Parables of Jesus

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41. The Sheep And The Goats                      6/29/14

The Reward of the Faithful

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” – Matt 25:31-46

Jesus’ crucifixion is the central event in the history of mankind, making the forgiveness of sins possible. Yet his life was just as important as his death, for it is through faith in his teaching of the gospel of the kingdom that we are justified and forgiven. For three years he taught his disciples the principles of the kingdom of God so future generations would be able to follow his example of how we ought to live. His parables cover the basics of Christianity, including such subjects as faith, repentance, righteousness, humility, obedience, perseverance, judgment, and reward. The writers of the epistles built on this foundation, providing practical direction on how to follow the teachings of Christ through the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Of all the lessons Jesus taught about the kingdom of God, the foundational principle is that faith is more than just believing that his words and promises are true. Believing that he loves us enough to die for us so we might live forever with him, we return that love by living for him. Faith allows entrance to the spiritual kingdom of God, unleashes the power of the Spirit, guides us through the tempests of life, and brings us safely home to the Father as we persevere in our discipleship walk. Through faith we grow in the knowledge of God, increase in virtue, and mature in love, doing the good works that God has prepared for us to do (Eph 2:10). By faith we place our hope in the resurrection of the dead and the reward awaiting the faithful at Jesus’ return. It is through faith that we live here as strangers, as Abraham did, “looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:10).”

The choice we made to believe, repent, and follow Jesus determines our destiny. Following Christ is a process of walking in faith to become increasingly like him. The choices we make, day by day, to follow the kingdom principles he taught us determine not just our destiny, but also our harvest. Every day we sow seeds: thoughts that produce emotions that result in actions that grow into either good or bad fruit. As we trust in Christ and learn to reject all that is not from faith, we turn away from the works of the sin nature in order to act according to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul describes the importance of making right choices so we might bear fruit for the kingdom of God: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up (Gal 6:7-9).”

In the final analysis, it’s really all about family. We have a choice, even as believers: We can live either for ourselves or for the family of God, accepting the gift of his love and forgiveness and passing it along to others. “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again (2Cor 5:15).” As our older brother, Jesus is always with us in Spirit, bearing our shame, suffering our sorrows, mourning our losses, forgiving our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness. The faith response he has asked for in return is that we follow his commandment to: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

In order to live for others we must become more like Jesus, striving to please the Father in all that we do. We are called to be his hands of mercy and his feet of peace, bearing the light of truth and spreading the salt of friendship wherever we go. He has commissioned us to live as witnesses of the good news of the gospel of the kingdom, as a testimony of the Father’s love for all mankind. If we love only those who love us, those we call brother or sister, we do not truly understand the nature of righteousness. We are called to love sinners, whether they are inside or outside the church. Today’s unbeliever may become our brother or sister tomorrow because of our testimony, in both word and deed, of God’s love for them. As we serve the hungry, the lonely, the sick, and the needy, we share in the sufferings of Christ, who wants all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim 2:4-5). The righteousness of Christ in us is not realized in adhering to a perfect life, but in living a compassionate one.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

“Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” – Rev 21:1-4; 22:7

40. The Ten Virgins                                    6/29/14

Ready to Meet Christ

“At that time, the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

“At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’

“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’

“‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’

“But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

“Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’

“But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” – Matt 25:1-13

The message of being prepared for Christ’s return is found several times in the gospels. The early parables of The Faithful Servants (8) and The Servants In Charge (9) both emphasize being diligent in our walk of faith in order to be ready for his return. This same message is repeated in the nearly identical parables of The Man Going Away (Mark 13:32-36), and The Faithful And Wise Servant that occurs just before the parable of The Ten Virgins. All of these parables may be characterized by the kingdom principle: “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him (Luke 12:40, Matt 25:44).”

The reiteration of this theme emphasizes its importance to the believer. Taken together, these five parables explain what Jesus meant by ‘being ready’ for his return to establish the kingdom of God on earth: Being diligent in our daily walk, living as though he might come at any moment; Being faithful in our kingdom service to others; Not growing tired of doing good, but keeping our faith active and alive; and keeping the thought of his return foremost in our minds, no matter how long the delay.

The analogy of keeping a light burning appears twice in these parables. This picture of preparedness is probably best illustrated by the centuries-old practice of placing a light in a front window of the house for one going away on a long trip. In the days when whaling ships voyaged half way around the world, every night for months on end, and sometimes even years, the light was kept burning as a sign of hope and readiness for a loved one’s return. In the same way, we are to keep the light of the love of Christ alive in our soul through the dark nights of our struggle against sin, through whispered doubts and fiery trials until he either comes for us or we depart to be with him in heaven.

