Bible Studies For Life
May 5, 2019
“LOVE YOUR ENEMIES”
Jesus told the crowd, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…’” and “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy…’” Those selfish sentiments are still firmly entrenched in our culture. Even in ministry, I’ve been told, “Be careful who you hitch your wagon to.” Common sense tells us to maintain a healthy suspicion of others; to keep people at arm’s length; to watch your back; and to look out for number one. Yet Christ calls us to take the gospel to the nations! How in the world can we take the gospel to those we know hate us? And to those that we (quite frankly) can’t stand? In our text, Jesus reminds us that human nature must be overcome by the regenerate nature.
Love is a spiritual discipline (vv. 27-28). The very idea that loving your enemies is a spiritual disciplineis revealed by Jesus’ address to those “who listen.” How often did Jesus end a parable or difficult saying with “He who has ears to hear, let him hear?” (for example, see Matt. 11:15; Mark 4:9; Mark 4:23). The same insinuation is found here. There were many voices even in that day. The religious leaders so prominent then were no doubt the ones who taught that spiritual purity meant total disassociation with those who disagreed with them. It’s certainly easy (and natural) to love those who already love us. Everybody does that! (see section 3 below). But those who listen to Jesus hearken to a different voice. Such treatment of others is not natural…but supernatural. The distinction between the spiritual and natural is evident with the four positive imperatives (commands) that follow: love(v. 27), do good(v. 27) bless (v. 28) pray for(v. 28), all which stand in direct opposition to the negative people they address: enemies(v. 27), those who hate(vs. 27), those who curse(v. 28), and those who mistreatyou (v. 28).
Love is a physical discipline (vv. 29-31). While the previous verses dealt with spiritual attitudes, the next verses deal with physical reactions. Love is not only a noun but a verb. It is something that needs to be expressed. When Jesus said that others would know the disciples because of their love (John 13:35), He didn’t mean simply their charitable attitudestoward each other, but their loving actionstoward each other. He gives concrete examples: the first, is the offer of submission when one is attacked. The second is the offer of provisions when one is robbed. The third is the offer of selfless generosity when one is asked. The last is the offer of gifting to one who borrows. While the examples given are meant to be illustrations, the principles are clear. Followers of Christ are meant to be selfless in their service to others; even to those who would attack us or take advantage of us. This remarkable love can be demonstrated only by those who have experienced it (see Rom. 5:8).
Love is a distinguishing discipline (vv. 32-36). While there are many characteristics that set Christ-followers apart from the world, love for one another is the only one specifically highlighted by Jesus (John 13:35). It is thedistinguishing mark of the believer. The reason for this is simple: agapelove, that unconditional, sacrificial love that Jesus exemplified and demanded of His followers is only available through a relationship with Him. In verses 32-34, Jesus describes what natural people do. What sets believers apart is their selflessness. What’s more, believers who express this kind of love, genuinely expecting nothing in return, will indeed receive reward. And part of that reward is being recognized as children of the Most High…the very one who embodies love (John 4:8) and demonstrated it to us (Rom. 5:8).
May 12, 2019
“LET THE DEAD BURY THEIR DEAD”
As a pastor, I have presided over countless funeral services. These meaningful memorials play a significant role in ministry. They give family members a sense of closure and provide an opportunity to honor their loved ones. In addition, pastors are given the opportunity to proclaim the gospel like no other time in a family’s life. Having lost two close family members in the last four months has put me on the grieving side of things. In light of all that, how could our loving, compassionate Lord ever rebuke someone for wanting to attend his father’s funeral? A careful interpretation of this passage will help us understand exactly what Jesus was implying.
Luke 9 is a lengthy chapter filled with activities. It includes Luke’s account of everything from the commissioning of the disciples to the feeding of the 5,000 to Peter’s confession, to the miracle on the Mount of Transfiguration. But all of those stories share one common characteristic: there are people around. Whether with just a few of the disciples (v. 28), or the entire group (v. 1), or the multitude (v. 11), Jesus was engaging in people’s lives and consistently teaching them Kingdom truth. And with that teaching, Jesus emphasized the cost of discipleship. Rather than build up His numbers, Jesus spent the majority of His time running people off! The reason? He was not seeking casualfollowers; He was seeking committeddisciples.
Following Christ means putting Christ ahead of earthly comforts (vv. 57-58). The popularity of Jesus had grown momentous. Something new and exciting was definitely happening. As He and His disciples moved from town to town, the crowds swept in behind Him. But who was really interested, and who was just along for the ride? The unidentified spectator in verse 57 called out to Jesus with an offer to follow Him wherever He went. That sounds like commitment! But few things in life offer more security than a place to call home. Jesus’ analogy of the foxes and birds was a challenge to mankind’s natural desire for earthly comforts. Even the animals had places to sleep at night, but the One who created them laid no claim to such comforts. Was this one who called out to Him really willing to forsake the security and comfort of home?
