Story 89: The Tender Love of the Lord

Matt. 9:18-26; Mark 5:21-43; Luke 8:40-56

stained glass window

Imagine what it was like to be a disciple of Jesus. They saw Him heal with a power nobody had ever seen before. They stood by Him as He confronted the most influential men of His day. They watched Him silence the storm with a word. They saw Him restore a wildly dangerous man to sanity, calming the storms in his heart and mind.

Such utter victory seemed to flow through this magnetic Teacher. He looked so different from the Messiah they had been taught to look for all their lives, but as they were given glimpses of His majesty, the disciples of the Lord were growing in their faith. Here was a Man that they would follow even if the religious leaders of the nation were against Him. Here was Someone that they would be loyal to even when His family and the great multitudes rejected Him. Even if it happened over and over again.

The people of Garasenes were so terrified by the transformation of the demonized man that they sent Jesus away. As Jesus climbed back into the boat to leave the region, His disciples went with Him.

Did they wonder how it was possible that so many rejected Him? Were they angry at the Garasene townspeople who had missed the glory of the miracle? How could these people ask Jesus to leave? Were they amazed that out of all these people, they were the ones who had been given the treasure of believing faith?

The Lord Jesus and His followers sailed back to the region of Galilee. The great crowds of people were there waiting for Him before His boat landed. Jesus stayed with the crowd along the shore.

As He was teaching, a man came up to Him and fell at His feet. It was Jairus, one of the officials who ran the local synagogue. What could possibly bring him to Jesus, the Man that the rabbi’s and religious leaders of Jerusalem were seeking to put to death?

Jairus had only one daughter, and she was twelve years old. At that very moment, she was lying in her bed close to death. In desperation, this loving father had come to search out the only hope he had left for his girl. His crisis moved him past the social pressures that might have otherwise kept him away.  He begged the Lord from the deep anguish that was in his heart, “‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put Your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’”

Jesus immediately rose up and went with Jairus. The crowds followed Him as well, pressing in all around Him and crushing Him as He moved forward. Can you imagine the scene as they walked to Jairus’ home?

As they went, a woman crept up behind Jesus in the crowd. She had been suffering for twelve years from bleeding. She had gone to many doctors and been through many difficult treatments as they tried to help her. The woman had spent all the money she had in search of healing, but nothing had worked. She had only gotten worse. Imagine how it would feel to constantly bleed. The constant washing, the smell, the way her Jewish family and friends would have to distance themselves because her blood made her ritually unclean. What a painful, lonely life! And it had been a long loneliness. Twelve years in isolation and shame is very, very long. But she had heard about Jesus, and word of His remarkable healings had given her hope.

She inched her way up to Jesus through the dense crowd, thinking that if she only touched His cloak, she would be made well. She didn’t want His attention, she was ritually unclean, and anyone who touched her would become unclean. And she didn’t want to bother Him. Perhaps if she only touched the hem of His garment, He wouldn’t even notice! She reached out for Him, and when her hand fell upon the fabric of His clothes, she felt the flow of her blood dry up. She knew, after so many years of living with her condition, that her dreadful affliction was gone. She was healed.

Jesus felt the power go out from Him, and He turned around. “‘Who touched Me?’” He asked. Everyone around Jesus denied that they had purposely touched him. Peter said, “‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’”

But Jesus knew that in the midst of all the movement of the crowd, someone had reached out and touched Him with their need and with faith. “‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from Me,’” He explained. Whoever it was mattered enough to the Lord to stop in the middle of the surging crowd on His way towards another urgent need.

The woman was terribly afraid. She knew she could not get away without being noticed, and she understood the majesty of the Man who was asking for her. She trembled and fell to the ground at His feet. She told Him the whole truth in front of the entire crowd.

Jesus looked down and said to her, “‘Daughter, take courage. Your faith has made you well: go in peace and be healed of your affliction.’” I’m not sure how you hear the voice of Christ in your mind as you read this, but try reading it with the extreme tenderness and gentleness that words seem to imply. What an incredible moment for that precious woman.  What a remarkable thing for the crowd to witness…this broken that they had likely shunned for years treated with such love by the man they were all enthralled with.  Jesus had a way of walking into the sinful dynamics of humanity’s failure to love and bring incredible goodness and truth.

What a beautiful Savior! What a powerful Lord! What an amazing effect the woman’s faith had on that power! But the greatest blessing of all was that Jesus called her “daughter.” She had become a member of the Lord’s family of faith.

Even as Jesus was saying these words, someone came from Jairus’ home. They said, “‘Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any longer?’”

Jesus ignored the discouraging message. He turned to Jairus and said, “‘Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.’” Imagine what the rest of the road felt like for Jairus as they made their way to his house! As they went inside, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone come with Him except Peter, James, John, and the girl’s parents.

The house was already full of people and was in noisy disorder. Professional mourners had come to weep and wail over the death of the girl. There were flute players and loud laments. The Lord said, “‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.’”

Jesus had not seen the girl yet.  How did He know whether she was dead or not? Well, the fact is that she had died, but Jesus had come to raise her back to life. He had full confidence in front of all those mourners to declare that He was about to make His own words true! Death had no real power in the presence of the Lord of all Creation.

The people who had come to show their grief over the girl broke out into cynical laughter at the words of Christ. Who did He think He was? They were certain she was dead! These people who were paid to come and mourn the death of the girl could easily sneer at the hope of her healing. Very false people, indeed

The Lord said, “‘Depart; for the girl has not died, but is asleep.’” The crowd was put out of the house, and the three disciples and the parents went with Jesus to see the girl. The Lord took the child by the hand and said, “‘Talitha, kum!’” That means “‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!’” The spirit of the girl returned to her, and she got up immediately and began to walk around. He had not only raised her from the dead, He had restored her full strength and health! The parents and the disciples were utterly amazed.

Jesus had not done this miracle to impress the crowds or send a message to the world. The Lord acted out of compassion for a desperate father and a little child whose lives had been marred by the Curse. He didn’t want the message of this wonderful miracle to spread. He gave them orders not to tell anyone. Just as Jesus had changed from open proclamation of the Kingdom to teaching through the veil of parables, the miracles were now acts of secret, quiet compassion. These treasures belonged only to those who believed. Those who scorned the works of God lost the privilege to see His wonder. The spiritual leaders of Israel had committed an extreme sin, showing that their hearts were utterly hardened. From this point on, the Lord Jesus would be very selective about who He revealed His Gospel to.

