Insulting or Encouraging: Mark 15:27-32

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As we continue looking at the details Mark includes in the crucifixion portion of his gospel, we come to the section of this event that frames who Jesus died with, and the messages Jesus was receiving from those present. While it would be easy to see these verses and the messages Jesus was receiving as simply the mocking of hostile people, what these people were saying has a profound spiritual truth that might have even encouraged Jesus to press forward to His last breath.

Let’s continue reading and discover what the next verses can teach us about Jesus, and about God’s love for us. Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 15, and we will read from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 27, Mark tells us that:

27 They crucified two rebels with him [referring to Jesus], one on his right and one on his left. [28] [And the Scripture came true that says, “They put him with criminals.”]  29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Let’s stop reading here. From these verses, it doesn’t seem like anything in the messages Jesus was receiving is positive.

However, let’s look a little closer at what was said. The first “insult” Mark describes coming from people who passed by, and these people said, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” While these people believed or understood Jesus’ statement to refer to the building that was called the temple, John’s gospel tells us Jesus meant His body and He called His body the temple when making that claim.

This means that when these people threw Jesus’ words back at Him, while they intended their reminder to be an insult, they were actually reminding Jesus in the moment of His greatest physical pain, that resurrection was just around the corner!

I doubt anyone present would have realized this subtle encouragement, and I wonder if Jesus had planned early on to make this prediction knowing that at the moment He would need some encouragement from hostile people, He could count on them to remember and repeat this coded message back to Him.

But that isn’t the only insult that has multiple meanings in this passage. The other primary insult Jesus received was from the religious leaders, who Mark describes as saying, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” Again, similar to how the first “insult” could be reinterpreted to be encouraging, this second insult can also be a great reminder that Jesus could grasp and be encouraged by.

In this second insult, Jesus is reminded why He is on the cross. Jesus faced the cross to save others, not to save Himself.

The only reason Jesus faced the cross was to pay for the sins of those who want to escape the disease of sin and the traps of Satan. Jesus came to redeem sinners and to give those who want to return to God a way to return to God while allowing God’s justness and justice to still be clearly seen. God punishes sin and sinners deserved to be punished. However, someone unworthy of punishment is allowed to step in and take the punishment on themselves, which both allows justice to happen, while also showing love and mercy towards the guilty person. This second insult reminded Jesus why He was on the cross – because He was dying to save all of God’s people throughout history, including you and me!

However, the reason these insults were seen as insults was because of an assumption that those present blinded themselves into believing. This assumption was either something these people had convinced themselves was true, or it was a lie Satan had prompted them to believe in order to give Jesus one big last temptation before His death. The assumption I am referring to is that Jesus did not want to die.

The last big temptation Satan planned for Jesus was the temptation to come down from the cross and to save Himself. This temptation was included in both of the insults that were hurled at Jesus, and the implication is that Jesus needed to do this to prove who He was. This could only be a temptation if it were possible for Jesus to do, and I believe that Jesus was fully capable of leaving the cross if He wanted to.

However, Jesus knew that proving Himself to a skeptic would do no good. If Jesus had abandoned the cross when faced with this last temptation, the religious leaders and skeptics might have believed, or they might have simply come up with another reason they should doubt. One possible doubt would be that the soldiers didn’t do a good enough job driving the spikes into the wood, or that Jesus’ bone structure was uniquely different, allowing the spikes to slip off of Him. A skeptic’s mind can come up with countless reasons to not believe.

If Jesus had abandoned the cross when faced with this temptation, any belief in Jesus would be worthless, because Jesus gave up when times were too tough. Satan’s big claim against God was that God’s law was impossible to keep and impractical for life. Jesus came to demonstrate God’s love and to live a life that fulfilled all of God’s laws, showing us how God’s way is the best way!

Jesus’ chose not to save Himself so that He could save every person who wants to have a new life with God. Jesus used these insults that were thrown His way as subtle encouragements to remind Him why He was on the cross, which was to save sinners, and that the cross would end with resurrection on the third day!

Jesus used the biggest insults His enemies had and He had masterfully planned for them to be a source of encouragement in His darkest, most pain-filled hours leading up to His last breath.

