Laying Hold of the Kingdom of God
Sometimes it is difficult to grasp the concepts Jesus has given us. It was just as hard for the disciples as Jesus noted on many occasions. One of those times was given in Matthew 11:12 proclaimed; “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” This scripture is better translated; “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is advancing rapidly, and determined men lay hold of it.” (see Are You the Coming One?) In Luke 16:16 it says; “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it.” Today we’ll demonstrate this concept using the story of a determined man who forced his way into the kingdom of God.
First there is blind Bartimaeus in Luke 18:35-43 “As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant.They told him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.’ And he cried out, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He said, ‘Lord, let me recover my sight.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.’ And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God.”
The blind beggar in Luke, identified as Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46, sat along the roadside petitioning passers by for money. When he realized Jesus was passing by he called out “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Even though people told him to be quiet he kept pressing. Ignoring the crowd he yelled all the louder “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The interesting thing here is that Bartimaeus didn’t ask for sight, he asked for mercy. Because of his persistence Jesus called Bartimaeus to come to Him and asked “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus already knew what Bartimaeus needed and He already knew what He was going to do. Jesus responded, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” It took faith in Jesus for the blind man to persist resulting in a call from Jesus. Bartimaeus called on Jesus for mercy but Jesus asked what he wanted personally. The result was miraculous and, according to Jesus, Bartimaeus faith resulted in recovering his sight. But that is not the end of the story. Once Bartimaeus received his sight he followed Jesus and glorified God. That’s not all, the faith of the one who had been blind ignited the faith of others. Others were drawn to glorify God.
First, Jesus was passing by. Have you ever wondered why Jesus decided to go a certain direction at a certain time? I believe it was no coincidence that Jesus passed by that particular location. He knew exactly where He was going and exactly what He was going to do.
Second, Bartimaeus knew he needed something so he begged on the side of the road. The presence of Jesus passing by ignited his faith.
Third, Jesus waited for Bartimaeus to persistently call on Him. How much did he desire Jesus? How big was his faith? He stopped begging for money and started begging for mercy persistently yelling louder and louder until Jesus acknowledged him.
Fourth, Jesus called Bartimaeus to come. Bartimaeus had to face the people who were telling he to be quiet. He had to step out in faith to meet Jesus.
Fifth, Bartimaeus was changed by the encounter with Jesus. He begged for mercy but received his sight.
Sixth, after experiencing Jesus presence and the miraculous power of God, Bartimaeus followed Jesus glorifying God.
Finally, Jesus presence, as he passed by, spurred Bartimaeus persistent faith which resulted in others glorifying God.
Seven Things that Stand Out
The key to understanding the seven things that stand out is what Jesus said later in Luke 19:10 “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”
1) Jesus did not wait for Batimaeus to come to the synagogue but went out knowing where he was.
2) Jesus knew Batimaeus condition before He passed by.
3) Jesus recognized his persistence.
4) Jesus called Batimaeus to come to Him from where he was.
5) Jesus took action based on Batimaeus faith and obedience.
6) Jesus obedience to the Farther resulted in a miracle for Bartimaeus but God received the glory.
7) Bartimaeus faith resulted in action that drew others to Jesus.
Paper Clips and Magnets
First and foremost, we need to understand those who are lost many times recognize they have an empty space in their heart but they don’t know what is required to fill that space. It is like a magnet passing over a pile of paper clips. If it passes close enough one of the paper clips will be attracted to the magnet. Interestingly, as the closet paper clips are attracted, others will be attracted to the magnet through those paper clips. If the magnet remains static just out of magnetic reach it is unlikely any paper clips will be attracted to the magnet.
Today the world is moving further away from religion so it is less probable people will “come to church.” As Christians we have to be like Jesus. In other words the paper clips are moving further away from the magnet. The solution is not to try and build a stronger magnet but to move the magnet closer to the paper clips. We need to pray that the Father will reveal His will to us. Remember in the story there were many people present but Jesus took note of a specific person. Jesus knew who He would encounter and He knew how that person would respond. Remember just before the encounter with Bartimaeus Jesus was met by the “Rich Young Ruler” who went away sad (Luke 18:18-27). Like Bartimaeus the Rich Young Ruler knew he needed something. Like Bartimaeus the he knew Jesus had the answer but chose not follow Jesus because the cost was too high. Bartimeuas responded differently. When Jesus got close enough Bartimaeus persistence resulted in a life changing miracle and because of the miracle others were drawn to Jesus. In the case of the magnet and paper clips not all of the paper clips are attracted to the magnet but the magnet has to pass close enough to attract paper clips. Jesus set the example by going out. People were attracted to Jesus and while some did not respond others did and it had a dramatic effect.