Following Christ means putting Christ ahead of earthly obligations (vv. 59-60). The second prospect mentioned (v. 59) was called out by Jesus. We have no details about what led to the invitation tendered by Christ, but the context would suggest a conversation or comment similar to the one above led up to it. This time the call to discipleship was rebuffed by personal-life circumstances. The request certainly sounds reasonable; even necessary. But details are few. Some suggest the father had died, and the son was participating in the traditional seven days of bereavement. But a better view is that the father was still alive, and the son was waiting for his passing, and all the obligations that sons were supposed to fulfill in the weeks that followed a father’s death. Jesus’ response seems harsh, but this man was really looking for an excuse notto follow Jesus. Under those circumstances, the comeback makes good sense. Those who are spiritually dead are more concerned with the routine obligations of physical life than the higher spiritual calling Christ requires of His followers.
Following Christ means putting Christ ahead of earthly relationships (vv. 61-62). In the final example, another delay is requested, this time to bid farewell to the family. The casual commitment is evident by both the man’s affections toward his family (see Luke 14:26ff) and his failure to name anyone specific. Jesus’ response is pointed. The farmer who keeps looking back as he plows can’t complete a straight row. Once he begins, he must focus on the end and move resolutely in that direction. So it is with following Christ.
May 19, 2019
“HATE YOUR FAMILY”
Of the difficult sayings of Christ, few compare to the blunt declaration found in this week’s text: “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, and even his own life—he cannot be My disciple.” How could our loving Savior utter such harsh words?
Now is a good time to re-visit those principles of interpretation I mentioned back on April 14:
- Always interpret the text plainly. In this case, the words are extremely plain! But is Jesus being literal here? Or is He using a figure of speech?
- Always use Scripture to interpret Scripture. This principle is really important here. At first glance, there is an unacceptable contradiction to deal with.
- Always remember the saying, “Context is king!”
We know what Jesus said. But what did Jesus mean?
The context again involves Jesus and the multitudes. Whenever the momentum of Jesus’ ministry and miracles swelled the crowds around Him (see John 6:1-14), the Lord challenged them to reconsider both His mission and theirs. Three emphases are apparent.
The cost of discipleship (vv. 25-27). That Jesus is using a figure of speech is apparent for two reasons. First, we use Scripture to interpret Scripture. The undeniable theme of God’s love permeates the Bible. Jesus taught His followers to love both their neighbors (Mark 12:31) and their enemies (Matt. 5:44); so ordering them to actually hate family members is obviously out of the question. The second indicator that this is a figure of speech is the admonition to hate even one’s “own life” (v. 26) to the point of “bearing his own cross” (v. 27). Many misinterpret this phrase to mean bearing some sort of burden. But the cross is an instrument of death! Jesus is saying that love for Him requires such commitment that earthly affections must be abandoned, and that selfish ambitions must be put to death. This radical love for Him makes all other relationships pale in comparison.
The risk of discipleship (vv. 28-33). Not only does Jesus warn His potential followers about what must be abandoned, but He also warns them about the possibility of personal attacks. It’s interesting that Jesus warns would-be followers of the risk of ridicule. In this case, the ridicule comes as a result of starting something that cannot be finished. Verse 28 uses the illustration of constructing a building (a tower) that is begun, only to be left unfinished. That half-finished building then will serve only as a monument to failure! The second example is that of a pending battle entered into without forethought. Could a kingdom survive the onslaught that awaited him? In both cases, Jesus’ point is clear: the decision to commit one’s self must be carefully weighed before it is made.
The reason for discipleship (vv. 34-35). So why is this commitment so important? Why could it not be a part-time, temporary infatuation with Christ? The reason is that Christ has a definite purpose: “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and believers are called to share in that purpose. The reference to salt relates back to Matthew 5:13, where believers are called the “salt of the earth.” While salt has a multitude of uses, it has one main characteristic: its distinctiveness. But regardless of all of its uses, once it loses that distinctiveness (its “saltiness”), it’s not any good for anything at all. In the same way, half-hearted part-time followers of Christ have lost their distinctiveness; and they are of no value to the Kingdom.
