Tag: mercy

Story 11: Life Outside the Garden

Gen. 3:20-4:26

Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden of Eden - stained glass

The first man and woman brought a terrible curse upon themselves and upon the world.  They would live in bondage to sin and their lives would end in death (see Story 7, Story 8, and Story 9 for the details).  But when we continue to read their story, we see that the first man still had faith.  After the Curse had fallen on humanity, he looked upon his wife and gave her a name: Eve, which means “living.”  In spite of their rebellion, Adam believed that God would still bring life through his wife and their love for each other.  And one day, a descendant of Eve would crush the head of the evil serpent that had brought the horrors of the curse.

In this, we see that God’s goodness was powerfully at work.  When Adam and Eve first chose the knowledge of good and evil over faithfulness to God Himself, the first thing they felt was shame.  When God came to them, they began to blame each other for their choices, spreading the darkness and deception through their fear-filled choices.  But God had limited the power of evil, He did not allow the fullness of its toxic power to have it’s sway.  Adam still carried a capacity for hope, there was still love and grace for the woman who drew him into temptation and supported his failure.  More importantly, he had faith that in spite of the evil that had befallen them, God was still able to bring life.

In God’s tender care for His disgraced children, He took the leather from the skin of animals and made clothes for Adam and Eve.  Already, a sacrifice had to be made to cover them for their sins. Already, something had to die.

The Garden had become a dangerous place for Adam and Eve.  The Tree of Life was there, and if they ate from it, they would never die.  Before the Curse, this would have been a wonderful blessing.  They would have lived with God in perfect unity forever and ever.  But now they were broken.  Their hearts were distorted and twisted by sin.  Death had become a necessary end in this terrible new era that they had brought into the world.  Without it, they would be cursed forever.

Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden.  They had invited the toxic power of evil into their hearts, and it did not belong in the Garden.  God had to cleanse His holy sanctuary from their contaminating presence.  They were exiled to the outer regions of the world where the Curse was already infecting the land.  The Lord sent His cherubim to guard the eastern entrance to the Garden.

Now, it is very interesting, because we don’t understand exactly what a cherubim is.  They are among God’s heavenly creatures that serve the Lord with absolute, devoted obedience.  They are something like the angels, except for one thing.  Whenever the Bible talks about angels, they are acting as God’s messengers with a very specific mission.  Whenever the Bible talks about cherubim, they are guarding something.  Sometimes they are standing guard in the very throne room of God.  Psalm 99:1 says, “The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake.”

Now that the Curse had come into the world, Heaven and the sacred space of the Garden was off limits to the people of earth.  The cherubim stood as guards while a flaming sword flashed back and forth across the entrance of the Garden, ensuring that no human could enter.

Distance from the Garden meant distance from God.  Instead of perfect nearness to God, the nations would tremble because of His wrath against them.  Humans would no longer walk in His presence in the cool of the day.  Adam and Eve had to make a life for themselves outside of the Garden, in the harsh new world where suffering and death had become a constant reality.

In the midst of their hard labor over the years, the Lord gave them a precious gift.  Adam and Eve had a son.  Consider the lavish forgiveness and grace of God.

Eve named her son Cain.  She said, “‘With the help of the Lord, I have brought forth a man.’”  Eve brought the curse, and God allowed the terrible consequences to come.  Yet even as they suffered for their shameful decision, God continued to bless them.  Eve learned to look up in dependent faith on the God that she had once rebelled against.  Would her sons do the same?

God gave Eve a second son.  His name was Abel.  When they grew up and became men, Abel took care of the flocks of animals.  Cain became a farmer.  Both of the men brought some of the fruit of their work as offerings to God. Abel brought the very best of his firstborn animals from his flocks and sacrificed them to the LORD.  His was an offering of deep faith and gratitude to God for all that He had provided.  Cain brought some of the grains and fruit of his farm.  They were not the first fruit or the best fruit and they were not given out of faith.  They were a religious token to get the necessary ritual of offerings to God done and over with.  They were a show.  Cain was far from loving the God who made him.

God was pleased with Abel’s offering, but not with Cain’s.  God would not accept anything less than true and proper worship.  In truth, it was no worship at all.  It was rebellion.  Cain wanted to come to God in his own way, as if the will of the Almighty God did not matter.  He wanted to define right and wrong for God instead of standing in humility and grateful surrender to Him.  He was in total and complete rebellion concerning the most sacred things of life.

God was not pleased.  When Cain realized his cheap, faithless offerings did not work, he did not repent and ask for forgiveness.  Instead, he was livid with anger and jealousy against Abel because his brother had received God’s approval.  His rage was so intense that it showed on his face.  The Lord asked him,

 

“‘Why are you angry?  Why is your face downcast?  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’”

Gen. 4:6-7

 

Wow.  Consider the kindness of God.  He did not scorn Cain for bringing his cheap offering.  He didn’t belittle him or compare him to his brother.  He simply gave him a chance to make it right.

Yet God knew the heart of Eve’s son. Cain’s shabby offering was an outward expression of a deeper problem.  He knew that Cain would rather do something rash and violent than follow the ways of the Lord.  So God warned him. He could either repent, turn around, and bring an offering that he knew would please the heart of God, or he could continue on in his rebellion.  But woe to him if he did.

Cain did not want to master his sin.  We can see by his choices that he wanted to give it his full energy.  The hatred in his heart grew into a terrible storm.  He plotted a way to get Abel back for earning God’s approval.  When the day of his vengeance arrived, he asked his brother to go out with him to a field.  Then Cain attacked Abel, spilling Abel’s blood on the ground as he died.

Once again, rebellion against the goodness of God had led to death.  The firstborn son of Adam and Eve had killed their second-born son…and so they lost them both.  Evil prevailed and the innocent suffered.  The burden of the sin that Adam and Eve had brought into the world had brought it’s devastating power into the heart of their family.  It is the way of Satan, and God hates it with a fierce, holy passion.

