A Similar but Different Miracle: Matthew 15:32-39

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In two of the gospels, specifically Matthew and Mark, we discover a miracle that seems similar to one that we have already focused in on, but one that is quite profound when we look at how it is different from the other miracle. The other miracle is the only miracle that all four gospel writers included, and when I say that, you may remember that the miracle I’m referring to is the feeding of the crowd of more than 5,000 that we spent two episodes focusing in on.

However, lesser known is another miracle, where Jesus feeds a crowd larger than 4,000. While some people might think that these two miracles were the same, there is enough evidence and uniqueness in what happens in this episode’s miracle to clearly point to this being a separate event. And as a separate event, this miracle has some profound themes we can learn from.

Our passage for this episode comes from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 15, and we will read it from the New Living Translation of the Bible. Starting in verse 32, Matthew tells us:

32 Then Jesus called his disciples and told them, “I feel sorry for these people. They have been here with me for three days, and they have nothing left to eat. I don’t want to send them away hungry, or they will faint along the way.”

33 The disciples replied, “Where would we get enough food here in the wilderness for such a huge crowd?”

Let’s pause here for a moment because I want to draw out a couple things that we can already see in the verses leading up to the miracle. First off, this miracle is prompted by Jesus’ compassion and the necessity of the situation. Three days with Jesus away from towns in the wilderness is a long time, and from what Jesus describes, many of those who came did not plan for a trip of this length. This detail is powerful, because this means that many in the crowd following Jesus wanted to be near Jesus even more than they wanted to eat. As I say this, I am doubtful of how many self-professed Christians could be described in this way living in the world today.

The other big idea I see in this passage’s introduction is the initial response the disciples give, which is asking where they could get enough food for such a big crowd. All gospel chronology suggests this happened after the previous miracle of food multiplication, so this means that the disciples forgot what Jesus had done in the past, or they doubted His present circumstances for being able to do it again. This detail is also powerful, because it tells us that our present problems will always appear larger than our past victories. Only when we intentionally focus on what Jesus has done for us in the past will we have faith that He wants to help in our current situation.

Now that we remember and have a clear picture in our mind about what Jesus had done in the past, we can continue reading to discover what Jesus does to solve this problem in their present. Continuing in verse 34, Matthew tells us that:

34 Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”

They replied, “Seven loaves, and a few small fish.”

35 So Jesus told all the people to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, and broke them into pieces. He gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd.

37 They all ate as much as they wanted. Afterward, the disciples picked up seven large baskets of leftover food. 38 There were 4,000 men who were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children. 39 Then Jesus sent the people home, and he got into a boat and crossed over to the region of Magadan.

In this passage and the miracle, we see some fascinating unique details that frame God’s blessings and God’s answers to prayer. In the previous miracle where 5,000 plus were fed, the gift of food came from an outside source, specifically a boy offering his lunch to Jesus. That miracle had the prayer being answered from an outside source.

To contrast this, our current miracle describes the food coming from the disciples’ own reserve. This means that sometimes, it is up to us to supply what God needs to bless others. Sometimes God will bring us outside help to help us when blessing others and when answering our prayers, while other times, God will expect us to use what He has already given to us to bless others.

When we pray, we should be open and willing to accept help from wherever God sends it, and we shouldn’t shy away from using our own resources if no outside help comes.

Also, we learn from both miracles that no gift is too small. I believe that Jesus could have multiplied one loaf just as easily as He multiplied seven. When we bring our gifts to Jesus, we should never consider the gifts as too small or too insignificant for Him to use them. Instead, we should bring our gifts and readily offer them to Him. As we easily see in both miracles, Jesus is more than able to multiply a small gift into a large one when we are willing to give Him what we have. We might think that what we have to offer God is insignificant, but no heartfelt gift given to God is insignificant in His eyes.

