Unprepared: Luke 21:5-19

Focus Passage: Luke 21:5-19 (NASB)

One morning, while studying this passage, a phrase caught me off guard.

You might know the feeling. You’re reading along, perhaps remembering many of the past times you read this same passage, and then you see it – a sentence or phrase that you never realized was there. “Who snuck that into my Bible?!” you ask.

Well, I had a similar moment while reading this passage. I was reading along, until verse 14 jumped out at me and caused me to pause. Here’s verses 13-15 to give verse 14 context: “It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.” [verse 14 italicized]

By nature, by experience, or maybe even by personality I am a natural planner. My mind is always exploring the possible options and the various potential outcomes for my current list of upcoming decisions. If there is a possibility for something to happen, such as guest speaking or receiving an urgent new project at work, I will have a basic plan in place. This is why verse 14 challenges me.

Jesus tells His followers not to prepare beforehand. With my track record, I don’t know if I am capable of “not preparing” for anything. I suppose if I am faced with this type of opportunity to share my faith, I will need to force myself to not think about it, because my thoughts will organize themselves into a plan.

But, with this challenge, Jesus also gives a promise: “for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute.” (verse 15)

Not only is this promise huge, it also brings peace into my mind and my heart. However, Jesus’ promise does not say that our opponents will accept the words He gives us, or that we will become friends afterwards. We need to look no further than the formerly blind man who was pulled in before the Pharisees and chief priests in John 9:13-34. They repeatedly questioned him, and when finally things have become about as tense as they will get in verses 30-33, the formerly blind man gives such a wise remark that it cannot be refuted, even though the leaders reject it.

In our passage for this entry, Jesus promises to do the same for us as He did through the Holy Spirit with this formerly blind man. The formerly blind man’s profound statement was perfectly timed and it couldn’t have been planned beforehand. Focus on staying close to Jesus, and He will help you respond to any accusations that come your way.

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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Seeking Glory: John 5:16-47

Focus Passage: John 5:16-47 (NIV)

16 So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. 17 In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 18 For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

19 Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. 20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed. 21 For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.

24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.

31 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. 32 There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is true.

33 “You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. 34 Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.

36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. 39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

41 “I do not accept glory from human beings, 42 but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. 43 I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. 44 How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

45 “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. 46 If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?”

Read John 5:16-47 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In one of Jesus’ replies to a challenge He received, He shared a statement that completely shifted my perspective on His character. While Jesus hints at this idea earlier while talking about John’s testimony, He clearly states it several verses later in a way that doesn’t leave any loopholes for misunderstanding His intent.

During His response, Jesus directly states, “I do not accept glory from human beings.” (v. 41)

However, He quickly follows this up by saying “But I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.” (v. 42)

If Jesus followed His “but I know you” statement with an exception, or with a group of people who truly gives Him glory, then we might think He shared an exception to the rule. But Jesus essentially follows up by saying that He especially doesn’t accept glory from those who don’t have God’s love in their hearts. A human being who believes in Him may give Him glory, but He doesn’t accept it. A human being who does not believe would be even less likely to give Him glory, and even in the rare case that they do, He still would not accept it.

The next two logical questions we could ask ourselves are, “Does Jesus ever accept glory from anyone/anything?”, and “Since Jesus doesn’t accept glory from human beings, where does the glory go that is directed His way?

To answer our questions, we can continue reading to learn a little more about what Jesus meant. Jesus continues by saying, “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (v. 43-44)

The response to our second question is easier to see. Since Jesus came in His Father’s name, any credit (i.e. glory) we try to give Him will be directed upwards toward the Father. Reading this shifted my thinking and prompted me to open my eyes to seeing miracles Jesus did where the gospel writers share that glory went to God the Father. In case you are wondering, there are many such examples. Giving the Father glory was one thing that motivated Jesus to help and heal people.

The response to our first question is trickier to see, but Jesus hints at it when He talks about how we should “seek the glory that comes from the only God”. (v. 44b)

While Jesus does not accept glory from us, He does accept glory from the Father, and He does allow the Holy Spirit to work through Him. In this way, Jesus sets an example for each of us – and it reveals His character. At the core of Jesus’ character is a 100% focus on God (the Father), and this God-focus can be a test we can use to determine whether someone is truly sent from God or not.

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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Flashback Episode — A Manger of Great Joy: Luke 2:1-20

Read the Transcript

As we continue into Luke’s gospel, we come to what might be the most Christmas-themed passage in the whole Bible. However, just because many of us have read or heard it as recently as last month, doesn’t mean that there aren’t truths tucked in it that are relevant for us regardless of what time of year we are in.

Let’s start reading this passage, and pause when we get to an interesting point or idea. We’ll be reading from Luke’s gospel, chapter 2, using the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 1, we read:

1 Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth. 2 This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And everyone was on his way to register for the census, each to his own city. 4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, 5 in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child. 6 While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

When I read this passage, I’m not sure if it is the traditional Christmas story that makes me think this, or if it is my mind that wants to condense the time frame. I don’t know how long Roman registration took for each person when they were doing a census, but in my mind, I always imagined that Jesus was born sometime during the night they arrived. But nothing in this passage hints at this idea, or even that the manger Jesus was laid in was out in a stable or cave with animals.

