Breaking the Mold: Mark 8:31-9:1

Focus Passage: Mark 8:31-9:1 (GNT)

31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life.” 32 He made this very clear to them. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But Jesus turned around, looked at his disciples, and rebuked Peter. “Get away from me, Satan,” he said. “Your thoughts don’t come from God but from human nature!”

34 Then Jesus called the crowd and his disciples to him. “If any of you want to come with me,” he told them, “you must forget yourself, carry your cross, and follow me. 35 For if you want to save your own life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for me and for the gospel, you will save it. 36 Do you gain anything if you win the whole world but lose your life? Of course not! 37 There is nothing you can give to regain your life. 38 If you are ashamed of me and of my teaching in this godless and wicked day, then the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

9:1 And he went on to say, “I tell you, there are some here who will not die until they have seen the Kingdom of God come with power.”

Read Mark 8:31-9:1 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Throughout all the gospels, we see Jesus trying to warn His disciples of His upcoming death on the cross. Not only that, He also tried to get them to understand that within three days after His death, He would be back alive with them.

However, it always strikes me as a little odd that the disciples never really ask any follow-up questions to when Jesus tells them this. Perhaps they were confused about it, or maybe they were not ready to believe it to be true. But another reason for their silence could be because of what happened during one of the first times Jesus shared this information plainly with His followers.

Mark tells us that “Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: ‘The Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. He will be put to death, but three days later he will rise to life.’ He made this very clear to them. So Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But Jesus turned around, looked at his disciples, and rebuked Peter. ‘Get away from me, Satan,’ he said. ‘Your thoughts don’t come from God but from human nature!’” (v. 31-33)

Matthew’s gospel includes what Peter said to Jesus. Matthew tells us that Peter rebuked Jesus by saying, “God forbid it, Lord! That must never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22)

All the disciples believed the Messiah would last forever, and they believed Jesus to be the Messiah. Because of these two beliefs, the logical conclusion was that the Messiah could not die. Jesus teaching of His rejection and death didn’t fit with their picture of the Messiah, but instead of reframing their view of the Messiah’s role and ministry, or rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, they simply try to discount Jesus’ clear words to them. Mark includes the statement, “[Jesus] made this [His upcoming death] very clear to them.” (v. 32a)

What Jesus was saying didn’t fit into the mold that culture had created for the Messiah to fit into, and that mold was something that the devil created as a trap for Jesus. While Jesus’ response sounds over the top when He rebukes Peter, Jesus wanted to break free from the mold that first-century society had created for Him. The first place He needed to break it was from His followers.

Two thousand years later, our picture of Jesus looks different. We have 20 centuries of history to look back on and back through when developing our picture of Jesus. However we are just as capable of building a mold of who He is today as His disciples were back then. And just like Jesus broke the mold of the first century, He will break the mold we have for Him in the 21st century.

Jesus doesn’t like being restricted to a box or a role that humanity has created. Instead, He submitted to the role that God the Father had set before Him and He walked with the Holy Spirit through His ministry on earth. While we may not understand everything that God is doing, or everything that He has done, our job is not to understand it. Instead, we are called to follow Jesus’ example and submit to the role that God has set before us, and walk with the Holy Spirit leading us throughout our lives here on earth.

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Where Is Your Treasure: Luke 12:13-34

Focus Passage: Luke 12:13-34 (NASB)

One phrase stood out to me as I read this passage: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 34)

I know for me, a decent amount of time is spent thinking about money, or a task that involves money to complete. There is an emergency fund that needs to be completed, several home improvement/repair projects that are not getting any better by themselves, and the goal of expanding our family in the near future just to name a few.

In this passage, as the glorious climax to a parable on greed, and a teaching on contentment and trust, we have this key phrase, which tells us something about our fallen human state, compared to our ideal “sons and daughters of God” state.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (v. 34)

This phrase speaks to goals and to our focus in life. It is a surprisingly accurate test we can use to determine the focus of our heart and our lives. For my wife and I, the big percentage categories of our budget include tithe and offering (giving), utilities and mortgage expenses (shelter), health expenses, and leisure activities. Probably the biggest percentage in this mix is the shelter category. I imagine that many other people can relate to us.

Don’t misunderstand me though. I am not saying that shelter, health, or leisure are bad places to use money, or that they all should not exceed what we give — though if God is pushing you in that direction, I don’t want to stand in His way. Instead, too often I find that most of our money ends up being spent on ourselves, which says that our hearts are focused on ourselves — even though we like to think that we are very other-focused. We could call “other-focused” “kingdom-focused” because what matters in the long run is helping others to know Jesus so they can be included in God’s Kingdom. In many cases, the best way to help others with this is by helping them with a tangible, physical need that they have. We can see Jesus doing this because He first would heal the sick before beginning His sermon — or He would stop His teaching if an ill person showed up.

Jesus was interested in helping people physically, so He could teach them spiritually.

The big idea that I have learned regarding our treasure and our giving is that we must make giving intentional for it to be effective. We have challenged ourselves with giving goals in the past, and as the new year has begun, we want to challenge you with a “giving” goal for this next month.

