Equal Opportunity Includer: Mark 9:33-37

Focus Passage: Mark 9:33-37 (NIV)

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Read Mark 9:33-37 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Have you ever wanted to welcome God into your life, or serve Him with how you live?

In this passage about humility, we find an interesting metaphor for how we can welcome God: We welcome God by welcoming children, and not just any children, but specifically “little children”.

I’m not sure exactly how old of a child Jesus selected, but in my imagination, this child might have been in the age range that they want to know “why” about everything. At this age, the child is an empty cup that wants to be filled with all knowledge of the world around them, and they finally have the language and intellectual development to want to learn more. The child is like a black hole for information; they are always taking in more and more while never being fully satisfied.

However, it is in this phase of development where parents might become the most annoyed, which is why my imagination places Jesus choosing a “little” child in that phase of development and makes the statement: If you welcome the least appealing child, whether they be an “ugly” child, or an annoying one, you are welcoming Jesus – and not only Jesus, but also God as well.

In this dialog, Jesus is stressing the point that how we treat others, interact with them, and/or welcome them into our lives is equivalent to us treating God that way. By welcoming little children into our lives, homes, and situations, we are welcoming God in as well. God is honored when we honor others.

God values everyone, He welcomes everyone, and Jesus died to open salvation up for everyone. God is an equal opportunity includer, and he wants each of us to be includers as well.

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Fighting Temptation: Luke 4:1-15

Focus Passage: Luke 4:1-15 (GNT)

Jesus returned from the Jordan full of the Holy Spirit and was led by the Spirit into the desert, where he was tempted by the Devil for forty days. In all that time he ate nothing, so that he was hungry when it was over.

The Devil said to him, “If you are God’s Son, order this stone to turn into bread.”

But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone.’”

Then the Devil took him up and showed him in a second all the kingdoms of the world. “I will give you all this power and all this wealth,” the Devil told him. “It has all been handed over to me, and I can give it to anyone I choose. All this will be yours, then, if you worship me.”

Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’”

Then the Devil took him to Jerusalem and set him on the highest point of the Temple, and said to him, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here. 10 For the scripture says, ‘God will order his angels to take good care of you.’ 11 It also says, ‘They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’”

12 But Jesus answered, “The scripture says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the Devil finished tempting Jesus in every way, he left him for a while.

14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, and the power of the Holy Spirit was with him. The news about him spread throughout all that territory. 15 He taught in the synagogues and was praised by everyone.

Read Luke 4:1-15 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

When facing the temptations in the wilderness, Jesus uses an interesting weapon that most people don’t think of when being tempted. While we might consider prayer as the ultimate weapon against Satan and temptation, it may surprise you that Jesus does not pray a single prayer while He was tempted in the wilderness. Some might also think running from the situation is appropriate, but Jesus doesn’t run either.

Instead, Jesus uses another weapon to push Satan back, and that is the weapon of the scripture – and not just any scripture, but Old Testament scripture. Luke’s gospel shares how the first temptation Jesus receives is one that challenges Jesus’ hunger and it is an offer or suggestion for Jesus to use His creative power to help His hunger. In response, Jesus tells Satan, “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone.’” (v. 4)

Luke describes Jesus second temptation as being tempted with an offer of all the kingdoms of the world. Satan is willing to give up the earth for Jesus’ worship. Responding to this temptation, Jesus tells Satan, “The scripture says, ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve only him!’” (v. 8)

The third temptation Luke shares Jesus receiving has to do with jumping off of the highest point of the temple. Luke’s gospel reverses the order of the last two temptations from Matthew’s gospel, and perhaps the reason Luke does this is because Satan uses an interesting tactic in this “temple-leap” temptation. Noticing how Jesus has pushed back at his earlier temptations, Satan draws upon a spiritual promise that Jesus would clearly know. In Satan’s temptation to jump, he shares, “If you are God’s Son, throw yourself down from here. For the scripture says, ‘God will order his angels to take good care of you.’ It also says, ‘They will hold you up with their hands so that not even your feet will be hurt on the stones.’” (v. 9b-11)

Satan uses promises God had given in an attempt to get Jesus to sin. But even though Satan can twist scripture and use it in His temptations, Jesus still responded with scripture. When challenged with this third temptation, Jesus replied, “The scripture says, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (v. 12)

Jesus succeeded at pushing the devil back by using and quoting scripture, and if this was Jesus’ method of fighting temptation, we may benefit from using it as well. With God’s help and His scripture by our side, we can see these tricks, traps, and temptations Satan sends our way and successfully push Satan back in our own lives as well.

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Describing God’s Kingdom: Matthew 13:44-52

Focus Passage: Matthew 13:44-52 (GNT)

44 “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man happens to find a treasure hidden in a field. He covers it up again, and is so happy that he goes and sells everything he has, and then goes back and buys that field.

45 “Also, the Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, 46 and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.

47 “Also, the Kingdom of heaven is like this. Some fishermen throw their net out in the lake and catch all kinds of fish. 48 When the net is full, they pull it to shore and sit down to divide the fish: the good ones go into the buckets, the worthless ones are thrown away. 49 It will be like this at the end of the age: the angels will go out and gather up the evil people from among the good 50 and will throw them into the fiery furnace, where they will cry and gnash their teeth.