Jesus went out, He didn’t wait in the synagogue for people to come to Him. Bartimaeus would never have been healed and others would not have been drawn to God had Jesus simply waited safely in the synagogue. Jesus knew who would be encountered along the way and He knew their response but He still went out. Some didn’t respond, but others responded in a way that brought glory to God and drew more people into His presence.
Remember, the presence of God through the Holy Spirit will attract some but repel others. Be aware! Be ready! Go out ready to be God’s magnet in a world that needs Him desperately.
The Swamp Fox
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Sunday School, Worship Service, Hmmm!
The rage lately on college campuses is to create a “safe zone” where group think prevails in curtailing speech that is deemed offensive. The notion of personal responsibility, moral standards and consideration of others has given way to self-absorption, self-gratification and self-exaltation has resulted in suppressing descent of any kind at all costs. Where did this come from? How did it start?
Perhaps we can look at Christian practices as an example. Reading one of my favorite Christian devotionals there was a statement that stopped me dead in my tracks. The writer lamented: “I wonder if church seems more like an exclusive club than a safe haven for forgiven sinners.” This statement literally shocked me. Since when has the church (ekklésia – those God has called out of the world) become an exclusive club or a “safe haven” for forgiven sinners? Since when has the church (God’s people not a building, religion or organization) become an introverted “safe zone” for Christians. How has the expression of Christian faith become a “Sunday Morning Safe Zone” for believers?
Over time Christians have become more interested in socializing than evangelizing, more concerned about learning than practicing what they have learned and the results are evident. It is easier to invite someone to church than confront them with the good news of the gospel. It’s easier to shun behaviors that offend us than demonstrate compassion and forgiveness as did Jesus. That being the case church has become a place where people commiserate in “Christian” group think antipodal to that of the “Safe Zone” group think out in the world. Both result in isolation and condemnation of others the only difference being polarization. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the statement; “I can’t wait for church on Sunday. I running on empty. I need to be with the people of God (code for people who think like me)…” Today “church” has become about buildings and programs, status and position, socialization and comradery, education with no accountability and identification with no action resulting in introversion, isolation, arrogance and condescension. While no Christian sets out to become any of those things it has happened none the less. It happened during Jesus’ time and it’s happening today.
Jesus addressed this condition in Luke 18:9-14 “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’”
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commanded that we “go therefore and make disciples of all nations” and in Luke 12:12 He told us “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Corporate worship of the Church should be an explosion of expression exalting God for what He done all week. It must not be a safe zone where believers commiserate on how terrible the world.
In order to better understand this let’s dig deeper into the passage in Luke 18 which describes two men. Both the Pharisee and the tax collector were in “church.” Both prayed. One spoke a highly educated religious prayer of arrogance, condescension and condemnation while one examined his own sinful nature declaring his unworthiness in God’s presence. One came to exalt himself, one came to beg for God’s mercy. One went to his house justified and one did not.
How does the scripture in Luke relate to Sunday Morning Safe Zones? Jesus declared in Luke 12:11-12 there are no safe zones for Christians. “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” He commanded extroversion not introversion. He called on believers to go out and share their faith not come together to commiserate the worlds condition. Jesus viewed sinners with compassion, reconciliation and forgiveness while condemning religious arrogance, condescension and condemnation, so we must ask ourselves why we go to church. Do we see and condemn a world full of sinners or do we see ourselves as sinners who need God’s mercy and have compassion for those who have not experienced God’s forgiveness? Do we look forward to being bolstered in order to survive another week or do we burst with exuberance over what God has done during the past week? Do we trust in the education of man to keep us safe or do we trust God’s Holy Spirit in any situation?
Do we rely on the comfort of a “Sunday Morning Safe Zone for Christians” or do we trust God to guide and support us in every situation, every minute of every day?
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Choices Have Consequences
“I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God. I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High. But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. ” Isaiah 14:13-15.
