Luke 18 – Receive Your Sight

Read Luke 18

At this point in His ministry, Jesus is moving toward Jerusalem for the Passover celebration and His eventual arrest, conviction, and death.  On this journey, Jesus continues to teach His disciples and those around them, seeking to help them reframe their way of thinking and seeing the world.  As He has been teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus gives practical examples about what it looks like to see things from that perspective.

In everyday culture, justice, humility, and the innocence of a child are not readily rewardable qualities.  Yet Jesus speaks parables that point to how God’s economy works, that in the Kingdom of Heaven, these things will be the norm, not the exception.  In the same way, the reception of and entrance into God’s Kingdom comes in the form of childlike faith and innocence.

This is illustrated in the parable of the rich man that follows.  He has great wealth and finds himself unable to part with it when push comes to shove.  And while it seems impossible for the very wealthy to be able to give that up for the Kingdom, Jesus also affirms this: “What is impossible for man is possible with God.”

Perhaps Jesus is making a statement here about all of what He has just taught them.  The rich man can follow the commandments to the letter, but that still does not imply faith.  Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can someone come to the saving faith in Jesus Christ.  When the Holy Spirit works in our hearts we receive a new kind of sight, seeing the world differently, through God’s eyes instead of our misguided human perception.

Maybe this is what Jesus is alluding to when He tells the blind man that his faith has made him well.



Mark 4 – Parables

Read Mark 4

I know a good number of people who like to tell stories.  Whenever I get together with them I expect to hear at least one story about something, whether hunting or fishing, building or other life experiences, these stories are reminders of lessons learned and wisdom gained.  Jesus often spoke in parables which were something like mini stories.  In talking to my friends, they could tell me of wisdom gained from their experiences, but without a context, I have no way of recognizing how they arrived at their conclusion.

Jesus used metaphors that the people following Him would understand.  In an agriculturally dominated society, people could relate to sowing seed and harvesting a crop.  Yet there is a much deeper meaning contained within these seemingly simple stories, truths that we repeatedly turn to and learn from.

For seed to be sown, there must be a sower; for seeds to grow, they must be tended.  However these are not explicitly mentioned in all of these parables.  The size of the seed doesn’t seem to matter either, but rather the soil is important for growing.  That has often been a comfort for me as a pastor, especially when I am feeling uneasy about how I shared God’s Word on a particular day.

Maybe I am taking the metaphor too far, but I realize today that, though we often talk about being good soil, in agriculture the farmer is responsible for both the soil and the seed, another wonderful truth that is not explicitly mentioned here.

The Holy Spirit is always at work within us, working on our hearts to prepare them to receive the seed of the Word of God and then tending those seeds to carefully cultivate them within us, producing faith and fruit many times what was sown.



Matthew 13 – New Treasures and Old

Read Matthew 13

Apart from His direct teachings, which we heard back in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus often taught using parables.  A parable is a story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.  Matthew again makes a point of referencing earlier Scripture as a way of pointing to Jesus as the promised Messiah that the Jews were waiting for.

Matthew is not the only one drawing on the Old Testament for teaching; Jesus too draws from Scripture to illustrate the work that He has come to do, the Kingdom of Heaven He is ushering in.  Remember with me back in Matthew 5, Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.”  Jesus points this out once again in verse 52; He is bringing out “new treasures” as well as old.

What would have been interesting, though, is how Jesus’ teachings would have been accepted by the Jews that were hearing them.  Most of the people of Israel at that time were certain that the Messiah was going to come and make things “how it was;” you know, the “good ‘ol days.”  They were also quite certain about who Jesus was talking about when He referenced the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Sometimes we get to be like this too, spending much more time thinking about who is “in” and who is “out” rather than listening for the Spirit’s movement and teaching in our own hearts.

Jesus is painting a picture for His followers, one that illustrates some things that they may already know, or think they know, while also giving them a new, possibly broader image of what God’s Kingdom will really look like.  He names good and bad, like the fruit from Matthew 12, but makes the point that He will make that determination, not us.



Day 291: Mark 4-6; Jesus' Ministry in Galilee

Mark waists no time in continuing the narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We begin our reading today with some of the parables of Jesus and the explanations that He gives His disciples about them.  I think it is interesting how He does that, quoting an obscure passage of Isaiah, and not really offering much of what we would consider a solid explanation.  I guess I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this, but Jesus makes the point that the “secrets” of the Kingdom of God are revealed to His disciples (and by extension those who believe), yet for those that don’t, these may be something that they can grab a hold of.  Maybe it is like the seed of the parable that is sown into their hearts, something that the gardener (God) would water and cultivate over time.  In any case, Jesus teaches in this way throughout His ministry.

