Being Salt: Mark 9:38-50

Focus Passage: Mark 9:38-50 (NASB)

One of the interesting metaphors I find in Jesus’ teaching has to do with salt. In several places in the gospels, Jesus uses salt to describe a truth He wanted His followers to understand. In one of the most concentrated uses of the word salt, Mark describes one of Jesus’ ideas using this word six times in two verses.

Following Jesus’ warnings about stumbling in one’s faith, Mark gives us one of Jesus’ big ideas. He tells us Jesus concludes by saying, “For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (v. 49-50)

In these two verses, the word salt is used as a noun, a verb, and as an adjective. This set of two verses also includes three somewhat unique ideas.

  • Everyone will be salted with fire.” (v. 49)

    This phrase makes me think that fire will be sprinkled on (or added to) everyone, because that is how salt is used today. However, before refrigeration, some things (such as meat) were dipped in and covered with salt as a way to keep it from spoiling. In many ways, this statement may mean that we will all experience God’s fire at some point in our lives. It may purify us in the present, or it may consume us at the judgment.

  • Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again?” (v. 50a)

    The second phrase describes how salt is inherently useful because of what it is and because of what it does. Salt’s value comes from being salty. If salt ever lost its saltiness, it will have also lost its value. This phrase concludes with the question, how can unsalty salt be made salty again? This is a question I don’t know the answer to, but one that deserves our attention if we are represented by salt in these phrases.

  • Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (v. 50b)

    This third phrase is interesting, and I think it describes how salt reacts to other things. Salt is found as an ingredient in almost everything, and salt can be added to most everything. However, salt must be added in the right quantities for it to not to ruin what it was added to. If we have salt inside of ourselves, this phrase may mean that we should interact with others, but also be discerning with how vocal we are with our faith. Too much salt will cause problems, and if salt is a symbol for our faith, than we should carry our faith inside of ourselves rather than letting it be dependent on others.

Overall, salt is an important metaphor when describing our spiritual lives, and it is one that has many different applications.

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 — Challenging Culture: Mark 10:1-16


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As we continue through Mark’s gospel, we come to what is likely the least politically correct challenge Jesus faced, and a topic that is one of the most divisive topics that our culture has at this point in history. However, Jesus never shied away from difficult situations, nor did He avoid responding to challenges that came His way. Like most of the events where the religious leaders challenged Jesus on certain topics, Jesus’ response shifted the focus onto a higher perspective than those bringing the challenge had been looking at the challenge.

Before jumping in to read this passage, I will put out the disclaimer here that what Jesus shares might be offensive to some people, but Jesus is sharing God’s original ideal. Jesus is very clear that where humanity is currently is not anywhere near God’s ideal, and it is likely that the majority of those who would claim to be offended at what Jesus shares in this event have rejected God, and in this case, rejecting God also means rejecting His ideals.

Our passage is found in Mark’s gospel, chapter 10, and we will read it from the New Century Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, Mark tells us:

Then Jesus left that place and went into the area of Judea and across the Jordan River. Again, crowds came to him, and he taught them as he usually did.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and tried to trick him. They asked, “Is it right for a man to divorce his wife?”

Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you to do?”

They said, “Moses allowed a man to write out divorce papers and send her away.”

Jesus said, “Moses wrote that command for you because you were stubborn. But when God made the world, ‘he made them male and female.’ ‘So a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one body.’ So there are not two, but one. God has joined the two together, so no one should separate them.”

10 Later, in the house, his followers asked Jesus again about the question of divorce. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman is guilty of adultery against her. 12 And the woman who divorces her husband and marries another man is also guilty of adultery.”

Before continuing our passage, I want to pause and emphasize something that is easily missed when reading this event. Within Jesus’ response, Jesus quickly shifts the focus away from the current state of the world in sin, and into a different perspective. The majority of Jesus’ public response is from God’s perspective. Jesus tells the crowd that “when God made the world, ‘he made them male and female’”.

This not only quotes from the creation account in Genesis, but it also affirms God’s direct hand in creating the human race. God is the Author of life, and He created male and female. When marriage unites two people, Jesus tells us that God sees these two people as one, not as two. When God joins a couple together in marriage, His ideal is for them to remain united.