After the little girl was up and healthy, Jesus reminded them to feed her. In the midst of all that was going on around Him, the Lord was mindful of the simple needs of the child. He loved her with the same attentive care that He had loved the bleeding woman. They both had great value in His sight.

Somehow, rumors of the miracle ended up spreading throughout the land of the Jews. Imagine the Pharisees of Galilee who already wanted Jesus dead. What did they do when they learned He had raised the daughter of Jairus to life? Imagine the gasp through the crowds as rumors of yet another miracle spread. Imagine how the talk went as travelers walked the road to Jerusalem, sharing the latest remarkable news about this Jesus who roamed the hills of Galilee. What did the religious leaders in Jerusalem do when they found out that just days after they had declared that Jesus was empowered by Satan, He had raised the daughter of a synagogue leader from the dead?!

Story 88: From Devastation to Transformation

Matt. 8:28; Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:22-25

Jesus healing the demoniac boy

The Lord Jesus calmed the mighty storm. Imagine it. All the winds and waves raging, creating a terrifying howl, filling your boat with water…and then up He rises… commands…and everything slows to calm.

Jesus and His bewildered disciples sailed their boats to the other side of the Sea to a region of the Garasenes. Many Gentiles lived there. When they got out of the boats, a man came towards them. He had been roaming around the lonely tombs that were cut into the rocky hills around the water.

The man was from the local city, but had been driven out because he was dangerous. He was possessed by powerful demons, and they had driven him insane. He had been bound in chains on his hands and feet and put under guard, but the demons gave him supernatural strength to break free. He simply tore the shackles apart. Nobody was strong enough to control him or keep him from harming others. The people of the nearby cities ran him out of town. He had lived among the tombs for many years, naked and isolated, with no home of his own.

Imagine the terror this one man brought to the people of their area! He was so violent that nobody could pass through his direction on the road.   Yet the worst victim was the man himself. Day and night he cut himself and slashed his own skin with rocks. What terrible bondage!

The evil one and all his demonic followers long to destroy humankind. This desperate soul shows exactly what they would like to do to the rest of us if they could.

When the man first saw Jesus, he was far away. The demonic forces drove him to run frantically towards Christ. Jesus commanded, “‘Come out of this man, you evil spirit!’” The man fell at Jesus’ feet and cried out with a loud wail, “‘What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Have you come to torture us before the appointed time?’”

The demons were talking through this man, using his throat and his mouth, and they were being extremely rude. They were basically telling Jesus to mind His own business.

Isn’t it interesting that they knew exactly who Jesus was? Deep in past eternity, the demonic beings had been angels, serving God in Heaven. Jesus was there with them, the Son of the Father who sits on the Everlasting Throne. They had seen the Him in all His divine majesty! In spite of their privileged position in the eternal realms, they chose to rebel against God…and His Son. Now they were confronted with His presence; they understood His power, and they couldn’t stand it.

The evil spirits also knew that their time to torture and harass humanity was not going to last forever. When they complained that Jesus might torture them before the appointed time, they were talking about the day when God will judge the wicked spirits just like He will judge wicked, unrepentant humans. They will all be punished at the end of this Age. These demonic beings were afraid that the Son of God might send them to their punishment ahead of time!

Did you notice that they did not argue about Jesus’ power? They seemed to know that they couldn’t trick Him or have any real power against Him. These deceitful, low down, dirty spirits knew exactly how powerful He was…and is.

Jesus asked him, “‘What is your name?’”

“‘My name is Legion,’ he replied, ‘for we are many’”

Wow. A legion was a troop of Roman soldiers that could be made of up to 6,000 men. There were many, many demonic spirits tormenting this terrible wretch.

They kept begging Jesus not to send them into the Abyss, the place they knew they would end up in eternal torment.
Out in the distance, there was a large herd of pigs… at least 2,000…feeding along the mountainside. The demons began to beg Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.’” Anything was better than being sent into the Abyss!

So Jesus gave them permission, saying, “‘Begone!’”

The demons came out of the man and went into the pigs. Their evil presence sent all those pigs into a mad stampede down the steep side of the hill. In their madness they rushed into the sea and drowned in its waters. Imagine the thundering of their hooves, the splashing chaos, and the squeals of the helpless creatures. Imagine the shock of the herdsmen as their animals fled to their own deaths. This was the world the demons wanted to create. They brought insanity, life among the tombs of death, self-hatred and self wounding, and total destruction of property. Whoever owned those pigs lost a great amount of their wealth that day.

The herdsmen ran off to the city and began telling everyone what had happened because of the demonized man. People began to come out to see.   Pretty soon, the whole city was there. When they arrived, they saw the man who had been tormented by a legion of demons. Only now, he was sitting quietly at the feet of the Lord Jesus. He was fully clothed and in his right mind.

When the crowds saw this, they were terrified. They had lived for years with this man’s horrible behavior. They had agonized over how to stop him and protect themselves from his violence and terror. They had guarded their children from him and changed their paths to avoid him. They were fully aware of how impossible it was for this man to be okay. They were deeply aware of the miracle, and they were terrified.

The men who had seen it all happened started to tell the crowd how Jesus had cast the demons out. They explained how the pigs rushed into the water. The people of Gerasenes and the whole region around began to beg Jesus to leave. They did not want this Man in their region.

So Jesus went down and began to climb into the boat. The man who was set free came to Jesus and pleaded with him. He wanted to go with the Lord! But Jesus sent him back. He said, “‘Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.’”

Imagine how painful this man’s insanity had been for his family for all those years. Imagine how amazed and happy they were to see him calm, in his right mind, and able to share life with them. The Lord Jesus had restored life in a beautiful way. It was not just for this one man, but for all those who loved him as well.

The man was so deeply grateful to Jesus that he began to go around the whole region of the Decapolis proclaiming the Good News of what Jesus had done for him. The Decapolis was a region of ten cities that was almost completely on the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River from the nation of Israel. It was Gentile territory. The people that lived there were despised by the Jewish people. But now, this man…this Gentile…who had been in such wretched bondage to evil was going out to those regions and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ! God had chosen him for the most sacred task of all! He became a herald for the King of kings and Lord of lords!

