Tag: reformer

Story 139: A Feast for the Broken

Luke 14: 15-34

Road in the evening

Jesus sat at the table of a powerful Pharisee. The influential, honored religious men of the region had joined them. Normally, an invitation to dinner is meant to be a sign of friendship, but in this case, it was quite the opposite. These men had invited Jesus to trap Him so they could silence Him. They wanted Him dead.

As usual, the Lord turned the conversation upside down. How He longed for these men who claimed to love His Father to be the men of humility and justice that God required. So He confronted them through stories that told about characters that were committing the same kinds of sins to provoke new ways of thinking. He was trying to help them look at their old, entrenched ways from another direction, trying to help them see. These men were trying to kill Christ, but He was offering them new life.

In Jesus’ last parable, (see Story 138) He said that if they wanted to truly honor God, then when it came time for them to throw a dinner party, their guests would be the poor and the lame and the blind. As the religious leaders, they were meant to show the love and grace of God; they would open the doors of their homes to comfort the people whose lives who were most crushed by the Fall. It was a beautiful idea, and the very purity of it made the flashy, presumptuous tone of the feast glaringly obvious. It was so obvious, in fact, that it became very uncomfortable in the room.

Imagine how tense and annoyed these leaders were. Nobody had ever dared to challenge their ways like this before! Who did Jesus think He was to confront their honored host like that? This was no time to be talking about the poor! Didn’t this Jesus have any manners?

One of the men tried to change the subject. He said, “‘Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God.’”

Jesus wasn’t about to let it go. He replied with another parable. This time He told about a great banquet. It was something like the feast that the Jews believed God was preparing for the righteous at the end of time. Of course, these Pharisees assumed that they would be there among the Lord’s most honored guests. Imagine their shock as this parable unfolded:

“‘A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet He sent His servant to tell those who had been invited, “Come, for everything is now ready.”

Now, it is important to realize something. This was no ordinary dinner party. It was a great banquet. The host had invited his guests many weeks ahead of time.   His family had gone to great expense, sacrificing other treasures so that they could shower blessings on their friends. They turned over their time and energy for weeks to make it a great day. In the days that led up to the party, great packages and carts full of wine and oil and food had arrived at the house. Everyone in the region had been be talking about it.

For a large feast to occur, it took dozens of busy hands many days to cut and slice and mix the many dishes. They would have to hire outside workers to come and help. The ovens would be going night and day, baking and roasting and grilling all of the rich delicacies that the host would offer his friends in celebration. Tables would be set out and covered with the finest of linens. lamps would be filled with oil so that the banquet could go on long into the late night hours. Imagine how the excitement would grow and build in the house as they prepared.

As Jesus told the story, He explained that when the day for the banquet finally came, the master sent his servant out to his guests, telling them that the awaited time had come. But when his servant met with the guests, something strange began to happen. This is what Jesus said:

“‘…the [invited guests] all alike began to make excuses. The first said, “I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.”

“‘Another said, “I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.”

“‘Still another said, “I just got married, so I can’t come.”

Can you imagine? What ridiculous excuses! Why couldn’t the man go check on his field another day? Why couldn’t the oxen wait? Or why hadn’t they done these things ahead of time, knowing that this was the day of the banquet? Was the honor of the man who threw the grand feast of less value than a pack of animals?

It was clear that these reasons were not reasons at all. They were giving bad excuses on purpose, and the worst part was they probably weren’t each working alone.

They were probably working as a pack. For some reason, they had planned to humiliate the host with the most public, shocking rejection possible. In their malice, they had waited until the very last minute, when the food was cooked and the tables were all set, to let the host know they weren’t going to come.

There would be no refunds for the money he had paid for the banquet. There would be no one to eat all that food or dance to the music.   How the guests must have sneered and cackled at the thought of those grand, elegant tables sitting empty as the master and his family realized that everyone had turned on them.   The people they had counted as their greatest friends were revealed as their greatest enemies.

As the servant went from house to house to house, he found that every single one of the invited guests had joined the refusal. How heavy-hearted the servant must have felt as he carried the terrible messages back home:

“‘The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”

“‘“Sir,” the servant said, “what you ordered has already been done, but there is still room.”

Wow. Rejection was not going to stop the master from having a feast, and his servants knew it! The new guests would be those whose lives were crushed and broken. They were the last people anyone would think to bring to a glittering, fancy affair. Imagine the blind and lame  and poor men and women as they were escorted to the brilliant tents and all the fine table settings. Imagine how they delighted in the gifts of the host! They would truly enjoy the wonderful delicacies that had been so carefully prepared! Imagine how wonderful it would all taste to those who were truly hungry.