We can put the matter of being ready for Christ’s return in perspective by asking ourselves the question, “What would I do if I suddenly found out I had only a year to live, or perhaps even a month?” What would it take for us to be ready to meet Jesus, and what would we change in our daily actions? We need to be on guard against spiritual laziness, the apathy that drains the love of God from our soul. Many of us have taken our blessings for granted in a world awash with suffering and need. To combat this, we need to keep the light of gratitude and devotion burning in our hearts for the One who died for us us. He did not give up his life so we could be comfortable, but so we might learn to walk in “the obedience that comes from faith (Rom 1:5).”

If we knew we had only one day to live, we would weigh our last words to our loved ones very carefully, attempting to impart the depth of our wisdom and blessings. Jesus’ last intimate talk with his disciples was no less important to him. It is found only in the Gospel of John. He spoke about why he had to leave them, his promised return, and the coming of the Holy Spirit to take his place. But the most important subject was how they should live while they awaited his return.

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.” – 14:15

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” – 14:21

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” – 14:23-24

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me”. – 15:4

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.” – 15:8-10

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” – 15:12

39. The Wedding Invitations                       6/22/14

The Robe of Righteousness

Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

“Then he sent more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.

“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are invited, but few are chosen.’” – Matt 22:2-14

Though Jesus knew how fickle the heart of man could be, he was constant in his love for God’s chosen people. He delivered them from spiritual captivity and healed them by the thousands. He was patient with all, even Scribes and Pharisees, wanting everyone to come to repentance. He openly wept over the grievous suffering that would befall Jerusalem for the shedding of the blood of the righteous (Luke 19:41-44). As he had warned in the parable of The Wicked Tenants, the Jews’ rejection and crucifixion of him would result in their land being taken away and given to others. However, there would be even more dire consequences. Because of their continued rejection of him, they would also lose the opportunity to enter the kingdom of God through faith in Christ.

The Lord sent his disciples out into the world to invite complete strangers, Gentiles who knew nothing about the Lord’s covenants, commandments, and promises, to become adopted sons and daughters of God. However, just as the old covenant required the Jews to be covered with the righteousness of God through continual sacrifices for sin, under the new covenant one has to be clothed with the righteousness of Christ through faith. In other words, God’s invitation of salvation requires an RSVP of faith in Christ. Those who try to enter the kingdom of God through good works will not be covered in the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness, and will be cast outside, like the stranger in this parable.

Faith in Christ is an unequivocal commitment of submission to Jesus as Lord that has life changing results. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (2Cor 5:17).” Forgiveness, righteousness, and holiness are imparted to us as the first of many kingdom gifts and blessings. As we grow in virtue and the knowledge of God, we receive many more. By faith we learn to reject the things of the world and put to death the sin nature. Through faith we discover the importance of actively immersing ourselves the Word and Person of Jesus Christ, becoming strong in our Christian walk. And as and persevere through the trials that refine our faith, we grow in the light and love of God that find natural expression in works that glorify the Father.

When he returns to establish the kingdom of God on earth, it is this outworking of the inward righteousness of Christ that will identify us as faithful servants of the king. “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints) – Rev 19:7-8. Our part in God’s plan may be in evangelizing, giving to the poor, encouraging the weak, church administration, raising our children in the love and admonition of the Lord, or any of the other numerous relational ways that accomplish the Father’s will for his children to become more like his Son.

Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. — 1Pet 1:17-22

38. The Wicked Tenants                              6/15/14

God’s Vengeance

He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty handed. He sent another servant, but that one they also beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty handed. He sent a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my son, whom I love; perhaps they will respect him.’

“But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.”

When the people heard this, they said, “May this never be!”

Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “What then is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone?’ Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.”

The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people. – Luke 20:9-19

Since “the vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel (Isaiah 5:7),” the crowd understood that this was a warning of judgment on their nation. And they had good reason to fear God’s judgment. He had judged his people many times, from droughts afflicting their crops to invasions by rival kingdoms. Their greatest shame was the sacking of Jerusalem and their seventy-year captivity in Babylon, “because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed within her the blood of the righteous (Lam. 4:13).”

Much to the discomfort of the members of the Sanhedrin questioning Jesus that day, this parable revealed their plans to murder him. They had been actively looking for a way to kill Jesus since he brought Lazarus back from death (John 11:45-53). However, it was not just Israel’s leaders who would be responsible for his crucifixion. The crowds that had cheered Jesus as prophet and Messiah earlier in the week would clamor loudly for his death before Pilate: “All the people answered, ‘Let his blood be on us and on our children (Matt 27:25)!’”

This parable would be fulfilled a generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Roman army laid a two-year siege against Jerusalem, finally capturing and enslaving those who hadn’t already died of starvation and disease. Jesus had prophesied that it would happen: “For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:22,24 NKJV).”

Yet in his mercy, the Lord spared those who had placed their faith in Christ. When they saw Jerusalem ‘surrounded by armies’ (Luke 21:20), believers remembered Jesus’ warning to flee the coming vengeance: “Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. For then there will be great distress, unequalled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened (Matt 24:16, 21-22).” The initial siege against Jerusalem was lifted for a short time, and renewed just before Passover. During that short intermission, Christ’s followers fled Jerusalem, while non-believers chose to remain and trust the city’s newly restored defenses.

