The Only People Who Paid Attention: Matthew 27:57-66

Focus Passage: Matthew 27:57-66 (CEV)

57 That evening a rich disciple named Joseph from the town of Arimathea 58 went and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate gave orders for it to be given to Joseph, 59 who took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. 60 Then Joseph put the body in his own tomb that had been cut into solid rock and had never been used. He rolled a big stone against the entrance to the tomb and went away.

61 All this time Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb.

62 On the next day, which was a Sabbath, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to Pilate. 63 They said, “Sir, we remember what that liar said while he was still alive. He claimed that in three days he would come back from death. 64 So please order the tomb to be carefully guarded for three days. If you don’t, his disciples may come and steal his body. They will tell the people that he has been raised to life, and this last lie will be worse than the first one.”

65 Pilate said to them, “All right, take some of your soldiers and guard the tomb as well as you know how.” 66 So they sealed it tight and placed soldiers there to guard it.

Read Matthew 27:57-66 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

The only gospel writer to include any details of the Sabbath Jesus was dead is Matthew, and the details that Matthew includes are amazingly significant to the gospel story. Nothing about this weekend was normal or ordinary, but in this extraordinary set of days, we learn of some people who actually paid attention to Jesus’ words even better than the disciples had.

Matthew describes what happens by saying, “On the next day, which was a Sabbath, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to Pilate. They said, ‘Sir, we remember what that liar said while he was still alive. He claimed that in three days he would come back from death. So please order the tomb to be carefully guarded for three days. If you don’t, his disciples may come and steal his body. They will tell the people that he has been raised to life, and this last lie will be worse than the first one.’” (v. 62-64)

What is amazing about this when I read what these leaders say to Pilate is that they actually heard Jesus’ prediction about coming back to life. While they don’t believe Jesus to be capable of resurrecting Himself, they don’t trust Jesus’ followers to not steal the body and claim this. The Jewish leaders’ fear prompts one of the most understated, key details to happen surrounding Jesus’ resurrection.

Nowhere in the gospels do we read about the disciples thinking about crafting a resurrection lie or myth, but if they had thought this, the guards at the tomb would stop them from succeeding. In a strange way, the guards present actually validate the resurrection story because for those of us reading about this many centuries later, if no guards were present, a myth could spread that the disciples did come and steal the body. Even sleeping guards would discourage a midnight raid because the cost of waking them would be too high.

But Pilate’s response is even more amazing than the religious leaders’ request. Matthew tells us Pilate told the leaders, “All right, take some of your soldiers and guard the tomb as well as you know how.” (v. 65)

After John’s gospel record of Jesus’ conversation with Pilate the previous day, it is possible that Pilate actually believed the rumor these Jewish leaders brought to him. While the Jewish leaders believed Jesus to be lying about resurrecting, Pilate may have not been so sure. By saying “guard the tomb as well as you know how”, Pilate hints at his belief that Jesus may be capable of what they don’t believe. In Pilate’s mind, if Jesus was capable of returning to life, nothing the religious leaders could do would be enough to stop Him.

By placing guards at the tomb, the Jewish leaders unknowingly help prove that the resurrection miracle actually happened. While trying to prevent a heist that could become legend, they actually place credible witnesses in place for the ultimate miracle of all of history. Jesus was the only person to ever predict His death and resurrection days later, and then have history play out exactly as He said it would.

Reading about this Sabbath tells me that God can use anyone to help move His plan forward. Even the most unlikely individuals who had no faith and who were completely opposed to the thought of resurrection become a part of God’s plan. They end up being witnesses and the first to know of Jesus’ resurrection, and while they were trying to avoid rumors and speculations from spreading regarding a resurrection, they get the tables turned on them and have to create their own rumor about the heist they were trying to prevent.

