Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

The Fruit of the Spirit: Patience

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In our society, which depends so much on technology, we have become ever and ever less patient.  The Ford Model T, the first successful mass produced car, could drive along at the breath-taking speed of 40 mph.  When I first drove on the autobahn in Germany, I drove as fast as I dared to drive, perhaps 80 mph, but I was being passed by drivers in Mercedes, BMW’s, and Porsche’s.  They were going so fast that I felt as if I was standing still.  Where were they going in such a hurry?

I remember when I got my first personal computer and connected it to the internet via the telephone line and then waited minutes while the computer booted up and connected to the internet.  Now I get impatient when it takes my computer a couple of seconds to load a webpage.  Is our technology making us less patient?  At the very least, our society encourages less patience, from fast food to the internet, we have become a very impatient society.  Yet we are not more productive for all our lack of patience.

Patience is defined by Webster as “the capacity, habit or fact of being patient; forbearance; bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint; not hasty or impetuous; steadfast despite opposition, difficulty or adversity; able or willing to bear.”  Someone has joked that one should never pray for patience, because God will put you into situations that require patience.  Increasing patience is a work of the Holy Spirit.

When I think of patience, I normally think of it’s antonym:  impatience.  But the biblical concept of patience is better defined as forbearance or long-suffering.  The primary Greek word is makrothumia, forbearance, patience, or long-suffering.  This is the word used in Galatians 5:22.

Forbearance, long-suffering imply self-restraint before proceeding to action.  Forbearance is the quality of a person who is able to avenge him or herself but forbears from doing so.  Forbearance or long-suffering is patience with respect to persons in contrast to endurance (hupomone), which is patience in respect to things or circumstances.  God’s forbearance in respect to human sin is associated with God’s mercy (eleos).

Patient forbearance is the characteristic that God has demonstrated to us through offering his great salvation.  In my daily life, I often find myself becoming impatient with people, from the slow waitress at the restaurant to the well-meaning, but chatty senior citizen.  Don’t they know how busy I am?  Don’t they know that I’ve got things to accomplish and get done?

I need to slow down and recognize the Spirit of God in these moments.  Am I extending the same mercy and patience to them that God has showed to me?

I’m reading a book right now called The Anatomy of Peace:  Resolving the Heart of Conflict, by the Arbinger Institute.  According to the authors, the heart of conflict is the problem of seeing people as objects.  The root of the author’s philosophy comes from Martin Buber, Ich und Du (I and Thou).  Buber’s main proposition is that we can address human existence in 2 ways:  The attitude of the “I” towards an it, that is as an object that is separate in itself ; or the attitude of the “Thou,” in a relationship in which the other is not separated from us by discrete bounds.  The main theme of the book is that human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships.  Buber believed that all of our relationships bring us ultimately in relationship with God, who is the Eternal Thou.

In my relationships with people with whom I experience impatience, it is because I am seeing them as objects, rather than people, as “it”, rather than “Thou.”  But if I take a moment and try to connect with the slow waitress, for example, my impatience disappears as I see them as people who may be experiencing the same frustrations that I experience in my life.  When I see people as objects, I am betraying my self.  It is a betrayal of my own sense of the right way to act in any given moment.

Throughout this day, Lord, help me to take notice of people – to see them as “Thou,” that is, people who are experiencing the same frustrations and trials that I myself experience.  Help me to be patient and forbearing as I recognize our mutual humanity.  Help me especially to recognize “Thou,” the Spirit of the living God in whose image we are all made.  Amen.

Respect for Government Leaders

 

Titus 3_1_2

Titus 3:1–7 (NRSV)  Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Paul’s final exhortation to Titus is to remind the church “to submit to the government.”  Paul has previously sent similar exhortations to Timothy (1 Tim. 2:1-7) and to the church in Rome (Rom. 13:1-7), similarly Peter wrote about the same topic.  (1 Peter 2:13-17)  These teachings by Paul and Peter may have their roots in Christ’s own teaching on how we should live as citizens and Christians (Matt. 22:17-21; Luke 20:25).  A fully developed teaching of Christian citizenship should take into account all these Scriptures.