51 “Do you understand these things?” Jesus asked them.

“Yes,” they answered.

52 So he replied, “This means, then, that every teacher of the Law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of heaven is like a homeowner who takes new and old things out of his storage room.”

Read Matthew 13:44-52 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

All throughout the gospels, Jesus shared parables. A good number of these parables are tagged as describing the Kingdom of heaven or the Kingdom of God. Perhaps Jesus spoke in parables in this way to help us better understand ideas and characteristics of a big thing that would overwhelm us if we saw it clearly.

In many ways, these parables reveal God’s character and His perfect world that He wants to invite us into. At this point in our lives, if He were to show us a vision of this ideal world, we might not believe it to be possible. Instead, I think He may have given parables to give us glimpses of the perfection He has planned.

In the concluding set of parables about the Kingdom of heaven in Matthew 13, there is a common theme that runs through them. In these three parables, God’s Kingdom is represented by a treasure hidden in a field, by a merchant searching for fine pearls, and by a fishing net that catches all kinds of fish.

All three of these parables contain some common themes.

The first theme that unifies these parables is the theme of seeking. Each of these parables has a character seeking something that is valuable. While the man in the field is not expecting to find the treasure he found, he is quick to recognize its value and worth because he knows it is something he desperately needs. The merchant’s role is seeking valuable pearls, and the fishermen’s role is seeking valuable fish. God’s Kingdom is one that seeks out the people, thoughts, ideas, and things God finds valuable, so He can add them to His Kingdom.

The second theme that unifies these parables is the theme of filtering. Each of these parables has a character recognizing the valuable thing from the not valuable thing. The man in the field recognizes that the buried treasure is more valuable than the dirt covering it. The merchant recognizes the valuable pearl among the lower quality, less valuable ones. The fishermen catch lots of types of fish, but they filter their catch into the valuable fish and the not valuable fish. God’s Kingdom is one that sorts and filters the valuable from the not valuable and God keeps the things He determines are valuable before ignoring or throwing out that which is worthless.

The third theme that unifies these parables is the theme of sacrifice. Each of these parables contains a measure of sacrifice on the part of the main characters. The man in the field and the merchant sell everything they have to acquire their respective treasures. The fishermen have to take the time to sort the good from the bad in order to get their treasure. If fishermen could, they would prefer to only catch what they know is valuable, but that is not how a fishing net works. The sacrifice for a fishermen is the time it takes to sort the valuable from the worthless. God’s Kingdom is one that cost Him everything. God sold everything He had for the opportunity to acquire the planet filled with value.

These parables unify by describing a God who is willing to give up Himself to bring us into a relationship with Him. He values this blue planet and each of us as its inhabitants, and He spared no expense buying us back from sin. God’s Kingdom is filled with value because God gave everything He had to purchase it. We might not see the value in God’s decision, but God gives value to what He purchased by how much He was willing to pay. He bought this blue planet and us through the death of His Son. Never let anyone convince you are less valuable to God than this!

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When God Says “Go”: Mark 10:46-52

Focus Passage: Mark 10:46-52 (GNT)

46 They came to Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving with his disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus son of Timaeus was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus! Son of David! Have mercy on me!”

48 Many of the people scolded him and told him to be quiet. But he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called the blind man. “Cheer up!” they said. “Get up, he is calling you.”

50 So he threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

“Teacher,” the blind man answered, “I want to see again.”

52 “Go,” Jesus told him, “your faith has made you well.”

At once he was able to see and followed Jesus on the road.

Read Mark 10:46-52 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Have you ever told someone to do something, and instead they do the opposite?

Have you ever been that person – the one to do the opposite of what you were told?

In our passage for this post, we find an example of this type of disobedience displayed, but in this case, would we blame the disobedient person?

In this passage, Jesus heals Bartimaeus, a formerly blind beggar who lived in or near Jericho. Following the healing, Jesus says, “Go, your faith has made you well.(v. 52a) However instead of going away, Bartimaeus chooses to “go” follow Jesus: “At once he was able to see and followed Jesus on the road.(v. 52b)

Such disobedience: Bartimaeus chooses to follow the person who healed him.

If you are like me, I am not surprised at all by this reaction – even if it is counter to what Jesus said. When God does a miracle in our lives, following Him is a perfectly acceptable response.

However, is there something deeper in Jesus’ command to “Go”?

What if when Jesus said “Go”, the idea He was saying was “Be free [from your disability]”? In this angle, Bartimaeus was freed to see instantly, and this freedom allowed Him to choose whether to follow the One who freed Him, or choose to share what Jesus did with those in his community.

We could understand this also in Jesus’ similar command to, “Go, and sin no more.” We could angle this to say “Be free, and choose to never go back.” This then wouldn’t be a command to never sin ever again, but a challenge to not repeat the same mistakes we’ve made, to learn and grow from our mistakes, and to redirect our life towards God’s ideal for us.

In our own lives, when Jesus sets us free, will we thank Him and go our own way, or will we choose to follow Him—the One who set us free?

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