It is only in Jesus’ private response that we see Jesus challenging the disciples with the truth that divorce and remarriage equals adultery in God’s eyes. It is true that adultery is a much broader term than the two situations Jesus describes, but Jesus pulls these two edge cases into this broad term when most people would be inclined to exclude them.

From how Jesus shares His response, as followers of Jesus, we should publicly support honoring our marriage commitments, and place the greatest emphasis on living our lives as examples for others to see what God’s ideal is like. Marriage is a personal commitment to your spouse in the eyes of God, and it is an agreement between both spouses and God. If you are not a spouse in a marriage agreement, what goes on in this marriage agreement is in almost every case none of your business.

In Jesus’ private reply, we see the redefinition of adultery to include divorce and remarriage. This suggests to me that we only privately talk to individuals about this, and then sparingly at best. A conversation like this should be framed with lots of prayer, lots of listening, and lots of God’s love and forgiveness present. It also is best done with a pastor, counselor, or spiritual leader present. Adultery is a significant sin, but it is nowhere near unforgivable. The Bible has many examples of adultery being forgiven, and God doesn’t condemn this sin anymore than any other sin that He wants to forgive.

After sharing this challenging topic, Mark then shifts to something less challenging or politically incorrect, but something that was still a pretty big culture shift from how things were done in first century Judea. Continuing in verse 13, Mark then describes that:

13 Some people brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch them, but his followers told them to stop. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was upset and said to them, “Let the little children come to me. Don’t stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to people who are like these children. 15 I tell you the truth, you must accept the kingdom of God as if you were a little child, or you will never enter it.” 16 Then Jesus took the children in his arms, put his hands on them, and blessed them.

In this conclusion to our passage, Jesus shifts our perspective again. While many people might think of those who are older or who are more mature spiritually to be closer to God’s kingdom, it may actually be the opposite. It’s possible that those who are older or more mature might be further away from God than small children might be.

In the context of Jesus’ challenge to the disciples to let the children come to Him, the disciples likely believed they were doing Jesus a service because they were shielding Jesus from what might be considered an insignificant task. I don’t see any hint in this passage that any of the children being brought to Jesus needed to be healed or helped. Instead, the parents simply wanted God’s blessing to be on their children.

When Jesus corrects the disciples and lets the parents bring their children to Him, we can learn that God values spending time with us. While God is at times very task-oriented, He is also very people-oriented and He values the time we spend with Him. If you haven’t spent quality time with Jesus, or if you haven’t had much time available to spend with God, it may be worth looking closer at this event.

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. Mark has described these children as “little children” and that means they are the most dependant on parental help than at any later stage of their growing up. In one sense, the more we depend on Jesus and on God for our salvation, the closer we are to entering God’s kingdom, and the more we let God into our lives and hearts, the better we will be able to represent Him in the world today!

While this passage contains some pretty significant challenges, Jesus did not come to judge people; He came to love, forgive, and redeem everyone who wants to be loved, forgiven, and redeemed.

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 and choose to align your life to God’s will. View life from God’s perspective and choose to accept God like a little child. Depend on God for your salvation and for everything you need in life. A little child is not equipped to survive on their own, and sin has made us incapable of surviving spiritually without God’s help. Let’s together depend on God for help, for our salvation, and for everything we need both today and every day moving forward.

Also, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself to learn and grow closer to God each and every day. Choose to spend time with God in prayer and study to fall in love with Him like He has already fallen in love with You. God loves you more than you could even imagine, and Jesus came to help us realize the love God has for each of us!

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!

Flashback Episode: Year in Mark – Episode 26: In two somewhat unrelated events, see how Jesus challenges two difficult subjects, and how Jesus steps into one of the most politically divisive arguments in our world today.

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

Teaching with Parables: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20

Focus Passage: Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 (NIV)

Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.”

Then Jesus said, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

 

13 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable? 14 The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”

Read Mark 4:1-9, 13-20 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

Immediately before sharing the parable of the farmer scattering seed, both Mark and Matthew introduce this portion of their gospels with an interesting statement. Mark transitions into the parable by saying “He taught them many things by parables…” (v. 2a)

Matthew transitions into this section by saying, “Then he told them many things in parables…” (v. 3a)

Both gospel writers then start into sharing about the parable of the farmer scattering his seed.

