Listening Wisely: Mark 4:21-25

Focus Passage: Mark 4:21-25 (NASB)

Jesus had many profound teachings, and much of what He tells us sounds “unfair”. While we usually use the word unfair to describe a situation when other people have been given the upper hand, when we look at what Jesus taught, and even at the reason why He came, Jesus’ life was anything but fair. Jesus’ life was unfair because it lifts all of us up while He stepped down.

But in some of His teaching, Jesus shares a truth that can seem incredibly unfair, but it is a truth we have control over. Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it will be measured to you; and more will be given you besides. For whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (v. 24-25)

While too often, we focus on the last idea about getting more, and the contrast that we might let other things be taken away, we apply these words to mean our money, our wealth, and our possessions. But the context for these words in both Luke’s version of this teaching and Mark’s is that Jesus is warning us to be careful what we listen to. Luke records Jesus saying, “So take care how you listen…” (Luke 8:18a)

How we listen, and what we listen to has a huge effect on our lives. What we let into our minds will eventually change us. This can be positive, or it can be negative. If we let good things in, we will be helped, but letting bad things in will hurt us – maybe not immediately, but eventually.

There is a trend in culture that all ideas should be given equal hearing – that is, except for ideas based on a Biblical foundation. However, this flies in direct opposition to Jesus’ words in this passage. Jesus warns us to be careful what we listen to. If we measure all ideas as being equal, then eventually chaos will result. Chaos might not happen immediately, but the more time ideas are given equal weight, the more they can erode at laws, which by definition are checks against someone’s ideas.

Contrasting two people can give us a clear example of this: One feels the speed limit on a rural road should be 75mph, while the other believes that it should only be 35mph. If the actual speed limit is closer to 75, the one believing the lower speed limit will make themselves a road hazard for those who follow the posted speed limits. But if the posted speed limit is closer to 35, then the one wishing to drive faster puts their life and the lives of those traveling on this road in danger.

Both people have an opinion – an idea of what things should be – but the law in place (the speed limit) filters their ideas as valid or not valid.

The Bible has given us instructions and rules to live by. While these may fly in the face of modern culture’s opinions, our culture has not actually settled on where it should settle. If culture continually pushes laws away, then what has been built over the past centuries will be “taken away”.

This passage speaks directly to our self-control. The more discretion we have, and the more self-control we exercise, the more we will be given. The less self-control and discretion we have, the easier it will be to lose the little we have. Life is a series of habits, choices, and decisions. Jesus challenges us to live wisely on the foundation He gives us – and it starts with being careful “what you listen to”.

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Forgiving Others with the Holy Spirit: John 20:19-23


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As the gospel writers conclude the story of Jesus’ life following the resurrection, the gospel of John includes a fascinating description of Jesus when He appears to the remaining disciples the evening after His resurrection.

While the most notable portion of this passage comes immediately after what we are focusing in on, which is when John tells us that Thomas was not with the group of disciples when Jesus first appeared, when we jump forward and focus on that detail, we miss out on what John tells us about this first visit.

Let’s read what happened the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples, this time without Thomas present. Our passage is found in John’s gospel, chapter 20, and we will be reading from the Good News Translation. Starting in verse 19, John tells us that:

19 It was late that Sunday evening, and the disciples were gathered together behind locked doors, because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Then Jesus came and stood among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 After saying this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples were filled with joy at seeing the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

While I don’t know if Jesus disappeared immediately after this last statement, I find it fascinating that John sets the stage by telling us why the disciples were together. The disciples had locked themselves in a secret space because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities. Thomas might have been out getting something for the group when Jesus appeared, or Thomas might have thought it would be better to be out alone and not with the group if the Jews found their hiding place, but whatever the reason, Thomas wasn’t with the disciples.

John does not tell us the disciples were huddled together, praying, and seeking guidance on how to move forward launching the Christian movement. John tells us the disciples were huddled together because they were scared of the Jewish authorities. They might have even been planning how they would leave the city and return to Galilee where many of them were from.

But Jesus appeared to them and confirmed the rumors that He had risen from the dead. Jesus showed them His hands and His side. This detail matters because the new “perfect” body God had in mind for Jesus was not free from defects. Instead, Jesus’ resurrected body carries the scars of His sacrifice.

This might also imply that our new, resurrected bodies, while they will be perfect in every way that matters, may also carry with them evidence of our lives here on earth. I believe that in heaven, we will be as unique and varied as we are here on earth, except that we will all be perfect and focused on helping each other. Here in our sin-filled world, our temptation is to always be looking out for ourselves first, but I doubt that will be a characteristic that carries over into heaven.

After showing the disciples His scarred hands and His side, He commissions them to go. While John’s version of Jesus’ commission isn’t as glamorous or famous as Matthew’s version, it is no less significant. John’s version might even be more significant because of what Jesus does immediately following this challenge.

In verse 22, immediately after challenging the disciples to go, Jesus breathes on them and tells them to “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This sounds great, and it is something the disciples would ultimately receive a little over a month later, but Jesus didn’t stop there. Jesus continues in verse 23 by saying, “If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven”.

This statement challenges me because it appears to place people between sinners and God. When each of us sins, Jesus has freed us to personally ask for forgiveness. Jesus pushed back at the idea that a person or group of people would be the gatekeepers between God and man. While the Jews were called to fulfill this ideal, they failed to recognize what God had set them apart for, and because of this, the New Covenant was extended to all people.

So then what does Jesus mean when He seems to give the disciples the power to forgive sins? Are the disciples the new gatekeepers?