Story 87: Jesus Calms the Storm

Matt. 13:53; 8:18, 23-27; Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25

Jesus Calms a Storm on the Sea

Evening had come, and the Lord was tired. Jesus was fully God, but He had willingly laid aside the privileges of His divine powers and taken on the form of a man when He came to save us.  That included taking on our human frailties.   Yet the massive crowds continued to press around Jesus. There was no escaping them in Capernaum. So the Lord told His disciples, “‘Let’s go to the other side of the lake.’” The disciples left the crowds and they all got into a boat. There were other boats that came along, too, full of His faithful band of friends.

Jesus went to the stern of the boat and laid His head down on a cushion. But then a wind started to blow. It rose and rose into a fierce wind, and soon, a tremendous storm was upon them. Large waves hit the boat and shook it, filling it with water. It was getting dangerous.

When the disciples looked to see what Jesus was doing, they saw that He was fast asleep! Why wasn’t He trying to help them? So they woke Him and said, “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’”

Jesus woke up to the terrified faces of His disciples, the wild screaming of the wind, and the waves battering and rocking the boat. He rose to His feet, looked out upon the waters, and rebuked the wind and the waves saying, “‘Hush, be still.’” Instantly, the wind slowed to a calm and the rushing waves laid back down in the deep waters. The thundering storm came to perfect rest.

Can you imagine the magnificence of that moment? Can you imagine the surging power and authority behind the strong and confident command of Christ? He was completely certain of His mastery as the Son of the Living God.

For a moment, the Man that the disciples walked with every day was revealed for the mighty Lord that He is, far above the powers of this world, and perfectly able to wield complete control with a simple command.

He turned to His disciples and said, “‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’”

The disciples were in awe. What would you do if your teacher stood up in front of you and showed mastery over the forces of nature? The disciples looked at each other in wonder, and a kind of deep, reverent fear. There was power in this Man that they had not imagined. “‘What kind of Man is this?’” they asked each other, “‘Even the winds and the wave obey Him!’”

The disciples had shown faith in the Lord already. They had chosen to get in the boat with Christ just as it was becoming certain that the most powerful religious leaders of their nation were going to come against Him with a vengeance. But He had called His disciples family. He said they were His brothers and sisters. They belonged to Him, and they had chosen to follow Him all the way.

As a result, much had been given to the disciples. The Spirit gave them eyes to see and ears to hear the glory of what was happening in Jesus. And because they followed that leading, they witnessed something nobody else got to see. They got to watch Christ wield power over nature.

It is interesting to think about what other choices the disciples could have made. They could have walked away from Jesus when the powerful religious leaders from Jerusalem came against Him. They could have been offended that Jesus didn’t go with His family. They could have questioned Jesus about why He was leaving the crowd when there were still people in need. Instead, they obeyed. They got into the boat and headed for the other side of the Galilean Sea.

Jesus had traveled all over Galilee, but this time He was headed for the region of the Gerasenes. It was an area where a lot of Gentiles lived. These people were not a part of the nation of Israel, and the Jews considered them unclean. They wouldn’t even sit down with them to eat.

In the Old Testament, the Lord had commanded the nation of Israel to keep separate from the surrounding nations. God wanted His people to be pure from the idolatry and wickedness that polluted the daily lives of others. But He also spoke to His people about how they should treat foreigners in their own country. Foreigners are usually vulnerable in a land where a different language is spoken and where prejudice and bigotry can be oppressively cruel. But according to the Old Testament, foreigners in Israel had the protection of God.

From the very beginning of the first covenant that God made with Abraham, Israel was supposed to be a blessing to all the nations of the world. They were to act as the priests of the earth, teaching and training the cursed and burdened human race about the ways of the Most High God through their own holy lives. Throughout their long history, they had often stumbled and failed, but now they had met their ultimate failure. They had rejected their Messiah. Now the Lord was going to begin to take salvation to the Gentiles Himself. The nation of Israel had rejected their opportunity to honor the Messiah, but God would not allow that to stop His plans to bring redemption to humanity.

As Jesus and His disciples got in the boat, they sailed away from the Jewish shore and moved towards the region of the Gentiles. Christ was taking his message out to the lost, crossing out from God’s covenant with the nation of Israel through Moses and into a new era…a new covenant. As they went, a fierce and raging storm came against them, but it held no real power. All He had to do was speak, and by His absolute authority, the storm was over.

Story 86: Parables of the Kingdom: Hidden Treasures and the Heavenly Vision

Matthew 13:44-52

Fairytale Castle

When we hear about Heaven or the Kingdom of God, it can be hard to grasp how amazing it will be. The streets will be lined with gold and Christ Himself will be our source of constant, radiant light. It is almost as if the dream of what is coming is hidden in the hearts of humanity. We imagine it in our art, we create visions of utopia in our books, and we long for it in our souls. That yearning is not there because we are a delusional race. It is there because it is what we were made for.

Jesus continued to teach parables to help his disciples understand how the Kingdom of God would work in the world as true believers waited for Him to return.   These next two parables explain the great worth of the Kingdom of God:

 “‘The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all that he had and bought the field.’”

Wow. When Jesus tells a story, we are meant to spend a little time pondering it. We will understand more of it’s meaning if we picture it in our heads, think about what it would be like to be the person in the story, and allow it to affect our emotions. When we give these stories our time and deep attention, they work with greater power in the deep places of who we are.

Imagine if you were digging in a field and you found a bag of something worth millions upon millions of dollars…gold or diamonds or ancient artifacts. It is enough to not only buy the field, but to change your whole life. You would have the power to buy new homes and cars for everyone you love. You would never have to work again. You could travel, buy all the fanciest new clothes and cell phones and gadgets. You would always get the best medical care, you could always pay for your family members to go to the best doctors. The terrible pressures of every day life would completely change.

Imagine the happiness of that man in the story as he thought about all the wonderful things that treasure would bring him. But as helpful as many of the things that money can buy truly are, they are nothing in comparison to the vastly greater hope of God’s Kingdom. The excitement that is so easy to imagine of the man who suddenly became a billionaire is the same excitement that Jesus said we should feel about becoming members of God’s Kingdom. It is so great, in fact, that it is worth getting rid of everything else…including a ton of money…in order to get it.

