Thursday, 13 January, 2022
In the parable often referenced as the Parable of the Sower, we see four soils mentioned. Jesus tells us in the passage, that the seed is actually the Word – the message of the kingdom - and the soil is the heart of men. Satan is the one who is snatching the seed away.
The first soil is that of the “path” or highway. We don’t plant seeds intentionally on the highway as it cannot be tended or receive the seed like good soil might. There is no intention for those who are the “path” to receive the seed since they don’t receive the seed in a way that it could grow. There is no tilling of the ground to make it ready to receive the seed and there is no covering of the seed with soil for it to germinate. Since the seed lays on top of the soil, the seed can easily be snatched away.
The second soil is the rocky ground where there is no root. These people receive the seed with joy, but there is no root, so the seed cannot grow. I wonder if this is comparable to people who receive Christ in an emotional revival meeting, but aren’t provided discipleship, and there is no changed heart. At any rate, there is a reason the seed sprouted up but the entire growing process was not complete. They could have endured for a while but not to the end. Theirs is a superficial relationship, but without depth of soil, the winds and trials of life cause the plant to wither. See Hebrews 6:5. They have tasted the goodness of the word of God…
The third soil is the thorny soil. The worries and deceitfulness of wealth choke the word and it is unfruitful. Their priority is not to bear fruit. “Prosperity destroys the word in the heart, as much as persecution does; and more dangerously because more silently; the stones spoiled the root, the thorns spoil the fruit.” (Matthew Henry Commentary) The thorns are the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches. – It’s easy to rely upon material wealth rather than the truth of the gospel. The key is who are we serving? God or money?
The last soil is the good ground. God’s word will not return empty. (Isaiah 55:10,11). There is no difference in the seed. It’s not that this soil has no rocks, or thorns, but those do not overpower the soil. This soil represents those who are intelligent and fruitful hearers. The difference between this ground and the others is that there is fruit, some bearing more fruit than others, certainly.
Life Application Questions
How might we experience the plowing of the soil of our hearts?
What might be examples of thorns and rocks in the soil of our hearts? How can we resist these to become good, fruit-bearing soil?
What would you think the reason would be for the variation in the amount of fruit yielded by the good ground? How can we increase the yield of fruit from our lives?
Lord of the Sabbath
January 12, 2021
Some of my best memories occurred in the musty basement of my home church. There I was loved by my teachers and learned about Jesus. I also wore my best dress and my mom wore her best dress and a hat and always carried a cloth hankie in her purse for those emergencies that occurred during a church service. There have been many “rules” and traditions passed down about how to worship God. Many battles lines have been drawn when people wanted to change those ways of doing church or behaviors associated with Sundays. What traditions or rules about Sunday were part of your growing up experience? The Pharisees had many rules about the Sabbath and in Matthew 12, we find Jesus angering the Pharisees as He establishes Himself as “Lord of the Sabbath”.
Read Exodus 20:9-11; 31:13-17; Nehemiah 9:12-15. Why was the Sabbath law given to Israel? The Sabbath law was given as a mark of Israel’s relationship to God. It also acted as a mercy for man and beast, to give them much needed rest. Where have you observed man carrying out God’s laws without mercy? What traditions or man-made rules have you or others instituted based on their own ideas about how to worship God? When I was younger, people dressed up in their “Sunday best” to go to church. Years later, when my father attended my church, he was shocked to see people wearing shorts and sandals to church. My father, of course, was wearing his best suit and he believed with all his heart that God deserved our best and that was reflected in what we wore to worship Him. How would Jesus have responded to our church traditions and man-made rules?
Jesus taught the people that mere external laws would never save them or make them holy. It is much easier to focus on our external rules and work at keeping them, (like Sunday clothes), than to focus on our hearts. Jesus deliberately violated the Sabbath laws on several occasions. Matthew introduced these Sabbath conflicts. Read Matthew 11:28-30, what kind of rest is Jesus offering? Compare Jesus “rest” to the Sabbath rest. 7” If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:7-8) In declaring Himself, “Lord of the Sabbath”, Jesus was actually affirming equality with God, for God had established the Sabbath. (Genesis 2:1-3) He then proved the claim by healing the man with the paralyzed hand. Jesus offers rest to all who will come to Him, there is no rest in mere religious observances. Where have you placed more emphasis (trust) on keeping religious traditions/observances than on true Christ following? In Matthew 12:14 we read, “But the Pharisees…” and we see the Pharisees once again miss the opportunity to see God in their field, God in their synagogue, and God with them. Will we see God with us, in our “fields”, in our church, in our home, in our hearts?
