Answering a Different Question: Mark 12:28-34

Focus Passage: Mark 12:28-34 (NIrV)

28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard the Sadducees arguing. He noticed that Jesus had given the Sadducees a good answer. So he asked him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?”

29 Jesus answered, “Here is the most important one. Moses said, ‘Israel, listen to me. The Lord is our God. The Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Love him with all your mind and with all your strength.’ — (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5) 31 And here is the second one. ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ — (Leviticus 19:18) There is no commandment more important than these.”

32 “You have spoken well, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one. There is no other God but him. 33 To love God with all your heart and mind and strength is very important. So is loving your neighbor as you love yourself. These things are more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

34 Jesus saw that the man had answered wisely. He said to him, “You are not far from God’s kingdom.”

   From then on, no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

Read Mark 12:28-34 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

If you have ever wondered if God has a priority list for how we should live our lives, you are not alone. All throughout history, and especially during the first century, there have been groups of people who have created prioritized lists to answer the question about what we should and should not do.

Jesus steps into this discussion when asked for His thoughts regarding what God’s priority list for us is. A Pharisee (teacher of the law) asks Him, “Which is the most important of all the commandments?” (End of verse 28)

Instead of sidestepping the question, or asking a question in response, Jesus decides this is a good opportunity to teach about God’s priorities. Perhaps this is because the Pharisee was genuinely asking because he wanted to learn, or maybe Jesus simply used this as an opening/opportunity to teach another piece of God’s truth to those present.

Jesus first begins by pointing out that we must place God first in our lives. This is the first and greatest commandment, but Jesus knows that His audience, or at least this Pharisee, already has a pretty good handle on this one. Jesus must say it because it is the truthful answer to the question, but the problem with the answer is that the question is bad.

By asking what the “most important” thing is – in any situation – one opens the door to allowing every other responsibility to be neglected in favor of focusing on the one “most important” thing. The danger here is that the most important command is not where Jesus’ audience had their greatest challenges. The greatest challenge for His audience was with the second most important command.

So after Jesus answers the direct question, He then answers the question that should have been asked in the first place, “What are the most important commandments?” While the Pharisee was only interested in one commandment, Jesus gives him two: The top commandment, and the one he needed to hear: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Middle of verse 31)

While the command to love God is clearly defined by four areas, loving our neighbor is really only defined by one area: how we love ourselves. This does not say we are to love our neighbor more or less than we love ourselves, but “as” we love ourselves. It is a statement of almost universal individual equality.

Some groups or governments have wanted to universally promote the idea of equality, but this is the opposite of what is present here. Externally imposed equality means there must be someone in power making the decision, and then the rest of the people. Individual equality means that each person views themselves as being no more valuable than anyone else, and no less valuable.

But we are sin-tainted, selfish people – which mean that some of us really love ourselves, while others really hate ourselves. This second commandment is second because we need a dedication and commitment to God first to give us a right perspective on how valuable we are. After all, Jesus came to give His life for each of us.

Loving your neighbor as you love yourself pushes us to think about others as we think about us. If we want something, someone else probably does as well, and what would happen if we helped them achieve it as we achieve it. This doesn’t pull wisdom out of help, but it allows and encourages wisdom to be a part of our help – because as a helper, we are responsible for giving help in appropriate ways.

Loving our neighbor sets a pretty high standard for a selfish heart, but it is a step towards being more like Jesus.

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Obeying His Messengers: Matthew 21:28-32

Focus Passage: Matthew 21:28-32 (NCV)

28 “Tell me what you think about this: A man had two sons. He went to the first son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ 29 The son answered, ‘I will not go.’ But later the son changed his mind and went. 30 Then the father went to the other son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘Yes, sir, I will go and work,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two sons obeyed his father?”

The priests and leaders answered, “The first son.”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. 32 John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him.

Read Matthew 21:28-32 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In a brief conversation Jesus has with a group of Pharisees, the gospel of Matthew describes Jesus sharing a parable about a father who asks His two sons to help in the family’s vineyard. One son said he would help but then chose not to go, while the other son said he wouldn’t help, but then chose to go and help.

The key question Jesus asks these Pharisees is which of these sons actually obeyed their father: The one who said they’d help or the one who showed up to help?