In these verses, Paul reminds not only to submit to the governing authorities and to obey them, but also “to be ready for every good work,” (v. 1) and “to speak evil of no one” (v. 2).  One of the behaviors that I have noticed in recent years is the lack of civility in conversation about our president and our leaders both in the church and in society.  As Christians, Paul says, it is a sin to speak evil of our leaders.  And if you claim, well, it’s okay because they are not Christian leaders, remember who Paul was speaking about:  Nero!  Nero was one of the greatest persecutors of Christians of all the Emperors.  It is likely that both Peter and Paul were executed during the persecution begun by Nero.

We can disagree with our leaders, both church leaders and government leaders without being disrespectful.  I’m firmly convinced that much of the opposition to President Obama has its roots in prejudice.  And as shameful as it is to speak, many of those who have said horrible things about the president are those who would consider themselves Christians.  Paul’s command:  Don’t speak evil of anyone.  My grandmother’s admonition is still as good today as it was when I was a boy.  If you can’t say something good about someone, it’s better to say nothing at all.

Paul’s final words should govern all our social media:  Show respect for everyone.  Respect is one of the values that I learned serving in the US Army for almost 30 years.  Respect is a core value of the US Army.  You can show respect even when you disagree with people by how you speak to them.  Our current presidential campaign demonstrates the complete opposite:  disrespect.  It seems that the only way one can speak about one’s political opponents is to call them names and denigrate them, as if name calling and disrespect make one a viable candidate.  We haven’t even had a serious discussion of the issues to this date, because the entire campaign has been focused on this negativity.

But as Christians, we don’t have a choice.  Disrespect of our government leaders is a sin.  End of story.  Stop damaging your Christian witness online by the way you speak about our leaders.  Stop damaging your Christian witness with flaming e-mails.  It’s possible to disagree without disrespect.

The Spirit of Adoption

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Romans 8:14–17 (NLT)  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.* Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”* 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.

In the preceding passage (Rom. 8:1-13), Paul begins his discussion about the Spirit filled life by talking about the freedom that we have in the Holy Spirit as a result of the new life in Christ.  Paul transitions from the preceding passage with a verse with a claim:  “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”  (Rom. 8:14)  Children of God is a phrase from the Old Testament that refers to the nation of Israel.  Paul uses it to remind believers that God has given us an intimate, family relationship with God, and so we will share many of the promises and blessings of given to Israel.  We are no longer babies or slaves, but children with full rights (Gal. 4:1-7).

So John Wesley focused on Rom. 8:15, when he preached a sermon entitled, “The Spirit of Bondage and Adoption.”  (Sermon 9) In that sermon, Wesley made three points:  1.  The state of the natural person is that they are in a state of sleep spiritually.  2.  The spirit that makes you fearful slaves:  The state of the one who is under the law is that he has a spirit of bondage and fear, because they realize that they are under the condemnation of God for sin.  3.  The Spirit of adoption, by which we can call God, “Abba, Father.”  The state of the one who has found grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

1.The state of the natural person Paul covers in Rom. 7.  The state and standing of the person before Christ is the same.  Before salvation, we are confirmed sinners.  We might think ourselves good, as many sinners do.  But the fact is that spiritually we are dead.  We cannot discern whether our behavior is good or evil in the eyes of God, because all the avenues of spiritual knowledge are shut up.  In fact, we are ignorant of the state of our own souls.  So we think ourselves secure, while we are in fact under the judgment of god.

Wesley says that this is no ignorance so glaring as the ignorance of those who consider themselves wise or learned.  There were many of these wise fools in Wesley’s day as there are today.  The god of this world has given them a double blindness.

I was listening yesterday to the radio and heard an interview with John Lawrence Hill on the Jennifer Fulwiler Show.  He is a lawyer and was an atheist.  He felt, as many atheists do, that he was a good man, and a moral man.  But as he considered the philosophical underpinnings of his morality, he came to understand that atheism offers no rationale for a moral life.  All true atheists must be materialists.  That means that there can be no soul, no spirit, but only the physical, the material.  If all we are is meat puppets, then the only law are those natural laws that govern evolution.  The governing principle of human behavior is the law of the jungle.  There cannot be either right or wrong.  IN fact, this was the same argument offered at Nuremburg by the Nazis.  They claimed that everything they did was legal under German law.  Therefore, there was no legal claim by which they could be prosecuted.  The crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis was a natural outcome of their philosophy of atheistic humanism, led by the rejection of God in Nietzsche.  As Hill came to realize that there is no moral foundation for atheism, he began to seek a Lawyer who has created a universal law that governs the universe – God.  So he became a Christian.  His new book outlining this is After the Natural Law:  How the Classical Worldview Supports Our Modern Moral and Political Views.  