I don’t believe this to be the case. Instead, I see Jesus giving His followers the ability to release others from the fear of condemnation because of their past sins. Jesus isn’t interested in the disciples withholding forgiveness from anyone, because that doesn’t reflect Jesus’ sacrifice. Instead, I see Jesus commissioning the disciples with the ability to encourage others that their sins have been forgiven.

We can explain this idea by describing someone coming to us who has messed up and sinned, and they are worried that they have messed up too many times for God to forgive them. Will we tell them that they are probably right, and that God cannot forgive them; or will we claim the promise that Jesus tells the disciples in John’s gospel and assure them that their sins have been forgiven. I personally would seek to encourage them, and I’m pretty sure you would too.

When the Holy Spirit is living in our hearts and our lives, we have the authority to forgive someone’s sins. This isn’t something that should make us prideful or arrogant. Instead, this is one of the highest callings a Christian can have, and we are called to forgive responsibly, and in a way that encourages others in their relationship with God.

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

Always be sure to seek God first and to place Him first in your life. Intentionally look for ways you can encourage others in their walk with God and when you see someone struggling spiritually, feel free and empowered to let them know that God loves them and that they are forgiven of their sins!

Also, be sure to always pray and study the Bible for yourself to grow your own relationship with God. A personal relationship with God is incredibly important, and when we dedicate time that we can spend with Him each day, we are more able to walk the path He has called us to.

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

Year 4 – Episode 49: The gospel of John includes a commission Jesus gives His followers, and this commission might be one of the most important ones we can pay attention to.

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Stopping God: Matthew 21:28-32

Focus Passage: Matthew 21:28-32 (NCV)

28 “Tell me what you think about this: A man had two sons. He went to the first son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ 29 The son answered, ‘I will not go.’ But later the son changed his mind and went. 30 Then the father went to the other son and said, ‘Son, go and work today in my vineyard.’ The son answered, ‘Yes, sir, I will go and work,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two sons obeyed his father?”

The priests and leaders answered, “The first son.”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes will enter the kingdom of God before you do. 32 John came to show you the right way to live. You did not believe him, but the tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Even after seeing this, you still refused to change your ways and believe him.

Read Matthew 21:28-32 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

It is passages like this one that make me think Jesus enjoyed irritating the scribes and Pharisees. A simple reading in context tells me that Jesus had just finished responding to the challenge of where He got authority, and the discussion could have ended there. However, instead of changing the subject to something unrelated, it seems as though He turned and then began speaking directly to them.

What really surprises me is Jesus’ boldness. In the last verses of this passage, Jesus basically flips the spiritual tables on the religious hierarchy by telling them that tax collectors and prostitutes (i.e. the worst in society) will enter heaven before they do.

What is the entrance test given here for God’s kingdom?

Jesus tells us. It’s the action of repentance – specifically belief in Jesus that leads to the action of repentance. Verse 32 directly says the reason for this: “you still refused to change your ways and believe him.” The context is Jesus talking about the religious leaders discounting and ignoring John the Baptist’s message of repentance while tax collector’s and prostitutes would turn from their sinful ways.

John’s message was simple and clear – and John never made any while or crazy claims about being the messiah. The religious leaders were likely indifferent towards him, acknowledging that he was helping to point people to God, but not wanting to associate with his wildness in any way, shape, or form. We don’t see the hostility or frequent challenges posed at John that we do see posed at Jesus.

Perhaps they didn’t really see John as a threat – even though he was drawing a crowd. So they discounted him and his message, which set them up even more for discounting Jesus and His message.

This leads into the big thought for this passage: Believing that you don’t need Jesus or that you don’t need to change your ways stops God from being able to work in your life. It is only when we acknowledge our need and take steps to change our ways that God can step in and help us turn to Him.

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Sheep Need A Shepherd: Matthew 9:35-38

Focus Passage: Matthew 9:35-38 (GNT)

35 Jesus went around visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness. 36 As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 So he said to his disciples, “The harvest is large, but there are few workers to gather it in. 38 Pray to the owner of the harvest that he will send out workers to gather in his harvest.”

Read Matthew 9:35-38 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

In one of Matthew’s transition passages, we see a brief glimpse of how Jesus viewed people, and in this passage, we can see an amazing picture of where we are living in the world today, almost two thousand years later.

To set the stage, Matthew tells us, “Jesus went around visiting all the towns and villages. He taught in the synagogues, preached the Good News about the Kingdom, and healed people with every kind of disease and sickness.” (v. 35)

While traveling, teaching, preaching, and healing, large crowds were attracted to Jesus, and they came to Him for help. Matthew tells us what Jesus’ reaction was when He saw the people coming to Him: “As he saw the crowds, his heart was filled with pity for them, because they were worried and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (v. 36)

Jesus felt pity for the crowd, because they were “worried”, “helpless”, and “like sheep without a shepherd”. We could say these people were longing for something greater than what they had. They were searching for something that was truly significant. These people needed a leader who could inspire them, help them, and restore their faith, hope, and trust.

This is an amazing picture of the world we live in today. While technology has turned this world into looking completely different than it did in the first century, the common theme running through most people’s lives is a desire to find significance, and a desire to find someone, something, or an idea truly worth following.

In life’s busyness, it is too easy for us to get lost simply trying to stay caught up with everything that is happening that we don’t even have time to spend looking for something better. We hope and dream, but don’t follow it up with action or searching. Jesus sees this mentality in the crowd that came out to find Him, and His “heart was filled with pity for them”.

Jesus’ heart is filled with love for the crowds living today as well. He feels sorry for those who are living with worry, feeling helpless, and those moving through life with no clear direction. He has helped people who have been like this in the past, and through what we can learn from those people as it has been passed through time in the Bible, Jesus can help those of us living like this today.

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