May 26, 2019
“EXPLOIT YOUR FRIENDS”
Of all the parables of Jesus, this one in Luke 16 is probably the most confounding. First, we know that parables are earthly stories with spiritual applications. So, the object of parables in general is to teach kingdom principles in easy-to-understand stories. This story is far from easy to understand! Second, the parables of Jesus tend to have clear-cut good guys and bad guys. This one has no role model to follow in the traditional sense, as all the characters are rotten. So what is going on here?
Once again, the context of this story is a key factor in understanding it. In general, the context involves misplaced love of riches and earthly possessions (see the remainder of the chapter). There are three parts in this initial drama.
The story is told (vv. 1-7). Basically, Jesus tells the parable of an incompetent and/or dishonest steward who was squandering the money he was managing. His boss, the investor, confronted him with his negligence and fired him (v. 2). The steward quickly weighed his options. He was certainly not willing to do manual labor, and he was far too proud to beg (v. 3). So before turning in his keys, he made one final decision; not to save his job, but rather to secure his future (v. 4). So he went to the people who owed his boss money and quickly cut a deal with each, dramatically reducing their debt. How this was done is not clear. It is unlikely that he swindled more from his boss, and more likely that he either cut out his own commission or made up the difference out of his own pocket. In any case, the debtors were thrilled to receive a discount, insuring they would “welcome him into their homes” when he lost his job and became destitute (v. 4).
The story concludes (vv. 8-9). As Jesus concludes the parable, the story takes an unexpected twist. The angry master does not hire the money manager back, but he does praise him for being so shrewd in buttering up his clients to set up his future. The end of verse 8 is key: “For the sons of this age are more astute than the sons of light in dealing with their own people.” The Lord is not at all commending the dishonesty of the worldly money handlers, but He is suggesting that their strong commitment to reap profits in their earthly realm far outshines the believer’s commitment to reap heavenly riches in the spiritual realm. Accordingly, Jesus does not suggest that His disciples use unrighteous money to exploit their friends (v. 9). Rather He urged them to use what earthly possessions they did have to advance His kingdom, so that when those earthly possessions failed (as they surely would), they would have heavenly riches instead (see Matt. 6:19-21).
The story is applied (vv. 9-12).These final applications begin with a general principle: followers of Christ must be consistent and trustworthy in how they handle their possessions. The apostle Paul said, “Now it is required of stewards that they be found faithful” (1 Cor. 4:2). Jesus said that those who are trustworthy when handling a little will be trustworthy when handling a lot. And those who are not trustworthy with a little are certainly not worthy of handling a lot (v. 10). The general principle is then narrowed to a more specific application. If Christ-followers show themselves to be unrighteous in handling earthly possessions, who would trust them when they are presenting heavenly treasures? (v. 11) And if believers cannot be trusted with earthly things which are temporary and not truly ours to begin with, why would anyone (including God), give us charge of kingdom treasures?
Explore The Bible
April 21, 2019
Introduction This past Sunday, April 14, commemorated what is generally known as Palm Sunday. This is the Sunday which marks the beginning of the last week of the earthly life of Jesus. This event is also known as the “Triumphal Entry.” Mark described this event a few chapters earlier by stating: “Many people spread their clothes on the road, and others spread leafy branches cut from the fields . . . those who followed shouted: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Mark 11:8-9). The week that began on such a high note now comes to a culmination with the crucifixion of Jesus. At the beginning of the week, people were shouting “hosanna.” By the end of the week, they were shouting “crucify him.” In this week’s lesson, we will examine a few of the key features of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Crucified (Mark 15:27). A series of events that started several hours before comes to their pinnacle at this time. Mark explained: “Then they crucified him (Jesus) and divided his clothes . . . Now it was nine in the morning when they crucified him” (Mark 15:24-25). In addition to Jesus, the text states that two others were crucified. These two are described as criminals (Mark 15:27). Other Bible translations specify that these men were thieves (KJV). So, these three men were crucified together. In New Testament times, crucifixion was the most painful form of execution. One commentator explained that it was reserved for non-citizens of Rome and intended to warn others about the consequences of crossing Roman law. And yet, here is Jesus of whom Pilate himself said, “I find no grounds for charging him” (John 19:6). So, one innocent man and two thieves now hang on crosses for all to see.
Mocked and Forsaken (Mark 15:29-36).As this scene unfolds, the responses of people to the crucifixion recorded in scripture are interesting. For instance, some yelled insults at Jesus (Mark 15:29). Others mocked Jesus while he hung on the cross. Of that group, Mark noted that the chief priests and scribes exclaimed, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself!” (Mark 15:31). Besides the human reactions to the crucifixion of Jesus, we read about a heavenly response, too. At three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mark 15:34). Not only had his disciples abandoned him, but now, at this moment, with the full weight of the sin of the world on his shoulders, his father, too, abandoned Him for a short span of time. Besides being insulted and mocked, Jesus is now forsaken. He would not be like this for long, however.