Sometimes the greatest blessing is brokenness.  It crushes our love for the things of this world, the positions of power and pride, and helps us appreciate the deep beauty of spiritual things and our need for Christ.

What did the guests who were first invited do? When they learned who was invited in their place, did they squeal and laugh? Did they sneer because the host shared his table with people of misfortune?   Did they run to each other’s homes with the gossip, mocking the banquet where the guests were dressed in rags? Whatever they did, their wretchedness had no effect on the master of the party:

“‘…the master told his servant, “Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Luke 14:16-34

Wow, now even the travelers and outsiders along the road were invited to come in. But the malicious noblemen who had been invited first were barred completely. In their mutiny, they had excluded themselves from the grand celebration. The happiness of feasting and music and dancing was given to the ones who said “Yes” to the master of the party.

As the Pharisees listened to Jesus, they could not have missed His point. For three years, the religious leaders of Israel had been given an invitation from Jesus, and not only did they refuse it, they denounced it!   They joined forces and turned their backs on the Messiah as a united and hostile enemy. Then they tried to convince the people that this man who worked such startling miracles and told such astonishing Truth was operating in the power of Satan.

They were like the noblemen of the story, and during the time of Jesus’ life, they were doing everything they could to shame Him. But in truth, it would be to their own everlasting shame and sorrow. Unless, of course, they would repent, which was the very reason Jesus told the story.

How patiently Jesus continued to express to these men the catastrophic error they were making. How relentlessly He tried to help their blind eyes to see! But they didn’t, and they wouldn’t, and they were going to miss the banquet.

Jesus ceased preaching in their synagogues to go out to the roads and hillsides of Israel to declare the nearness of God’s Kingdom. He proclaimed good news to the poor and set captives free from every bondage. And now, in this parable, Jesus was hinting at an even greater ministry. The servants of the Master would go out into all the world, inviting people from every tribe, nation, and language group.  For there truly is going to be a Great Feast at the End of Days, and those who say “Yes!” to the invitation of Christ will join Him in a celebration that will last for all eternity.


Story 133: The Good Shepherd Part 1

John 10:1-10


Jesus had confronted the Pharisees and religious leaders over and over again for more than two and a half years. It was becoming ever more clear that their hearts were not growing softer and more ready to accept their Savior. In fact, their hearts were only growing harder, becoming more and more confirmed in their rebellion and sin.

It is a very dangerous thing for any human to hear God’s Truth and reject it. Every heart was made to live for the God of Creation, and when someone keeps turning against the Lord, their heart will become harder and harder…and less and less able to respond to God. In His wonderful mercy, God will continue to pursue, but there comes a point when He lets the person have their way. He lets them seal up their hearts in stony rebellion against Him, and it becomes a permanent condition for all eternity. Many of the religious leaders in Israel already had hearts of pure stone, and many others were getting there fast.   They could only see Jesus with eyes of hatred and malice, and their only thoughts about Him were about how they could destroy Him.

In the story just before this one, Jesus had healed a man who was born blind. When the man boldly defended Jesus for giving Him this amazing miracle, the religious leaders were filled with rage. They kicked him out of the synagogue for his loyalty to Christ. And so the tensions continue to build. It was clear that those who followed Jesus were going to face increasing persecution. So Jesus told a parable to help explain what was happening:

“‘I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by their name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow the stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize the stranger’s voice.’”

John 10:1-5

One way to understand this story even better is to put ourselves in it. Imagine if you were a part of this parable. You are a sheep, and you have a very good Shepherd who loves you. You love Him, too. When He calls your name, you feel safe and protected, and you are absolutely sure of His care for you. The voice of anyone else sounds strange and dangerous, and that it good, because it is! They are thieves and robbers who do not love the flock! They are only there to steal something for themselves!

Jesus was saying that those who truly love God the Father will love the message Jesus brought. They would love and follow Him the way sheep follow their shepherd. The people of Israel that did not follow Jesus were showing that they never belonged to God in the first place!

Jesus went on to explain more:

“‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.’”

