The Husbandry Parables – Matthew 13:1-43

To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. … This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Matthew 13:11-13

As opposition against Him increased, Jesus spent more and more private time with His disciples. There was an growing polarization in the response to His ministry and teaching. As a result, Jesus turned to His favorite method of teaching, the parable. A parable is a simple story taken from daily life that illustrates a grander truth. At times, the details within the parable could be understood the allegorize a specific truth, but for the most part, parables should be understood as communicating one central ethical or religious truth. What a parable does is call upon the involvement of the hearer to make an interpretation. As such it is an effective way of both, teaching truth to “those with ears to hear,” while at the same time, veiling truth from those who are hard-hearted. The disciples, who have had the mystery revealed to them that Jesus is the Messiah, had the additional privilege of understanding Jesus’ parables; when they did not, they asked for and received an explanation of the parable. For those who are hardened to truth, everything they hear is obscured, and they become a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (6:9-10) about a people whose spiritual faculties were dulled so that they could not understand.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 4, the apostle Paul explains that the Gospel message, which is preached openly and understood by those who have been enlightened by Jesus Christ, is at the same time, veiled to those who have been blinded (4:3-6). As such the Gospel is like a parable in that it can only be grasped by those who have ears to hear. In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul explains that Gospel ministers are, at the very same time, a pleasant fragrance to those who are being saved and a stench to those who are perishing (2:14-16), though their message is the same for both audiences.

Next Sunday we will begin to look at Jesus’ parables. We will consider the “husbandry parables,” which deal with agricultural practices of the time. We will begin with the prototype of all parables, “the parable of the sower” (13:1-23), then “the parable of the weeds” (13:24-30, 36-43) and “the parables of the mustard seed and leaven” (13:31-35).

Messiah’s Sign – Matthew 12:38-50

“An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Matt 12:39)

So far in chapter 12 of his Gospel, the apostle Matthew has presented Jesus’ dealings with the religious leaders of His day over two major controversies. First, with regard to the Sabbath, we learned that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath, which He demonstrated by healing a man on the Sabbath day. Secondly, with regard to evil spirits, we found Jesus to be Lord of the spirits, which He demonstrated by casting a demon out of a deaf-mute man. In our text, we are confronted with a third controversy as the Pharisees ask Jesus for a sign to authenticate His claims.

Jesus sharply rebuked the Pharisees telling them that no sign would be given to them except for the sign of the prophet Jonah. Just what is this “sign of Jonah?” Commentators vary in their opinions as to exactly what this sign is; but what is very clear is that in light of the presence of the Messiah, seeking a sign beyond His Person and work is considered “wicked and adulterous.” Yet sensual people love to live by sight and feeling, and as a result Jesus Christ becomes insufficient, in and of Himself. The more carnal a person is, the more they will be taken in by remarkable or impressive outward signs, and the less likely they will walk by faith in the invisible but Almighty God. In the very life of Jesus, God has opened all the stops, delivered all of His signs, and provided all the proof necessary for us to believe. To seek for heavenly signs such as visions and dreams, or apologetic proofs from science, or “signs of the times,” in patterns of history, the moon or sun, weather, the economy or politics, are all not only insufficient, but may be an indication of infidelity to God’s covenant. For One who is greater than the temple, greater than Jonah, and greater that Solomon has come, and He is our final Prophet, Priest and King! Do not insult His majesty by seeking for a sign from the muck and mire of some parlor magician, prophetic guru or mysterious storyteller. You have Him who died and conquered the grave; you have Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge; He is more than enough; hear Him!

 

 

The Ministry of the Body – Exodus 18:13-27

In next Sunday’s text we reach the second scene of two involving Moses’ father-in-law Jethro, before the epic encounter with the Lord at Mount Sinai. In the first scene we saw how Jethro heard what the Lord had done for Israel, believed the Lord, proclaimed what he believed, and ultimately worshipped the Lord. Now in this second scene, which takes place the next day, Jethro observed Moses dealing with the people of Israel around him all day long. He said in verse 14 of chapter 18: “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?”  And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the decrees of God and his laws.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good.” You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone.” Jethro saw that all Moses did was not good, so he gave him godly counsel to seek help from other men who feared God. Jethro’s counsel was both for the good of Moses as well as all of the people. Moses heeded his counsel and Jethro went back to his land.