When comparing these two miracles, we discover that the source of each miracle was total, complete gifts. While both sources of bread and fish likely were larger days, or even hours before, when the gifts are presented to Jesus, we don’t see any hint of food being held back. This means that when we offer God a gift, we should offer God the full, best, complete gift that we have. I doubt either of these miracles would have been as effective if the supplier of the food had held part of the supply back.

In this pair of similar miracles, we discover that God is more than willing to bless us when we pray, when we need help, and/or when He knows we will be better off with the gift than without. God is also more than willing to multiply the small, seemingly insignificant gifts into blessings for a greater number of people than we could even imagine. And God is interested in heartfelt gifts over gifts given with reservation.

All this leads us to the big truth that the greatest gift that we can give God is our hearts. Jesus came to love us and to redeem us from sin, and the least we can return to Him for this amazing gift is our hearts, our minds, and our lives.

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

Always seek God first and place Him first in your life. Praise God and thank Him for everything that He has done for us and be willing to let Him use you for His grand purposes. Step into God’s plan and give Him the greatest gift you can give, which is the gift of your heart!

Also, as always, pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Seek to grow closer to Him through the pages of His Word and study the scriptures faithfully and prayerfully to let the Holy Spirit into your heart and mind.

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 drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 32: When Jesus feeds a crowd of 4,000+ people, we discover a great compliment to the earlier miracle where 5,000+ people were fed, and we discover some amazing themes regarding how God chooses to answer our prayers.

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Merely the Beginning: Mark 13:1-13

Focus Passage: Mark 13:1-13 (NASB)

Most of you who have followed along on this gospel adventure journey have likely concluded that I am a detailed person, and you would be correct. The message Jesus shares in this journal entry’s passage is in three of the four gospels, and the detail that I noticed while studying this passage comes to us from Mark’s gospel.

As Jesus is sharing about what will happen, He describes rumors, wars, earthquakes, and famines, but how He frames these things is interesting. At the end of verse 8, after telling us about all the bad that is coming, He says, “These things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

What stands out to me is the portion of this teaching that is describing nation rising against nation and kingdom against kingdom being simply the beginning. Is Jesus telling us that all this stuff will continue, and progressively get worse and worse, similar to the way labor gets more intense as it progresses forward? Or is Jesus subtly sharing that there will be a point between nations fighting with each other and His return where there technically would be large scale peace?

These are some of the questions that run through my mind as I read Jesus’ words in this passage.

I know it seems as though each war that has happened has gotten progressively worse. Perhaps not in the number of casualties, but worse in the number of lives affected. Living in North America, war is not a daily reality as it is in some other parts of the world. In recent history, wars escalated to the level of major nations allying with each other on both sides to create large scale “world” wars.

However, Jesus describes all these events as “merely the beginning”.

This passage tells me one big truth: We are in the “beginning of the end” and we have been for some time. Regardless of the political landscape and the wars that are raging in parts of the world, God is not surprised with what is going on and He has our future secure in His hands.

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Observing the Signs: Luke 12:35-59

Focus Passage: Luke 12:35-59 (NCV)

 35 “Be dressed, ready for service, and have your lamps shining. 36 Be like servants who are waiting for their master to come home from a wedding party. When he comes and knocks, the servants immediately open the door for him. 37 They will be blessed when their master comes home, because he sees that they were watching for him. I tell you the truth, the master will dress himself to serve and tell the servants to sit at the table, and he will serve them. 38 Those servants will be blessed when he comes in and finds them still waiting, even if it is midnight or later.

    39 “Remember this: If the owner of the house knew what time a thief was coming, he would not allow the thief to enter his house. 40 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at a time when you don’t expect him!”

 41 Peter said, “Lord, did you tell this story to us or to all people?”

 42 The Lord said, “Who is the wise and trusted servant that the master trusts to give the other servants their food at the right time? 43 When the master comes and finds the servant doing his work, the servant will be blessed. 44 I tell you the truth, the master will choose that servant to take care of everything he owns. 45 But suppose the servant thinks to himself, ‘My master will not come back soon,’ and he begins to beat the other servants, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk. 46 The master will come when that servant is not ready and is not expecting him. Then the master will cut him in pieces and send him away to be with the others who don’t obey.

