Parables of Jesus

Updated Weekly

24. The Great Banquet                            3/09/14

Responding to God’s Call

When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 

“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field and I must go see it. Please excuse me.’

“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’

“ ‘Sir’ the servant said, ‘What you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’

“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ” – Luke 14:15-24

Jesus had just related the parable of The Wedding Feast, schooling everyone there in the lesson of humility. In the uncomfortable silence that followed, someone tried to defuse the tension, saying: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” This sentiment wisely expressed the fact that attendance at God’s feast at the end of the age is more important than the seating position one might be assigned. Jesus was not entirely comfortable with that statement, however, since it played into the flawed expectation of those present that their participation in God’s feast was assured. This was not an entirely unreasonable expectation on their part, given their upbringing. They were all circumcised children of Abraham. Moreover, many of those present had been elevated to important local or even national posts. Considering the august makeup of the assembled group, some probably believed they might even be honored guests at God’s banquet table.

It would have been a disservice to let them continue in their mistaken belief that they had a lock on salvation. To avoid an open rebuke, Jesus related the parable of The Great Banquet. It was not one’s birth or works or position in the community that determined entry into the kingdom of God, but one’s response to God’s invitation to live for his kingdom. Those whose hearts are taken up by worldly affairs are really living for themselves instead of God. However, those with little or no stake in the world—who live for God’s kingdom rather than themselves—they will be the ones to reap its benefits. The apostle Paul made a similar point to the Jewish Christians in Rome a few decades later, and his message applies to us as well: we must walk by the Spirit of love rather than our idea of what it is to be a good person.

The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. A man is not a Jew if he is one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God. – Rom 2:27-29

23. The Wedding Feast                              3/02/14

Rewarded for Humility

One Sabbath... Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee... When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” – Luke 14: 1, 7-11

Jesus introduced the importance of humility in the parable of The Wandering Sheep, telling his disciples to refrain from seeking greatness. Instead, he counseled just the opposite: “Whoever humbles himself like this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 18:4).” The personal ambition so prevalent in the world has no value in the kingdom of God. Jesus returns to the subject of humility in the parable of The Wedding Feast.

He had been invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee, probably a member of the ruling Sanhedrin, which was similar to our congress. The dinner guests would have been the most important men of the region—Priests, Levites, Scribes and Pharisees, politicians, rabbis, doctors, and wealthy merchants. Jesus had come alone, because the host did not want Jesus’ supporters there. His dinner invitation turned out to be a trap when the Scribes and Pharisees confronted him with a man who had a terminal disease. This was done with the intention of placing him on the horns of a dilemma. Would he heal this man and open himself up to charges he violated the prohibition against doing work on the Sabbath, or would he ignore the man’s dire need in order to fit in socially, casting doubt on the great compassion for which he was so well known? To Jesus, there was no dilemma. He immediately healed the man and then forestalled his hosts’ judgment of him with an appeal to their own compassion.

Having successfully passed their test, no doubt much to their disappointment, Jesus had served his function. He was pretty much ignored after that. Being a humble man, he chose a seat by himself toward the far end of the long table that ran the length of the room. Seated so far from the host, it was apparent that Jesus had little or no social standing, so those who did not know him didn’t bother to engage him in conversation. Those who did recognize him knew that he had a reputation of associating with ‘sinners’ and confronting Scribes and Pharisees in public. To engage him in conversation could have been hazardous to one’s social standing, so they avoided him. This gave him the opportunity to observe the behavior of the arriving dinner guests.

From his vantage point, Jesus noticed the subtle maneuvering taking place for seating positions as close as possible to the head of the table. When he finally did speak, his strong voice cut through the idle chatter that filled the room. Using the familiar example of a wedding banquet, he taught the leading men of Judea and Perea a lesson about the importance of humility. He appealed, as he often did, to their better nature rather than condemning them for their lower one. Except for one man, everyone there was impressed by the obvious wisdom of Jesus’ parable.

The one man who remained unconvinced was the host, because he hadn’t needed to vie for a good seat. So Jesus related another short parable on humility just for him. When one invited important people to dinner, Jesus said, he could reasonably look forward to being honored by social favors in return. However, expecting recognition of one’s importance is no different than seeking the honor of being seated near the head of the table. The better way is to serve those who cannot repay you. While this would appear foolish by the world’s standards, it will result in receiving honor in the kingdom of God.

Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. – 1Pet 5:5-7

22. The Persistent Friend                          2/23/14

Persevering in Faith

“Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’

“Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s persistence, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” – Luke 11: 5-8

Jesus told this parable just after answering his disciples’ request to teach them how to pray. In the Lord’s Prayer, he showed them that the way to approach God was to come to our Holy Father as his child, seeking: 1) to live for his kingdom by doing his will, 2) to trust him to meet our daily needs, 3) to be merciful to others even as we seek his mercy and forgiveness, and 3) to walk in the grace of God that strengthens us in temptation and delivers us from evil. The Lord’s Prayer teaches us how to pray; the parable of The Persistent Friend teaches us to persevere in prayer and not lose heart at the challenges of living for the kingdom of God.

While we can see, hear, touch, taste, and feel the world around us, we unable to perceive the kingdom of God except by faith. It is not easy to live for an unseen spiritual kingdom when the daily necessities of this world take up so much of our thoughts, time, and energy. We are burdened with meeting our own physical and emotional needs as well as those who depend on us to protect and provide for them. However, when we seek the Father’s help in meeting these needs, he is hidden from our sight—much like a man inside a locked house in the middle of the night. We know he is there and that he hears us, but because he does not immediately answer, we often doubt his willingness to act on our behalf. This can lead to seeing God as distant and unapproachable, undermining our motivation to pray.