The prophet Isaiah described the pride of Satan just after declaring his fate; “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground…” Isaiah 14:12. According to the prophet Satan was cut down just as he began to exalt himself above God. “You said in your heart,” and that was it for the “Day Star, the son of the Dawn!”
Jesus described that moment in Luke 10:18 “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” I’m struck with awe every time I read this passage. When lightning strikes you often see the flash before you hear the bang. Imagine, the Evil One became wrapped up in himself but before he could act on what was in his heart;
From the “mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north…down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit” like lightning. But how could this be? How could one so beautiful become self absorbed so as to exalt themselves above their creator?
God created Lucifer with the power of choice and he chose himself. God created man with the power of choice and man chose himself. The common thread is not the power of choice but the choice itself. When man sinned he made the same choice as the Lucifer, thinking he would be “like God” Genesis 3:5. When we decide to do something we know will displease God we have made the same choice thinking in our hearts; “I will ascend to heaven… I will make myself like the Most High.” But the result is always the same.
Can someone say; “Choices have consequences!” In Luke 9:23 Jesus said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
God has given us the power of choice. Choose wisely!
Luke 10:19-20 “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Doubting is Human Nature
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming and exclaimed; “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John knew the Savior immediately and responded accordingly. Later, as Jesus ministry became more evident he declared, “…this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease,” but as time went on John found himself on the business end of Herod’s anger and wound up in prison. Prison in that day and age was not the same as today where prisoners are, for the most part, treated humanely. In the time of John the Baptist prisoners were subjected to inhuman treatment, starvation, exposure, beatings and general abuses we simply cannot imagine. John could have been in prison for nearly two years by the time he was executed and it must have worn on him greatly.
Eventually, John the Baptist began to question what he knew to be true about Jesus. We see this in Matthew 11:3 when John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” He’d gone from the mountain top of ministry where he’d declared “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” into the depths of despair in prison where he asked “Are you the Coming One?” Perhaps he thought Jesus may intervene on his behalf or maybe Jesus would institute the Kingdom of God right then and there. Whatever the reason, John asked “Are You there Lord?” Jesus gave an answer that would reassure but not necessarily encourage John the Baptist. He told John’s disciples to report what they had seen then quoted the prophet Isaiah; “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matthew 11:5). Jesus reminded John of the very thing he preached; “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” He reminded John of his own belief, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Then Jesus offered correction to John the Baptist, “…blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Jesus was saying; “John, you know who I am and you have to be content with what you know.”
After addressing John’s disciples Jesus had much more to say. He explained the ministry of John and in Matthew 11:12 proclaimed; “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” What a dramatic statement. Violence! Did Jesus actually mean physical violence? There is some room for interpretation which is supported by a similar account in Luke 16:16. Here is another way to view what Jesus said; “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is advancing rapidly, and determined men lay hold of it.” I’ll take a little liberty here to make a point. It is possible Jesus was teaching; “The ‘kingdom of heaven’ advances regardless of the emotion of the moment.”
What does that mean for us? Have any of us ever questioned God? Be honest! Doubting is human nature when things to go amiss. We all have times where we find ourselves wondering where God is in our circumstances and find ourselves asking; “Are You there Lord?” That’s the question John the Baptist asked in the depths of his despair and the answer Jesus gave John is the same answer He gives us. It’s a simple answer but not always easy to accept and sometimes even more difficult to embrace. We must rest on faith which is defined in Hebrews 11:1 as “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We have to go with what we know rather that how we feel. We must be determined as the apostle Paul to “…press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12
The next time we find ourselves at the bottom of a valley and our doubting human nature asks; “Are You there Lord?” Rest in the assurance of what we know, remembering; “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven is advancing rapidly, and determined men lay hold of it.”
“My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ, my righteousness; I dare not trust the sweetest frame, But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
The Laborers are Few
According to Mathew 9:35-38 Jesus went throughout “all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom (v35).” At some point He felt compassion for the crowds “because they were distressed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd (v36).” Jesus looked at His disciples and said, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest (v37-38).”
These verses are often taught as a backdrop to garner monetary support of mission programs. Coming from a Baptist background I can’t tell you how many times I heard Matthew 9:35-38 taught during the Lottie Moon offering season. But, is this what Jesus actually meant? Did He want us to pray for God to call missionaries? Did Jesus want to spur us to give money to support others who feel called to be a missionary?