I don’t believe it is an accident or a coincidence that both Matthew and Mark place this parable as the first one immediately following their introductory statement. The reason I believe this is because immediately before sharing what the parable means, Jesus makes an equally interesting statement that is relevant for our “parables” discussion.

Mark captures this transition statement by telling us Jesus rhetorically asks the disciples, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” (v. 13)

Both Mark and Matthew included this parable to open up Jesus’ big shift into teaching with parables. While this may not have been Jesus’ first parable He ever shared, it seemed to fit both gospel writers’ narratives to include it here before sharing more of Jesus’ parables.

Jesus’ shift into teaching with parables is a significant shift for us to pay attention to. All too often, when communicating, we feel that the information is enough – and sometimes sharing our information is all that is needed to inspire life change. But this only happens when there is something prompting the person to change from their own past and experience.

When Jesus shifted into using parables, He opened the door for multiple layers of meaning, and He began speaking to multiple audiences at different levels of education simultaneously. By creating stories that had characters illustrating the truths Jesus wanted us to learn, Jesus becomes a role model for us when communicating.

The parable of the farmer scattering seed has so many applications that it is startling to think about. While it touches on spiritual truth, it also shares how people who hear any message or any information can process it before applying or rejecting it. It opens the door for us to understand that some information, regardless of how it is packaged, will never reach a percentage of people who are unwilling to learn or change.

But the real brilliance of using parables or stories is that they get remembered. Whether we realize it or not, most of Jesus’ teachings that we remember are the ones that have been wrapped within parable and/or stories. In the introduction to Jesus’ parables, Mark expands our perspective about Jesus teaching with parables, and it is something that everyone of us can use when communicating with others.

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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Facing Failed Promises: John 11:1-16


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As we approach the half way mark in our year moving through John’s gospel, we come to one of the longest events in John’s gospel, and, if I’m not mistaken, the miracle Jesus did that takes up the most dedicated space in any gospel record. This miracle is raising Jesus’ friend Lazarus from the dead.

However, because of its length, we will split this event into two episodes, focusing on the first part of the event in this episode, specifically when Jesus hears the news that Lazarus is sick.

Let’s read the opening to this event, and discover some amazing things in how Jesus responds to the news of His friend’s sickness. Our passage for this episode is found in John’s gospel, chapter 11, and we will read it from the Contemporary English Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 1, John tells us that:

1-2 A man by the name of Lazarus was sick in the village of Bethany. He had two sisters, Mary and Martha. This was the same Mary who later poured perfume on the Lord’s head and wiped his feet with her hair. The sisters sent a message to the Lord and told him that his good friend Lazarus was sick.

When Jesus heard this, he said, “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.”

Jesus loved Martha and her sister and brother. But he stayed where he was for two more days. Then he said to his disciples, “Now we will go back to Judea.”

“Teacher,” they said, “the people there want to stone you to death! Why do you want to go back?”

Jesus answered, “Aren’t there twelve hours in each day? If you walk during the day, you will have light from the sun, and you won’t stumble. 10 But if you walk during the night, you will stumble, because you don’t have any light.” 11 Then he told them, “Our friend Lazarus is asleep, and I am going there to wake him up.”

12 They replied, “Lord, if he is asleep, he will get better.” 13 Jesus really meant that Lazarus was dead, but they thought he was talking only about sleep.

14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead! 15 I am glad that I wasn’t there, because now you will have a chance to put your faith in me. Let’s go to him.”

16 Thomas, whose nickname was “Twin,” said to the other disciples, “Come on. Let’s go, so we can die with him.”

Let’s stop reading here, and save the rest of this event for our next episode.

While it is very tempting to race forward to focus in on the miracle portion of this passage, a detail in the first portion of our event is worth paying attention to, because it may explain why God doesn’t race in and act immediately when we ask.

In the first portion of our event, specifically in verse 4, after hearing the news of Lazarus’ sickness, Jesus responds that: “His sickness won’t end in death. It will bring glory to God and his Son.” All too often, when we think of the bad that happens to us or the bad that happens around us living in this sinful world, we are quick to judge God for letting it happen, or rationalize that since it happened, He must not exist.

However, in Jesus’ words, we discover two huge promises. First, the sickness will not end in death. We could expand this truth to say that sin will not conquer or defeat God’s people. Another way of saying this is that God’s people will outlive and outlast both sin and death.