Wow. Now, this may seem like a simple, quick thing to say, but it is huge. Jesus was not only claiming to be the Shepherd that came to watch over the flock of God’s children 2,000 years ago. He was claiming to be the very Gate of Truth for the people of God for all time! Since before the creation of the world, throughout the history of human time, in the making of the nation of Israel and the writing of the Word of God, Jesus was the Gate through which all Truth came into the world.


Story 120: Watching Our Enemy Fall

Luke 10:17-20

meteorito cayendo en el mar

The seventy disciples journeyed out to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to the towns and villages of Judea. Can you picture them? What would happen? Would they be accepted and welcomed? Would they be silenced? Would they be driven out? What miracles would God empower them to do?

Imagine how they wondered as they obeyed! Jesus followed along behind His disciples and began preaching in the towns they had prepared with the message. When each disciple finished their assignment, they would find their way back to where Jesus was on His journey. As the men returned, each was filled with excitement over the stories they had to tell their Master. They said, “‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!’” Jesus had come to set the captives free, and now His power was flowing out through His faithful followers!

How different these men were from the ones who fought and badgered Jesus in the Temple courts of Jerusalem. As the religious leaders plotted murder, these common men responded with faith. And so Jesus added and strengthened their faith by drawing them into the liberating, glorious work of the Kingdom! They were endowed with magnificent power from Heaven itself.

Jesus told them:

“‘I saw Satan fall like lightening from Heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy: nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in Heaven.’”

 Wow. Something remarkable had just happened. A powerful moment in the epic battle against evil came when the disciples of Jesus…these common, ordinary men…went out and preached the Good News of the Kingdom of God. Jesus had come to earth on a divine rescue mission to conquer sin and death. These were the two things Satan brought into the world after he tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden. As the followers of Christ proclaimed the Good News of Jesus’ coming victory, it struck a major blow towards Satan’s defeat. The Kingdom of Light was breaking into the Kingdom of Darkness!

As Jesus spoke of snakes and scorpions, He was using the names of creatures that most of us are afraid of to describe something far more dangerous and hateful. He was talking about demonic spirits. The stories in the Gospels show us how demons were responsible for making people sick and holding them to terrible bondage, such as insanity. Jesus had given His disciples authority over them.

As amazing as that power is for setting captives free, Jesus said there was something far more valuable that these faithful men should rejoice about. In the Bible, we are told that there is a special book in Heaven where the names of all God’s children are written. It’s called the Book of Life. Anyone whose name is in that book will have everlasting life. They will spend eternity with Christ in a place of total joy and peace.

If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ, your name is written there, too. Have you ever had a moment or a day where you were so happy, so full of bright, light, wondrous bliss that you might split apart with exhilaration? That is how Heaven is going to be, only we will all be feeling it together, and it will never, ever end. That is the promise. That is what we are waiting for. That is the true reason for all of His disciples to rejoice, no matter when in time they have lived! It is the greatest, most remarkable, unimaginably wonderful hope in all of history.

The idea filled Jesus with such overwhelming, happy delight that He began to rejoice right then and there! He declared, “‘I praise you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was Your good pleasure.’”

He went on, “‘All things have been committed to me by my Father.’” Wow. Now we know why Satan fell from Heaven. When Adam and Eve sinned, they plunged the world into a terrible curse. They handed tremendous power over to the Evil One. But the coming of Jesus was going to reverse all of that, and this was the beginning of that reversal. Satan’s reign of evil will come to an end someday. While he still has power, his doom is certain. God the Father committed to put all powers and dominions under the full authority of Jesus!

Then Jesus went on: “’No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.’” Wow. The disciples of Jesus understand who He is because He has shown them. What a high and holy privilege it is to know Jesus as the Son of God!

Then Jesus turned to His disciples and said to them privately, “‘Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.’”

What was it that the kings and prophets longed to see? What wonderful things did God reveal to Jesus’ disciples that He kept hidden from His faithful servants in the past?

For centuries the saints of God had wondered how God was going to fix the terrible problem of the curse. They knew the Law, and they offered up sacrifices for their sin. They told about the coming of a Messiah and of a great King who would sit on David’s throne. They prophesied about a Son of Man who would come in total victory over God’s enemy. They spoke of a Suffering Servant who would bear terrible wounds, and that by His wounds, He would heal many. Yet they did not know how it all was going to tie together to bring about God’s magnificent plan, and they longed and yearned to know this Great Mystery! Now these rag-tag disciples were not only witnessing the One Man who was all of these things, they were taking part in His epic work defeating God’s mightiest enemy! Wow. The amazing thing is that if we so choose, you and I get to be a part of it, too!

