Category: Matthew

Story 94: Commissioning the Disciples: Take Up Your Cross

Matthew 9:35-10:42; Mark 6:6b-11; Luke 9:1-5

carrying the cross

When Jesus tells us to take up our cross, He doesn’t ask for anything He hasn’t already done on our behalf. The difference was that He was innocent.

Jesus continued to prepare His disciples for the task ahead.

They had been given the breathtaking honor of being the messengers of God to a dying world, but it wasn’t going to be easy. In a world full of toxic sin and rebellion, God’s holy truth brings anger, rejection, even violence. Jesus said:

“‘Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in Heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in Heaven. Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on Earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemy will be the members of his own household.’”

Wow. In this world, it is often easy to convince ourselves that we can be neutral. We can sit on the fence and keep ourselves outside of the Epic Battle. Jesus is saying we can’t. If we deny Him, if we fail to stand for Him, we have chosen to disown Him. The consequence for doing so is far worse than the persecution we could experience here on earth. The choice is steep…it is a sword, creating divisions right through the heart of families. But it must be made. Christ is the first loyalty.

“‘Anyone who loves his father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it.’”

It is interesting that Jesus mentioned a cross…this story came before He went to His death. Crucifixion was such an awful form of death that it was the metaphor Jesus chose to explain how seriously a believer must take his walk. There has to be a death in this life in order to take up life in Christ. Yet this loss is not a promise of endless suffering. It comes with the immediate promise of a life that is better than anything we can imagine. The awards are going to be amazing.

The faithful ones who choose the way of Christ will be a blessing to everyone who receives their message:

“‘He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives the One who sent Me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive prophets reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is My disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.’”

Jesus was well aware that there was a great task ahead for Himself and His disciples. It would include loss and suffering and death. Unlike the stories you would normally hear about kings or lesser gods, Jesus stepped forward and took the brunt of the blow for us. He saw at every point along the way that the shame of this world was something to scorn, and He knew that His Father was going to make all things new. That is the hope we are meant to live by as well.

Story 93: Commissioning the Disciples: Hope Beyond the Bars

Matthew 9:35-10:42; Mark 6:6b-11; Luke 9:1-5

Looking at a Soaring Bird Out of a Prison Window

Jesus said that His followers would face persecution and imprisonment in this world if they remained faithful to Him. But even in the darkest dungeon, a follower of Christ knows what is true. Beyond the bars of any prison made by the hands of men, God exists. He sees the faithfulness of His beloved and He will reward it lavishly. There is always hope beyond the bars.

The time had come for the Lord to prepare His disciples for when it would be their job to tell the world what God had done through the work of His Son. Jesus was going to offer His life to pay for the sins of humanity. Through His sacrifice He was going to utterly defeat sin and death. It was the best news in the history of the world, and it was His disciple’s tremendous honor to declare it. But Jesus wouldn’t be walking among them when they did it, and He needed to get them ready.

It wasn’t going to be easy. Not everyone would be happy to embrace this new work of God in the world. Many wouldn’t understand. Religious leaders and rulers would feel their power threatened. As Jesus prepared the disciples for their calling, He warned them:

“‘Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what you say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.’”

Wow. There is a lot going on here. Becoming a disciple of Jesus wasn’t going to bring them the wealth and status of the world. They would be brought before powerful rulers, but often, it would bring them the shame and suffering of beatings and imprisonment. From an earthly perspective, they would have to give up having the kind of lives most people hope for. But think about what they would gain. The Spirit of God the Father, who rules and reigns in His heavenly power with unspeakable holiness and might, would fill them with His message to the lost. They would bring the words from the Throne Room of God into the throne rooms and courts of this world. And within a few decades, the suffering and challenges of being a disciple would be over.  They would leave the shackles of this corrupt world.  They would enter into everlasting life where they would forever be honored in the Throne Room of God for the obedience they offered Him when they were here on earth. Taking all things into a consideration, it is brilliant trade.

