Tag: Wealth

Story 39: Isaac’s Beloved

Genesis 24:1-27

Abraham was getting older, and he had lost his beloved wife.  Yet he had been greatly blessed by God in every way.  His mind turned to thoughts of Isaac, his son, and the future that lay ahead of him.  Isaac would inherit all of the vast wealth that Abraham had received from God’s hand over the years.  He would inherit his father’s power and reputation.  Most importantly, he had inherited the promises of God.  As Isaac moved into these high privileges and responsibilities, he needed a wife of his own.  Who would God choose for him to carry on the promises?

Think about how important it was to find a good wife for Isaac.  She would be the mother of all of Abraham’s descendants, the nation that God had promised.  Abraham had hundreds of servants, but for this job, he went to the one whose wisdom and decisions he trusted most.  This was his chief servant, the man whom Abraham had put in charge of everything he had.

Abraham said to him, “‘Put your hand under my thigh.  I want you to swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac’” (Genesis 24:2c-4).

This might seem like a strange thing to ask for, but that is simply because we don’t understand the culture of the Ancient Near East.   Abraham was having his most trusted servant take an oath.  They didn’t have cheap pens and paper or computers to create contracts with. There was no overarching governments to enforce the law in Canaan.  Things like spoken oaths and covenants took on an importance that is hard for us to imagine.  A sign of the seriousness of this oath was that the servant made his promise while laying his hands on the very body of Abraham himself.  This oath was binding.  It was a huge responsibility.  If the servant did not carry it out, it was not only a violation against Abraham, the great prince.  It was a violation against God.

Abraham knew the customs and lifestyles of the Canaanite people.  The women of Canaan would bring false worship that violated his sacred faith.  They had ways of living that would bring trouble and strife to their home.  Marrying a Canaanite would bring the family of Abraham and Isaac into allegiance with people who were idolatrous and corrupt…and their wickedness was stubborn.  They sacrificed their children to the gods as a trade to receive blessings from them.  Prostitution was often an integral part their worship practices.  The deeply imbedded habits, cultural customs, and beliefs would not go away because a woman married his son.  In times of pressure, these practices were seen as the answer to the problem.  But Abraham’s answer was to trust his God, to wait on him and pray.  Abraham wanted a woman who was part of the same clan as he and Sarah had been a part of, whose deeply felt beliefs and ways of life would honor their God and bring Isaac honor and peace.

You may remember that Abraham had a brother named Nahor.  He had married Milcah, the daughter of Abraham’s other brother.  In those days, marrying widows who had been married to a brother was common.  It was protection for the family.  It insured that the women in the family were taken care of in a vulnerable land.  Over the years, Milcah had given birth to seven boys, and those boys had grown and begun to have children of their own.  Perhaps a good wife could be found for Isaac from among the grandchildren of Nahor.

Abraham and his great tribal clan were many miles from the family he had left behind.  His servant would have to travel long days on camels to reach there.  He would have to bring a magnificent dowry with him that would display the wealth of Abraham and please the family of the girl.  But he would not bring Isaac.  The family was going to have to decide to give their daughter to Isaac without ever having met him.  The girl would have to leave her family far behind before she ever met her husband.  Abraham’s chief servant was worried that once he had found a wife for Isaac, she wouldn’t want to come with him!  He asked, “‘What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land?  Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?’”

“‘Make sure that you do not take my son back there,’” Abraham said.  “‘The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father’s household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me an oath, saying, “To your offspring I will give this land”-He will send His angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.  If the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine.  Only do not take my son back there.’”

Genesis 24:6-8

 It is interesting that Abraham defined his life by the promises of God.  He understood the meaning of the events of his life according to God’s leading…and through his acts of obedience and response to God.  It was the LORD who brought him out of his father’s land and into the land of promise.  Not because of some psychological tweak in Abraham’s makeup.  Not because circumstances drove him there.  It was because of the hand of God on his life.  And now he saw that hand on Isaac’s life as well.

Abraham had great faith that God truly had prepared a woman to be the wife of Isaac.  The servant put his hand on Abraham’s thigh and swore to bring her back without the presence of Isaac.  Abraham had left that land long before.  It would not do for the family of God to return.

