Life is a Parable: Mark 4:30-34

Focus Passage: Mark 4:30-34 (NCV)

30 Then Jesus said, “How can I show you what the kingdom of God is like? What story can I use to explain it? 31 The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the smallest seed you plant in the ground. 32 But when planted, this seed grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants. It produces large branches, and the wild birds can make nests in its shade.”

33 Jesus used many stories like these to teach the crowd God’s message—as much as they could understand. 34 He always used stories to teach them. But when he and his followers were alone, Jesus explained everything to them.

Read Mark 4:30-34 in context and/or in other translations on!

One of Jesus’ foundational methods of teaching people was through stories and parables. The goal of these stories was to help those listening understand truths and ideas that might otherwise be too big or abstract to understand.

The gospel of Matthew draws our attention onto this method of teaching when Matthew adds the footnote that: “Jesus used stories to tell all these things to the people; he always used stories to teach them. This is as the prophet said: ‘I will speak using stories; I will tell things that have been secret since the world was made.’” (Matthew 13:34-35)

While Jesus used stories throughout His ministry while teaching, not all of them were understood by those listening. However, since Jesus using stories and metaphors was prophesied, I wonder how much of life and the physical world is a metaphor for the spiritual world. In other words, I wonder if God purposely created parallels between the unseen spiritual world and the visible physical world to help us connect the two together and to help us understand Him better.

If this is the case, our whole lives become a learning tool. With every action we make or avoid, we are learning something positive or experiencing the results of something negative. However, not everyone is able to comprehend or understand everything.

Mark’s gospel draws us to this point when he tells us that “Jesus used many stories like these to teach the crowd God’s message—as much as they could understand. He always used stories to teach them.” (v. 33-34a)

The stories Jesus shared were intended to help people learn God’s message, but since God’s message is so big and overwhelming, the stories were designed to share small details, pieces, and segments of God’s message – as much as we could understand. By sharing many stories that helped describe the different parts of God’s message, Jesus was helping expand His audience’s mind to what God wants for them as part of His plan.

However, since not everyone understood every story Jesus shared, Mark follows up by saying, “But when he and his followers were alone, Jesus explained everything to them.” (v. 34b)

Jesus made it a point to explain all the parables to His followers while they were alone. Jesus’ stories were not meant to hide truth but instead to remind us of His truth. When the gospel writers share parables Jesus shared with them, it is to help them remember the big spiritual truths that Jesus taught them, and it is to help remind them about how our physical lives reflect our spiritual lives.

Similar to how it was in the first century, not everyone living today will understand everything that Jesus taught. However, while the temptation for us living over 2,000 years later would be to ignore and dismiss Jesus’ truth, the best way to test whether it is still relevant for us today is to prayerfully study it and try it out in our lives. If the truth that Jesus taught is still valid today, then it is also still relevant for our lives.

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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Drinking Blood and Eating Flesh: John 6:47-71

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In our last podcast episode, we stopped before finishing a longer challenge Jesus gives to the crowd of people who found Him following the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking to the disciples’ boat as they were struggling to cross the lake.

In Jesus’ challenge, He begins by emphasizing what God wants most from His people. After the crowd challenges Jesus to give them a sign, which tells us something about the character of this crowd since they just experienced a sign when Jesus fed them in the wilderness, Jesus shifts to talking about the bread God gives, and how He is the Bread of Life.

Reading a few of the last verses from our previous episode to give this episode’s passage some context, let’s pick back up where we left off in our last episode. Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 6, and we will read it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 47, Jesus continued speaking, saying:

47 “Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Let’s pause reading here. What Jesus has just described is one of the most challenging things He says in the entire Bible, and on the surface, it sounds like Jesus is telling His followers to become cannibals.

However, the only way these verses about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking Jesus’ blood make sense is when we understand them spiritually. In a literal sense, no one has eaten Jesus’ flesh or drank His blood. The single opportunity that people would have had would have been as He was being taken off the cross and buried, but nothing like this is even hinted at in any of the gospels. While Jesus was dying, most of the disciples were hiding for their lives, and it is only after Jesus is raised from the dead that they begin to venture out. After Jesus was raised from the dead, there was no way the disciples could literally eat His flesh or drink His blood because He appeared and disappeared at will.

Instead, the spiritual truth Jesus teaches His closest followers later on during His ministry, when they are eating the Last Supper together on the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested. In this Passover meal, Jesus takes bread and symbolically equates it to His body, and He takes wine and symbolically equates it to His blood.