Jesus went on to explain the kind of troubles that the message of the Gospel would bring:

“‘Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’”

When we read Scripture there can often be several meanings, some are short-term and some are long-term. Scholars have different ways of understanding what Jesus means here. Clearly, the disciples and those who responded to Christ’s message were going to face painful conflict…the kind that can lead to death. It would be so extreme they would have to literally flee for their lives. Their challenge would be to stand in their faith in the midst of it all.

But what did Jesus mean when He said they wouldn’t finish preaching to all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes? Was He talking about the epic, final Day of the Lord? Some scholars believe He was.  According to this view, Jesus was saying that throughout the ages, His disciples would have to continue to preach the Gospel to the Jews right alongside their proclamation to the rest of the world. This makes sense because it seems like Jesus’ message to the disciples is also a message for all of His disciples of all time, including us.

Other scholars believe that Jesus is talking about when He returned through rising from the dead. Still more believe it is about Pentecost, when Christ would send His Spirit to enliven His disciples with power after He ascended into Heaven.

There are several different ways to interpret this verse (Matt. 10:23), but they all carry the same hope. Whatever we go through here on earth, the suffering is limited.  Jesus is coming back.  In fact, it is kind of wonderful to realize there have been many ways the Savior has returned to us and will return to us still. He is the Lover of our souls, indeed.

Jesus went on:

“‘A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant to be like his master. If the Head of the House has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of His household!’”

When the most powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem sent their messengers to Jesus in Galilee, they did not come to accept Him. They wanted to silence Him.  But they had to do something about all of His powerful, amazing miracles…if His power didn’t come from God, where did it come from?   Imagine how many people who had been lame or sick or demonized were walking around as evidence that Jesus was no ordinary man.  The religious leaders couldn’t argue that it wasn’t happening, so they had to come up with a reason for His power that took God’s anointing out of the picture. You may remember what they decided to do. They accused Jesus of being empowered by Satan. That was the ultimate rejection. It proved the hardness of their hearts…and with that they lost their right to hear more. For well over a year of His preaching they had received many, many opportunities to recognize God’s work through His Son.  Again and again they refused to accept their Messiah.  Finally, God the Father accepted that rejection.  From that point on, Jesus began to speak in parables so that only those with ears to hear could understand. Jesus knew that He wouldn’t be the only one accused of operating in Satan’s power.  His disciples would hear that, too.  Jesus went on:

“‘Do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.’”

Wow. If we take the words of Jesus seriously, this is both terribly difficult and remarkably wonderful.  It forces us to consider the grip we have on this life and all the things we want to do to garner and preserve our own happiness here.  It also gives breathtaking assurances for what is possible for those who take hold of it.  Jesus was penetratingly clear: there is a level and grandeur of faith available to us that is so powerful that we will no longer be afraid of persecution and death. And we are meant to pursue it.   The key is to look at the bigger picture. When you align with loyal devotion to Christ, you side with the One who has the most important power. In the end, that is going to be the only thing that matters.  In the beginning it might feel like an epic loss.  Ultimately, it becomes a wildly great freedom.

Jesus understood that it wouldn’t be easy:

“‘Are not two sparrow sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’”

Isn’t it amazing? In the midst of the epic calling of a disciple, there is also a tender mercy and nearness to God. He knows how many hairs are on our heads. He attends to every falling sparrow, and we have a far greater worth.

These are the words of a deeply loving Lord. They are worth sitting with in our hearts and minds, meditating on and praying through them until we understand them in the deepest places of our hearts. They have the power to help us overcome all the fears that would stop us from being the courageous disciples that Christ is calling us to be in this passage.

Jesus was still walking around with His disciples when He spoke these words, but He understood the challenges they would face…that millions of His followers would face over the thousands of years that would follow His death and resurrection.

As I prepare this lesson, I can hardly keep from weeping. We live in an amazing time. A girl like me in California can post stories about Jesus, and they can be read in countries all over the world within seconds of their posting. It is breathtaking. Yet we also live in a terrible time. Our brothers and sisters in Christ are being persecuted all over the globe. The last century has seen more martyrs than any other time in history.