    47 “The servant who knows what his master wants but is not ready, or who does not do what the master wants, will be beaten with many blows! 48 But the servant who does not know what his master wants and does things that should be punished will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded. And from the one trusted with much, much more will be expected.

    49 “I came to set fire to the world, and I wish it were already burning! 50 I have a baptism to suffer through, and I feel very troubled until it is over. 51 Do you think I came to give peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I came to divide it. 52 From now on, a family with five people will be divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 They will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

 54 Then Jesus said to the people, “When you see clouds coming up in the west, you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it happens. 55 When you feel the wind begin to blow from the south, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it happens. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to understand the appearance of the earth and sky. Why don’t you understand what is happening now?

    57 “Why can’t you decide for yourselves what is right? 58 If your enemy is taking you to court, try hard to settle it on the way. If you don’t, your enemy might take you to the judge, and the judge might turn you over to the officer, and the officer might throw you into jail. 59 I tell you, you will not get out of there until you have paid everything you owe.”

Read Luke 12:35-59 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

While teaching His followers and the crowd at large, Jesus turns the spotlight onto where the people living that day were placing their focus – and what Jesus shares is very relevant for us living today.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells those in His audience, “When you see clouds coming up in the west, you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it happens. When you feel the wind begin to blow from the south, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it happens. Hypocrites! You know how to understand the appearance of the earth and sky. Why don’t you understand what is happening now?” (v. 54-56)

These short few verses point our attention to how it is very easy to create a rut in our lives that make us experts in certain areas, but completely ignorant in others. As technology advances and the scientific community collectively learns more, it is true that no one can know everything about everything, and because of this, we all must specialize and focus on certain areas.

In this passage, Jesus does not say that we must strive to know as much as we possibly can. Instead, in this passage, Jesus challenges those present that they had become excellent observers of weather patterns, but had failed to focus equivalent energy on observing the patterns of world events as they relate to God’s moving within the world. This was most directed at those whose job description was to pay attention to what God was doing in the world and draw people’s attention to it. Jesus’ challenge includes not only the religious and spiritual leaders living in the first century, but also religious and spiritual leaders living at any point in history.

The challenge Jesus shares is that everyone who calls themselves a follower of God should devote some energy to spending time with Him and also be actively looking for how He is moving in the world around them. God is far from absent in the world today, but it is up to us to open our eyes to the subtle ways He is moving – because only when we pay attention to the signs do we have ample evidence that He is still in control.

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Flashback Episode — Learning from a Dead Man: Luke 16:19-31

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While I didn’t plan for it to be this way, this year of podcasting through the gospels has reserved a whole block of challenging passages. The next one on the list happens to be an illustration Jesus shares where people are divided over how much truth it teaches. This illustration is called the Rich Man and Lazarus.

This passage has challenged Christians throughout the centuries over exactly how much truth Jesus is trying to teach. Some people say this illustration is not a true parable because it doesn’t start like one and because none of Jesus’ other parables includes a named individual, while others say that the contents of the teaching sound more parable-like than not, even with a named character.

Some people say this teaching proves there is consciousness after death, while others say that Jesus simply used a common illustration of the day but flipped the ending. This idea suggests that there was a common story told by the religious leaders that ends with the rich man being brought into Abraham’s presence, while the poor beggar ends up in the place of torment.

Personally, I don’t know if any of these angles is accurate. I am doubtful of some of them, but I also believe that most of these angles likely include some aspects of truth.

In my own mind, I see this illustration as a parable Jesus shared, similar perhaps to the illustration of the Good Samaritan. The parable of the Good Samaritan is shared following Jesus being asked a question, and it has a very non-parable-like beginning, similar to this parable.

However, what does Jesus want us to learn from this teaching? Is Jesus making a statement about the nature of death, or is He using an illustration that causes us to simply think about life from the point in time when our lives are over?