2.The state of the person who is under the law:  the spirit of bondage and fear.  By God’s prevenient grace (the grace that calls us to salvation), God touches the heart of the person who is spiritually asleep and awakens us to an awareness of our danger.  We suddenly awake to understand that we are under the judgment of God.  So Jonathon Edwards preached his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  For as the Scripture says, “It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  (Heb. 10:31)  It is as if we have been laid “naked and open to the eyes of God” and God sees us “stripped of all the fig-leaves which he had sewed together, of all his poor pretenses to religion or virtue, and his wretched excuses for sinning against God… His heart is bare, and he sees it is all sin, deceitful above all things, desperately wicked.”  (Wesley, quoting from Heb. 4:13 and Jer. 17:9)

Sometimes this awareness is gradual, sometimes it comes like a bolt of lightning.  I knew a man who was a notorious drunkard.  He had grown up in the church with a Christian mother, but a father who was an alcoholic.  His mother never ceased to pray for him.  One night his wife left him, and he lay alone on his bed drinking.  As he lay there, it was as if he could feel the flames of hell licking at his skin and he knew that his eternal destiny should he die at that moment was to enter into eternal damnation.  In his fear of death, he cracked open a Bible his mother had given to him, and saw that she had underlined the verse, “Look and live.”  (Num. 21:8)  He cried out to Jesus in some remembered prayer, repenting of his sin and seeking God in Jesus Christ.  He began to live the Spirit-filled life and turned completely from drink and sin.  In fact, he became a preacher of the Gospel and an evangelist leading many to Christ.

When our spiritual senses are awake, we recognize sin’s control over us.  We become aware that we are sinners who stand under the judgment of a holy God.  So we beomce of aware of our bondage to sin and in fear of death.  (v. 15)

3.In those who are no longer under the law, but under grace or the power of the Holy Spirit reigning in our hearts.  We have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we are enabled to cry, “Abba, Father!” (v. 15)  Like the man in the illustration above, we cried out in our distress, and God delivered us out of our danger.  In fact, we are not only delivered from the threat of judgment, but we are adopted into the family of the judge.  We are delivered from both the guilt and the power of sin.  So we can say, “I am crucified with Christ.  It is not longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”  (Gal. 2:20)

“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  (2 Cor. 3:17)  So we are free from the guilt and power of sin, but also from the bondage of sin.  Before we could do nothing but sin, but now we have the possibility of living a holy life through the power of the Holy Spirit – that is, living a life that is pleasing to God.

Wesley concludes his sermon by asking us to consider where we are?  There are many sincere people who believe themselves to be safe and secure, while they are under the judgment of God.  Just because you were born in the church that does not make you a Christian.  We must each stand on our own before God, God will judge our hearts on the basis not of religion, but of relationship.

Are you part of the family of God?  Have you the Spirit of adoption, through which you can call God, “Abba, Father,” that is, “Daddy” or “Papa.”  The relationship to which we are called by God is not that of the condemned before the Judge, but that of a child before their parent.

 

 

 