When I look at the stats for this blog, there are readers from the very countries where persecution is most intense, and I wonder who might be reading this. Are you okay? What have you endured? What will be your call? How can we pray? It shows how important this particular story in the Bible is, and how clearly Jesus understood the opposition that the Gospel would have in every age. He gives His chosen ones the dignifying role of taking up His cross. And He is worth it. May the family of Christ across the globe be faithful to our brothers and sisters who have the honored role of standing for Jesus in the darkest places. Their reward is going to be unspeakably great. And may their faithfulness cast a vision for greater faithfulness in us.

For wisdom about how to pray and support our brothers and sisters undergoing persecution of the globe go here www.persecution.com or here www.spiritofmartyrdom.com

 

Story 92: The Commissioning of the Disciples: On Becoming Harvesters

Matthew 9:35-10:42; Mark 6:6b-11; Luke 9:1-5

Wheat field against a blue sky

You may have noticed on these blogs about the life of Jesus that the stories from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John get a little mixed up. For example, when in the book of Matthew we read from chapter eight before we read chapters 5 through 7, which are the Sermon on the Mount. That is because we are reading all four of the Gospel books together at once. The writer of each Gospel had His own way of telling the story of Christ’s life. Each of them had an audience they were trying to reach with the Gospel, and so each told Jesus’ story in a way that would help that group of people understand Him and why He came.  Some of them wrote the order of the stories in a way that highlighted certain ideas.  If we want to see the clearest explanation for how the story unfolded across the three years of Jesus’ ministry, the best book to read is John.

Some people are bothered when they learn that each book doesn’t go exactly in the order and timing that it actually happened in Jesus’ life.  But if you think about it we tell stories in different ways all the time.  If you became very sick, you might tell the story of your illness differently to your doctor than you would to a child that you didn’t want to scare with the details.  For the doctor, you might select all of the different ways you have been sick in the last year.  For the child you would might tell a funny story or emphasize how you have gotten better in the past.   Each time you told your story, you would be telling the truth, but you would be choosing the details that were most important for the person you were describing the story to. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John choose different details of the same stories about Jesus in order to help their audience understand His amazing message.

We believe that Matthew wrote these stories down in a way that could be used to teach the disciples how to live for Jesus. It was a little bit like a textbook.

Matthew organized what He wrote in a special way to make it easy to teach others. Part of that organizing was to take the five main themes that Jesus taught about and write them down in five sections. The first section was the Sermon on the Mount, which teaches about how members of God’s Kingdom are supposed to live. The next section is the one we are about to read. Jesus taught how His disciples are to live as they preached the Good News of God’s Kingdom.

As Jesus continued to go out and preach through the cities and villages around the Sea of Galilee, He felt tremendous compassion for the crowds that came to Him. They were in distress, with all the pressures and suffering of life under the misery of the Curse. They were like sheep without a shepherd, fragile animals that were hunted and wounded and torn by vicious enemies. As Jesus looked around at the multitudes, He said to His disciples, “‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.’”

What a sorrowful statement.  On a farm there comes a time when the fruit or grain is ready to be picked. It can be a time of great labor and celebration as the riches of plenty are brought in. Everyone has to get to work because it is important to get everything in from the fields on time.  If the harvest is taken too soon, it won’t be ripe.  If it is taken too late, it will go bad.  When Jesus looked out on the crowds that followed Him, He saw that there were many whose hearts were ready to be harvested for the Kingdom, just as wheat becomes ready to be harvested. Yet the harvesters were few.  The leadership of Israel had risen to join the Savior.  Jesus turned to His disciples and said, “‘Ask the Lord of the harvest…to send out workers into His harvest field.’”

Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus saw the tremendous need, the first thing He did was call on His disciples to pray? This was no idle request. Jesus knew that it was the truly effective, important action they could take to meet the great needs of the people. Prayers to the Living God are not simply sounds aiming at Heaven. They are heard by the Mighty Lord who created the entire universe by speaking it into existence. He has somehow linked His salvation work in the world to the prayers of His people. Our prayers are acts of power, and He wants to answer them. When we have a truly eternal vision for what it means to pray, we realize it is insane not to. Jesus made it clear that the first job of the disciples was to pray for workers who would partner with God in His great harvesting work of bringing salvation to the lost.

In the very next story we see how God answered those prayers. Jesus was going to send His disciples out into the harvest. And He had a strategy for how He was going to do it.

First, the Lord Jesus brought His twelve disciples together and put them into pairs. Simon Peter was put with His brother Andrew. James and John were next, then Philip and Bartholomew. The Lord put Thomas and Matthew together, and then James son of Alphaeus and Thaddaues. Finally, Simon the Zealot was put with Judas Iscariot. Judas was the man that would one day betray the Lord. These pairs were to go out and spread the Good News of the Kingdom, just as their Master had.  Jesus gave them authority over evil spirits. He empowered them to be able to heal every kind of illness and disease as well.

Can you imagine what that was like for the disciples? After travelling all that time with Jesus and watching Him do His wondrous deeds, they had been invited to share the same message and the same power! Their new authority was so far reaching that even the demonic beings…the fallen angels… were subject to them! This was a new commissioning. They had moved from being mere disciples to apostles. They were being sent out on a radical mission. It was an important part of God’s preparation for their lifetime ahead.

Let’s take a second to consider how brave these men were. Consider the faith that had been growing in them. Jesus was the most controversial man in Israel. He was either sent from God or He was God’s enemy. The disciples were not men of great education, power, or status. Most of them were either common workers or had been rejected as sinners or zealots. They were not well traveled. If this didn’t work out, there was nowhere to go. Everyone in the nation was associating them with Christ. Yet the disciples had watched the most powerful men in the cities and villages of Galilee condemn Jesus.  By following Jesus, they had taken on the condemnation. And now they were going to go traveling around the countryside exposing themselves even more. Except now they would be doing it without the presence of their fearless Leader.

Instead of growing weaker in faith as Jesus met with opposition, their faith had grown stronger.  Imagine what must have been developing in their hearts.

Before they left, Jesus gave them a set of instructions about what to do and what not to do. He said:

“‘Do no go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: “The Kingdom of heaven is near.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals, or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.’”

Wow. These commands of Jesus required radical trust. Put yourself in the disciples shoes. Imagine what the week ahead was going to look like. The power of God was going to flow through you to bring major healing from illness, death, and demonic oppression. The glorious power of God moving to break the destruction of the Curse through His Son was now going to work through you.

Would you be excited? Scared? Would you feel nervous about not taking extra money to feed yourself? God was going to show His disciples just how well He could use them and take care of them, but it was going to take courageous, surrendered faith to step out into His plan!

It is interesting that Jesus was sending His disciples to cities and villages of Israel. He was giving those people yet another chance to respond to the message of their Messiah.  Jesus went on:

“‘Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. As you enter the home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if not, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you to listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.’”

Jesus understood the situation in Israel. There were many who wanted Jesus dead. But He also seemed to understand that there were many in the nation that would welcome His men. There were special, powerful blessings in store for them as they received Christ’s messengers. Consider the gift someone gave to his neighbors if he welcomed in the disciples. Jesus’ men would bring healing, freedom from death…and some kind of special anointing of peace. They brought the Good News of the Kingdom that the nation had been waiting on for thousands of years! It seems crazy that anyone would reject it. But that is the nature of sin and the rejection of the things of God. It doesn’t make sense. It is irrational. And those who chose it would pay a great price. From the perspective of the world, the disciples were simple men making their way along the road with a dubious message. From a heavenly perspective, they were the honored bearers of the Greatest Treasure, the golden truth that was going to change the world.

 

Story 91: Back to Nazareth

Matthew 13:54-58; Mark 6:1-6a

Icon of Jesus in orthodox church of Annunciation in Nazareth

This picture (or icon) of Jesus is in the orthodox Church of Annunciation in the city of Nazareth in Israel. Jesus wasn’t welcomed as the Messiah in His hometown during His lifetime, but His disciples went out and proclaimed the Good News all over the world. Christians eventually came back to Nazareth and His message was finally embraced.

