Flashback Episode — Pushing Past our Fears: Matthew 25:14-30

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After Jesus shared the parable of the ten bridesmaids, He follows up by sharing another fairly well known parable. This follow-up parable is our focus for this episode, and it is often called the parable of the three servants. Similar to the parable of the ten bridesmaids, we hear this parable so frequently shared out of the context of the end-times discussion that we think Jesus shared it at some point in the middle of His ministry.

However, we know from our journey through the week leading up to the cross that the real context of this parable is the end times, and it is part of Jesus’ long response to the disciples about what the end time will be like.

Let’s read this parable and discover what addition details Jesus wants to share with us regarding the Kingdom of Heaven during the end times. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 25, and we will be reading from the New Living Translation. Starting in verse 14, Jesus continues by saying:

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

Let’s pause briefly here, because three big ideas are present in this opening that we may miss if we read through this parable too quickly.

The first big idea in this opening that we are tempted to miss is that the master strategically divided the silver, “it in proportion to [each of the servant’s] abilities”. This meant that the master paid attention to the servants and He knew that there were differences in each. Instead of giving each servant the same amount, the master strategically divided up 8 bags among the three servants.

This also tells us that while God might not give blessings equally, He is strategic with His gifts. He will not give us more than we are capable of handling.

The second big idea we see relates very closely to the first. While it might be easy to get caught up on the unfairness of each servant receiving a different amount, the truth is that every servant did receive something. It would be foolish for the servants to compare with each other and speculate why others got more or less than them. In the same way, it does us no good to compare our blessings or experiences with each other because all we will discover is that they are simply different.

While we might not understand why God has blessed someone else more or less than it seems He has blessed us with, our focus should instead be on using what He has blessed us with to help others, and not worry about playing the comparison game. The comparison “game” is really a trap to distract us from doing what is truly important.

The third big idea is in the last phrase we read in verse 15: “He then left on his trip.” When we read this statement, it is worth noting that there is no indication when the master will return. It could be days, months, years, or even decades later. There is no hint at the length of time, except to say that it probably was longer than a day or a week because the master expects the servants to have enough time to do something with the money.

This also tells us that Jesus’ return will likely be later than what we might think, plan for, or realize. This shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, we have been blessed with more time to grow the blessings God has given to us – even if the blessing we have only feels like one bag of silver.

Continuing reading in verse 16, Jesus then tells us:

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’

23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The challenging part of this parable for me comes down to the comparison trap that we talked about earlier. All too often, it seems like I can look around and see people who appear much more blessed than me. I am also aware that other people might look at me the same way – as being more blessed than them.

However, while it is easy to look at those who appear to have more blessings, the only direction this really takes us is down. We feel blessed less when we focus on those who have been blessed more, and this makes us feel like the few blessings we have to admit to being given are only equivalent to one bag of silver, and that it would be better to hide these blessings rather than use them.

This is a huge trap. All three servants faced this trap, and it is a trap of fear. Hiding what God has given to us, or purposely sitting on the sidelines when we could be in the game, is falling to the trap of fear that the one-bag servant was guilty of. While this servant wasn’t the star performer of the servants, the master still gave him a chance, and he still received blessings – according to his ability – which meant that even if he didn’t believe he had anything special to offer, the master saw some potential there.

God sees potential for His Kingdom in each and every one of us. While we might not see ourselves as He sees us, God has placed us on this earth for a reason, and even if we don’t see or know His reasons for why we are here, we should move forward focused on serving Him with whatever He has given to us.

Don’t let fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, or fear of failure get in the way of moving forward along the path God has placed before you and I. Fear could have derailed any of the three servants, but it didn’t have to derail any of them either. So regardless of whether you feel as though you’ve been given an oversupply of blessings or if you struggle to even find one blessing from God, focus on serving Him and using what He has blessed you with for His glory and advancing His Kingdom!

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

Always seek God first and focus on serving Him ahead of being fearful, scared, or timid about using what He has blessed you with. While it’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to someone else, that trap doesn’t lead anywhere positive. Instead, focus on what you can do for God and how you can live for Him today, and every day moving forward.

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself and focus on growing closer to God personally. When we grow close to God and lean on Him for help, support, and direction, He will lead us along the path He created us to walk, and He will bless us in ways we will only realize after His story is finished. But don’t take my word for it, pray and study the Bible for yourself to see for yourself how this is true for many of the Bible’s heroes of faith.

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

Flashback Episode: Year of the Cross – Episode 18: While it is easy to focus on the servant who only received one bag of silver in Jesus’ parable of the three servants, fear was something each of these servants faced. Discover what this parable teaches us about facing fear, and we can apply this truth into our lives.