God came to Cain again and asked him, “‘Where is your brother?’”

Isn’t that question an interesting choice? God didn’t strike him with lightening.  He didn’t storm down on Cain with accusations and judgment. He approached him with a chance to confess.

Cain’s response was to lie: “‘I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’”

Did Cain think that God was unaware of his violence?  Did he think it was none of God’s business?  Did he believe he had a right to do what he did?  Did he think he could deceive God?

As you ponder the effects of sin in the world, as you grow and learn about the sin in your own heart, remember the jealousy and hatred and lies of Cain.  They are a clear picture of the way rebellious humanity acts against the pure and righteous ways of God.  This story is an archetype of how it works on the broader scale:

We fall into sin

We refuse to repent

We experience consequences

We refuse to repent

We resent those who thrive because they aren’t bearing the burden of the consequences of sin

We refuse to repent or allow the righteous to act as models and mentors

We increasingly blame others for the problems caused by our sin

We increase our sin by taking our anger out on them

We increasingly reject not only the people around us, but ultimately God.

It was not smart for Cain to lie to the God who knows absolutely everything.  It was the same game Adam and Eve tried to play in the Garden.  It is the way of Satan, the serpent.  God asked Cain the same question He had asked his mother at the moment of her great disobedience:

“‘What have you done?'”  

And…just as with Adam and Eve…the sin came with a consequence:

 

‘”Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground.  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield crops to you.  You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.’”

Gen. 4:10-12

 

Wow.  Because of Cain’s terrible sin, the curse that fell upon all men would be even more intense for him. The ground would not produce fruit for him at all.

Cain was horrified.  He said, “‘My punishment is more than I can bear.  Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’”

But God is merciful and gracious, and abounding in love.  He would not deal with Cain as Cain had dealt with his brother.  God was still willing to protect him.  He told Cain that nobody would be allowed to hurt him.  The Lord put a mark on him so that everyone would know that he was protected by God.  Wow.

One would hope that God’s protective kindness would soften Cain’s heart.  One would think it would cause Cain to repent. It did not.

When Cain left, he went as an unrepentant and sinful man.  He moved away to a place far from the presence of God.  He and his wife lived in a land called Nod, east from Eden.

What a terrible time this must have been for Adam and Eve.  Abel, their righteous son, was dead.  Their firstborn son was a murderer.  Rebellion first brought a separation between humanity and God.  Now it was bringing separation from each other.  Sin was widening its effect and delving humanity into deeper and darker ways.

What would happen to the human race?  Who would stop the evil trajectory of this rebellion?  Who among the sons of Eve was left to stomp on the head of the evil serpent?

 

Story 160: The Triumphal Entry of a Weeping King

Matthew 21:1-11; 14-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-44; John 12:12-10

Church of St. Anne - Palm Sunday

The Lord Jesus and His disciples began their trek from Bethany to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast.  Jesus had raised His friend, Lazarus from the dead only a few days before.  Multitudes of people who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast had gone to Bethany to see Lazarus and Christ.  It was the talk of the nation.  It confirmed to the religious leaders that Jesus had to die.  Now as Jesus and His disciples made their way back to the City of David, the crowds followed them with all the clamor and excitement of high expectations.  What was Jesus going to do when He arrived?  Would there be more miracles?  What would He say to their leaders?

When they arrived at Bethphage, which was on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of the disciples on ahead. There were special preparations that had to be made. For you see, the events of this day were going to have a high and holy meaning. Events that were predicted hundreds of years in the past would finally come true.

Jesus gave two disciples very specific directions. He said:

“‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her upon which no person has ever sat. Untie them and bring them to Me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.’”

Matthew 21:2-3 and Mark 11:2b

 The disciples went off and did just as the Lord had said. They found the animals tied to a door outside in the street. When they began to untie them, some people standing nearby with the owners asked, “‘Why are you untying them?’”

The disciples said, “‘The Lord has need of them,’” just as Jesus had told them. The owner gave them permission to take the creatures. The disciples lead the donkey and her colt out to Jesus on the Mount of Olives.   Little did they understand the significance of what they were a part of. In fact, it was only after Jesus ascended into Heaven that they would think back on this day and realize the great prophecy they had taken part in. For you see, in Zechariah 9:9, the prophet said:

“‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you,

righteous and having salvation is He,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

Zech. 9:9, ESV

These verses are a part of Zechariah’s description of a time when the King of Israel would see that His people were deeply afflicted. God would move in power on behalf of His people to deliver them. After complete and final victory over their enemies, their righteous King would ride into Jerusalem in victory. His conquest would bring peace not only for Israel, but for all the nations of the world. He would be the perfect, ideal ruler, like nothing the world had ever known. He would also be humble. Though He was mighty, He would submit with perfection to the King of Creation, honoring the Most High God with His reign.

Obviously this King would be no ordinary man. These were prophecies of the coming Messiah. As Jesus operated in absolute obedience to the will of His Father, God carried out His plans in perfect unison with the things He had foretold in His holy Word.

As the disciples led the donkey and her colt to Jesus, they had no idea they were swept up in the Great Unfolding of Zecheriah’s words. They just obeyed. When they arrived, they lay their garments across the back of the colt. Jesus sat on the young creature, and they began their procession into the City of David.

As Christ and the multitudes with Him moved towards the high walls of Jerusalem, the great crowds inside the city heard that Jesus was on His way. They began cutting the branches of palm trees to wave for the royal procession. Then they rushed out to receive the One they had been waiting for. Imagine their joy and excitement as they all began to shout out praises from their sacred book of worship:

“‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’”

Psalm 118:26

 The crowds that had followed Jesus and the disciples from Bethany walked along behind Jesus as He rode on the colt. They had watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead, and they were full of hope for the great things that He would do. Pretty soon, the masses from Jerusalem joined them in one great throng of vibrant energy and celebration as Christ rode the hill up into the City. The people began laying their cloaks and garments out on the road ahead of Him. It was an act of humble submission. They were physically showing their homage to the Man they were calling their King.

