Flashback Episode — The Conclusion: Matthew 7:13-29

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As Jesus finishes up His famous Sermon on the Mount, we discover that He saves a very challenging parable and illustration for the very end. As Jesus concludes this sermon, we discover a very bleak picture for those who choose not to pay attention to His message. However, before sharing this parable and illustration, Jesus has a challenge and a warning for His followers and those who are deciding whether to join His followers or not.

Let’s read what Jesus told those present for this sermon and discover what we can learn from what He taught. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 7, and we will be reading it from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 13, Jesus continued preaching, saying:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate because the gate and road that lead to destruction are wide. Many enter through the wide gate. 14 But the narrow gate and the road that lead to life are full of trouble. Only a few people find the narrow gate.

15 “Beware of false prophets. They come to you disguised as sheep, but in their hearts they are vicious wolves. 16 You will know them by what they produce.

“People don’t pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles, do they? 17 In the same way every good tree produces good fruit, but a rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a rotten tree cannot produce good fruit. 19 Any tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into a fire. 20 So you will know them by what they produce.

Let’s pause briefly here because Jesus has just finished sharing a challenge and a warning, and before moving into Jesus’ concluding parable, I want to draw our attention onto a couple things we can learn from this first portion of our passage.

First off, most people familiar with Jesus’ teaching are familiar with Jesus teaching about the wide and narrow road and the wide and narrow gate. However, I found it interesting that in verse 14, Jesus tells us that “the narrow gate and the road that lead to life are full of trouble”. While this seems obvious on one level, it is something we don’t often like thinking about.

Jesus tells us that when we choose the narrow path leading towards the narrow gate, we will experience a life full of trouble. When we think about this, it makes sense because God has an enemy and he is opposed to anyone and everyone finding the way to God and living the way God desires humanity to live.

Jesus also warns us about the coming of false prophets. Those who Jesus describes coming as false prophets will appear like sheep, but their hearts are not at all Christ-like. Jesus tells us that we can spot them by what they produce, or in other words, by their actions.

Those who produce people who are Christ-like, who love others, who place the good of humanity ahead of themselves, and who desire to lead others to Christ are true prophets. False prophets desire to turn people against each other, false prophets draw people to focus on them instead of focusing on God, false prophets set themselves up as middlemen, claiming to speak for God, and false prophets lead people to act in un-Christ-like ways. The lives and actions of a prophet will tell you whether a prophet is a true prophet send from God or a false prophet that wants to lead you away from God.

However, Jesus has saved a warning for everyone that He wraps up in a sobering parable. Continuing in verse 21, Jesus tells the crowd:

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ 23 Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people.’

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. 25 Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock.

26 “Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it will be like a foolish person who built a house on sand. 27 Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed, and the result was a total disaster.”

28 When Jesus finished this speech, the crowds were amazed at his teachings. 29 Unlike their experts in Moses’ Teachings, he taught them with authority.

This last statement summarizes how the crowds reacted to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Matthew tells us that they were amazed at His teachings, and that they recognized that Jesus spoke with an authority that their experts in Moses’ teaching did not appear to have.

However, the final parable Jesus shares is very challenging. Jesus leads into this parable saying that not everyone who calls out His name will be saved in God’s kingdom. Jesus describes a group of people who are very familiar with Jesus, but who are ultimately lost.

Jesus emphasizes the differences between the saved and the not saved in a few different places and a few different ways. First, in the last portion of verse 21, Jesus describes a person who is saved as someone “who does what my Father in heaven wants”. In the whole faith vs. works debate over salvation, Jesus challenges us with the truth that actions do matter in God’s eyes!

It appears as though some of those who are thrown out prophesied in Jesus’ name, forced demons out in Jesus’ name, and performed other miracles using the power of Jesus’ name. However, Jesus still describes them as evil people. It would seem like those in this group knew a lot about Jesus and about spiritual matters, but they missed having a relationship with Jesus. Jesus tells this group: “I’ve never known you.

