Sunday, July 26, 2009

Understanding Grace – The Vineyard Workers

Matthew 20: 1-16

With God All Things Are Possible

 Matthew 19
23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to 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."
25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"
26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

[Remember after Jesus encounter with the rich young ruler, his disciples wondered "who can be saved". They rich young ruler had everything but eternal life, yet he could not acquire life because he trusted in his wealth and his moral lifestyle. He was unwilling to empty himself and trust only in Christ. Because salvation is by grace, anyone can be saved, but not everyone will be saved.]

27 Then Peter answered and said to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?"
28 So Jesus said to them, "Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[k] or children or lands, for My name's sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

[Peter is reasoning here that the rich young ruler would not enter the kingdom of God because he was not willing to give up his wealth. So he takes this moment to remind Jesus that his disciples had left everything to follow him, and asks "what is our reward?" Peter here experiences a very common confusion regarding salvation, and the reward for righteous service. Jesus responds here and in the next chapter by reassuring Peter that his sacrificial service would be rewarded, but also teaches a parable to clarify that salvation and eternal life is the reward we will share with all believers, regardless of our level of service. If you read this same account in Mark 10 it is even more clear on this point:

Mark 10: 29 So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, 30 who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life.

Jesus told Peter that "now in this time" he would receive 100 fold houses and lands and family. Now the prosperity heretics love this promise as evidence that Jesus wants to make you rich, but Peter was never rich in the worldly sense. What Peter received was 100's of Christian family's he led to Christ and who's churches he founded. And 100's of houses that he stayed in as an honored guest as he traveled preaching the gospel. And of course with those rewards he also endured persecutions, just as Jesus predicted. But in the "age to come", in the resurrection, he would receive the gift of eternal life.

Ephesians 2:8-9 

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.

So Jesus continues his lesson on grace with the parable of the vineyard workers in Matthew 20]

Matthew 20

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

 1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.

[So a landowner went out early in the morning probably just after 6 am to find day laborers to work in his field. So he went to the market where the gathered and hired all that were there for the standard rate of one silver coin, one denarius. For that price they would work 10 or more hours doing whatever it is that vineyard workers do.]

3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went.

[About 9 am the same landowner went back to the market place and found more workers. They had not arrived early enough to put in a full day's work. So instead of the standard rate the landowner promises only to pay them "whatever is right". Trusting only in the landowners sense fairness they went to work.]

5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise.

[Twice more the landowner went out at noon and again at 3 pm, hiring laborers for less than a day and compensating them according to his own judgment.]

6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' 7 They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'
[Finally at 5 pm just one hour before the end of the work day the landowner returns to the marketplace and finds others standing idle, having not worked at all that day. It's interesting the reason they give for standing idle, is that "no one hired" them. But where were they when the owner came calling the 4 previous times that day? Were they idle because no one hired them, or did no one hire them because they were idle?

Proverbs 10:4 He who has a slack hand becomes poor,
      But the hand of the diligent makes rich.


Regardless of the reason for their idleness they are hired for the last hour of the day under the same terms, as all but the first group.]

8 "So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.'

9 And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.

[At the end of the day when the work is done, the owner tells the steward to pay the workers beginning with the ones hired at the 11th hour. Surprising all the workers waiting to be paid, the steward paid them a whole days wage for 1 hour work. Though not detailed in the parable it seems that all those hired for a partial day, received the same denarius for their wages.]

10 But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.'

[Now it's been several years since I punched a time clock. The government exempts computer programmers from overtime laws, so I get paid the same for working 100 hours as I get for 30 hours. It's called being on salary. But I think we can understand the thinking of these last day laborers. They have seen the steward being very generous with those who labored for part of the day, but then they receive the same customary pay, of one denarius for a full day of work. So they complain to the owner because they were thinking they might get more.]

13 But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?' 16 So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."

[The owner remained calm, reminding the worker that he received the agreed upon wages. The owner had lived up their verbal contract. But the others workers did not have an explicit contract. They were simply trusting in the goodness of the land owner. To them the owner explained he gave a gift. It was his to give, and he gave each worker a full day's wage. Finally the owner concludes with a question, how can you see evil in that?

Then Jesus said the last will be first, and the first will be last for many are called, but few are chosen. The moral of the story is that heaven is the reward for service, the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross, when he died for the sins of the world. And like the land owner he gives a full reward to whomever he wills, simply because it is his to give.