When a nation abandons God’s ways and persecutes the righteous, God will eventually judge that nation, making an example of its leaders (Jer 24:4-10). And at the end of the age, God will take vengeance on those who persecuted the saints during the last days. Vengeance is God’s domain, not ours: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay (Rom. 12:19).’” Our job as followers of Christ is not to avenge the persecuted, but to live in the truth and love of God, trusting his daily provision in all our circumstances. In the same spirit, we should look to our own repentance before concerning ourselves with judging the sins of others. As servants of God, someday we will have to give an account of our actions so we may receive reward he has promised the faithful.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God... For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “the Lord will judge his people...” So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. – Heb 10:26-27; 35-36

37. The Two Sons                                       6/08/14


Jesus entered the temple courts, and while he was teaching, the chief priests and elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or from men?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ But if we say ‘From men’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will sir,’ but he did not go.

“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of heaven ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.” – Matt 21:23-32

This exchange took place just two days after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when he had been hailed as a prophet by huge crowds of excited Passover pilgrims, and by many of these as the Messiah, the Son of David. Several hundred thousand people were attending the feast; tens of thousands had personally heard Jesus teach or witnessed his miracles over the past three years. The ruling classes of priests, Levites, elders, Scribes, and Pharisees were upset that the people were looking to Jesus instead of them in their role as intercessors with Almighty God. And as the news about Jesus raising Lazarus spread throughout the city, the rising enthusiasm of the crowds created an even more distressing and urgent problem for Israel’s leaders.

The Roman governor held the Sanhedrin responsible for controlling the population, and the priests were becoming increasingly anxious that things were about to spiral out of control. Many had come to believe that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah who would free Israel from Roman rule. He had shocked everyone the day before by driving the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple courts. What if he raised someone else from the dead in full view of the crowds? They just might riot and declare Jesus king of Israel. (This had in fact almost occurred once before when he had fed 5,000 people in the Galilean countryside – John 6:15). Here in Jerusalem, such sentiments could be very dangerous. The Roman garrison would respond harshly to a popular uprising.

The religious delegation that approached Jesus in the temple court that day was comprised of the powerful political and religious elite. Their intent was to put an immediate stop to his activities in order to preserve their hold on the people and prevent military intervention by the Romans (John 11:47-48). They had not come to debate with Jesus but to challenge his authority, hoping to intimidate him into stopping, or at least curtailing, his activities. Aware of his lack of formal religious education, they probably believed they could discredit him in the eyes of the people.

Instead of answering their question about his authority, Jesus challenged them with a question of his own, bringing up the ministry of his cousin, John the Baptist. The people had traveled in droves to receive John’s baptism of repentance. This had not been a problem for the Sanhedrin, because he was basically a wild man, a desert wanderer who didn’t bring his ministry to Jerusalem. If the people returned from the Jordan with renewed faith and purpose to fulfill the obligations of the Law, so much the better. As to John’s message of repentance, however, they felt that it didn’t really apply to them because they had little or nothing from which to repent. Their position in the ruling religious establishment was proof enough of their righteousness. They were, after all, God’s appointed intercessors to Israel!

Their plan to intimidate Jesus failed. In the silence that followed, Jesus told them the parable of The Two Sons, addressing the underlying spiritual issue that had motivated this confrontation. The real issue was not Jesus’ credentials, but their refusal to respond to godly authority and teaching. On the surface, the subject of the parable was obedience, the accepted yardstick of righteousness. However, this was merely an introduction to the point Jesus really wanted to make about repentance. Yes, they practiced a form of godliness, which was evident in the correctness of their legal doctrine (orthodoxy) and in their strict obedience to God’s commandments (orthopraxis). However, these alone are not sufficient for righteousness. They were blind to the fact that their hearts were not right with God (orthopathos). In other words, they needed to repent of their self-righteous attitude.

As Jesus had taught in the parable of The Pharisee And The Tax Collector, belief in our own goodness results in contempt for the sinfulness of others. However, we are not justified by our position or accomplishments, or even by our efforts to be a good person. Justification is realized by approaching God in a spirit of repentance and humility, every day of our lives. Righteous living is not a matter of self-reformation in order to be a better person, but of dying to self so we might walk by faith as a new person in Christ.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Gal 2:20

36. The Ten Servants                                  6/01/14

Investing in the Kingdom

While they were listening to this, he went on to tell them a parable, because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once. He said: “A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. ‘Put this money to work,’ he said, ‘until I come back.’

“But his subjects hated him and sent a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’

“He was made king, however, and returned home. Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.

“The first one came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned ten more.’

“‘Well done, my good servant!’ his master replied. ‘Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.’

“The second came and said, ‘Sir, your mina has earned five more.’

“His master answered, ‘You take charge of five cities.’