After healing the blind men and the mute in Capernaum, Jesus made His way back to His hometown of Nazareth. That was a pretty bold thing to do. The last time we read about Christ visiting there, the townspeople tried to throw Him off a cliff! (See Luke 4:16-31a, or Story 34). That story probably happened about a year or a year and a half before this story takes place. It was in the spring, and Jesus had gone on to spend most of the next twelve to eighteen months in Galilee. We aren’t sure of the exact dates, but we can look at all the information we have about His ministry and make a very strong guess.

when Jesus returned to Nazareth His disciples were with Him. He went into the synagogue once again to preach. What a beautiful grace that He would offer Himself to them again after they tried to kill Him! Had the great outpouring of miracles all over Galilee softened their hearts?

As the people listened to Jesus, they showed the hardness of their hearts. They did not repent or bow down in worship.   Even as they made comments on His brilliant teaching and breathtaking miracles, they were full of suspicion and doubt. “‘Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?’” they said. They knew that His words held a brilliance far beyond what any normal villager would be able to speak.

“‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t His mother’s name Mary, and aren’t His brothers James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?’” they asked. “‘Aren’t all of His sisters with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?’” And instead of beholding the wonder of God’s work among them, they took offense against Him. They wanted to cut this pretender down to size.

Jesus simply said to them, “‘A prophet is not without honor except in His own town and in His own home.’” A prophet is not someone who teaches about words and wisdom that have been spoken in the past. A prophet is in direct communication with the Most High God Himself. They speak directly for God. The people of Christ’s village could not bear that One of their own had been given such a mighty role. Jesus was claiming to be a very great man in their midst. Except for John the Baptist, there had been no prophet in Israel for hundreds of years.

Now the greatest prophet of all had come, and the people of Nazareth did not have faith to see. And because they had no faith, the Lord did not do very many miracles there. He laid hands on a few of their sick, and they were healed. Only the broken and needy of Nazareth were blessed enough to see the miracle of who Jesus truly was. And Jesus wondered at the unbelief of the rest of His neighbors.

Story 90: The Healing in His Hands

Matthew 9:27-34

Wonder of Jesus: healing the blind in stained glass

In this story, Jesus was continuing to give His faithful witness of the Gospel in the region Galilee in spite of the hard-heartedness of the people. Where was the repentance that should have marked the children of God when their Savior came?   The hostility of the Jewish leadership against the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ pressed their hearts into new levels of hardness and rebellion.  It provoked God’s judgment and sealed their eternal fate. Now the proclamation of the Gospel would not be given to the nation. It would be given in the quiet places, to individuals, cloaked in parables. The miracles would be done in private for those who showed true faith against the powerful voices of the religious leaders.

As Jesus left the tender healing of the ruler’s daughter and headed to Peter’s house where He was staying, two blind men began to follow him from behind. They cried out, “‘Have mercy on us, Son of David!’”

When they called Jesus the Son of David they were declaring that they believed Jesus was the Man who fulfilled God’s divine promise to King David. They believed He was the Anointed One of Isaiah, the mighty warrior who would restore the nation of Israel to her golden years when King David reigned in power! These men did not understand that their Messiah had not come to bring a war. They didn’t understand the remarkable, heartbreaking way Jesus would bring in the New Covenant. But they did believe He was sent by God.

The Lord went into Peter’s home and the blind men followed Him right in. Jesus had a lot of choices at that moment.  He could have been annoyed.  He could have said He was tired.  He could have asked them to show some manners.  He could have kicked them out or treated them as unworthy, just as the rest of their society likely did.

Instead, Jesus said, “‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’” Interesting.   He asked if they believed He was able.  They both said, “‘Yes, Lord.’” So He touched their eyes and said, “‘According to your faith it will be done to you.’”  Again, interesting.  He empowered their healing according to the degree of their faith in a sort of two way interaction between His abundant capacity and their belief.

