Tag Archives: parables

Today’s Scripture – April 19, 2018

Luke 20:9-12 (NIV) He went on to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, rented it to some farmers and went away for a long time. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants so they would give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. He sent another servant, but that one also they beat and treated shamefully and sent away empty-handed. He sent still a third, and they wounded him and threw him out.

The tragic and disappointing history of God’s chosen people is clearly laid out in this parable of Jesus. And the focus of the parable, the people that Jesus was targeting, were the Jewish leaders. These leaders may have seemed to be more spiritual than many of the leaders of the past, but they were actually just the next iteration of leaders who lived in rebellion against God and His agenda.

Over the preceding centuries, God had selected people to oversee His community, to stand in His place over them and superintend the work of growing His kingdom until He sent His Messiah to lead them all to the next phase of His plan. But far too many of those leaders that he raised up began to see their role as leading God’s people in THEIR way, with the goal of larding their own wealth, and building their own dynasties.

From time to time God would raise up a prophet and give them a message for those leaders, pointing out their spiritual self-centeredness, and demanding that they return to God and His agenda, in effect demanding the fruit that was supposed to come from his vineyard, but which they had coopted for their own use and enrichment. And it usually turned out that they mistreated those prophets, beat them, imprisoned them, and even killed them, leaving them empty handed.

Even in Jesus’ day, before Jesus came into the public light, John brought this same message of challenge and refocus to those who came to hear him, and that included the Jewish leaders. But rather than receiving his words and repenting, those leaders observed him, judged both him and his message as unauthoritative, and turned away, continuing to enrich themselves on the backs of God’s people, and continuing to pat themselves on the backs for being so much better than their ancestors.

Father, it is very easy for us to keep our eyes on ourselves, and to allow ourselves to become the standard by which we measure our actions and attitudes. The plus side to this is that we all look pretty good when we judge ourselves by our own standards. The down side is that we quickly become smug and self-satisfied, and we grow blind to our own deficiencies, even when You send messengers to point them out to us. Help us, Lord, to always keep our eyes and ears open to Your correction and guidance. And help us to keep Jesus constantly before our eyes as our standard, so that we never grow self-satisfied, but always allow You to continue to mold and shape us into His image. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – March 12, 2018

Luke 18:1-8 (NIV) Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’
“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’”
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

 

Luke gives the context for this parable right at the start: it was told specifically to Jesus’ disciples, and it was told to them to urge them to keep on praying and not give up. When we are praying, and an answer does not seem to be forthcoming, it is easy to grow discouraged and give up on the prayers, sometimes deciding that God’s answer much be no.

In the parable, the judge does not represent God, except as a point of comparison. Some teach that this parable shows that God won’t answer a prayer unless the pray-er keeps bugging Him about it, finally deciding that He had better give the answer so that He can get some rest. But, again, the judge is only a point of comparison.

The real truth is in Jesus’ closing lines. If even an unjust judge who cares very little for people can be moved to action by the persistence of those bringing their pleas to him, how much more will God, the God who powerfully loves all of those who pray to Him, be moved by persistent prayer!

But also note that the context of the prayers discussed here is not simply a list of wants. Sometimes God will say no to those requests, if saying yes won’t help that person to be more holy or more effective for God’s kingdom. And it’s not about prayers for those things that are essential for life and for ministry. Those prayers are covered in Matthew 6:33-34, where God promises to provide abundantly for those who seek first His kingdom and his righteousness.

Instead, these are prayers for deliverance from the hands of the adversaries of the gospel, prayers for spirit-fired boldness that makes the pray-er a force to be reckoned with. This was the kind of prayer that was prayed by the disciples when Peter was imprisoned awaiting execution (Acts 12:5). It was not enough in that circumstance for the Church to say a “quick prayer” for Peter; they needed to pray, and to persist in prayer until they saw the answer. And God performed a mighty miracle in response to their persistent prayer.