Because he always lived by the principles he taught, we can believe Jesus’ word that our Father loves us, just as he loves him. “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God (John 20:17).” We are truly his children by grace through faith. However, like little children, we are often impatient. We want our requests answered as soon as possible after they leave our lips, and we become frustrated when the answer is delayed. Yet as our Creator and Father, God knows us and understands our needs better than we do. His answers to our prayers are therefore not always what we expect or even ask for, and they rarely seem to follow our timetable.

Since this lifetime is so short and eternity is so long, God puts our spiritual welfare above what we perceive as the immediate needs of this world. He is pleased when we learn to do the same, persevering in faith to put his kingdom above all else. If we are to live for his kingdom instead of this world we must trust that he is present with us each and every day, protecting and providing for us. The surest way to receive an answer to prayer is the same as it has always been, submitting our requests with thanksgiving and asking according to his will.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. – Phil 4:6-7

21. The Good Shepherd                            2/16/14

Trusting God’s Great Mercy

“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth. I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will go in and come out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father— and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” – John 10:1-16

Both Isaiah and Ezekiel prophesied about the Messiah who would shepherd God’s people, fulfilling the type of King David. “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak... I will shepherd the flock with justice (Ezek 34:15-16).” In the parable of The Good Shepherd, Jesus identifies himself as the One who came to tend God’s flock.

Jesus used this parable to reveal that he would do more than just care for his sheep. He cared so much that he would sacrifice his life for us, even though we don’t deserve it. As Jesus journeyed the length and breadth of Israel, he discovered that God’s people were spiritually weak, scattered, injured and lost. Yet he was not angry with them for their sin, but tender hearted and sympathetic to their plight. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Matt 9:36).”

Jesus would sacrifice his life not just for God’s chosen covenant people; he would die for the sins of all mankind, including you and me in his flock. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to seek after us when we stray, to comfort us in our sorrows, to bind up our spiritual wounds so we might heal, and to sustain us with the joy of salvation. When we feel God is distant, we would do well to remember that Jesus is our ever-present spiritual Shepherd. He provides everything we need to follow him, regardless of whether we are at the front, in the middle, or bringing up the rear of the flock.

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with every good thing for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him. – Heb 13:20-21

20. The Good Samaritan                           2/09/14

The Spirit of Mercy

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came to where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied,  “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” – Luke 10: 30-37

A Scribe had asked Jesus what must be done to inherit eternal Life. Sensing that this expert in the Law already knew the answer to his own question, Jesus asked him what he thought. The Scribe responded that one must “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind (Deut 6:5),” and “Love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18).” Jesus told him that he had answered correctly, and if he did these things, he would attain eternal life.

However, the Scribe was not happy with being outmaneuvered into answering his own question. As a lawyer, he enjoyed the challenge of a good theological debate, and wanted to involve Jesus in a legal discussion about the limits of one’s responsibility to his fellow man. He therefore asked just who should be included in the definition of neighbor. His underlying mistake, of course, was in seeing love as a duty rather than an expression of the Father’s great compassion for his creation. Instead of getting involved in a spiritually unprofitable discussion, Jesus related the parable of The Good Samaritan in order to show him his error. At its conclusion, he asked the Scribe once again to answer his own question.

This parable may be contrasted with the preceding parable of The Unmerciful Servant, which examined the negative consequences of failing to be merciful in our dealings with others. Building on the kingdom principle: “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38),” Jesus taught his disciples that we are called to be merciful, forgiving others just as God forgives us. The parable of The Good Samaritan approaches the same subject from a positive point of view, defining the spirit, or heart, of mercy.

The quality of mercy goes well beyond mere forgiveness of wrongs committed against us; it seeks to actively extend the love of God to others without discrimination. As an expression of the Father’s goodness, mercy calls on us to be kind and tender hearted to all, whether they are strangers, friends, members of our own family, or even our enemies, regardless of whether or not they are saved. Only in this way can we fulfill God’s commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

19. The Unmerciful Servant                           2/02/14

Forgiven as We Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could repay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In his anger his master turned him over to the jailers until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” – Matt 18:21-35 

Jesus had just given his disciples a guide for church relationships, telling them they needed to forgive a brother who offended them. Having been raised under Law, Peter wanted Jesus to define the limits of forgiveness so he could fulfill this duty. But Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that forgiveness is not a matter of duty but of grace. Because the goal of forgiveness is reconciliation and restoration of broken relationships, there are no limits to forgiveness. We who have been (and continue to be) forgiven so much are required forgive others of their offenses against us. The reason for this is simple.

When we are saved, we become adopted children of God. We are no longer individuals with the right to chose what rules we will follow, but members of God’s family. As in any family, there are rules governing relationships. And because God is Love, no family rule is more important than loving one another. It is so important in fact that Jesus put it in the form of a commandment: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34).” The fundamental expression of love is mercy, from which the sacrifice of forgiveness freely flows.

Without God’s forgiveness of our sin, we could not have become members of his family. And without our continued forgiveness of our brothers and sisters, the unity of the family cannot be maintained. Harboring unforgiveness breaks the spiritual unity of the family that exists in Christ. Therefore, when we are unmerciful, we cut ourselves off from God’s mercy, not because he is vengeful, but because he is just, applying the same standard to all his children— ‘measuring unto us according to the measure we use with others.’

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” – John 17:20-23

18. The Wandering Sheep                         1/26/14

God’s Provision for Our Children

“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” – Matt 18:10-14

Jesus’ disciples had just asked him the self-serving question: “Who is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven?” Calling a child to stand among them, he demonstrated the kingdom principle that humility precedes spiritual elevation: “Whoever humbles himself like this little child is greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.” Expanding on this subject he equated the child, whose soul was uncorrupted by pride and worldly desires, to himself: “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me (v 4,5).” Those whose hearts are set on the things of this world fail to perceive the humility and purity of Christ as an example of how we ought to live.

Dealing with the other side of the coin, Jesus continued, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Such a death sentence existed in some countries at the time for grievous crimes. Jesus then related the general principle that one might need to take radical action to turn away from sin in order to enter the kingdom of God. He concluded with another endorsement of the humility found in children and related the parable of The Wandering Sheep, illustrating the Father’s special love for the little ones in his flock.

