The Fateful Choice: John 13:18-30

Focus Passage: John 13:18-30 (NCV)

18 “I am not talking about all of you. I know those I have chosen. But this is to bring about what the Scripture said: ‘The man who ate at my table has turned against me.’ 19 I am telling you this now before it happens so that when it happens, you will believe that I am he. 20 I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send also accepts me. And whoever accepts me also accepts the One who sent me.”

21 After Jesus said this, he was very troubled. He said openly, “I tell you the truth, one of you will turn against me.”

22 The followers all looked at each other, because they did not know whom Jesus was talking about. 23 One of the followers sitting next to Jesus was the follower Jesus loved. 24 Simon Peter motioned to him to ask Jesus whom he was talking about.

25 That follower leaned closer to Jesus and asked, “Lord, who is it?”

26 Jesus answered, “I will dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the man who will turn against me.” So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. 27 As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him. Jesus said to him, “The thing that you will do—do it quickly.” 28 No one at the table understood why Jesus said this to Judas. 29 Since he was the one who kept the money box, some of the followers thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the feast or to give something to the poor.

30 Judas took the bread Jesus gave him and immediately went out. It was night.

Read John 13:18-30 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During the last supper Jesus had with the disciples before His crucifixion, John’s gospel includes an interesting statement that stands out when I read it. Part of me wonders how this event would have been different if this one key detail had happened differently.

According to John, when asked who would betray Jesus, Jesus responds by saying, “‘I will dip this bread into the dish. The man I give it to is the man who will turn against me.’ So Jesus took a piece of bread, dipped it, and gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered him.” (v. 26-27a)

What stands out in my mind when I read this is that it seems as though Judas Iscariot willingly takes the bread and that by accepting the bread, He allowed Satan to enter him. I wonder if in this act, Judas fully accepts the role of betrayer.

I wonder what would have happened differently if Judas had refused the offer of bread from Jesus. If Judas had refused to accept the bread, would that also have meant that He refused to be known as the betrayer. If Satan had not entered him, would Judas have still gone through with turning Jesus in?

In some ways, John’s gospel paints Judas Iscariot as a victim. If Satan entered Judas through the simple act of taking bread from Jesus then the argument could be made that it was Satan who betrayed Jesus, not Judas.

But the plan to betray Jesus had already been put in place before this night. Judas Iscariot already had received the thirty pieces of silver, and he was already looking for an opportunity for the religious leaders to arrest Jesus while He was away from the crowds.

Satan entering Judas at that moment was a mere formality when accepting the bread. Perhaps Judas believed Jesus would not allow Himself to be arrested or condemned. Perhaps Judas saw this as a way to push Jesus forward into claiming the Messianic role that Judas believed He should be.

And unknowingly, Judas Iscariot actually does push Jesus’ mission forward – but not in the way he expected it to go. Seeing how this event unfolds, Judas didn’t need Satan in him to move forward with the plan, but perhaps Satan entering Judas helped solidify that Judas would follow through with the plan.

Judas opened himself to Satan when he refused Jesus’ correction and Jesus’ love. Judas held tight to his own view of who the Messiah was supposed to be, and because of this, there was no way for Jesus to help correct his belief. It was only after the arrest and realizing that Jesus was letting Himself be crucified that Judas realizes Jesus really did have a different picture of the Messiah role than he did – and this realization prompts his suicide.

Jesus wants to teach each of us who He is and what He is like. In every case, this involves us being open to letting Him break down the box we have placed Him in, and letting Him define the boundaries of who He is. The Bible describes One God, and One Truth – and it reveals this to us through the character of the One Messiah, Jesus Christ. We don’t have to make the same mistake as Judas Iscariot. We can let Jesus teach us while we still have time to learn and grow.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Reaching Pigs Without Pearls: Matthew 7:1-6

Focus Passage: Matthew 7:1-6 (NIV)

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

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

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

Read Matthew 7:1-6 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

One of the oddest things for Jesus to teach comes right after Jesus shares a message about hypocrisy and being intentional about how we should help others. Taken by itself, it may be one of the meanest of Jesus’ teachings – but even while it may not be politically correct, the theme that is shared may surprise you.

