Monthly Archives: March 2016

Matthew 13:36-43

36Then He left the crowd and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37And He responded to them, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of man, 38and the field is the world, and the good seed are the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one. 39And the enemy who sowed them is the devil, and the harvest is the end of the age and the harvest workers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather from His kingdom all those who cause sin and do evil 42and will cast them into the fiery furnace; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

 

In our corner of Christianity known as evangelicalism—and particularly in our corner of that corner known as Pentecostalism—I frequently hear people make the outrageous claim that Jesus’ disciples were uneducated fishermen. This claim is usually made in support of a flawed premise that the business of Christianity is purely experiential, not intellectual. Those who make this claim disdain education and thinking and reasoning as hostile to the faith. These people are wrong, of course.

 

This passage shows the disciples attending class in their own seminary. They may have started out as uneducated fishermen, but for three years they studied at the feet of the Master. Here, they have just witnessed Him speaking in parables to the crowds. In fact, everything He said to them was said in the form of a parable. And when Jesus turns from the crowds and enters the house, He does so with His students in tow. The disciples now have the opportunity to question Him further about the parables, and get a deeper explanation from Him. While He had His own reasons for not broadening the explanation for the crowds, He is preparing these men for eventual persecution and death in the service of the kingdom. In His explanation to them, He is educating them. He is instructing them. He clearly was listening to them. There was conversation, discourse, give-and-take. The disciples learn by watching, and they learn by instruction. Here in this particular passage, He speaks of the end of the age, in which the evildoers will be separated from the sons of the kingdom and burned in a fiery furnace. This final judgment has a parallel in Revelation 20, in which John on Patmos discusses the Great White Judgment Throne.

 

I see two applications of this passage. The first is an obvious burden for souls in our world. The children of the evil one must be transformed by His grace into children of the kingdom. We have a necessary mission to evangelize the culture around us—to change it by our presence in it. The other application is to willingly submit to education. Being a Christian doesn’t just mean experiencing stuff. It doesn’t only mean memorizing some verses and holding some stuff dear. It means KNOWING some stuff, too. Being a Christian means learning. And where do we get this learning?

 

Certainly not by ourselves. To sit at home and learn by devotional is to believe that you hold the ultimate epistemological and theological authority in your life—and such an idea is foreign to the New Testament. Like the disciples—and every Christian who has ever lived—you are to learn in the community of faith. That community of faith—called the “Church” in the New Testament—has been given gifts of knowledge and faith and encouragement and everything else you’ll need to learn and know and experience and do. Moreover, it is high time that evangelicals stop thumbing their noses at the intellectual aspects of the historic faith; to affirm experientialism and disdain intellectualism is to live an unbiblically gnostic existence that ignores this passage (and others like it).

 

What are you learning? How are you learning? And with whom are you sharing the gospel?

Advertisements

Matthew 13:31-33

31He put before them another parable, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. 32It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it is grown it is larger than the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of heaven come and nest in its branches.” 33He put anther parable to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like a yeast, which a woman too and mixed in with three satons of wheat flour until it was all risen.”

 

Both of these parables liken the kingdom of heaven to something seemingly small and insignificant that grows into the utmost importance. The mustard seed’s size is juxtaposed with its end result, the giant tree in the garden. The yeast’s separateness as a stand-alone substance is contrasted with the loaf of bread that is made possible by it. In both cases, Jesus is illustrating that the kingdom for which the people had been waiting would surprise them in its coming. It would be brought about in degrees, and would be a growing, living thing that supersedes all expectations eventually.

 

How much of the kingdom of heaven is in our daily activities? To what extent has the yeast of the kingdom been mixed in with our thoughts and actions? First of all, let us make sure we are adequately exposed to it: are we going to church, reading the Bible, fellowshipping with the community of faith? Second, let us be mindful of the extent to which the kingdom informs or motivates our actions throughout the day. Is the kingdom something that we can shelve until the next Sunday? Is it something that can be left to the side? Or is it something that is growing within us, on its way to becoming the largest and most significant thing in our lives?

Matthew 13:24-30

24He put before them another parable, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping his enemy came and scattered weeds among the midst of the wheat and left. 26So when the plants sprouted and bore fruit, the weed appeared also. 27And the servants of the landowners came and said to him, ‘Lord, did you not plant good seed in your field? Why then do you have weeds?’ 28But he said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ Then the servants said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest when you gather the weeds you uproot the wheat among them. 30Let them both grow together until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the harvest workers, “Gather first the weeds and tie them up into bundles to burn them, but the wheat gather into my barn.”’”

 

Continuing the more memorable method of teaching by narrative, Jesus puts another parable before the people. He compares the kingdom of heaven to a man who sows wheat, only to have his work sabotaged by the enemy who deliberately attempts its ruin with weeds. This is a reference to God’s work at Creation and the enemy who facilitated the fall of man. Ultimately, God makes everything right by separating the wheat from the weeds—and He destroys the weeds while keeping the wheat. The Lord is here talking about the judgment.

 

God would not have been God if He had allowed the enemy to permanently mar His creation. He put into effect a plan of redemption that would not only salvage all creation but would redeem it and remake it. Those who choose to continue in the stain of original sin will not enjoy that redeemed creation, but are consigned to destruction. While our Calvinist brothers and sisters see in this parable a teaching of determinism—God predetermined the wheat—there is no reason to read allegory in a strictly “1:1” fashion like that. The crux of this parable is that it is God’s creation, and He intends there to be wheat. The enemy intends something else, but will ultimately be thwarted. You are either wheat or weeds, but a further discussion about the identity of each is not the purview of this parable. We may gather from the rest of Christ’s teachings and the writings of the New Testament that weeds become wheat through the miracle of justification. If you are trusting Christ for your righteousness, you are wheat.

 

Remind yourself, during this hectic day, Whose creation this really is. Think of the words of this hymn: “This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems often strong, God is the ruler yet.”

Matthew 13:1-23

1In the same day Jesus went out from the house and sat down by the sea. 2And large crowds gathered around Him, so that He got into a boat to stand, and the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3And He spoke to them many things in parables, saying, “Behold a sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some fell on the path, and the birds devoured it. 5But other seeds fell on rocky ground where there was not much soil, and immediately sprung up because here was not much depth of soil. 6But when the sun came up they were scorched, and because they had no root they dried away. 7Still others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them off. 8But others fell on good oil and produced fruit, some a hundred-fold, and some sixty-fold, and others thirty-fold. 9He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 

10And His disciples came to Him and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11And He responded and said to them, “Because to you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12For to the one who has, more will be given to him and he will have abundance. To the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13For this reason I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see and hearing they do not hear, neither do they understand. 14And the saying of the prophet Isaiah has come true of them: ‘Hearing, you will hear and not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive. 15For this people’s heart has grown insensitive, and with their ears they only hear with difficulty, and their eyes are closed, so that they do not see with their eyes or hear with their ears or understand in their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16But blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. 17For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see and did not see, and hear what you hear and did not hear.

 

18Hear, therefore, the parable of the sower: 19when anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand, the evil one comes and snatches what was sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20As for the seed sown on the rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21but does not have root within himself but is temporary. Affliction and persecution happens because of the word, and immediately causes him to stumble. 22As for the seed sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the concerns of this world and the deception of wealth chokes off the word and it becomes unfruitful. 23As for the seed sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands. He indeed produces good fruit and yields, in one case a hundred-fold, and others sixty-fold, and others thirty-fold.”

 

The assumption is that parables somehow hide “the truth” behind their mysterious allegories and metaphors. The truth about the truth, however, is that it is typically seen more clearly in the genre of storytelling. Jesus was a storyteller, and here He engages in the timeless practice of providing truth in storytelling. He knew that the thick-headed crowd wouldn’t get it right away—but He also knew that Matthew was writing this gospel, and would make this Truth more clear to them with the passage of time. In the meantime, this was a great teaching opportunity for His disciples. They would learn the tenuous nature of the human grasp on truth; how a sower like Him—and them—can work his tail off planting and sowing seed, only to learn that most of the seed finds no purchase. There are some who hear the word and simply don’t understand it. They lack the intellectual curiosity to comprehend it, and are easily led away by the evil one. After all, it requires much less intellectual comprehension to simply succumb to one’s wicked nature. There are those who hear the word and receive it with joy, but lack the depth of teaching that would help them develop a root within themselves. These people may be knocked down at the first sign of opposition. Those represented by the seed sown among thorns are people who receive the word in a cluttered intellectual and spiritual environment. They allow the cares of this world and the seduction of riches to have the same level of importance in their lives as the word—and these thorns never keep to themselves, but always choke off all other growing things in their lives.

 

There is a real correlation between “understanding” and “good soil” that is often overlooked in this passage. Those Christian teachers who want to overemphasize God’s sovereignty at the expense of His grace point out that there are just some people not cut out for the kingdom. Others who affirm His grace at the same level of His sovereignty—like me—reject this reading of the passage. Rather, I see an emphasis here on the significance of sound teaching. The mere reception of the word is only a starting point in spiritual growth in a human being. Following that, seed must have soil in which to grow. What kind of soil are you providing? Are you one of the Christians who thinks that by merely attending church and paying a few minutes’ attention to a nice message you are growing? If so, you might soon find that your soil lacks depth, and you cannot grow roots. You need sound, regular, habitual teaching in order to develop a depth to your theology that will sustain a root against the troubles of this world. Are you one of the Christians who love to receive the word, but believe that it has its place on a different shelf in your life, while your financial, social and familial responsibilities take equal place on their own shelves? Then you have mis-prioritized the Word, and failed to remember Who is your real Provider. That word will soon be choked off by your real god, Mammon. Again, this is a fate that can be avoided by willingly engaging in a real discipleship relationship that emphasizes teaching.

 

Is there habitual teaching going on in your life? Is someone tilling your soil and helping the seeds to grow? If not, you won’t bear fruit.

