Flashback Episode — Standing Up for Jesus: Mark 14:66-72

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While Jesus was being tried in the religious court, Peter is outside warming himself by the fire. Even though He and the other disciples scattered and left Jesus to be arrested, Peter is one disciple who wants to know firsthand what the results of this trial will be. Peter knew Jesus had sidestepped every other encounter with the religious leaders, and I wonder if he wants to be an early witness of one more brilliant evasive maneuver that Peter knows Jesus is capable of.

However, this also sets Peter up for what he feared the most, and that fear was letting Jesus down. Let’s read about what happens.

Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 14, and we will be reading from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 66, Mark describes the scene to us:

66 As Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Nazarene.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are talking about.” And he went out onto the porch. 69 The servant-girl saw him, and began once more to say to the bystanders, “This is one of them!” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders were again saying to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean too.” 71 But he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this man you are talking about!” 72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep.

In this passage, all Peter wanted to do was be close to Jesus while also being anonymous. Peter wanted to be present if Jesus needed him, but otherwise, he wanted to remain unknown.

However, a perceptive servant-girl speaks up and blows his cover. Whether this servant-girl was with the crowd and soldiers who went to arrest Jesus, or whether she happened to have seen Peter with Jesus at some point earlier in the week when Jesus was teaching and preaching in the temple, we see in this passage, that Peter could not escape being recognized for His presence with Jesus.

It’s quite possible that many of the crowd that Peter was mingling with were among those who were part of the crowd that had arrested Jesus. Peter’s outburst with the sword during Jesus’ arrest would be enough to single him out in the memory of those present. However, it was dark out, and perhaps not many people were able to see Peter clearly enough to recognize him at first.

In this passage, in spite of Peter’s big declaration the previous evening that he would never deny Jesus, we discover that Jesus’ prediction rings true regardless of how insistently Peter denied Jesus’ words to the contrary.

However, Peter’s big failure in this passage gives us hope. It is likely we are not as arrogant as Peter was. Someone who had walked with Jesus for over three years and who knew all about Him was the only one who we clearly read about openly denying Jesus. The rest of the disciples deserted Jesus, but Peter is the only one who denied knowing Him.

In our own lives, while we walk with Jesus in a spiritual sense, we walk by faith. God has called us to be His representatives in the world we live in. When people ask whether we know Jesus, it might be easy to simply minimize our connection to Him, but the easy path leads us to regret.

When Peter realized that Jesus’ words came true, and that he had denied Him the three times, it breaks Peter’s heart. Peter regretted his mistakes and his denials. If we deny Jesus when we know Him and claim to follow Him, we walk Peter’s path of regret.

It’s hard to say if Peter’s fear of being recognized would have been realized if those present knew he had been with Jesus. Peter’s fear was that he would be pulled in and put on trial next to Jesus.

In an interesting way, this is also the fear many of us face today. If others know we love, follow, and believe in Jesus, will they ridicule us and make fun of us? Will we be laughed at or abused by others because of our belief?

Sometimes, our fears describe an illusion. Sometimes we can say these fears are simply false evidence that appears real. However, other times, our fears may be realized. Sometimes standing up for Jesus does mean that we lose something in the present world.

However, when we stand up for Jesus in this life, we gain much more than we lose. If we stand up for Jesus and we lose friends, we can look forward to the promise of new and better friends in the future. If we stand up for Jesus and lose family, God has promised us a new family – His family, that He adopts us into. If we stand up for Jesus and lose our lives, nothing worse can happen. Instead, when we lose our lives for Jesus in this world, we gain eternal life in the next one. And given the choice between life in a sinful world or a sinless one, always pick the world and life without sin!

Denying Jesus is never the right choice. Denying Jesus leads to regret. However, when we deny Jesus, we can still turn back to Him and experience forgiveness. When we fail God, He doesn’t fail or reject us. Instead, He’s standing with open arms waiting for us to repent and turn back to Him! Our failures are opportunities to experience God’s forgiveness.

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

Always seek God first and declare your allegiance to Him. When faced with the choice to acknowledge or deny Jesus, always choose to share your connection with Him. Telling people you love, believe, and have faith in Jesus is never the wrong choice from eternity’s perspective!

Also, always be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep your personal connection with God strong. While other people can give you ideas to think about, filter these ideas through the truth of God’s Word. Never let anyone discount, belittle, or shake your connection with God!