After drawing our attention onto how we should focus on personal growth in order to truly be able to help others (this equals fixing issues in our lives before helping others do so), Jesus seems to switch topics by saying, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (v. 6)

I wonder if this idea confused any of those in Jesus’ audience. Is Jesus being literal here, or are dogs, pigs, and pearls metaphors for something else?

If we take the context of this passage and focus on how Jesus has just finished sharing about removing the speck from our brother’s eye, I wonder if Jesus hasn’t actually changed topics, but instead is broadening the focus of His idea to now include other non-family members. If this is the case, then dogs and pigs may symbolically mean people who are unreceptive or hostile to spiritual truth.

Continuing along with that thought, in the Old Testament culture, as well as in the first century, there were clear boundaries between the sacred and the secular – even more so than boundaries that are present between these areas today. Dogs and pigs are not clean animals (based on the Jewish dietary law), therefore they could easily represent those who have aligned themselves against spiritual truth.

If the term pearl is a metaphor as well, then perhaps it might be compared to wisdom. There is the expression “pearl of wisdom” and that may be relevant for our discussion as a way to link these ideas.

With all these metaphors in place, I wonder if Jesus is telling His followers to be cautious about sharing wisdom and spiritual truth with those who are hostile towards it. Those who do not value the things of God are not going to value or appreciate more things sent their way. If we choose to intentionally share spiritual truth with someone who will not value it, or with someone who is opposed to it, we paint a target on ourselves with nothing positive coming from the situation.

Does that mean we write off those who are opposed to Christ and Christianity? Absolutely not!

It does instead mean that we must approach these people differently. These people may be more impressed by our actions and attitudes (specifically our Christ-like love) than with our Christian clichés and our thought-challenging proverbs.

Jesus came into a world that was filled with these metaphoric dogs and pigs. Instead of preaching religious clichés like had been done up to that point, Jesus took a relational approach, and won many people over by simply loving them. Jesus’ example shares how we can reach people who are opposed to God, and it is through our love and character, not through our spiritual teachings.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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Prioritizing Like Jesus: John 15:1-17

Focus Passage: John 15:1-17 (NIrV)

“I am the true vine. My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch joined to me that does not bear fruit. He trims every branch that does bear fruit. Then it will bear even more fruit.

“You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain joined to me, and I will remain joined to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain joined to me.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. If anyone remains joined to me, and I to him, he will bear a lot of fruit. You can’t do anything without me. If anyone does not remain joined to me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and dries up. Branches like those are picked up. They are thrown into the fire and burned.

“If you remain joined to me and my words remain in you, ask for anything you wish. And it will be given to you.When you bear a lot of fruit, it brings glory to my Father. It shows that you are my disciples.

“Just as the Father has loved me, I have loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love. In the same way, I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy will be in you. I also want your joy to be complete.

12 “Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command.

15 “I do not call you servants anymore. Servants do not know their master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends. I have told you everything I learned from my Father.

16 “You did not choose me. Instead, I chose you. I appointed you to go and bear fruit. It is fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you anything you ask for in my name.

17 “Here is my command. Love each other.

Read John 15:1-17 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Has God ever challenged you with a difficult person?

Or has God ever brought someone into your life who pushed you to grow – regardless of whether you wanted that growth or not?

If there is ever a passage that challenges us regarding our attitude and priorities about other people, it is this one. Many people really like this passage applied to others, but when we really dig in to apply this to ourselves, we run into some very challenging implications.

The part of this passage where this comes to Jesus’ big point is in verses 12 and 13: “Here is my command. Love each other, just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than the one who gives his life for his friends.

We love these verses when others apply Jesus’ teaching because it feels nice to receive excellent service and to receive gifts. However, when applying the verses to us, things get significantly harder.

The standard that Jesus gives, and the one He set is placing your friends’ lives ahead of your own life. There is no getting around this simple truth. Jesus set our lives ahead of His own life by dying a death that He did not deserve – for people (us) who did not deserve it. And He calls us to do the same if we wish to remain in His love. (v. 10)

This is very counter cultural to even today’s Christian world. The Christian self-help movement likes to make us think that our priorities should be God first, then ourselves, then others. After all, isn’t this way healthier and less likely to cause burnout?

Perhaps, but what often happens in the God-myself-then-others priority structure is that others get the leftovers, and over time, we turn inward and our backs face those who need our help.