Jesus told this parable to show us a lot of things about ourselves. For many, this story will seem strange because they know they would never be as excited about the things of God as they would be about becoming a millionaire…especially if the things of God require sacrifice. Jesus understood that we find it hard to fully grasp what He is offering us. It is much easier to imagine ourselves in a new car than living in the eternal realms.  When we get to Heaven and live forever and ever in total joy and happiness, we will begin to understand how silly we were to put all our hope in things like cell phones that will die the minute we accidentally drop them in the toilet. With this story, Jesus is inviting us to realize that we can already begin to live in the wild happiness and excitement of being the extravagantly spiritually wealthy members of His Kingdom.

That is the right response of the heart to the splendid, unspeakably great gift of the Gospel. We can measure our own hearts against the heart of the man in the parable. Does our excitement about the Kingdom match his excitement and joy? Are we willing to give up everything for it? Or are we dull in spirit and blinded to its tremendous worth? Are we more like the disciples who understood that following Jesus was more important than any other thing in life? Or are we like the crowds who could not see the glory of who Jesus is? Jesus told another parable to help His followers understand the great value of what they had found in Him:

“‘Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’”

It is interesting to see that Jesus did not offer the Kingdom as one option among many. This treasure is the only option. God is the only thing in the universe we can really hang our hopes on. In God’s wonderful grace, He keeps the whole universe going in all its beauty and glory. He continues to give life and breath to every living thing, even the ones that are in horrific rebellion against Him. He doesn’t declare that He is the only treasure because He is selfish…He declares it because He really is the treasure. He’s just being honest.

Because He is generous and loving, there are many things God has created that give joy, pleasure, a sense of stability…the deeply satisfying things of life.  But each of those things only function in the human soul in a healthy way when they are received with gratitude towards Him.  The minute He isn’t the center, we turn those things into idols.  We start to worship them as our answer to life.  We come to find our identity and hope in having them.  Eventually, they will become gods that control us.  Instead of being gifts that draw us nearer to God as we express thankfulness, they cause us to draw away from Him in increasing rebellion and self sufficiency.

For those who choose to love evil and embrace the Kingdom of Darkness…for those don’t seek God’s Kingdom as their Great Treasure…there will come a time when God will remove His wondrous gifts of grace. The ungrateful and the wicked will be separated from all His blessings permanently. God has continued to sustain the world for thousands of years, but the Day of the Lord is coming and it will bring that to an end. We won’t be able to choose His gifts over Him anymore.  In fact, our ability to make any choices at all will be gone.  This is what Jesus said:

“‘Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

Road to hell. Religion metaphor.That is a sobering thought if there ever was one. Imagine what separation from the only source of Good in the world will bring. Weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is a terrible darkness that Jesus came to save us from, and the greatest tragedy is that so many will refuse to receive His offer.

When Jesus finished with this parable, He asked His disciples if they understood. They said yes. Things were finally starting to make sense.

Jesus knew that these revelations were secrets of God that had been hidden since before He made the world. The disciples were learning a magnificent new part of God’s plan that had not been revealed to the prophets of old. They were learning how the prophecies of the Old Testament about the Messiah and the Day of the Lord fit in with the new things that God was revealing through His Son. This is how Jesus described it:

“‘Therefore, every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’”

Jesus was describing the ideal here.  The problem was that many of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were so stuck on the old things that they refused to embrace the new things that God was doing through Christ. But the faithful would understand both the new work of Jesus and the things that had been taught about the Kingdom of God from ages past. Their trust in the Lord would give them the restful flexibility to honor the teachings of God in the past, yet remain open to the new things He was doing…and to listen by faith to learn how those things came together.

Someone once said that it was almost like all the goodness of God from the Old Testament was stored in a darkened room…it was truly there, but cloaked in shadows. When Jesus came, it was like He shined a light in the room so we could see God’s prior work with clarity and understanding.

Jesus was showing His disciples how God’s work in the Old Testament had prepared the way for this new work that came through His Son. This would become the message of the Lord’s disciples as they proclaimed the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

Story 85: Parables of the Kingdom: For Eyes that Will See

Mark 4:26-29; Matthew 13:31-32 and Mark 4:30-32; Matt. 13:33-35 and Mark 4:33-34

Vienna -  Holy Trinity in Altlerchenfelder church

When Jesus started His preaching ministry, He warned the people about the Day of the Lord, the final stage of The Great Battle over human history. It is the time when Christ will return to complete His total and utter victory against the curse that Adam and Eve had brought into the world.

Someone needed to do something about the world as it is, with all the toxic poison of humanity’s sin, and the terrible systems of the world that arise from it, and the powerful forces of evil that urge the darkness on. Someone would have to do something about the broken natural system of the earth that Adam and Eve invited in the world. If things were gong to get better for the human race, someone needed to come and destroy death itself. Humans were helpless to do this for ourselves. We needed someone beyond us, greater than us, with far more power, to come and make it happen. The only One who could pull it off was God Himself. And He did.

Jesus has already won the victory in total, absolute completeness with His death and resurrection. But some day He is going to to come and bring that victory to it’s final conclusion.

When Jesus finishes crushing the power of sin and death, He will inaugurate a new era of everlasting goodness. There would be no more sorrow or tears because everything will change. The whole natural world will be free from the grip of the curse. We will no longer do the things that bring so much suffering to ourselves and others because we will be utterly free not to sin. We won’t even want to!

Think of the things about yourself that you struggle with. Think of the things you do that cause you shame. All of that will gone. All the bad things that other people do will be gone, too. We will live with the perfect joy and peace that comes when God’s goodness is followed without wavering at all times. And we will get to be with our beautiful Savior, the One who loves us with perfect love. Forever.

That promise is so epic that it is hard to grasp. It is so great that wrapping your head around it takes time. You have to ponder it. But it is worth it. In fact, it is worth setting all of your hope upon it. That is what it means to live for the Kingdom of God. The Apostle Paul said:

“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sites on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all His glory” (Colossians 3:1-4).

As He preached throughout the countryside of Israel, Jesus warned the people to repent of their sin. This repentance was not simply about feeling bad about the wrong they had done. It meant radically turning away from a sinful way of life in order to give their total, whole-hearted commitment to the things of God.