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

He Hears Our Prayers: Luke 1:5-25

Focus Passage: Luke 1:5-25 (NIV)

In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10 And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

11 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 14 He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. 16 He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

19 The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

21 Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. 22 When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.

23 When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 24 After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. 25 “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

Read Luke 1:5-25 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

After Luke begins his gospel with a formal greeting, instead of sharing Jesus’ back story and His birth story, Luke goes even further and chooses to focus on the birth of Jesus’ forerunner in ministry, John the Baptist. While John’s birth is not as miraculous as Jesus’ birth, it was a birth that God did have His hand in.

While reading this event, a phrase jumped out at me that has important implications for everyone who has chosen to include prayer as part of their lives.  When Zechariah entered the temple to burn incense, he realized he was not the only one in that inner room of the temple – an angel appeared to him standing beside the alter. “When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard.” (v. 12-13)

While we are quick to move through this story and get to the promise of the angel, and Zechariah’s doubt, too often we miss a key phrase at the beginning of the angel’s message. After calming Zechariah’s nerves as much as possible by saying, “Do not be afraid,” the very first part of the angel’s message is, “Your prayer has been heard.” (v. 13)

This is important, because all too often, when we pray, we may wonder or doubt if God really hears us. If God chooses not to answer us, or if He determines that the time isn’t right for us to receive a response, we may wonder if God really has heard us. It is in this first part of the angel’s message to Zechariah that each of us can see that God really does hear our prayers. It was years, and maybe even decades that this elderly couple had prayed for a child, and perhaps they had long since given up now that they were old.

But whether our prayer was spoken 5 minutes ago or even 5 years ago, God has heard it, and He has been working (and perhaps waiting for the right time) to give us the best possible answer for us. God hears our prayers, and He answers them at the perfect time and in the perfect way from His kingdom perspective – the perspective that results in the greatest number of people being saved for eternity.

Zechariah’s prayers didn’t fall on deaf ears. Instead, God was waiting for the perfect time to give him an answer.

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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The Double Miracle: Matthew 9:18-26

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A short while after Jesus called Matthew to be a disciple, we discover a set of two miracles that display some unusual characteristics. Neither miracle is really like the other, but without both of these miracles put together, neither one would be as significant.

Let’s read what happened and then look for some things we can learn from this event. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9, and we will read from the New Century Version. Starting in verse 18, Matthew tells us that:

18 While Jesus was saying these things, a leader of the synagogue came to him. He bowed down before Jesus and said, “My daughter has just died. But if you come and lay your hand on her, she will live again.” 19 So Jesus and his followers stood up and went with the leader.

20 Then a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years came behind Jesus and touched the edge of his coat. 21 She was thinking, “If I can just touch his clothes, I will be healed.”

22 Jesus turned and saw the woman and said, “Be encouraged, dear woman. You are made well because you believed.” And the woman was healed from that moment on.

23 Jesus continued along with the leader and went into his house. There he saw the funeral musicians and many people crying. 24 Jesus said, “Go away. The girl is not dead, only asleep.” But the people laughed at him. 25 After the crowd had been thrown out of the house, Jesus went into the girl’s room and took hold of her hand, and she stood up. 26 The news about this spread all around the area.

In this event and this set of two miracles, we discover among other things, that Jesus was focused on helping each individual exactly how they needed help. It is also interesting in my mind that Matthew really summarizes this event and these two miracles.

In the other gospels that include this event, the synagogue leader who asks for help asks Jesus while His daughter is still sick and not dead yet. The other gospels also draw out the woman’s healing and her desire to remain hidden. In the other gospels, it seems that Jesus stops everything to discover the woman who touched His garment, and it delayed His progress to the synagogue leader’s home to the point that messengers were able to arrive and tell the synagogue leader that his daughter had died.

While Matthew summarizes many things about both these miracles, one thing Matthew does not skip over is Jesus’ reaction to the funeral musicians and those crying. Matthew also does not skip over sharing the woman’s thoughts and her belief that simply touching the edge of Jesus’ clothing would heal her.

Matthew includes the detail of the woman having faith in perhaps the least significant action she could think of. Touching the edge of Jesus’ clothing is pretty insignificant, but she believes that is all she needs to be healed. She may have been embarrassed about her condition, and would rather not have to explain it to a bunch of men why she was needing to be healed.

However, Jesus doesn’t want her faith or her miracle to be lost in the commotion of Him going to help someone else. Jesus stops just long enough to make sure she was healed and to draw attention onto her faith and her story so that we would be able to read and know it from what was recorded. If Jesus had not stopped, this woman’s miracle would have never been known outside of a handful of people.

