Wednesday in the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:24-30, 34-43; Mark 4:33-34

The Enemy of the Kingdom

Again a parable begins, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to….”  That is the purpose of Jesus’ parables – to teach us about His kingdom.  This parable tells us that there is an enemy within the kingdom, a very real enemy, and he is the devil, otherwise called “the evil one.”  We actually have three enemies: our “flesh,” by which Scripture denominates our sinful nature, the world, which is not our friend (1 John 5:19), and as we have already said, the devil.  The devil as “the tempter” uses the other two to trip us up any way he can.  Yes, we have an enemy, and he truly hates us.

In this parable, Jesus uses an illustration that his listeners would have been very familiar with.  Wheat was a staple of that time, much like today.  So after the master of the house and his servants finished their work and slept, an enemy, the evil one, came and sowed weeds among the wheat.  Now I have read that this weed was probably something called “darnel.”  The “demonic” character of this particular weed is that when it first appears, it is indistinguishable from the wheat.  It is only after some maturation that the difference appears – and then it is too late to do anything but let the wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest when they can be separated.  Jesus explains the parable to his disciples, how the wheat represents the children of the kingdom, the weeds the children of the evil one, and the harvest the end of the world; the weeds are burned up and the wheat gathered into the barn.  So far the meaning is unmistakable.

But there are other lessons here.  To begin, sometimes the wheat and weeds are indistinguishable – sad but true.  Furthermore, we should never judge one’s salvation; that is for God alone.  Sometimes the most “godly” is the biggest hypocrite while the one we think the greatest sinner actually more humble and repentant.  But there is something else here: It seems that God has ordained that evil, though brought on by the fall, is part of God’s plan.  It is necessary that the weeds and the wheat grow together; God forbids the taking of either one out of the world before the time which He has appointed.  One day, He will, and the righteous shall shine like the sun with no evil to hinder them.  So God’s sovereignty is shown in that He uses everything for His purpose, even evil. And do not understand the parable to be teaching that the devil “created” the weeds.  The devil can create nothing; that is something only God can do.  But he does corrupt; that is how he “sows.”  Finally, these parables were hidden from the foundation of the world until revealed by Jesus.  What a bounty the gospels are to us!

Tuesday in the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:31-33; Mark 4:21-32; Luke 8:16-18

The Kingdom of God Grows Unnoticed by the World

The topic of each of these parables is the kingdom of God.  The Sower was just such a parable illustrating the different “soils” and their varied responses to the message of the kingdom.  The other four speak to the kingdom’s growth in the world.  These parables are shorter than and different from the “Sower,” showing that Jesus spoke parables in various ways.

The first of the parables we consider speaks to the fact that no one places a lamp under a basket or under a bed but on a stand to give light to a room.  Jesus then says, “For nothing is hidden except to be made manifest, nor is anything secret except to come to light.”  The meaning is that as one enters the kingdom by faith, God makes secret things, hidden things come to light.  One begins to understand more about the will of God and his ways in the kingdom, in his people, in the world.  And better yet, the more one listens with a humble and teachable heart, the more understanding the Holy Spirit gives that believer.  On the other hand, the more a believer becomes slack or cherishes some sin in his life, the less the Spirit reveals through His word.  So rejoice!  It is God’s good pleasure to reveal His will and way to you.

The next three parables are similar.  The first speaks of a farmer who plants his seed.  He may indeed cultivate, fertilize, weed, and do many other things to ensure a good harvest.  But the one thing the farmer cannot do is make the seed sprout and produce. He can provide the best conditions, but the harvest he cannot bring.  So it is with the kingdom of God.  It is not something that man brings with all his effort.  He must be faithful in all he does, virtuous, pure in heart, loving his God and neighbor as himself.  But the kingdom no one can bring but God.  Then there is the parable of the mustard seed.  When it is planted it is the smallest of seeds, but when full grown becomes a large garden plant spreading branches that even the birds may nest and find shade.  The same message is taught in the parable of the leaven.  In the same way the kingdom of God began very small – a few disciples in Jerusalem – but grew till it now covers the entire globe.

Our Lord came to establish a kingdom.  It is invisible now and grows in the most mysterious ways.  And our Lord is even now King of kings and Lord of lords.  One day, this shall be manifest for all to see, for every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11).  Until then, his people trust in his word.  They are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ waiting for the day when their faith shall become sight (Romans 8:17).

Monday in the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15

The Parable of the Sower

Having cleared the introduction to the “Parable of the Sower” yesterday, we take up the parable itself today.  Yesterday we saw the emphasis on God’s sovereign choice in election – His gracious movement in the hearts of some that they may hear the word of God and believe.  Without this movement of the Holy Spirit upon the heart of wayward man, no one would be saved at all.  It is impossible for anyone to save himself; but all things are possible for God, even a man’s salvation (Mark 10:27).  Yes, this is how wicked man is.

