Clearing the Temple: Matthew 21:12-17

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As we continue moving into the week Jesus was crucified, we come to an event that happened in the gap that we skipped over last week. Last week, if you noticed, we jumped over the daytime and focused on two consecutive mornings, one where Jesus curses a fig tree, and the day after when they pass by the withered fig tree and learn the lesson Jesus wanted to teach them.

In this gap, we discover that Jesus spent some time in the temple, but during this period of time, He didn’t make very many people happy. Let’s read about what happened from Matthew’s gospel. Our passage is found in chapter 21, and we will be reading it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 12, Matthew tells us that:

12 Jesus went into the temple courtyard and threw out everyone who was buying and selling there. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables and the chairs of those who sold pigeons. 13 He told them, “Scripture says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you’re turning it into a gathering place for thieves!”

14 Blind and lame people came to him in the temple courtyard, and he healed them.

15 When the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings saw the amazing miracles he performed and the children shouting in the temple courtyard, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were irritated. 16 They said to him, “Do you hear what these children are saying?”

Jesus replied, “Yes, I do. Have you never read, ‘From the mouths of little children and infants, you have created praise’?”

17 He left them and went out of the city to Bethany and spent the night there.

In this passage, we discover how Jesus began this week by trying to point people back to God in God’s house. For the most part, while He didn’t make any friends among the religious elite, we do see that after His rampage through the temple chasing the commerce away, He welcomed those who needed healing and those who came to praise God. This paints a beautiful picture of God, of Jesus, and about what God intended His temple to focus on.

Luke places this event immediately after Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on the donkey. If this is when this event occurred, it provides continuity with the praise that the children shouted in the temple courtyard with what they shouted while He was traveling towards Jerusalem. When Jesus rode towards and into Jerusalem, the crowds shouted hosanna, and whether these children followed Jesus into the courtyard on the same day, or if they arrived to praise Jesus a day or two later, we see a beautiful picture of Jesus accepting those that society had rejected, and pointing everyone present towards God.

Regardless of when this event specifically occurred, a phrase in Jesus’ rampage stands out in my mind. Jesus challenged the priests and religious leaders on their focus and their priorities by saying in verse 13: “Scripture says, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you’re turning it into a gathering place for thieves!

Regardless of where you believe the line to be regarding commerce within church buildings, Jesus frames His entire rampage pushing the commerce away on the scripture and ideal that God’s house would be called a house of prayer. While prayer is possible in a commercial environment, it is a stretch to connect the two.

Commerce at its core is about exchanging goods/services among people for the benefit of both parties involved. While helping others is one side of commerce, helping oneself is also included. This is the ideal framing of commerce. Some people see commerce as simply one person trying to trick or con others into giving them money. In this case, commerce is only self-serving.

However, prayer stands on the opposite side of both the positive and negative views of commerce. Prayer is all about coming before God, and submitting ourselves to His will. While prayer can include requests for help from God, prayer is inherently focused on God and not on ourselves. An exclusively self-focused and self-serving prayer is unlikely to be answered ever.

Moving to the second half of our passage, after Jesus has finished clearing the commerce out of the temple, another phrase stands out in my mind because of what it says and does not say about the religious leaders. In verse 15, Matthew tells us that “When the chief priests and the experts in Moses’ Teachings saw the amazing miracles he performed and the children shouting in the temple courtyard, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were irritated.

While both the miracles and the praise irritated these leaders, they choose to confront Jesus regarding the children’s praise. This is an interesting choice in my mind, but not unexpected, because while they were probably more irritated that Jesus was healing and performing miracles, there wasn’t much they could do about it. The only way Jesus was able to perform miracles, or even heal anyone, was if God was with Him, and the religious leaders know that they don’t have any solid ground to challenge Jesus on this – especially since this wasn’t the Sabbath day.

Other times the religious leaders confront Jesus regarding His healing ability, it was always framed around Sabbath observance and Sabbath rest. Since this wasn’t the Sabbath, they can’t really argue or refute His healing miracles.

But they can challenge Him regarding what the children are shouting about Him, and that’s what they decide to focus on. They really dislike the messianic implications tucked within the children’s praise. They want this praise to stop because it is drawing more people towards Jesus, and away from them.