Victorious (Mark 15:37-39). Shortly after crying out to God, Mark wrote that Jesus “let out a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37). Mark explained that two immediate and significant actions occurred after Jesus died. First, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). This is indicative of the fact that the death of Jesus opened access to God for all people. In other words, there is no need for anyone to go through another human being to approach God. Individuals now have access to God on their own. Second, the reaction of the Roman centurion should not go unnoticed. When this Roman soldier saw how Jesus died, he exclaimed, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). This is a startling and truthful claim. Even in death, the divinity of Jesus was manifested.
Conclusion On this day, April 21, Christians worldwide celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Paul explained that “. . . if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). Since Jesus has been raised, our faith is valuable and our sins have been taken care of on the cross. The lesson today affirms that they death of Jesus opened access to God and demonstrated that Jesus is God’s Son.
April 28, 2019
The Request (Mark 10:35-39).The passage for this week’s lesson begins with an unusual request. Two disciples, James and John, said to Jesus, “Allow us to sit at your right and at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37). Wow! At first glance, this seems like an arrogant request, especially to believers today. Study of the culture of that day reveals, however, that boasting or thinking of oneself was not uncommon. In fact, as an example, on more than one occasion as recorded in the Gospels, you find the disciples discussing who is the greatest among themselves. So, boasting was simply part of the cultural fabric.
What is somewhat strange about this request, though, is the timing. Jesus had just finished telling the disciples, for the third time, that the Son of Man was going to have to suffer when they arrived in Jerusalem. Jesus explained that “they will hand him over to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him, and he will rise after three days” (Mark 10:33-34). Right after this prediction, Mark tells us that James and John made their request. One wonders if they fully understood what they were requesting from Jesus. Even Jesus Himself said to them, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38). They claim they are able! (Mark 10:39).
The Reaction (Mark 10:39-41). After hearing their response, Jesus affirmed that James and John would indeed drink the cup that He would drink and that they would be baptized with the baptism that He would be baptized with (Mark 10:39). What did this mean for James and John, though? In the context of the passage, it indicates that James and John would suffer for their faith as Jesus Himself was going to suffer in Jerusalem. In reality, church history indicates that both men did suffer for their faith. Acts 12 describes the fact that James was martyred by King Herod. Decades later, John was exiled to an island called Patmos because of his faith. So, they both suffered for their faith. With respect to their petition to be seated with Jesus when He came in His glory, however, Jesus told them that it was not up to Him to determine. The privilege of being seated in those seats, Jesus explained, goes “for whom it has been prepared” (Mark 10:40).
When the other disciples heard what James and John had asked of Jesus, Mark stated that “they began to be indignant” (Mark 10:41). The Greek term translated “indignant” here is a word that reflects their anger at James and John. As the following context suggests, though, their anger was not over James and John’s selfish request, but over the fact that James and John made the request before they could! The attitude of the disciples prompted Jesus to take this moment to teach them about having a servant’s heart.
The Ransom (Mark 10:42-45). What should the mindset of the disciples be? According to Jesus, they should not treat people as the Gentiles leaders do. These rulers “lord it over them” and “act as tyrants over them” (Mark 10:42). The practice of the disciples was to be just the opposite. The one who desired to become great needed to become the servant; and, the one who wanted to be first needed to be the slave to all (Mark 10:44). Instead of the Gentiles, the pattern for the disciples to follow was Jesus Himself. Jesus explained that He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). That perspective certainly would set the followers of Jesus apart from the normal individual of that day. Likewise, in our day, it continues to set followers of Jesus apart. Jesus came to serve; we should likewise serve.
May 12, 2019
Introduction In twenty years of teaching on both the college and seminary levels, one of the more popular classes I had the privilege of teaching was the study of Revelations. At one institution, I offered this class every spring semester for four years. Every year, students demonstrated a keen interest in seeking to understand the book as well as how it applies in the twenty-first century. The text for today’s lesson indicates that the disciples of Jesus were likewise interested in knowing when the Lord would return. What did Jesus share with them?
Seen! (Mark 13:24-27). Mark 13 opens by describing a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. The conversation was prompted by a statement the disciples made related to the beauty of the temple. On that occasion, the disciples exclaimed, “What impressive buildings!” (Mark 13:1, CSB). Upon hearing this comment, Jesus remarked, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another” (Mark 13:2). As you can imagine, that comment from the Lord caused quite a reaction. In fact, Mark tells us that several of the disciples went to Jesus in private to ask Him about this (Mark 13:3-4).