Perhaps the Savior had something else in mind. When we stop at Matthew 9:38 we don’t have a complete picture of the salient point Jesus wanted to communicate. When Jesus said, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” He was preparing the disciples for ministry. They had seen how Jesus traveled through cities and villages spreading the gospel. They’d watched as He healed, comforted and forgave and He was about to ask the disciples to become laborers in God’s harvest.
First let’s review some observations about Matthew 9:35-38:
- Jesus went to cities and villages proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom
- He saw the number of people (the crowds)
- He felt compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd
- He knew from the start that one worker was not enough
Jesus recognized the need, “the harvest is plentiful.” He was also aware “the workers are few” but was the answer to “pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest?” Did He intend to stop there? In order to understand more fully we must read further in Matthew 10:1-15. Jesus wasted no time as He began to speak, “He called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction.” He paired them up, gave them instructions then sent them out; “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (v5-7).” There are five key things Jesus covered in commissioning the new harvest workers:
- He sent them in pairs (for mutual support)
- He gave them His authority
- He did not send them to foreigners (Gentiles and Samaritans)
- He sent them to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (within their sphere of influence)
- He gave them a simple message; “The kingdom of heaven is at hand”
Jesus gave them mutual support, authority, an audience and a simple message but He didn’t tell them to fund a foreign missions program or become a foreign missionary themselves. He also used that pesky verb “poreuomai” for “Go” in the “Great Commission” (Fear is not an Option the Parable of the Sower). He commanded them to ”proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ (v7).” In other words the message was simple, the instructions were clear and the authority was God’s. While Jesus provided the covering, the method and the message He also provided a warning, “..if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town…Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (v14,16,22)” Just like the parable of the sower, where seed fell in four different places but only seed that fell in one place produced fruit, not everyone will receive the gospel message. As a matter of fact some will be absolutely hostile to the gospel message resulting in persecution. Nevertheless, the command was to continue. In the parable of the sower there is no indication the sower ever stopped sowing and in the case of the harvest workers the message was to “endure to the end.” Now the disciples are aware of the identity of the “Lord of the harvest”, the identity of the workers, the mission and the mission’s operational parameters.
In that context let’s look at a synopsis of the commission in Matthew 10:1,6-7,20,22; “He called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority….go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’…it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you…the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Now compare that commission to the “The Great Commission” in Matthew 28:18-20; “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There are clear parallels within the two commissions:
- Jesus provides the covering of His authority
- The command is to go
- The purpose is to proclaim
- He’s always present (through the Holy Spirit)
- Continue to the end
In both cases the disciples were given authority then commanded to go and proclaim. Whether within a sphere of influence or across the world the command is the same; “Go” and “Proclaim” under the authority of the Lord of the harvest Himself. In neither case is there a guarantee of acceptance but simply a command to “Go” and “Proclaim”. Not everyone will listen, not everyone will respond to the good news of the gospel and some will display hate and persecute the bearers of the good news. Jesus prepared the disciples for this by promising the power of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 10:19-20, “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you,” and He promised His presence in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you until the end of the age.”
The authority is clear, the command is direct, the message is simple and His presence is assured. No seminary training required. No special degrees, training, ordination or any other accolade of man. No guarantees of success but a directive to continue. Jesus gave His authority to proclaim a simple message trusting His Holy Spirit until…
The question is simple, “Do we put some money in a envelope and call it a day?” Or “Do we, us, you and me, personally ‘endure to the end’ proclaiming the good news of the gospel wherever we go under the authority He has given while trusting the Holy Spirit for guidance?”
Isaiah 6:8 “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Tares and Wheat
Have you ever planted a garden and when things started to sprout wonder, “how did these weeds get in this garden? Didn’t I plant good seed here?” This is particularly true if you plant potatoes. When potatoes come up and start growing they just look like weeds and real weeds grow up among the potato plants which are difficult to distinguish until they begin to bear fruit.
Today we’ll look at the story of the “Wheat and the Tares” in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 but I want to begin with a passage in Second Corinthians 11:14-15. Here the apostle Paul makes a very interesting observation, “…for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” It is with this backdrop we will look at the parable of the “Wheat and the Tares.”