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 choose to accept Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf. Choose to let Jesus’ death pay for the price of your sins and accept the new life that Jesus offers to each of us because of what He faced. Jesus faced the cross for you and me, and His sacrifice only benefits us when we accept His death on our behalf by placing our faith, hope, trust, and belief in Him.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Choose to pray and study the Bible to discover a God who is passionately in love with you and a God who would stop at nothing to show His love for you because He wants to redeem you from the life of sin you are living in. God loves sinners, and Jesus came to redeem sinners who want to love God in return.

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 give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Mark – Episode 45: While Jesus was hanging on the cross, Mark describes two primary insults that He received from people who were present. However, what if those insults weren’t actually insults. What if God had planned for them to be two significant encouraging messages for His Son at the point when Jesus needed encouragement the most!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Eliminating Negative Faith: Matthew 21:18-22

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As we are coming closer to the end of our year podcasting through the miracles included in the gospels, we come to a very unique miracle, probably a miracle that was more one-of-a-kind than normal, that happened during the week leading up to the crucifixion. Oddly enough, while most miracles resulted in positive results, this miracle results in negative ones, and this miracle serves as an object lesson about the power of faith.

Let’s read what happened and discover some things we can learn about faith from this very unique miracle. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 21, and we will read it from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 18, Matthew tells us that:

18 Early the next morning, as Jesus was going back to the city, he became hungry. 19 Seeing a fig tree beside the road, Jesus went to it, but there were no figs on the tree, only leaves. So Jesus said to the tree, “You will never again have fruit.” The tree immediately dried up.

20 When his followers saw this, they were amazed. They asked, “How did the fig tree dry up so quickly?”

21 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will be able to do what I did to this tree and even more. You will be able to say to this mountain, ‘Go, fall into the sea.’ And if you have faith, it will happen. 22 If you believe, you will get anything you ask for in prayer.”

Not only is the miracle in this passage amazing, so is the promise Jesus shares in this last verse. Jesus directly tells His followers that with faith and no doubt, we will be able to command trees, mountains, and nature itself to do our bidding.

While I don’t know the extent of Jesus’ promise here, it does seem to extend much further than most of His followers living today think. On the surface, it seems that faith without doubt leads to miracles. Also closely related to this idea is the truth that belief in Jesus leads to answered prayers.

In this miracle, we discover a truth that we don’t often like thinking about. Faith and belief is a two-edged sword. While it is great to think of the positive side of faith, and how God can work miracles for the good of humanity through us when we have faith in Him, there is a negative side to faith as well. One might call doubt itself a negative faith.

When we truly know in our hearts that God will do what He has promised to do, we are freed to move forward and we ultimately discover what He promised. Rarely does the path to the finish line lead us through the scenery and experiences we think it will, but when we have faith in Jesus, God will direct our path towards His promises.

However, doubt is like a negative faith. Doubt is a faith that says whatever we hope will happen won’t happen. This negative faith sabotages our walk with God because it causes us to question God’s goodness, God’s love, and God’s protection in our lives. When bad things happen, it is easy to blame God, it is easy to doubt God, and it is easy to discredit God because of what happened. I, like many of us, have experienced situations where I am left to wonder if God was really behind what happened.

When bad things happen, some people are quick to blame God, while others are quick to blame Satan. Those who blame God say that He should have prevented what happened, while those who blame Satan do so because they want to defend God and His loving character. However, while it doesn’t appear as though these two positions are compatible, I believe they are both mostly correct. Yes, Satan caused the destruction, and yes, God allowed it to happen. Both sources are to blame.

However, each source has wildly different motives. In Satan’s case, he simply wants to turn people away from God and to cause people to doubt God’s love. However, in God’s case, He wants those who face difficult times to lean into their faith and into their belief. There are many reasons bad things happen, and a surprising number of the reasons can be viewed in a positive way.

If something bad happens in our life, we can choose to hate God, or hate the sin-corrupted world that we live in. If we choose to hate God, then doubt gains a foothold in our hearts. However, if we choose to hate the sin-corrupted world, we naturally lean into God and more eagerly look forward to the day when Jesus returns and puts an end to sin.