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

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Matthew 22:1–14 (NLT)
Jesus also told them other parables. He said, 2 “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. 3 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!
4 “So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ 5 But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. 6 Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.
7 “The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. 8 And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. 9 Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ 10 So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.
11 “But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. 13 Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The parable of the wedding feast is the third consecutive parable included in this section of Matthew.  The focus in ch. 22 is on Jesus’ conflict with the Jewish leaders in the Temple courtyard.  Vv. 1-10 are similar to Luke 14:15-24.
The key point of this parable comes at the end:  “For many are called, yet few are chosen.”
The Kingdom of Heaven is like a “king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.”  In the ancient near east (ANE), the king would have been expected to provide a public banquet on various occasions.  The marriage of his son would certainly be such an occasion.  In this case, invitations have been set out in advance.  When everything was ready, the king sends out his servants to those who have been invited to come to the wedding feast.  This was common in the ANE as there were no clocks.  Jesus’ parables reflect common life settings.  At the point where they depart from the expected turn of events is the teaching point.  The proper response to the invitation of a king would be to come.  Instead, the invited guest refuse to come.
The king perhaps thinks that they have misunderstood, so he sends more servants.  In fact, he commands them, “Come!”  Now they not only refuse to come, they actually mistreat his servants, and in fact kill them
The Biblical world was an honor-shame society.  The king would have been the most honored person in society.  To refuse to come to the wedding feast of his son would be a great dishonor.  Consequently, the response of the king is understandable.  He is filled with wrath.  Their refusal to come now amounts to rebellion against his authority.  In response, he sends his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
In v. 8, the king announces to his servants that the wedding feast is ready.  Since those who were invited were not worthy, the king sends his servants out into the streets to invite to the banquet anyone they can find.  So they go and invite everyone.  It matters not whether these people had good names, or were rich, or were from the families of the elite.  The invitation is to whoever will accept the call.
The parable invites us to interpret it in the light of prophetic passages of the end times, especially the Revelation of John.  God is the King who invited his selected guests, the Jews, to the wedding banquet of his Son, the messianic banquet at the end of the age.  The servants who are sent out are the prophets who were mistreated and killed.  Finally in his anger, God destroyed the Jerusalem in AD 70 and burned.  And the temple was torn down.  But God still had a banquet. so God sent out God’s servants, the disciples, to bring people (the Gentiles) from everywhere to fill the banquet hall.
But in v. 11 the story takes another strange twist.  The king takes notice that there is someone in the wedding feast who is not dressed appropriately.  He is not wearing wedding clothes.  We are not told how he was able to get into the wedding feast without proper attire.  These days it is common for people to show up to weddings in whatever clothing.  Only the most formal weddings would require special attire.  But in the ANE, showing up without the proper attire would have been unthinkable.  It would be shameful to be dressed in anything but the proper wedding attire.  The king has no choice but to throw the man outside, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  sneak into the wedding feast without the proper wedding attire.
The concept speaks to the idea that one cannot get into the wedding feast of the Lamb without the proper clothing.  Perhaps this man was trusting in his own self-righteousness to get him into heaven.  But the Scripture says, “All our righteousness is as filthy rags.”  You can’t get into Heaven without honoring the King and the Son.  We must be clothed in the proper clothing, the garments washed in the blood of the Lamb.  That is, dressed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. The ultimate fate of those who are not found worthy is to be cast outside into the outer darkness.  The outer darkness and the description of the man’s ultimate fate are descriptions of Hell.  Hell is the ultimate fate of the wicked, and those who do not repent.
The parable ends with the admonition that God has invited many, but few will actually make it into the wedding feast of the Lamb.  God invites everyone to come.  But the sad fact is that few will accept God’s invitation.
Lord, I pray for those today who are trusting in their own righteousness to get them into heaven.  All our righteousness is as filthy rags.  Help us Lord to trust only in You, and in Your Name, Jesus Christ, for there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.  Amen.

Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower

Matthew 13:1–9 (NRSV) The Parable of the Sower

13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”

 

Jesus’ interpretation of the Parable of the Sower (vv. 18-23)

Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of Heaven (the Gospel) is the setting for each of the 4 types of soil.  The emphasis on the interpretation is not on the Sower (Jesus), but on the quality of the soils on which the seed (the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus Christ) is sown.  The various types of soil represent the spiritual condition of those who hear the Good News.

Jesus is like a sower who sows the good seed (13:37).  The field is the world.  He is like the farmer sowing seed in the hearts of the people of Israel.   The seed represents “the message about the Kingdom” (v. 19).  Matthew summarizes Jesus’ preaching as “the Good News about the Kingdom of Heaven.”  (vv. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14)  The seed is good seed.  The different responses to Jesus’ preaching is on the quality of the soil, that is those who hear the message.