A Prisoner of My Expectations
January 11, 2022
Life is unpredictable, to say the least. But we somehow expect that certain actions will bring certain results. When we're children, we expect that our parents will provide our needs and hope they'll give us everything we want, too. Some teenagers and young adults seem to expect life to be free from responsibility. "Why should I work for a living when the government will give me everything I need?" Adults have expectations, too. They expect that 1 + 1 will always equal 2. But we sometimes expect more than is realistic. Like everyone else, we are often prisoners of our expectations!
What are your expectations of life?
What do you suppose the expectations of Jesus’ disciples were when he sent them out to warn that “the kingdom of heaven is near” (5:7)? Maybe they were thinking that Israel would repent and turn to Jesus as Messiah. We learn through the rest of the Gospel accounts, however, that the Messiah was not widely accepted, and the coming of the kingdom was “postponed.”
Apparently, John’s disciples had some concern that their expectations were also misguided. Was Jesus truly the Messiah John had identified for them? So, John (who was actually in prison) sent them to Jesus to ask if he was the Messiah, or if they were to expect someone else.
Because we have the whole New Testament, it’s easy to be critical of those early disciples. As Jesus answered their question, he gave them indisputable evidence that he was, indeed, the promised Messiah, as was confirmed by the miracles he performed.
How would you respond if Jesus were living here today? Do you think you would believe that he was Messiah? Why or why not?
Perhaps we can have just a little understanding of the failed expectations of those early Gospel disciples. They didn’t love Jesus less, but they had misunderstood the prophets’ teaching about the suffering savior as well as the reigning king. Maybe that should help us refrain from unreal expectations of Jesus and what to us is a long delay in his return. There is abundant evidence that his work is being continued by the Spirit’s enabling of 21st-century disciples. In spite of a world hurtling toward destruction in its opposition to the truth, people are coming to faith in Christ, often because of the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit.
As one writer put it:
So, there’s the problem. We have expectations about Jesus, but he doesn’t always fulfill the expectations we place on him. It seems to me, as I read the Bible more and more, that we should get used to the fact that Jesus often surprises us. Just when we think we know Him, we find that He is quite a bit different from what we thought He was. He always proves to be more than we thought He was, and He will always prove to be greater than our expectations of Him were. He will always exceed our understanding.*
Is our hope to be founded on our expectations, thinking we know what God is planning? Or are we willing to let God be God, fulfilling his promises in the manner and time he knows to be best?
Are you a prisoner of your expectations? How can you refocus your expectations?
jbd & gmd
* From Bethany Bible Church, Portland, Oregon
Questions Disciples Ask
Monday, 10 January 2021
PETER: Okay, fellow disciples, we’ve heard what Jesus said about sending us on a kingdom mission. I think it’s going to be interesting. Are we ready to roll?
ANDREW: Almost, but help me out. I’m a little uncertain what Jesus means when he talks about the kingdom. It’s clearly an important part of his message, and if we’re supposed to preach it, I’d like to make sure what the kingdom entails.
JOHN: I propose that the starting point is recognizing what the ancient prophets announced about the coming kingdom. If we carefully analyze what they said, I think we’ll understand what Jesus is saying. He is the fulfillment of prophecy after all.
ANDREW: Fair enough. Except that, based on the prophets, most Jews today expect the restored kingdom to be an extension of David and Solomon’s former kingdom. But how in the world will that be possible as long as Palestine, and especially Jerusalem, cannot get out of the straightjacket, the stranglehold, of the Roman Empire? Actually, what Jesus has said about the kingdom doesn’t seem to depend at all on the defeat of the Romans.
PETER: Good point, brother Andrew. And let’s remember what John the Baptist emphasized about the kingdom. He challenged people to confess their sin and warned about what would happen if they didn’t: “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance . . . and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matt 3:8, 10). And think also about what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. That seemed to be the clearest statement yet about the kingdom. Do we all see that neither John nor Jesus said anything about establishing a political kingdom?