The second huge promise is that this sickness will result in glory being given to God and His Son. While this sounds completely backward, what if all the bad that is happening in the world today was an opportunity to bring glory to God and His Son? While I don’t believe for an instant that God wished sin, pain, disease, or death to be present in His perfect creation, what if all the evil present gives God and His people the opportunity to help others?

If everything was perfect in our world, there would be no need for anyone to help another, there would be no reason for us to need a Savior, and we as a race would become unbelievably prideful and arrogant – significantly more extreme than we are right now. If humanity never sinned, Jesus would not have needed to come and face the cross, and Jesus alludes or suggests that the cross was where He would receive glory.

In contrast, in order for Jesus’ response when hearing the news about Lazarus’ sickness to be true, we must understand that Jesus has something bigger in mind. Jesus promised that this sickness wouldn’t end in death, and that it would give glory to God and His Son.

Without both parts of Jesus’ reply, we are left wondering about what happened next. If Jesus had only promised that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, there would be little reason for Jesus to go help Him. It would be similar to other miracles where Jesus promised people from a distance that their loved one would get well.

However, if we only had the second part of this reply, we might also be surprised at what happened next. If this sickness would ultimately result in God and His Son receiving glory, then it makes little sense for Jesus to stay where He was for two more days.

Looking at how Jesus responded to the messenger, and then what He did following this, I wonder if the disciples believed Jesus’ words to the messenger to be similar to Jesus’ words to the centurion, to the father of the dying child, and to other miracles where the one asking for a miracle was willing to accept Jesus’ promise of healing from a distance. On the surface, Jesus’ response sounds like a similar promise.

However, one of the biggest challenges I see being laid in this opening to this event is within Jesus’ reply. Jesus told the messenger that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death, and then two days later, Jesus admits to His disciples that Lazarus was in fact dead.

This challenge is similar to what many people face today. We read about all the miracles and promises God gives us in the Bible, then we pray for God’s help and for a miracle in our own situation, and after praying this, often it can feel as though God ignores our request.

It is like the messenger racing back to Bethany after finding Jesus with the promise that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, but then less than 48 hours later, Lazarus dies. On the surface, this looks like a huge fail for Jesus and His promises. This looks like Jesus broke a promise. I suspect that Mary, Martha, and those present in Bethany had similar feelings of loss, of disappointment, and of doubt towards God when Lazarus stopped breathing.

However, Jesus’ promise still stands. Jesus saw this event in a larger way than this immediate sickness finishing Lazarus off for good. Instead, Jesus never promised that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t temporarily take Him through death. Instead, Jesus actually refers to the death Lazarus experienced as sleep, which makes this contrast even more evident. It is only when the disciples don’t understand Jesus’ metaphor that He spoke plainly to them about Lazarus’ death.

In a similar way, when we experience pain, loss, or even death, we might feel as though God’s promises have failed us. However, Jesus sees one or more steps past the immediate pain, because Jesus sees the step past our sleep-death and He sees the resurrection He will bring to all of His people when He returns.

While the disciples show virtually no faith in Jesus during this opening of the event, the opening of this event sets the stage for what would be seen as one of Jesus’ greatest miracles in His entire ministry, and a miracle that foreshadows the resurrection that all of God’s people can look forward to when Jesus returns!

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, seek God first in your life, and choose to place your faith, your hope, your trust, and your belief in Jesus even when our immediate circumstances don’t seem like God’s promises are coming true. God sees history with a much bigger perspective than we ever could, and the situation we are facing might be like the opening of our event in this episode. However, remember that Jesus sees one or more steps past our immediate situation, and He has promised to give God the glory for what ultimately happens.

Also, even though it is hard to do when facing trials, continue praying and studying the Bible for yourself with the goal of purposefully growing closer to God and Jesus while facing trials. Often God walks with us through the trials instead of taking the trial away, and while it is not pleasant to think about, sometimes trials are God’s way of reminding us that we need Him in our lives.

However, trials have an end, and because of this, 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!

Year in John – Episode 25: After Jesus promised a messenger that Lazarus’ sickness wouldn’t end in death, we read that Lazarus actually died two days later. Discover what we can learn about God, about Jesus, and about God’s promises through the opening of this event where it appears as though Jesus’ word failed.

Join the discussion. Share your thoughts on this passage.