Revelation 3: 21 To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Those who receive the gift of eternal life, receive a gift of grace. Additionally our reward for faithful service, are the souls of all those we help to find the way to the throne of grace. All who are witnesses to God's saving grace, enjoy the love and fellowship of his ever growing family. They very last soul to receive Christ before the rapture of the Church, will receive the same eternal reward in heaven, because of grace. This is the parable of the vineyard workers.]

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son

Luke 15

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

 1 Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them."

[As we have discussed, tax collectors are hated because they fund the brutal Roman occupying army. So Jews working for Rome are traitors and worthy to be shunned. The word for sinners is hamartolos (ham-ar-to-los'), based on the root word "meros" meaning to miss the mark, and thereby not share in the prize. But hamartolos (ham-ar-to-los') used in context here refers to one who is recognizable or notorious for their sin. So either their sin was just revealed, or their sin has become a way of life, and the most noticeable thing about them. So when you read sinners in Luke 15 think prostitute, drug addict, alcoholic, or some other easily recognizable sin that would dominate your life. Pharisees concerned mostly for their own reputation would shun these people, and in their thinking so should Jesus. You can even view this with a tinge of jealousy, as thought they were saying "Jesus don't hang out with these people, it's bad for your reputation. Come hang with us." In dining with these sinners the Pharisees saw an implied acceptance of their sinful life, but Jesus had another motive, and these sinners were drawn to him, and wanted to hear him teach. Remember these verses as they are the key to the last parable.]


3 So He spoke this parable to them, saying:
4 "What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' 7 I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.

[It says he "spoke this parable to them", probably everyone could hear but I think these parables were targeted to the Pharisees. This one is simple. A shepherd has 100 sheep, which I read is a medium sized flock. One wanders off from the flock. It's probably the stupid one, the one that always gets lost. Regardless, the shepherd leaves the flock to go find the lost sheep. When he finds it, he carries it back on his shoulders. Upon arriving home he calls his friends and throws a party to celebrate the recovery of his lost sheep. In verse 7 Jesus concludes there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 who don't. The phase "need no repentance" is interesting because the word for need is echo, which means to go with or accompany. So instead of "need no repentance" I would say "have no repentance". As you recall in the story of David and Bathsheba, sometimes sinners don't repent until their sin is revealed. But the sinners eating with Jesus were notorious sinners, who could not hide their guilt.]

The Parable of the Lost Coin

8 "Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?
9 And when she has found it, she calls her friends and neighbors together, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the piece which I lost!' 10 Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

[Here a woman has 10 silver coins, probably 10 days wages, for you Dave Ramsey fans this is her $1,000 emergency fund. And she misses one coin and searches the house with a light until she finds it. When she finds it she celebrates with her neighbors. Verse 10 has a similar conclusion to first parable, "there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents".]

The Parable of the Lost Son

11 Then He said: "A certain man had two sons. 12 And the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.' So he divided to them his livelihood. 13 And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.

[This is the most familiar of the 3 parables, the prodigal son. Prodigal means "wasteful or extravagant". So in the story a younger son demands his father give him an early inheritance. To a Jewish father this would be an insult, as though his son wished he were dead, valuing his possessions more than their relationship. Nevertheless, the father relents, and gives him a younger son's inheritance, probably one third of his wealth. The son goes on vacation and stays in Magaritaville, until all the money is gone. I think the King James has it right calling this riotous living. It was the kind of party where you would call the cops, when it was too loud for too long. If news of this reached home, there would be more dishonor for his family. We see this behavior today in lottery winners. Most burn through the money very quickly, a natural consequence when you give someone a lifetime of wealth, without the necessary experience in stewardship. They become wasteful, because the only value of money is in the fun it can buy, not the sense of the work that would normally be required to earn it. Proverbs 21:5 says "The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, But those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty."]

14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. 15 Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
[As soon as the money was gone, the economy went south, there arose a famine in the land. The only job he could find was feeding pods to pigs. The commentary said the pods were the fruit of the carob tree, which look like locust and for that reason are called "John's bread", after John the Baptist, who's diet was locust and wild honey. They used the cheep food to fatten hogs. Of course we know that swine are "unclean" under the Levitical law and Jews would not eat them and probably would not touch them, but this kids was so hungry, he wanted to crawl into the hog trough and eat.]