In the parable Jesus describes a man who planted “good seed (wheat)” in his field. But while the workers were sleeping an enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat. Now tares are not just any weed but most likely a plant called darnel and it’s nearly impossible to distinguish between wheat and darnel until the heads of grain begin to form. As the fruit began to be revealed the workers noticed, “Sir did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? v27.” “…An enemy has done this! v28,” the owner acknowledged. Now the workers were concerned and wanted to do do something about it, “…do you want us to go gather them up? v28,” they asked. The owner answered with confidence, “no, because while you gather them you may uproot the good wheat. Allow them to remain until the harvest then gather the tares first and burn them. Then gather the wheat into the storehouse v29-30.”
Later, in verses 36-43, Jesus explained that He was the sower, the good seed is the sons of the kingdom, the bad seed is the sons of the evil one and the enemy is the devil. Let’s back up one verse in Second Corinthians 11 to verse 13, “…such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.” So now we can draw the parallel between the passage in Matthew 13 and Second Corinthians 11. In the parable the enemy of the owner planted a counterfeit and in Second Corinthians Satan created counterfeits. Now we clearly see in both cases Satan’s intent is to make it difficult to tell the difference until the fruit begins to mature. Therefore, we must be vigilant because the enemy doesn’t come to us in a red suit with horns and a pitch fork but with the appearance of an angel, “an angel of light.”
How chilling it is, in today’s day in age, to realize there are those who present themselves as apostles of Christ but are actually representatives of Satan himself. How do we know the difference? What are the warning signs? Christians must never assume someone to be Godly because they are popular, eloquent or charismatic. Democracy doesn’t imply God pleasing outcome any more than polls or popular opinion imply righteousness and “most people think” does not represent God’s Word any more than “scientific evidence” indicates the eternal truth of God.
So what can we do to recognize Satan’s counterfeits? One way to identify deception is by observing direction. Jesus told us how to chose a direction and why in Matthew 7:13-14; “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Jesus continued in verses 15-17, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit…every good tree bears good fruit but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” We see this today with crowds flooding toward theology and political dogma under the direction of those who bear fruit which doesn’t measure up to God’s Word. The sad outcome here is the crowds will find out as their fruit reaches maturity they were fooled by a counterfeit?
When it comes to recognizing tares and wheat, Christians must stay in God’s Word, pray fervently and trust His Holy Spirit to identify evil. If the largest crowd is on a wide path, heading through a large gate, odds are we need to turn around and start looking for a small gate with a narrow path. If we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness it is certain the fruit which matures at the top of our stalk will be wheat and we will not be fooled by the darnel!
Acts 1:8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
A Sower Went Out to Sow
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus commanded, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…” The word “Go” is from the root word poreuomai which means to go. But Jesus used the passive participle in the plural form meaning “All of you having gone out.” Jesus literally meant while you are going, as you are going, wherever you are going, “make disciples.”
Today we’re going to look at the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9 “…A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
In this parable the sower having gone out to sow, again Jesus used an active participle, began spreading seeds. One of the most interesting things about this scripture is the sower did not carefully pick the soil on which he sowed. It seemed as though he sowed indiscriminately, almost carelessly. Some seed fell along the road, some among the rocks, some among the weeds and some on the good soil. Today many would say he wasted seed and he should have been more judicious in targeting the location he intended to so. Perhaps some may imply the sower was foolish for wasting seed.
I believe Jesus was making a very different point. What if Jesus intended to demonstrate that the sower sowed the seed everywhere? In His response to the disciples Jesus did not indicate all of the good ground was commonly located he simply noted that some “fell on good ground.” Jesus was making a point, the sower sowed wherever he could reach with the seed. Perhaps the sower didn’t know which ground was best, where the rocks were or where the weeds would come up. He was simply motivated to sow as much as he could sow in every place he could throw seed.
The real meaning of the parable becomes clear in the explanation Jesus gave the disciples. Matthew 13:19-23 “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Jesus used the phrase “hears the word” four times to describe seed that fell on different soil types in the parable. In only one case the one who “hears the word” produced fruit. Three to one, one in four, twenty-five percent produced fruit. It’s clear the Lord gave us this parable to help us understand that we must spread the word of the kingdom, the good news of the gospel, with as many people as possible even if we don’t know how the hearer will respond. Remember poreuomai? “As you are going” … “make disciples of all nations.”