The servant swore an oath on Abraham’s thigh and ventured out for his task.  Some of Abraham’s other servants went along with him.  He took large amounts of gold and silver to bestow on the future bride of Isaac and her family.  He took ten of Abraham’s camels with him.  Camels were very expensive and a sign of great wealth.  If a family were to give their daughter to this servant, they would want to know they were sending her to a life of prosperity.  It was dangerous to travel through the wilderness with so many valuable treasures, but just as Abraham believed, the angel of the LORD was with them.

Abraham’s chief servant journeyed over the miles for many days.  He crossed back through all the lands that Abraham and Sarah had left behind.  It was evening when he arrived at the well of the town where the sons of Nahor lived.  He had the camels kneel down nearby.  As the sun lowered and the heated earth began to cool, the women began to come out to the well with their jugs.  They filled them up with water to use for washing and for cooking food for their families. As they each waited their turn, they chatted with the other women and discussed the day.

It was the perfect time for the servant to see the women of the town.  But there were so many of them!  Abraham’s servant prayed to God for help.  He believed that this task was an important part of God’s plan and that the Lord would guide him in it;

 

“‘O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.  See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water.  May it be that I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too-let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac.  By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.’”

 

The servant gave the LORD a way to show which girl was the one that God had specially chosen to marry Isaac.  Now, it was very normal for a member of a town to offer to give a stranger a drink from the town well.  But offering to draw water for camels was a totally different story.  Especially if those camels had just come in from a long journey.  A camel can drink up to twenty-five gallons at a time.  The largest clay pots in that time would have held three gallons of water.  The girl would have to fill her heavy clay jug up eight times for each camel.  There were ten camels!  That means the right woman would have to offer to lift three gallons of water and carry it to the animals eighty times!

That was a very generous thing for Abraham’s servant to hope for! But the servant wanted to be sure that the one he chose for Isaac was truly the will of the Lord.  Any woman who would offer such help was not only kind and generous, but hard working.  God could work through the character of the right girl so that she would do this lavishly generous work for a total stranger.

And sure enough, before God’s servant had even finished praying his prayer, a young woman came out to the well with a jar on her shoulder.  Her name was Rebekah, and she was the daughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother.  But the servant had no way of knowing that.  She was also very beautiful, and she was a virgin, a pure young woman at just the right age for marriage.  She let her jar down into the water and brought it back up again.

The servant saw her as his prayer ended and rushed over to her, asking for some water. She gave him her jug and said “Drink.”  She must have seen all of his camels, because then she said, “‘I’ll draw waters for your camels, too, until they have finished drinking.’”  Then this beautiful girl set to work, filling up her jugs in the well and pouring out the precious water into the trough for the thirsty camels.  Abraham’s servant watched her as she worked to see if she would truly do as she had said.  If she did, then his trip was abundantly successful.  She was the one that God had prepared for Isaac!

Rebekah filled the trough with water over and over until all ten camels were done drinking.  When she finished, she must have been tired!   But she was rewarded for her humble service to the visitor.  Abraham’s servant went to her and gave her a golden nose ring.  He took two golden bracelets and slid them on her arm.  Each bracelet weighed ten shekels each.  They were worth far more in gold than many farm workers could earn in a year.  They were valuable treasures indeed.    This was an act of great faith by the servant.  He didn’t even know who she was!  He just knew that God had answered his prayer!

“‘Whose daughter are you?’”  He asked her.  “‘Please tell me, is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?’”

“‘I am the daughter of Betheul, the son that Milcah bore to Nahor.  We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as room for you to spend the night.’”

Wow!  The LORD had guided Abraham’s servant right to Nahor’s beautiful granddaughter!

The servant was overwhelmed at how perfectly God had answered his prayer.  He bowed down and worshipped the LORD, saying, “‘Praise be to the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned His kindness and faithfulness to my master.  As for me, the LORD has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives.’”