Since sheep are herd animals, they tend to stick together under the care of the shepherd, and this provides a certain degree of protection. The ram follows the shepherd, the ewes follow the ram, and the lambs stay close to their mother’s side. However, as young lambs grow, some of the bolder and perhaps more self-absorbed ones may wander off, as the young sometimes tend to do. Unaware of the dangers, these lambs may lose their way and get hurt, or even meet up with predators. This experience is not limited to the young, for we have all strayed at one time or another. However, once our children belong to God, even though they may wander, he will faithfully seek them out in order to return them to the flock. This is what the Good Shepherd does, because he is not willing that any who belong to him should be lost. That is why children are given angels to watch over them. Some angels, it would seem, are busier than others.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isa 53:6

17. Treasures Both New And Old              1/19/14

Sacrifice, the Heart of Worship

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.

“Yes,” they replied.

He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”

When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved on from there. – Matt 13:50-53

Concluding his teaching by the lake, Jesus draws a final analogy, confirming his claim that he had not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it. This parable has two implications for believers. The first is that our duty to God and our neighbor, codified in the Ten Commandments, remains in force: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:13).”

The second implication is that we are called to go beyond the old covenant duty to God and neighbor, and fulfill the spirit of the Law. This is the essence of worship under the new covenant of grace. As Jesus informed the Samaritan woman at the beginning of his ministry: “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).” Since worship under the Law prefigured worship under the new covenant, an understanding of Old Testament worship greatly enhances our understanding of discipleship. Instead of sacrificing a lamb on the altar, we sacrifice our time, our money, our bodies, and ourselves to do the will of God, sharing his love and truth with others. Such sacrificial love is the evidence of our union with Christ, the visible light of his presence shining through us.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends... This is my command: Love each other. – John 15:13, 17

16. The Fishing Net                                   1/12/14

Judgment at the End of the Age

“Once again, the kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous, and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Matt 13:47-50

One day Jesus went down to the shore of the Sea of Galilee, also known as Lake Tiberius. Hearing he was there, a great crowd came to see him, so Jesus got into a boat and rowed out a little way from the shore so he could teach them. He started with the parable of The Sower, which explains how the message of the kingdom of God is scattered like seed on the earth, and the different results this produces depending on how it is received. The parable of The Weeds followed, describing the sowing of the sons of darkness among the sons of light. He told his disciples privately that judgment would come, but it would be withheld until the end of the age so as not to uproot the elect. He confided that when the wicked are finally judged, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matt 13:43).”

The parables of The Seed and The Mustard Seed are next, describing the spiritual growth necessary to produce a harvest. These are followed by the parables of The Hidden Treasure and The Pearl, which teach that the rewards of living for the kingdom of God far outweigh anything the world has to offer. The parable of The Fishing Net returns to the theme of judgment at the end of the age. Since fishing was the primary industry of those living along the Sea of Galilee, many of those present related to Jesus’ comparison of God’s judgment to a fisherman’s job. A net does not discriminate what it catches, and undesirable fish are always thrown back into the sea.

Considering this series of parables as a whole, Jesus’ point seems to be that there is more to salvation than just our response to the word of God. We are called to give up the things of this world even while we live in it, working alongside those who oppose us, so we might grow and produce a spiritual harvest. At the end of the age, God will sort out the enemies of the Gospel from those who have been faithful to him. Those who have turned away from the world to live for God’s kingdom will be rewarded with a measure of his glory.

“There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So it will be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” – 1Cor 15:40-44

15. A Great Treasure                                 1/05/13

The Reward of the Faithful

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” – Matt 13:44-46

Jesus did not convey the truths of the kingdom of God in a haphazard manner, but carefully laid a foundation on which subsequent parables could be understood. In his first recorded parable, The Old And The New, Jesus noted a simple fact of human nature: “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” He understood that people are resistant to change, preferring the security of their current worldview to accepting his teaching. Later, in the parable of The Unfruitful Tree, Jesus again dealt with change, explaining that faith in him must be accompanied by repentance from sin, which is proven by the fruit of changed behavior. Here in the parables of The Hidden Treasure and The Pearl, Jesus deals with the reason why we should accept his teaching about the kingdom, declaring that great reward awaits those who give up everything to follow him.

The basic principles of these two parables are: 1) The kingdom of God is the greatest treasure one can possibly discover in this life; 2) It is a rare thing, so not everyone will find it; 3) One must be willing to give up everything else to obtain it; 4) While it may be encountered unexpectedly by some, others will find it only after a diligent search for truth.

Jesus understood the sacrifice that would be required of those who turn away from the world to become his disciples. However, his assurance of reward for those who surrender their life to him still stands. So does his promise that those who seek and love him above all else will discover hidden treasures in this life and the next. His many promises can be found by diligently searching the Scriptures, providing comfort for the weary and encouragement for all those who faithfully seek glory, honor and immortality. 

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. – 2Pet 1:3-4

14. The Mustard Seed And Yeast                12/29/13

A Small Beginning

Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew, became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” – Luke 13: 18-21

Throughout his ministry, Jesus was faced with countering the prevailing Hebrew belief that the kingdom of God would come when the Messiah arrived as conquering king to set up his physical rule on earth. They were not wrong in this expectation, just a bit premature. Both Jews and Christians now await the coming of the Messiah — the Christ, to defeat the forces of evil and establish his kingdom over the earth. That’s why the two religions are sometimes referred to as one: The Judeo-Christian faith.

In this respect, the difference between the two groups is that the latter believe the Messiah has already come once, the first time to establish his reign in the hearts of those who believe in him. During his three-year ministry, he made disciples who would spread his teaching about the kingdom of God, and these in turn would make more disciples. In this way, Jesus’ work on earth would continue until his return. Yet the kingdom of God is more than just a teaching; it is a seed that grows within us and changes our soul, enabling us to live godly lives. Many of Jesus’ parables therefore describe this quiet inner working of the kingdom, painting a far different picture than the mighty political kingdom the Jews had in mind.  

