Category: parable

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 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!

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