By the time the wise men arrive in Matthew’s gospel, which was actually a separate event from the shepherds, Matthew describes them going to a house, which might indicate that Jesus was born in the house of an unknown person.

I wonder if because there was no room in the inn, one of Joseph’s relatives offered to let them stay with them, or perhaps a friend of the innkeeper. However, this homeowner didn’t have anything prepared for a newborn, so this couple went out and got a manger from their stable so that the newborn could have a safe place to lay.

Let’s keep reading and see if we can see any other interesting details surrounding this event. Picking back up in verse 8, we learn that:

8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
14 “Glory to God in the highest, 
And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Let’s pause reading again here because two ideas stood out to me. The first thing I’ll draw our attention to is how the angelic choir praised God. Most of us are probably familiar with the King James Version of this message, but the NASB gives the last phrase a different angle. While the King James reads, “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men,” the NASB describes this message as, “And on earth peace among men with whom He [God] is pleased.

This is a fascinating distinction because as I read and compare the various translations, most translations read more similarly to the New American Standard Bible than the King James. This means, at least to me, that God wishes there to be peace among those with whom He is pleased, and if we desire to be pleased by God, we probably should desire His peace to fill our lives. It also might imply that God dislikes those who disrupt peace, whether this be in a society, a faith community, or between countries.

The other thing I noticed while reading this is in the first angel’s message. The original angel messenger begins his message by saying, “I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people”. This stands out in my mind because the good news about Jesus is good news for everyone, not just one particular race or group of people. Jesus came for everyone, and while there are those who reject Him and those who hate Him, Jesus entering the world as a human is great news for everyone because even though Jesus isn’t accepted by everyone, most everyone would agree that something needs to change with the world we live in.

Jesus came the first time to give us a way to benefit from His coming the second time. God has promised that our current earth, with all its issues and problems, is only temporary. God has promised a recreated “new heaven and new earth” with all the flaws of our current world fixed. The only way any of us can experience this is because of Jesus’ first coming, and while there might be an exception or two, even most of those who reject Jesus would not want the current flawed world we live in to continue forever.

The first coming of Jesus is good news of great joy for all people, and the shepherds wanted to know more. Picking back up in verse 15, we discover that:

15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

When the shepherds find Jesus, we don’t have any indication about where they found the young couple. It could have been a house, a stable, or simply near a tent and a fire to stay warm. The details surrounding where Jesus was born are less relevant than we might think. What truly matters is why Jesus came, that Jesus came, and what we will do in our own lives because Jesus came.

Our current world won’t continue forever. God has promised us a place in the new heaven and new earth and we can accept this gift and promise by choosing to accept and believe in Jesus. Looking at life from the big picture, this should be our highest goal each and every day of the year. Will you intentionally choose Jesus every day along with me?

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 choose to place Him first each day of your life. While life can get busy and distractions are guaranteed, intentionally make God first in your life, because from the perspective of eternity, a relationship with God is the most important thing we can have!

Also, as I regularly challenge you to do, place God first by intentionally spending time with Him each day in prayer and by personally reading your Bible. Don’t take a pastor or podcaster’s word for it. Discover what the Bible says for yourself by opening up the Bible and reading it for yourself!

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 give up on where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 2: When reading one of the most famous Christmas passages in the Bible, discover what the Bible doesn’t say about Jesus’ birth story, and a big truth about what it does share that is relevant in all of our lives, every day of the year!

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

The Pharisee Trap: Matthew 23:1-36

Focus Passage: Matthew 23:1-36 (NASB)

During Jesus’ warning statements to His followers and the crowd regarding the religious leaders, He concludes by drawing our attention onto an interesting statement that reveals a profound insight into human nature. By sharing this statement, Jesus in many ways incriminates everyone in all history who has ever displayed a similar “self-righteous” attitude like these religious leaders had done.

Matthew shares Jesus’ caution towards and against the scribes and Pharisees by saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” (v. 29-31)

In this challenge, Jesus essentially puts words in the scribes’ and Pharisees’ mouths, and then He uses those words to discredit their position. However, while this might sound like an underhanded tactic, the only way Jesus could have successfully pulled this off is if this was a legitimate reflection of the attitude these religious leaders had. By claiming they would have acted differently than their fathers, they are subtly associating themselves with the actions of those who went against God’s will many centuries and generations ago.

A few verses later, Jesus emphasizes all the wrong that these leaders are associating with by saying, “Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” (v. 34-35)

The claim the scribes and Pharisees were making highlights a trait that most, if not all, humans exhibit. This trait is thinking that we would act differently than someone else if we were placed in the exact same circumstances that they were in. If we were raised in the same way they were raised and if we were placed in the exact same decision they faced – all without knowing the outcome – we maybe would choose something different, but we are fooling ourselves to think or say that we definitely would act differently. There is truly no way of making an accurate comparison between what happened then vs. what we would do knowing what we know.

This understanding highlights how the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ day had a very “self-righteous” attitude, and it is this attitude that Jesus is challenging them on. For us living today, pushing back at this characteristic of human nature will help us remain humble and more Christ-like, and it is only by letting the past be the past that we will ever be able to truly move into the future.

God sent Jesus to the earth to help us know Him better, and even though these religious leaders rejected Jesus, they did so because they had a flawed view of God and a self-righteous attitude. While it’s easy for us to fall into the same trap, focusing on Jesus is the only way for us to beat the trap and truly be free.

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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