17 "But when he came to himself, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, 19 and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants."'

[So the son recovers his senses and makes a plan to beg his father for a job, because even his father's servants have plenty to eat.]

20 "And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. 21 And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
22 "But the father said to his servants, 'Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. 23 And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; 24 for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' And they began to be merry.

[The son traveling home, is seen by his father when he is still a long way off. Regardless of how the son left, he is welcomed home with love and joy. The son had true repentance as revealed by his humility "I am no longer worthy to be called your son". The father's forgiveness is immediate. The robe indicated an honored guest, the ring indicates a family member with the full authority of his father, and the sandals mean he was a free man, not a servant. So the father restores him, then makes a celebration to welcome him home.]

25 "Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.'
28 "But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. 29 So he answered and said to his father, 'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.'
31 "And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. 32 It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.'"

[Verses 25 through 32 make this parable different from the first two parables, yet the conclusion of all 3. Here the righteous older son who stayed with his father, finds the party, and is offended. He says his younger brother has "devoured your livelihood with harlots". This is one detail of the younger son's lifestyle, we did not know before. It seems somehow the old brother discovered his sibling's folly, and was ashamed of his brother. Too ashamed, to forgive him, too ashamed to welcome him, too ashamed to celebrate with the father, in fact he is mad at his father for making a fuss over a fool. You see this story was not just about the "prodigal" son who is indentified by his sin. It's about the brother who could not see the humility and change that repentance had brought. The Pharisees are the older brother. All 3 parables are answering the Pharisees complaint regarding Jesus dinner companions (publicans and sinners) in verse 2.  These 3 parables are really just one.  Rough paraphrase:  You seek after lost sheep and lost coins, but these lost souls from the children of Israel you have shunned.  The question is not why do I eat with them, but rather why have you discarded them?  No matter how shameful their past, they are still counted as a valuable treasure to be redeemed by the Father.

Most of us know people whom we don't hang out with, because we don't want to be tainted by association. But when these people came to Jesus, he received them with joy, growing the kingdom of God with grace, and forgiveness, believing the truth, that anyone in Christ Jesus is a new creation. Their shame is gone, and they have the inheritance of God's only Son, just like us. We should always rejoice with heaven over all who repent, and not be like the Pharisees, the older brother, who just stayed on the porch, missing the joy of his father and newly restored brother.]

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

Matthew 22:1-14 (also Luke 14)

 1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 "The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son,

[Weddings were a little different in this age. The first step was a wedding contract negotiated between the groom and the bride's family. Once the contract was settled, the engagement would typically last a year. At the end of the year the groom would go to the bride's house, and a large procession would follow them back to the groom's house. At that point a celebration feast would begin and depending on the wealth of the groom it could last for up to a week. In this case the groom is the son of the king, so this event would be highly anticipated. But Jesus was teaching of heaven.]

3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come.

[The guests were invited long in advance, but on the wedding day the servants would leave early to remind the guest to dress for the wedding and come to the procession of the wedding party, but the invited were involved in other things so they were unwilling to drop everything and get ready for the wedding. Even though Messiah had been foretold since Genesis chapter 3 the first invitees, Israel, were not prepared for his coming.]

4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, 'Tell those who are invited, "See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding."'

[The king sends word again by his servants to those invited, time is short dinner is ready come quickly. First the prophets of the Old Testament, then John the Baptist appear to announce messiah's coming, but still few of Israel responded.]

5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them.

[The first servants were ignored, these were given excuses by some, abused by others and some were even killed.

Nehemiah 9:26 (New King James Version)

 26 " Nevertheless they were disobedient
      And rebelled against You,
      Cast Your law behind their backs
      And killed Your prophets, who testified against them
      To turn them to Yourself;
      And they worked great provocations.

Luke 11:47 (New King James Version)

47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.

Acts 7:52 (New King James Version)

52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers,

And in Matthew 14 Herod kills John the Baptist]

7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.

[Punishment for assaulting and killing the king's servants was death. To rebel against the kings servants is to rebel against the king himself.

2 Corinthians 5:11 (New King James Version)

11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

Hebrews 10:31 (New King James Version)

31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

When Jesus returns he will fight a great battle and destroy the enemies of God.]

