, but she gave all she had; she gave all she had to live on.”

In these four short verses, Jesus attempts to shifts the disciples’ focus. When reading about this shift, I first wonder how affected the disciples were at this. Some of the disciples probably remembered this teaching later and realized it to be profound, while others, probably most notably Judas Iscariot, probably discounted it based on a greedy spirit. Looking at the time frame of events, we know that Mary had already poured the perfume on Jesus at this point, and Judas had challenged the extraordinary nature of this gift. John describes Judas Iscariot as not being truly interested in the poor, but being greedy and generous towards himself with the bag of money he was entrusted to keep.

This short object lesson is powerful when we look closely at it. When we look at what this teaches about giving and generosity, I don’t believe for a moment that God is challenging His followers to give away all their money. If that were the focus of this lesson, Jesus would have told the disciples that they should give like this poor widow.

However, no such command is given.

Instead, this teaching focuses on God’s perspective regarding giving, and it shows us several interesting angles regarding giving from God’s perspective.

First, Jesus describes the widow’s gift as giving all she had to live on, in contrast to the others who “gave only what they did not need”. This first angle teaches us that when giving to God, we should give to God first. Some people describe this as returning God’s tithes as His portion of what He has blessed us with. The term tithe simply means “tenth”, and this is where we get the meaning that a tithe is ten percent of our income, but when we look at this passage, nothing here is described as tithe or offering.

Instead, this widow gave everything she had to God because she trusted that He would supply her with everything she needed. This widow’s gift demonstrates a complete dependence on God and 100% trust in Him.

Mixed within this first angle of giving, we see the widow giving her heart to God with her money and her trust. Including her heart with her gift made the widow’s gift infinitely more valuable than other givers who simply gave money from their excess, which also means that their gifts would not include their hearts. A gift that includes the giver’s heart is always more valuable than a gift without a heart included.

Another angle of giving we can see described here is a percentage based giving. It’s possible that God looks more at what percentage we give of our income or our net worth when He calculates the value of our gift. Jesus describes this widow as giving everything she had, which would be like saying she gave 100%, and this contrasts a much lower percentage in those who gave only what they did not need.

This second angle is perhaps the more popular one, however I don’t think it fits the way God values giving as well as the first angle we focused on.

A third angle of giving flips the second angle around. Instead of focusing on percentages of what is given, the third angle focuses on what we keep in contrast to what we gave. We can see this perspective in Jesus’ framing of the first group of givers. These people give what they don’t need, which means that they keep what they needed to live on first. These givers focus on what they will keep first, and then give from the rest.

To contrast this, the widow doesn’t focus on what she will keep and instead gives everything. She is commended on giving more because she has nothing left after she gave which clearly contrasts the other people who have more than enough to live on after they have finished giving.

From both the second and third angle, we discover that the widow probably would have given more than everyone else even if she had only given one coin. It’s unlikely the other givers were giving more than 50% of their earnings or wealth, and they clearly had more left over after their giving than a single copper coin.

However, if the widow had only given one copper coin, it’s likely she would have failed the first angle of giving. If the widow had kept one coin back, it’s likely that her gift would not have included her heart, and without her heart included, her gift wouldn’t have been as valuable.

From looking at these few short verses and the object lesson Jesus pulls from them, we discover the amazing truth that God doesn’t value the number of coins we give. Instead, God values the percentage of our gift, God values gifts where the giving is enough to affect our lives because we gave first and enough for our hearts to take notice, and God values gifts that are large enough that they include our hearts with them. Giving that includes our hearts makes our gifts valuable in God’s eyes!

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

Always place God first and when giving gifts to Him, be sure to give in a way that includes your heart.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. While a pastor, podcaster, or speaker can give you ideas to think about, only through personal prayer and Bible study can you grow a personal relationship – and when giving is involved, only through personal giving can you grow the spirit of generosity that will include your heart.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 14: While sitting in the temple watching people give their gifts, Jesus sees something that amazes Him, and He teaches the disciples how a small gift might actual be bigger than a large one.