However, Jesus knows He is the Messiah, even if He also knows that the Messiah He came to be was different from the messiah that the religious leaders were looking for. Jesus was willing to defend the children praising Him with a messianic title because He realizes that the children’s words speak truth. Jesus also knows that this event would add to the pile of reasons that the religious leaders would use to condemn Him.

Jesus knew that the cross was about to happen, and He clearly and deliberately walked along the path that led to it.

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

Be sure to intentionally seek God first and walk the path He has created you to walk. While the plan God has for your life may not be easy in this life, God’s plan and His path leads to eternal life in your future. Know that there will always be people, religious or otherwise, who will dislike your decision to walk with God, but know that God’s truth matters more than the world’s opinion.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep your connection with God strong. A personal relationship with God begins with personal prayer and personal Bible study and as I always challenge you to do, make your Bible study personal and don’t let me or anyone else stand between you and 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!

Year of the Cross – Episode 5: When Jesus arrived in the temple, He found commerce and thievery taking place. Discover what we can learn from Jesus’ reaction to what He saw taking place, and what He chose to replace the chaos of commerce with.

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Flashback Episode — Learning from John: John 1:19-34

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Before Jesus stepped into the spotlight during His life on earth, God had arranged for Jesus to have a front-runner in ministry. The goal of this individual’s life would be to tell everyone who would listen that God was about to do something. In essence, this individual was to announce the Messiah’s arrival.

The gospel of John tells us about Jesus’ forerunner in ministry, who also happened to be named John. To keep these two John’s separate for our episode, I’ll refer to one as John the disciple, who authored the gospel that bears his name, and the other John as John the Baptist, who was the forerunner and the focus of our passage in this episode.

Let’s read what John the disciple has to say about John the Baptist. This can be found in the gospel of John, chapter 1 and we’ll be reading from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 19, we learn that:

19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.”

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Let’s pause reading here to draw our attention onto what John the disciple says about John the Baptist. In this gospel, we learn that John the Baptist had been asked directly about who he was, and what role he was filling. John the Baptist openly denies that he is the Messiah, or Christ, and he also openly denies that he is Elijah, who was foreshadowed to come before the Messiah. John the Baptist also chose not to claim the role of the Prophet either, and he was asked this because the Jews were also expecting someone who fit the description of prophet as well.

Instead, John the Baptist points them to a potentially ignored portion of prophecy where Isaiah describes one who is a voice crying in the wilderness.

When challenged about choosing to baptize people with water, John the Baptist simply redirects their question with an answer pointing forward to the coming Messiah, who is Someone they do not yet recognize.

Continuing our reading in verse 29, John the disciple tells us that:

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

What stands out as amazing to me in this declaration is that John the Baptist knows exactly who Jesus is at this point. Prior to this meeting, Jesus had come to the place where John the Baptist was preaching, and Jesus had asked to be baptized. However, immediately following His baptism, Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to fast and be tempted.

This encounter with John the Baptist that John the disciple shares in his gospel likely happened as Jesus was coming back from being tempted and fasting. During the forty days Jesus had spent in the wilderness following His baptism, John the Baptist likely shifted his message from “the Messiah coming soon” to “the Messiah is here right now”. John the Baptist probably didn’t know that Jesus had left to fast and be tempted in the wilderness following His baptism, but here in our passage for this episode, we see a clear proclamation from John the Baptist that Jesus is “the Son of God”.

If we look closely at this passage, John the Baptist’s call to baptize people was partly to give those he baptized a public way to show that they were returning to God and leaving a life of sin. However, it also gave God and the Holy Spirit the perfect opening and way to show John the Baptist exactly who the Messiah was. Reading from the other gospels about Jesus’ baptism event, it seems likely that John knew beforehand that Jesus was the One, however what happened during Jesus’ baptism simply confirmed it.