In our passage, Jesus challenges His disciples to have faith and not doubt. This promise states that belief, faith, and prayer with no doubt results in miracles. I firmly believe this is simply because when we have belief, faith, and prayer that is all focused entirely on God without any doubt that would cheapen His promises in our minds or hearts, we will have the Holy Spirit and be moving forward along the path God has for us to walk. In this situation, our prayers will not only be what we want, they will also be what God wants, and when we want what God wants, we shouldn’t be surprised when what God wants shows up in our lives and our situations.

Before closing off on this episode, we should also check our beliefs and our faith. Spreading throughout Christianity are some subtle, and other not so subtle, beliefs that cheapen God’s love and drag down His character. While I could list a few, I won’t here, simply because I would rather challenge you to look at your own life and your own beliefs and ask yourself if any of your beliefs cheapen God. When we find a belief that cheapens God, we should study the Bible to discover God’s truth, and reject the counterfeit belief for God’s treasure.

While I don’t know if having beliefs that cheapen our faith will result in a lack of miraculously answered prayer, I do know that cheap beliefs and cheap faith hurt our spiritual growth. Let’s intentionally push back doubt, lean into faith when bad things happen, and look forward to Jesus’ return when He puts an end to sin.

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

As always, be sure to intentionally seek God first and place your hope, faith, trust, and belief in Him. Push back at the temptation to doubt because doubt is negative faith and it leads to nowhere positive. Instead, accept Jesus’ promise in this passage that faith, belief, and prayer without doubt is the path into a miraculous life with God.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn what God wants to teach you firsthand. While other people can have good ideas, always filter what you learn through the pages and truth contained in the Bible to discover if what you are being taught aligns with God’s truth. God won’t share truth that contradicts with His Word, and you can trust that anything from God will support what He has revealed to us through the pages of 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 fall away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year of Miracles – Episode 45: When Jesus gives the disciples a miraculous object lesson surrounding the power of faith, discover what Jesus tells them must not be present for miracles to occur. While you might know the answer, the truth may also surprise you.

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

The Place of the Skull: Mark 15:33-39

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For the next several podcast episodes, we will slow down and focus in on Jesus’ time on the cross. In many ways, this event is the climax of the entire Bible record, and this event could be considered the climax of history, or we could say “His-Story”. However, nothing in this event seemed positive at the time it was happening, that is unless you were Satan or one of the religious leaders pushing for Jesus’ death. This moment in history was evil’s big time in the spotlight.

Let’s read how Mark’s gospel describes the first portion of the crucifixion, and unpack some things we can learn from this event. Our passage for this episode is found in Mark, chapter 15, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 22, Mark tells us that:

22 They led Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means the Place of the Skull. 23 The soldiers tried to give Jesus wine mixed with myrrh to drink, but he refused. 24 The soldiers crucified Jesus and divided his clothes among themselves, throwing lots to decide what each soldier would get.

25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified Jesus. 26 There was a sign with this charge against Jesus written on it: the king of the jews. 

Let’s stop reading here. Each one of the verses we just read has some fascinating details in it.

First off, the place Jesus was crucified was called Golgotha, and the meaning of Golgotha is “the Place of the Skull”. This is interesting in my mind because to get a name like this, this location needed something special about it. When looking up information about this location, there is some speculation about how Golgotha received this name. However, I found the following detail fascinating. Golgotha may be named this way because it was a hill that resembled a skull, because one church tradition said that Adam was buried there, or because of all the people (or skulls) that were executed there.

When seeing the detail that Adam was buried there, I chuckled a little bit because how could anyone know where Adam was buried since he died before the flood and the flood radically changed the surface of the earth. However, the rational explanation for this theory is that Noah excavated Adams bones and brought them with them on the ark. Then following the flood, Shem and Melchizedek traveled to the resting place of Noah’s Ark, retrieved Adam’s bones from it, and were led by Angels to Golgotha, which is described as a skull-shaped hill at the center of the Earth. This location was also where the serpent’s head had been crushed following the Fall of Man.