The flipside is also damaging. Jesus never modeled a life where He didn’t take time alone to recharge. Praying alone all night, sneaking away from the crowds, and sending the crowds away were all part of His balancing act. The danger to the God-others-then-myself priority structure is that we lose our identity and our connection with God because others will have a tendency to push God to the side.

This passage does not teach an others-first or even a self-first mindset. Instead, it teaches a God-first perspective. The time we spend with God is the most valuable time we can spend. [Period]

Time spent with God is restorative to our health, it recharges our identity, and it reprioritizes our focus onto the things that God wants us to focus on. By spending time with God, He will direct us to His ministry for us – a cause that we can dedicate our lives to that helps others. What is left afterwards is self, and in reality, the more time we spend with God, the less important our “self” time will be. Our time spent with God is restorative and it should be our focus.

Jesus modeled a God-first, Others-second attitude. Self wasn’t even in His equation. If Jesus placed others first, as His followers, we should too!

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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The Not-So-Last-Minute Escape: Matthew 2:1-23

Focus Passage: Matthew 2:1-23 (CEV)

When Jesus was born in the village of Bethlehem in Judea, Herod was king. During this time some wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and said, “Where is the child born to be king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard about this, he was worried, and so was everyone else in Jerusalem. Herod brought together the chief priests and the teachers of the Law of Moses and asked them, “Where will the Messiah be born?”

They told him, “He will be born in Bethlehem, just as the prophet wrote,

’Bethlehem in the land
    of Judea,
you are very important
    among the towns of Judea.
From your town
    will come a leader,
who will be like a shepherd
    for my people Israel.’”

Herod secretly called in the wise men and asked them when they had first seen the star. He told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, let me know. I want to go and worship him too.”

The wise men listened to what the king said and then left. And the star they had seen in the east went on ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 They were thrilled and excited to see the star.

11 When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshiped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him. 12 Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.

13 After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”

14 That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt, 15 where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.”

16 When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.

17 So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said,

18 “In Ramah a voice was heard
    crying and weeping loudly.
Rachel was mourning
    for her children,
and she refused
to be comforted,
    because they were dead.”

19 After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was still in Egypt. 20 The angel said, “Get up and take the child and his mother back to Israel. The people who wanted to kill him are now dead.”

21 Joseph got up and left with them for Israel. 22 But when he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now ruler of Judea, he was afraid to go there. Then in a dream he was told to go to Galilee, 23 and they went to live there in the town of Nazareth. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Read Matthew 2:1-23 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

At the end of every Christmas story that follows the wise men’s journey, we are presented with Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ escape to Egypt. I’m not sure why my mind has created this picture, but I’ve often imagined the scene that the little family is leaving through the south gate of the city when the guards are arriving at the north gate to enter and kill the children.

But if we read closer at what Matthew describes in his gospel, I see a different scene taking place. If the wise men’s visit was during the day, then most likely, that same night both groups had their respective dreams. The wise men dreamed that they should not return to Herod and Joseph dreamed about the need to escape to Egypt. (v. 12-13)

Joseph didn’t waste any time. He packed up his family and they set out that night.

What Matthew does not mention is how much time passed before Herod realized the wise men had chosen to not return. “Later they [the wise men] were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.” (v. 12)

When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learned from the wise men.” (v. 16)

The time between the wise men taking the different road and that information reaching Herod may have been days or weeks. It is even possible that Joseph and the family were crossing the border into Egypt on the actual night the slaughter happened in Bethlehem.

But maybe, from what we know about Herod in this event, the king had sent spies to watch the wise men and report on their actions and their direction. It is even possible that if there were spies following the wise men, they learned the exact location where the family was living. However, as soon as the wise men took the road that didn’t lead back to Jerusalem, the spies realized they weren’t headed back to Herod and they left to give their report.

With this information, the escape most likely happened a day or two ahead of the slaughter if there were spies watching the wise men, or perhaps even a week or two if Herod was simply waiting for their return.

This detail in the Christmas story tells me that God has everything planned out in detail, and He is not surprised by what is going to happen. God knew Jesus’ life was in danger long before Herod even knew of Jesus’ existence and He made a way for the family to escape the slaughter. This means that nothing that happens in my own life is a surprise to God. While not everything that happens is good, God is able to take the bad and salvage it into something good if we let Him.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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