In the lives of both John the Baptist and John the disciple, I see a call for each of us. This call is to be pointing people to Jesus. John the Baptist was able to point people forward to Jesus, and he was able to clearly identify God’s Messiah for those present. In contrast, we can’t point people to a physical person who happens to be walking by and identify that it is Jesus. However, we can model our lives after Jesus, and choose to be like Him, love like Him, and care for those around us like He did. Jesus came to love those who were hurting and challenge those who were self-righteous. We can do the same in our lives today.

John the disciple was able to spend one-on-one time with Jesus and then after Jesus had returned to heaven, John was able to point people back to what Jesus had done. John the disciple even wrote about His experiences with Jesus first-hand and His gospel has helped people ever since grow closer to Jesus even if they lived after Jesus had returned to heaven. While we don’t have the ability to sit down with Jesus face-to-face like John the disciple did, we are able to spend time in prayer and through honest, heartfelt prayer, the Holy Spirit lifts us into God’s present, where we are able to spend time with Jesus, and share life with Him.

These two Johns challenge me to live a life that is within God’s will and that includes living like Jesus both in public and in private. Perhaps these two Johns are challenging you to do the same.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are my challenges for everyone in the Reflective Bible Study podcast community:

Choose to focus your life on God above everything else. Intentionally seek Him, spend time with Him, and learn from Him – instead of taking someone else’s word for it.

The best way to do this is through heartfelt Bible study, and specifically personal Bible study. By studying the Bible for yourself, you are able to learn firsthand from God and the Holy Spirit, and He is able to change your heart and life in ways that no other method of hearing the gospel can. While a podcast or a preacher can inspire change from the outside, Bible study with the Holy Spirit inspires change from the inside.

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 4: Cam looks at John the disciple talking about John the Baptist and we uncover some interesting thoughts regarding how each John lived their lives.

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

Praying Powerful Prayers: Mark 11:12-14, 20-26

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Early on during the week leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion, we read about an interesting and somewhat strange event within the gospels that might not make a lot of sense on the surface. In many ways, this event is one time where Jesus might appear to be irrational.

Both Matthew and Mark include this event, and for our time together, let’s read what happened from Mark’s gospel. Our passage is found in Mark, chapter 11, and we will be reading from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 11, Mark tells us that:

12 The next day as Jesus was leaving Bethany, he became hungry. 13 Seeing a fig tree in leaf from far away, he went to see if it had any figs on it. But he found no figs, only leaves, because it was not the right season for figs. 14 So Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And Jesus’ followers heard him say this.

Pausing reading here, I am amazed at this event because we have no context for Jesus becoming hungry, and we find Jesus cursing a fig tree because it didn’t have figs while it wasn’t the right season for figs. It’s possible that there was something unique about this tree that meant it should have had figs on it, but nothing in our passage suggests this except that this tree was filled with leaves.

If it weren’t for what happened the following morning, it’s likely that Mark wouldn’t have included this event in his gospel.

Jumping down to verse 20, we continue reading to discover that:

20 The next morning as Jesus was passing by with his followers, they saw the fig tree dry and dead, even to the roots. 21 Peter remembered the tree and said to Jesus, “Teacher, look! The fig tree you cursed is dry and dead!”

22 Jesus answered, “Have faith in God. 23 I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have no doubts in your mind and believe that what you say will happen, God will do it for you. 24 So I tell you to believe that you have received the things you ask for in prayer, and God will give them to you. 25 When you are praying, if you are angry with someone, forgive him so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your sins. [26 But if you don’t forgive other people, then your Father in heaven will not forgive your sins.]”

When reading about what Jesus tells His disciples the following morning, I’m inclined to believe that this whole event was orchestrated to teach the disciples about the power of faith in God. When the disciples see the withered up fig tree, they initially are amazed at how powerful Jesus is.

But this event didn’t happen to get the disciples to look up to Jesus even more. This event happened to teach the disciples that faith in God without reservations or doubts can accomplish even greater things than this.

In this event, we are challenged and instructed on how to pray. While most people look to one of the two times Jesus officially taught on prayer by giving example prayers, our passage here in Mark might be more powerful to remember.

When we pray, the first and most important thing for us to have is faith in God. Faith is simply trust multiplied exponentially. When we trust God with everything from our past, through our present, and into our future, we have faith in Him. Faith does not mean we must understand what is happening while also having all of our questions answered. On the other hand, faith also does not mean that if we understand or have answers to our questions that our faith is somehow diminished.