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 36: Peter faced regret when realizing he had denied Jesus exactly how Jesus had predicted. Learn how we can avoid making the same mistake and also that if we stumble and fall, God is willing to accept us back.

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Investing in Eternity: Matthew 19:16-30

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As we continue moving through Matthew’s gospel, we come to a question that sounds simple on the surface, but one that we often complicate much more than necessary. Also in this passage, we discover one of the most impossible analogies in the entire Bible, but even with its impossible nature, Jesus tells us that under certain conditions, what is described is indeed possible.

Let’s dive into this passage and discover what we can learn from Jesus’ teaching. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 19, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 16, Matthew tells us that:

16 A man came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to have life forever?”

17 Jesus answered, “Why do you ask me about what is good? Only God is good. But if you want to have life forever, obey the commands.”

18 The man asked, “Which commands?”

Jesus answered, “‘You must not murder anyone; you must not be guilty of adultery; you must not steal; you must not tell lies about your neighbor; 19 honor your father and mother; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.’”

20 The young man said, “I have obeyed all these things. What else do I need to do?”

21 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, then go and sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. If you do this, you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me.”

22 But when the young man heard this, he left sorrowfully, because he was rich.

Let’s pause briefly here, because I want to draw our attention onto something that is easy to miss. While Christians are always quick to point out that our faith saves us, everything in the structure of this passage is about obedience.

Jesus first frames the commands about honoring our neighbors as being central to obtaining eternal life. I’ve heard some people theorize that Jesus was cut short before moving to include commands from the first portion of the Ten Commandments, but the way Matthew frames this conversation, I don’t see this as being likely. Instead, Jesus wraps up this set of commands with the overall theme and command to love your neighbor as you love yourself, which isn’t part of the Ten Commandments, but it is a good summary statement for the commandments Jesus quotes.

From the way this man frames his request, he senses there is more, and he pushes Jesus for more details. I believe from the way this man answered the first response, and from Jesus not really touching on this other angle, that this man likely kept the other commandments from the Ten Commandments that Jesus didn’t mention.

Jesus shifts focus with His next response and He tells the man that the next step is selling what he has, giving the money to the poor, and that will give him treasure in heaven. I don’t believe this is the only time Jesus challenges someone to give their stuff away, but it is interesting in my mind how Jesus frames this challenge.

With this challenge, Jesus knows that the biggest distraction we have away from God is our stuff and our money. I believe Jesus does want this man to be one of His disciples, but Jesus can see the tug of this man’s money on his heart. If this man wasn’t wealthy, or if this man’s wealth was not a significant part of this man’s focus, either Jesus wouldn’t have challenged this man to give away what he had, or this man would have happily dropped everything to follow Jesus.

It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t ignore the necessity of faith in Him and the importance of following Him. Instead, Jesus frames this as being perhaps the easiest of the decisions, while the most difficult decisions needed are the ones focused on obedience and on keeping our focus on God above our stuff.

After this man left sorrowfully, verse 23 tells us:

23 Then Jesus said to his followers, “I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Yes, I tell you that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

25 When Jesus’ followers heard this, they were very surprised and asked, “Then who can be saved?”

26 Jesus looked at them and said, “For people this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

27 Peter said to Jesus, “Look, we have left everything and followed you. So what will we have?”

28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, when the age to come has arrived, the Son of Man will sit on his great throne. All of you who followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And all those who have left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children, or farms to follow me will get much more than they left, and they will have life forever. 30 Many who are first now will be last in the future. And many who are last now will be first in the future.

In this passage, we often focus on Jesus’ challenge that it is impossible for those who are rich to enter heaven, or that Jesus gives an opening for God making the way possible for rich people to enter God’s kingdom. Other people focus in on how the eye of a needle might refer to a narrow gate in one of Jerusalem’s walls, while other people exclaim that no evidence for such a gate exists.

Instead of focusing on any of these ideas, one big theme present in this entire passage that is often overlooked is the role of sacrifice in our salvation. In this passage, the more we sacrifice for God, the greater our rewards.

We can see this theme in the first portion of this passage, when the man leaves sorrowfully because he is unsure if he is willing to sacrifice that significantly. We see this theme present in the part where Jesus challenges His followers about the difficulty of getting into heaven, whether one is rich or not. Jesus’ message about it being impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven rings true because someone who is wealthy hasn’t given up everything they have for God. While God can make a way for a rich person to be saved, the way to salvation is through sacrifice, similar to how Jesus challenged the rich man in the first portion of this passage.