8 Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.' 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

[Even after punishing the rebels, the kings returns to his purpose, celebrating his son's wedding. Since the invited guests refused, the king ordered an open invitation to any who would come. This time it wasn't about being on the guest list, they invited the bad and the good.

Matthew 9:11 (New King James Version)

11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

Jesus' invitation was not just for the righteous.]

11 "But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'
14 "For many are called, but few are chosen."

[This banquet had a dress code. When the king came to the banquet table, he saw one guest without a wedding garment a great dishonor. The dishonored guest was bound and thrown out. "weeping and gnashing of teeth" was a sign of the anguish experienced by the one punished. The word for called is kletos (klay-tos') and refers to being invited. So there was more to being ready for the feast than just being invited, you had to be appropriately attired. So that is the proper attire for the Kingdom of Heaven?

Revelation 4:4 (New King James Version)

4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns[a] of gold on their heads.

Revelation 7:9 (New King James Version)

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, …..

13 Then one of the elders answered, saying to me, "Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?"
14 And I said to him, "Sir,[b] you know."
So he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Only those redeemed by the blood of the Lamb have the white robes worthy of heaven.

Revelation 19: 6 And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, "Alleluia! For the[d] Lord God Omnipotent reigns! 7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready." 8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
9 Then he said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'" And he said to me, "These are the true sayings of God."]

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler

Matthew 19 (also Luke 18 and Mark 10)

Jesus Counsels the Rich Young Ruler

16 Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"

[Luke 18 tells us this one was "ruler" either religious or civilian, but since he was not identified as a publican, and he seems devout in his faith, it is presumed he is a religious ruler, except for his age which it not typical of religious rulers. Mark 10 says that he came and fell on his knees before Jesus. So here is a young man who has everything going for him. By his appearance you can see he is a man of substance, by his approach you can see he is humble, and by his question you can see he is thoughtful and decisive in perusing eternal life. If you were going to start a Church, this is exactly the kind of person you would hope would come to your Church. This was a very good man. He asks Jesus the big question, "what do I need to do, to have eternal life?"]

17 So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

[Jesus sees a few flaws in the young man's approach. First the young man thinks that people can be good, and second he thinks that a man can do good worthy of heaven. Jesus answer seems confusing. When he met the Samaritan woman Jesus told her to ask for living water. When he met Nicodemus Jesus said you must be born again. But to the man seeking to earn his way to heaven by doing good deeds, Jesus issues a challenge "keep the commandments".]

18 He said to Him, "Which ones?"
Jesus said, " 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,'
'Honor your father and
mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

[Jesus said "Keep the commandments", the young ruler answers "which ones". Jesus, there are a lot of commandments, can you be more specific. By his answer I wonder if the young ruler is a young lawyer. If he is making a contract for eternal life, he wants to know exactly what he is getting into. In the 10 commandments the first 4 pertain to man's commitment to God 1) have no other gods 2) neither make nor worship idols 3) reverence the name of the Lord and 4) keep the Sabbath. And the latter 6 pertain the man's commitment to each other 5) honor your parents 6) commit no murder 7) commit no adultery 8) do not steal 9) do not bear false witness 10) do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. So Jesus skips over the first 4, and paraphrases the prohibition on coveting your neighbor's possessions, into "love your neighbor as yourself", which is also in Leviticus 19:18. In Matthew 22 when asked what is the great commandment, Jesus starts with Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind; then he adds Love your neighbor as yourself. Romans 13:19 summarizes the last 5 commandments into "Love your neighbor as yourself". Galatians 5:14 says all of the law is fulfilled in this one commandment.

In Luke 10 Jesus had a similar exchange with a Lawyer, and it read like this:

25 And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?"
26 He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?"
27 So he answered and said, " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,'and 'your neighbor as yourself.'"

28 And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live."
29 But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"


Jesus answers the Lawyers questions by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. This young ruler had a different answer.]

20 The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?"

[What a confusing answer. Even though this man claimed to be perfect in keeping the commandments, yet he professed he was still lacking the secret ingredient to everlasting life. And he begged Jesus to tell him what was missing.]