Contrary to popular opinion, faith does not need unanswered questions – even if there will always be unanswered questions. What faith needs is for us to remember how God has led us in the past so we are confident moving into the future with Him. Faith is built with and on a foundation of trust in God. In order to have a powerful prayer experience, we must have faith in God.

After telling the disciples that faith in God is key, Jesus also tells them that we should push away all doubts that God won’t do what we are asking Him to do. This is probably the hardest part of prayer for me personally. It is all too easy to let a little bit of doubt that what I am praying is not part of God’s will, or that God knows better than I do regarding whatever request I may have, and when I let doubt in, I unknowingly sabotage my prayers.

In this whole passage, the only things we find that are necessary foundations for answered prayer are faith in God, which we have already talked about, and forgiveness towards others. If we have these two foundations in place, then there should be no room for doubt in our minds. Our passage challenges us against it.

However, why might forgiveness be so important for us in our prayer life? While I cannot answer this for you, I will say that when I have been angry with someone, the anger clouds my mind and my attitude. When my mind is focused on anger, my prayers are not the same. From my own experience, anger affects my prayers and my attitude when coming before God with my requests. About the only help I can expect to receive when praying while angry is help to forgive the person I am angry with.

But with all this said, you might be asking me what about all the times you have prayed, with heartfelt faith in God, while you were not angry or doubtful, but your prayer does not appear to be answered. Aren’t those times reasons for doubt?

I have faced situations like this, and because of this, I would have to answer perhaps. However, I don’t believe that there are any truly unanswered prayers when we pray with faith, forgiveness, and no doubt.

Instead, I believe our prayers are answered the exact moment that they have left our lips. God answers prayer in four ways, and its possible we don’t see His answer because we aren’t expecting the response He gives.

The first possible response is the easy answer of “Yes”. When God answers yes, we understand that He clearly and directly was involved.

However, God can also answer our prayers with the answer of “No”. God’s answer of no might appear to be a rejection of our request, but it might be Him simply telling you that your request is not in your best interests.

While it might be easy to think that “yes” and “no” are the only possible responses, God has two other responses, and in my own life, these other responses are much more common.

The first other response God can give is the response of “Yes, but now isn’t the best time.” We might consider this response as God asking us to wait. Perhaps what we are asking is within God’s will, but we are truly not ready to receive what we are asking for. God’s goal is our salvation and us being with Him in Heaven, and I believe He will not answer a prayer in a way where our salvation is placed in jeopardy. This might be one of the hardest answers to receive, but our faith in God leads us to trust Him even when we don’t understand why at this point in our lives.

The last response God can give is the response of “No, but here is something better instead”. If we are too focused on receiving only the answers we request, we might be oblivious to all the other blessings God is giving us in place of what our request is. Like with the response of “wait”, I believe God will not directly answer our requests knowing that it will place our salvation in jeopardy. Instead, God wants us with Him in Heaven forever, and that should be our ultimate goal as well.

We are called to pray with faith in God; with forgiveness in our hearts; with no doubt that God loves us, that He wants to answer our prayers, or that He wants the best for us; and with the trust that He answers our prayers the moment they leave our mouth. After we pray, we should eagerly look for answers He has given and expect to see them show up in our lives when the time is right.

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

Seek God first and build a faith foundation of trust in Him. Be sure to pray with faith in God, without doubt, and with forgiveness in your heart, expecting to see the answers He promises to give us when we pray.

Also, always be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. Grow your personal relationship with Jesus because the closer we are to Him, the more our will will be aligned with His will and when our lives are aligned with God, nothing will stop our prayers from being answered in powerful ways.

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 of the Cross – Episode 4: When Jesus curses a fig tree, we discover how to amplify our prayer lives into what God wants our prayers to be.

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Flashback Episode — When Jesus Ran Away: Luke 2:41-52

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The gospel of Luke is the only gospel to touch on an event in Jesus’ childhood between His birth story, which Matthew also includes, and the beginning of His ministry 30 years later. This event happened when Jesus was twelve years old and part of me wonders why Luke chose to include it.