Imagine the fervor and joy! Thousands of years of national longing was pouring out in a lavish display of thankful praise. They had seen the miracles! They had heard the stories of His powerful works! The Great Day had arrived!

The entire city was alive as even more people rushed out to see the Man who had raised Lazarus from the dead.

The religious leaders heard the commotion and joined the throng of jubilation. When they heard the people give praise to Christ as King, they began to grumble to one another. “‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!’”

Then some of the Pharisees went to Jesus as He rode through the shouts and praise of the crowd. “‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!,’” they demanded.

Jesus looked back at them and declared, “‘I tell you, if they kept quiet, the stones will cry out!’”

Jesus was not only the King of Israel, He is King of the universe, and every part of it is called to worship Him!

But even as the Lord rode through the excitement and clamor, He was flooded with a deep, inner sorrow. He looked up at the great walls of Jerusalem, the City of God’s special choosing, and wept, saying:

“‘If you, even you, had only known what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you in the ground, and you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.’”

Luke 19:42-44

This terribly sorrowful saying was a prophecy. “If only you had known what would bring you peace.” Consider the sorrow of Jesus, reconciling His rejection with the vast and breathtaking consequences that were to come. The city of Jerusalem was going to be so devastated that every building would be crushed to the ground. But Jesus was not only mourning the future of Jerusalem. He was mourning the future of the whole nation. Jerusalem was the capitol, where God had set His special, intensified presence on earth. It was also a symbol for Israel, His treasured possession.

Even now as the people joined in wild celebration, Jesus knew what lay ahead. This moment of righteous glory would not last long. The nation that refused to repent through the Lord’s years of wondrous ministry would not stand with the Messiah in the end, either. The consequences would be great. Within the lifetime of the children who walked the streets of Jerusalem that day, the Roman army would come. When they were finished brutalizing the City and its people, there would be nothing left to call a city. The nation of Israel would disappear from the face of the earth for thousands of years.

With the rejection of their Messiah, the Jewish people were about to choose the ways of God’s enemy over the way of God’s righteous plan. And so the Lord would give them their way. Instead of having this humble King on a colt, they would have the malicious ways of the world, and it would devour them. The mighty Roman Empire would crush them. The depths of grief in this Son of David, this Son of God’s holy love, must have been great as He wept on His way into his City.

Picture the moment…the eloquent mourning of the King for the deep tragedy ahead in the midst of the jubilant crowds, waving their palms.

Yet in the midst of the disaster that faithless Israel was bringing upon themselves, Jesus carried a much deeper hope. He would have victory in spite of their betrayal.   It would be nothing like what they were hoping for. Through His perfect life, Jesus had been conquering the powers of sin and death by making the way to become the perfect, spotless Lamb. Now the time of His sacrifice was upon Him.

The grandeur of what He was going to do was far more vast and deep and high than anything they could comprehend. His deliverance was not for the nation of Israel alone. It was not merely for all the nations on earth for all time. Jesus had come to redeem the entire created order! His death would purchase the entire universe. He would make all things new!

As the throngs of people entered Jerusalem with their Messiah, they had no idea of the greatness of what they were celebrating. But the ruckus they caused stirred the rest of the city. “‘Who is this?’” was asked as the loud parade made its way inside the walls.

“‘This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth!’” the crowds proclaimed back to them.

The crowds journeyed with Jesus all the way to the Temple. The blind and the lame were there among the people, and an outpouring of healing came through Christ, making them whole and strong. What a delight and absolute thrill to watch men and women who were bound up and deformed jump up and dance and sing! What a marvelous party they were having, right on the steps of God’s holy Palace! The children were so swept up in the excitement that they were jumping and crying out with happy exaltation, “‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’”

In the midst of this unimaginably boisterous and absolutely appropriate happiness, the religious leaders and Pharisees grew bitter with indignation.‘Do you hear what they are saying?’” they demanded to Jesus “. They were red hot mad. The people were calling Him the Messiah, and Jesus wasn’t doing anything to stop them. It was as good as if Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah Himself.

Fortunately, Jesus was the Messiah, so He told them, “‘Yes! Have you never read:

‘From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise’”?

Wow. Now Jesus was quoting Psalm 8. If we read a little bit more of the Psalm, we will understand why this made the Jewish leaders even more angry:

“‘O Lord, our Lord,

how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens,

From the lips of children and infants

You have ordained praise.

because of your enemies,

to silence the foe and the avenger.’”

Psalm 8:1-2

 Jesus didn’t have to quote the whole Psalm to these men. They knew exactly what Jesus was saying. The children who give praise in these verses are giving praise to God Himself. Jesus was making it very clear that He was the divine Messiah. He was also making it clear that King David had foretold this very event.

The children were proclaiming the praise of Jesus against the religious leaders who had made themselves Christ’s enemies. These men should have led God’s nation to worship their Messiah. They had failed, and now the children cried out in their place.

Jesus spoke the truth boldly to them, and it was a kindness and a grace. There was still time, this was fair warning. They were on the wrong side of God’s holy plan. Would they repent?  They wouldn’t. They did just as the Psalm foretold. They were silenced in their rebellion, and they went away to plot once again about how to destroy the Son of the Living God.

The evening was drawing to a close on that remarkable day, so Jesus and His disciples left Jerusalem and went back to Bethany to stay for the night.

 

Story 154: On Joining or Resenting the Generosities of God

Matthew 19:17-30, 20:1-16; Mark 10:29-31

Vineyard at sunset in autumn harvest.

Jesus had a way of turning everything upside down. When the disciples tried to block the crowds from troubling Him with their children, Jesus not only told them to let the children come to Him…He told them that they needed to become more like the children! When the young, rich, and influential came to Jesus, He didn’t tell declare that their wealth was evidence of God’s favor…He told them to walk away from it altogether!