At the close of this discussion, Jesus shares a statement that is surprisingly relevant for us today. Matthew tells us that Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him.” (v. 31-32)

One amazing thing I see in this set of verses is that God sends messengers to help people turn their lives around, and while the religious leaders did not openly oppose John the Baptist, they also didn’t give John’s message any thought. Jesus directly says that “John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him.” (v. 32a)

Because tax collectors and prostitutes believed in John’s message and changed their lives and their focus, Jesus tells the religious leaders that those who were the worst sinners but who have changed their ways will gain entrance into heaven – ahead of those who supposedly lived close to God.

This should be a challenging message for people who call themselves followers of Jesus. When God sends us messengers to help us live better and grow closer to God, we would be wise to obey the instructions God’s messenger gives. Otherwise, we might end up in the same position these religious leaders ended up in when they rejected John’s message for themselves and ultimately missed out on seeing Jesus as God’s Messiah.

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Knowing Our Past: Mark 8:22-26

Focus Passage: Mark 8:22-26 (GNT)

22 They came to Bethsaida, where some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. 23 Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. After spitting on the man’s eyes, Jesus placed his hands on him and asked him,
         Can you see anything?

24 The man looked up and said,
         Yes, I can see people, but they look like trees walking around.

25 Jesus again placed his hands on the man’s eyes. This time the man looked intently, his eyesight returned, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus then sent him home with the order,
         Don’t go back into the village.

Read Mark 8:22-26 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In a unique miracle that only Mark’s gospel includes, Jesus visits a town and meets a crowd bringing a blind man to Him. What makes this parable unique in my mind is that Jesus brings the man out of town, and that the healing isn’t entirely successful the first attempt.

However, one phrase at the conclusion of this miracle stands out as I read it. This passage ends by saying, “Jesus then sent him home with the order, ‘Don’t go back into the village.’” (v. 26)

On the surface, this command makes sense, because Jesus doesn’t want the man to meet back up with the crowd who simply wanted to experience a miracle and praise Jesus for it. However, what happens if we ask the question: “What if this man lived in the village?”

If the man lived in the village, then Jesus’ request to this man doesn’t make sense, but if the man lived in a different nearby village, then a couple of subtle insights appear that we can learn from.

First, if the man was from a nearby village, then this means that the crowd formed by either someone bringing the formerly blind man into the village before collecting a crowd, or, more likely, someone started bringing the formerly blind man to Jesus and on their journey to find Him, people who wanted to see a miracle joined the crowd. Either way, this detail gives support to the idea that the crowd was simply there to see a miracle rather than to praise God.

Secondly, and more importantly, this detail emphasizes the truth that Jesus knows where we live. While it may have been obvious by the man’s style of clothing or something else about his appearance, nothing in the passage aside from Jesus’ command implies this man lived elsewhere. This means that Jesus knew where the man came from even if most of those in the crowd that brought Him didn’t.

This second truth is significant for us to remember too. Jesus knows where you and I live, He knows  our past, and He chose to come to earth to give us the opportunity to have a new life with God. While we might have deep, dark, hidden secrets in our past, Jesus knows what they are – and regardless of what happened, Jesus invites us into a new life with Him.

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Faith-Worthy: John 11:1-44

Focus Passage: John 11:1-44 (CEV)

1-2 A man by the name of Lazarus was sick in the village of Bethany. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha. This was the same Mary who later poured perfume on the Lord’s head and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent a message to the Lord and told him that his good friend Lazarus was sick.

When Jesus heard this, he said, “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.”

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother. But he stayed where he was for two more days. Then he said to his disciples, “Now we will go back to Judea.”

“Teacher,” they said, “the people there want to stone you to death! Why do you want to go back?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in each day? If you walk during the day, you will have light from the sun, and you won’t stumble. 10 But if you walk during the night, you will stumble, because you don’t have any light.” 11 Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up.”

12 They replied, “Lord, if he is asleep, he will get better.” 13 Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep.

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead! 15 I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let’s go to him.”

16 Thomas, whose nickname was “Twin,” said to the other disciples, “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.”