Jesus used the example of a mustard seed, the “smallest of all the seeds on earth,” to illustrate the fact that the kingdom of God does not come with the great force and fanfare of a conquering king. Instead, as he explained in the parable of The Sower, the Word is sown into one’s heart — by the grace of God through the gift of faith. Its beginning is so inauspicious that on looking at a new believer one might not notice a change. Kingdom fruit appears only after a period of growth, from seedling to sapling to a productive tree. It takes time for the Holy Spirit to bring forth the love of Christ. The seed must engage in a life struggle, first up through the soil, later weathering life’s storms, wind, and even draught in order to come to maturity. The leaven in the dough illustrates the same principle. It takes time for the Spirit of God to do his work in the soul, until the kingdom of God comes to permeate our thoughts, words, and actions. 

The mustard seed also teaches us that we do not need a great revelation of God to do great things for the kingdom. It is not the greatness of our faith that produces spiritual results in us, but our perseverance to remain faithful to Christ in the smallest everyday matters of life, no matter how insignificant they may seem. As we continue to abide in Christ, putting the kingdom first in our life, the  Holy Spirit transforms us over time to produce spiritual fruit in us. Some people encounter greater struggles in this process than others. We all walk our own path. Sometimes the road may be rocky, even steep, and our progress slow. However, as we persevere, faith becomes faithfulness and our heart is renewed day by day in the image of its Creator.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints to grasp how long and wide and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you might be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Eph 3:16-19

13. The Seed                                            12/15/13

Spiritual Growth

He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” – Mark 4:26-29

This parable can best be understood in light of the parable of The Sower. Of the four places where the seed of the Word was scattered, only one produced a harvest. As Jesus explained, “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15).” While the word of God has the ability to germinate and grow “all by itself,” we need to tend our garden to ensure a healthy crop. It is our responsibility to persevere in our walk of discipleship, maintaining a noble and good heart. We need to ensure that we keep our garden free of weeds, so “The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth [do not] choke it, making it unfruitful (Matt 13:22).” In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul describes the heart motivation that leads to a lasting harvest.

To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. – Rom 2:7

12. The Weeds                                         12/08/13

Tending our Garden

Jesus told them another parable: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.”

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“ ‘An enemy has done this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“ ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned, then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’ ” – Matt 13:24-30

As he did with the parable of The Sower, Jesus took the time to explain this parable to his disciples. The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom and the weeds are the sons of the evil one. The harvesters are the angels who weed out “everything that causes sin and all who do evil” from the kingdom of God at the end of the age, throwing them into the fiery furnace. While this might well apply to the destruction of the armies gathered against Jerusalem both at the beginning (Rev 19:17-20) and the end of Jesus’ millennial reign (Rev 20:7-9), it is important to remember that everyone who has ever lived must pass through spiritual judgment on his or her life. “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment (Heb 9:27).”

The more present issue is how we are supposed to deal with the ‘weeds’ that may be in the church. The difficulty with this issue lies in the fact that since we are all sinners on the road to maturity, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the weeds and the grain. This is why the Lord has entrusted the matter of church discipline to those who have been placed in a position of spiritual authority. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to guide his church, and the Father’s work to discipline his children; it is not ours to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are told to: “accept one other, just as Christ accepted you (Rom 15:7)”; “judge nothing before its time (1Cor 4:5)”; and “keep on praying for all the saints (Eph 6:18).” When we get the urge to do some weeding, we can always find enough work to do in our own garden, and let God tend to his church.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. – Luke 6:37-38

11. The Sower                                           12/01/13

Producing A Harvest

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” – Matt 13: 1-8

When the Twelve questioned Jesus about this parable in private, Jesus responded, “Don’t you understand this parable? How then will you understand any parable?” This parable is therefore central to understanding the kingdom of God. It explains the importance of our response to the Word of Truth in order to produce a spiritual harvest.

In Jesus’ day, the word “heart” had a very broad usage. It was used to describe one’s mind, conscience, affections, convictions, courage, and even the will, and could thus indicate one’s essence, or the person himself. It is the state of our heart—what is growing in it—that determines our actions. That is why the seed sown by the farmer is presented both as the word of God sown in the heart (v 19) as well as the person who hears it (v 20). It is the ‘heart condition’ that determines how one responds to the message about the kingdom. Before explaining the parable to his disciples, Jesus quoted Isaiah 6 to explain the reason why many would be called, but few chosen. “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 [repent], and I would heal them (v 15).”

On hearing the message of the kingdom of God, we either reject it or believe in our heart that it is true (Rom 10:10). Those who reject the light of the gospel do so because their hearts are calloused, like a path that has been hardened over time by the shoes of those walking on it. Having fully bought into what the world has to offer, they reject faith in God, not wanting to give up control of their destiny. However, the belief that they are actually in control of their life is only a deception, since “the whole world is under the control of the evil one (1Jn 5:19).” The result is that: “the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart (v19).”

The seed that fell among the rocks are those whose hearts are still tender enough to believe the truth of God’s love for them, receiving it with joy. However, like a seed blown into a small dirt-filled rock crevice that quickly sprouts up, the word of God soon withers and dies in the heat of the mid-day sun. Although the small plant has shoots, the soil is too shallow to put down roots. This causes the seed to die, because the implanted word of God calls for more than just belief. Salvation also requires the roots of true repentance, a deep personal commitment to turn away from sin and the darkness that perpetuates it (Mk 1:15). We must turn away from living by the world’s values in order to live for the kingdom of God. Because the world stands in opposition to the kingdom, those who take a stand as a Christian will encounter trouble and persecution. Those lacking the courage and conviction of faith necessary to endure opposition will fall away after a short while, returning to their comfortable friendship with the world.