That might have been comforting for His disciples because they had left everything to follow Jesus. When Peter pointed this out, Jesus said that it was true. The reward for the choice of His disciples to walk away from their former lives and follow Him would bring them great treasures in this life and the next.

But that reward was not for them alone. Jesus went on:

“‘I tell you the truth, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields-and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first.’”

Mark 10:29-31

Did you notice that Jesus describe great blessings in this life and the one to come?

As the disciples listened to Jesus teach, they believed that what He said was truth. In fact, their hope and future depended on what He said. They had not only left everything because they took His words seriously, they had put themselves in great danger for His sake. The religious leaders were paying close attention to Jesus, looking for ways to silence Him. Surely they were paying attention to who His favored students were as well.

There was another great danger for the disciples, far worse than anything another human could bring against them.

What if in their great sacrifice for Jesus, their hearts grew just as proud and hard as the Pharisees?

What if they began to see themselves as better than everyone else and lord it over them? Jesus told them another parable:

“‘…the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went.

“‘He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, “Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?”

“‘“Because no one has hired us,” they answered.

“‘He said to them, “You also go and work in my vineyard.”

“‘When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, “Call the workers to pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going to the first.”

“‘The workers who were hired at the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when the those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. “These men who were hired last worked only one hour,” they said, “and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of work and the heat of the day.”

“‘But he answered one of them, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have a right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”

“‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’”

Matthew 20:1-16

As Jesus told this parable, He was talking to His disciples who had given up their lives to follow Him. They were like the first group of men that were hired to work in the field. The first workers would have toiled in sweat and discomfort as the blazing sun beat down on them from high in the noonday sky. As the hours went slowly by, their backs would ache and their arms would grow sore. Their clothes would grow dirty with sweat and dust. By the time evening came, they would be exhausted. The effort of their labor was a picture of what the disciples were giving to Jesus. They had already begun to make tremendous sacrifices for Him. Most of them would go on to die for the sake of His name. And though their offerings would greatly please God, it was nothing less than what they owed Him. God deserves every part of their lives and ours…Jesus brings us salvation for all eternity!

Many others would come along and put their faith in Jesus as well. They are like the men who came to work in the vineyards later in the day. They wouldn’t suffer, and their work would be short and quick. They started when the day was already cooling off, and they were finished almost as soon as they started. Yet they would receive the same wage as those who worked all day. That doesn’t seem fair, does it? How would you feel?

While Jesus’ disciples would serve Him in powerful ways, their faith and their strength to follow Him were actually gifts from God. The right attitude for them was grateful humility, not arrogance or demanding pride. If their hearts were right, they would rejoice in the generosity of their Master as He gave lavishly to others as well. Pettiness and competition have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus repeated once again that those who are first will be last, and the last will be first. In His Kingdom; it is those who seek to serve that are honored in the eyes of God. When we humble ourselves before God by showing generosity and kindness to others, we are surrendering our natural selfishness to the hands of God. We are turning to His goodness and greatness with trust, finding our significance and hope in His love and power. Once we have let go of our own ambition and the need to prove ourselves and bring ourselves honor, we make the way for God to work. We are able to hear and see. But as long as we are worrying and jostling and pushing for our own way, we limit His work in our lives. We put ourselves in last place for spiritual growth.

Jesus was saying that in the end, we will be very surprised at who is most highly honored by God in Heaven. God will sift through all that we have done, looking for thoughts and actions that were pursued with a pure heart. He will be looking for everything about us that was infused with meekness and humility and mercy. Those are the true, eternal treasures that will last forever. Many who went about quietly and humbly on the earth doing the work of the Kingdom, whose names are long forgotten, will shine magnificently with God’s praise. And many who worked in the name of God, but sought their own glory and honor will find themselves last on the list for God’s rewards. May we seek the exalting grace of humility on earth so that our reward in Heaven will be great!

Story 128: The War

Luke 12:49-13:9

Middle east earth.

The Day of the Lord is going to come and even as Jesus walked the earth, He longed for it. It will be the great Day of Salvation for all who put their faith in Him. It will also be a Day of Judgment and fire against rebellion and the darkness of this world. It will bring a final end to the curse, and will usher in a new era of everlasting joy and light.  The Bible says we are all to long for that Day to come.

Jesus had come to earth on a rescue mission to save His chosen ones from the grip of the Kingdom of Darkness. In order to do so, He was going to offer Himself up as a sacrifice in obedience to His Father.   This is what He said:

“‘I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is completed.’”

Do you hear Jesus speaking about His dread as He prepared to die? Imagine the agony that Christ went through in that time. He knew that in the next few months, He would be offering Himself up to bear the horrific suffering of death on a cross. He would allow these malicious, selfish rulers to have Him beaten and nailed to wood. All the while, He would be bearing the terrific force of God’s cataclysmic wrath against the sin and evil of humanity. The cross loomed over His life like a constant shadow. What He was preparing to do as He went about teaching and healing is incomprehensible to us. What a wonderful Savior, that He would bear that burden for us.  It is just another reminder of the unimaginable good of Jesus, magnificently selfless…utterly worthy of our love and devotion.

With His life and death and resurrection, Jesus would forge the way for the glorious path of God’s grace. He was purchasing salvation, and making a way to Heaven for all who believe in Him. How could anyone refuse His gift? But then again, how could Adam and Eve reject their God? Why does anyone turn from God and cross over the line of His will into sin? Why do you and I sin?  It isn’t rational…it doesn’t make sense.