However, at this earlier point in Jesus’ ministry while He is teaching this crowd, we don’t have any hint at this symbolism, only a strange literal-sounding declaration about becoming cannibals. Because of this, when we continue reading in verse 60, we see the response of the crowd. John tells us:

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

70 Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71 (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

In this passage, and in its conclusion, we discover that Jesus subtly reemphasizes the spiritual nature of what He shared with these followers by saying in verse 63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

This is the biggest clue that Jesus is speaking in a spiritual, symbolic sense, rather than literally. Remember eating Jesus’ flesh doesn’t make sense when Jesus tells us directly that the flesh counts for nothing.

So a better question for us to ask is why would Jesus press this crowd with this truth?

When I look at the broad event, I suspect that Jesus understood something that we did not. I suspect that Jesus understood that the larger the crowds were that followed Him, the greater the danger that this crowd would derail His mission into this world. This specific crowd presents an interesting challenge of its own. This crowd, prompted by emotion, had wanted to make Jesus their earthly king following His miracle of food multiplication, but this same crowd then demanded more signs from Jesus to prove He was from God.

This crowd reflects a decent portion of humanity who are ruled by their emotions, while claiming to be ruled by logic. This crowd was self-serving, only interested in Jesus for what He could do for them, and they likely would not have been satisfied for long with any miracle or sign Jesus would have provided to prove that He was from God. Less than 48 hours after an amazing miracle they were a clear part of, we see them demanding another sign. This crowd discounted every reason they were given to believe in Jesus, while claiming they wanted Jesus to give them reasons for them to believe.

Because of this crowd’s overtly self-serving attitude and focus on bread from God, I believe Jesus took this theme and pushed it to its extreme. Jesus did not lie, but Jesus shared a spiritual truth that was deeper and more direct than any of these people were willing to accept. Jesus shared how He was God’s manna from heaven, and how the manna foreshadowed His coming into the world.

This spiritual truth was so challenging, that it prompted many of His followers who were disciples to desert Him. While we think of disciples as the twelve men Jesus chose, John uses this term to describe a bigger group of regular followers of Jesus, and John describes the twelve closest followers in this passage as simply “the Twelve”. From how this passage frames the aftermath of Jesus’ message, it appears like Jesus took this huge crowd and pushed every person away until He was left with only the Twelve disciples. The bigger the crowds following Jesus got, the harder Jesus pushed them with spiritual truth.

However, while Jesus pushed those in the first century with hard spiritual truth, we are called to believe Jesus’ words, because Jesus’ words bring life and Jesus’ life brings eternal life. God has promised that those who believe and trust in Jesus will be given eternal life. Even if Jesus challenges us with some very difficult to accept challenges, His perspective is bigger than our own, and even when we don’t understand, we are called to believe and look forward to the day when all our questions will be answered when Jesus returns to bring us home.

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 trust in Jesus even when He says some challenging words. Study into the challenging messages Jesus shares to discover some amazing spiritual truth that is worth applying into our lives. Remember, through Jesus, we are promised eternal life, and because of what Jesus did for us, we have the assurance of salvation.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, intentionally pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn and grow from God’s Word. God has preserved the Bible for thousands of years, and it has the power to transform lives when we let the Holy Spirit speak through it. No other book or collection of writing has the Holy Spirit behind it like the Bible. We can trust the Bible will give us an accurate picture of God when we look at it holistically and in context.

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

Year in John – Episode 15: When Jesus is challenged by a crowd to show them a sign from heaven like God gave manna in the Old Testament, discover how Jesus pushes this spiritual truth to the extreme, and how He is God’s manna that was sent into the first century world.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Elijah’s Ministry: Matthew 17:1-13

Focus Passage: Matthew 17:1-13 (GW)

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John (the brother of James) and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone.

Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His face became as bright as the sun and his clothes as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll put up three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He was still speaking when a bright cloud overshadowed them. Then a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am pleased. Listen to him!”

The disciples were terrified when they heard this and fell facedown on the ground. But Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!” As they raised their heads, they saw no one but Jesus.

On their way down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.”

10 So the disciples asked him, “Why do the experts in Moses’ Teachings say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus answered, “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again. 12 Actually, I can guarantee that Elijah has already come. Yet, people treated him as they pleased because they didn’t recognize him. In the same way they’re going to make the Son of Man suffer.”

13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptizer.

Read Matthew 17:1-13 in context and/or in other translations on!

Have you ever wondered if Jesus said something before thinking it through?

Or perhaps wondered if Jesus ever stumbled over one of His main points and had to go back and restate it because it wasn’t worded correctly?

And if either of these ideas were true, could this misstep have been recorded in one or more gospels and then copied thousands of times throughout the ages?

Bible critics love to search out such mistakes and errors in order to discredit Christianity and/or Jesus, and in this passage may be one such slipup – or in it could be a hidden repeating prediction for the future.