To uncover an answer to this, let’s look at the themes we can learn from this event, and while reading this passage, think about some big truths we can learn from what Jesus shares.

Our passage is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 16, and we will be reading from the New International Reader’s Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 16, Jesus continued by saying:

19 “Once there was a rich man. He was dressed in purple cloth and fine linen. He lived an easy life every day. 20 A man named Lazarus was placed at his gate. Lazarus was a beggar. His body was covered with sores. 21 Even dogs came and licked his sores. All he wanted was to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.

22 “The time came when the beggar died. The angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In the place of the dead, the rich man was suffering terribly. He looked up and saw Abraham far away. Lazarus was by his side. 24 So the rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham! Have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water. Then he can cool my tongue with it. I am in terrible pain in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember what happened in your lifetime. You received your good things. Lazarus received bad things. Now he is comforted here, and you are in terrible pain. 26 Besides, a wide space has been placed between us and you. So those who want to go from here to you can’t go. And no one can cross over from there to us.’

27 “The rich man answered, ‘Then I beg you, father Abraham. Send Lazarus to my family. 28 I have five brothers. Let Lazarus warn them. Then they will not come to this place of terrible suffering.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have the teachings of Moses and the Prophets. Let your brothers listen to them.’

30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will turn away from their sins.’

31 “Abraham said to him, ‘They do not listen to Moses and the Prophets. So they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

In this parable, as I read it just now, I can see a number of big themes we can learn. Perhaps the biggest one is that after someone has died, they cannot change their decisions from this life.

This theme is in many ways intuitive, because while we are alive, we cannot change our past. We can change our decisions in the present and plan for different decisions in the future, but once the future is the present and the present turns to past, our decisions are locked in history. This makes each moment of each day significant and this theme challenges us to be conscious of the decisions we are making every moment of each day.

Also while reading this passage, we see the theme that those who are convinced of something, who are unwilling to change their beliefs, are not going to be convinced to change by anyone – even someone who returns from the grave.

While this illustration oddly enough foreshadows the resurrection of Lazarus, Jesus’ friend, not too long after this, we see Lazarus’ resurrection being enough to convince plenty of Jews to put their faith, belief, and trust in Jesus. However, the religious leaders who were set in their ways make plans to not only kill Jesus after this event, but Lazarus as well.

A third theme that I see in this illustration is that those who have had it hard in this life will find rest in the life to come, while those who have had it easy in this life may experience struggles. I don’t know if the time one spends following death is filled with torment or unpleasantness. But I do know that the next conscious thought one has following death will be one of regret when they realize they didn’t choose correctly.

All these themes are important to us. This illustration pushes us to look past our lives and then back at the decisions we chose while we were still alive. Does Jesus teach more about the state of the dead here? That I will leave for you to decide.

However, as we close out this podcast episode, along with the challenges, I will leave you with a question: Since Jesus loved teaching with visual illustrations, and we have many examples of this in His various parables, would it be possible to share the themes we just finished looking at in a visual way without implying consciousness after death? If so, perhaps we can uncover more themes from this illustration. However if the way Jesus shared this parable is the only “visual” way to challenge us to think with the end in mind, similar to what we talked about in the last episode, then perhaps consciousness after death is not a theme we should put much weight on.

To challenge you as we end this podcast episode, be sure to always seek God first in your life. When difficult questions come trying to shake your faith, lean into trusting God, because when our lives are over, only one thing will truly matter, and that is whether we placed our hope, faith, trust, and belief in Jesus Christ to save us for eternity.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself and grow your personal relationship with God. Coming to the end of your life and missing out on a personal relationship with God is the worst place to be. Don’t fall into the trap that many people will realize only after it is too late. Focus on growing your personal relationship with God today, and every day moving forward into eternity!

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 31: Discover some big themes we can learn from one of Jesus’ most misunderstood illustrations, and discover that this truth might be one of the biggest themes we should apply into our own lives over 2,000 years later.

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