In the parable of the two house builders, the wise builder is described as listening to Jesus and obeying it. In contrast, the foolish builder is not described as ignoring Jesus, but as someone who listens to Jesus but who does not apply or obey what Jesus has said in their lives. The key distinction between being wise vs. being foolish is in our obedience to Jesus’ teaching. Without obedience, our house will collapse because it was built on sand; without obedience, we cannot have a relationship with Jesus; and without obedience, we will be left outside calling out for Jesus to open the door for us. According to Jesus’ conclusion to His sermon, without obedience, no level of faith can save us.

Obedience alone will not bring us salvation. Our salvation is found in a saving relationship that is based on faith, trust, hope, and belief in Jesus mixed with obeying what He asks us to do. The way to life is narrow, and it is filled with opposition, but even with this description and conclusion looking bleak, remember that Jesus has made the way for us, and as we intentionally continue moving towards Him, He will continue making the path He wants us to walk on become clearer with each and every step!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, intentionally seek God first in your life and resolve today to obey God and to obey Jesus’ teaching. If you are uncertain what God’s will for your life is, perhaps opening your Bible is the next best thing.

This leads perfectly into our next big challenge, which is to continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself. Through prayer and Bible study, you can grow a relationship with God and as you pray and study, God’s will for your life will become clearer and clearer.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or let anything distract or discourage you from going where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year in Matthew – Episode 13: As Jesus finishes His Sermon on the Mount, discover how His teaching affects the crowds present, and how Jesus’ final message is a challenge for all God’s people throughout the centuries.

Join the discussion on the original episode's page: Click Here.

Diffusing Skeptics: John 1:35-51

Focus Passage: John 1:35-51 (CEV)

35 The next day, John was there again, and two of his followers were with him. 36 When he saw Jesus walking by, he said, “Here is the Lamb of God!” 37 John’s two followers heard him, and they went with Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them, he asked, “What do you want?”

They answered, “Rabbi, where do you live?” The Hebrew word “Rabbi” means “Teacher.”

39 Jesus replied, “Come and see!” It was already about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him and saw where he lived. So they stayed on for the rest of the day.

40 One of the two men who had heard John and had gone with Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” The Hebrew word “Messiah” means the same as the Greek word “Christ.”

42 Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. And when Jesus saw him, he said, “Simon son of John, you will be called Cephas.” This name can be translated as “Peter.”

43-44 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. There he met Philip, who was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Jesus said to Philip, “Come with me.”

45 Philip then found Nathanael and said, “We have found the one that Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

46 Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”

Philip answered, “Come and see.”

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said, “Here is a true descendant of our ancestor Israel. And he isn’t deceitful.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

49 Nathanael said, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God and the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus answered, “Did you believe me just because I said that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see something even greater. 51 I tell you for certain that you will see heaven open and God’s angels going up and coming down on the Son of Man.”

Read John 1:35-51 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Of all the disciples to follow Jesus, Nathanael’s invitation is one of the most interesting and puzzling to my mind. After accepting Philip’s invitation to come and meet Jesus personally, Nathanael hasn’t really let down his guard, because he is skeptical about whether a Messiah would, or even could, come from Nazareth.

But like Jesus typically did, He speaks to the heart when talking to the person, and when Jesus saw Nathanael, His first words were, “Here is a true descendant of our ancestor Israel. And he isn’t deceitful.” (v. 47)

Jesus’ opening line about Nathanael breaks the initial tension of the moment, but it also diffuses Nathanael’s skepticism. Jesus’ statement turns Nathanael’s skepticism into curiosity. The way past a skeptical mind is to help it rediscover a childlike curiosity.

However, the part that I don’t really understand is Jesus’ response to Nathanael’s question. Jesus says, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” (v. 48b)

Why this is significant, I am not entirely sure. Maybe the fig tree was where Nathanael went to pray, or maybe it was very secluded or hidden from the outside world. This answer spoke to not only Nathanael’s mind but to his heart as well, and it lead Nathanael to accept Jesus as being the Messiah at the beginning of His ministry.

It is interesting that aside from John the Baptist, the skeptical Nathanael is among the first to call Jesus “the Son of God and the King of Israel” (v. 49) Nathanael may have been the first disciple to describe Jesus with these words.

This leads to the big point I see in this portion of the passage: Sometimes skeptics are the best people to have on your side, because once they are convinced of the truth, they are 100% dedicated to the mission. In this way, Nathanael is one of the first disciples who is 100% committed to Jesus and His mission.