Today, we have been instilled with a prodigious and paralyzing fear of failure. We analyze and fret fearfully over whether or not to share the gospel. We pine over who will listen. We’re afraid of the response. We’re afraid someone will reject the gospel. We’re afraid we will be rejected. So, often times, we simply invite people to church so the highly trained pastor can share the gospel with them. Few things are more disheartening than to hear a Christian invite someone to church. What a monumental cop out which is no doubt a deception of the adversary. What would please the evil one more than for Christians to believe they are fulfilling they responsibility to share the gospel by inviting someone to church. “But, they might come to church,” may come the reply. In reality, “probably not.” If they don’t come to church they may never hear the good news of the gospel. They may never be faced with the fact that their sin separates them from a Holy and perfect God leaving them doomed for eternity. The most telling thing is there are no commands in the bible to invite someone to church but there is a command to make disciples. “Invite them to church” is rooted in a man-centered conundrum called “fear of failure” but “Go and make disciples of all nations” is a command given by Jesus Himself.
Let’s ask a question; “How many times have we heard the gospel invitation at the end of a sermon?” Shouldn’t we have memorized it by now? The gospel is simple, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” John 3:16. “For by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of itself, it is the gift of God lest any man should boast” Ephesians 2:8. “Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained our introduction by faith into the grace in which we now stand and we exalt in the hope of the glory of God” Romans 5:1-2. These simple verses have changed lives since the time they were written. They offer “love”, “eternal life”, “salvation”, “peace” and “hope”. No theology degrees required, no special training, no special gifting or dispensation, simply a desire to spread the good news of the kingdom of God as Jesus commanded.
Fear is not an option!
Be a sower who went out to sow! Sow everywhere! Sow fearlessly!
Position of Forgiveness
Degree is one of those words that is used to describe a number of different things, temperature, education or position. One thing all of these have in common is classifying things higher or lower based on some criteria. For instance, a boiling temperature is higher than freezing temperature, a doctorate is a higher level of education than a masters, a supreme court justice has a higher position than an appellate court justice. By nature we tend to classify things and justify our position according to our own perspective.
Today we’ll look at the story of the sinful woman and the Pharisee in Luke 7:36-47. We will see both Jesus and the Pharisee saw things in degrees but their perspective was very different. The story begins when the Pharisee asked Jesus to dinner so He went to the Pharisees house and reclined at the table. As he did so a sinful woman came in and began to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. She then began kissing His feet and finally anointed the feet of the Savior with ointment. As this sinful woman performed this wonderful expression of love for Jesus the Pharisee thought to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner (v39).” Jesus knew what the Pharisee was thinking and spoke, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher (v40).”
In answer Jesus told a story, “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more? (v41-42).” The Pharisee, still focused on the sinner in his house, answered grudgingly, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt (v43).” He’d missed Jesus whole point, Simon was still focused on the sin of the woman but Jesus was zeroed in on what was in Simon’s heart. His response laid out the things that Simon had done to violate his own cultural practices,“…turning toward the woman he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little’ (v44-47).”
Notice Jesus pointed out Simon did not perform customary hospitality for Him. “You gave me no water or kiss” and “You did not anoint my head” are telling statements. Other Pharisees would have been offended had Simon not done those things for them and, because there were others at the table, the implication is Simon may have followed the customs for them but not for Jesus. Simon saw things in degrees, himself as the “clean,” highly educated lawyer and Jesus as one who claimed to be a teacher but indulged sinners like the woman. In other words, self-exaltation caused him to miss the degree of his own sin and I believe we as Christians sometimes engage in the same practice. Our human nature drives to compare degrees of sinfulness forgetting the tiniest thing we do to displease God would separate us from Him eternally apart from the forgiveness that Jesus provided for us. The question is, “what drove this sinful woman to enter the house of a Pharisee where she knew she was unwelcome?” Jesus gave a clear answer, “for she loved much (v47).” Her tears demonstrated her sorrow with her own sinful nature and her actions demonstrated her love for the Lord.
Now we have to ask some tough questions:
- Do our sins break our heart to the degree we bath the Saviors feet with our tears?
- Do we love Jesus more because we recognize how much He has forgiven us?
- Do we ever allow our position in the Kingdom of God to become arrogance to the degree we condemn others without examining ourselves?
- Do we ever loose sight of the fact that we need God’s Love to love others?