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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Does God Hate Fame: Luke 16:1-18

Focus Passage: Luke 16:1-18 (NCV)

    1 Jesus also said to his followers, “Once there was a rich man who had a manager to take care of his business. This manager was accused of cheating him. 2 So he called the manager in and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give me a report of what you have done with my money, because you can’t be my manager any longer.’ 3 The manager thought to himself, ‘What will I do since my master is taking my job away from me? I am not strong enough to dig ditches, and I am ashamed to beg. 4 I know what I’ll do so that when I lose my job people will welcome me into their homes.’

    5 “So the manager called in everyone who owed the master any money. He asked the first one, ‘How much do you owe?’ 6 He answered, ‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and write four hundred gallons.’ 7 Then the manager asked another one, ‘How much do you owe?’ He answered, ‘One thousand bushels of wheat.’ Then the manager said to him, ‘Take your bill and write eight hundred bushels.’ 8 So, the master praised the dishonest manager for being clever. Yes, worldly people are more clever with their own kind than spiritual people are.

    9 “I tell you, make friends for yourselves using worldly riches so that when those riches are gone, you will be welcomed in those homes that continue forever. 10 Whoever can be trusted with a little can also be trusted with a lot, and whoever is dishonest with a little is dishonest with a lot. 11 If you cannot be trusted with worldly riches, then who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you cannot be trusted with things that belong to someone else, who will give you things of your own?

    13 “No servant can serve two masters. The servant will hate one master and love the other, or will follow one master and refuse to follow the other. You cannot serve both God and worldly riches.”

 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, were listening to all these things and made fun of Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You make yourselves look good in front of people, but God knows what is really in your hearts. What is important to people is hateful in God’s sight.

    16 “The law of Moses and the writings of the prophets were preached until John came. Since then the Good News about the kingdom of God is being told, and everyone tries to enter it by force. 17 It would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the smallest part of a letter in the law to be changed.

    18 “If a man divorces his wife and marries another woman, he is guilty of adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman is also guilty of adultery.”

Read Luke 16:1-18 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Every so often, a phrase jumps out at me while reading a passage I have read dozens of times before. Perhaps this has happened to you. You are leisurely reading through the Bible when bam, some phrase hits you in a new way and shifts your thinking.

This passage holds one of these “bam”-moments for me. While most of the time we read these verses, we focus in on the parable, the verse that jumped off the page at me comes after the story, and in Jesus’ direct words to the Pharisees. Verse 15 says, “He said to them, ‘You make yourselves look good in front of people, but God knows what is really in your hearts. What is important to people is hateful in God’s sight.’”

Prior readings of this verse never really jumped out at me, probably because the verses on either side of this one have powerful messages as well, but the last sentence of this verse hit me in a new way: “What is important to people is hateful in God’s sight.

In the context, Jesus is challenging the Pharisees on their view of money and the priority they have placed on it, and in the sentence just before this one (verse 15a), sets the stage for a broader focus than on money. Making oneself look good in front of people may come because one has some money, but it is the desire for fame and status. Desiring fame and status is one subtle foothold for pride to enter our lives. Pride wants the focus to be turned towards me, and desiring fame and status, is similar because it wants the spotlight and the stage – specifically the attention.

But Jesus says, “What is important to people is hateful in God’s sight.

This truth is both powerful and challenging.

Is God saying that He hates money, fame, status, and stuff?

While it might appear like this on the surface, Jesus is touching on a deeper truth: Where is your heart at?

Is your heart focused on acquiring money, stuff, status, etc. or is it focused on Jesus?

Can it be both? Perhaps one could have both sides of this dilemma, but there must be a priority that is visible in your life. If Jesus is first, then it must be visible to others through with where we put our money, time, talents, and other resources. If we are not intentionally placing Jesus first in our lives, all the stuff that crowds out God will crowd out God.

All the stuff that is important to people is hateful in God’s sight because it feeds pride in one’s heart, and because it crowds out God from being the primary focus. God doesn’t hate fame, status, or stuff; He wants us to have righteous priorities.