But the Jewish people did not repent. In fact, even as He healed the sick with amazing miracles and taught about love so generous and beautiful that it makes the heart yearn, they accused Him of working in the power of Satan.

As we read the Gospels we can see that at that point in His ministry, there was a shift. To those who had rejected His method, the message became veiled. They would not longer be given truths that they would only manipulate and abuse. But to those who showed true repentance from their sin, Jesus began to reveal new insights about the Kingdom. These lessons were no longer about the final coming of the Day of the Lord. They were about what the Kingdom would look like before that final day comes…and what it meant to live in those days.

Once Jesus died and rose again, there would be a time when the Kingdom would grow throughout the world. His disciples would be an important part of that growth. They would take up the message of the Good News and proclaim it to every nation.

The Lord Jesus understood that the friends that were journeying around Israel with Him would become the new heralds of the Kingdom. The time had come to train and teach His true followers the ways of the Kingdom of God while humanity still lived in a cursed world. What would it look like?

Well, we have already learned that the Kingdom is like a seed. If it is planted in a heart with good soil, it will grow up to be a hundred times that first seed. But the cares of this world, misunderstanding, and Satan were very bad soil, and when seeds land hearts infested by these things, then the seed of the Kingdom would not grow. We learned from the next parable that the Kingdom is wherever the Spirit is in God’s faithful believers. But Satan will come and bring his own followers and plant them among those who love God. They will try to corrupt the love and purity of God’s people as they lived together for God’s Kingdom. Until the harvest, the great Day of the Lord, the true people of the Kingdom would have to take care, for there would be enemies of God among them.

Jesus first told these parables as a warning to His disciples, but they are also a warning for us. As we seek to follow Jesus in our lives, we need to be ready. Many will hear the truth and fall away, and there will be false people who claim to love Jesus, but they are really out to destroy the Kingdom of God.

Jesus began to tell parables that explain the mysteries of how the Kingdom of God works in the heart of those who truly believe:

“‘The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows-how, he himself does not know. The seed produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the crop has come.’”

This parable is very simple. The messengers of the Kingdom go out and spread the Word of God, and when they do that, they are being faithful. Just as the farmer does not know exactly what energizes his little seeds to grow into a beautiful plants, the heralds of the Kingdom don’t know exactly how the Word of God works in each heart to bring people to faith in Jesus.

It is a mystery to us. It is not a mystery to God. He can be trusted to make His crops grow, and they can trust that He will grow and harvest His own children at just the right times.

Jesus went on:

“‘What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.’”

What is Jesus saying about the Kingdom here? How does it start out? Teeny tiny. Jesus didn’t pick a big seed as His example. He picked one that is notably miniscule. And in fact, when Jesus was crucified, He was alone. His small group of faithful followers had deserted Him, and only His mother, John, and Mary Magdalene were at the cross for the unimaginable moment when Jesus conquered sin and death. But now look at the Kingdom of God across the world. That common Jewish carpenter who was crucified in a small, unimportant outpost of the Roman Empire is now worshipped as the Son of the Living God all over the planet.

With each year, His Kingdom continues to expand to farther reaches and new languages. You’ll hardly ever hear about it on the news, it isn’t something the big and powerful institutions of this world want to recognize. The social sciences purposely look the other way and pretend it isn’t an important, world changing phenomena having far greater influence than any psychological theory. But if you hang out with the lovers of Christ, you’ll get to see glimpses of the massive underground currents of God’s Spirit working throughout our world. Look at South Korea, India, China, and whole sections of Africa and South America that have seen amazing transformations in our lifetime.

As the heralds of God’s kingdom go out to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, the seed often starts out small. Often when the lost are given a powerful testimony, few believe, and those who proclaim the Gospel are often persecuted. Yet these faithful ones can still have hope that even if they do not get to see those tiny mustard seeds of faith grow into a full grown plant in the lives of others, God will be faithful. The High King of Heaven reigns over all, and one day, He will establish His rule and reign over everything that is!

Jesus told another parable. He said:

 “‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”

Have you ever used yeast to make bread? If you take water and flour and salt, you can make dough for delicious flat bread. But a little bit of yeast changes everything. If you mix that yeast in and leave it alone for a few hours, the yeast will fill the dough up with little pockets of air. When you bake it, it will become light and fluffy bread.

The Kingdom of God is like that. When the Good News reaches into a heart, it changes every part of that person’s life. It spreads out! And then, because that person is changed, they become a source of God’s transforming work in the people around them. They spread the Kingdom of God to others.

The authors of the Bible said that these are just a few of the parables that Jesus gave to teach about the Kingdom as He spoke in front of the crowds. Then He would explain the parables afterwards to His disciples. The book of Matthew points out that this was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. It read:

“‘I will open my mouth in parables,

I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’”

This prophecy is from Psalm 78:2. This Psalm was first written to warn the nation of Israel against repeating the sins of their nation in the past. They were to remember God’s faithfulness and honor His covenant with obedience. Jesus came about a thousand year later, and the nation of Israel was failing to do this once again.

God was moving in new, epically important ways. The Son of God Himself was among them. He was revealing how the Kingdom of Heaven was going to break into the cursed world and transform it. These secrets had been hidden in the heart of God for thousands of years. Now the mystery was being unveiled to those honored few who had put their trust in Him. Will we do the same?

Story 84: The Parable of the Harvest

Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43

Timilia wheat

Jesus had begun to speak to His disciples in parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. The rest of the crowd was still there as Jesus preached from the boat, but for most of them, these stories would be a mystery. Here is what Jesus taught:

“‘The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“‘The owners servants came to him and said, “Sir, why didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did all the weeds come from?

“‘“An enemy did this,’ he replied. 

“‘The servants asked him, “Do you want us to go and pull them up?

 “‘“No, he answered, “Because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the what and bring it into my barn.”’”

Can you imagine what this parable might have meant? Well, the disciples weren’t sure, so later on, after they had left the crowds, they asked Jesus. He said:

“‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are the angels.

As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.’”

This is a bit of a frightening message. Do you see how Jesus used the things that happen on a farm to explain the things that are going to happen in human history? This was a very important message because it teaches us a lot about the world and how God is working in time.