Father, this parable, and Jesus’ instruction afterwards, gives us a solid middle ground between believing that shooting off a quick prayer is sufficient, and believing that we must beg and plead and somehow pry the gift of deliverance from Your reluctant fingers when we are in trouble. Help me to never fall to one side or the other, but to simply walk down the center, as You instructed us through Jesus. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 21, 2018

Luke 16:19-23 (NIV) “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”

This well-known parable is also directed against the Pharisees, lovers of money (verse 14 above), who were critical of Jesus for hanging out with the riffraff instead of with the “good church people.” Jesus now turns His attention to eternal destinies.

In this section, Jesus sets the scene. On the one side, you have the rich man, who is unnamed. He stands for everyone who is self-consumed, and who luxuriates in their possessions instead of being generous with them. He feasts every day, and does not share anything with the poor man lying right at his gate. He is so ensconced in his opulence, that he is blind to the needs around him. Thus, he does not exhibit the love of God in any way.

On the other side, you have the poor man, who, oddly for a parable, is given a name: Lazarus. Lazarus was about as far on the opposite end of the spectrum as anyone could imagine. He is poor and helpless, and is left sitting at the rich man’s gate every day in the hopes of receiving even the leftovers from the rich man’s table. Lazarus is about as repulsive as you can imagine. He is covered with sores, and even has to fight off the dogs who constantly came to lick at him. He is, indeed, a pitiful sight.

Eventually both men die. Death is the great equalizer. It doesn’t’ play favorites, and is not swayed by either pity or bribery. But in the afterlife, we find that the tables have turned. Lazarus, who was absolutely miserable for much of his life, is now in pleasant surroundings, right next to Abraham himself.

At the same time, a long way off from Lazarus, separated from the pleasant place by a great chasm (verse 26 below), and tormented by flames, is the rich man. This is no karmic consequence for carelessness, but is a positive punishment of the man for his lack of love, and for his positive disobedience to God’s command to love his neighbor as himself. By the way, loving one’s neighbor is not merely a New Testament principle, but is firmly established as a command in Leviticus 19:18. Thus the end state of these two men was as starkly different as their starting states, but at completely opposite ends of the spectrum.

Father, this is a good reminder to watch ourselves and not grow self-absorbed or complacent about the needs around us. After all, the instruction to love our neighbors as ourselves is not a suggestion, but a direct command. Help us to follow and serve You in this way as well. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 19, 2018

Luke 14:15-24 (NIV) When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
“‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.'”

The great feast in heaven was a theme in Jewish teaching. All of God’s people, those who live in His kingdom and who serve Him wholeheartedly are on the invitation list.

The Pharisees, like the one at whose house Jesus was eating that Sabbath afternoon, were considered by all to be shoo-ins for the feast, as they were known for their conspicuous works of righteousness. But Jesus told this parable to show a different side of the coin. The details are not the critical elements of this parable. Instead, the overarching themes, the junctures of the story are where the meaning is hidden.

The first juncture is where the Master has completed preparation for His banquet and sends out invitations. His planned guest list was quite impressive. And, of course, it is assumed that the Pharisees would all be on the list. The messenger is sent with the urgent invitation: the feast you have been waiting for so long is now ready. Drop everything and come to the feast!

But then the plot takes an ironic twist. The guests won’t come! In the interim, while waiting for the banquet, the had filled their lives with their own agendas, with their own stuff, which had now become more important to them than the feast that the Master had been preparing. They won’t be there. These “too busy” invitees are obviously representative of the Pharisees. Jesus, the messenger of God Himself, had come bearing the invitation for them to follow Him into the kingdom, to the feast prepared for them, but they refused to follow Him. Instead, they were all too busy with their own stuff, the righteousness that they had built with their own hands. They wanted to come to the banquet, but they would only come on their own terms.

The Master is not even mildly understanding about this affront to His invitation; He is angry. So He cancels the invitations of those ungrateful people, and in their places He fills the hall with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. These symbolize those whom the Pharisees had written off as cursed by God and unworthy of a seat at the table. When that doesn’t not fill the hall, the Master finishes by inviting those from the roads and country lanes, those far outside the city, representing the gentiles. If those whom God had owned as His own people refused to come, He would build for Himself a new people out of those who were not His people.