In the last section of this passage, Peter reminds Jesus what the disciples have sacrificed, before asking Jesus what their rewards will be. Jesus frames the rewards for sacrificing things in this world for Him as being rewards that will come in the age to come. This is the age after Jesus has returned as King. At this time, everyone who has sacrificed for God’s Kingdom will be rewarded with much more.

The message of this passage is about sacrifice and focus. Those who sacrifice in this life who are focused on and invested in the age to come will be rewarded infinitely more than those who focus on and invest in this life while sacrificing the next. Through Jesus, God has made the way for our salvation, and Jesus challenges His followers to sacrifice in this life and to keep our focus on the age to come!

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

As I regularly challenge you to do, continue intentionally seeking God first in your life. Choose to sacrifice things in this life because you are focused on the age to come, and remember that when we give up something in this life, God has a much better reward for us in the life to come. God hasn’t called us to live counter to His character, His will, or His law in this life. Instead, we are called to place God’s will, God’s law, and God’s desires ahead of our own.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word, or anyone else’s word, for anything at face value. Instead, test everything you read and hear through the lens of what the Bible teaches. If it is a spiritual truth, it will be validated or discredited through the Bible’s teaching. If a belief, teaching, or tradition contradicts the Bible, reject the belief, the teaching, or the tradition before ever considering rejecting the Bible.

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

Year in Matthew – Episode 35: In a challenging passage, discover how most people miss a really big theme while being too focused on the details of one or more smaller concepts. Discover how wealth doesn’t contradict God, but how it might reveal a misplaced focus. God is not hostile towards those who are rich, but He does have a challenge for them regarding where they have placed their focus.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — The Stamp of Approval: Mark 14:53-65

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After Jesus was arrested, He was brought before the high priest and all the leading priests, elders, and religious teachers. This was a spiritual gathering of all the Jewish leaders, and the verdict of this case would go down in history as the Jewish religion officially rejecting Jesus.

However, in this trial, we discover some fascinating things. But before we dive into what we can discover, let’s read this passage together to uncover what happened. Our passage for this episode is from Mark’s gospel, chapter 14, and we will be reading from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 53, Mark tells us that:

53 The people who arrested Jesus led him to the house of the high priest, where all the leading priests, the elders, and the teachers of the law were gathered. 54 Peter followed far behind and entered the courtyard of the high priest’s house. There he sat with the guards, warming himself by the fire.

55 The leading priests and the whole Jewish council tried to find something that Jesus had done wrong so they could kill him. But the council could find no proof of anything. 56 Many people came and told false things about him, but all said different things—none of them agreed.

57 Then some people stood up and lied about Jesus, saying, 58 “We heard this man say, ‘I will destroy this Temple that people made. And three days later, I will build another Temple not made by people.’” 59 But even the things these people said did not agree.

60 Then the high priest stood before them and asked Jesus, “Aren’t you going to answer? Don’t you have something to say about their charges against you?” 61 But Jesus said nothing; he did not answer.

The high priest asked Jesus another question: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed God?”

62 Jesus answered, “I am. And in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, the Powerful One, and coming on clouds in the sky.”

63 When the high priest heard this, he tore his clothes and said, “We don’t need any more witnesses! 64 You all heard him say these things against God. What do you think?”

They all said that Jesus was guilty and should die. 65 Some of the people there began to spit at Jesus. They blindfolded him and beat him with their fists and said, “Prove you are a prophet!” Then the guards led Jesus away and beat him.

When reading this passage, I am both amazed and a little humored that while the entire event is weighted heavily against Jesus, up until the point Jesus spoke, all the arguments against Jesus were crumbling. All of the false witnesses that had been brought in to condemn Jesus couldn’t get their testimony straight enough or clear enough for it to be valid. The whole trial was falling apart because all the accusations against Jesus were clearly being revealed as false.

However, the success of this entire trial hinges on finding something valid, and the outcome of this trial, even though it had already been determined that Jesus was to be found guilty, is within Jesus’ hands.

When Jesus stayed silent, no accusation against Him comes up as valid. However, what of the statement Jesus made. Is this statement worthy of death?

In Jewish law and customs, blasphemy was defined as speaking evil of God or of tying sin to God in some way. If a sinner claimed to be God, this would be defined as blasphemy because that attaches sin to God. In a similar way, claiming God acted in a sinful way would also be blasphemy.