Story 109: Coming as a Child

Matt. 18:1-14; Mark 9:33-50; Luke 9:46-50

Jesus blessing a child

An argument had started to rise up between the disciples. They were debating over which one of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. In the Jewish culture, rank and status were very important. Everyone knew their place in society. They knew who they owed honor to, who it was a shame to be seen with, and everything in between. Jesus was going around breaking all of those rules.

He came to the earth as the son of a carpenter. The friends He chose were fishermen and tax collectors. Much of the Lord’s ministry was to the poor, the broken, and the diseased. Jesus showed them the honor of His careful attention and care…far more than He was giving to the elite religious leaders of His day.

The signs of Jesus’ amazing miracles meant He was receiving great honor and power from God. Yet this same Jesus rejected the ways of the Sadducees and Pharisees. He didn’t seem to care whether they approved of His ministry or not. He even seemed to think He had authority to tell them when they were right or wrong!

The religious leaders weren’t used to that. They were used to holding the places of unquestionable honor and praise in their nation. Their hearts were not devoted to the God of the Old Testament, they were devoted to their own positions. How enraging Jesus was to them! He had no regard for their status or power, and spoke in ways that shamed their leadership before the people of Israel.   The truth hurt.

The disciples had spent all their lives in Jewish society, and so it was natural that they would slip back into the ways of the leaders of their nation. They had been their role models. As they discussed life in the coming Kingdom, they longed to know who would be held up for honor and prestige. Was it Peter who had stepped up to answer the Lord’s most challenging questions? Jesus had already said He was going to build His church on the rock of Peter’s faith. Or was it Peter and James and John who were invited to see the Transfiguration? Who would be the greatest of the disciples in the Kingdom Jesus was going to bring? As they headed towards Jerusalem, they were beginning to expect that something new was going to happen. What was Jesus going to do? And who would He honor when He did it?

When they came into the house together in Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been talking about. None of them wanted to say anything. Jesus already knew. He called a little child to Himself and held him by His side;

“‘I tell you the truth,’” He said, “‘Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.’”

Ouch.  Jesus didn’t just teach a good idea here.  He told His disciples directly that they had to change.  They were developing all sorts of competitive ambitions in their hearts. Jesus wanted them to come to Him with the trust and openness of a child that knows nothing about worldly posturing over rank.

Then John said to him, “‘Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’”

Jesus said to him;

“‘Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in My name can in the next moment say anything bad about me. For whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in My name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.’”

 John attempted to stop someone that was doing a work for Jesus, but Jesus stopped him. He could have asked John to introduce him to the man. He could have gone to the man and questioned his theology to make sure it was correct. Jesus had a kind of wild freedom to allow things to stand as they were. As long as the miracles were in His name.

Yet there was something that Jesus said He was very careful to watch over. If anyone took care of one of His servants, Jesus would make sure they would receive their reward. What kind of wonderful world might it be in Christendom if all the servants of God sought to serve and protect each other rather than find ways to correct each other and tear each other down?   It seems that this, too, was part of the question of who is the greatest in the Kingdom. Rather than elevating the best critique, Jesus will reward the meekest servant.

Jesus went on:

“‘But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’”

 A millstone is a large, heavy rock that has been rounded into a circle so it can be rolled over grain. They are used on a farm to grind the grain and prepare the harvests. If someone had a millstone tied around their neck and they were thrown into the sea, they would sink very quickly into the water and would never rise again. That is an extreme punishment. It is an image to show how serious God’s anger is against people who treat “little ones” poorly or who lead them to believe things about God that aren’t true. These are terrible sins, but in this world, the powerful “big” people often forget this because nobody on earth will punish them. But God will. There is no better example of this than the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

Who do you think the “little ones” are? Are they actual children? Or do you think maybe Jesus meant anyone who was a child of God, no matter what age they are or how wealthy and powerful, poor or weak?

Jesus was trying to help His disciples understand the tremendous value that His followers have to Him. It doesn’t matter how much power or influence someone has, they never have the right to hurt a “little one.” And if they do, it means they have come against the goodness of the Most High God, Who sees all things.

Story 91: Back to Nazareth

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

Icon of Jesus in orthodox church of Annunciation in Nazareth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story 90: The Healing in His Hands

Matthew 9:27-34

Wonder of Jesus: healing the blind in stained glass

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why in the world not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story 89: The Tender Love of the Lord

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

stained glass window

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Story 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!

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