21 Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

[Jesus finally decides to unmask this charade of perfection the young ruler professed. Jesus says I tell you what, if you really do love your neighbor as yourself go sell all that you own, and give it to your poor neighbors. As yourself does mean as yourself, right? If your affection, care and concern for your neighbor is that great then just sell everything and take care of those poor people. And by the way, since you are concerned for your eternal life, I will exchange your treasure on earth, for treasure in heaven. Then you will be free to follow me.]

22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

[The young ruler had great possessions, but it also seems that his possessions had him. Jesus found the one thing he lacked. The young ruler had an idol called wealth, and he trusted that false god, to provide for his every need. The man who had everything, youth, power, status, and wealth, in reality had nothing because he was in bondage to his money.


Matthew 6: 24 "No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.


Matthew 16: 24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man will come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.


Money can be a valuable servant but it makes a terrible master. Everyone who comes to God comes the same way, empty handed, trusting only in the Grace of God.]

With God All Things Are Possible

23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, "Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to 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."

[The Jews of that day held to a form of prosperity theology that taught material blessings were evidence of righteousness, because God was clearly blessing those who pleased him. And the corollary to this was the belief was that those who were sick, poor, of who suffered some tragedy in their lives were under judgment because of sin. Jesus roundly rejects this belief here and In John 9: 1 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.

We need to abolish this idea of discerning God's pleasure, God's will, and God's purpose through life's circumstances. God has a much longer time horizon than us, so that we frequently cannot see what he will eventually bring about. God will settle all accounts at the final judgment, he does not need to settle them now.

Matthew 5:45 says that God makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Circumstances are a poor indicator of our standing with God. Paul was shipwrecked and imprisoned, Steven was stoned, nearly all the apostles were killed for their faith, does any of us really think we are more holy than them?]

25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?"
26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

[I know I use Ephesians 2 a lot but it's just so good.

1 And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, 2 in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.
4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).

We were all enemies of God, and God loved his enemies at the expense of his son. So how can we judge who can be saved? Only God can look inside a man, to see who comes in faith as a child, with empty hands and an open heart, receiving the gift of grace.]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Growing God’s Kingdom

Luke 13 (also Matthew 13)

The Parable of the Mustard Seed

18 Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches."

[This is one of those parables that drives the skeptics crazy, because it is a paradox, and they don't understand it, so their interpretation concludes that the information provided is false. In Matthew's account of this passage it says the mustard seed is the "least of all the seeds", so the skeptic says the mustard seed is not the smallest seed, there are a few plants with smaller seeds. The Greek word rendered smallest is "mikros" which means really really small, like in the word microscope. And as we learned in the parable of the sower, that seed is the Word of God. So a retranslation of Matthew would say "The mustard is small among seeds, but great "meizon" among herbs when it is grown", which is the absolute literal truth.


Now the second part is even harder, because Luke says the mustard grew and became a great tree, Matthew just says it became a tree bigger than the other herbs. The skeptic will say the mustard is a garden plant not a tree, so the passage is completely false. Well it turns out the mustard plant is one of the most prolific plants in that part of the world. There are over 100 varieties of mustard plant, ranging from big leafed garden plants where you would get mustard greens, to 30 foot tall trees, and what they all have in common are those little bitty seeds. Now the most common mustard in that part of the world would grow up to 12 feet tall, most of that in one year. The Greek word for grow is auzano (owx-an'-o) which means to give increase, and the Greek word for great is "megas" which means great, exceeding, or strong. So here's the thing about the wild mustard common in the Mediterranean, it grows like a weed. You can't plant just one mustard plant, because even if you do it will quickly become many and take over your whole garden. So the greatness of the mustard plant is not in how large one tree grows, but in how quickly one tree becomes many. And that is exactly how the kingdom of God has increased on the earth.

  • At the time of Christ's ascension he had about 500 followers
  • On the day of Pentecost that number increased to about 3,000
  • By 100 AD there were about 7,500 Christians in the Roman Empire
  • By 250 AD there were 1.1 million Christians
  • By 312 AD Rome had 9 million Christians, and in 313 Constantine ended the persecution of the Christians faith in Rome. Followers of Jesus had grown from zero to nine million during 300 years when your faith in Christ could easily get you put in prison, beaten, and killed.
  • In 325 AD Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire
  • By 350 AD 52% of the Roman Empire was Christian, about 32 million people
  • Today 1/3 of the World's population, over 2 billion people, say they are Christian

The kingdom of God grew just like a mustard seed.