If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. – John 15:19

Faith and repentance are the two elements required to pass through the gates of salvation. Once inside though we discover that there is more to salvation than ‘being saved.’ We must choose daily to walk in the light of the kingdom, living by its principles. Salvation can no more be defined by the single act of being born again than Christ’s redemption can be defined by giving up his divine nature to be born as a man. He had to live and work and serve and sacrifice his own life to accomplish the Father’s will. Having entered the kingdom, we begin our journey in the way of discipleship by following Christ’s example.

Our purpose as believers is similar to Christ’s: to be light in the darkness; to walk in grace and truth, spreading God’s love and the message of the kingdom; and to honor God in all our actions. In order to do this, we have to produce more than just good-looking leaves; we need to come to maturity in Christ, bearing the fruit of the Spirit. However, the sin nature fights against the Spirit, and this accounts for the seed that fell among thorns. Our natural attraction to the things of this world—those things that gratify our pride as well as our desires and concerns that lead us astray—can keep us from developing the heart and character of Christ. The immediate rewards of the world strive against the treasures of the kingdom: happiness substitutes for joy, possessions replace peace, selfishness and pride rob us of our compassion for others. These are the thorns that choke the word and make it unfruitful (v 22).

Lastly, Jesus defines the qualities of those who achieve God’s purpose for them: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop (Luke 8:15).” Note the characteristics of those who produce a plentiful harvest: They seek the greater good rather than to serve self; they are noble, disciplining themselves to live by high moral principles; on hearing the word of God they put it into practice so they do not forget its lessons; and they persevere through trials and temptations.

To understand what the fruit of Christ’s character looks like, we can examine what Jesus accomplished. Shining as Light in the darkness (John 1:4-5, 8:12), he gave up his equality with the Father and humbled himself, becoming obedient to the leading of the Spirit, to his earthly parents, and to the laws of men (Phil 2:6-8), so he might destroy the works of the devil (1John 3:8) by doing the works of a loving God (John 9:4). He sacrificed his own life in order to forgive sins (Col 1:14) and bring his followers into the unity and glory he shares with the Father (John 17:22). Finally, he commissioned us to proclaim the message of the kingdom in both word and deed (Matt 28:19, John 15:17). Although we are not saved by works, we are saved to do the work of the kingdom: to be fully formed into the image of Christ so we might be his heart and hands and feet on earth, doing the Father’s will until Jesus returns.

You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. – John 15:16

10. The Unfruitful Tree                            11/24/13

The Fruit of Repentance

“A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” – Luke 13: 6-9

Jesus was engaged in a discussion with several members of a crowd about the recent deaths of numerous people, some as a result of Roman persecution and others from a chance collapse of a tower. He addressed the common Hebrew belief that such misfortune only happened to ‘bad people’—as a sign of God’s displeasure with their sinfulness. Jesus asserted that the victims of these incidents were no more sinful than anyone else, because all men are sinners. He then introduced the parable of The Unfruitful Tree with the comment, “unless you repent, you too will all perish (Luke 13:5).”

Repentance was the main theme of John the Baptist’s preaching to the Jews: “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’ (Luke 3:8 NKJV).” Paul would later expand on the same subject in his letter to the Romans. With a two thousand year history as God’s covenant people, the Jewish community of Christians in Rome felt they were exempt from God’s judgment. Yet Paul was not writing this letter to unbelievers, but to the elect. He was saying that being called by God unto salvation, even under the new covenant, is not enough: faith in Christ must be accompanied by repentance. Without repentance there is no salvation: “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God will give to each person according to what he has done (Rom 2:5-6).”

Repentance, like salvation is not just a one-time event, but an ongoing process as we grow in the knowledge and truth of God. Even though we are saved, we are called to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Phil 2:12-13).” Although we are forgiven of sin and given the righteousness of Christ, the sin nature is still very much alive in us. Though we are saved, we are still spiritually impoverished and in need of heavenly riches; we are sick, in need of healing for our soul. Though we are beloved children of God, we continue to be sinners in need of repentance.

As the Holy Spirit convicts us of truth, we become increasingly aware of the gap between the righteousness of Christ in us and our actions. Yet in his grace the Master Gardener is faithful to guide us by his Spirit and send people into our life so we might produce spiritual fruit—from the pastor who preaches the word on Sunday to the friend who gives us a word of exhortation or encouragement, to the homeless person in need of a meal—in order to help us turn from the acts of the sin nature and our own selfishness. As we respond to the leading and conviction of God’s Spirit, the righteousness and love of Christ become increasingly evident in our thoughts, words, and actions.

We need to be vigilant against the trap of pride. The same feeling of entitlement held by the Jewish converts in Rome can sometimes be found among Christians today. This happens because when we come to Christ, we too become God’s covenant people, ‘accepted in the beloved’ and ‘brothers loved by the Lord.’ Because of this assurance, it’s possible to fall into the error of believing that because we are saved, we do not need to make an effort to discipline ourselves and turn from selfishness—all we have to do is to trust that God’s grace will bring us through. This is just not true, as Paul explains in verses 13 to 26 of the fifth chapter of his letter to the Galatians. “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love (v 13).”

Under the covenant of grace, we are indeed freed from doing works of righteousness in order to justify ourselves (salvation by works). However, as believers we are called to show proof of the Holy Spirit at work in us, “bear(ing) fruits worthy of repentance.” Paul identifies this fruit as acts of: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22).”

“For it is by grace you have been saved—through faith, and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Eph 2: 8-10)

9. The Servants In Charge                         11/17/13

The High Calling of Ministry

Afterward Peter asked, “Lord are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?”