Today, we see how this parable shows us this truth in glaring colors through the imagery of farming, something the people of that day would have understood, though they were incapable of grasping the meaning behind the imagery.  The seed is the word of God.  The sower may be a preacher, or anyone sharing the gospel.  But it’s the soils that are forefront in this parable.  They represent the hearts of those who hear the word of God and respond accordingly.  The soil along the path hardly has time to comprehend the word before the devil snatches it away; their hearts are so hard that the word makes no headway with them.  The rocky soil manifests the shallow heart.  Their “Christianity” is nominal, or merely a crutch, or something that helps them to get along or feel better about themselves.  (There are many who use the faith in this “therapeutic” way.)  The soil where the word is choked on account of thorns or weeds shows the ones who refuse to place the Lord ahead of their possessions, or their secret sins, which cause them so much stress and anxiety.  They are idolaters, though they do not see it.  Finally, we see the good soil which receives the word as it is, the uncompromising word of God, which must capture and captivate our hearts.

So the parable teaches us that man has a responsibility to respond to the call of God, but that response is clearly an indication of the heart.  Whether his heart be hardened by sin, caught up in some view of the gospel alien to its intention (therapeutic, name it-claim it, self-help), or deceived by riches or enamored by a sin he just can’t relinquish (which is idolatry), the result is all one and the same: losing the kingdom of God.  Now, I know that we can all see ourselves in each of these “soils,” and that’s a good thing.  I’ll never forget a wise Sunday School teacher who told me when I was but a youth that God uses the Bible to beat us over the head, and she meant believers.  We should see ourselves in God’s word and repent accordingly.  But Scripture also shines the light on why unbelievers behave the way they do.  The Bible is our spectacles through which to understand the world we live in.

The Sunday Before the Season of Lent

Matthew 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

This Sunday is given to our Lord’s transfiguration and the passages of Scripture which record that event.  The Anglican Church and some other Protestant denominations choose this particular Sunday before the Season of Lent to remind believers of our Lord’s glory before the arduous journey of the cross through which Lent takes us.  This prepares us to make the same journey as we remember that when he came, his true identity was cloaked for the little while he walked the earth.

So Jesus takes his most intimate disciples with him up a mountain.  (Remember, mountains are small in Israel.)  Luke reports that they had fallen asleep while Jesus was praying.  Luke is fond of showing us that Jesus was in continual communion with his Father while in his humble form on earth.  But for a brief moment in time, while Jesus was praying, the veil of humility was pulled back and his glory as the eternal Son of the Father was revealed.  Indeed, it was only one-nth of the glory the disciples were allowed to see as they finally “became fully awake.”  The Bible records that his face shone like the sun and his clothes became dazzling white as no one could make them.  (The Greek word used here is the same in which we get our word, “metamorphosis.”)  Moses and Elijah appear representing the Law and the Prophets.  Luke adds that the three “spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem,” showing that Jesus fulfills the requirements of the old covenant which these two men embodied.  Peter foolishly asks that the three disciples make tents for Jesus and his two visitors, perhaps hoping they would stay awhile.  Then the Father’s majestic voice answers, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!”

The path before Jesus was grueling, and he knew it.  Before it was all said and done, the three men who were sleeping moments ago would fall asleep yet again and forsake him in his darkest hour.  Jesus would walk alone, as only he could do what he would do, what he came to do.  So he went to his Father, not because he doubted, but to share sweet communion once more before the hour came.  And as the Spirit strengthened Jesus, so we pray for the same strength as we carry our cross to Golgotha.  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).  Lent is a season of reminder for us that we are cross-bearers, people who through the power of the Spirit must be conformed to the image of our Lord (Romans 12:1-2).  He went before us; so let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured (Hebrews 13:13).

The Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

(If this Sunday is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, read this devotion in the morning, and the devotion entitled, “The Sunday Before the Season of Lent” in the evening, under this same tab.)

Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20; Luke 8:4-15

The Mystery of the Kingdom in Parables

Today, we begin a series of devotions on the parables of Jesus that happen to be grouped together in three of the gospels (that is, Matthew, Mark, and Luke; John’s gospel records more of Jesus’ discourses than his parables).  The first parable that each of the three gospels begins with is the “Parable of the Sower,” although it really should be called, “the Parable of the Soils,” for that is what the parable is about.  Its preeminence among the parables is cited by Jesus, himself, when, after the disciples ask him about the parables, he said, “Do you not understand this parable?  How then will you understand all the parables?”  Thus, we must pay very close attention to it.

But first, we must ask with the disciples, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  And Jesus’ answer might trouble some people.  It has been given to the disciples “to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given”; indeed, “for those outside everything is in parables.”  And this is what troubles some people.  All three gospels then record Jesus’ citation of Isaiah 6:8-10, Isaiah’s call to ministry in which he is told that, preach and prophesy all he may, the people will not hear.  Indeed, all that his preaching will do is make their hearts dull, their ears heavy, and their eyes blind.  And why is this, “lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”  Lest?  Yes, “lest.”  In other words, the purpose of Jesus’ parables is to further enlighten those who are already members of the kingdom so that they “will have an abundance,” while the same parables only serve to further harden those who are outside lest they should be healed.