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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Avoiding Floods and Judgment: Luke 6:37-49

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As we continue in Luke’s gospel, we come to a part of Luke’s writing where he shares several of Jesus’ big teaching points. It is quite likely Jesus shared these truths at multiple times in His ministry, and some of what Luke assembled for our passage in this episode may share the same themes as other teaching in other gospels but what Luke describes may have been shared at different points in Jesus’ ministry.

However, before thinking that Jesus’ message is reserved for only those who walked the earth during the first century, realize that what Jesus shares here may be one of the most relevant messages our world needs to hear today.

With that said, let’s dive in to our passage. Our passage for this episode is found in Luke’s gospel, chapter 6, and we will read from the God’s Word Translation. Starting in verse 37, Luke tells us Jesus taught the crowds saying:

37 “Stop judging, and you will never be judged. Stop condemning, and you will never be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and you will receive. A large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over will be put into your pocket. The standards you use for others will be applied to you.”

39 Jesus also gave them this illustration: “Can one blind person lead another? Won’t both fall into the same pit? 40 A student is no better than his teacher. But everyone who is well-trained will be like his teacher.

41 “Why do you see the piece of sawdust in another believer’s eye and not notice the wooden beam in your own eye? 42 How can you say to another believer, ‘Friend, let me take the piece of sawdust out of your eye,’ when you don’t see the beam in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye. Then you will see clearly to remove the piece of sawdust from another believer’s eye.

Let’s pause reading here for a moment, because two things Jesus has shared jumped out at me. Actually we probably could stop reading here, because in these few verses we could have several full length sermons about, however, for our time together, I want to draw our attention onto two big things.

Our passage opened with the words, “Stop judging, and you will never be judged. Stop condemning, and you will never be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive.” The essence of this message Jesus shares is that “the standards you use for others will be applied to you”.

This is significant for us to pay attention to, because if we are quick to judge, quick to belittle, or quick to condemn someone else, then we shouldn’t be surprised when we are judged, belittled, and condemned quickly. In contrast, if we forgive others without condition, love those who don’t deserve love, and give everyone in our lives the benefit of a doubt, then we can expect to receive forgiveness, love, and be given the benefit of a doubt ourselves.

Some of you might be thinking that you’ve tried this and it hasn’t worked. Know that if we act this way towards others and we don’t receive the same measure in return, trust that God will use the measure we used when He comes to judge. In the big picture, the only thing that matters from eternity’s perspective is what God thinks and how God judges. Jesus has promised us that we can change the measure God uses to judge through the way we interact with others.

The other big idea in this first section of our passage is closely connected to the first. When Jesus starts talking about looking at a speck of sawdust in another believer’s eye while having a wooden beam in your own eye, this challenges us with the truth that we should be significantly more focused on the issues in our own lives than we are with the issues in other peoples’ lives.

Most people judge what they see others doing while they want to be judged by their intentions, but this is a double standard. If we judge others by their actions, we will be judged by our actions regardless of our intentions, whether we like it or not. Our energy is best spent looking at the weak areas of our own lives because the only person that can remove the symbolic wooden beam from your eye is you, after you have acknowledged its presence.

With God’s help, we can remove the wooden beam from our own lives and then live a life that blesses others.

Continuing reading, Jesus shares another powerful set of ideas. Jumping back in at verse 43, Luke tells us Jesus continued, saying:

43 “A good tree doesn’t produce rotten fruit, and a rotten tree doesn’t produce good fruit. 44 Each tree is known by its fruit. You don’t pick figs from thorny plants or grapes from a thornbush. 45 Good people do the good that is in them. But evil people do the evil that is in them. The things people say come from inside them.

Pausing briefly again, this truth we just read is so powerful. Even when we want others to look at our intentions, the only standard that we can be fairly measured against is our actions. Jesus tells us that good things are done by good people, while evil people do evil things. The words that come from someone’s mouth, or you could say that the words that a person writes, whether with a pen or on a computer, whether offline or online, the words come from inside them.

Many people have become professionals at looking one way in public but they act a different way in private. This means that how someone acts in private is a better indicator of what is in their heart. While it is harder to see someone’s private life than their public one, know that people can only live dual lives for so long. Eventually, one life will win out, and eventually the public life will affect the private life, or the private life will spill into the public life.