Right then and there, the sight of both men was given back to them. Imagine their awe as they stood in Peter’s house and looked around. Imagine how that moment had changed their lives! They had probably gone through great personal anguish grieving the fact that they would never see again.  How would you feel if it happened to you? No more sunsets, no more independence, no more gazing on the face of your beloved.  The whole visual world was restored to them in an instant.  It is hard to imagine a greater gift apart from salvation.  Before they left, Jesus warned them, “‘See that no one knows about this.’”

Why in the world not?

Well, the Jewish world was already hostile against Him. The leaders had already offended the Spirit of the Living God. Their had hardened their hearts over and over again against the amazing teachings and miracles of Christ.  When they used their power to accuse Christ of being from Satan instead of acknowledging Him to the nation as the Messiah, they turned a corner.  God confirmed the hardness of their hearts with judgment.  The miracles would not serve to soften their hearts…it would only harden them.  The Lord Jesus would not give them one more way to sin against His Father.  As Christ’s compassion continued to compel Him to set the broken of Israel free from their bondage, it was no longer a part of the proclamation of the coming Messiah.

You would think that these men would be so grateful that they would do whatever Jesus asked. You would think that they would obey the one they had called “Lord.” But they didn’t. After they left, they went all around the region of Galilee telling everyone what Jesus had done for them.  Whatever tiny amount of faith it required for them to access Christ’s healing power, it wasn’t significant enough to draw their loyal obedience.  What a merciful Lord.

Even as these men were leaving the house, another man was brought to Jesus. This man was under the oppressive power of a demon. He wasn’t able to speak at all. Jesus drove out the demon, and the man was able to talk. The crowds that were always surrounding Jesus were amazed. “‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’” But the Pharisees were saying, “‘It is by the prince of demons that He drives out demons.’”

It is breathtaking how these religious leaders continued to blaspheme the work of the Holy Spirit!  Let’s review the big picture here for a minute. If it seems like we are doing that a lot in these stories, know that it is not an accident.  It helps us be mindful of the ongoing context that Christ was constantly bearing.  That is important for the way we read the situation.  It will also help us grasp anew the magnitude of the terrible and devastating error these religious rulers were making.

Everywhere Jesus went, He displayed magnificent power to undo the horrible effects of the curse. This curse had come on humanity at its very earliest age. The sin of Adam and Eve, the parents of every human, rebelled against God, and so they invited sin and death into the world and into the lives of all their descendants. For thousands of years the human race proved how wicked the heart of man is by their constant decisions to sin against the Most High God.

To look at human history, it would seem that all was lost. The most vicious rulers paved their road to victory on the backs of the weak. The glorious peace and perfection of the Garden was no more than a sweet fantasy in the memory of the human race as they toiled under the sun to grow enough food to eat. It was all they could do to survive the storms and drought and famine that the curse brought into the world. Sin distorted the depths of the heart of humanity as well. The wonder of marriage between one man and one woman was constantly violated through the sin of men and their perverse, distorted rejection of God’s intention for true love. Nation warred against nation and neighbor warred against neighbor in a never-ending cycle of selfishness. Sin was a weight that pulled humanity into filth and shame that Adam and Eve could never have imagined when they sought the knowledge of good and evil from that tree.

The Most High God was not going to leave His creation to the dark tragedy that Satan was working so hard to mastermind. He chose a nation to exhibit the right way to live for the whole world to see. He chose the descendants of Abraham to be His holy and treasured people. They would not destroy sin and death through their law, but they would show how to pursue the Most High God in a world tainted by sin and death.

From the midst of His holy nation, God sent His own Son into the world to be the Savior. He would walk the earth and live a perfect life, absolutely free from sin. He would live His life as the human race was meant to live in the Garden, in perfect communion with God and in total obedience to Him. Through Him, the goodness of God would flow, and the terrible pain and suffering that the curse brought would be turned back into health and wholeness.