Father, it is tragic to see how those people, people who were ostensibly waiting for You with bated breath, refused to come to You when You finally arrived in the person of Jesus. And in doing so, they ended up excluding themselves from all of the blessings You had come to give, including eternal life, a place at Your banquet. Lord, keep my heart soft and obedient, so that I never refuse Your invitation, no matter where it is to, and so that I don’t miss out on Your great blessings. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 13, 2018

Luke 13:20-21 (NIV) Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.

Jesus again draws a comparison between the natural world and the kingdom. And this time, He uses the imagery of yeast, or leaven. In Jesus’ day the workings of yeast in dough was a mystery to people. They didn’t know how it worked; they only knew that it did work. Today we know how it works, and the increased knowledge actually adds to the understanding of Jesus’ point.

In Jesus day there was no instant or powdered yeast. Instead, a woman would take a small piece of leavened dough from the previous day’s batch and set it aside. When she was preparing the next day’s dough, she would knead that set aside piece in with the new batch of dough. Then, as the dough rested in the warmth of the cooking area, the yeast in that small piece of dough would spread throughout the whole loaf, until the whole thing was light and fluffy.

Today we know that yeast is actually a single-cell fungus that eats carbohydrates, excretes carbon dioxide, and then divides. The carbon dioxide bubbles are what makes the dough light and fluffy. But it is the rapid multiplication of the yeast that enables a small piece of leavened dough to be able to effectively leaven fifty pounds of flour.

This is a very good picture of how the kingdom of God operates. As each Christian is supplied with the power of the Holy Spirit (the spiritual food for disciples), and then uses that power and energy to multiply, by reaching out to those outside the kingdom and bringing them inside, the character of the society in which those Christians are living is transformed. And, as the process continues, the multiplication becomes exponential.

Of course, without food, yeast goes into a quiescent state, a kind of hibernation, and no multiplication takes place. But when food and moisture is added, the yeast wakes up and begins to multiply as it does its work.

In the same way, the reason that the Church is not powerfully multiplying in so many places in the world today is that many of the people who go by the name of Christian have fallen asleep spiritually. They have cut themselves off from the food of Holy Spirit power through disobedience to God’s commands, carelessness, busyness, or compromise with the world. And without the power that comes from the Holy Spirit, we become spiritually quiescent; we hibernate, waiting for God to somehow act and revive us.

What is needed is not for God to act. What is actually necessary is for God’s people, the people of the kingdom, to repent, to remember the height from which (we) have fallen (Revelation 2:5 NIV), to quit compromising with the world, to quit being lukewarm and instead be filled with the fire of the Spirit. Then the power of the Holy Spirit can work powerfully to feed all of God’s people, and to enable us to multiply and fill the earth with righteousness in preparation for the coming of Jesus.

Father, this is a more powerful illustration than I imagined! Even the simplest organisms on the face of the earth illustrate Your glory and Your ways. Father, help us, Your people, to really repent, to get rid of the idols of compromise and busyness, and really become the yeast of Your kingdom to spread Your righteousness all across our land. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 4, 2017

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

This parable echoes in some ways the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43).  The key difference is that, in this parable, the bad fish are not put into the nets by the enemy; they simply come along with the crowd.

Anyplace the kingdom is active, it will tend to draw all kinds of people.  Some are legitimately drawn to the spiritual reality being demonstrated by the people of the kingdom.  They have eyes that see that the kingdom of God is a reality, and hunger to be a part of it.  These are the good fish.

But some are merely drawn to the excitement. They want to be where exciting things are happening, but have no eyes to see the cause.  They see the miracles, and enjoy being fascinated by the mystery of it all, but they have no desire to surrender themselves completely to God, and to truly repent of their sins so that they can be transformed.  Others are drawn to the love and fellowship of God’s people.  They are lonely and sorrowful, and long for the close relationships that they can see exist among the people of the kingdom.  Still others are drawn because the truth of what the people of the kingdom have found and how they live make them very uncomfortable.  So they come to investigate, and to see where they can punch holes in the faith of God’s people.  These are all bad fish, and, unless they repent and turn to God, at the end of the age they will be thrown into the fiery furnace, regardless of how many services they have attended, how many committees they have served on, and how much “good” they have done.