JAMES: Well done, Andrew, in getting this discussion started. It’s clear we needed it. You’re correct that we ought to understand what we’re going to preach before we preach it. For me, what Jesus said at the end of the Sermon on the Mount is key to understanding the kingdom: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21). In other words, the kingdom is fundamentally spiritual rather than political, or at least, before it can be political.
ANDREW: Wow! That’s radical. It’s a kingdom of hearts rather than of armies. Who would have guessed?
PETER: Yes, but we must not presume that Jesus has revealed everything about the kingdom at this point. After all, his wisdom is vast, and we have a lot to learn. Maybe there will be some kind of a future political dimension. But obviously, no one will have a part in Jesus’ kingdom—whatever it turns out to be—unless they are his loyal followers. So . . . are we finally ready to roll?
THOMAS: Sorry, but I’m struggling. Frankly, this is too much for my simple faith. Is Jesus really assuming that we’re going to be able to do the same kinds of things that he’s been doing? “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons” (Matt 10:8)! Is there some kind of magical power we’re supposed to exercise? We’ve seen Jesus do those things, but us?
MATTHEW: My problem is being limited to preaching to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matt 10:6). As a tax collector, I have a lot of Gentile contacts, and they’re just as lost. Why exclude them? Didn’t Jesus say, regarding the Gentile centurion, “I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matt 8:10)?
SIMON THE ZEALOT: I really don’t like the idea that we’ll be sheep among wolves. It sounds like Jesus is sending us into harm’s way, like some kind of warfare. I thought I left that kind of life behind when I decided to follow Jesus.
JUDAS: I especially object to the notion that we don’t need to take anything along for the journey: no money, no staff, just the shirt on our backs. It means we’re going to have to depend totally on the hospitality of the people we preach to, and we know some of them aren’t going to respond well, to the extent that we’re supposed to shake the dust off our sandals. That’s certainly no way to make friends. I’m inclined to go prepared for all circumstances, regardless of what Jesus said.
JOHN: Whoa! Come on, Judas. Don’t you remember that God sent ravens to the prophet Elijah to provide him with bread and meat? I’m confident that God will supply our needs.
PETER: Well, my friends, I think it’s time to draw this discussion to a close. Our many questions come down to one: Will we be faithful followers of Jesus and take him at his word? Or will we be a ragtag group of non-followers and refuse to believe him? The truth is, anytime humans encounter the divine, there will be unknowns, quandaries, and questions, some of which we’ll hopefully come to understand in due time and some inevitably never understand, at least in this life. I propose that we go on the mission Jesus has instructed, learn as we go, and depend on him for the outcome. I say, Let’s roll!
Life Application Questions
January 7, 2021
Take a few minutes and consider the eye. Describe what you know about how the eye operates. Our eyes are our window on the world and their very construction directs us to an intelligent designer. Our eyes reveal our thoughts and feelings and have been called a “window to the soul”. What would your eyes reveal about your focus and viewpoint? “The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter-often an unconscious, but still faithful interpreter-in the eyes” (Charlotte Bronte’). Read Matthew 7:1-6; what does Jesus address about the eye? What does Jesus tell us about how people view others?
The Scribes and Pharisees were guilty of exercising a false judgement about themselves, others and even the Lord. Their lens of judgement was cloudy because they used themselves as the ultimate standard to judge by. Why do people judge others? “…Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39) The lack of personal insight; the ability to see themselves accurately, crippled the Pharisees and can do the same for us. The root of the judgement problem is false assumptions. Assumptions about how God views us, how God views others, and ultimately about who God is. When have you judged others using false assumptions? Personal introspection should lead to the hard and daily task of plank removal. Cover one eye and try to do a simple task. How difficult is it to perform a task when your view is obscured? If we do not honestly evaluate OUR sins and confess them, we blind ourselves to our reality and cannot see clearly enough to help others. Warren Wiersbe has said, “Christians should judge themselves so that they can help others look good.”
We need to shift our focus so that we are using the correct lens to have a correct viewpoint of ourselves, others and God. How can we use the correct lens? “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”(Henry David Thoreau) How can we develop our “God lens” to see people with more clarity? “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe…” (Ephesians 1:18-19) Choose to use the eyes of your heart to do internal heart surgery and trust God to judge you and others rightly. Shift your focus to what John Piper suggests; “From eternity to eternity, the beauty of God is pervasive and practical. Ask him to open the eyes of your heart (Ephesians 1:18). Give your life to this quest-seeing and savoring more and more of the beauty of God.”