The Lord answered, “Who then is that faithful and wise manager, who the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ‘My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he begins to beat the menservants and womenservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving of punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” –  Luke 12: 41-48

When Peter asked whether the parable of The Faithful Servants was addressed to them or to everyone, Jesus described the additional weight of responsibility placed on those in church leadership. Those whom God has appointed to positions of spiritual authority to serve the needs of their fellow servants will be held to a higher standard. They will receive greater reward for their service, but also greater discipline if they do not humbly and faithfully fulfill their duty. We are held responsible for what we do with the light we have received. Lastly, Jesus describes the simple truth about the work involved in church leadership. It is commonly observed today as ‘20% of the people do 80% of the work’: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” 

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45

8. The Faithful Servants                            11/10/13

Diligence, The Better Part of Faith

“Be dressed and ready for service and keep your lamps burning, like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the third watch of the night. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. –  Luke 12: 35-40

Having just told the Parable of the Rich Man to explain the necessity of putting the kingdom of God first, Jesus gave two examples of the importance of being diligent in our walk of faith. The first presents men waiting for their master to return from a wedding reception. Jesus advises his listeners to “be dressed for service and keep your lamps burning.” We are to keep our spiritual house in order, always being true to the kingdom of God no matter how long the delay before Christ’s return. Second is the owner of the house who, if he had known at what hour the thief was coming, would not have let his house be burglarized. We are to be vigilant, ensuring that we are not lulled into complacency, becoming victims of the devil’s schemes.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. – John 10:10

7. The Rich Man                                       11/03/13

Lasting Treasure

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You’ll have plenty of good things stored up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich towards God.” – Luke 12: 16-21

It is natural to want the good things this life has to offer, and these things are not bad in themselves. God does not have a problem with us working for and enjoying wealth. The book of Ecclesiastes in fact recommends excelling at our work and enjoying life. It is not wealth itself, but the love of money that Jesus is denouncing here. The worldly desire to acquire more and more things for ourselves stands in direct opposition to the kingdom of God because it is a matter of faith: Do we place our trust in those things that provide worldly security, or will we choose instead to trust God’s provision for us so we can direct our heart towards attaining the things of God?

If we choose the way of the world, we will worry about not having enough for ourselves and become afraid of losing what we already have. If, on the other hand, we seek to grow in godly qualities, then we will never be poor, because the more we give away, the more we will have. The kinder we behave toward others, the more patience we will have. The more we persevere in our own trials, the more we will be able to encourage our brothers and sisters in their own. When we truly believe that God loves us, we can put his kingdom first and trust that he will provide for our needs: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Mt 6:33-34).”

God has given each of us a different path to walk for the refining of our faith. Some may struggle daily to meet their basic needs; some endure physical or emotional abuse, poor health, or broken relationships. Some may be stuck in miserable job situations while some languish in prison. Others, on the other hand, appear to lead charmed lives of financial prosperity and few difficulties. However, regardless of how successful or comfortable someone’s life appears on the outside, everyone faces challenges. It is only a matter of perspective. Whatever our circumstances, they offer us the opportunity to trust God for the grace to put his kingdom first in our heart and persevere in our discipleship walk.

One way of gaining perspective on our own life is to help those in need. There are always people worse off than we are, and serving them provides encouragement to persevere through our own difficulties. As we turn from our own troubles to give our time, talents and possessions to minister to others, the Lord fills us with his inexhaustible love, the one true and lasting treasure in both this life and the next.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your heart is, there will your treasure be also. – Matt 6:19-21

6. A Lamp On A Stand                              10/27/13

The Light that Brings Spiritual Harvest

“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.” – Luke 8: 16-18

This parable is similar to that of The Wise and Foolish Builders in that it is a warning not to just listen to Jesus’ words, but to put them into practice: “Consider carefully how you listen.” Yet there is more here as well, dealing with some deeper issues. Those who respond in obedience, letting Jesus’ message change their hearts and thus their actions, will develop more godly wisdom and character. They will therefore bear more spiritual fruit: they will be “given more.” In like manner, the heart that forgets the word of God, living to please itself, receives less spiritual nourishment. The light within will slowly dim, and like a tree deprived of sunlight, and its fruit will not ripen in season. Immature or shriveled fruit, like salt that loses its flavor, is no good for its intended use and is fit only to be thrown out (Mt 5:13). However, it is not our place to pass judgment on the spiritual progress of others: “Therefore, judge nothing before its appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. 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).”

Explaining why some will be given more and others will lose even what they think they have, Mark’s account includes the underlying kingdom principle: “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.” This principle was first encountered in the parable of the blind man: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you... For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” The foundational truth is that we can only bear the fruit of the Spirit as we listen and respond to Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God. Allowing it to take root in our heart, we learn to “measure” others according to the Spirit rather than the flesh. In this parable, Jesus builds on this truth, adding the next layer of revelation: “—And even more.” Walking daily by the Spirit, we receive spiritual increase.

While this spiritual growth inevitably results in works that please and glorify God, it is important to understand that we cannot bear kingdom fruit just by doing good works. We cannot earn God’s favor or blessings. Quite the opposite is true: As we cultivate our relationship with the Father through his Son, we become like him, and his character is gradually imprinted on our soul. The more we forgive, love, and serve others, the brighter that light grows within us, and the greater our harvest will be.

“I am the vine and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he trims clean so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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. – John 15:1-4

5. The Two Debtors                                 10/20/13

Forgiveness: Freedom from Guilt and Shame

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he cancelled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Luke 7: 36-50

This incident occurred very early in Jesus ministry, when the local ruling elders were still trying to figure him out. Because he had the potential of becoming either a troublesome opponent or powerful ally of the existing religious establishment, this particular Pharisee reached out to Jesus, inviting him to dinner at his house. The guests were drawn from quite a different social list than those that attended the recent dinner that Levi hosted for Jesus. The two hosts themselves differed in many respects as well. Levi had honored Jesus, believing him to be a prophet sent by God. The Pharisee, on the other hand, did not want to be seen by his peers as promoting a faith healer of dubious qualifications, so he neglected to offer Jesus the courtesy of the customary foot wash or the friendly greeting of a kiss, and did not anoint his head with oil. At this dinner party, Jesus was a figure of investigation and curiosity rather than a guest of honor.