 

Story 169: Passion Week: The Widow’s Mite

Mark 12:41-44; Luke 21:1-4

elderly lady begging in Morocco

For most of the Bible stories on this site, the only things added to the stories are things like geographical facts, theological insights or reminders of where we are in the context of the broader biblical narrative. The goal is to keep as close to the story as possible while providing helpful information to understand it better.  The story of the widow’s mite is very short.  It is only four verses in both Mark and Luke, yet it is rich with the background of what it would have meant to be a widow in the time of Christ and what it would have meant to trust God in such a state. How might she have leaned on the Word in her growing process of trusting God wholeheartedly? There is a reason Jesus responded to the widow’s faith with such tenderness and delight…and even holy pride? For this precious story, I thought it might help to add a backstory to help us dig into what it meant for her to trust the Lord so profoundly…

She didn’t have much. Time had worn hard on her life. Yet over the years, she had learned things that gave her a simple but magnificent freedom. Though she had loved her husband greatly, God had taken him very early, and she had been a widow for a long time. As her own years stretched on, she became more and more poor. There were days when she wasn’t certain if she would eat. There were nights that would have been much more pleasant if she had another blanket to keep her old bones warm. Yet God had proven utterly faithful in the long and lonely years. She felt the covering of her Lord over her, like a great wing overshadowing her and protecting her (Ps. 17:6-9). The Most High God had been so close. How He loved her so! She didn’t have much, but everything she had belonged to Him, and He had provided (Prov. 3:5-6; Is. 30:15). And so with her last two copper pennies, she made her way along with the crowds to the grand and glorious Temple.

The Passover Feast had come once again, and as always she wanted to bring her offering to her Lord. As she entered the gates, the religious leaders stood tall in their elegant robes, speaking to each other in dignified voices. They could hardly veil their scorn for the masses of people who clogged the Temple courts with their gifts to God. The dear widow crept on by, far beneath their notice or care. As she looked up at their imposing figures, she recognized one of them. He was the son of the Pharisee who owned the home that she and her family lived in when her husband died. It was such a nice, open place, so full of love and memory. Of course they could not afford to live there once her husband was gone.

How terrible she felt when she could not pay her last month’s rent. The Pharisee was furious with her. She supposed he had a right to be, though it was hard when he claimed all of the belongings that she and her husband had gathered over the years.  He held great power and great knowledge of Scripture.  It never occurred to her to consider whether he was right in what he did…it was what the people expected from these religious leaders.

That move was the first of many.   It was also the beginning of a whole new life with God. She began to see Him move His strong arm to protect her in ways she could not have imagined before. Strangers would show her unusual kindness, food would come at just the right time, a neighbor would give her a new tunic just as hers was wearing out. Day after day, her God had proved faithful (Ps. 18:1-19). How powerful and mighty was He! How loving and good!  When she saw the women who were consumed by their clothing and jewelry, her heart filled with pity for them.  What a burden to carry, what a barrier to finding hope in God Himself instead of all those trappings.  How precious her time with God had become, how wonderful His deeds, how beautiful His face.

These were her thoughts as she walked through the Temple courts. She had spent many years choosing to trust God, choosing to be grateful, and now grateful praise were the pattern of her thoughts and feelings. Joy was the habit of her heart (Ps. 5:10-11; 37:3-6).

As she quietly moved into the line up to the Temple treasury, she could hear the clanging of the golden coins that the rich poured into the collection drums. What a wonderful riot of noise they made. “Surely,” she thought, “They give a great and mighty gift to God.” She looked down into her hand at the little nubs of bronze that sat in her palm. They were ridiculous, weightless little coins. They were only worth a cent, but they were everything. And because of her long years of faith, because of her deep humility, knowing that she could never have enough to give her holy God, she was content to give Him what she had. He would accept them as surely as He accepted her. With a special peace she prayed:

“‘Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the Lord God,

Bright hope lifted in her as she silently declared,

“‘The Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them–

the Lord who remains forever faithful.

He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…

The LORD watches over the alien

And sustains the fatherless and the widow,

But He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever…

Praise the Lord!'”

Psalm 146:5-6a; 7a; 9a; 10b

She knew Him. She knew the value of her offering to Him. So great was the love of the Almighty God. She lived in the shelter of His wings. And there was a wealth and abundance to her inner life.  For you see, this poor little widow was lavishly rich in faith.

That day was very busy for the Lord Jesus in the Temple courts. He taught bright and striking things about God and the future. He fiercely rebuked the leaders of Jerusalem, who used the faith of God’s people to make money for themselves and reinforce their positions of power. The contamination of their sin was everywhere.

Jesus also knew that not everyone in Israel was so rebellious. There were many who worshipped God in beauty and truth from the depths of their hearts. As He continued doing the perfect will of His Father in the Temple courts, He saw them, too.