Another thing that we start to see emerging here, something that perhaps wasn’t as clear in Matthew, is the contrast between those who believe and those who do not believe.  As Jesus continues His ministry, we see Him interacting with more and more people in different regions of Galilee.  What is interesting, and probably what the religious leaders of the time despised, is that Jesus associates more and more with the people they would have considered outcasts by virtue of the law.  Jesus eats with sinners, associates with demon possessed people, heals the sick, and even talks to Gentiles (which sadly enough was worse than all the rest of these put together).  Even in Jesus’ home town, where all the people would have known Him since His youth, Jesus is rejected and very few people believe.  Contrast this with the woman who just wanted to touch a piece of Jesus’ cloak to get healing because she was to humiliated and afraid to ask.  What does Jesus say to her?  “Your faith has made you well, go in peace.”  Mark goes back and forth with this theme as a way of showing very clearly that for those who believe, great healing and peace will come, and for those that don’t, no peace or healing is found.

Finally today, I think that there the particular theme that emerges in chapter six is that of abundance.  While we could look at this in many different ways, I think that the word ‘abundance’ seems to fit.  Jesus calls His disciples to Himself and sends them out empowers to preach and to heal in the same what that He has been doing.  They go out and what we see, though it is not recorded as well in this book, is the Kingdom of God appearing throughout the region in abundance.  Many people are healed, freed from spirits, and given hope.  Next, after the interlude of John the Baptist’s death, we see the narrative of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  This too is a theme of abundance and carries with it the themes from the Lord’s Supper.  As one professor has said to me, “if there is water in the narrative, you best be thinking baptism.  If there is food in the narrative, you best be thinking Communion.”  Though we do not see the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, we do see the image of Jesus breaking bread and giving it to the people.  In this we see that there is an abundance!  In fact, there is more than an abundance, there is an overflow!  Jesus is revealing to the people that in the Kingdom of God there is no wanting, no hunger, no need, there is only abundance.



Day 283: Matthew 13-14; Parables and Miracles

Today we come to a section of Matthew that covers many of the well known parables of Jesus and some of the better known miracles as well.  In sermons we tend to hear bits and pieces of today’s reading so I thought it was very interesting to read them together as a united whole.  One thing that struck me right off the bat was Jesus’ explanation of the parable and the reasoning for it.  Immediately Jesus quotes the passage from Isaiah 6, when God commissions and sends Isaiah out to the people of Israel.

You will indeed hear but never understand,
    and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and with their ears they can barely hear,
    and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
    and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
    and turn, and I would heal them.

This is an interesting and hard teaching that Jesus quotes, and it is no less difficult in His day.  Jesus has been sent, bringing with Him the Kingdom of Heaven which we see breaking into this fallen world in practically every place Jesus goes.  So why is it that there are some people that just don’t seem to get it?  Why, when all these amazing things are happening, do the “religious leaders” question and criticize Jesus’ actions rather than seeing them as a sign from God as Scripture said?  It might have something to do with what God said to Isaiah and what Jesus quotes here.

These leaders, the “righteous” people have heard the message of Jesus, but they do not understand it.  They have seen with their eyes the works of Jesus by they do not perceive it.  Why is this?  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that their hearts have “grown dull” trying to follow all the laws that they have set up for themselves.  They have become so consumed with their own righteousness that they have actually closed their eyes and ears to the reality of the Scriptures in front of them.  Sadly this was the story of Israel at the time of Isaiah and it is the story of many during the time of Jesus as well.

I have to admit that I am reflecting on this passage today in the midst of conversations about Classis Examinations and some of the dysfunction that comes along with them.  Often times, at least in some exams, candidates are grilled on certain topics because some pastors have decided to use that time to get on their soapbox about particular issues.  While the names and the issues are irrelevant, the point I am reflecting on is whether the Church, or perhaps parts of it have become a lot like these religious leaders.  We have the Gospel laid out before us and we have seen the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those that God has drawn to Himself, and yet we spend more time questioning people’s faith, making sure that they believe the same way that we do, than speaking the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven.  I wonder if we have become so engrossed in our culture, in the “hot-button issues” of the day, that we are failing to God’s work in the world right now.  Are we at risk of our hearts becoming dull?  It’s time for us to open our eyes to the work of God and open our ears to the message of the Gospel once again!