By extension, anyone who preaches the Gospel is also sowing the seed of the Gospel.  The preaching of the Good News, provided it is grounded in the Word of God is always good seed.  The Good News is always good.

Hard hearts (13:19)

The seed that fell on the road is like hard hearted people.  Because of the hardness of their hearts, the seed never has a chance to even begin to grow.  In vv. 14-15, Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 to indicate that these hard-hearted people are like the people of Israel to whom the prophet Isaiah ministered. Some in the crowd have hardened their hearts against Jesus’ message.  The hardness of heart prevents the seed of the Gospel from taking root.  The devil, the “evil one,” snatches them away just like the birds eat up the seeds that fall on the road.  They are like the Pharisees and scribes who were against Jesus from the start.

Shallow hearts (13:20, 21)

The seed sown in the rocky soil represents those who immediately receive the message with gladness, but never develop any depth in their faith.  The life of the Good News is in the seed, not in the soil.  When the environment is suitable, the seed will sprout.  In this case, the growth is only superficial.  These are those in the crowd who make a superficial commitment to Christ, but the Gospel message never develops any depth.  When hard times come, they stumble in their faith and fall away.  In fact, the Good News dies in them.

Thorny hearts

The third type of soil is crowded with thorns.  This type of heart receives the Gospel with joy.  The seed sprouts up, but the person who receives the message of the Gospel has his or her growth choked out by the competing priorities of this life.  The worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth combine to choke the life out of the this person.  Tragically, they lose whatever benefit they might have received from the Good News.  Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount about the power of wealth (Matt. 6:19-24).  As a result of the combination of worry and wealth, the faith that sprang up so hopefully in the beginning is choked out in the end.

Receptive hearts.

Only fourth soil is called good.  This represents the person whose heart is receptive to the Gospel.  They not only hear the message of the Good News, but understand it and allow it to take full root in his or her heart so that it can produce fruit.  This soil represents a true believing disciple.

The evidence that they are true disciples is that they bear fruit.  The fruit of Kingdom life reveals the character of the tree (7:15-20, 12:33-37).  There may be varying amounts of yield in each person, but there must be a yield.

Some soils produce yields of 100 times, 60, or 30 times what was sown.  The emphasis is not on the amount of yield, but on the miraculous, gracious life that is present in the seed.  God blesses the growth, as Paul would later say.  (1 Cor. 3:5-9)  Seed sown on good soil will produce the maximum results that it has been created to produce in good soil.

Who is responsible for the hardened heart?  When Pharaoh rejects God’s command to “let my people go,” Moses ascribes it to his hardened heart.  Jesus lays the responsibility directly on the people who hear the message:

Matthew 13:12 (NLT) To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge.  But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

In our modern understanding of knowledge, we believe that knowledge is enough.  That is all we need.  Jesus said that even the demons believe.  They have knowledge, but not saving faith.

Those of us who are reading these words of Jesus recorded in the Gospel of Matthew are like the crowds.  We are faced with the choice of either hearing the Word of God spoken to us through the Holy Spirit or reject it.  What Jesus implies in this parable is:  What kind of soil are you?  How will you respond to this message of the Kingdom of Heaven?  Will you follow Jesus or reject Him?

Reader, if you have never known the grace of God in Jesus Christ, then I invite you to turn to Him, to repent of your sins and follow Jesus, and make Him the Lord of your life.  And then find a good church in which to grow in faith.  See more at:  https://www.cru.org/how-to-know-god.html

Lord, I pray for those who are seeking you today.  I pray that you would remove the stones from our lives, remove the thorns and help us to respond to your call to faith.  You send the Good News about Jesus Christ, scattering it on the field of the world to everyone.  “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

Strengthen those upon whom the Word has found good soil and sprung up.  Help them to grow in grace through daily reading your Word and prayer.  Help them to find a church in which to grow in the faith with other believers.  In Jesus name.  Amen.