“Then another servant came and said, ‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are a hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’

“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’

“Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take away his mina from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’

“‘Sir,’ they said, ‘He already has ten!’

“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them – bring them here and kill them in front of me.’” – Luke 19: 11-27

Scripture had long foretold that when the Messiah came, he would establish the kingdom of God over Israel. Since many in Jerusalem that Passover week believed Jesus was the Anointed One, they hoped he would lead a revolt against the hated Roman army. Jesus told the parable of The Ten Servants to refute this false hope. This parable stresses two important points. First, the man of noble birth, the Messiah, had to leave before he could return to be appointed king over Israel. This was not an uncommon practice in Jesus’ day when regional kings had to be personally crowned by emperors residing in faraway capitals. The second point is that his followers would be held responsible for the manner in which they conducted themselves and the business of God’s kingdom during his absence.

This parable is the counterpoint to the preceding parable of The Workers In The Vineyard, in which each worker received the same reward for his labor. That parable is based on the kingdom truth that because our sins have been forgiven, everyone who lives and dies in Christ receives the same inheritance of eternal life. Whether we serve him for a long or short time, our inheritance is the same. The parable of The Ten Servants, on the other hand, illustrates the fact that there is a difference between our inheritance of eternal life that comes by God’s free gift of salvation—by grace through faith—and his reward for our faithfulness in producing a harvest for the kingdom of God. So, while all who are saved have the free gift of life eternal because God is loving, we receive an additional reward for our investment in his kingdom, because God is also just.

We are called to be faithful in discharging our duties as good stewards of God’s vineyard, investing our time, energy, talents, and money in his kingdom. When we turn away from “life’s worries, riches, and pleasures... and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:14-15),” we bear fruit for the kingdom of God. The character of Christ is thus formed inwardly in us, and expressed outwardly in works of love that glorify God: “You are the light of the world.. Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven (Matt 5:14,16).” As we share the fruit of the many blessings he has deposited in us with those in need, we fulfill our duty to act as faithful followers of Christ’s example. On the Day of Judgment, “He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time, each will receive his praise from God (1Cor 4:5).”

If any man builds on this foundation [of Christ] using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames. – 1Cor 3:12-15

35. The Workers In The Vineyard                     5/25/14

Our Inheritance: Eternal Life

“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 and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when 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 the 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 the 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 last.” – Matt 20:1-16

A conversation started between Jesus and his disciples when a rich young man had come and asked what he must do to gain eternal life (Matt 19:16-30). Although he had faithfully kept the commandments, he still felt something was lacking in his life. Jesus, discerning that he valued his wealth and position more than people, told him that he would find what he was looking for if he sold his possessions and gave the money to the poor. After the young man left, the disciples, who had given up everything to follow Jesus, wanted to know what their reward would be in Jesus’ kingdom. He told them that they would reign with him as judges over Israel. More importantly, he assured them that all those who had given up valued things of this life for him—houses, family, businesses—would receive a hundredfold in return, though with persecutions, as well as eternal life.

Jesus concluded by stating the kingdom principle, “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” This apparent non sequitur must have resulted in some confused looks, because Jesus immediately explained its meaning in the parable of The Workers In The Vineyard. At first glance, this parable seems to imply that those who have done the least for the kingdom of God will receive the same reward as those who have done the most. However, this conclusion is at odds with several other comments Jesus made about heavenly rewards, such as: “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward... And if anyone gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward (Matt 10:41-42).”

In order to understand the meaning of the parable, we need to grasp the difference between our inheritance and our reward. Paul explains our inheritance in his letter to the Romans: “Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God [workers in his vineyard], the benefit you receive leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:22-23).” Saved by the grace of God and clothed with the righteousness of Christ, we no longer receive the wages of death, but the gift of eternal life. Everyone who leaves the things of this world to follow Christ “will inherit eternal life (Matt 19:29).” This gift, or ‘wage’ in the parable, is received by all who work in God’s vineyard, regardless of whether we come to Jesus early or late in life. This is the meaning of the kingdom principle, “the first will be [receive the same as the] last, and the last [the same as the] first.’

Peter confirms this truth: “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade—kept in heaven for you (1Pet 1:3-4).” However, this inheritance is not the only thing kept in heaven for us. The Father is actually far more generous than the owner of the vineyard in the parable. It pleases him not only to grant us eternal life, but also to reward us for what we have done with the great gift of salvation. This subject of heavenly reward is dealt with in more detail in the following parable of the Ten Servants. During Jesus’ absence, he is preparing a place for each of us in the coming kingdom of God, uniquely suited to our talents and the character we develop during our service to him in this life.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am... I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:1-3, 6

34. The Pharisee And The Tax Collector     5/18/14

True Humility

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God I thank you that I am not like all other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said: ‘God have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 18:9-14

Under Roman rule, taxes were collected by deputized locals rather than Roman officials. Experience had shown that this resulted in more revenue and fewer riots. However, because the tax collectors assisted the hated Roman oppressors, they were judged as being unrighteous in the eyes of both man and God. They not only collected money for taxes, they charged extra to pay their salaries. If anybody had the ‘right’ to judge them, it was the Pharisees, who were considered the most righteous individuals in Hebrew society. (They were some of the wealthiest as well, incurring the largest tax bills.) They considered tax collectors little better than prostitutes and lepers.