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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Being Salt: Mark 9:38-50

Focus Passage: Mark 9:38-50 (NASB)

One of the interesting metaphors I find in Jesus’ teaching has to do with salt. In several places in the gospels, Jesus uses salt to describe a truth He wanted His followers to understand. In one of the most concentrated uses of the word salt, Mark describes one of Jesus’ ideas using this word six times in two verses.

Following Jesus’ warnings about stumbling in one’s faith, Mark gives us one of Jesus’ big ideas. He tells us Jesus concludes by saying, “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (v. 49-50)

In these two verses, the word salt is used as a noun, a verb, and as an adjective. This set of two verses also includes three somewhat unique ideas.

  • Everyone will be salted with fire.” (v. 49)

    This phrase makes me think that fire will be sprinkled on (or added to) everyone, because that is how salt is used today. However, before refrigeration, some things (such as meat) were dipped in and covered with salt as a way to keep it from spoiling. In many ways, this statement may mean that we will all experience God’s fire at some point in our lives. It may purify us in the present, or it may consume us at the judgment.

  • Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again?” (v. 50a)

    The second phrase describes how salt is inherently useful because of what it is and because of what it does. Salt’s value comes from being salty. If salt ever lost its saltiness, it will have also lost its value. This phrase concludes with the question, how can unsalty salt be made salty again? This is a question I don’t know the answer to, but one that deserves our attention if we are represented by salt in these phrases.

  • Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (v. 50b)

    This third phrase is interesting, and I think it describes how salt reacts to other things. Salt is found as an ingredient in almost everything, and salt can be added to most everything. However, salt must be added in the right quantities for it to not to ruin what it was added to. If we have salt inside of ourselves, this phrase may mean that we should interact with others, but also be discerning with how vocal we are with our faith. Too much salt will cause problems, and if salt is a symbol for our faith, than we should carry our faith inside of ourselves rather than letting it be dependent on others.

Overall, salt is an important metaphor when describing our spiritual lives, and it is one that has many different applications.

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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Teaching with Parables: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

Focus Passage: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 (NIV)

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

 

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Immediately before sharing the parable of the farmer scattering seed, both Mark and Matthew introduce this portion of their gospels with an interesting statement. Mark transitions into the parable by saying “He taught them many things by parables…” (v. 2a)

Matthew transitions into this section by saying, “Then he told them many things in parables…” (v. 3a)

Both gospel writers then start into sharing about the parable of the farmer scattering his seed.

I don’t believe it is an accident or a coincidence that both Matthew and Mark place this parable as the first one immediately following their introductory statement. The reason I believe this is because immediately before sharing what the parable means, Jesus makes an equally interesting statement that is relevant for our “parables” discussion.

Mark captures this transition statement by telling us Jesus rhetorically asks the disciples, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (v. 13)

Both Mark and Matthew included this parable to open up Jesus’ big shift into teaching with parables. While this may not have been Jesus’ first parable He ever shared, it seemed to fit both gospel writers’ narratives to include it here before sharing more of Jesus’ parables.

Jesus’ shift into teaching with parables is a significant shift for us to pay attention to. All too often, when communicating, we feel that the information is enough – and sometimes sharing our information is all that is needed to inspire life change. But this only happens when there is something prompting the person to change from their own past and experience.

When Jesus shifted into using parables, He opened the door for multiple layers of meaning, and He began speaking to multiple audiences at different levels of education simultaneously. By creating stories that had characters illustrating the truths Jesus wanted us to learn, Jesus becomes a role model for us when communicating.

The parable of the farmer scattering seed has so many applications that it is startling to think about. While it touches on spiritual truth, it also shares how people who hear any message or any information can process it before applying or rejecting it. It opens the door for us to understand that some information, regardless of how it is packaged, will never reach a percentage of people who are unwilling to learn or change.

But the real brilliance of using parables or stories is that they get remembered. Whether we realize it or not, most of Jesus’ teachings that we remember are the ones that have been wrapped within parable and/or stories. In the introduction to Jesus’ parables, Mark expands our perspective about Jesus teaching with parables, and it is something that everyone of us can use when communicating with others.

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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