As a part of this broader discussion, Jesus describes His second coming. Some key events will precede His return: it will happen “after the tribulation” (Mark 13:24); signs will take place in the sky (Mark 13:24-25); then, He will return (Mark 13:26). When He returns, the Bible explains that “they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). Even though Mark does not specify which group “they” indicates, Matthew clarifies by noting that “all the tribes of the earth” (Matthew 24:30). So, everyone will see Jesus return! This will not be a secret event.
Be Assured (Mark 13:28-31). As Jesus continues to respond to the disciples’ questions, He gives them an object lesson. He states that you can tell when summer is near when you look at the leaves of a fig tree. In other words, when you see leaves beginning to sprout, you know summer is coming (Mark 13:28). “In the same way, when you see these things happening, recognize that he is near” (Mark 13:29). Without setting any dates, Jesus explains to the disciples that there are things they can observe to help them recognize that His return is close. In fact, Jesus further noted that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place” (Mark 13:30). This verse has generated much discussion through the years. At least four solutions have been proposed, and each one has some merits! While not everyone agrees, the most natural reading of the phrase “this generation” would indicate the people who were listening to Jesus at that moment. If that is the case, then the things that Jesus could be referring to are the signs leading up to the destruction of the temple, when no stone would be left one upon the other. Even though uncertainty exists here, in the next few verses, Jesus gives one final encouragement.
Stay Ready! (Mark 13:32-37). Since no one knows the time when Jesus will return, the key is for His disciples to “Watch! Be alert!” (Mark 13:33). Jesus did not want His followers to be caught sleeping when the master returned. If we are not careful, we can be lulled into complacency as we wait for the Lord’s return. Many of us today work in fields where deadlines are important. Deadlines motivate us to complete a task or finish a project. In this case, however, no one knows when Jesus will return. We can look for the signs to give us a clue. But even then, we still do not know a date. It is for this reason that Jesus commanded His followers to watch and be alert.
May 19, 2019
Mark 14:3-11, 32-36
Introduction Mark 14 begins with a note that helps set the context for this week’s lesson. Mark explained that, “It was two days before the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread” (Mark 14:1). This means that Jesus is just a couple of days away from the crucifixion. The Triumphal Entry has past; the cross looms ever larger. A couple of events described in this chapter highlight the disparity of thinking about Jesus as the week moves forward.
Misunderstood (Mark 14:3-5). First, Jesus encountered a woman in Bethany. Bethany was the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. On this occasion, however, Jesus visited the home of Simon the leper. Unfortunately, not much is known about this man outside of this episode in Mark’s Gospel. In Simon’s home, Jesus was reclining at a table when a woman came in. The woman broke open a jar that contained expensive perfume and poured it over Jesus’ head (Mark 14:3). This act caused some of the guests to express indignation. They completely misunderstood what had taken place and even thought that the perfume had been wasted (Mark 14:4). Jesus would correct this perception.
Honored (Mark 14:6-9). Far from being wasted, Jesus informed those in the house that what this woman had done was “a noble thing” (Mark 14:6). It was noble because the pure nard had “prepared (his) body in advance for burial” (Mark 14:8). In other words, what some had perceived as waste, Jesus showed to be a good thing. To better understand the sacrifice that this woman made, consider two facts. First, the perfume cost three-hundred denarii. This would basically have been the equivalence of a year’s salary. Second, the type of perfume she used, pure nard, came from a root in India. This was a sacrificial act on the part of the woman. Jesus further explained this acts importance noting that “wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Mark 14:9).
Betrayed (Mark 14:10-11). The next two verses in this passage present a striking contrast to what has just occurred. On the one hand, you have a woman who has sacrificed basically a year’s salary to anoint Jesus. In these two verses, on the other hand, you see a disciple who agrees to betray Jesus for a specific amount of money (Mark 14:11). While Mark does not report the specific amount Judas agreed to, Matthew’s Gospel explained that the price Judas would receive for betraying Jesus was thirty silver coins (Matthew 26:15). This amount would have been roughly the same as four month’s salary in that day. Having made the agreement with the Chief Priests, Judas begins to look for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them.
Conclusion This week’s lesson contrasts two individuals and their respective reactions to Jesus. One individual, an unnamed woman, sacrifices some very expensive perfume to anoint the Lord’s body for burial. Another individual, a disciple no less, Judas Iscariot, agrees to betray Jesus. People today has various reactions to Jesus. Some sacrifice much. Others, however, turn their backs. What will your reaction be?