When John the Baptist came and preached about the Kingdom, and when Jesus first preached, they warned everyone to repent. The Day of the Lord was coming. As each listener heard these Words, they were being given the marvelous chance to be transformed. Their decision would show whether they were the precious wheat that will be gathered to the Lord, or if they are the useless weeds that will be burned up. There is no choice in between.

When John and Jesus first preached the message of the Kingdom, they said that the Kingdom was near. Now Jesus was saying it would come at the end of the age. That seems like a long time off! What did it mean? In this parable, the Lord tells that there will be a period of time when the wheat will grow.

A farmer understands that once he has planted the seed, it will be many months before it is time to harvest. In that time, Satan would try to destroy it by bringing sinful, rebellious men among the people of God to try to break apart the Kingdom. God would allow this to happen because if he weeded out all the evil ones, some of those will sincere hearts would be hurt as well. So God would wait until the end of the Age, on the Great Day of the Lord, to separate the wheat from the weeds.

The time when the wheat grows is the time we are in right now! Jesus came and planted the seeds of the Gospel in the world. After His death and resurrection, His disciples would help it grow. We are still in that time of growth! This parable is about us! It helps all of us who have put our faith in Jesus to understand why wicked people will be allowed to operate among the people of the Kingdom of God as we wait for His return.

Many faithful believers since the time of Jesus have suffered greatly because of false believers bringing destruction in the midst of God’s people. The story hasn’t changed much since the beginning of time. Just like Adam and Eve…just like the people who rejected Jesus in His day…people in our time will listen to the enemy of God instead of God Himself. Our job is to remain faithful to Him and allow Him to bring His healing to us when the hard times come. We can draw deeper into the Great Hope of a time when all the darkness will be gone and we will live in the Perfect Light of Everlasting Love. Jesus Himself told us that on That Day, we will be in the Kingdom of God and we will shine bright like the sun. May we take hold of that hope and set our hearts upon it with everything within us. May we trust Him with a trust that shows the world He is worthy!

When God moved into the world to bring the Messiah, He moved through the children of Abraham and formed a great nation. They were meant to be a blessing to the whole world. God would continue with His plan to bless the world in spite of Israel’s sin and failure. The new Kingdom message of Christ would teach His followers how the Most High God planned to do that…and how they were a part of His plan!

Story 83: The Message Veiled: The Parables Begin

Matthew 13:1-23

Young wheat seedlings growing in a soil.

Who do you want to be?

The multitudes of crowds came to follow Jesus and see His amazing miracles. These were the powerful signs God had given in the Old Testament about the coming of His Kingdom. But as Jesus travelled to the cities and villages of Galilee, many of the people did not repent of their sins. It was the one command that God required for those who wished to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Meanwhile, instead of coming alongside their Messiah and His message, the religious leaders were plotting to have Jesus killed. His own family tried to take Him away because they thought He was going insane.

This is how far the human heart is from understanding the great glory and beauty of the Son of God. Sin had tainted their hearts so severely that when Perfect Love and Goodness walked among them, they turned against Him. They closed their eyes to the Truth and hardened their hearts against His wonderful offer. They were meant to be a holy nation of priests that would be a blessing to all the nations of the world, but they had rejected their own Messiah and King. And so Jesus honored their choice. He would take His glorious message and the privilege of God’s royal favor elsewhere.

The day of great confrontation between the Lord and the religious leaders from Jerusalem was a huge turning point in the ministry of Christ. The crowds of people would continue to come, and the hateful religious leaders would be among them. Yet they would no longer be privy to hear the precious truths about God’s Kingdom. His message was a sacred one, it was full of eternal life, and it was no longer meant for them.

And so Jesus began to tell about the Kingdom through little stories called parables. These stories would make the things of God very clear to everyone who had repented and followed Jesus with a true heart. The Spirit of God would be at work in their softened hearts to give them eyes to see and ears to hear. Yet for those who were in hard-hearted rebellion against God, the parables would disguise the true meaning of what Jesus said. The rich things of the Kingdom would remain a total mystery to them. They had chosen separation from the Kingdom, and the Lord, in His righteous judgment, agreed with them.

Jesus left Peter’s house and went down to the shore of Galilee. He sat down by the sea and began teaching once again. There was a great mob of people from all the cities of the region. So many people came that He got in a boat and floated out a little way into the water. Then he began teaching them in parables:

“‘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 not root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on the good soil, where it produced a crop0a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.’”

The Lord’s disciples asked Him why He had started speaking in parables. The crowd didn’t understand what He was saying, and neither did they! Jesus explained:

“The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even that will be taken away from him.”

What do you think Jesus meant about the people who would be given more? And who would have everything taken away?

As Jesus told these parables, the secrets of the kingdom would be poured out to His faithful followers. Their understanding of God’s ways would grow and grow. But to those in the crowd who showed no faith and even came against the Lord, the time of their learning was over. They had heard His preaching and it did not move their hearts, and so now even the richness of what they had already learned would be a mystery to them. The Lord went on by quoting the Old Testament:

“‘Though seeing, they do not see;

though hearing, they do not hear or understand

 “‘In fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah:

 You will be every hearing but never understanding;

You will be ever seeing but never perceiving.

For this people’s heart has become calloused;

they hardly hear with their ears,

and they have closed their eyes,

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts

and turn, and I would heal them.’”

Matthew 13:13-15

 The Lord had offered them the most precious gift of all time, but they hardened their hearts against him. It is a very dangerous thing to reject sacred Truth. Imagine what the sun is like on a very hot day. Now imagine two things sitting under the heat of that blazing sun. One is a piece of butter, and the other is a soft piece of clay. What will happen to the butter? It will become soft and easy to use. What will happen to the clay? It will just get harder and harder until it is of no use at all! The crowds and Jewish leaders had chosen to have hearts like clay. But to those who had repented, whose hearts were like butter, Jesus said:

“‘But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.’”

Imagine the prophets of old that told the ancients about Jesus but never got to meet Him. Imagine being Peter or John. They grew up learning the stories of the prophets. They were their heroes! Their messages had been repeated for hundreds of years! But now Peter and John were the ones walking and talking with the Messiah.

Then Jesus explained the parable of the sower. He said: 

“‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed down along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on the rocky places is the man who hears the world and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who receives the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on the good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop yielding a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.’”