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The Conclusion: Matthew 7:13-29

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As Jesus finishes up His famous Sermon on the Mount, we discover that He saves a very challenging parable and illustration for the very end. As Jesus concludes this sermon, we discover a very bleak picture for those who choose not to pay attention to His message. However, before sharing this parable and illustration, Jesus has a challenge and a warning for His followers and those who are deciding whether to join His followers or not.

Let’s read what Jesus told those present for this sermon and discover what we can learn from what He taught. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7, and we will be reading it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 13, Jesus continued preaching, saying:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate because the gate and road that lead to destruction are wide. Many enter through the wide gate. 14 But the narrow gate and the road that lead to life are full of trouble. Only a few people find the narrow gate.

15 “Beware of false prophets. They come to you disguised as sheep, but in their hearts they are vicious wolves. 16 You will know them by what they produce.

“People don’t pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles, do they? 17 In the same way every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Any tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So you will know them by what they produce.

Let’s pause briefly here because Jesus has just finished sharing a challenge and a warning, and before moving into Jesus’ concluding parable, I want to draw our attention onto a couple things we can learn from this first portion of our passage.

First off, most people familiar with Jesus’ teaching are familiar with Jesus teaching about the wide and narrow road and the wide and narrow gate. However, I found it interesting that in verse 14, Jesus tells us that “the narrow gate and the road that lead to life are full of trouble”. While this seems obvious on one level, it is something we don’t often like thinking about.

Jesus tells us that when we choose the narrow path leading towards the narrow gate, we will experience a life full of trouble. When we think about this, it makes sense because God has an enemy and he is opposed to anyone and everyone finding the way to God and living the way God desires humanity to live.

Jesus also warns us about the coming of false prophets. Those who Jesus describes coming as false prophets will appear like sheep, but their hearts are not at all Christ-like. Jesus tells us that we can spot them by what they produce, or in other words, by their actions.

Those who produce people who are Christ-like, who love others, who place the good of humanity ahead of themselves, and who desire to lead others to Christ are true prophets. False prophets desire to turn people against each other, false prophets draw people to focus on them instead of focusing on God, false prophets set themselves up as middlemen, claiming to speak for God, and false prophets lead people to act in un-Christ-like ways. The lives and actions of a prophet will tell you whether a prophet is a true prophet send from God or a false prophet that wants to lead you away from God.

However, Jesus has saved a warning for everyone that He wraps up in a sobering parable. Continuing in verse 21, Jesus tells the crowd:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ 23 Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. 25 Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock.

26 “Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it will be like a foolish person who built a house on sand. 27 Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed, and the result was a total disaster.”

28 When Jesus finished this speech, the crowds were amazed at his teachings. 29 Unlike their experts in Moses’ Teachings, he taught them with authority.

This last statement summarizes how the crowds reacted to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Matthew tells us that they were amazed at His teachings, and that they recognized that Jesus spoke with an authority that their experts in Moses’ teaching did not appear to have.

However, the final parable Jesus shares is very challenging. Jesus leads into this parable saying that not everyone who calls out His name will be saved in God’s kingdom. Jesus describes a group of people who are very familiar with Jesus, but who are ultimately lost.

Jesus emphasizes the differences between the saved and the not saved in a few different places and a few different ways. First, in the last portion of verse 21, Jesus describes a person who is saved as someone “who does what my Father in heaven wants”. In the whole faith vs. works debate over salvation, Jesus challenges us with the truth that actions do matter in God’s eyes!

It appears as though some of those who are thrown out prophesied in Jesus’ name, forced demons out in Jesus’ name, and performed other miracles using the power of Jesus’ name. However, Jesus still describes them as evil people. It would seem like those in this group knew a lot about Jesus and about spiritual matters, but they missed having a relationship with Jesus. Jesus tells this group: “I’ve never known you.