Matthew 12:46-49

46While he was speaking to the crowd, behold—His mother and brother were standing outside seeking to speak with Him. 47[Someone said to Him, “Your mother and brother are standing outside seeking to speak with You.”][1] 48But He responded to the one who told Him, saying, “Who is My mother and My brother?” 49And He stretched His arm toward His disciples and said, “Behold! My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven—the same is My brother and My mother.”

 

Matthew doesn’t record the reaction of Mary or the brothers to this scene; we can only imagine what that might have been like. For Jesus to suggest that one should have a loyalty that exceeds family would have been scandalous. But that’s exactly what He’s teaching here: explicitly teaching that one’s first loyalty is to God the Father. In so doing, a person is welcomed into God’s family as well, as Paul will so aptly explain in His epistles.

 

We have been welcomed into God’s family. We are His, and we have the right to approach His throne of grace directly. Moreover, it is He Who invited us. As we grow in Christ, let us deepen our loyalty to god and his will for our lives, no matter how difficult or challenging. And let us teach out families by our example that our first loyalty is to God the Father.

[1] Many manuscripts do not contain verse 47

Matthew 12:38-45

38Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” 39But He responded to them, saying, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks a sign, a sign will not be given to them except the sign of Jonah the prophet. 40For just as Jonah was in the belly of the sea creature for three days and three nights, so also the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights. 41The men of Ninevah will stand up in judgment against this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold—One greater than Jonah is here. 42The queen of the south will rise up in judgment against this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and One greater than Solomon is here. 43When the unclean spirit leaves out of a man, it passes through waterless places, seeking rest but finding none. 44Then he says, ‘I will return to the house from where I came out,’ and he comes and finds it empty, swept and put in order. 45Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more evil than himself and comes in and dwells there, and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So it is with this evil generation.”

 

The scribes and Pharisees—the religious leaders of Jesus’ day—had seen the power of God Almighty in their midst. They had witnessed the healing of incurable diseases. They had seen the banishment of the evil spirits from the image-bearers of God. They had seen it all, and yet did not believe. John the Baptist had been a sigh; Jesus’ ministry had been one big sign. They simply didn’t believe—and no amount of signs would work. Their demand for a sign was an attempt—perhaps even unconsciously, but an attempt nonetheless—to reduce Jesus to a song-and-dance man Who would perform magic on command. The only religion they knew was a negative one; they understood prohibiting a man from doing something. They knew reformation. They did NOT know regeneration. And now their house had been swept clean; the ministries of John and Jesus had banished the darkness and had put the house in order for the Messiah—but their faith in their own ability to do good doomed them. They were seeking for reformation, and Jesus was preaching regeneration. And having been eyewitnesses of the glory of the Lord, this dependence on their own ability to reform was a form of rejection of the Holy One—and their last state was worse off than their first.

 

Do we hope that God will dance when we play a tune? Do we put in the time reading, praying, being in His community, so that we may hear Him? Or do we call to Him hoping for a moment of memorable spectacular magic, unwilling to be changed by Him? Are we seeking to reform ourselves? Or are we surrendering for complete transformation? Let us not look contemptuously at the scribes and Pharisees; as people of the Church, we are prone to this sort of spiritual pride. We often believe—and teach others—that we can reform ourselves with better behavior. What we really need is to be changed by Jesus Christ.

 

Is He changing you today? Or are you changing yourself? One of these is powerful, and the other is powerless.

Matthew 12:33-37

33Either make the tree go and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for you will know the tree by its fruit. 34You brood of snakes! How are you, being evil, able to speak good? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36But I say to you that every careless saying that men speak, they will give an account for every word in the day of judgment. 37For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.

 

Continuing His rebuttal of the Pharisees with their careless accusation of demonic influence, Jesus makes the argument that the state of a man’s character is revealed through the words he speaks. He compares men to trees: the good ones bear good fruit and the bad ones bear bad fruit. The “fruit” of a man, in this context, is his words. Jesus’ half-brother James will make the same argument in his epistle in the New Testament, as well: what flies out of the mouth is potentially dangerous. He employs the adjective ἀργον, which describes something “not meant to produce anything.” Thus the condemned man is the one who never produced anything; he was a hollow or barren tree with bad fruit. Jesus will return to this “worthless tree” motif at the Last Supper, when He warns the disciples not to be the branches that don’t bear fruit (John 15).

 

Our words are our fruit. The person who can truly control his tongue is a person with a mature faith (James 3.2). Out of our anger, suspicion, distrust, self-regard, or lack of faith we open our pieholes and level careless accusations against the living God. We slander those made in His image. We think of ourselves as religious, while harming one another with our words. Our fruit will match the kind of tree we are; some self-control is warranted here. Nothing hurts our witness so much as a lack of self-control.

 

The challenge today is to be conscious of the words we employ with and against others. Are we a good tree or a bad tree? God has imputed the righteousness of His Son Christ to us; are we bearing fruit in keeping with that miracle? Or are we growing our own fruit?