Stories are meant to provoke our hearts. As we hear about each character, we naturally compare ourselves to their lives. We almost can’t help it! It is a powerful way to help people think deeply about their lives. It is probably one of the reasons Jesus used stories so much.

Which kind of person do you want to be in this parable? Are you like the seed that landed on the path or the rocky place? Are you the seed among the thorns? These seeds represented the people who rejected the Lord. But Jesus had gathered His own disciples around Him, and they were like the good soil. When they heard, they understood, and God would use them to be an outpouring of blessing!

Story 82: True Family

Matt. 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21

Sermon on the Mount

Imagine if the powerful religious leaders of your day journeyed to find you so they could confront you. Men from the Temple in Jerusalem in the South of Israel had travelled all the way to the North to do just that. Jesus had a lot of choices that He could have made.

He could have hid from them…and then gossiped about them for the next 20 years. He could have groveled at their feet or apologized and changed His message. He could have insulted them or used His miraculous power to give them debilitating diseases. He could have become violent. He could have walked away when they insulted Him and accused Him of being the servant of Satan. But Jesus only did the will of His Father, and His Father’s desire was for Jesus to talk with these men. He argued right back with great logic and showed them how wrong their accusations were. And when they still remained stubborn, He gave them a fierce warning. Their power did not stop Him from speaking. Their faithlessness did not stop Him from giving them another chance.

After they left, Jesus continued to preach to the crowd. How they must have marveled at the Carpenter who wasn’t afraid to confront the rulers of the land! Meanwhile, His family had been journeying from Nazareth to Capernaum. They heard that Jesus had returned from His last preaching tour of Galilee, and now He was in the home of one of His closest friends. It was the perfect time. They were going to get Him. It was clear to Mary and her other sons that something was not right in Jesus’ head. Their plan was to seize Him and bring Him home before He got into any more trouble.

Why? What had Jesus done that was so crazy? And why didn’t His own family understand that Jesus was doing the will of God? What was dear Mary thinking?

Had they heard about how the leaders were coming up from Jerusalem to question Him? Had they heard that the Pharisees wanted to have Him killed? Did they know that even though huge crowds still followed Him, the cities all over Galilee had refused to repent? Did they think He should only do ministry that would keep Him safe and popular? Did they imagine they could control Him? Whatever was going on in their minds, their thoughts were not set on doing the will of God. What would Jesus do when His own mother and brothers came against Him?

When Mary and her younger sons arrived at the house, it was so crowded that they couldn’t get inside. Word got to Jesus that his family was standing outside the door. Everyone probably expected Him to stop everything and go to them.

But the Lord knew why they had come. They were not following the will of God. They were in a moment of great weakness in their faith. So He said, “‘Who is my mother, and who are My brothers!’” Then He pointed to His disciples and said, “‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

Wow! There are a lot of very important statements in those few sentences! In the Jewish culture, family was very important. Your whole identity and sense of what was possible for yourself was wrapped up in your role in your family.  Most of your energies and goals would be about how to take care of them.  In many ways, it was quite beautiful.

But now, Jesus was declaring that His blood relatives weren’t His true family at all. He was defining a whole new understanding of family altogether. True ties did not come from heredity and birth, but through the spiritual ties between those who were devoted to God’s will. This family included people of all ages, and men and women were both treasured members.

Mary and the Lord’s brothers were welcome to be a part of God’s family, but they had chosen another way. Did you notice that none of their names were listed in the tight group of men and women who went everywhere with Jesus? They had left everything to follow Him. They surrendered their lives to join the work of His Kingdom. They were learning the will of God with their minds and their actions.

But Jesus’ own family were not a part of that group.  They weren’t following Him.  And now they were treating His words and actions with tremendous contempt. His family was not only standing outside the house, they had been standing outside of the circle of those who supported and loved His purpose.  And now they were trying to exercise authority over the Son of the Living God.

Because He delighted in His Father’s will and trusted His care, Jesus would have none of it.   Jesus took the painful path of letting go of His family’s support and approval so that He could honor His Father.  And in doing so, He did the most loving thing possible for His family because He was showing them the way to respond rightly to their God.

Story 81: The Turning Point: Demanding a Sign

Matthew 12:3-45

クジラ

We don’t know what kind of fish Jonah was swallowed up by. What we do know is that he was running away from bringing the news of God’s wrath and forgiveness to the people of Nineveh. Jonah’s time in the belly of the fish lasted three days, and jesus used that as an example of the time between His death and resurrection. He predicated it ahead of time yet continue to preach the wrath and forgiveness of God to the very people that would kill Him.

Jesus and His disciples were in Capernaum, surrounded by the crowd. They were all packed into Peter’s house as Jesus preached. Religious leaders had come up from Jerusalem to challenge Jesus. The Lord had already cast out a demon and healed a man of blindness right in front of everyone. When the religious leaders tried to accuse Jesus of doing these amazing miracles in the power of Satan, the Lord destroyed their argument with some brilliant argument of his won. He proved that His power must be from God.

In the midst of all this conflict, these religious leaders could have repented at any moment. At any point, they could have gotten on their knees before Christ, just as Peter did in the boat when he saw the miracle of the fish in his nets. All along, Jesus spoke and reasoned with them, giving them chance after chance to repent of their sin and rebellion. Instead, they challenged Him over and over again. This time, they asked for a sign.   They wanted Him to give them a spectacular miracle to prove who He was.

The Lord would not go along with their schemes. The man He had just healed from being blind and mute was probably still in the room. Thousands of people had seen His miracles. Nobody could argue that they didn’t happen, because they had happened all over the region of Galilee. What could He do that would be enough for these wretched, hard-hearted men? Instead, Jesus rebuked them:

“‘A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here.’”

Wow. Jesus was giving a prophecy about His own death and resurrection. Jonah was a prophet in the Old Testament who was swallowed by a whale. He lived inside the whale for three days before being thrown up on shore. Jonah’s incredible story was a testimony to the people of Nineveh who repented of their sin and turned to the God of Israel. Jesus said that story was an image of what was going to happen when He died. Because they repented, they were saved from God’s judgment. Just as Jonah came back after three days, Jesus was going to come back, too, only He was going to come back after conquering death itself! There could be no greater sign for those who were truly seeking to know the will of God.