Parables of the Kingdom

Kingdom Parables

Matthew 13:10–17 (NLT)
10 His disciples came and asked him, “Why do you use parables when you talk to the people?”
11 He replied, “You are permitted to understand the secrets* of the Kingdom of Heaven, but others are not. 12 To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them. 13 That is why I use these parables,
For they look, but they don’t really see.
They hear, but they don’t really listen or understand.
14 This fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah that says,
‘When you hear what I say,
you will not understand.
When you see what I do,
you will not comprehend.
15 For the hearts of these people are hardened,
and their ears cannot hear,
and they have closed their eyes—
so their eyes cannot see,
and their ears cannot hear,
and their hearts cannot understand,
and they cannot turn to me
and let me heal them.’*
16 “But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. 17 I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it.
In Matt. 13, we have another collection of Jesus’ teaching.  The focus of the teaching here is on Parables of the Kingdom.  The question that Jesus is answering in these passages is “How will you respond to the Kingdom of Heaven?”
The term first appears in the preaching of John the Baptist (Matt. 3:2).   The expression is typical religious language of Judaism.  It is found only in Matthew’s Gospel (33 times).  The “Kingdom of Heaven” is interchangeable with the expression “Kingdom of God,” which is found in the other Gospels.  Matthew’s use of Kingdom of Heaven reflects the Hebrew expression malkut samayim, found in Jewish literature.  The reverence which the Jews felt for the name of God (Yahweh) led them to be hesitant to even inadvertently express the name of God.  Heaven was one of the typical expressions for the name of God.

V. 1 orients us to the type of teaching that Jesus used.  “He told many stories in the form of parables.”  The Greek word for parable (parabole) translates the Hebrew mashal.  Mashal describes many kinds of sayings from proverbs to illustrations to allegories.
Jesus speaks privately to the disciples and tells them that the reason he teaches in parables.  (vv. 10-17) He is revealing to them the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The teaching that the apostles received was different than Jesus’ preaching to the crowds.  He is preparing them for the mission of leading His ministry after He returns to Heaven.  (v. 11)
“The Parable of the Sower” appears in all the synoptic Gospels (Mark 4:1-12; Luke 10:23-24) In modern literary terms, “The Parable of the Sower” is more like an allegory.  The interpretation by Jesus is given privately to the disciples (vv. 18-23).  This interpretation gave rise to the allegorizing form of biblical interpretation.  Early Christian commentators sought to find a deeper moral, theological, and spiritual meaning behind almost ever text in the Bible.  But not every parable is an allegory, and clearly we should not try to find allegorical meanings behind the straightforward narratives of the Gospel, for example, or the teaching of Paul, for example.  Modern biblical interpretation has rejected allegorizing method of interpretation.
Since the work of C. H. Dodd (1884-1973), the focus of the 20th century was on the historical setting of the parables as a key to understand the details of the parables and the context of Jesus’ original preaching about the Kingdom of God.  The grammatical-historical method has dominated modern approaches to interpretation.
The weakness of the historical approach is that it tended to reduce parables to pious moralisms, while ignoring the artistic elements and psychological features of the parables.  There is a dynamic tension between the text and the interpreter.  The reader, just as the original hearers of the parable, is brought to a moment of truth most effectively when the Holy Spirit confronts him or her with the parable as Jesus intended it for his hearers.

Recovering Evangelistic Fervor

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Matthew 10:5–16 (NLT)5 Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, 6 but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. 7 Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.* 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received!

9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve to be fed.

11 “Whenever you enter a city or village, search for a worthy person and stay in his home until you leave town. 12 When you enter the home, give it your blessing. 13 If it turns out to be a worthy home, let your blessing stand; if it is not, take back the blessing. 14 If any household or town refuses to welcome you or listen to your message, shake its dust from your feet as you leave. 15 I tell you the truth, the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah will be better off than such a town on the judgment day.

Jesus chose 12 of his many disciples to send out as apostles (10:2-4).  These 12 would be the key leaders of the Jesus movement.  Jesus would spend some three years closely with them.  As they followed Jesus, he would teach them both through his actions and words.  The apostles were ambassadors or messengers authorized and sent with the authority of Jesus Christ (v. 1) “to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness.”

Now Jesus sends them on a mission.  They are to go only to the towns of the Jews.  Later, when Jesus is leaving to return to heaven, he commissions them to take the Good News to the whole world (Matt. 28:19, 20).