First this text teaches us that no man, not even Moses, can handle everything. We see something similar today in our churches where pastors, deacons, teachers, and evangelists are getting burned out from doing all the work of the ministry. Much wisdom comes with godly people helping those whom the Lord has ordained as under-shepherds. All of us in the body of Christ need to serve where we can. But this scene is also profound in its meaning and place just prior to Israel’s reaching Mount Sanai, where they will receive the Law of God. The people needed to know the Lord’s decrees and laws. They were having disputes without knowing how to resolve them. At Mount Sinai the Lord would formally give all of the people His law (Exodus chapters 20-23). There they will find out how to respond to one another, as the Lord reveals to each of them how they should live. But, as we’ll see as we continue in Exodus, even this will fall short; as ultimately their need is to have the law written on their hearts.

 

 

Children of God- 1 John 3:1-10

“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.” (1 John 3:1 ESV)

In the third chapter of John’s epistle, the Apostle continues encouraging his audience toward confidence in God. Recall that the main thrust of this epistle is assurance of salvation, particularly assurance in the midst of apostasy. We have considered truths about God (“God is Light”, “God is Love”) and now John highlights truth about believers in their relationship with God. We are his children!

The fact that believers are the children of the Most High is another basic truth that we often take for granted. Like the doctrine of God’s love and the imperative for us to love one another, the truth that believers have a relationship with God as Father is often relegated to the elementary points of the Christian faith, taught and memorized during children’s Sunday School and inevitably left behind to move on to bigger and deeper teachings. While in fact being children of God is an elemental truth of our faith, it is not something we ought to move past. We should never get over it. God loves us so much that he has made us his children (3:1)!

Like the audience of John’s day, many Christians struggle with assurance. We feel our prayers unanswered. We question our faith. We struggle with doubt. We see little victory in sin. We observe apostasy all around us. Let the Apostle John’s Spirit-inspired, 2,000 year old, pastoral advice speak to you today: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God!”

As he does elsewhere, John also includes evidences along with his encouragement. Verse 10 says, “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” Most likely, John was responding to apostates who taught that holiness was optional. However, following Christ’s own statement that true and false disciples are known by the fruit they bear, John says that the true children of God are marked by practicing righteousness and loving the brethren. We have considered how loving the brethren proves our salvation; in this message we will consider how this love, coupled with a desire for righteousness, proves that we are children of God. God not only makes us his children, he wants us to know we are!

Lord of the Spirits – Matthew 12:22-37, 43-45

And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? (Matt 12:26)

After identifying Himself as “Lord of the Sabbath,” and then demonstrating His authority by healing a man with a withered hand in the synagogue on the Sabbath, we find Jesus continuing to heal many others; meanwhile the Pharisees conspired about His demise (Matt 12:10-15). Among those who Jesus healed was a blind, mute demoniac from whom Jesus exorcised demons. While Jesus’ power astonished many people, the Pharisees needed to manufacture an explanation that would justify themselves while explaining away the clear miracle. Interestingly they do not deny the genuineness of Jesus’ miracle but instead attribute His power to the devil. They do this so that He would be branded a sorcerer worthy of death.

Jesus’ defended His activity using an analogy from civil warfare and the fact that He was not the only exorcist in the area. First He argues that if the power in which He cast out Satan originated from Satan, it would be like a kingdom divided against itself. Secondly, if Satan was the one who empowered exorcisms, the other Jewish exorcists must also be demonically inspired. Instead Jesus explains that He is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit and that this was a demonstration that the kingdom of God had come (v. 28). Contrary to the Pharisees accusation of demonic inspiration, in verse 29 Jesus offers a brief parable to illustrate that before He could cast out a demon, He must actually first bind Satan.

In the end it is not Jesus who is blaspheming by doing Satan’s work, but it is the Pharisees who blaspheme God’s work. Their abject rejection and condemnation of Jesus’ clearly demonstrated power (which is a work of the Holy Spirit) is a sin which Jesus describes as “unforgiveable.” This “unforgiveable sin” is a matter of much conjecture among Christians and we will discuss its meaning next week.