However, God does not judge by mere appearance (John 7:24), but examines our thoughts and attitudes to reward our actions (Jer 17:10). If our confidence before God is based on church attendance, good works, and being nice to people who don’t irritate us, our righteousness is much like that of the Pharisees. We will, consciously or otherwise, compare ourselves to ‘sinners’ in order to confirm our own high opinion of ourselves. Such righteousness is really pride masquerading as a good conscience. In order to make any progress in our kingdom walk, our righteousness needs to come not only from the blood of Christ, but from becoming more like him, growing in his love for others.

We develop Christ’s love for others as we humble ourselves in all our relationships. We need to see ourselves as God sees us: as sinners covered by the righteousness of Christ so we might become the expression of God’s love to other sinners. Through the regular practice of esteeming others as more important than ourselves, we cultivate godly righteousness, born of the love of Christ and nurtured in the communal fellowship of his Holy Spirit. 

Do nothing out of vain ambition or selfish conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” – Phil 2:3-7

33. The Persistent Widow                          5/11/14

Persistence In Prayer

Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said, “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” – Luke 18:1-8

Although God is all-powerful, he limited his power when he gave man free will and rule over the earth. We need to remember that God is not the cause of sin or evil, lest we fall into the trap of blaming him for the world’s condition, or for not preventing some unfortunate event. Sometimes our suffering is the result of our own sin. Other times, it may arise from the fact that we live in a broken, fallen world, subject to both circumstance and the unkind or even malicious actions of others, as was the apparent case in this parable. And sometimes the Lord may allow a permanent physical disability to remind us of our need to walk in humility before him, such as the limp he gave Jacob (Gen 32), and the thorn in the flesh he visited on Paul (2Cor 12).

We should appreciate the fact that God wears many hats. While he does in fact send judgment when it is deserved, he is not by nature a judge, but a loving Father. Rendering judgments is just one of the things a father has to do. Because he created us in his own image (Gen 1:27), we are all his children. He loves us so much that he sent his Son to die for us so we might live with him forever. He concerns himself with our welfare and our education so we can learn to choose between good and evil. He is forgiving of our failings, encouraging us to persevere through difficulties and imparting wisdom to navigate the seas of life. He is concerned that disputes between his children are resolved peaceably, and watchful when his children are persecuted. And even though he allows troubles to come into our life for the perfecting of our faith, he will not let us be tried beyond what we are able to endure. And, like the judge in the parable, he will intervene when the time is right, but for the right reasons. He never gives up on us, asking in return that we don’t give up on him.

We do need to remember though that God’s justice does not always mean revenge or even vindication, in the same way that his love doesn’t mean freedom from suffering. There is a greater purpose at work than we understand. Because the Lord wants everyone to come to repentance, he is as patient with others as he is with us, often withholding the judgments we would like to see fall on them. Instead of deliverance from persecution or freedom from physical ailments, our prayers may be answered by grace that develops our faith and “works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).” He has, however, promised to provide for our needs and deliver us from evil, and directed us to pray for those things. He will not allow anything into our lives without also giving us the grace to bear it and turn it into an opportunity to glorify him. 

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. – Luke 11:2-4 KJV

32. The Coming Kingdom of God                 5/04/14

Living For the Kingdom

Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come visibly, not will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”

Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. Men will tell you, ‘There he is!’ or ‘Here he is!’ Do not go running off after them. For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.

“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man. People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.

“It was the same in the days of Lot. People were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all.

“It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed. On that day no one who is on the roof of his house, with his goods inside, should go down to get them. Likewise, no one who is in the field should go back for anything. Remember Lot’s wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. I tell you, on that night two people will be in bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left.”

“Where, Lord?” they asked.

He replied, “Where there is a dead body, there the vultures will gather.” – Luke 17:20-37

Jesus’ teaching and his many miraculous works testified that he was at the very least a prophet, perhaps even the long awaited Messiah. However, most of the religious leaders rejected him as being little more than an uneducated rabbi from the remote backwater of Galilee. The Pharisees not only failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, they misunderstood both the character and nature of the coming kingdom of God. They were looking for a political/military power to drive out the Romans and establish Israel as a regional superpower. Jesus corrected this misperception, explaining that the kingdom would not come as a visible political entity, but as a spiritual reality existing within the hearts of those who enter it through faith.