Matthew also does not summarize or minimize Jesus’ reaction to those who were preparing for a funeral at the synagogue leader’s home. Jesus tells them all in verse 24, “Go away. The girl is not dead, only asleep.” However, those present laughed at Jesus. They knew the girl had died. A doctor had probably already called the time of her death a short while earlier.

However, I wonder if Jesus intentionally set the stage for this event by making sure that He hadn’t arrived before the girl had died. I wonder if Jesus wanted to challenge the faith of everyone present and if He wanted to teach us that death is nothing to be feared. When we read the Bible, we cannot get around the metaphor, both in the gospels and in the other parts of the Bible, that death is compared with a sleep.

In the context of Jesus’ statement here, those who viewed death viewed death as the end of life, with no immediate hope of a resurrection. If those present had believed in an upcoming resurrection, it is likely there wouldn’t be any tears present. It is clear in this event, that the crowd of mourners and funeral musicians did not have faith that Jesus could reverse death. Because they didn’t have faith, I believe this is why Jesus kicked them out of the house.

It is also interesting that if those present believed the girl to be in a much better place now that she had died, then they may have been sad at her death, but they wouldn’t have wished for her to be brought back to life. In this frame of view, Jesus resurrecting anyone, including Himself, would be one of the cruelest things for Him to do.

I don’t believe it is a coincidence that death is referred to as sleep in the Bible. The Bible contains many metaphors that God has written into the details of our physical world to teach us about spiritual truths. I believe sleep teaching us about death is one such truth.

While there are many physical and biological reasons for sleep and how our brains need sleep to function well, the spiritual component of sleep is simply rest from our daily work. If the day represents our life and sleep represents our death, then there is nothing to be afraid of when we ultimately lay down to rest at our life’s end because we know morning is coming. Following our rest in death, morning brings us a resurrection into a new life with God.

Whether we are close to death in this life or whether we have a lot of life left, we can know and trust that with whatever happens, God has placed us alive on this earth for a reason. We can know and trust that when we have accomplished what He has placed us here to accomplish, He will let us rest in peace until morning comes and the trumpet of resurrection sounds.

While we don’t know the rest of this girls story, what we do know is that from that moment forward, her life was a clear gift from God. This girl’s story would be significant and important in God’s eyes, because He had given her a new life, and her new life foreshadows our new lives when we are resurrected at Jesus’ return!

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 your faith, hope, trust, and belief in Jesus and in His promise of a new life with God. While our new life with God begins at the moment we choose God, our ultimate new life with God begins at the moment He returns to take us home!

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself. Don’t take my word, or any pastor, author, speaker, or podcaster’s word for any spiritual truth. Instead, test everything through what the Bible teaches to discover God’s truth for your life with Him.

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 abandon where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year in Matthew – Episode 17: While on the way to help a synagogue leader, Jesus gets to shed light on an almost missed miracle while also setting the stage for an even more amazing miracle still to come. Discover how neither of these two miracles would be the same without each other and without Jesus drawing our attention onto God’s truth and love.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.

Christ-like Habits: Mark 1:35-39

Focus Passage: Mark 1:35-39 (NIV)

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Read Mark 1:35-39 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

If we were to dig into the gospels looking to find habits that Jesus had, one of the more notable ones we would find is found right near the beginning of Mark’s gospel. While Luke also includes this event near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, I imagine that we don’t read about it more because after a couple of days like this, the disciples would not see it as being as unique or significant to include in their gospels.

As I think about this, this event is included in the two gospels that were not written by members of the 12 disciples. I imagine the two disciple-authors simply understood this to be part of who Jesus was.

The habit Jesus had: early morning prayer: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (v. 35)

Perhaps, since this was early on in Jesus’ ministry, He caught the disciples off guard and this event stands out because they had to go searching for Him. While they were searching for Jesus, I wonder if many of the disciples were bothered that Jesus had asked them to follow Him, but now they couldn’t even find Him.

Eventually they did find Him, and they probably found Him praying. Jesus’ prayer life and His connection to the Father was His top priority throughout His entire ministry leading up to the cross. There are plenty of times Jesus spent the night in prayer, and I suspect that the times we know of are only a tiny sample of the times that He actually focused on prayer during the night hours.

If Jesus is to be an example for us like He was to the disciples, then we should also focus on our relationship with God through prayer as the first thing we do when we get up each morning, and as the last thing we do before going to sleep – not to mention keeping the communication open during the daytime hours as well. If prayer was a habit in Jesus’ life, we should make prayer a habit in our own lives as His followers.

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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