Humanity is utterly sinful, and Jesus knew many would not receive the gift that He purchased with His blood. He knew that they would not only refuse His mercy and grace. but they would join the ranks of God’s great enemy and fight against Him. With Christ’s victory on the cross, Satan was utterly defeated, but that wasn’t going to stop him from doing as much damage as possible until Christ returns. Jesus knew that Satan was going to do everything he could to wage war against the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. He was going to deceive and draw as many people into sin and darkness as possible so he could use them to wage war against God. From the time of Christ’s life on earth to the time when He would return, there would be a deep divide in the human race between the Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of Light. This is how Jesus described it:

“‘Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’”

Luke 12:50-53

The dividing line of the Great Battle would be drawn at the foot of the cross. The great distinction in humanity would be between those who received the sacrifice as a covering for their sin, and those who refused this marvelous grace. The great division between the two would drive right through the most intimate relationships, invading even the heart of families.   It would divide through the heart of each person as well, as they wrestled with the purity and faith that Christ commanded. It was the same divide that was working through the listeners of Jesus during His time and during our time as well.

As Jesus preached through Galilee, He kept coming up against the foolishness of the people. Here He was, their own Messiah, and they refused to recognize it. The Kingdom of God was near, and the time for great revelation of God’s Salvation was on the way, but the people were completely missing it. This is what Jesus said:

“‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, “It’s going to rain,” and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, “It’s going to be hot,” and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?’”

Luke 12:54-56

Jesus was rebuking the people. How could they be so sensitive to something as fleeting as the weather, yet so dull to the great and mighty work of God among them? The storm clouds were rising over Israel. Judgment was on the way. The nation of Israel would not stand if it rejected the Messiah! These people were living in an illusion if they thought they could go on after so great a sin! Can you hear Jesus’ frustration? Can you hear Him trying to prod them awake?

Then He said:

“‘Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled to him on the way, or he may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’”

Luke 12:57-59

In this little story, you have to imagine a man who has been accused of a crime. He is guilty, and his accuser has full, complete proof. Once they get to court, that accuser is going to show the judge all the evidence and the man will surely go to jail. What is the smartest thing for the man to do?

  • Should he lie and pretend to be innocent?
  • Should he fool himself into believing that the judge might let him off in spite of his crime?
  • Should he carry false hope that there is some other legal system that he can go to?
  • Should he reject and abuse his accuser on the way to the judge?
  • Or should he plead with his accuser, confess his sins, and hope for a more lenient punishment?

As Jesus spoke to the Jewish people, He was calling them to repent and seek God’s grace before it was too late. God had full proof of their sin and their need for grace, and Jesus was there, willing to give it. But once the time of God’s judgment came, it would be too late.

Story 126: The Great Warnings: Part 1

Luke 12:35-13:9

The revelation

From the point when Jesus started His ministry to where we are now in the story, it has been over two and a half years. He and His disciples have journeyed throughout the towns and villages and cities of  Israel, proclaiming the Truth of God’s Kingdom and demonstrating the power of the Most High God through breathtaking miracles and heart-rending acts of compassion. As Jesus went around preaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, it was obvious that He was the Messiah for anyone who had ears to hear or eyes to see. All of the evidence was there. The only proper response was repentance and joy: the long awaited King had come!

But as we read, we can see the heartbreaking truth. God’s people did not repent. There was a small, faithful remnant of followers that were devoted to Jesus, but the bright, blazing hope of a transformed nation and a people eager to devote themselves to the plans of their Almighty God were not to be found.

And so Jesus began to give dire warnings. Though they were stern, they were warnings of compassion. They were the kind of warnings given by a father showing his love for his child who is in the process of destroying themselves and refuses to listen to softer words of kindness and concern.

Did the people think there was more than one choice…that they could reject the plan of God with no consequences? This was the great deception of Satan, the same lie that he told Adam and Eve. What Adam and Eve failed to understand, and what all sinners fail to see as they reject the ways of God, is that they are rejecting the only way. Satan is lying when he tells us that there are other options. There is nowhere else to go besides God. His plan for salvation of the human race is the only plan. He is in all things and moves all things and keeps it all going. He is the only One who can provide the Way.

For someone to decide to reject God is like saying they are going to reject breathing air.   Imagine if someone decided they were going to live their life without breathing. How long would that last? There is no life for a human without air. Well, in the same way, there is no life without God, and there is no future hope other than the hope He had provided.   All the other options are like trying to not to breathe.   They aren’t actually real options.  It is because of His truly amazing grace that God keeps humans living and breathing even when they are sinning against Him and rejecting His Son. He holds back His final judgment, giving them every chance, until they have come to the very end of their lives and have passed into death.

Consider this. If God stopped energizing everything that is, everything would immediately cease to exist. Think how arrogant it is when we, whose every breath depends on God, treat His plan and His ways with contempt. People do it all the time today…even people that love God can disregard His will. The same thing was happening in Jesus’ time. He had come from Heaven with the message of His Father, and God’s holy nation was treating Him like He was an option instead of their only path to Life.

It put them in a very dangerous position. They wouldn’t listen to His message given through healings and preaching…so Jesus began to declare stern warnings. If the nation at large would not follow their God, then perhaps He could reach the few in it who would. And those few, the remnant, had to be ready for what was coming. Jesus said:

“‘Be dressed, ready for service, and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.’”

Luke 12:35-36

In this little story, it is clear that the Master is Jesus, and that His servants are His faithful followers. But why did they have to wait for Him? Wasn’t He sitting right there with them?

Many of the things Jesus said were cloaked in mystery. That is part of the strange beauty of all He said. His words were not only about what was happening in the very moment.  They often spoke of things reaching far into the future, and they intertwined with thousands of years of great prophecy from the past.

Jesus was telling His true followers to always be ready for a time in the future…an epic moment of absolute and total change of the entire world order…the great and terrible Day of the Lord. Christ will come again, and He will bring the fullness of His work and the end to this fallen world and the Curse.   That Day will be a time of judgment for those who don’t have faith in Jesus, but for those who do, it will be a time of great celebration and joy. In fact, it is the real hope that Christians are meant to live for. We have never been meant to act as if this earth were our home. We are to be always watching for the Second Coming, when Jesus will come as conquering the King! Jesus continued on with the story, and it told both His followers then and those who follow Him now about remarkable things to come:

“‘It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants who, if he finds them ready, even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night…You…must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.’”