In the parable of the two house builders, the wise builder is described as listening to Jesus and obeying it. In contrast, the foolish builder is not described as ignoring Jesus, but as someone who listens to Jesus but who does not apply or obey what Jesus has said in their lives. The key distinction between being wise vs. being foolish is in our obedience to Jesus’ teaching. Without obedience, our house will collapse because it was built on sand; without obedience, we cannot have a relationship with Jesus; and without obedience, we will be left outside calling out for Jesus to open the door for us. According to Jesus’ conclusion to His sermon, without obedience, no level of faith can save us.

Obedience alone will not bring us salvation. Our salvation is found in a saving relationship that is based on faith, trust, hope, and belief in Jesus mixed with obeying what He asks us to do. The way to life is narrow, and it is filled with opposition, but even with this description and conclusion looking bleak, remember that Jesus has made the way for us, and as we intentionally continue moving towards Him, He will continue making the path He wants us to walk on become clearer with each and every step!

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 resolve today to obey God and to obey Jesus’ teaching. If you are uncertain what God’s will for your life is, perhaps opening your Bible is the next best thing.

This leads perfectly into our next big challenge, which is to continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Through prayer and Bible study, you can grow a relationship with God and as you pray and study, God’s will for your life will become clearer and clearer.

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 let anything distract or discourage you from going where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 13: As Jesus finishes His Sermon on the Mount, discover how His teaching affects the crowds present, and how Jesus’ final message is a challenge for all God’s people throughout the centuries.

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Flashback Episode — Avoiding the Pharisee Trap: Matthew 23:1-36

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After Jesus finished countering the religious leaders’ growing set of challenges with a question of His own that they were unable to answer, Jesus turns and challenges the crowd and His disciples regarding the Pharisees and the scribes. However, while we are quick to point out the religious leaders’ hypocrisy in Jesus’ statement, we too easily miss something that Jesus tells the crowd that seems impossible.

While our passage is long and we might not make it through all of it, let’s dive in and discover what Jesus teaches us about the scribes and the Pharisees. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 23, and we will be reading it from the New American Standard Bible. Starting in verse 1:

1 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 

Let’s pause here for a moment because Jesus just said something that we might easily miss. While Jesus has just challenged the religious leaders and framed their hypocrisy as their words not matching their actions, we might be tempted to throw out everything the religious leaders said and did as worthless.

But this is not what Jesus told the crowd in these opening verses. He tells the crowd to follow what the religious leaders teach, but don’t mimic the religious leaders’ actions. The religious leaders teach an ideal that they are unwilling to live up to.

However, when we look at Jesus’ words, the ideal that the religious leaders are pointing people to is not bad. The ideal actually is living within the law on all fronts, and actually it is well away from breaking the law. But the religious leaders acted in a way that cheapened their influence and authority. They didn’t practice what they preached.

Before continuing the passage, the ideal that the religious leaders had placed on the people was all but impossible to attain. It was a great ideal for people to shoot for, but both the law and the ideal standard the religious leaders held up was based on not breaking the law. However, one of the biggest reasons God gave us the law was to help people see and remember their need of a Savior and to remind people that the punishment for their sin was placed on something and ultimately Someone else.

However, when the religious leaders lost the reason for the law and for the sacrifices, their religion became a ritual that had lost its true meaning. Without love and thankfulness in their hearts for what the law pointed to, the law become elevated into God’s standard that He would punish them for at the instant they broke even the tiniest clause. Without seeing the blessing the law pointed towards, the religious leaders feared God’s punishment and they set up regulations to keep people from even breaking the law.

This was great until the focus was so much on avoiding the law that they lost the love, and pride, arrogance, and status crept into their hearts and they began to value their status over their call to serve others. Verse 4 describes the current state of the religious leaders the following way: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.

Continuing in verse 5:

5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their *phylacteries [small boxes that contained scriptures] and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

We’ll stop reading here. The rest of our passage continues by both warning and challenging the scribes and Pharisees regarding their focus, their attitudes, and the hypocrisy of their actions. Jesus elaborates His statement about the Pharisees and religious leaders doing their deeds to be admired by others, and how they had elevated themselves over everyone else.