At one point in the day, Jesus stood with His disciples across from the Temple treasury. People filed in, bringing their money offerings to God. The rich came in proudly with their large sums. How much they seemed to give the Lord! How blessed they were in this life! Many Jews believed that those who gave more money pleased God more than those who couldn’t afford it. In fact, many in Israel believed that God blessed the rich with more money because they were more righteous than the poor.

Imagine the pressure and shame this put on those who were already living in poverty. Not only did they live with the pain and struggle of having so little, they had to live with condemnation because they were poor! Once again, Jesus came to speak a bright and beautiful truth against a terrible, destructive lie.

As Jesus watched the people pour their riches into the treasury drums, He spied out a woman by herself…a widow…who crept up quietly among them. She was obviously poor. Her clothes were little better than rags. The Lord continued to watch her as she reached out her hand and dropped in two tiny copper coins.   They made no sound, especially compared to the wild jangling of the wealthy offerings poured out by the people in front of her. If anyone had been close enough to look into her eyes, they would have seen a rich and glowing delight, a contentment too deep for words.

The Lord Jesus was not so close, but He saw. He listened to the Spirit of His Father and was deeply moved.   With all the examples of faithless unbelief in Israel surrounding Him, here was a woman of true devotion. She loved His Father, she trusted Him, and the Son of God was amazed. He gathered His disciples together…He didn’t want them to miss her. They wondered what the urgency could be. With a tender smile lingering in His eyes, Jesus pointed her out.

“‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put more than all the other contributors to the treasury; for they put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.'”

Wow. Imagine the glory of the little widow! In the courts of the Temple, the King of Creation’s palace on earth, she delighted the Prince of Heaven with her beauty…an exquisiteness of trust that radiated from her humility and surrender to God. For all of the darkness and faithlessness in the nation of Israel, here was the one who could strike the heart of God’s Son with wonder. Her abandoned trust was all He ever wanted from them all…and all He requires from each of us.

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 153: The Priorities of God

Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17

Jerusalem - The paint of Jesus among the children

One of the best things about reading about Jesus is how surprising He often was.  He never seemed to do quite what His disciples, the religious leader, or even His family, expected.  It is as if His straight and perfect path, the one that absolutely honored the goodness of God, kept rubbing up against the crooked confusions and deceptions that the rest of humanity fall into and live out of.  The story for today is one of those stories.  It is famous because it is beautiful, and it has the power to help us reset what we think is important with what God says is important.

In the midst of Jesus’ teachings, some of the people started bringing their children to Him so He could bless them. The disciples tried to stop the parents. Why bother the Lord with these kids? But when Jesus saw them come between Him and little ones, He rebuked His men. He said:

“‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”

Mark 10:14b-15

Wow. Imagine that moment for a second. What was the expression in Jesus’ voice when He said this to His disciples?

Jesus took each of the children in His arms. He lay His hands on each one and blessed them, giving them His time and attention.

What do you think was the expression on His face when He looked at the children? Can you imagine His kindness, acceptance, and embrace? Can you imagine being one of those children, or bringing your own children to Jesus and watching His love for them?

It is interesting that Jesus taught us to call God our Father. That is what happens when we put our faith in Him. We become the children of God. The Lord Jesus is keeping the entire universe going (see Colossians 1:13-20). He knows how many hairs are on the head of every person in the world (see Matthew 10:29-31). Yet when you come to Him, He has the same response to you that He had towards those kids. You have His full attention.

Do you remember the story of the praying widow? Do you remember the story of the tax collector who cried out in humble repentance? The Lord honored them for how they came to God. Now children were the model for the relationship God wants to have with His faithful ones. When we talk about being childlike, we think of the sweet trust that we see in kids: the way they seek out the help of adults, depend on them, take them by the hand, freely express their love and freely express their need for love. Childlikeness is one of the most disarming and tender things in the universe, and it has a powerful effect on the heart of God.

As Jesus began to journey on, a young man came running up to Him. He was from a very rich family who were rulers in the nation of Israel. As he drew near, he knelt down in front of Christ and said, “‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’”

Jesus answered, “‘Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only One who is good, if you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’”

“‘Which ones?’” the ruler asked.

Jesus said, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The young man said, “‘All of these I have kept.’”

Jesus looked at him and was filled with a great love for him. Then He said, “‘One thing you lack. Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven. Then come, follow Me.’”

Wow! What a bold thing to ask of someone! Yet what an amazing privilege. What a glorious invitation! Jesus had been among thousands upon thousands of people as He travelled all over Israel. Yet the only other times we see Him inviting someone to follow Him was when He invited the disciples.