In the world, a kingdom is defined by the government institutions that represent it, including the military that enforces its will and the officials who ensure that the people submit to its laws. The kingdom of God, however, is comprised of the chosen and elect who have given up their lives to be trained in the obedience of faith, serving one another in love. This is why the kingdom does not come visibly, but with the return of Christ and the resurrection and rapture of all those who served him faithfully in this life. Trained through the discipline of self-denial in the way of sacrificial love, Jesus’ followers will share in the righteous reign of Christ.

The manner of Jesus’ coming to establish God’s kingdom on earth is so important that he did not want his disciples to be led astray. Taking them aside, he explained that they should not believe false rumors of his return. His coming will be so highly visible that it will be like a great lightning bolt splitting the sky. There will be no need to tell anyone about his arrival because everyone will be aware of it. But until that moment, life will go on as usual. This does not imply a lack of persecution or prophetic signs, for these will exist just as they did in Jesus’ day. Even as Jesus was performing hundreds of incredible miracles throughout the country, thousands of Jews had recently been crucified by the Romans. Yet the most religious of the Jews still rejected him. Jesus comment on their spiritual preparedness will be just as applicable to the generation alive at his return: “You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times (Matt 16:3).”

Regardless of what else might be inferred about the timing of Jesus’ coming, two things can be ascertained with certainty from this passage. The first is that on the very day he returns, judgment will fall on the earth as it did in both Lot’s and Noah’s day. The second certainty is found in the kingdom principle: “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it (v 33). It is in following this principle that we will be ready for our Lord, whether we are still alive to meet him in the air or he takes us home beforehand to be with him in heaven.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. [But you brothers are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief – 1Thess 5:4.] The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming... So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with him. – 2Pet 3:10-12, 14

31. The Unworthy Servant                         4/27/14

The Power of Faith

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.

“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat?’ Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” – Luke 17:1-10

The disciples had previously come to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He responded by calling a little child over and saying, “Unless you change [repent] and become like little children, you will never [even] enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:3).” The worldly desire to achieve honor and glory stands in opposition to the humility required to come to Christ and live for his kingdom. Rather than being ambitious to achieve great things for God, we are called to seek his will and submit to the leading of his Holy Spirit. Because he loves us so much, we can trust him to guide us through life, as a small child unconditionally trusts in his or her parents.

Although through Adam we are all God’s children—created in his image and likeness—we were spiritually dead, separated from him by sin. However, the Father loves mankind so much that he sent his Son not only to die for us, but to show us how to live, so we could live for him. To illustrate just how precious people are to the Father, Jesus told the three ‘lost’ parables, portraying the heavenly rejoicing that occurs every time a sinner repents.

These were followed by the parables of The Shrewd Manager and The Rich Man And Lazarus, describing the importance of our attitude toward money. These five parables are connected by a common thread: They lay out the need to chose between pursuing the things the world values (the ambitions and desires of this life), and what God values (people). Jesus finished his teaching by reminding his disciples of the need to be on guard against leading others into sin, especially children, and to forgive those who sin against us, just as God does.

Realizing the extreme difficulty of: 1. Denying sin the opportunity to work through us to the detriment of others, 2. Forgiving without limit those who have injured us, and 3. Turning away from seeking our own advancement to seek the good of others, “the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” And no wonder! It was an impossible task. Knowing this could only be accomplished through the power of faith, they were pretty sure they needed more than they already had. So Jesus related the parable of The Unworthy Servant to explain that the same faith that allowed us to believe in Christ also enables us to obey his teaching. It is not the amount of faith that’s important, but how we use what we’ve already been given. As we continue to humble ourselves under the lordship of Christ and give up our desires for the things of this world, our desire to please the Father grows. 

When we consider all six parables as a single block of instruction, their message becomes clear. While the world values using every opportunity to satisfy ourselves—through the desire for wealth, pleasure, and power—God values obedience to his command of loving him and serving others. We who give up seeking the rewards of this life in order to serve Christ have been promised a far greater reward to come in his kingdom. Trusting in the promises of God enables us to persevere in our duty to serve him.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. – Heb 10:35-38

30. The Rich Man And Lazarus                   4/20/14

Whom Do We Serve?

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

He answered, ‘I beg you father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

He said to them, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced, even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” – Luke 16:14-31

After Jesus finished the previous parable of The Shrewd Manager, “the Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus (Luke 16:14).” They did not understand or perhaps care that greed winds up corrupting what is good in us, impairing our esteem for the dignity of others and our compassion for their suffering. So Jesus told this parable about the rich man who continually ignored another who suffered grievously, foretelling the end awaiting those who get caught up in the love of money.

Human suffering always makes us uncomfortable, and there is good reason for this. Since man is made in the image and likeness of God, we are born with a degree of his light in us (John 1:9). Like God, we have the capacity to discern what others are feeling, to rejoice at their happiness and empathize with their sorrows. It is this innate compassion that causes us discomfort when others are hurting. However, if our primary goal is to live ‘the good life’ that money affords, we will do everything we can to ensure our own comfort. This means associating mostly with those who are also living the good life and avoiding all sources of pain and suffering.

