20 May 2010

Jesus Teaches about Receiving the Message of the Kingdom

Matthew 13:1-23

Our Father wants good fruit.  Deep down, we all have a longing to produce good fruit.  Where does good fruit come from?  Good trees.  Jesus has already taught that bad trees cannot produce good fruit.  It does not work to hang good fruit on bad trees.  Good fruit does not produce good trees.  Good trees produce good fruit.

Where do good trees come from?  Good soil.  I come from a place where growing things is easy.  The land of central Illinois is filled with good, rich, black topsoil that has been cultivated over the generations.  It is said that there is enough food grown in the midwest US to feed the world.  That rich, black soil definitely yields a crop a hundred times over.

Now, my house is surrounded by yellow sand.  My garden is in shambles.  What I truly need to do is turn the sand into soil.  This is done by hacking the sand to bits, by introducing worms and former living things into the sand, and by mixing good soil and/or its nutrients into the sandThe more life I am able to grow in the new soil, the more chance it has in surviving the sometimes harsh conditions.  

But, it takes constant work.  I need to ensure my garden receives constant water.  I need to pull out any weeds that may take vital nutrients away from the things that I want to grow.  I need to ensure that the soil is deep enough and that my plants have plenty of room to grow.

Traditionally, we call this the parable of the sower.  But, the Spirit is leading me to call this the parable of the soil.  Yes, we are to be like the sower.  We are to scatter the message of the kingdom as wastefully as the sower in this story.  Yes, we can expect that only a small percentage of people will receive the message well and bear fruit in their lives.

But, I also think that in its context, Jesus is also warning us about how we allow our Father to soften our hearts so that we may receive the kingdom well.  We need to listen to the Spirit on how to remove the worries of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth from our hearts so that we may receive the kingdom well.  We need to listen to the Spirit in order to explain the kingdom as clearly as possible so that it is not snatched away from people who desperately need it.  We need to listen to the Spirit in how to anchor the kingdom deep within our hearts in order to hold on to it through the tough times which are sure to come.

Thank you Father for being the giver of life.  For being the ultimate gardener and using whatever you can in hacking away at the sand in my life and turning my heart into the rich soil that will receive the kingdom well and produce fruit.  Help me to receive your loving care that is the only way to true strength and maturity.

19 May 2010

Jesus Wants People with Soft Eyes

Matthew 13:10-17

The disciples asked Jesus a question I certainly would have asked since I am a no-nonsense kind of communicator, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?"  Why not just speak plainly about the kingdom of heaven?

It's certainly a reasonable request.  I mean if the kingdom of heaven is so important to understand, wouldn't it be reasonable to expect the teacher to teach as simply as possible?

But, Jesus' answer shows that the nature of the parables themselves are not designed to instruct but to reveal.  Jesus teaches in parables to reveal who humbly seeks answers from him and who stubbornly refuse to listen to the Great Teacher.

Throughout this study, two reactions to Jesus stand out don't they?  First, we have poor people, disabled people, sinful people, marginalised people, family people, small business people reacting so positively to Jesus that they leave everything they know, give whatever they can, celebrate with what they can and follow this one they believe is the Son of David as closely as possible.  " But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it."

Second, we have the religious class of scribes and Pharisees, the current religious teachers and those who protect the sanctity of Israel reacting so negatively to Jesus that despite blatant evidence to the contrary, refuse to believe that he is the Son of David and what to shut him up as quickly as possible so that things can go on as before. "For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them."

The key to understanding Jesus lies not with a superior intellect.  The key to understanding Jesus lies in a humble, soft heart.  To put it another way, the key to unlocking the parables of Jesus is to have soft eyes.

I first learned about the term 'soft eyes' as I watched 'The Wire'.  There's a scene when experienced homicide detective Bunk is teaching new homicide detective Greggs about how to investigate a crime scene.  He explains that people with hard eyes investigate through a predetermined result.  This makes proving a case difficult when the evidence doesn't lead to that conclusion.  He than explains that people with soft eyes investigate without a predetermined result, they are simply willing to go wherever the evidence takes them.  That way they are able to see the entire crime scene because of their humility and lack of rigidity.

Lord, as we study the parables of Jesus, may you grant us soft eyes, ears and most of all, hearts.

06 May 2010

Jesus is Related to Those Who Do His Father's Will

Matthew 12:46-50

Is blood thicker than water?  Jesus says here that obedience to his Father in heaven is the strongest bond of all.  

Terms that are used commonly over a long period of time tend to lose their meaning and potency.  There is, however, a very good reason why those within the church call one another 'brother' and 'sister'.  The church, among other things, is a family.  And, it is the best family of all.  It is a royal family.  The royal family of the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

The good news is that this relationship is not through traditional means.  It isn't something that we are born into.  This family needs to be born again into.  We are not brothers and sisters of Jesus and sons and daughters of our Father in heaven because of our blood but because of Jesus' blood.

I have heard people argue that this incident and other incidents that we will look at later show that Jesus is rejecting the notion of family.  I disagree.  Jesus isn't rejecting family.  He is expanding family.  Truly, if we regarded one another as brother and sister not just in word but in deed out of obedience to our One Father in heaven, we would be a stronger body of Christ.