This is hard medicine.  The interplay here is between God’s eternal election and man’s sinful heart.  It is true that God turns some and not others.  But those who are not turned do not wish to be turned anyway; they are content to remain in their sins.  Would not those whom God turned be content to remain in their sins had He not turned them?  Yes, they would.  Then why turn only them and not all?  We leave this to the inscrutable will of God.  We do know that each and everyone deserves death and hell, for we have all sinned and gone our own way.  That God chooses to save some is a credit to His manifold grace.  But He does no injustice to those outside; He simply leaves them where they prefer to be.  God does not wish their damnation (1 Timothy 2:4), nor does He prevent it, nor is He obliged to (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:14-18).  So let those on the “inside” be humble and pray for those on the “outside,” after all, who knows … (2 Timothy 2:25-26)?

Saturday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:20-21, 31-35; Luke 8:19-21

Jesus’ True Family

Today we take up a passage of Scripture in which Jesus teaches us just what constitutes “family” in the kingdom of God.  Furthermore, this passage will provide us an opportunity to weigh Scripture with Scripture so that we may come to a correct understanding.  Throughout the Church’s history, she has taught a principle of interpretation called, “the analogy of faith,” whereby she means that Scripture must interpret Scripture, so that one verse of Scripture, which may seem difficulty to understand, is made clearer by another on the same topic.  This way one verse of Scripture is not made to dominate the clear teaching of the rest of the Bible.

In this passage, while Jesus is teaching the people, someone comes and informs him that his mother and brothers are waiting outside to speak with him.  (Incidentally, this passage provides us with a clue that Joseph had probably passed away by the time of Jesus’ ministry.)  Jesus answers by saying that his mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.  Now this strikes us as being standoffish of Jesus, if not disrespectful, towards his mother.  It also seems to devalue the natural family.

In answer to these charges, Scripture highly values and blesses family life.  We could begin with the commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” which even comes before, “You shall not murder.” (Exodus 20:12-13).  On the cross, Jesus commended his mother to John’s care (John 19:26-27).  Again, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for twisting the Scriptures so that one would not have to take care of one’s parents in their old age (Matthew 15:1-9).  And Paul says directly that anyone who refuses to take care of his own family is worse than an unbeliever (First Timothy 5:8).  What was certainly painful for Jesus was that his own family doubted him.  Although Mary surely knew of his special role in God’s plan, given his exceptional birth, yet Mark 3:21 tells us that his family wanted to seize him for they thought, “He is out of his mind.”  John 7:5 tells us that even his brothers did not believe in him, though after his resurrection some did (Acts 1:14), namely James and Jude, whose letters bear their names.  So if you have trouble witnessing to your own family, know that Jesus had the same problem.

Still, the blood of Christ makes us “kingdom” family (Hebrews 2:11-12).  We are married to our spouses only till death, and in heaven we will be like the angels (Romans 7:1-3; Matthew 22:30).  Faith in Christ makes us brethren.  And in heaven, we will have no sinful natures impeding our fellowship.

Friday in the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 12:33-45

Sincerity of Heart

Here we have three separate passages that I have lumped together under the topic of sincerity of heart, or one might say, purity of heart.  After all it is the pure in heart who will see God (Matthew 5:8).  To be pure or sincere means to have no ulterior motives, to desire that for which you ask and nothing more, to love with the whole heart faithfully.  This is hard for us because our hearts are so deceitful that we hardly understand them ourselves (Jeremiah 17:9), we want many things and not just one thing, and our loves are so mixed with self-interest.

First, Jesus convicts the Pharisees, who had just accused him of casting out demons by the prince of demons, for just such deceitfulness as described above.  Jesus uses an illustration he used on other occasions about good trees producing good fruit and bad trees producing bad fruit.  So it is no wonder that he expresses his amazement over the Pharisees!  How is it that they can speak with mouths full of honey when their hearts are full of venom?  Jesus then teaches us the truth that the tongue, as well as deeds, expresses our hearts.  Then the fearful word comes: “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  A timely word for our day!

So the Pharisees then ask Jesus for a sign, not because they want one (Good heavens! How many signs had Jesus already performed?), but to catch him in some violation of their law.  Again, we see insincerity of heart.  Jesus refuses to humor them but prophesies his own death and resurrection using the prophet Jonah as a sign, or a type, of what Jesus himself would soon do.  That’s the sign he’ll give them, but naturally they won’t see it because they have not hearts that will see.  Jesus then compares their generation with previous generations from the Old Testament in which even wicked people gladly heard a certain prophet, but these refuse to hear the Son of God!

The heart is such a tender thing that can turn this way or that.  This is why we are told to guard it (Proverbs 4:23, KJV).  Even after we think we have left some sin or demon behind, we can find ourselves recaptured in a time of weakness.  Therefore, we must purify ourselves as he is pure, knowing that one day he shall appear and we shall see him as he is, for we shall be like him (1 John 3:2-3).  God must become our desire, our passion, our all in all.  Then we shall see Him, just as He promised.