If, on the other hand, we serve God rather than ourselves, we learn to accept the sorrows of life as an opportunity to grow in the love of Christ. Our own suffering gives us the ability to understand and encourage others dealing with similar trials. It also helps us overcome our discomfort at the suffering of others and meet them at their place of need.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” – Matt 25:34-36

29. The Shrewd Manager                           4/13/14

Mastering Money

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’

The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg– I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

So he called in each of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

The manager told him, “Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.”

Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.

He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for your self, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  – Luke 16:1-13

Having previously related the parable of The Rich Man who wanted to build bigger barns to hold his excess crops (Luke 12:16-21), Jesus returns to the subject of how we value worldly wealth, but with a twist. This parable is not about the folly of hoarding money, but the wisdom of how we spend it. Although the steward had the ability to handle his master’s financial affairs shrewdly (also translated as prudently or carefully), he had instead been wasteful with his money. The fact that he was being fired implies he was benefiting personally from his careless management style. Confronted with imminent unemployment, the steward changed tactics. Instead of lining his own pockets, he shrewdly used his master’s money to gain friends who would owe him a favor. This ensured him a place to stay until he obtained another job.

Even though the master knew that the manager wasn’t discharging his duties honestly, he did acknowledge that forgiving others’ debts was pretty smart. Endorsing the notion that we should use our money to gain friends for ourselves, Jesus nevertheless stresses the higher principle of being trustworthy. Since we belong to God, everything we own is his, including whatever wealth we have. We are called to manage our money in trust for his purposes, much as the manager in the parable was given charge of his master’s money. We are therefore accountable to God as to how we spend it. And when we do give away our money to help others, we should do so for no other reason than to meet their needs, expecting nothing in return.

Jesus final point is that we cannot let money rule over us. While money itself is not a bad thing, the love of money always leads to evil. When it ceases being a tool and becomes a goal in itself, then the desire for more grows in us until we are eventually mastered by our own greed. We end up living for Money instead of for God. However, as believers, our attitude should be about serving others as much as it is about meeting our own needs (Phil 2:5-8). Then our money can become a blessing in this life and the next. While ‘we can’t take it with us,’ we can use it to establish friendships that will last forever. Every work of mercy will be rewarded in the richness of our relationships, both now and in the kingdom of God, when everyone will be able to see the depth to which God’s love has been formed in us.

“Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1Cor 13:12  

28. That Which Was Lost  Part 3                          4/06/14

Willful Disobedience

Jesus continued, “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a different country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.”  Luke 15:11-24

Often called the parable of the prodigal son, this is the third of the ‘lost’ parables. Prodigal means wasteful or extravagant. However, the manner in which the son spent his inheritance is not the main point of the story. The NIV more appropriately describes the son as lost, continuing the theme of the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin. Instead of valued property, it involves the loss of a loved child. It is therefore as much about a bereaved father as it is about the willful son who repents of his disobedience.

Since the son knowingly chose his course of action, this was not a matter of straying from the path out of mere curiosity or ignorance. There was no point therefore in going to look for him as the shepherd did for his lost lamb. The father could do little more than hope and pray for his son’s safe return, waiting for circumstance and conviction to change his mind. Like the father scanning the horizon for his lost son, our Father never gives up hope for his disobedient children, no matter how far they depart from the truth. He has given his own Son the work of interceding for us in every circumstance. “Jesus... is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them (Heb 7:25).”

On seeing his son in the distance, even before he had a chance to know of his miserable condition, the father “was filled with compassion for him.” This is the heart of Jesus’ message to the Pharisees, who were deriding the ‘sinners’ with whom Jesus associated. The Father views all sinners with mercy rather than judgment. As sons and daughters of God, we are called to do likewise. Such compassion is the essence of the Lord’s love for all of Creation, especially for those who have been called and chosen to the household of faith. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Ps. 145:8-9).”

Though the Lord always stands ready to forgive and receive us, we should not take the risk of departing from God’s ways lightly. Even though we are forgiven and cleansed when we confess and repent (1John 1:9), like the son in the parable we will not escape the consequences of our sin. Every time we give in to temptation, our struggle will be that much greater the next time. And sin that is serious enough to cause us to walk away from God is harmful enough to leave scars on the soul and broken relationships in its wake.