So with Jesus’ response, do we see blasphemy?

In verse 62, Mark tells us that Jesus answered, “I am. And in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God, the Powerful One, and coming on clouds in the sky.

First Jesus acknowledges and answers the direct question about whether He is the Christ, God’s blessed Son. Then Jesus makes a prediction about His return that places Him next to God. In this response, nothing in itself speaks of blasphemy. It is logical that the Christ, God’s Son would be seated next to Him when He comes as King.

However, is it blasphemy to think that Jesus is God’s Son? Yes, but only if one condition is met. Only if it could be proved that Jesus sinned could the claim be made that Jesus spoke blasphemy, because connecting sin to God is blasphemy. If every accusation of sin in Jesus’ history is proved false, or if something happened that would wipe the slate clean and declare that Jesus lived a righteous life, then Jesus’ claim of being God’s Son would have to stand as valid.

So then, we have a question: Can we know if Jesus definitively sinned or definitively did not sin?

In my own mind, the answer is clearly a yes. It is impossible to know if there was any slipup at some point in Jesus’ history, simply because we were not there, and because no one shadowed Jesus from the time of His birth all the way through to His death. As I say this, I imagine that Satan and the angels were able to watch Jesus this closely, however, we don’t have any record available to us of every minute of Jesus’ life. Because of this, we are left looking for a clear stamp of approval from God regarding Jesus’ life. Can we find such an approval?

Yes. This approval is found in Jesus’ resurrection. If Jesus stayed in the grave, that would have meant that something in His life contained sin, and if Jesus had remained in the grave, His statement here in this trial would amount to blasphemy.

However, because Jesus was resurrected after He experienced death, we know that His claim in this passage is true, otherwise God wouldn’t have brought Jesus back to life. The trial assumed Jesus had sinned at some point in His past, and they knew He regularly broke their traditions. Breaking a man-made tradition is not sin. Sin is only breaking one of God’s laws or one of His declarations.

While this trial proved in the religious leaders’ minds that Jesus was guilty, they were blind to the idea that Jesus came to face death. Being lifted up on the cross to die was the goal of Jesus’ mission to earth. Jesus didn’t come to rally the people together to overthrow Rome and He didn’t come to prove Himself to anyone. Jesus came to show the world God’s love and to take the punishment for our sins onto Himself. In every aspect of Jesus’ mission, He succeeded.

Jesus’ death solidified His victory, and it created the way that we can be victorious with Jesus when we place our faith in Him. There was no way for humanity to escape sin once it had infected the world, but Jesus came to make another way. Through Jesus’ death, and the resurrection stamp-of-approval that God gave in response, we know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the Life, and that He is worthy of our faith!

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

Always place God first in your life and place His will, His law, and His declarations ahead of any and every human tradition. In many cases, there will be no conflict, but if there is ever a disagreement between tradition and God’s truth, follow God’s truth ahead of tradition.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your personal relationship with God. The best way to know His truth is by praying and studying His word, trusting that He will lead you into the truth He has for your life! Don’t let any person or single source other than the Bible dictate or filter truth to you. Let the Bible speak for itself.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 35: During the trial Jesus faced, the religious leaders condemned Him for speaking blasphemy. Discover what blasphemy is and is not, and whether the religious leaders were correct in their verdict.

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

Staying Forgiven: Matthew 18:15-35

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In one of the more challenging portions of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus shares a parable that has amazing implications, both from God’s perspective and from our own. The passage we are about to cover, which is a little longer than many of our other passages, doesn’t need much explanation or expansion. This passage is very clear even if it is challenging on its own.

Let’s read what Jesus teaches and then the parable that follows. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 18, and we will read it from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 15, Jesus told those present:

15 “If your fellow believer sins against you, go and tell him in private what he did wrong. If he listens to you, you have helped that person to be your brother or sister again. 16 But if he refuses to listen, go to him again and take one or two other people with you. ‘Every case may be proved by two or three witnesses.’ 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, then treat him like a person who does not believe in God or like a tax collector.

Before continuing our passage, I want to draw attention to a couple things we just read because I don’t want them to be lost as we move forward. In the first portion of this passage, Jesus outlines the process for conflict resolution. However, while it is tempting to treat conflict in any way other than what Jesus describes, the way Jesus describes is fascinating. Also, it is worth noting that the final step in Jesus conflict resolution process does not allow us to stop loving or reaching out to the person who has refused to listen to the church.