I found this theory to be fascinating, and if it turns out to be true, then it gives a lot of symbolism not only to the significance of Jesus death, but that the place Jesus died was connected with the origin of sin and with humanity’s fall. It also connects Jesus with Adam, and in other parts of the New Testament, Jesus is symbolically referred to as a second Adam.

Also in these verses, I find it fascinating that Mark describes Jesus being offered wine mixed with myrrh to drink. This detail is fascinating because one of the gifts Jesus received when He was born was myrrh. The wise men brought Jesus gold, frankincense, and myrrh. This means that at the beginning of Jesus’ life, He was brought myrrh and at the end of His life, He again is offered myrrh.

With this recurrence of myrrh, I wonder what might be its significance. Looking at myrrh in the Old Testament, we discover that myrrh is a key ingredient in the oil that was used to anoint and dedicate the temple, priests, and kings. However, this was myrrh used for anointing, not ingesting. Wine mixed with myrrh likely was given as a way to help numb the pain, and I believe Jesus refused this because He did not want rumors circulating that He was drunk while on the cross, even if the amount of wine given wouldn’t likely have been enough to intoxicate someone.

In addition to being in the wine that was offered to Jesus at His death, myrrh shows up again in Jesus’ burial, but in John’s gospel, when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus bring a 100 pound mixture of spices, which included myrrh by name. While we aren’t focusing in on John’s gospel in this year of podcasting, myrrh in this context symbolically connects Jesus’ death and His being anointed as priest and king.

Following Jesus refusing the wine, Mark describes the soldiers dividing Jesus’ clothes and gambling for them. While Mark doesn’t give much context or symbolism for this detail, at least one of the other gospel writers includes the detail that this fulfilled an Old Testament prophecy.

After describing Jesus’ clothing being gambled for, Mark tells us that the crucifixion began at nine o’clock in the morning. This detail is important in my mind because it shows how quickly and earnestly the religious leaders wanted Jesus condemned to death, with the sentence carried out. The previous day had ended with Jesus walking freely around Jerusalem as He left the temple that day, but less than 18 hours later, Jesus is dying on a cross.

Many of Jesus’ biggest supporters would have gone to bed that night believing everything was fine, but they would wake up the following morning, get ready for their day, head into Jerusalem, and pass Jesus hanging on the cross. This was evil’s time in the spotlight, and Satan was not going to give up this opportunity to see Jesus’ life end.

The speed of Jesus’ crucifixion and the events of His betrayal and arrest remind me that life can change in an instant. However, while life can instantly become worse when it was better before, Jesus’ death also makes the reverse possible. Because of Jesus’ death, our lives that are destined to end in death because of our sin can instantly be given a different destiny.

When we place our faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus and His sacrifice, Jesus accepts our sinful lives as being included in His death, and He gives us the assurance of the life He deserved. The new life Jesus offers us is a life that begins today and it extends into eternity. Just as Jesus spent a brief period of time resting in the grave, we may experience this rest as well, but like Jesus was resurrected, we too can look forward to our own resurrection at the moment Jesus returns to take us home!

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 choose to place your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus and in His sacrifice on our behalf. Through Jesus’ death, we can have the assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we can have a new life with God that extends into eternity.

Also, continue to pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. By studying the Bible, discover what God wants to teach you as you come to Him in prayer and study His message of hope.

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

Year in Mark – Episode 44: As Mark describes the first part of Jesus’ crucifixion, discover some amazing things we can learn about Jesus’ death and about some of the symbolism surrounding the place Jesus hung on the cross.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Flashback Episode — Loving to Heal: Matthew 20:29-34

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As we move forward through the gospels looking at Jesus’ miracles, we come to the last normal miracle that the gospel writers record prior to the crucifixion. When I say normal, this means that it is a miracle that prompts those present to give praise to God and it’s a miracle where someone involved displays a level of faith. While there have been miracles that fall outside of these boundaries before this point in Jesus’ ministry, from this point forward leading to the cross, we don’t see the normal details of faith and praise like we do in most of the miracles we’ve focused in on previously.

Also, as I shared in the previous episode, the miracle in this episode is often listed as being parallel to the miracle we focused on in the last episode. However, while there are similarities, I think enough differences are present to call this a separate event.