Luke 12:37-38, 40

When the Lord comes again, He will bring His servants to eternal life. Those that followed Jesus in this life will enter everlasting life with Him. They will be the honored guests at a great feast in Heaven, and Jesus Himself, the Son of God, will delight in serving them. He will reward their love and service to Him on earth with a lavish display of love and honor at the End of Days. Wow.

Story 125: The Shalom Peace That Only Christ Can Bring

Luke 12:13-34

gray barn

Where do you store your plenty? How much will be enough? And when do we start to give?

 

As Jesus traveled the countryside of Judea, He continued to bring Truth and Light wherever He went. As He healed people of their blindness, their lame feet, and the demonization, He showed the world that the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom was already on it’s way. As He taught Truth against all the corruption, greed, and suffering of society, He made clear the difference between the ways of God and the ways of sinful humanity. The wretchedness and betrayal of this earth was not His desire for the human race, but it is what we have chosen for ourselves. Jesus came to bring the peace…the shalom…of God’s promises, and they have been increasing on the earth ever since. When He returns, He will restore total shalom, or total blessing in every possible way, to all that call on His name.

While Jesus was preaching in Judea, a man stood up and asked Him a question. It was about the amount of money he should inherit from his parents. He wanted his brother to share with him. Normally, for the Jewish people, the answers to these kinds of questions were answered in the Law of God. The Jewish people would simply do what the Law said, and it kept everything straight and fair between them. It was a wonderful gift from God. It created an orderly society with a powerful, unified sense of justice that was shared by everyone. But sometimes, there were problems the Law didn’t cover. So the people would go to their rabbis, or religious teachers, and ask them to make decisions where the Law wasn’t clear.

The man stood before Christ and the crowd and asked the Lord to decide in his favor against his brother. But Jesus was given a very specific task by His Father, and deciding this man’s case was not part of it. So the Lord said, “‘Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter over you?’” The Son of the Living God was standing before this man with power to heal, with words of stunning Truth, and all the man cared about was his inheritance! The Lord would have none of it. Jesus had come to draw people to the riches of God, not to the riches of money.

Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said:

“‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’”

Then, to make His point, Jesus told a parable.

“‘The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.”

“‘Then he said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”

“‘But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”

“Then Jesus said, ‘This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.’”

Luke 12:15-21

In this story, it is important to listen to what the man said so we understand the motives of his heart. God provided him with a wonderful harvest, but he showed no gratefulness to God…it didn’t make him trust God more. In fact, the abundance of his harvest seemed to make him even more greedy. His only care was how to make life good for himself for as long as possible. His main purpose became comfort and ease. He was totally absorbed by selfish greed.

What other choices did the man in the story have? Well, he could have given part of his plenty back to God in thanks. He could have served God by using some of the extra to care for the poor. He could have been a part of God’s generous love for those who suffer…God’s shalom.  Instead, he found a way to hoard all of it for himself.  Doesn’t this man seem wretched when you think about all the good that he could have done but failed to do with his wealth?

Meanwhile, the Lord Jesus said that giving to those in need is like giving directly to God Himself. Isn’t the compassion and mercy of God beautiful?

Money wasn’t the only thing that Jesus called His followers to surrender to the will of God. They were meant to surrender their right to their very lives! It was a radical request…and it was something that Jesus was preparing to do first Himself.

As Jesus continued to preach, He knew that His declarations against the religious leaders put Him in increasing danger. His disciples knew it, too. As they stood by Him in each town and village, their allegiance to Him was made clear to everyone, and it put their lives at risk as well. The longer the disciples continued on their path with Him, the more clear it became that they were leaving behind many of the things that bring a sense of security and safety on earth. They were men without homes, on a persevering journey, facing real enemies, proclaiming a volatile, powerful Truth.

As Jesus spoke, He had a clear view of Heaven where His heavenly Father reigns in absolute power on the throne. As a human being who had perfect faith through the power of the Holy Spirit, He knew exactly His position in the universe and was absolutely confident about God’s plan. One day soon, He was going to return to His home of eternal glory, and the temptations of this world seemed like shabby waste next to the gleaming things of His Father’s Kingdom.

But for His disciples and all who followed Him, their eternal vision was still growing. The comforts and pleasures of this world, the opinions of other people, and the fear of pain and death all loomed large in their hearts.

Jesus wanted to teach them to understand themselves as members of the Kingdom of God. They were to look at life as if it was just the staging ground for going to Heaven. They could live this life with an abandon and freedom, trusting that God Himself was on the Throne and would take care of them while they were here on earth. He said:

“‘Therefore, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have not storerooms or barns; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”

“‘But seek His Kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the Kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”

Do some of these ideas seem familiar? These words are from the book of Luke, but Matthew recorded many of these things in the Sermon on the Mount as well (Matt. 5-7). These ideas were so important to Jesus that He continued to teach them wherever He went. He knew how hard it is for us humans to stop looking at the things of this world and put our hope in God. It takes time and growing faith to take hold of the reality of His glorious Kingdom.

God knows that His children need food and clothing in this life. But He longs for His children to trust Him to provide these things, instead of scratching it out for themselves in their own strength or demanding far more than they really need.

How lovely is the heart that cares more for the needs of the poor than having something new and shiny for themselves! It is their privilege to take part in the unfolding of God’s Kingdom shalom!

How whole and strong the heart that is absolutely confident that God will take care of them, even in their poverty!

How Jesus longed for all of His followers to make Him their great treasure! He is the one necessary thing!

Story 110: Reorienting the Disciples to Love: Witness the persevering love of our Lord for His very human men

A bottle of green poison with a skull and fumes

The Bible depicts sin as a toxic poison that infects not only individuals, but their loved ones and the community around them. Witness the way sin worked among the disciples as they faced the challenge of one of the deepest forms of sin…and the persevering beauty of Christ’s response to it.