The woman had to have found her way into the house through the servant’s entrance. With her head covered and her face partially concealed, she would have been taken as one of the many servers. However, as she stood behind Jesus, full of repentance and sorrow for her sin, she started to cry. She washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, and anointed them with the perfume she used to attract men to her bed. For her this was the ultimate act of repentance, turning this expensive fragrance from an instrument of sin into a sacrificial act honoring God’s prophet. Conversation probably came to a standstill as more and more guests became aware of the situation, recognizing her as the local prostitute.

Simon was not the only one shocked to discover Jesus was allowing her touch him. Considering the fact that the dinner guests were Scribes, Pharisees, and prominent businessmen, it didn’t take divine revelation to know what they were thinking. If Jesus were in fact a prophet as the crowds proclaimed, why would he allow this woman to touch him? Morality demanded that he rebuke her for her for stepping over the bounds of acceptable social interaction in a society where unrelated men and women did not touch each other. Her occupation made the situation more of an insult to common decency. Yet no one uttered a word of rebuke, because they were waiting to see what Jesus would do. This situation held the possibility of tarnishing his reputation as a holy man of God.

While Simon and his guests viewed this woman as a flagrant sinner to be shunned in public, Jesus saw her as a repentant child of God seeking forgiveness. He finally broke the strained silence, telling Simon the parable of the two debtors in order to teach the deeper truths of Scripture: 1) “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1Sam 16:7);” 2) The Lord will never reject those who come to him in humility and genuine sorrow for their sins (Ps 51:17), and he stands ready to forgive (Mark 3:28). Even though this parable was about the power of love and forgiveness, like many of Jesus’ early parables, it also involved the issue of righteousness.

The differences in righteousness, both in outward appearance and in the heart attitude between Simon and this woman could not have been more extreme. As a Pharisee, Simon was diligent about keeping the smallest requirements of the Law and the traditions of the Rabbis. Yet he did not do this out of love for God. He lived this way because it provided him with high social standing and respect, and he was proud of his position in the community. Due to his belief in his own righteousness, Simon had little awareness of his sin, and thus no need in his own mind for repentance or forgiveness.

The prostitute saw herself much differently. She was at the bottom of the social ladder, slightly above a leper. She had become ensnared by sin, though she now deeply regretted the life she had chosen. Through tears of grief, she silently acknowledged her lack of righteousness in front of the town elders, seeking from Jesus the freedom from guilt that no amount of temple sacrifices had been able to give her. Every time she returned from worship in Jerusalem, she still felt the guilt of her sin, because the animal sacrifices she offered “were not able to clear [her] conscience (Heb 9:9).” Each time she returned home, she had resumed her occupation, hating herself for doing so yet paralyzed by fear that she could not change. Though she did not specifically ask for Jesus’ forgiveness, her actions spoke louder than words ever could—of her longing for inner change, her desire to live a life pleasing to God. Jesus understood that her sincere desire to repent ran deeper than the draw of the flesh that overpowered her will and kept pulling her back into sin. He forgave her and removed her guilt because of her love of God and the faith that had driven her to seek him out.

As believers, we have been given the same gift of faith that enables us to come to Jesus in the knowledge that no matter how often we fall, “he will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1John 1:9).” As we persevere in our walk of discipleship, we are changed over time, maturing in the knowledge and love of God, growing in the faith that enables us to overcome the world and all its attractions. 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—which is your spiritual worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will. – Rom 12:1-2

4. The Wise And Foolish Builders                             10/13/13

Building our Life on the Word of God

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice. He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” – Luke 6:46-49

As believers, we go through the same trials and difficulties as anyone else. Sometimes we feel bruised, battered and bewildered, even questioning why the Father allows bad things to happen to his children. However, if we put Christ’s teaching into practice, the storms of life will pass over us without lasting harm. Practice is the key word here; it is mentioned twice. We do not learn to play music, for example, without a great deal of practice. The same is true of kingdom living. We must constantly practice the things that Jesus taught, and the hardest lessons require the most effort. The basic kingdom principles are illustrated in his first three parables after the Sermon on the Mount: Walking in humility and the love of God; practicing true righteousness, mercy, and forgiveness; and discerning truth as we are built up together in love with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Living by these new covenant kingdom principles of grace and truth is both the substance and outworking of our faith that fulfills the old covenant of Law.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8

3. A Tree And Its Fruit                                     09/30/13

Discerning Truth from Error

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” – Matt 7:15-21

The previous parable of The Blind Man was about recognizing and renouncing our own self-righteous standard of behavior so we might evaluate people and situations according to God’s standard of grace. However, it is not always easy to walk in the way of grace, and since it is experiential, it is even harder to teach. Initially, false teaching in the early church erred on the side of a return to legalism. In the larger port cities of Asia Minor, it veered toward the other extreme of ‘easy grace,’ which fails to recognize the need for true repentance and change. We need to be able to recognize both of these errors, as well as those who teach them. Though they have a form of godliness, they have not grasped the love of Christ... or they have been led astray by their pride and greed (2 Pet 2).

Although we are not to be judgmental of others for their lack of faith or maturity (“Do not judge or you too will be judged” – Matt 7:1), we do need to recognize and reject false teaching. We do this by becoming ‘fruit inspectors,’ examining not only an individual’s message, but also their life against Jesus’ teachings: “Dear Children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous... 1John 3:7.” He has made provision for us to judge rightly, giving us both the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the protection of different positions of authority within the church. Part of a church pastor’s job is to ensure that false teachers do not gain a foothold in the body. In like manner, pastors should be accountable to a higher authority of elders and/or denominational oversight to ensure that their own life and teaching are consistent with the gospel. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit, individual believers will find safety within a healthy local church body.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. – Eph 4:11-14 

2. The Blind Man                                             09/23/13

True Righteousness: Walking in God’s grace

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you... For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Luke 6: 39-42

This parable is about right relationships: with Jesus, our brothers and sisters in Christ, and even with unbelievers. Faith, the essential operating principle of kingdom life, requires that we let go of our pride and approach both God and man in a spirit of humility. “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1Pet 5:5-7).” In our relationship with God we are not above Jesus; we are not even his equal. However, when we are fully trained we will be like him, having his attitude of humility and service in our relationships with others: “Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus: Who... made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant... he humbled himself and became obedient... (Phil 2:5-8).”

As we abide in a submitted relationship with Christ, we discover our equality with others: that we are all sinners in need of God’s continual grace, yet as believers are all equally justified by the righteousness of Christ. However, the sin nature works against this dynamic, because it desires to put ‘self’ above others by judging them. One of the more subtle ways we can recognize this trait in ourselves is our desire to be right, our tendency to say, “I told you so.” This innate selfishness coupled with our awareness of not meeting God’s standards is the reason why we judge ourselves and others according to our own standards of righteousness. It leads to comparing ourselves to others, both in and outside the church. Being able to find some fault in others, we can feel better about ourselves. However, as Paul explains, “At whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Rom 2:1).”

When we are judgmental of others, we are blind to the true righteousness that is found only in Christ. In our blindness, we can lead others astray into the path of legalism. However, when we fully appreciate the unearned gift of Christ’s righteousness in us, are able to walk in the way of grace, avoiding the ditch on the one side of feeling superior to others because of our accomplishments and their failings, and the ditch on the other side of feeling unworthy due to our own failings. “So from now on, we regard no one from a worldly point of view... Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2Cor 5:15-17)!” When grasp this truth, the beam in our eye will disappear, and the faults of others will elicit our compassion rather than criticism.

A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. – John 13:34-35 

A New Beginning


     Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God was a revolutionary message. For the Jews, it didn’t always make sense. Jesus spoke as if the kingdom was a present spiritual reality rather than the future rule of the Messiah expected at the end of the age. However, his gospel laid the foundation that would enable his listeners to convert from their current works-based system of earning forgiveness through physical sacrifice, to forgiveness through faith based on God’s grace. Instead of worshiping God at the temple through the requirements of the Law, Jesus revealed a Holy Father who desired worship in spirit and in truth everywhere, including every part of our lives. Many of his early parables therefore dealt with the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God, emphasizing the light of faith that motivates us to loving actions rather than external religious observance.

1. The Old And The New                                     09/16/13

Worship in Spirit and Truth

“No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” – Luke 5: 36-39

The context of this parable, like many others, is important to understanding its meaning. Jesus had already left his hometown of Nazareth some time before. He had been teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum and performing miraculous works there. The Pharisees were already unhappy with Jesus, since he taught about the kingdom of God rather than the Law, and claimed to forgive sins. Shortly after Jesus chose Levi to be his newest disciple, Levi threw a dinner party in his honor. Several Scribes and Pharisees were present to keep an eye on Jesus, heartily disapproving of the guests and the fact that Levi was a collector of the hated Roman tax. When they asked Jesus why he associated with tax collectors and known sinners, he responded, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Not willing to be rebuffed, the Scribes and Pharisees challenged Jesus with the fact that his disciples were not fasting on the Sabbath as the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees did. Jesus explained that his followers were so full of joy in his presence that there was no motivation for them to fast—that would come later, after he had been taken from them. In other words, Jesus’ disciples did not hold to the ritual observance of fasting to ‘prove’ their righteousness. Instead they would fast as an act of spiritual worship that proceeded from the heart. He brought the discussion to a close by telling two parables about the difference between the old and the new, illustrating the difference between the ritual demands of the Law and the freedom of worship under the covenant of grace.

The old garment and wine bag represent worship under the Mosaic Covenant, in which righteousness was ‘earned’ by keeping the sacrifices and rituals of the Law. The new garment and wine bag symbolize the New Covenant, in which worship is based on returning in some small degree the love with which God has loved us. Although worship under the Mosaic Covenant was good in its time, it fell short of God’s ultimate plan. Part of the problem was that those who were the most successful at living by the strict rules and rites of the Law were usually the most prideful of their performance. This resulted in two fatal flaws. First, they did not worship God out of love for him, but out of a desire to be recognized as being righteous. Second, they had little of God’s compassion and patience for anyone who was not as zealous or successful as they were at keeping the requirements of the Law. 

Because worship under the new covenant would differ so much from worship under Mosaic Law, it could not merely be “patched over” the old one. Those who would follow Jesus must embrace a totally new way of worship. Instead of righteousness being earned by works of religious observance, in the New Covenant righteousness is given to us when we repent and believe in Christ. No longer do we have to strive to prove our righteousness. Instead of offering physical sacrifices, the worship of God in Christ is based on returning the love with which the Father has loved us, living to please him rather than ourselves. Rather than being proud of our spiritual accomplishments, faith calls us to walk in humility toward God and man. Worship therefore includes loving others without passing judgment as to the measure of their right standing with God. That’s why, in the new covenant, relationships are governed by the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Since we are all sinners in need of God’s continual intercession and forgiveness, we are to be as understanding and forgiving of others as we want them to be with us.

Jesus’ final comment about old wine being better than new wine is a refection on our natural resistance to placing our faith in something new. It is especially difficult to let go of the security of a tangible written code of do’s and don’ts, and trust the intangible leading of the Holy Spirit. It is like asking someone going on a long journey to put on a blindfold and follow an invisible tour guide! However, that is a pretty good description of just what we do when we follow Jesus in a faith-based walk of discipleship. Yet what appears to be a handicap is actually the means to a new Life. It is only as we stop judging ourselves and others by our own concept of righteousness that we begin to understand the great mercy and compassion of God’s grace.

I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Eph 3:17-19