May our love for God and recognition of our own sinful nature drive us to maintain a position of forgiveness never forgetting there are degrees and degrees!
Love Your Neighbor?
Following the Sermon on the mount Jesus began teaching His disciples concepts that were foreign to their cultural upbringing as Jews. He used a teaching with which He knew they would identify, “You SHALL Love Your Neighbors (Lev 19:18), and hate your enemies (Duet 23:6)” Matthew 5:43. The disciples nodded and agreed with vocal signs of approval but Jesus proceeded to turn their theology upside down. I can only imagine the letdown as He continued to instruct the fisherman, tax collectors and physicians, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” Matthew 5:44-45. They gasped with wide eyes and hands held out as they grumbled, “what the heck?” in Aramaic or Greek. Now the disciples sat completely taken back as Jesus continued, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? ” Matthew 5:46-47. Wait! What? “But our enemies hate us!”, they grumbled but Jesus persisted, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Matthew 5:48.
The concept of loving our enemies is simply in juxtaposition with human nature. None of us want to love those who hate us. None of us want to want to pray for those who persecute us. But Jesus was clear “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
This teaching forces us to think about those whose political ideology is so evil we can’t imagine how God could bless them but Jesus was clear, “For He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” As Christians we must accept what Jesus teaches as truth though our human nature wants so badly for that not to be the case. Furthermore, the truth of Jesus’ words is inescapable and we are to “Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us” as He taught His disciples. The thought was foreign to the disciples culturally and it is foreign to our human nature.
As we watch the news and see the hate and vitriol directed at Christianity we must push aside our desire to be angry, get down on our knees, ask God to give us His Love for those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us for our faith.
Tax Collectors and Sinners
“Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” The Pharisees asked His disciples in Mark 2:16. The response is telling about our generation today and how we respond to sinners. The scribes, Pharisees and Jewish people in general had a disdain for tax collectors and particularly those who were Jews. Note the special distinction between tax collectors and sinners. The delineation is clear in companion passages in both Mark and Matthew. Tax collectors were considered even worse than sinners. Tax collectors were though even worse than sinners and considered cheats, liars, shakedown artists and extortionists who were allied with the Romans. They broke every rule in the book, so to speak.
The question is: “How is that any different today?”
- How do we as Christians view sinners?
- Are we like the scribes and Pharisees?
- Do we view sin according to our rules?
- Do we disdain those who are deceived by the evil one?
- Do we apply our cultural prejudices to those who don’t measure up to our standard?
- Do we exact judgment based on the tradition of man?
These are question those of us who consider ourselves “Evangelical” must ask ourselves. Are we like the scribes and Pharisees believing we are better than sinners? Before we explore the questions let’s see how Jesus responded. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Mark 2:17
Now that we have Jesus’ perspective let’s ask some questions:
- How do we feel about homosexuality?
- How do we feel about adultery?
- How do we feel about those who sell and take drugs or consume alcohol?
- How do we feel about those who do not have the same Godly moral compass?
These are real questions to consider. Is our heart hardened to those we consider sinners as was the heart of the Pharisees? Or, do we feel compassion for those who are caught up in sin as does Jesus? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the old saying, “you don’t smoke, drink and chew and you don’t run around with the boys that do.” That statement actually does have biblical roots. In 1 Corinthians 15:33 Paul extorts the listeners, “Do not be deceived, ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” So there it is, you don’t hang around with sinners. Right?
It all depends on motive and focus. Jesus did not call the sinners to come to Him he went and ate with the sinners (which was a huge religious no-no in that age). He ate with them but His desire was not to be included in their sinful behavior but call them out of it. Jesus was bathed in prayer and often retreated to be with the Father. In John 5:19 Jesus said “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son does in like manner.” Jesus’ desire was to call people out of sin. His motive was to see mankind reconciled to God. He knew very well the people He dined with sinners where they were but His goal was to demonstrate God’s grace and forgiveness rather than ostracizing, isolating, excluding and avoiding those who didn’t measure up to the religious standard.
The question for we evangelicals is; “How do we measure up apart from Jesus?” Do we see people as sinners as lowlifes who are worthy to be ostracized, isolated, excluded and avoided because they don’t measure up to our religious standard? Or do our hearts break that they are dying in sin apart from the wonderful love of God through Jesus Christ?