Ok, so you have the first two parts of the paradox but what about the last. The branches of a wild mustard tree are very wispy, they bend easily, and they are not the stable platform a bird would pick to build a nest in. So again this parable seems flawed, because the kind of mustard you might plant in the garden is not the same variety that becomes a 30 foot heavy wooded tree. So how do birds nest in those wispy branches? I read the blog of a North African Missionary who said he never understood this parable, because he saw lots of wild mustard trees but no bird nests in them. One day he walked outside and on his porch and saw a few leaves and flowers from a mustard plant, and this scene repeated over the next few days. Then finally he saw a birds nest above one of the beams of his porch, and looking close he saw the nest was made of the leaves and branches of a mustard tree. You see even though the mustard tree might make a poor platform for a bird nest, the thin branches and leaves provide excellent material for making a nest, and that is exactly what the parable says "the birds of the air nested in its branches".


So who are these birds who nest in the branches taken from the mustard tree? I believe these represent false teachers who would take from God's kingdom to build up their own. People who take the popularity of Jesus Christ, and twist little bits his Word into another gospel, they use to draw away part of the Church, enrich themselves, and promote social and political agendas which bear little resemblance to the Apostles Doctrine. In fact in Matthew's Gospel this parable is sandwiched between the "Parable of the Tares" and the explanation of that parable, where he says that the tares are the "sons of the wicked one", that the devil mixes in with the children of God. It is also consistent with the parable of the Sower, where the birds are sent by Satan to take away the seeds which are the Word of God. That is the longest explanation of two verses I have ever taught. But that's ok we only have about a dozen more verses to go.]

The Parable of the Leaven

20 And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."

[The common leaven here is yeast, a fungus which leavens by consuming sugar or carbohydrates and releases carbon dioxide. The CO2 gets trapped in little bubbles within the bread doe and causes it to rise. Now once yeast is activated, it is worked into the bread and allowed to rise. Then the doe has to be kneaded again to work the leaven into more of the doe, and then wait while it rises again, and you repeat this two or three times until the whole lump of doe has risen with the gas from the yeast. The commentary says this was about 50 pounds of meal so it would take a lot of kneading to get the yeast worked into that lump. Unless the whole lump is exposed to the leaven the loaf will not rise and cook evenly, part would bake flat and hard and not very desirable.


You can do the same thing in some recipes with baking soda and baking powder, which react chemically with the other ingredients to make CO2 and cause the doe to rise. I remember once Tonia was baking a cake which used baking powder, but her baking powder was too old, and had become inactive so that it made no CO2, so the cake never rose, and was ruined.


I think this parable is teaching of the spiritual growth in the life of a believer as the Spirit of God slowly changes each area of your life to make you pleasing to God. Sadly there are preachers who profess an unconverted form of Christianity which says that your belief in God does not need to change your life, God loves you just the way you are, what you do in your body doesn't matter as long as you believe. But the Bible tells a different story.

  • Romans 12:2 says to be "be transformed by the renewing of your mind"
  • I Peter 2:2 says to "desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby"
  • Ephesians 4:1 says "to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called"
  • Philippians 4:9 says "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do"
  • II Corinthians 3:17 says we like Christ "are being transformed into the same image from glory"
  • II Corinthians 4:16 says "the inward man is being renewed day by day"
  • Luke 3:8 says we are to "bear fruits worthy of repentance"
  • I Corinthians 6:9-10 lists all kinds of sexual sins saying those who do them would not inherit the kingdom of God, then verse 11 says "And such were some of you. But you were washed"

We have a transforming salvation, that gives you a genuine love for God and his people, while making us disgusted by sin especially our own. Salvation that does not change you is no salvation at all, according to the Bible.

The Narrow Way

22 And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?"
And He said to them, 24 "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' 26 then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' 27 But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.' 28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. 29 They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last."

[In Matthew 24 Jesus said that in the last days false teachers would arise and deceive many. I see today that false teachers are already among us. And they turn people from the narrow way. Through them people seek, materialism, social tolerance, world peace, a greener planet, whiter teeth, fresher breath, and anything else you can think of other than God. But mostly they want someone to tell them that their sin is not a problem, God understands. But those who follow false teaching have a future filled with "weeping and gnashing of teeth".]