However, in this opening statement for the rest of the passage, Jesus gives us a powerful frame of reference that we should pay attention to. While the scribes and Pharisees focused on status, and being praised and looked up to by others, Jesus tells His disciples and all His followers that they should avoid this. When giving us a new frame of reference, Jesus challenges us to remember who God is and what He does for us.

In an interesting twist, we discover each of the members of the Godhead in Jesus’ new frame of reference.

The first thing Jesus shares is that we shouldn’t call each other Rabbi, which is another word for teacher. In a similar way, we might be better served by avoiding the word pastor, preacher, or teacher as well. All these terms focus on separating those with knowledge and information from those who don’t have access to it. These terms focus on looking up to those with the knowledge and following them.

Jesus challenges this frame of reference by reminding us that God is our Teacher; God is our Rabbi. While Jesus was the One teaching them in that moment, the member of the Godhead who is responsible for teaching is the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit comes, one responsibility He has is leading God’s people into all truth. We should look to God to teach us, especially relating to all things spiritual.

Next Jesus challenges us to not call anyone on earth our father, because we all have One Father, and this Father is who is in Heaven. We call this Father, God the Father, and He is just as responsible for us being alive on this earth as our biological parents are. God the Father created each of us, and because He did this, we can know and trust that He has a plan for our lives.

Lastly, Jesus challenges us to not call anyone our leader because we have One Leader, and this Leader is Christ. We shouldn’t focus on the idea of leadership but instead of service towards others. If we look up to anyone to lead us, the One we should be looking to is Christ, the Son, Jesus.

When looking at this clear challenge Jesus gives us in Matthew’s gospel, we discover that both in the Christian world and in the secular world, people call each other teacher, father, and leader. While each term might be not as widespread in certain groups, all three terms that Jesus challenges us to reserve for God are widely used to describe humans.

Some of these terms we cannot help but use in certain contexts, but with how Jesus concludes this section of His teaching, we discover that while we cannot stop others from using these terms, our focus should be different. Jesus challenges His people to focus on serving one another, and on being humble.

Each of the terms Jesus describes as reserved for God are terms of status. If we seek to be known as a teacher, a father, or a leader, we seek to exalt ourselves, and Jesus tells us that this will result in us being humbled. Instead, we are to serve others humbly, and if they see us as a teacher, a father, or a leader, we humbly point them to God, who is our Teacher, our Father, and our Leader!

Jesus challenges us to look to God for our knowledge, because He is our Teacher; our purpose, because He is our Father; and our mission, because He is our Leader!

As we conclude another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Seek God first and look to Him for knowledge, for purpose, and for mission. While the world wants to be the source of each of these things, God is the only source that can truly answer all of these desires in a satisfactory way.

As you seek God first and as you seek the answers for these areas of life, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself. Through prayer and Bible study, we are able to draw near to God and we grow our relationship with Him. As we grow closer to God, all three areas of life become clearer.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 13: After silencing the religious leaders and their trick questions and traps, Jesus teaches about where we should place our focus, and three major areas where we should focus on God in our lives.

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Giving Like God Gave: Matthew 7:1-12

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As Jesus nears the end of His famous Sermon on the Mount, He challenges those in the crowd, as well as His followers, about a couple things before giving them a big promise that directly relates to how God answers prayers. If you have felt condemned by God, or if you’ve felt as though your prayers are going unheard, perhaps this portion of Jesus’ sermon was shared just for you, and perhaps for people who have felt similar to you.

Let’s dive in and discover what Jesus taught those present about God. Our passage for this episode is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Jesus tells the crowd of followers:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Let’s pause briefly here to focus on some of what Jesus has just shared. In this portion of our passage, Jesus challenges His followers to only judge others in the same way they would like to be judged. What is interesting about this challenge is that when we judge others, we look at their actions and we assume their intentions from their actions.

However, when we judge ourselves, we look at our intentions and filter the meaning of our actions through our intentions. This is like saying that we judge others by what they did, but we expect to be judged for what we do by why we did it.