Let’s finish our passage and look at one of Jesus’ most famous illustrations. Continuing in verse 46, Jesus asks the question:

46 “Why do you call me Lord but don’t do what I tell you?

47 “I will show you what everyone who comes to me, hears what I say, and obeys it is like. 48 He is like a person who dug down to bedrock to lay the foundation of his home. When a flood came, the floodwaters pushed against that house. But the house couldn’t be washed away because it had a good foundation. 49 The person who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it is like someone who built a house on the ground without any foundation. The floodwaters pushed against it, and that house quickly collapsed and was destroyed.”

In this conclusion, I am always amazed by the contrast present. The contrast in Luke’s version of the two homes is not two houses that are built in different locations, but simply two houses that are built next to each other but with each having a different foundation.

The only difference between these houses is the foundation, and the only difference between the people each home represents is obedience. Jesus describes the first group as “everyone who comes to me, hears what I say, and obeys it”. This first group has a solid foundation that survives a flood.

Jesus describes the second group as a “person who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it”. Both groups hear Jesus’ words; the only difference is obedience. Obeying Jesus leads to a flood-proof foundation for our lives!

Nowhere in this passage are we promised safety from floods. Instead, we are challenged with the big truth of how to structure our lives so that the floods of life don’t sweep us away.

Before wrapping up this episode, I want to point us back to the irony in Jesus’ question leading into this illustration. In verse 46, Jesus asks His followers “Why do you call me Lord but don’t do what I tell you?

This challenge is just as applicable today as it was when Jesus first spoke these words. If we are going to call Jesus the Lord of our lives, then we should obey His teaching. While there is way more involved than simply a checklist of things to do or don’t do, the most important thing for us to do is to study what Jesus taught and to apply the instructions Jesus gave into our lives.

Christians who ignore Jesus’ teachings are imposters. They risk having their spiritual homes swept away when the floods Jesus spoke of come. Don’t simply listen to Jesus. Apply the truth He teaches into your life and build a solid foundation of obedience that will weather life’s storms!

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

As I always challenge you to do, continue seeking God first in your life and choose to accept and apply Jesus’ teaching into your life. While many things Jesus shares are challenging, applying Jesus’ teachings are the only way to lay a flood-proof foundation for our lives.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself, and discover through the pages of God’s Word the truths Jesus wants us to focus in on. Discover for yourself what Jesus teaches and don’t let someone else dictate to you what you should believe about Jesus.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or get flooded out of where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Luke – Episode 12: In a set of truths Jesus’ shares, discover how Jesus challenged not just those living in the first century, but also those of us living over 2,000 years later. Discover just how important it is to not only listen to Jesus, but also to apply His truth into our lives today!

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Trials Produce Fruit: Luke 13:1-9

Focus Passage: Luke 13:1-9 (NIV)

 1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

 6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

 8 “ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ ”

Read Luke 13:1-9 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During one of the parables Jesus shares, we learn about a vineyard that has a fig tree that is not producing fruit. In this journal entry, I want to dig in to what the manager of the vineyard promises to do for the coming year, and analyze whether his methods are more likely to result in fruit, or lack of fruit.

In verse 8 we read the manager’s response, “Leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it.” The manager asks for more time, and promised to give extra special attention to this fig tree with the hopes that it will bear fruit. This manager seems to promise the fig tree everything it needs to survive, and then some, as a last chance effort to convince it to be fruitful.

We could say that this tree has one “easy” year ahead of it.

But what the manager does not know, that we do, is for plants to be the most “fruitful” they must be “pruned”, and pruning hurts. Pruning involves taking everything away that is not necessary (all the “dead” stuff) and it involves hurting what is left.

The manager would be best suited to cut 60% of the branches off the fig tree, in addition to the digging and fertilizing), because through trials we become fruitful. Trials show others what we are made of, and they bring out our “fruit”.

So what does this say about our lives today?

Are you living a “good” or “easy” life? If so, you may not be as fruitful as God would want you to be.

Have you overcome a major trial or setback? If so, what has it taught you and are you using what you learned from it to help those around you?

Often times, the trials in our past are the seeds God uses to bless those we meet. Our journey to God’s ideal for us might follow a path of overcome trials.

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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