Let’s read what happened, and discover what we can learn from this event. Our passage and miracle for this episode is found in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 20, and we will read it from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 29, Matthew tells us that:

29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd was following. 30 Two blind men who were sitting by the road heard that Jesus was passing by, so they began to shout, “Son of David! Have mercy on us, sir!”

31 The crowd scolded them and told them to be quiet. But they shouted even more loudly, “Son of David! Have mercy on us, sir!”

32 Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked them.

33 “Sir,” they answered, “we want you to give us our sight!”

34 Jesus had pity on them and touched their eyes; at once they were able to see, and they followed him.

In this passage and miracle, this sounds a lot like the previous miracle. When comparing these two miracles, both miracles happen just outside of Jericho, both miracles have the crowd wanting to silence those desiring healing, both miracles have a similar dialog, and both miracles relate to restoring eyesight. I can definitely understand how many people would connect these events into being descriptive of one event.

However, when we look at the details in each miracle, we discover some interesting distinctions. Unlike the miracle from our previous episode, this miracle happens when Jesus and His disciples are leaving Jericho rather than when they are arriving, and in this miracle, we learn about two men verses the one man in the previous miracle. These distinctions alone suggest two very similar events, but there is one other distinction present. In our miracle from our last episode, Jesus simply commands the man to see again, while in this miracle, we see Jesus touching the men’s eyes in order to restore their sight.

In my mind, these are two similar, but distinctly different, miracles. Since the gospel writers had to scale back what they included in their gospel letters because of space concerns, it wouldn’t surprise me if Matthew, having read Mark and or Luke, decided to place a different miracle in his gospel story than was written in these other two gospels. While there is a lot of overlap between the gospels, there are also very distinct details in each. It is also interesting to note that every one of the four gospels includes a miracle that is unique to it. Each gospel has a miracle included that the other three gospel writers chose to exclude.

However, what can we learn from this miracle that isn’t the same as what we learned in our last episode. While there are plenty of shared themes, a theme that this miracle shows that the other one doesn’t comes at the start of verse 34, where Matthew tells us that, “Jesus had pity on them”.

Nowhere in our previous miracle do we see Jesus showing pity on the man, even if the idea is present. I imagine Matthew wants to draw our attention onto the importance that Jesus loved those who He healed. This detail might be easy to dismiss, but it is powerful when we stop to focus on it.

When Jesus healed people, He had no ulterior motive. There was nothing in Jesus’ miracle working that even hinted at Jesus desiring followers, fame, or wealth because of His help. Jesus helped because He loved, and because Jesus loved, we see Him help.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be like Him, and being like Jesus also includes loving like Jesus loved, living like Jesus lived, and helping others like Jesus helped. While we might not have the ability to miraculously return the sight to a blind person, this shouldn’t stop us from helping where and when we can. And this also should not stop us from letting the Holy Spirit use us where God needs us. Don’t ever discount the possibility that the Holy Spirit temporarily gives you the ability to do a miracle to help someone in need.

God has called us to lean on Him and on the Holy Spirit for direction, help, and guidance in our life – and this is exactly what Jesus did. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, we see examples of Him leaning on the Holy Spirit to work miracles, and when the disciples were sent out in pairs, they worked through the Holy Spirit as well.

In this miracle, we see faith demonstrated by the one being healed, and we see Jesus love those He healed. Jesus loves you and me, and He is actively working, in heaven and through the Holy Spirit, to bring us safely home with Him for eternity!

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

Keep seeking God first in your life and intentionally lean on Him. Place your trust, faith, hope, and belief in Jesus and in what He has done for us and in the work He currently is doing for us as well. While we are alive on this earth, God has a mission and a plan for our lives, and I’m positive He wants us to walk with Him on the journey He has set before us.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to keep growing closer to God each and every day. Learn to filter what you read and hear through the pages and truth contained in the Bible, and trust that God has kept His message safe throughout history. Above all, trust in what Jesus has done for you and in what He is doing for you as He leads all of us towards eternity.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of Miracles – Episode 44: As Jesus was leaving Jericho, we see a miracle very similar to one that occurred before Jesus arrived in the city, but one where we get to see a glimpse of Jesus’ heart and His love for those who needed healing.

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