This is what Jesus warned us about, because if we judge others by their actions, we will ultimately be judged by our actions as well. Knowing this spiritual rule, we should be even more forgiving and loving towards others, because if we “judge” others through the filter of “forgiveness” and “reuniting people together” then that is how we will be judged, which is another way of saying that we will also experience forgiveness and acceptance.

When we look at other people, we are quick to see even the tiniest fault they have, but when we look at ourselves, we are blind to the biggest faults of our own. If we want to help others with their problems, we should first be conscious, aware, and working to remove the huge faults from our own life as well. We probably should also be careful and cautious about how we approach offering our help to others. If the person we want to help is aware of their speck but also aware of our plank, then it is unlikely they would want our help and it is unlikely they will change their minds regardless of how insistent we are offering our help.

Before moving to the second section of our passage, Jesus shares an interesting metaphor warning us to not throw sacred things to dogs or pearls to pigs. While this has been understood to mean a number of things, or to suggest a number of different things, I think Jesus is warning us to not be too quick about sharing spiritual things with those who are not interested in spiritual matters. This would be like advising us to not take what is precious to us and give it to a pack of dogs or a herd of pigs. Neither group of animals would value it like you might hope they would, and in the same way, people who are unconcerned about spiritual things are not going to care about the spiritual things that you want to share. They might even hate you for it.

However, Jesus then turns his attention onto prayer and onto how we should expect God to answer our requests. Continuing in verse 7, Jesus tells those present:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

In this passage, when we pray and when we ask God for the things we need, sometimes it seems as though He is ignoring us. However, according to this promise, God will give us what we ask for, help us find what we seek, and will open the doors we knock on. This seems simple enough, except for what Jesus then follows up by saying.

Jesus challenges those present when they think about a parent/child relationship that those in the parent role want to give what is good, helpful, and safe to their children. Jesus says that this is even the case with evil people. However, what about God, who knows the end from the beginning, and who knows exactly what we need even if what we need is not what we are asking for?

If we are asking for what God sees as a snake or a stone, which in this context are two things that are not beneficial for us, do you think God will give us something He knows will hurt us? While our requests are sincere and from our perspective, we are asking for what we believe we need, God has a much bigger perspective and a much bigger goal for our lives than we can imagine. God’s ultimate goal is saving us, and as many people as possible for eternity, and with that perspective, if what we are asking for will put God’s goals in jeopardy, then He isn’t going to answer our prayer in the way we think He should answer it.

When we pray, we should pray with trust in God that the answers He sends are exactly what we need to help us, and those around us, to be saved for eternity – even if the answers He sends are not the same as the prayers we prayed.

It is interesting in my mind that Jesus concludes this idea by saying that the law is summed up in the phrase “do to others what you would have them do to you”. Jesus has just been talking about prayer and about God’s gifts to us. It is as though this thought could extend beyond just our interaction with each other and it give us a frame of reference to understand God as well.

Within the context of Jesus’ message, we can understand Jesus telling us that God gave us everything He had, including His own Son to take the punishment for our sins — and while God doesn’t require the same back from us, it is what He desires to see. God did for us what He would want us to do for Him!

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 seek God first and to love God like He has loved you. When looking for examples of how God has loved you and placed humanity first, look no further than what Jesus did for us. Jesus left Heaven, became human, suffered ridicule and rejection from those who should have known better, and ultimately Jesus gave His life. The Bible teaches that after Jesus’ resurrection and return to heaven, He is still ministering on our behalf before God’s throne in the Heavenly sanctuary. Jesus has given Himself entirely to humanity!

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word for anything, or anyone else’s word for that matter. Instead, study out God’s truth for yourself in prayer and Bible study to know for yourself what He teaches us through His Word.

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

Year in Matthew – Episode 12: Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shares several warnings before teaching us about how God answers our prayers. Jesus then sums up the Law by describing it in one phrase, which many people might be familiar with, but which the context make this phrase extra powerful!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.