Yet when the young man heard him, the excitement on his face fell to disappointment. He rose up and walked away sad. The cost was too high. For you see, he was tremendously wealthy with great properties, and he couldn’t let them go. Not even for Jesus.

What a heartbreaking story. This young man could confidently proclaim that he had earnestly obeyed the Law of God. He was truly devout, and since Jesus believed him, we can be sure he was being honest. The Spirit didn’t warn Him otherwise. All of those Laws from the Old Testament were given to the Jewish people to prepare them for the coming of Jesus, their Messiah. Yet now that this young man stood there, face to face with the Lord, he faltered.

It is interesting that when Jesus learned that the young man had truly obeyed the words of Scripture, He was filled with love for him. Obedience, purity, seeking after righteousness…while we will never be perfect in any of these things as we walk this crooked world, we can have the deep joy of knowing that our efforts profoundly delight the heart of Christ.

Imagine walking away from the Lord after seeing that look of love in His eyes. Imagine the heaviness of heart, the disappointment in himself…the stark, new awareness of what was really important to him.

This story can be a powerful moment for each of us to consider what our choice would be if we were faced with the same decision. All that we have is from the Lord. If He asked you to give it all up to follow Him into some new obedience, what would you do?

As Jesus and the disciples watched him walk away, the Lord said, “‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven!’” How sorrowful Jesus must have felt to watch the young man leave. Yet He understood the heart of humanity caught in the grip of “having things.”

The disciples were stunned! The Jewish people of their day believed that the rich were wealthy because they were good. They assumed that God had blessed them because they were better than everyone else. This can often be true today as well. How often do people assume that someone who is rich or talented or powerful is so because they are better, smarter, or more spiritual than everyone else?

Yet here was Jesus, speaking with total authority about why things work the way they do. He almost made it sound like wealth was an unhappy burden! How could that be?

Well, the character and emotional strength of most men and women is too weak to withstand the temptations of wealth. It is intoxicating and deceiving. Their money and property and ease, the social status and influence and lack of want that it brings, are like a bondage that keeps them from living for God’s Kingdom, which is where true, living wealth really exists. Jesus understood the vast splendor of God’s Kingdom. He understood how impoverished this world is by comparison. From God’s perspective, anything that keeps someone from the wealth of Heaven is crippling.

Think about how freely a child is able to come to Jesus! Think how desperately the widow knew her need…the tax collector’s repentance was beautiful next to the reluctance of this rich young ruler (see Story 151 for both stories). The freedom of a child, the desperate dependence of the widow, and the humble repentance of the tax collector are the signs of true, heavenly wealth. They are gifts from the Lord, great treasures that aid His children in coming to Him with right hearts. In God’s view, people that are rich in this world are often very poor. But those who know their need for God and cling to His hope are bathed in eternal riches!

Jesus went on:

“‘I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”

Matthew 19:23b-24

Wow. Do you know how big a camel is? They can weigh over 1,500 pounds! Jesus picked the biggest animal that could be found in Israel. Do you know how small the eye of a needle is? It is impossible for a camel to go through the eye of a needle! The disciples were shocked to hear this. “‘Who, then, can be saved?’” they asked. If even those they had grown up believing to be the people on the fast route to salvation were hopeless, what chance was there for anyone else?

‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” Jesus answered.

Then Peter jumped in and said, “‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’”

Jesus’ answer is absolutely stunning. If we really read it, and we really think about what it means, it is a breathtaking truth:

“‘I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.’”

Matthew 19:28

Wow. After all of Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, this must have been a great relief! Not only were His disciples going to be welcomed into eternal life, they were going to have commanding roles to play! What Peter said was true, he and the other disciples had left everything. They had stood by Jesus even when the most powerful men in the land were plotting to have Him killed. They served long hours with no pay, allowing their faith and knowledge to be challenged every day as they walked in the presence of the Son of God and confronted all of their own misconceptions and confusion. And for them, there would be a magnificent reward.

Can you picture it? At the end of days, God is going get rid of the Curse completely and make all of Creation brand new. At that time, the Lord’s twelve disciples will sit on their own thrones and act as judges over their nation. Wow. They had not left their homes and lives for nothing. Their reward would be far more than they could ask or imagine.

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.

%d bloggers like this: