Tag Archives: parables

What Is The Gospel? Part Two: The Gospel According to Jesus

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Then Jesus returned to Galilee by the power of the Spirit. Meanwhile, the news about him spread throughout the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was continuously receiving praise from everyone. (Luke 4:14,15 ISV)

Soon after Satan tempted Jesus, Jesus returned to Galilee. Luke, written to Theophilus, a Greek, does not use the word gospel here. It only says that Jesus began to teach. Matthew and Mark record the same event with the word gospel.

Then he went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every illness among the people. (Matthew 4:23 ISV)

Now after John had been arrested, Jesus went to Galilee and proclaimed the gospel about the kingdom of God. He said, ‘The time is now! The kingdom of God is near! Repent, and keep believing the gospel!’” (Mark 1:14,15 ISV)

The first time Luke uses the word gospel is when Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1 in a synagogue.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;
he has anointed me to tell
the good news [gospel] to the poor.
He has sent me to announce release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set oppressed people free,
and to announce the year of the Lord’s favor.
(Luke 4:18,19 ISV)

The gospel Jesus proclaimed was not a new teaching. As Jesus was the lamb slain from the foundation of the world, so the gospel Jesus proclaimed was the same message proclaimed from the foundation of the world. It is the good news of salvation. But to understand salvation, we must understand sin, our need for a savior, and God’s righteous requirements for atonement.

When Jesus walked about teaching in Israel, He taught the same message over and over again. But he taught people who knew what we call the Old Testament. Jesus taught the gospel continuously throughout his life. To large crowds he taught in parables because many people in his audience were unwilling to accept everything included in the gospel.
The gospel according to Jesus included the entire Old Testament. It was not a simple list which could be accepted or rejected after a ten minute presentation.

When Jesus returned after his resurrection, he continued to preach the gospel. But he spoke only to his disciples. Jesus found two disciples, and walked with them over 7 miles, teaching as they walked.

Then Jesus told them, “O, how foolish you are! How slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! The Messiah had to suffer these things and then enter his glory, didn’t he?” Then, beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them all the passages of Scripture about himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ISV)

When Jesus left them, these two disciples ran back to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples.

While they were all talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and told them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, thinking they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus told them, “What’s frightening you? And why are you doubting? Look at my hands and my feet, because it’s really me. Touch me and look at me, because a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see that I have.”

After he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. Even though they were still skeptical due to their joy and astonishment, Jesus asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. Then he told them, “These are the words that I spoke to you while I was still with you – that everything written about me in the Low of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to be fulfilled. Then he opened their minds so that they might understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:36-45)

The gospel of Jesus: everything written about me in the Low of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms had to be fulfilled.

Image Credit “The Road to Emmaus” by Robert Zund St Gallen Museum of Art  Photographer joyfulheart upload by Adrian Michael Wikimedia Commons

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Understand this Parable or Understand None of Them?

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James Tissot, “The Sower,” Brooklyn Museum. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.

In Mark Ch 4 is the parable of the sower. Many people focus on Jesus’ ministry to sinners and the unclean and say how loving and inclusive He was. They say we mustn’t judge people, can’t know their hearts, etc. Just as a side note, lepers, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman who wept and anointed Jesus’ feet — Jesus accepted the touch of these people and they were cleansed by Him, not left “unjudged.” In more than one case, he commented that sins were forgiven and that people had faith for that to happen. But that’s a side issue. Back to the main discourse — the parable about which Jesus said, paraphrasing, “If you don’t get this one, how will you get any of my other teachings?”

But the Parable of the Sower is Jesus’ analysis of man’s heart, since that’s what the soil is. He sows the seed equally, if we take the parable at face value. It’s the reception by the soil that is the focus. The ground may even have received equal amounts, though we’ll talk more about that later.

The parable is about the reception by the soil. It doesn’t even say there were different kinds of soil. Just different conditions the soil had gotten into. It doesn’t even say whose “fault” it was that the soil got that way. Seed came down on it, so there was potential for all the soil regardless of condition. The soil isn’t blamed or excused for its circumstances. It’s given seed. It’s supposed to be soil and do what soil does. Give seed a medium in which to grow. Later on in Mark 4 Jesus says that the sower himself doesn’t really understand the process by which seeds germinate and grow in soil. The soil does it without effort. It’s just the vessel into which the seed is placed.

Roads are hard. They are intentionally packed down and cleared off and made the way they are for a purpose. But a dirt road is still, after all, dirt. Potentially seeds could grow there. And plants can take root and give soil strength and firmness, too, preventing erosion. But we learn here that Satan can take away a message God spreads from certain kinds of hearts. That sounds scary. Why doesn’t everyone get saved? How can God let that happen — let the Word get snatched out of someone’s life? Seems like it’s more up to the soil than to Satan. Maybe it has to do with humility and not fighting for your autonomy.

Jesus quotes the Old Testament and says people are hard-hearted about receiving the Word. They see and hear but they don’t perceive and understand or take it in and truly receive it. The hardness of heart thing has bothered people since Pharaoh. Seems like it’s on us not to get the process started and then it won’t be an issue. Stop arguing about the past. It can’t be changed. And stop dwelling on other people’s experiences and how God may or may not have dealt with them. Focus on your own soil. Be prepared to change if you need to so that you can receive what you need to do what you’re supposed to do.

Soil among the rocks is weak. It has trouble sticking together. It’s distracted, unfocused, pulled in different directions. Soil among thorns is letting those distractions take root and steal resources. It’s focused on things and externals rather than on the seed. There’s no room left for a good crop. The bad one’s taking up too much space.

Good soil doesn’t work. It just is. It hears and accepts and fruit comes naturally. No effort.

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Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio. Public Domain. Photograph by Daderot. Wikimedia Commons

Note that right after the sower comes the lamp. We seem to have backwards ideas about this light. It will shine. We don’t make it do the shining. All we can do is diminish it. We don’t have to work on getting it to shine. We have to avoid covering it up. Seems silly that anyone would, but Jesus wouldn’t tell us this parable if it wasn’t a problem. We are all worried about doing the shining. But what we really have to do is stop being an obstacle. Like the soil just has to be soil and then the seed will grow, we have to be the lampstand, not the bushel basket, and the light will do what the light does. Why would we be a bushel instead of a lampstand? Maybe we are afraid of what might come to light? What secrets might be revealed? We shouldn’t be. And everything will come out, anyway. Bushel basket thinking won’t even work. The light will shine even if it has to burn through the basket. Might as well get out of the way, get under that light, and lift it up like a good lampstand.

Back in the sower parable,  Jesus says people hear but don’t understand. He wants us to have understanding — soil that receives and gives the seed a place to sprout, and lampstands that let the light shine. Next Jesus goes on to say that we are like a vessel — a measuring container, like the bushel basket — and some have different capacities. I once heard a sermon about the Old Testament passage where Daniel interpreted the writing on the wall. The pastor said, more or less, that “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin” was kind of like saying “Pint, Pint, Quart, Half-gallon.” No wonder the king couldn’t figure out what it meant. If you’ve ever followed a recipe, you know that you use different measuring utensils to get different quantities of ingredients. So it is with people who hear the Word. They’re different containers and they have different purposes in completing the recipe of God’s plan. Two cups of flour is not better or worse than one half teaspoon of salt. It’s just different. Like the parable of the servants given different amounts to invest, they weren’t better or worse because they got more or less. They were just different.

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Image by Alex Sartori. Public Domain. Pixabay.

You are the soil, the lampstand, the container. Your capacity determines what happens to what you receive. The parable says “when the soil permits” the crop will germinate, grow, and mature. Moving on to the parable of the mustard seed, we learn that the seed can be tiny but the yield can be enormous in shade, shelter, support, and sustenance.

Here’s a final question. Jesus calmed the storm at the end of Mark 4 but he chastised the disciples for lacking faith. Did He expect them to calm the storm themselves? No disciple or apostle ever performed a miracle that calmed a storm. Just wondering why, when they did so many others. That would have come in really handy when Paul suffered shipwreck. God has His purposes in all things, but I just wonder — why did no one ever calm a storm? What kind of soil, or lampstand, or vessel would that take? — Post by Mary C. Findley

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“Wave” by User Counselling. Pixabay. Public Domain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can We Not Know We Are Serving Christ?

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In Matthew 25:31 ff Jesus speaks about sheep and goats. They will be separated in the end times and the goats will be condemned. The sheep, on His right, will be praised in this manner:

“Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink?  And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’”

Did you notice something odd about this passage? The sheep — the blessed of the Father, express surprise that they were “caught serving” Christ. They didn’t know they were doing it. How can that be? Don’t some of us work hard to “work the works of Christ”? Don’t we want to be known for serving Him? But these people … they are just going about their lives, doing what comes to mind, and earning Christ’s praise because it turns out they are serving and meeting needs for food, clothing, drink, shelter, all the way down to prison visits. Yet they react with surprise. They’re not working to earn a reward. They’re not looking for Jesus as they meet needs and show love. But there He is, and He’s blessing them and rewarding them.

I want to stop working so hard to please God. I want it to be natural and automatic to show love that pleases God. I want to be surprised when Jesus says, “You did these things, and they were for me.” — Post by Mary C. Findley

 

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How Can I Become A Christian? Part Four: Repentance

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Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” (Acts 19:4)

Whenever people bring up the idea that repentance is necessary to become a Christian, that is, part of salvation, for some reason, people say, “Oh, you believe in sinless perfection.” While it seems odd to connect the two, what they mean is that they believe that if repentance has to be part of salvation, they are assuming that you must be able to repent of every sin one by one, reciting a catalogue of every sin you have ever committed. They are misunderstanding the difference between individual sins and the sin nature.

While God clearly commands us to turn from our sins, attempting to make a catalogue or list of every sin we have ever committed is neither possible nor expected according to what is taught in the Word of God.

But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other;

(Luke 18:13-14a)

Jesus said that the man was justified by acknowledging his sin, without listing individual sins. To the woman taken in adultery, Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.” (John 8:11) He healed a man, and Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” (John 5:14)

These are all individual acts of repentance. Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37) This is a clear teaching of Scripture. It was a major theme of all the major prophets of the Old Testament. It is mentioned repeatedly throughout the New Testament. Nowhere does the New Testament teach that we as believers will attain sinless perfection in this life. Nor do we have to be sinlessly perfect to be saved. What God requires of us is to acknowledge our sin. It is possible to repent of sin without turning to the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance is not the only thing necessary for salvation, but repentance is necessary for salvation.

Image from http://1Photos.com.

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Principles of Writing Fiction

It’s hard to say when people began writing fiction, but it has been used for millennia to communicate truth. Seems strange to say that something that isn’t true can teach truth, but good fiction always has done that. Using characters, settings or events that didn’t actually happen, writers create a vehicle by which to make a point. Jesus Christ taught parables, beginning with “A certain man … or “A sower …,” or “A woman …, ” a clue that what he was about to say was not about a particular person, but was going to make a point about people. Even the Old Testament had parables, such as the Parable of the Trees, warning a king not to get too big for his britches.

Writers of the genre contemporary fiction write about the time they live in. Charles Dickens was immersed in the culture of his times and used his fiction for social commentary, to try to change what was wrong with life as he lived it. Writers like Georgette Heyer use historical fiction to go back to a time and place where things were done differently, to deal with certain social customs, or just to show the readers the color and life of a lost way of living. Science Fiction writers bridge from existing technology to what may be sooner or later. Robert A. Heinlein colonized Mars, updating the pioneer/settler storyline with futuristic adaptations.

Fantasy writers usually base their works on smidgins of reality or convention, classic creatures of Greek mythology or simple agrarian economies. Then they add an element of magic, spirit intervention or other supernatural influence. Allegories are a subcategory of fantasy, but they differ in including an element of teaching, usually related to religion. Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory. Things and people stand for something other than the reality. Pilgrim becomes Christian, symbolizing the salvation experience. His journey is Christian growth. Pilgrim’s Progress was inspired by Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, another story of a Christian and his armor fighting and serving God. This in turn was derived from Ephesians 6, a parable of sorts describing the Helmet of Salvation, the Sword of the Spirit, and the rest of the equipment the Christian needs to wrestle against the dark forces of this world.

The point is that the best fiction, the right fiction to read, is based on Scriptural principles. It treats good and evil as the Scriptures do. Articles, excerpts and essays in this section will show how that should be done.

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