In several translations, including the one we are using for this entry, Jesus says in verse 11, “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again.” But then He quickly follows up in verse 12 by saying, “Actually, I can guarantee that Elijah has already come.

So which is it?

Is Elijah still coming, or has He already come?

This is the sort of question that Bible critics like to pose towards how the Bible is written. Looking at the context and how the disciples understood this dialog, they conclude that this Elijah prediction represented the role and ministry of John the Baptist, who’s ministry got people thinking about and looking forward to Jesus’ arrival.

However, we also have a problem though, because at least with how these two verses are translated into English, it seems as though Jesus misspeaks and then restates what He meant to say. This may be the case, but it could also be Jesus hinting us to a larger, repeating truth: Before God does anything big in the world, He sends messengers to prompt us to pay attention:

  • Noah was sent to build the ark, but also to preach about the coming flood.

  • Moses was sent to deliver Israel from Egypt, but also to point the Egyptians towards the one true God.

  • Elijah was sent to the people of Israel at a time when they were far from God and in his ministry, he challenged the king, proclaimed a drought/famine, and challenged the false religion at the time in a very public way (i.e. fire from heaven).

  • Many of Old Testament prophets who have books named after them prophesied about the coming exile of the Jews for their unfaithfulness to God.

  • John the Baptist comes announcing that God is about to send the promised Messiah into the world.

There are lots of other examples we could look at, but it seems that God likes to send messages and/or messengers into the world when He is about to do something big. With this theme in mind, it is not unrealistic to look for other messenger examples throughout history following Jesus and the apostles.

Along these lines, when Jesus says in verse 11 that “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again,” we can see foreshadowing of future times when God send messengers to point people back to Him.

You and I can be “Elijah-like” when we point people to God and to Jesus. John the Baptist got many of the people in that generation ready to meet Jesus. In today’s world, you and I can help others meet Jesus and get ready for eternity.

Before God does anything big in the world, He sends messengers to prompt us to pay attention, and you and I can help our place in history by pointing people to Him.

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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Choosing a Betrayer: Matthew 10:1-4

Focus Passage: Matthew 10:1-4 (NIrV)

Jesus called for his 12 disciples to come to him. He gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every illness and sickness.

Here are the names of the 12 apostles.

First there were Simon Peter and his brother Andrew.

Then came James, son of Zebedee, and his brother John.

Next were Philip and Bartholomew,

and also Thomas and Matthew the tax collector.

Two more were James, son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus.

The last were Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. Judas was the one who was later going to hand Jesus over to his enemies.

Read Matthew 10:1-4 in context and/or in other translations on!

Early on in Jesus’ ministry, three of the four gospels describe Jesus standing on a mountainside and calling twelve of His followers to form a core group of “disciples”. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke all include unique details, they all contain one big similarity. This unifying characteristic is how they end their list of twelve names.

Matthew concludes the list of Jesus’ disciples by saying, “The last were Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot. Judas was the one who was later going to hand Jesus over to his enemies.” (v. 4)

Mark concludes his list of Jesus’ disciples by saying, “Judas Iscariot was one of them too. He was the one who was later going to hand Jesus over to his enemies.” (Mark 3:19)

And Luke concludes his list of Jesus’ disciples by saying, “Judas, son of James, and Judas Iscariot who would later hand Jesus over to his enemies.” (Luke 6:16)

All three of these gospel writers include Judas Iscariot by saying that he was the one who would betray Jesus. While none of the disciples knew this at the time, when they chose to communicate through their own gospels or share the gospel story with others, they conclude their lists of disciples with Judas Iscariot – the betrayer.

But what is amazing to me in these verses is not how each of the gospel writers frames Judas Iscariot. Instead, I am amazed that Jesus chose to include Judas Iscariot in the group – knowing from the start that it would be Judas who would betray Him. Through the act of inviting a betrayer into His core group of followers, even if the betrayer had no idea what he would become, Jesus is sending a message to all of us about God’s love. By inviting Judas Iscariot to be a disciple, Jesus demonstrates that God loves even those who are in active rebellion against Him.

This love extends beyond the core group of disciples. Jesus came to planet earth while humanity was fully rebelling against God. Through Jesus, we see a picture of God’s love that makes what we call “love” seem small. God’s example of love places a rebellion ahead of His own life – and Jesus, by choosing Judas Iscariot to be a disciple, emphasizes this example of love.

Also, because Judas Iscariot followed Jesus for 3+ years and still chose to betray Him, we can see that even being next to Jesus cannot change a stubborn or closed heart. I believe during the time Jesus spent with Judas Iscariot, Jesus tried everything He could to open Judas’ heart to His.

Even though Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus, Jesus still loved Him – and by loving Judas and calling Him to be a disciple, Jesus shows us God’s love for even the most sinful humans.

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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