Perhaps this event was the only time in Jesus’ whole childhood that He “rebelled”, for lack of a better word, and ran away. Well, as we will soon see, Jesus didn’t run away, but in Mary and Joseph’s minds, it might have appeared to be that way.

Let’s read about what happened, from the gospel of Luke, chapter 2. Starting in verse 41 and reading from the New International Version, we discover that:

41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

In many ways, this event shines a negative light on Jesus’ parents, because after all, how could you get a whole day’s journey away from Jerusalem before realizing Jesus was not with your group of travelers. This also shines a little bit of a negative light onto Jesus as well, because if He wanted to stay behind in Jerusalem and test the leaders’ receptivity to His upcoming ministry, it is likely that Mary and Joseph would have given him a day or two.

Perhaps this was one big misunderstanding, with Jesus believing He had given them the message, but the message not being understood.

However, one big thing I see in this event is with the reaction those present in the temple had towards Jesus. Luke tells us in verse 47 that at twelve years old, “Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.” This verse emphasizes how much Jesus had learned being taught by Mary at home, and it also hints at Jesus’ bigger understanding of His mission and the path for His life.

While getting the right answers to the rabbi’s questions would be satisfactory, it would seem that Jesus understood the scriptures in a unique way from the religious leaders in order to actually “amaze” them with His understanding and challenging counter questions.

But as I read this, I still wonder what Jesus wanted to accomplish during this extended stay at the temple. I wonder, as I alluded to earlier, if Jesus was testing the waters regarding how receptive the leaders were to God’s self-sacrificing Messiah that Jesus would become, or if they were closed-minded to anyone other than the military leader they were hoping for.

Part of me also wonders if Jesus was testing the waters with how the religious leaders formed their arguments, questions, and challenges, and this would be a valuable set of skills to have later in life when other Pharisees and religious leaders would be challenging Him throughout His ministry.

Maybe Jesus’ time in the temple wasn’t as much for the teachers themselves, but an attempt to plant seeds in the minds of the other students that were likely present. A number of these students would likely have been leaders during the time of Jesus’ ministry, and it would be fascinating to learn that a young Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea were with Jesus those days in the temple. Equally fascinating in my mind would be if Jesus’ strongest opponents would also be there in the temple learning from the teachers and leaders in the older generation.

In Jesus’ response that He gives His parents, we see a powerful picture of how Jesus saw Himself. Whether Mary had taught Him this while growing up, or if Jesus had internalized this truth another way, when Jesus responds with the somewhat rhetorical question in the last part of verse 49 by saying, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” it appears to us looking back on this event that Jesus was well aware of God the Father being His Father, even if Joseph was filling the role of “dad” on earth.

We circle back around to where we began by asking ourselves why Luke might have chosen to include this event in His gospel. Not only is this question relevant to a discussion on Luke’s gospel, but equally insightful would be asking the question of how Luke learned about this event. While I’ve shared some ideas regarding the first question, Luke hints at his source for all of Jesus’ birth and childhood in the last phrase of verse 51, where Luke tells us that Jesus’ “mother treasured all these things in her heart”.

The only way for anyone to know this brief piece of information is from the source itself. It would appear that Luke the gospel writer had the chance to interview Mary personally, or at the very least, someone really close to Mary, to have learned some of the events that she treasured in her heart.

While we can only speculate as to why Jesus stayed behind, and what about this event prompted Mary to treasure it, we can learn that even at this early age, Jesus understood that God was His Father, and that His life was to be lived according to God’s bigger plan.

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

Intentionally place God first in your life. While Jesus can claim God as His Father, we can stand on this truth as well because when we are with Jesus, God has adopted us into His family.

With this truth in mind, study the Bible for yourself to learn what it means to be a member of God’s family, both the benefits as well as the responsibilities. While we can learn about these things from others, it is when we study them out for ourselves, personally, that we grow our personal relationship with God and His truths are better internalized into our lives.

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

Flashback Episode: Season 3 – Episode 3: Cam discusses some thoughts about Jesus when He was 12 years old and how it appeared as though He ran away when He chose to stay in the temple.

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