Specifically, at this point, they were sent to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel.  Sheep are lost as a result of the neglect of the shepherds.  The shepherds of Israel, the priests, scribes, and leaders of Israel, were bad shepherds in contrast to Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).  The fact that Jesus is going first to the Jews is not a matter of discrimination, but of strategy.  Jesus’ strategy from the beginning has been to go to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles.

The mission of the 12 is the same as the mission of Jesus.  They will preach the same message that Jesus and John the Baptist preached:  “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”  (Matt. 3:1; 4:17; 10:7).  The miracles that the 12 perform are the same as those that Jesus had accomplished.  They will heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and deliver people from demons (10:8).   These miracles are signs that the Kingdom of Heaven is near.  By doing these signs, the 12 demonstrated that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

The principle with which they minister is “Freely you have received, freely give.”  (v. 8)  The disciples had freely received the grace of the Kingdom of God through Jesus’ ministry.  It was not given for them to possess or keep for themselves.  It was given for them to give away.

The disciples ministry was modeled after the ministry of Christ.  They would not take any money, or even supplies for the trip, but would depend by faith upon God to provide for them through the hospitality of those to whom they are being sent.  The reason that they can trust God is that the worker is worth his keep.  (v. 10)

They would trust to the hospitality of strangers (v. 11).  But this means that they may also be rejected.  To any place that refuses to welcome them, the disciple was to shake off the dust of his feet when leaving, as a prophetic sign to them.  (v. 14)  Jesus says that it would be worse for them than for Sodom and Gomorrah in the judgment.  Part of the wickedness of these cities was their rejection and mistreatment of the messengers sent from God (Gen. 19).  To reject the disciples and their message was to reject Jesus Christ.

Ch. 10 is an important discourse in helping us to understand the mission of God.  God the Son sends out these 12 disciples on a mission, just as Jesus was sent on the mission of God.  John 1:14 “So the Word became human and made his home among us.  He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”

In this first mission trip, the disciples are sent out to fulfill God’s promises to the Jews, but later they will go to the whole world.  They will continue this mission until Christ returns (10:23).

The disciples will be equipped with the authority of Christ.  And the ministry that they will do is essentially the same as that of Jesus’ ministry while he was on earth:  preaching the Good News about the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing lepers and delivering people from the power of evil.

Each of these ministry acts present themes for the mission of the church today.  Preaching the Good News is still central to the mission of the church.  The ministry of the church is to “go” and so we are sent to “make disciples of all the nations.”  But this is one of the most difficult aspects of the mission.  Many people decry the decline of the church in the United States.  In the United Methodist Church, people cite many reasons for this decline.  From my perspective the number one reason for the decline of Methodism in the US is that we have lost our evangelical fervor.  We have built ourselves comfortable churches with comfortable pews and invited people to come.  But that is not the command.  The command is for us to “Go!”  We have forgotten the “Go!” of the Great Commission.

Now, as it was in the 1st Century, we must go to the people.  We cannot expect them to come.  Attractional ministry still has a place.  We need facilities to do the work of “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and teaching these new disciples to obey all the commands” Jesus has given to us.  But we cannot rely on “Open Doors” to attract new people to the church.  We must find ways to reach those in the community around us.

And the primary way that that happens is much the same as it was in the 1st century, as it was when Methodism spread throughout the entire United States by the early pioneers.  A Christian family moved into an area to live.  They would tell their friends, relatives, associates and neighbors about this Jesus Christ, who they have come to know as Lord and Savior.  They would tell them about the change that has come into their lives as a result of an encounter with the living Lord.  In response to Peter’s first sermon in Acts, the multitude asked, “What should we do?”  Peter replied, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.  Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  (Acts 2:37, 38)

Lord, help us to recover the evangelistic fervor of John Wesley and Francis Asbury.  Help us to remember our heritage of faith and to be faithful to the ministry to which you have called us.  Help us to understand how to reach the lost sheep around us.  Help us to minister in the same power of the Holy Spirit as did the 12 that we may see people healed, resurrected, cleansed, and delivered.  Give us the boldness of our faith, so that we can reach those in our circle of influence:  our friends, relatives, associates and neighbors.  Amen.