Instead, we are to love those who have hurt us in the same way we love those outside of the church, and we are called to show God’s love to them. Jesus loved tax collectors enough to dine with them, call them out of trees while passing by, and even invite them to be among His group of disciples.

Jesus then shares a passage that sounds similar to a promise Jesus made to Peter a few chapters before this, but the context of this promise is to all of God’s people and Jesus’ disciples. Jesus continues in verse 18, saying:

18 “I tell you the truth, the things you don’t allow on earth will be the things God does not allow. And the things you allow on earth will be the things that God allows.

19 “Also, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about something and pray for it, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 This is true because if two or three people come together in my name, I am there with them.”

Let’s pause again here before looking at Jesus’ parable because what Jesus shared can be easily misunderstood. While one possible reading of Jesus’ promise here is that God will change His will and His law because of our prayers and our decisions, other parts of the Bible describe God as not changing. If God could brush aside the demands of the law under the frame of forgiveness, then Jesus would not have needed to die. Instead, Jesus died to pay the penalty of the law so that we could trade places. Jesus allows the punishment of the law to hold while also opening up the option of forgiveness.

The other way of seeing these verses is that when we are united with and focused on God, our will and our standards will be the same as God’s. This isn’t God changing to match us, but it is us being filled with the Holy Spirit and matching God. When the Holy Spirit is in our lives, the things we allow and don’t allow will match what God allows and doesn’t allow, and when we pray with others who are just as dedicated and focused on God, then our requests and our desires match God’s, and what we pray for will be done.

Continuing our reading in verse 21:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, when my fellow believer sins against me, how many times must I forgive him? Should I forgive him as many as seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, you must forgive him more than seven times. You must forgive him even if he wrongs you seventy times seven.

23 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who decided to collect the money his servants owed him. 24 When the king began to collect his money, a servant who owed him several million dollars was brought to him. 25 But the servant did not have enough money to pay his master, the king. So the master ordered that everything the servant owned should be sold, even the servant’s wife and children. Then the money would be used to pay the king what the servant owed.

26 “But the servant fell on his knees and begged, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything I owe.’ 27 The master felt sorry for his servant and told him he did not have to pay it back. Then he let the servant go free.

28 “Later, that same servant found another servant who owed him a few dollars. The servant grabbed him around the neck and said, ‘Pay me the money you owe me!’

29 “The other servant fell on his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you everything I owe.’

30 “But the first servant refused to be patient. He threw the other servant into prison until he could pay everything he owed. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very sorry. So they went and told their master all that had happened.

32 “Then the master called his servant in and said, ‘You evil servant! Because you begged me to forget what you owed, I told you that you did not have to pay anything. 33 You should have showed mercy to that other servant, just as I showed mercy to you.’ 34 The master was very angry and put the servant in prison to be punished until he could pay everything he owed.

35 “This king did what my heavenly Father will do to you if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

In this question, response, and parable, we discover just how important forgiveness is in God’s eyes. If having faith in Jesus is the most important thing for us to do, forgiving others is a close second. We could say that this passage forces us to admit that in order to stay forgiven, we must be forgiving.

It is also worth pointing out that we have already been forgiven. Jesus’ death on the cross allows God to extend forgiveness to all of humanity, and in many ways, our default state after Jesus’ death and resurrection is forgiven. However, if we choose to not extend forgiveness towards others, then we forfeit our forgiven status and we bring God’s judgment onto ourselves.

God has called us to place our faith in Jesus, to love others even if they have wronged us, to love those who are different from us, to focus on living the way God wants us to live while praying for His will to be done, and to forgive others because we have been forgiven of infinitely more. In this challenging passage, Jesus shares with us the things that matter most from God’s perspective!

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 live God’s will in your life. Choose to be forgiving towards others because God has forgiven you of so much more, and when others hurt you, follow the steps for resolution that Jesus shared at the beginning of our passage.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to grow closer to God each and every day. With a strong connection with God, our thoughts, hopes, and desires will match His thoughts, hopes, and desires and we will be the representatives for Him that He has called us to be.

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

Year in Matthew – Episode 34: In one of the most challenging passages in the Bible, discover how important it is to be forgiving towards others and how God took the first step by forgiving us through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.