After some additional discourse, Matthew returns to consider the incident that started the section, the exorcism of verse 22. In verses 43-45 Jesus concludes the discourse wanting the man who was liberated and everyone else present to know that to be delivered from demons was not enough if the devil’s ownership is not replaced with Christ’s ownership. Moral reformation apart from Christ will always be inadequate. Unless repentance is genuinely unto life, the freedom that one experiences from a bondage is temporary and inadequate. In the end Christ is either Lord of all, or Lord of nothing and only His blood is mighty to save.

 

What the Lord has Done in Me – Exodus 18:1-12

The Lord has brought the Israelites out of Egypt and they are closing in on Mount Sinai where they will witness a tremendous manifestation of the Lord’s presence in the giving of the Ten Commandments. Many call this epic event the heart and center of the book of Exodus. But before they reach the mountain of the Lord, there are two scenes involving Moses’ father in-law, Jethro. In the first scene, Jethro, a priest of Midian, meets Moses again for the first time since Moses left Egypt. Although Jethro had heard all that God had done for Israel, Moses gave him a first-hand account of what the Lord had done. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them (18:8).

Hearing these words from Moses, Jethro rejoiced for all the good the Lord has done to Israel, in that he had delivered them out of the hand of the Egyptians. Jethro exclaimed, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh and has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because in this affair they dealt arrogantly with the people.”  Jethro heard, rejoiced, and he believed, exulting, “Yahweh is greater than all gods!” Jethro worshiped the Lord along with Moses and Aaron, with a sacrificial offering before God.

It is an amazing scene! Although only the Lord knows if Jethro was truly converted, nevertheless it is a wonderful picture of how the Gospel of God is spread – this good news of salvation, not merely from Egypt, but from sin and its penalty that changes hearts and minds. The good news of salvation must be declared (see Psalm 96:3; Mark 16:15). We are all called to be witnesses of what the Lord has done and will do. It is done corporately and individually. Let us continually proclaim the glories of the Lord to our family, friends, neighbors, and the world, Salvation is of the LORD Jesus Christ!

Hosanna, Hosanna, to the Lamb that was slain. Hosanna, Hosanna, Jesus died and rose again.

Lord of the Sabbath – Matthew 12:1-21

I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. … For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”  (Matt 12:6, 8)

As chapter 11 of Matthew’s Gospel concluded with Jesus’ promise of ‘rest’ for the weary laborer, it should not surprise us that next on the author’s mind is ‘the Sabbath.’ For the Jewish person, rest was embodied in a Day – the seventh day of the week, instituted in Exodus 34:21; “six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest.” In chapter 12, as the Gospel writer continues to deal with the increasing hostility against Jesus, Matthew deals with one of the main sources of contention between Jesus and Judaism – the Sabbath. Perhaps more than any other matter, the manner in which Jesus understood and kept the Sabbath proposed a severe threat to Judaism’s traditional point of view.

While the Law of Moses was not very specific as to what may or may not constitute work that was prohibited on the Sabbath, over time, Jewish tradition and oral law developed a precise code specifically prohibiting 39 different kinds of activity on the Sabbath. From the perspective of the religious leaders, as Jesus’ disciples plucked grain and ate it, they were violating rabbinical laws against reaping, winnowing, and threshing, and thus “working” on God’s Holy Day. Consider the rabbi’s point of view for a moment: The most exalted part of God’s breathed holy Word – the Ten Commandments – clearly commands, “on the Sabbath day, you shall not to any work.” And here are these Jewish folks following a self-styled “rabbi,” doing on the Sabbath what other laborers do six days a week. As guardians of the Law, who else could put a stop to this most damning practice? You can see how the activity of Jesus’ disciples in the grain fields that Saturday would raise a genuine concern on the part of those who were anxious to protect God’s truth.

In response, Jesus drives his dissenters back to Bible: “Have you not read what David did …” (vs. 3); “have you not read in the Law …” (vs. 5)  “And if you had known what this [verse] means …” (vs. 7). Drawing from the entire Tanakh (the Law, the Writings, and the Prophets), Jesus audaciously argues from Scripture, ultimately exalting Himself above the three most beloved entities of Judaism – the Sabbath, the Temple and the Law! Indeed, as Jesus would say later, “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  And it was fulfilled in He who was greater than David, greater than the Temple and Lord of the Sabbath.