 

The disciples knew that something epic was coming. Jesus had performed incredible miracles right in front of their eyes. The lame walked, the blind could see, and the dead rose at His command. When He told the sea to be still, it obeyed.  When He ordered demons out of the wretched victims they kept in bondage, they had to leave.

Jesus confronted the corrupt religious leaders with fearless zeal, exposing their abuses and falsehood so effectively that they were plotting to kill Him.

Imagine what it was like for the disciples.  It was as if they were caught up in the stories of old. The great prophets of God like Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea clashed with the faithless in Israel as they confronted the toxic offensiveness caused by their willful sin. The Jewish people were called to demonstrate to all of the other nations of the world the breathtaking goodness of God.  The prophets were sent by God to warn Israel when they failed. The prophets also told about a coming Kingdom where a descendant of David would rule on an everlasting throne.

John the Baptist, the great preacher, had declared the coming of the Kingdom of God, and He said that Jesus was the one to usher it in. Jesus had declared it’s coming too, but He used strange and veiled explanations and parables to do so. As His disciples followed Him, they grappled with what it all meant.

The disciples were no cowards.  They had given their lives to follow Jesus. They stood with Him in the face of the opposition of the most powerful religious leaders in their nation and continued to declare His message by His side. There was reason to feel the dignifying honor of being chosen by Him…but it also created an opening for a nefarious invasion of pride.

One day as they journeyed toward Jerusalem, some of the disciples started arguing about which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom that Jesus was going to bring about.  Jesus knew what they were talking about. He also knew that the rules of status and power that often dominate how people relate to each other in our world are not going to be the rules of His Kingdom. There was an entirely different way for the human race to relate to each other…a thing of beauty…saturated in love.

The most basic thing about this love was that every son or daughter of God has tremendous worth to Him…He was and is protective of them. Believers should treat every member of God’s Kingdom with tremendous care and concern. In fact, doing this well should be prioritized over the vast majority of things that we get distracted by in this world.

Jesus also knew that promotion in God’s Kingdom will be related to the attitude of the heart. Pride, competition, self-adulation…these are the things that poison the heart’s ability to come with humility and surrendered love to the Father. The blessed in God’s Kingdom are the poor in spirit, the meek, the pure in heart, and the merciful.

Jesus pronounced a severe woe against anyone who would tempt another of God’s little ones…those who put their faith in Jesus…to sin against the Lord. Then Jesus declared a stern warning to those who do not honor His words with obedience. Their sin brings stumbling blocks into the world. They can have a powerful influence on the people and the cultures they live in by introducing new and old ways to dishonor God.

This is what Jesus said to them:

“‘Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to the man through whom the stumbling block comes!’”

Wow. When Jesus says “woe” it is an intense warning. He knows that in this sinful, fallen world, there will be stumbling blocks, or temptations, that lead people to sin against God. But He fiercely warns against being the person who brings that temptation into the lives of others.

Jesus went on to talk about how to deal with our own sin. It makes perfect sense that Jesus would mention this next. Every one of us who sins is bringing something less that God’s perfect goodness into the world. The Bible talks about sin like it is a toxic poison that easily spreads. What you and I do will inevitably affect the people in our lives. Jesus was watching it happen with His disciples. A few of the disciples seemed to have let their pride take over. They began to be consumed about what their position of power and status would be in the new Kingdom. This concern invaded their conversations, spreading to the other disciples. All of a sudden, Christ’s small band of followers were immersed in selfish competition instead of the critical lessons Jesus had for them.

How easily we humans slip into our selfish desires! The disciples fell to it’s power in the very presence of the Son of God! Jesus explained the extreme importance of doing whatever radical thing we can to stop ourselves from falling into sin:

“‘If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where

“their worm does not die,

and the fire is not quenched.”

It is a dangerous thing to allow sin in our own lives…and to bring it into the lives of others. Jesus explained that it was better to permanently maim yourself at the place where your sin starts than let it continue…and the reason He gave was directly related to how it affects others. Jesus said:

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

Wow. How amazing is it that the followers are assigned angels. Sit back for a second and let that sink in.  If we take Scripture seriously, that is a breathtaking thing to realize.  Angels are present with the “little ones”…the meek ones who follow Jesus Christ. They are not to be looked down upon…in fact it offends the Lord when others do. Jesus defends them by declaring their place of honor in the mighty realms of eternal life. Though their dignified position cannot be seen by those on earth who lack eyes of faith, they are of such great value to God that their angels are ever in the presence of God the Father…and He is ever aware of the little ones those angels serve. Wow.

That means that God is also ever aware of those who hurt them, belittle them, or lead them into sin. Woe to them who do so. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31).

Jesus went on to talk about God’s attitude towards one of His own that gets lost:

“‘What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about the one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones be lost.’”

Wow. Consider the tender, merciful heart of the Most High God. He is beautiful and right and good in all He does.  This is tremendously good news for all of us who struggle to honor Him with obedience…and for all of us who love those who are struggling. This love is the sweet humility and honesty that Christ longs for in His followers. It is the repentant demeanor that allows Him to transform each person, and the interconnection of relationships between each other into the kind of the love that is meant to be in God’s Kingdom.

This kind of love has power to woo others away from their defensive positions of self-centeredness and pride. It alleviates the fears that make us feel like we have to be impressive, “more than,” and never resting. It builds trust, helps people come down from their fences, and creates space for each person to experience God’s love and acceptance. It is the necessary space for healing and transformation from the damage brought to our souls by a dark and hostile world.

Imagine what would happen in our world if this is how we lived and loved.  Imagine what would happen to injustice, what goodness would come to the suffering, what healing would come to the sinful lost that our Father so yearns for.  Lord Jesus, empower us to love.