And again Jesus tells everyone within the sound of his teaching that knowing the Father's will is not enough.  Jesus' family are the ones who DO the will of our Father in heaven.  We must be very careful not to fall into the complacent trap of feeling good about our good intentions.  In our Father's world, saying what our intentions are doesn't matter, results matter.  Those of us who serve in our Father's kingdom are to use our talents to produce fruit.  This is the family business.

02 May 2010

Jesus Speaks to Us on His Terms Not Ours

Matthew 12:38-42

Have you ever prayed that if God would do something for you, then you would believe?  If He would just speak to you directly, then you would be on fire for Him?  "An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign." 

Why the harsh rebuke for the religious class' request?  All they wanted was a sign that he was The Son of David, that he had the divine authority to speak harshly to them as he did. 

But as we have seen time and again, Jesus was giving signs all over the place that He is the Messiah, the one God sent to save man.  After all, how could the crowd react the way they did to Jesus' recent healing, "Is this the Son of David?"  Every time he healed someone, it was a sign.  Every time he performed a miracle, it was a sign.  Every time he spoke with unprecedented authority from the scriptures, it was a sign.  So it wasn't as though Jesus was against signs.

When we review Jesus' ministry to the point of the religious class' request, the request is foolishly arrogant.  Jesus, we want you to justify to us that you have the authority to be healing and loving the people that we don't want healed or loved.  They claimed to be the defenders of the true faith.  They claimed to be more devout to God than all others.  They created rules in order that Israel would truly be ready for when God would drive out the invaders and restore their days of glory as God's people as in the days of King David.  

But, through Jesus' ministry, they are exposed as frauds.  For all of their outward show that they followed God, when God is clearly moving in their midst through Jesus and His Holy Spirit, they refused to acknowledge His presence and authority.  To acknowledge His approval of Jesus would mean to repent and to serve in the true kingdom of heaven as Jesus directed them.  But they were not truly devoted to the living God.  They were following something else that fed their need for power and adulation.  They were truly an adulterous generation.

And so they refused to acknowledge the signs happening all around them.  Evil people rarely call themselves evil.  Instead, we find all kinds of justifications to convince ourselves and others that the evil we commit is good and/or justified.  And so they publicly challenge Jesus to produce a sign just for them.  He responds that he will give them the sign of Jonah.

Jonah was a reluctant prophet who was sent by God to the Assyrian capital of Nineveh to call them to repentance.  Jonah refused until he was in the belly of a great fish for three days.  After he was rescued from the fish, he preached repentance.  In much the same way, we know now that Jesus would be in a tomb for three days.  After he was raised up, his followers preached repentance and forgiveness.

He then makes some extraordinary claims that no mere teacher or prophet would make.  What good prophet would claim that he is greater than Jonah?  What wise teacher would claim that he is greater than Solomon?  Yet, Jesus does.  People who claim that Jesus was merely another teacher or prophet of God refuse to hear what this "good prophet" actually said.

How awesome would it have been to be a first-hand witness to Jesus' ministry?  To see the Word that become flesh dwelling among us?  What would my reaction have been to Jesus' proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is at hand?  Would it have been like the disciples or the religious class?

01 May 2010

Jesus Warns Careless Spiritual Teachers

Matthew 12:22-37

Who or what we centre our lives upon determines how we see everything.  And how we see the world around us determines how we decide to live.

We have already read many examples of the current religious class refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy of Jesus' ministry.  They did not dare acknowledge the legitimacy of Jesus' ministry because that would mean repenting of their previous assumptions about God and therefore changing how they saw themselves and those around them.

In this latest example, we read about Jesus performing another healing.  This time he drives out a demon who blocked the sight and speech of the man possessed.  Again, look at the reactions of those who witnessed the miracle.  Note that no one, not even Jesus' enemies deny that the miracle took place.  Even the enemies of Jesus can't do that since the one who couldn't see or speak is now seeing and speaking.  The crowd reacted rightly wondering aloud if Jesus was the Son of David.  Is this man the promised one that God has sent to save us and restore the kingdom of Israel?  In desperation, the religious class exclaims that it is all an elaborate hoax by the ruler of demons. (Again, the religious class shows a heart of stone in refusing to rejoice for the man who has been healed.)

Jesus gives a harsh rebuke.  He warns all those within the sound of his voice to be very careful what we attribute to God and what we attribute to demons.  Jesus uses the opportunity to give a pointed lesson about the kingdom of God.  If we do not worship and serve the Lord God only, we serve someone or something else.  And at the end of the day, according to Jesus, it will be the kingdom of God that will conquer all other kingdoms.

Seeing the Spirit of God at work should have been a catalyst for great rejoicing among God's people.  For some, it certainly was.  But, for those who were the self-proclaimed spiritual teachers of Israel, this was not good news.  Why?  Because at the end of the day, they did not serve our Father in heaven.  They served someone else.  And for anyone who does not or refuses to serve in the kingdom of God, the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is near is not good news.

Father, your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Amen.