This parable acknowledges that bad fish will be caught along with the good as often as the net is cast.  (A reality that the fishermen in the crowd could easily acknowledge.)  But the parable encourages no pre-sorting to be done by the people of the kingdom (although church discipline of those caught sinning is not abrogated by this), but leaves the final sorting to be done by the angels at the end of the age.  This is primarily because, unlike fish, people can choose to repent, to allow themselves to be transformed into a good and righteous member of the kingdom, a “good fish.”  And hope remains for anyone to do that until they die, or until Jesus returns and the final sorting begins.

Father, it is sometimes tempting for us to attempt to sort people out as we go.  But, as You have made clear, if we do that, we could end up throwing out someone who can be transformed, if only we will focus on helping them to truly repent.  I have seen it happen where a hard-core sinner, one who nearly everyone has given up on, is helped to see the light by one or two people, and is gloriously transformed into a truly “good fish.”  Help us to be so full of Your love and Your light that we do draw all kinds of people.  Then help us to love all of the people we draw with Your love, so that we can see multitudes transformed into “keepers.”  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – January 3, 2017

Matthew 13:45-46 (NIV) “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

This second parable about the value of the kingdom of God seems redundant to some, but the emphasis and details are much different than in the parable of the hidden treasure.

In the first parable, the man who finds it is not a treasure hunter.  He is simply someone who has eyes to see what many others had overlooked, and digs where he sees the signs.  In this parable, however, the man is actively searching for fine pearls.  This is the man who is on a spiritual quest, looking for what is true, wherever he may find it.

Such people are quite common these days.  Some spend time identifying as a Buddhist, and then perhaps they search for wisdom in the Koran.  Then perhaps they move on to Zen, or Transcendental Meditation, or Baha’i.  They may even dabble in the popular version of Christianity.  But their search leaves them always hungry for more “wisdom,” more “truth,” more “meaning.”

But in his looking, the man in this parable suddenly finds a pearl of great value, one that is perfect in every way.  And then, something miraculous happens:  the man quits looking for more or better pearls; he gets out of the business, and keeps the one pearl of great value for himself.

Those who are continually trying to find truth will only cease their seeking when they come to that which is so true, so valuable, that it satisfies their deepest longing for what is true.  And the only thing that will satisfy that longing is the real gospel, the genuine good news of the kingdom of God.

This is not the popular version of Christianity that is traded in so many churches today, a version that holds out eternal life in exchange for a simple prayer, or the raising of one’s hand, but then expects nothing in return except perhaps attendance at church services.  This “gospel” leaves the heart of real truth seekers unsatisfied, and soon they are gone.

The real gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God, is entered into through real repentance and true faith in Jesus.  And it costs those who would come in everything, including their very lives.  But the value of what they get in return, not just heaven someday, but life in the kingdom of heaven here and now, God’s presence, His power, His purity, His purpose for their lives, and His passion for those who are still lost, so far surpasses any truth that the world or other religions can possibly offer, that they cease all looking for other truth.  They have found the Truth Himself!

Father, I used to be one of those who had a smorgasbord kind of faith:  a little truth from here, a little truth from there.  But none of it ever really satisfied me.  Instead, I was always on the prowl for new truth, new “light.”  But then I came face-to-face with Jesus.  I saw myself as I truly was in His sight:  wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  I despaired of any hope of salvation.  But then He offered me, not just heaven someday, but a new life – a life that He had bought for me with His own blood, paying the horrendous penalty I had earned by my sin.  I gladly repented, traded my entire old life for the new one He offered, took up my own cross, and began to follow Him with my whole heart.  The truth that is in Jesus is the real truth.  The life that He offers is real life.  I have stopped my seeking after better pearls of truth, and have been focused on serving You, and in knowing every facet of this one pearl of great value for 32 years now.  Thank you so much.  Amen.

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