We need to be aware of the devil’s wiles to separate us from God. The son did not just suddenly wake up one morning and decide it was a good day to leave home. He had actively thought about ‘living the good life’ in far away places for some time before he finally left. The time to deal with worldly attractions is when they are still in our thoughts, before our imagination becomes involved. We are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2Cor 10:5).” If we do not discipline our mind, temptation will play on our desire and lead to sinful actions (James 1:14-15). Sinful habits eventually lead to strained and sometimes even broken relationships with both God and man. That is why God has given us his own Spirit to help us walk in obedience, secure in the hope of the inheritance reserved in heaven for his called and chosen and faithful followers.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also 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 the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. – Eph 1:17-19

27. That Which Was Lost  Part 2                                3/30/14

God’s Great Treasure

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me: I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” – Luke 15:8-10

This is the second of Jesus’ three ‘lost’ parables. This parable continues the theme of rejoicing in the recovery of what was lost. If Jesus were to tell the story today, he might describe a missing purse or wallet containing our driver’s license, social security number, credit cards and cash. We have all felt an immediate sense of loss at discovering that something of such value is gone. Like the woman in the story, we conduct a diligent and thorough a search and rejoice with a sense of relief when we find it.

We are all created in the image and likeness of God, yet separated from him by sin. The Father delights in the salvation of everyone that comes to him through Christ, as well as the return of every wandering child to the embrace of his or her spiritual family. The angels rejoice also, for the reconciliation of mankind is the treasure of heaven, the reason Jesus walked the earth. Having been called to seek the lost, we should be just as concerned and diligent over the one who has wandered from the faith as the one who does not know God.

“If one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner away from his error will save him from death and cover a multitude of sins.” – Jas 5:19-20

26. That Which Was Lost  Part 1                          3/23/14

Caring For the Lost

Now the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” – Luke 15:1-7

Most of those who came to hear Jesus’ message of repentance and salvation were well aware of their sin. Many of them came from the economically and socially depressed classes: the homeless, unemployable, physically handicapped or afflicted, tax collectors, and so on. These were the people who had no connections at the Sanhedrin or local synagogue, who never got invited to eat dinner at a Pharisee’s house or read Scripture in the synagogue. Some had probably not seen the inside of a synagogue for some time. In the theocratic society of Israel, to be branded a ‘sinner’ was the most derogatory moral and social category that could be applied to them. Luke even puts the word in quotes (v 1) to indicate that the term was one of both religious prejudice and social discrimination.

Jesus sought to address this prevailing prejudice against the underclass of society by giving the socially superior Scribes and Pharisees God’s perspective on sin. He appealed to the good in them, inviting them to think about the care and compassion they had for their own animals. His point was that God has compassion on everyone he has made, including those whom we brand as ‘sinners.’ Even as the Pharisees acted out of compassion for what belonged to them, the Lord sends his Holy Spirit to seek and save the lost of his Creation.

Jesus’ lesson still speaks to us today. To which people do we feel superior, and what underclass of ‘sinners’ do they represent? Regardless of our prejudices against them, they are still created in the image of God, who calls everyone come to repentance: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2Pet 3:9).” He desires that we have the same attitude toward them that Jesus has for us, being compassionate rather than condemning them.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the most high, because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. – Luke 6:32-36

25. The Tower And The Battle                    3/16/14

Following Jesus: A Lifelong Commitment

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his own cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil not for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” – Luke 14:25-35

Jesus had spent most of his time in Galilee, so his visit to the region of Perea was a major event that attracted large crowds. There would have been a general atmosphere of hope and celebration that pervades such large gatherings as concerts and sporting events today. While some were just seeking to satisfy their curiosity, for others it was a chance to hear and see the wisdom and power of God. Many were drawn by a desire to know more about the coming kingdom of God. Whether those following Jesus knew it or not, their motivation for being there was a matter of life and death—on an eternal scale.

So Jesus took the time to make sure they understood that ‘following him’ meant more than a day trip across the countryside, more than just an opportunity to hear him teach and witness his miraculous works. Following Christ requires a lifelong commitment of faith: putting him before family and friends, even before one’s self, and being faithful to the point of death. The two examples Jesus gives to explain the cost of being his disciple are constructing a tower and fighting a great battle. Being ready to engage in spiritual warfare and committing to a lifelong construction project are in fact required if we are to finish the walk of faith we started when we first believed.

Fighting spiritual battles is part of following Jesus because “the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature (Gal 5:17).” We must therefore “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2Cor 10:5),” and “by the Spirit... put to death the misdeeds of the body (Rom 8:12).” Maintaining the integrity of our borders against spiritual enemies, we are able to devote ourselves to building our life on the teachings of Christ and the Apostles.

Having made the commitment to follow Christ, we need to persevere daily in our faith so we might continue in the living hope of the great inheritance kept in heaven for us (1Pet 1:4). This means enduring the process of wrestling against temptation, and being faithful in our trials so we might be built up together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remaining committed to Christ means keeping the fires of devotion burning so we do not become like salt that loses its flavor. We must not lose heart when we stumble during trials or find ourselves returning to fight the same spiritual battles we have repeatedly fought before. Because we have the promise of eternal life (John 6:40), we can trust God to shield us with his power, and to discipline us for the perfection of our obedience. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom (Luke 12:32).” Following Jesus is therefore not so much about focusing on his coming kingdom as it is on abiding in it here and now, living to please the Father and serve others in a spirit of love.

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. – Heb 10:22-25