Jesus was going about Galilee, preaching just as Jonah did, but He was preaching to the Jewish people. They were supposed to be the children of God. They had been given the Bible and the prophets. They had the sacred covenants of Abraham and Moses. Yet when their Messiah came, their hearts were so hard that they did not repent. The Assyrians were an idolatrous, wicked nation, but when they heard the Word from a mere prophet, they believed. Now the Son of God Himself had come in power, and He was rejected.

Then Jesus told of another foreigner who heard the Word of God and believed. Queen Sheba had heard of the wisdom of King Solomon in the days when he reigned in all his glory. She journeyed perhaps a thousand miles from the south to Jerusalem just to listen to him. When she heard the wisdom that was given to Solomon by God, she was in awe. Jesus was far greater than King Solomon, but the religious leaders failed to have the same faith as Queen Sheba!
How enraged the Jewish listeners must have been when Jesus said that on the Day of Judgment, the Ninevites of Assyria and Queen Sheba would be called to judge them for their unbelief! What offense they must have taken against Jesus, who claimed to be greater than Jonah, one of the mighty prophets, and Solomon, the mighty king! He had already claimed to be greater than the Temple. That was like saying He was the greatest priest of all. Jesus was either telling the most magnificent truth ever told, or the most terrible lie. The beauty of the miracles and the wisdom of His words and the empowerment of the Spirit should have been enough to prove that all He said was true.

Jesus went on to tell a little story about the terrible unbelief of the Jewish people:

“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation”

As Jesus worked His miracles and brought such wonderful transformation to the people of His time, it was like they were being swept free and clean from the bondage of the curse. But they were not turning and filling themselves up with faith in Jesus. They wanted His help and they liked to see His great displays of power, but they did not want to love Him or to join Him in His mission. So Jesus pronounced a judgment. The Jews of Christ’s time who thought they were so clean would end up far worse off than when they started.

We are about to see a great turning in the ministry of Jesus. Before, He proclaimed the Good News broadly. He answered the questions of the religious leaders with wisdom and discernment, seeking to lead them to the truth. From now on, He was going to speak with a veil over His message. He would proclaim His truth in parables so that only those whose hearts were right with the Lord could understand the meaning of His message.

Story 80: The Turning Point: True Fruit

Matt. 12:29-37; Mark 3:27-30

Jesus Preaching

Jesus had spent His days travelling around Galilee, teaching the deepest, richest truths that humanity had ever heard, and healing the broken. He started out teaching in the synagogues, giving the religious leaders a chance to recognize their Savior. But they didn’t. Instead, they persecuted Him, and so He took His teaching to the countryside. Thousands upon thousands of people from Israel and the surrounding Gentile nations flocked to Jesus as His ministry of teaching and healing continued.

The crowds were beginning to wonder if he was the Son of David. Was he their coming King? Where did his power come from? It had to be the power of the Most High God!   And if Christ was truly empowered by the Spirit of God, that meant he was the Anointed One. He was the one who the prophets said would bring the Kingdom of God!

The religious leaders that held power at the Temple in Jerusalem were not happy about the rumors surrounding the radical young preacher. They sent their men to deal with Him.

Somehow, they had to prove that Jesus was not from God. They declared that His miracles were empowered by Satan. Jesus was quick to prove how foolish that argument was. Then he went on to explain His real relationship to the Evil One:

“‘Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off His possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then He can rob his house.’”

Did you get that? Jesus was claiming that He had bound up Satan! He wasn’t the partner of Beelzebub, He was his greatest enemy.   When Christ left His throne in Heaven and took on the form of a human, it was an act of invasion. He had somehow entered Satan’s territory, captured the mighty fallen angel, and tied Him up. Then He started an epic rescue mission, saving people who were trapped and tormented in Satan’s lair. Jesus was grasping broken people from the Kingdom of Darkness and bringing them to the Kingdom of Light! Jesus wasn’t cooperating with Satan, He was taking victory over him.

Imagine how huge this claim was. Jesus stood before them and declared that He was strong enough to bind the Devil. Either He was right, or He was totally insane.

The Lord wasn’t done. He had destroyed the accusations of the Pharisees.   Now He came at them with a rebuke, and what a stern warning it was:

“‘He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.”

It was as if Jesus drew a line in the sand and boldly demanded that the religious leaders choose a side. They had to choose Jesus, or they had to choose to be against Him. There was no where else to go. They thought they were in charge, that they could manipulate this situation to their advantage. But they had failed to grasp that Jesus was the ruler of the universe. They had failed to fear God. They couldn’t play games with Him or His purpose. Jesus was graciously giving them an opportunity to have clarity about their options. The Lord went on:

“And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the next.’”

Wow. Those are strong words. By rejecting Christ’s message, they were rejecting the message of the Spirit of the Living God! By claiming He worked in the power of Satan, they were slandering the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus declared that this sin against the perfect and pure Spirit of God was an eternal sin. If they committed themselves to it, the judgment of God would be upon them forever.

The warnings of Christ were also a kindness, for there would be no forgiveness for those who refused to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit. As Christ preached the Good News, the Spirit was moving to work in the hearts of those who listened. The Spirit enabled the heart to step into faith, and the door was open for them to walk through. Would they count themselves worthy of the salvation?

These men had choices. Instead of insulting the power that worked through Christ, they could have asked honest questions. They could have believed of the glorious Good News and taken back to their leaders. They could have believed that Jesus was the Anointed One that Isaiah had prophesied about. All the evidence they needed was there! Jesus was the Messiah!

To reject the work of the Spirit and to testify against Him was to side with Satan. If the religious leaders continued to work so viciously for the kingdom of darkness, if they refused to repent, then their rejection of the Spirit’s call would condemn them forever.

Finally, the Lord Jesus told them:

“‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad; for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brook of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’”

Gulp. Whoa. The Jewish religious leaders were using their words and their power to destroy. Their hearts were overflowing with rebellion and arrogance! They were like serpents, children of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, doing the work of Satan himself. Their hardness of heart against Jesus showed their hardness of heart against the Most High God. And the result of what they did was very bad fruit. They poisoned the people of their time with confusion and deception just as the bright, clear Herald of salvation had come!

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