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 51: On Meekness, Mercy, and the Hunger

Matthew 5:5-7

hands holding the sun at dawn

There are gifts that someone can hand you, that you can hold and turn over and appreciate. There are also gifts that cannot be physically touched, but are still very real…and far more powerful than anything else we can give. Those are often the gifts God gives us…His blessings of love, mercy, and grace…the capacity for righteousness…He can even give us the desire to want to be righteousness. These things don’t fill our hands, they fill our hearts…though once our hearts are filled, our hands often get very busy acting like Jesus by showing His mercy and love to the people around us.

Crowds upon crowds of people had come from all over the nation of Israel and the surrounding countries to see Jesus, the popular young preacher who performed amazing miracles and taught about God in a radical new way.  The book of Matthew recorded the teaching given by Christ through this time in the Sermon on the Mount.  In the first verses of the Sermon, Jesus explained who the blessed are in the Kingdom of Heaven as they make their way on earth. First He explained the blessings for the poor in spirit and those who mourn. Then He said: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

A lot of times when people use the word “meek,” they are describing someone who is weak and sickly. That isn’t quite what it really means, at least in Scripture. A meek person is not someone who is timid and unsure. They aren’t a pushover that everyone else can order around. In fact that is the opposite of what it means. Meekness is great power under the control of someone who is strong enough to master it.

Think of a large, muscular horse that can kick down doors and throw off anyone who tries to ride it. Then imagine that same powerful horse standing with a rider on its back, in total control of itself and responsive to whatever its Master says.   The horse is strong enough to put its power under the guidance of the Master, and that Master can do great things with it. He can ride into battle knowing that his horse will not run away in fear or flinch when the fighting comes.

When we put our faith in Jesus, we are given new life and new strength. Meekness is when we actively put those gifts in the hands of God to serve Him. We offer our strength to Jesus, our Master, so that He can use us for His Kingdom.

The meek receive huge blessings from God. They will inherit the earth!     Sometimes in this world it seems like the selfish and arrogant are the ones who win. Think about the people who use their talent and strength to take what they can. They often make more money and have more power. But God says that in the end, it pays to be meek. The Lord sees every humble act of quiet obedience, and He promises to reward it lavishly. The meek will not demand the things of this world through sin, but they will inherit the whole earth through His love.

It takes a lot of faith to trust that in the end, meekness wins. In this age of the world, it seems like the opposite is true. But as depth of love for Jesus grows, so does the longing to be freed from the drives of this world.  As vision for the goodness of His Kingdom expands, the need to find identity and hope in the things that will pass away diminishes. A great mark of a life maturing in faith is the power to be meek.

The next thing Jesus said was, “‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’” Imagine what it is like to feel really, really hungry. You can’t think of anything else, and you’ll do almost anything to fill your stomach. That is the kind of hunger the Lord is talking about here.

We already know that none of us can be righteous on our own. We need the righteousness of Christ! So how do we pursue that? Well, Jesus has already told us. A righteous person is someone who is poor in spirit. They are humble, and so they mourn for their sin. They are also meek, so even their strengths are humbly submitted to God, longing for Jesus to be glorified. These are beautiful marks of righteousness, for they are the way to depend on the Lord wholeheartedly. Being righteous is not about following rules. Being perfect with the rules will not satisfy our hunger. Jesus Himself is the only thing that can satisfy it. And the amazing thing is that God promises we will be filled!

As a follower of Jesus grows in their hunger for righteousness, things will begin to transform in their hearts. The desire to honor the Lord becomes a deep need. It is their first want. They long to have patterns and habits of life that are in obedience to God’s will at all times. They learn to listen to the Lord, quieting themselves so they can hear Him and respond. The testimony of the saints across hundreds and even thousands of years is that this becomes their great source of joy and hope. They actually feel delighted by it the way most of us feel delighted by chocolate or by a compliment or by falling in love.

Often we tend to treat God’s ways as a burden, as something we have to do. We treat sin like it is something wonderful that we have to sacrifice. We resent not being able to do what we want as if God is withholding something from us that we deserve. Or we just do it anyhow and expect God to show us grace. But someone that hungers and thirsts for righteousness scorns sin as a waste of time. They look at it cold in the face and take note of all the pain and destruction it actually causes ourselves and others. They love the goodness of God so much that they are running after it, headlong and full of triumphant happiness that they have found the way to please God. That is their first happiness.

For most of us, even the best of Christians, the hunger and thirst for righteousness is something that ebbs and flows. We will go through periods of rich spiritual depths where we experience the love of the Lord. And then we will feel dry, temptations will come and we will feel weak against them. We will give in to sin. And because we long to honor God, we feel terrible about it. That is when remembering the amazing grace of Christ is most important. That is a good time to read verses like Psalm 51 that talk about how much God loves a repentant heart. Repentance is part of righteousness. A hunger and thirst for righteousness is something we can ask for. Jesus will keep filling us with it in greater measure as we come to the One who is our righteousness.

The next blessing Jesus gave was this: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” What does the word “mercy” mean? Is it the same thing as grace? What is the difference? Well, grace is when someone gives love to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Mercy is when love is given to someone who is helpless and in need. Grace is when we give love to someone who has proven they are unworthy of it. God shows us His grace every day by showering us with His lavish love. We offer mercy when we give our love to those who are suffering and in trouble. Every human on earth constantly receives God’s mercy. Without Him, we would be without everything we need…the sun, the rotating earth that gives us day and night, the air we breath, the food we eat…we would be impoverished to the point of death if God didn’t constantly provide these things to us at all times. We are also desperately in need of a Savior! Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s goodness. God was merciful and gracious to us when He sent his Son.

When we are truly poor in spirit and recognize how sinful we are, the heart becomes extremely grateful to Jesus for the mercy and forgiveness He has shown us. That process softens the heart to be willing to show the same mercy to others. The wonderful mercy of Christ that we receive will flow out from us like a fresh, gentle stream! And as it does, we move into the blessing that Christ promised: we receive greater measures of His mercy.

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