17 When Jesus got to Bethany, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. 18 Bethany was only about two miles from Jerusalem, 19 and many people had come from the city to comfort Martha and Mary because their brother had died.

20 When Martha heard that Jesus had arrived, she went out to meet him, but Mary stayed in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 Yet even now I know that God will do anything you ask.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will live again!”

24 Martha answered, “I know that he will be raised to life on the last day, when all the dead are raised.”

25 Jesus then said, “I am the one who raises the dead to life! Everyone who has faith in me will live, even if they die. 26 And everyone who lives because of faith in me will never really die. Do you believe this?”

27 “Yes, Lord!” she replied. “I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God. You are the one we hoped would come into the world.”

28 After Martha said this, she went and privately said to her sister Mary, “The Teacher is here, and he wants to see you.” 29 As soon as Mary heard this, she got up and went out to Jesus. 30 He was still outside the village where Martha had gone to meet him. 31 Many people had come to comfort Mary, and when they saw her quickly leave the house, they thought she was going out to the tomb to cry. So they followed her.

32 Mary went to where Jesus was. Then as soon as she saw him, she knelt at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw that Mary and the people with her were crying, he was terribly upset 34 and asked, “Where have you put his body?”

They replied, “Lord, come and you will see.”

35 Jesus started crying, 36 and the people said, “See how much he loved Lazarus.”

37 Some of them said, “He gives sight to the blind. Why couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

38 Jesus was still terribly upset. So he went to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone rolled against the entrance. 39 Then he told the people to roll the stone away. But Martha said, “Lord, you know that Lazarus has been dead four days, and there will be a bad smell.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you had faith, you would see the glory of God?”

41 After the stone had been rolled aside, Jesus looked up toward heaven and prayed, “Father, I thank you for answering my prayer. 42 I know that you always answer my prayers. But I said this, so that the people here would believe that you sent me.”

43 When Jesus had finished praying, he shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The man who had been dead came out. His hands and feet were wrapped with strips of burial cloth, and a cloth covered his face.

Jesus then told the people, “Untie him and let him go.”

Read John 11:1-44 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While reading about the events that happen in the gospels, and specifically about the lives that were affected by Jesus, I often take a moment or two and ask myself the following question: “Where is faith present (or not present) in this event/passage?” In our passage for this journal entry, faith is a big theme that is woven through a number of different interactions.

The first hint at faith comes immediately after Jesus tells the disciples plainly that Lazarus was dead. He continues in verse 15 by saying, “I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me.”

Apparently there must have been a lack of faith in the disciples for Jesus to have challenged them with these words. After all the teaching, healing, and miracles, some of the disciples must have still been second guessing if Jesus was worthy of their faith or not. This seems most evident a few verses prior to this when Jesus announces that they will go back to Judea to wake Lazarus up and the disciples hesitate fearing for their lives.

Jesus hits the disciples with the statement that He is glad they were not there for Lazarus’ sickness/death, and it must be because He wants to mentally prepare them for an even bigger truth: Jesus is “faith-worthy”.

This section of the passage concludes on a very pessimistic note. Thomas says in verse 16, “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.” But behind Thomas’ pessimistic statement is the action of following Jesus to the end – and that in itself displays a pretty significant level of faith.

When the disciples arrive at Bethany, Jesus meets with both Martha and with Mary separately, but each sister gets a different response in proportion to the level of faith. While both Mary and Martha begin by saying to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” in verses 21 and 32, Martha doesn’t stop there. Mary seems to have about the same level of faith as the disciples, which is about enough to frustrate Jesus, but Martha demonstrates a greater faith.

We often fault Martha for being the busy, distracted sister during one of Jesus’ earlier visits, but in this event, Martha definitely redeems herself by displaying a great level of faith, leading her to say in verse 27, “I believe that you are Christ, the Son of God. You are the one we hoped would come into the world.”

Even though her practicality would return a few verses later by commenting that rolling away the stone would release a bad odor, Martha saw Jesus as being “faith-worthy”, and she trusted that Lazarus would be resurrected when God’s timing was right. While Mary can be our example for setting good priorities and putting Jesus first, Martha is our example for putting our faith in Jesus when all hope seems lost.

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