This was the Old Testament promise of the Messiah. This is what the Jews should have seen when they watched the miracles of Jesus. Everywhere the Lord went, glorious miracles happened and captives were set free from the power of demonic forces. The lame could walk, shriveled hands stretched out to perfection, the dead were raised, and long-time diseases fled weary bodies. As Jesus journeyed through Galilee month after month, the people had time to think about these wondrous things that were happening among them. They could have search the Word and seen how Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophets. They could have bowed at His feet in reverent awe, just as Peter had in the boat when he saw his first miracle.  They could repented of their prior sin and false ways of leading the people. They could have seen the work of Christ and announced to all the world, “THIS IS THE ONE! Come to Him!” like the woman at the well or the man who was set free from a Legion of demons.  Except when they did it, the religious leaders would have done it on behalf of a nation…of the nation that God had set apart for the task.  This was the amazing, epic, glorious role that the Lord had given these religious leaders. When they failed it was a failure on epic, historical and spiritual proportions.

Many did not fail.  We know the story of quiet Nicodemus as He snuck to meet with Jesus in the dead of night. The Spirit of the Lord was working among the quietly faithful. But the established position by those who wielded power was set. Their proclamation was that Jesus was operating out of the power of Satan, and they would use their power from the Temple and the synagogues to turn God’s people away from Him with all their might.

As the households and villages and cities of regular Jewish families discussed this Jesus and all the amazing stories that came flowing out of Galilee, they were beginning to form their opinions about Him. It was becoming more and more established that they were going to have to either side with the national religious leadership or side with Christ.  The middle ground was shrinking.  And God the Father, who searches every heart, understood the exact measure of faith in the people He called His own. As He offered His magnificent grace and compassion through His Son, the Lord God was offering them the finest gift He could bestow. The people of Israel would have to decide which way to go. Would they follow their leadership at the Temple in Jerusalem and the synagogues in their rejection of the Messiah? Or would they allow the Spirit of God to speak and reveal the greatness of Jesus Christ? What would you decide?

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 the 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 by 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. We are the beloved of his great enemy, the God of the universe, and Satan delights in using us as pawns against Him.  The best way he can do that is to get us to hurt ourselves and each other.

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 Jesus in all His divine majesty.  In spite of their privileged position in the eternal realms, they chose to rebel against God…and His Son. They waged a war against the angelic host that remained loyal to God and lost.  The Lord cast them out of Heaven.  Now they roam the earth seeking who they can destroy.  When the evil spirits were confronted with the presence of Christ, it didn’t matter that He came in the from of a Man; He was still God.  They understood His power and holiness, and they couldn’t bear it.

The evil spirits also knew that their time to torture and harass humanity was not going to last forever. Humans may have sided with Satan in the Garden and submitted the human race to his rule, but God wasn’t going to allow that bondage to last forever, and they knew it.  When the evil spirits 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 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 didn’t argue about whether Jesus could do it?  These deceitful, low down, dirty spirits knew that they couldn’t trick Him or have any real power against Him.

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 the poor man.

They kept begging Jesus not to send them into the Abyss.  Imagine if you were a disciple watching that discussion!  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 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. 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.

What a beautiful Savior.  What a beautiful moment of peace, relief, restoration.

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 their immediate response was to be terrified.

Not delighted at the man’s transformation.  Not filled with hope that a Healer had come.

The men who had seen it all happened began 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 climbed into the boat.  He could have lashed out at their rejection.  He could have tried to explain Himself or persuade them.  He could have pushed back with a blow of power.  But in breathtaking humility, He simply turned and walked away.

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.  This man had a whole life of dignity to reclaim, and Jesus sent him to it.

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 willingly laid aside the privileges of His divine powers and took on the form of a man when He came to save us (Phil. 2:5-11).   That included taking on our human frailties.  He leaned on the will of His Father with perfection and the Holy Spirit for His empowerment, just as we are called to do. Jesus truly became one of us and is our example, and on this particular day, He was exhausted.

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?

%d bloggers like this: