On Hearing

1-30-17
Monday
 
 
This week we are looking at the parable of the sower found in Mark 4, Luke 8 and Matthew 13. But before we get into the story let me take a minute to remind us of a fundamental truth which will guide us in this parable.
 
 
Paul says in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” We understand before we can exercise faith in Jesus Christ as our savior we have to hear the truth of the message of the gospel.
 
At the end of the parable of the sower found in Luke Jesus says these words:
 
18 Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.”
Luke 8:18
 
 
Remember that we enter into the kingdom of God through faith. Jesus told Nicodemus “you must be born again or you will not see the kingdom.” We are born again by faith in Jesus Christ and that comes by hearing.
 
 
So Jesus says, “Take care then how you hear.” That is what this parable is all about… it’s about how we hear.
 
Matthew 13:3-9
3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, 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 produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”
 
 
How do we hear the gospel? When you sow the seeds of truth to others, how do they hear? Jesus says there are four soils: four ways in which people hear the truth. These are not four types of people, but these are four ways of dealing with the truth of the kingdom.
 
 
Why is this important? Because unlike all other kingdoms, the kingdom of God comes by hearing. And when the seed of truth is understood and believed the kingdom grows. Not by force, not by coercion or not even by the majority rule of the democratic process… but by hearing and believing. And when Jesus wants to covey this to us he does it with a parable.
 
 
Prayer: Open my eyes to the truth of this parable and allow me to apply it to my own understanding of how I hear the gospel.


Jesus Revealed

1-17-17
Friday
 
Luke 7:48-50
48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
 
 
The final sequence of events has to do with the forgiveness of sins. The Pharisees ask a very important question: “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
 
Simon and his friends had a concept of forgiveness that did not involve a personal relationship with God. In their religious system God had set the standard of behavior in the Law of Moses and as long as the conditions were met they considered themselves Gods children. Years of manipulating the laws in a way that provided a series of convenient loopholes allowed them to believe they were actually keeping the law and gave them a false assurance of being right with God. And if they sinned openly there were sacrifices allowed by law to cover the sin.
 
 
So living a good life and making the appropriate sacrifice for sin when necessary was a way of life they could control. No need for personal relationships with God. And they looked down on people like this woman who did not live up to their standards.
 
 
But they were not living a life of love for God. The command to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself was completely ignored. And when they observed this woman’s act of love, worship and reverence for Jesus they couldn’t understand why anyone would do that. She loved Jesus because he had forgiven her sins and there had been lots of sins. But she came to Jesus broken and contrite and desperate for a relationship with God through faith in Jesus. They had no love for God or his son Jesus because they had no need for forgiveness.
 
 
So when they say, “Who is this, who even forgives sins” they are saying, “who do you think you are… God?”
 
 
Only God can forgive sin. The Pharisees knew this. Jesus was saying he was God, and they were all stunned. They called him on it and they waited to see if he would back down.
 
 
And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
 
 
No backing down. Jesus declares to the woman she has been saved by her faith and now has peace with God. This is the deep down desire of all of us. Peace with God. It was the desire of the Pharisees even though they could not admit it.
 
 
As Jesus leaves the dinner party I can’t help but wonder how many men were moved by what they had seen that day. How many came later, looking for Jesus maybe at night like Nicodemus, trying to understand what they saw that day. Can it really be that easy? Salvation through faith in Jesus? Forgiveness and peace and the assurance of hope from the lips of the savior?
 
 
Prayer: Thank you Lord for your peace and assurance of salvation that come through faith in Christ. And thank you for the love that wells up inside us as we remember how much we have been forgiven for.


Who Can Forgive Sin?

1-26-17
Thursday
 
 
 
Luke 7:47-50
47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
 
 
One of the issues the Pharisees had with Jesus was his insistence that they were in need of forgiveness. “What do we need forgiveness for… we’re righteous because of our works?”
 
 
And because they had no need for forgiveness they had no love for Jesus or for the Father whom Jesus represented. But Jesus does not give them an opportunity to be content with that viewpoint. He challenges them directly and is not at all passive with Simon. He confronts not only his belief but the attitude and behaviors that are consistent with his thinking: Superiority, smugness, condescension, rude and discriminatory behavior – all a result of thinking they are above other people because of their insistence that they were keeping the Law of Moses.
 
 
How is it that we can squash a bug without regret? Isn’t it because we think ourselves to be superior to that form of life? Being a human gives us liberties that are not available to the animal world, reptiles, fish, birds, insects or even vegetation and those liberties come from God. One of the ways people are dehumanized today is by making them equal to all other forms of life. We see that in play in our current culture.
 
 
Another way to dehumanize people is to divide them into classes and races and even by using gender to limit people’s liberty. To make children less important forms of life than adults and to reduce the unborn child to a term like a fetus allows people to subjugate them with lower degrees of liberty and with fewer choices and fewer rights. Our current political system is ripe with this behavior.
 
 
Jesus says to Simon in no uncertain terms this is not the way things work in the kingdom of God. You can’t work your way to the top. The way up is down. See yourself as the worst sinner ever and then ask God for mercy and Jesus rescues us by his sacrifice for sin. We are incapable of loving God until we accept his forgiveness.
 
 
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.”
 
Not her sins are forgiven BECAUSE she loved much. Because she loved much it is evident her sins are forgiven.
 
Simon and his friends had become expert at putting themselves into higher and higher classifications of superiority… looking down on the sinners of this world. Jesus says not so. The sinners are entering the kingdom ahead of you.
 
 
Prayer: Forgive me for my own arrogance and superior attitude as I look down on sinners. Remind me that I am the chief of sinners and were it not for the grace of God I would be lost and without hope. Allow my love to grow as I focus on how much I have been forgiven.


A Sweet Fragrance

1-25-17
Wednesday
 
 
Luke 7:44-47
44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.
 
 
As Jesus often did, he began to explain the significance of the parable but this time it was not to his disciples but to the Pharisee Simon. And he begins to compare Simon’s lack of affection to Jesus with the woman’s overwhelming expression of love towards Jesus.
 
 
Common courtesy of the day was to greet your guests with a kiss on the cheek. Simon gave Jesus no kiss. Did he kiss the other guests and not Jesus? We don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is what happened.
 
 
Then water and a towel would have been provided for the guest to wash the filth of the streets off of their feet. This was a courtesy provided on behalf of the whole dinner party because as you relined at the table your feet were likely closer to your neighbor’s nose than our own. If a family was wealthy enough a slave was given this responsibility. If not, it was the duty of a servant or the children of the host… but it was not to be ignored. You owe this to your guests! Did the other guests receive this courtesy and not Jesus? We don’t know, but I would not be surprised if that is what happened.
 
 
The last social responsibility was to anoint the head of your prominent guests with oil. It was a show of respect and it was a sign that the host was acknowledging the blessings of God upon his guests. It was often mixed with a perfume for a fragrance, possibly intended to cover the sweat and body odor of the individual who had traveled considerable distance to be there. It was considered a refreshment and people expected it to part of the greeting. Jesus received no such greeting. Was Jesus the only one who still smelled like a sweaty traveler? We don’t know, but I would not be surprised if that is what happened.
 
 
In the mind of the Pharisee Simon, Jesus did not merit any of these gracious tokens of respect and graciousness. How does Jesus fare at your house?
 
 
Prayer: Cause me to acknowledge the presence of the savior who fills my life so that I offer him the best of everything I own. May I never ignore him and treat him in ways that do not show the proper respect for my Lord. May I express my love, not in standard social norms, but with reckless abandon as I pour myself out in service to him.


The Magnitude of my Debt

1-24-17
Tuesday
 
 
Luke 7:40-50
40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
 
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
 
 
When Jesus says to you, “I have something to say to you” it is probably not good?
 
But Simon is ready for an explanation about why he would allow a woman like that to touch him. But what Jesus gives him is a parable designed to make him think for himself about why anyone would behave like this woman.
 
 
It is about love. A debt is forgiven and there is gratitude and love towards the forgiver. And who loves more? The one who was forgiven more.
 
It is one thing to be forgiven a financial debt but what kind of love and devotion would you have towards the one who forgave you of all your sin? Someone who died for you and paid the debt of sin that you owed? Someone who opened the way of eternal life with God?
 
 
Here is the point. This woman was a sinner but her sins were forgiven by Jesus. And her repentance and tearful and loving response was true worship… out of a heart of love. Love is the motivation for worship. This must have puzzled the Pharisees because they thought that keeping the law caused God to accept them. They worked to earn God’s love, but this woman worshipped because of what Jesus did for her.
 
 
So here is the question: How big was the debt of your sin when Jesus forgave you?
 
Because if you think it was no big deal for God to forgive your small sin then you will love little. But if you see your sin as the mountain of debt that it really was… you will love much.
 
 
Prayer: Jesus had to die because of my sin, that is how great my sin was. May I never forget the price that was paid on my behalf.


Awkward

1-23-17
Monday
 
Luke 7:36-50
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
 
 
Have you ever been to a dinner that for one reason or another became awkward? Maybe it’s a dinner party where one of the kids spills something and the parent overreacts and yells at them? And the whole room gets quiet? Or maybe grandma uses a swearword or Uncle Bill passes gas (sorry, it happens) and then blames the dog. Awkward! And you start to wish you were never there?
 
 
The things that happen at the Pharisee’s dinner party were the most awkward collection of events could happen in that day. Maybe in any day.
 
Jesus is invited to a dinner party by a religious leader who wants to humiliate Jesus, or at least to show Jesus disrespect, or maybe by showing his disdain for Jesus the other Pharisees will think more highly of him. We don’t know the answer but what we do know is this was a dinner party that he and the guests would not soon forget.
 
 
As the guests were reclining at the table and this woman comes in, uninvited, and moves directly and with intention to the feet of Jesus.
 
Who is she? We don’t know, but we have some clues… She was a woman who lived in that city and she was known as a sinner. How did she get that title? There is an implication that everyone knew her and her sin. The Pharisee said, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
 
 
Many Biblical scholars believe we are talking about a prostitute who everyone knew. Many consider her to be Mary Magdalene or Mary the sister of Lazarus. But we just don’t know. But what we do know is that having a woman like that show up uninvited at a dinner party is the ultimate awkward. But Jesus is about to use this occasion to teach us all something about devotion and real love.
 
 
Prayer: Open my eyes so I will be receptive to the lessons that you are showing me in my own awkward situations and let me see the truth revealed in this parable.


Applications of the Parable

 
1-20-17
Friday
 
 
 
The Parable this week supplies us with a number of applications that could be made but we are going to look at only two.
 
Because He planted us, Jesus is our king. Because we have been given life there will be growth. Total surrender to Jesus and a hunger for spiritual growth. Those are the two things.
 
The new birth is entrance into the kingdom, and a Christian is somebody who says to Jesus, “Because you saved me, because of what you did on the cross for me, because you forgave me, because through you I am right with God, I will do anything I know you want, anything I can read in your Word, anything I know is your will. Anything. Whether it seems practical, whether it’s something I like, I am utterly submitted to you, your royal will. You have the supremacy in every area of my life.” To say anything less is less than kingdom mentality. To say anything less is less than Christianity. Being a Christian means you obey the one who saved you. You make Jesus your King.
 
 
Why does Jesus use being planted as one of the metaphors?
 
Because a plant exists completely through the operation of something else. A plant can’t plant itself. A baby can’t make itself born. A person who is a Christian knows even though you’ve struggled and worked very hard in the process of becoming a Christian, once you become a Christian, you realize there was an outside power that has come on in and is dealing with you in the center of your life. You realize someone has been opening your eyes. Someone has been guiding you. Someone has been revolutionizing your life.
 
 
How do you really know the difference? Growth! It’s all growth. You see, in the end, the Christian grows into the likeness of Christ. The counterfeit, moral person does not really grow. A Christian is somebody who grows more and more content with God as the years go by. Growth is the evidence of real life.
 
You can’t believe it but you find yourself getting more humble, less arrogant, more sensitive because you know about your sins. At the same time, you feel more loved and more loved and more loved and more loved, because you see, in the end, it’s the kingdom of the Father that we experience, and we sense he is more and more a Father as time goes on and we know we are the children of the King.
 
 
Are you growing in those ways? Have you made Jesus your king?
 
 
Prayer: Thank you Father for giving me the examples of what the kingdom is like and thank you Christ who is my savior and my King and the person who is being formed in me. Because of him I am alive and planted in the kingdom of my Lord.


Counterfeit

1-18-17
Wednesday
 
 
The Parable of the wheat and the weeds tells us three things. There is a farmer who does work. There is an enemy who also does work. The farmer who owns the field is patient. How patient?
 
 
When the farmer is told the enemy has sown weeds in his field he is not alarmed. When the workers are panicking about what to do the farmer insists on being patient. “Leave the weeds alone and let them grow alongside the wheat. One day they will be identified. And how will they know? They will know them by their fruit… weeds produce no fruit.
 
 
The enemy comes sows a weed called zizania. Now you don’t want to grow zizania anywhere. It was the disease of the farmers (especially wheat farmers) in this part of the world at this time because zizania was actually a degenerate form of wheat. It looked just like the wheat as it grew up, and it grew in the fields with the wheat, but when it came to maturity, it showed there was no grain. There was no head of grain at all. It was just stalk. Yet what will happen is the zizania grows alongside of the wheat, and it soaks up the nutrients and soaks up the moisture and stunts the growth of the crop.
 