A challenge you could make for yourself in the coming month is to increase your giving by at least 1%. This means that if you were giving 0% or only sporadically, that you intentionally set aside at least 1% on the front end of your paycheck (before tax or after tax is up to you) to give. If you were already giving 5% or 10%, then let’s increase it to at least 6% or 11% respectively. Chances are you already were giving that 1% sporadically, so really this extra percent won’t be noticeable in your budget when the end of the month comes.

Where should this extra money go? I’ll leave it up to you, though the best place to give this extra money will be a place where you can see the money being used to change lives. A few examples you could choose are a local church or ministry, sponsoring a child in a third world country, or getting involved in micro-finance opportunities around the globe. The possibilities are endless, but the more you can see a life changed, the better the place to give your money.

I love talking about giving and ways to use money wisely, and I could easily share a lot more, but in the interest of time and space, I’ll save it for another journal entry. The big idea I’m emphasizing in this post is that our hearts follow our money. Where we spend or give is an indication of what we value and what we are prioritizing in our lives.

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Sitting in Moses’ Chair: Matthew 23:1-36

Focus Passage: Matthew 23:1-36 (NASB)

Throughout Jesus’ ministry, the group of people He seemed to have the most difficulty with were the scribes and Pharisees. These two groups of people were the most religious of the religious people living at that time, and in many ways, their religion was their life.

While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include Jesus cautioning the people about becoming like the scribes and Pharisees, only Matthew goes into great detail describing where the scribes and Pharisees had missed God’s plan. Matthew tells us that Jesus said to those listening, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.” (v. 2-5)

It is interesting that Jesus describes the scribes and Pharisees teaching as being worthwhile, but their actions as being worthless. Jesus told the people, “Therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” (v. 3)

The role of the religious leaders was to show God to the people, but the only picture they were painting of God was a harsh, demanding dictator that was standing by, ready to punish those who messed up. The religious leaders had set up rules and laws to protect them from coming close to breaking God’s laws, because in their minds, God is very strict and protective of His law.

When these first century Jewish leaders compared God’s will for His people on a spectrum measuring obedience and compassion, they firmly believed that He would only be compassionate on those who were obedient. Obedience was at the foundation of what they taught, but they didn’t even live up to their own standard. This may be why Jesus shared a few verses later, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.” (v. 13-14 [Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47])

The problem Jesus had with the religious leaders while He was present on earth is they had built the wall between humanity and God so high that it was impossible to get through – and then after they had that wall built, they didn’t go through themselves. Because of their teaching, and especially their actions, the scribes and Pharisees turned people off of even wanting to know God.

This warning to those living in the first century also cautions me to live out what I teach. The leaders in the first century spoke more conservatively than they acted, but perhaps it is better to err in the other direction. It may be better to live in a more conservative way than what we communicate to others. If we live and share God’s love, forgiveness, and acceptance towards those who have repented, we are accurately representing His character as displayed through Jesus’ life on earth!

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One Difficult Command: John 13:31-38

Focus Passage: John 13:31-38 (NIV)

31 When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”

37 Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”

38 Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times!

Read John 13:31-38 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During the supper Jesus shared with His disciples on the night of His arrest, He shares with them a profound idea that might sound obvious on the surface, but it has a slight twist that makes it unique. At this “Last Supper”, Jesus gives the disciples a new command.

John tells us that while they were together after Judas Iscariot had left, Jesus told them, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (v. 34-35)

On the surface, this sounds like Jesus simply is restating the “Love your neighbor as yourself” commandment He had shared earlier in His ministry as one of the top two commandments of the law. But loving one another is different from loving your neighbor.

Loving your neighbor could be understood as loving those who live near you, loving the strangers you pass by on the street, or even loving that annoying person who works near you at the office. In essence, these are people who you only casually know at best, and you unlikely would be friends with them if it were not for the geographical connection.

Loving one another is the opposite side of this coin. In this statement, Jesus commands His followers to love those they are close to, like those who are part of their family, friends, and church group. In some ways this is easier, but the challenge here is that the closer you get to know someone, the less of a mask they are able to put up, and the more you really get to know who they are. If you find something that you don’t like about them, is your response going to be breaking the friendship, or is it one that displays love and/or forgiveness? The answer is very dependent on the situation, but when in doubt, we should err on the side of showing love even if the relationship needs to end.

But in this command is also the command to love those who call themselves followers. This might be the hardest challenge of all. When we look at the broad group of people who identify themselves as “Christians”, there is very little that we could call united. There are “Christians” who hold to almost every possible belief and ideology that exists today. Sadly, the one thing that was suppose to unify us apart from a belief in Jesus is our love – for each other and for others – and this is more than simply tolerating those who believe differently than us.

Jesus’ single command for His church was to be known as the most loving place anyone could go – and while being loving does not mean ignoring the truth or discounting sin, it does mean caring for the individual in spite of the sin and helping lift them into a better place than they were before. It also means forgiving even if the other person doesn’t deserve it. With a love like this, we can accurately represent Jesus in our world today.

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