 
An average stalk of wheat contains about of 200 pieces of grain. At the harvest, two plants that appeared to be the same while they were growing in the field become obviously different. In the growth process of real wheat, fruit has been produced.
 
 
Jesus tells us there are two kingdoms growing side by side in our reality. We need to know to which kingdom we belong. How do we know for sure?
 
Weeds with no fruit in them are gathered and burned. Is there real fruit that God is producing in your life? God knows the difference between real and counterfeit… do you?
 
 
Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.


Two Kingdoms

1-17-17
Tuesday
 
 
 
Matthew 13:36-43
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the Evil One, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.”
 
 
This parable is serious stuff. When Jesus explains this to the disciples I wonder what their reaction was. Did their eyes get really big? Could they even imagine that the Rabbi they follow was the very one who would send angels to collect the sons of the evil one and deliver them to Hell? Did Thomas really say “I doubt he has angels!” or am I just imagining that? Here is the point. There was some serious and painful self-evaluation that must have taken place.
 
 
The parable requires that kind of self-evaluation. It starts off with farmers and crops and harvests and ends up with weeping and gnashing of teeth. But Jesus doesn’t tell stories to scare people, even if this is a little scary. There is a purpose in Jesus explaining this parable to the ones he loves. But what is he telling them?
 
 
There are two kingdoms. One is the kingdom of God and the other is the kingdom of the evil one. But the twist to this parable is that the sons of the evil one look just like the sons of God. The sons of the evil one are not twisted and grotesque and obvious, they look just like the ones in the kingdom of God.
 
 
But here is the deal: Sometimes the sons of God aren’t sure they are really sons of God and sometimes the sons of the evil one think they are the sons of God. Confusing right?
 
 
That’s why this parable is so important. You need to know to which kingdom you belong. There are 2 kingdoms. One of them ends really badly. You need to know which one you are a part of? It is the most important question you will ever answer.
 
 
Prayer: Thank you for the assurance of my salvation.


The Wheat and the Weeds

1-16-17
Monday
 
Matthew 13:24–30
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 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?’ 28 ‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 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.’ ”
 
 
The parable this week is remarkable. Jesus brings us insight into what the kingdom of heaven is like. A concrete depiction of a cosmic truth. And it has some surprises, some discoveries that shake our own reality.
 
 
Jesus is allowing us to have a glimpse into the Kingdom, an introductory look at the bare bones of what it means to be a child of God. The simplest description and the essence of relationship with God. And who would have thought? It’s like farming!
 
 
The kingdom of God is like a farmer who planted good seed in a field. It is the most basic and simple first line you will ever read. God is like a farmer. Who’d of thought?
 
 
He created dirt. He designed seeds and life after death. (That is what happens to a seed when it germinates). He put photosynthesis into play. He made the process of reproduction of seed inherent in the lifecycle of plants. And all this is like the kingdom of heaven. But how?
 
A plant does not bring itself into being.
A baby does not bring itself into the world.
A child of God is not born again of the will of man.
 
There is a God who is responsible for all these actions.
 
As a farmer plants seeds, God is at work planting sons of God into the kingdom… the field of God.
 
 
Prayer: Open my eyes to see the truth contained in this parable and allow me to simplify my understanding of the kingdom so that even I can understand.


Our Good Samaritan

1-13-17
Friday
 
36 Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
 
Jesus says to the lawyer, “You want to know what kind of love the Father requires? Here it is. Anybody can love people who are right next to them. Anybody can love people if it doesn’t cost a lot. Anybody can love people who are just like them.”
 
“Unless your heart has been radically changed, unless real love is growing in your heart because you’ve seen what I have done for you, unless you’ve been humbled by the knowledge that there is no love in your life that’s worthy of God, and unless you’ve been built up by the knowledge that I have paid everything and I have given you all my salvation, you will never love like this.”
 
The lawyer thought this kind of love was required to inherit eternal life. He was willing to love others if that is what it takes to earn salvation, but nobody can love everybody. Most people are willing to do something heroic to earn something of great value. The problem is, when we really look at the story we find ourselves incapable of that kind of love.
 
But Jesus loves like that. Jesus is the Good Samaritan.
 
Do you see it? We are the ones who are lying in the road in our own blood. Jesus comes along and gives us everything necessary. Until you see Jesus as your Good Samaritan, you’ll never be a Good Samaritan.
 
Jesus doesn’t show us what we need to do, he shows us what we can become. We don’t love like that so we can receive something, we love like that because we have received.
 
Prayer: Thanks be to God for the glorious gift of Jesus Christ who rescued us, redeemed us and gifted us. May we forever pattern our lives after the Good Samaritan.