Chapter Forty Three – The “War” on Christmas

Old-Fashioned-Letter

(Editor’s note: The holiday season is upon us and I for one am excited. These next few months are my favorite time of year. But something inevitably also happens that gets under my skin. Some cable television “news” hosts start bemoaning there’s a “War on Christmas” just because some people prefer to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. My mom forwarded this letter to me years ago in an email and I’ve hung onto it ever since just as a reminder, especially around the holiday season, of what Jesus might actually say if we were listening.)

Dear children,

 It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you’ve forgotten that I wasn’t actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

 How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don’t care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that, let Me go on.

 If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn’t allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen on your own front lawn and put a small Nativity scene there instead. If all My followers did that there wouldn’t be a need for such a scene on the town square because there would be so many of them around town.

 Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made all trees. Remember Me anytime you see any tree. Decorate a grapevine if you wish; I actually spoke of that one in a teaching that explained who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks are (Look up John 15:1-8).

 If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth, here is my wish list. Choose something from it.

 1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, because they tell Me all the time.

  1. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don’t have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.
  2. Instead of writing your neighbor complaining about the wording on the cards his wife sends out this year, why don’t you write and tell him that you’ll be praying for him and his family this year. Then follow up. It would be nice to hear from you.
  3. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can’t afford and they don’t need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.
  4. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.
  5. Did you know that someone in your town will attempt to take their own life this season because they feel so alone and hopeless? Since you don’t know who that person is, try giving everyone you meet a warm smile. It could make the difference. Also, you might consider supporting the local suicide hot-line; they talk with people like that everyday.
  6. Instead of nit-picking about what the retailer in your town call the holiday, be patient with the people who work there. Give them a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren’t allowed to wish you a “merry Christmas” that doesn’t keep you from wishing them one. Then stop shopping there on Sunday. If the store didn’t make so much money on that day, they might close and let their employees spend the day at home with their families.
  7. If you really want to make a difference, support a missionary, especially one who takes My love and Good News to those who have never heard My name. You may already know someone like this.
  8. Here’s a good one: There are individuals and whole families in your town who not only will have no “Christmas” tree, but neither will they have any presents to give or receive. If you don’t know them personally, buy some food and a few gifts and give them to the Marines (Toys For Tots), the Salvation Army, or some other charity which believes in Me and they will make the delivery for you.
  9. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don’t do things in secret that you wouldn’t do in My presence. Let people know by your actions that you are one of mine.

 Love,

 Jesus

 PS – Don’t forget: I am God and can take care of Myself. I will fight my own battles. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I’ll take care of the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I’ll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love and remember.

static.politico

Chapter Forty Two – Matthew 14: Doing the Impossible

walking on water

There’s no turning back / Nothing in the past / My eyes on you again / Can’t see nothing at all but Your outstretched arms / Help me believe it / Though I falter, You’ve got me walking on water – NeedToBreathe, Walking on Water, from the 2017 album “Hard Cuts: Songs from the Hard Love”

I earn a living by waiting tables at a local casino. And last Wednesday night was the worst night of my 15 years doing so. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. You name it, it happened. Two hours into my eight hour shift, I was ready to go home. Two hours after that, I was ready to quit. I even snapped at a co-worker. The manager on duty had to reprimand me and later said she thought the night was so crazy because of the full moon. It didn’t matter to me. I went home devastated and questioning everything about myself, my career choice, and life itself.

What do you do when life just falls apart? When you have more questions than answers? When everything around you is dark?

I don’t know Jesus’ state of mind when He heard the news about His cousin John the Baptist being executed by Herod Antipas, but Matthew says He wanted some time to Himself. That’s understandable. Yet the crowds find Him and interrupt His solitude. In His compassion, He heals and feeds them. All 10,000 plus of them. “Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and cross to the other side of the lake, while he sent the people home…[then] he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone” (v. 22-23). Finally He gets His “me time”.

“Meanwhile, the disciples were in trouble far away from land, for a strong wind had risen and they were fighting heavy waves” (v. 25). They are on the Sea of Galilee, which is a significant body of water for that region. Can you imagine? What a roller coaster of a day for everybody involved. First the disturbing and disheartening news about John the Baptist. Then the miraculous feeding of the 10,000+. Now their lives are in danger and Jesus is nowhere to be found.

This story is also recounted in Mark 6:45-52 and John 6:16-21. Remember that some of the disciples had been fishermen, so they are fully aware of what a storm on the water can do. Mark’s account says that Jesus “saw they were in serious trouble, rowing hard and struggling against the wind and the waves” (v. 48). John states they had rowed for three or four miles (v. 19). That’s a lot of work and quite a distance! But the next part is even more surprising than Jesus leaving them to fend for themselves for such a time.

Mark writes “About three o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. He intended to go past them but when they saw him walking on the water they cried out in terror, thinking he was a ghost. They were all terrified when they saw him” (v. 48b-50).

Can you imagine? You are tired and struggling in a situation where you know your life may be in danger in the middle of the night and then you see the impossible: a human figure walking on the water! What the heck is going on? I would be terrified too.

“But Jesus spoke to them at once, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said, ‘Take courage! I am here!’” (Matthew 14:27). Isn’t that just like Him?

I don’t know why Mark writes that Jesus intended to go past them. Maybe He knew they had the situation handled even if they didn’t feel like it at the time. But it’s their reaction to seeing Him that causes Him to intervene. Mark and John both record that immediately Jesus got in the boat and somehow the boat instantly arrives at the shoreline. But Matthew embellishes the story by involving the disciple known as Peter. Yes, THAT Peter. He basically says to Jesus that if it’s Him, “…tell me to come to you, walking on the water” (v. 28). Jesus says Yes and Peter climbs out of the boat and actually starts to walk on water with Jesus (v. 29).

“But when he saw the strong wind and waves, he was terrified and began to sink. ‘Save me, Lord!’” (v. 30). In other words, Peter took his eyes off of Jesus. He let himself be distracted by what was going on around him. I’m a lot like Peter sometimes. Especially last Wednesday night. I got so caught up in what was happening around me, I forgot to act like a child of the King and I started to immediately sink into the raging waters. I almost drowned.

Fortunately, for Peter “Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. ‘You have so little faith,’ Jesus said, ‘Why did you doubt me?’” (v. 31). And there it is in a nutshell. Poor Peter – he’s on a roller coaster. Riding high, walking on the waves, and suddenly realizing that human beings don’t do these kinds of things. In other words, doubting. And he falls. I can totally relate. But Peter is smarter than I was – at least he cried out for help. I managed to forget that it’s okay to ask for help. Jesus would have immediately reached out for me too.

When Peter and Jesus climb back into the boat, the wind stops that instant (v. 32). “Then the disciples worshipped him. ‘You really are the Son of God!’ they exclaimed” (v. 33). He clearly demonstrates His authority over nature and they reach the proper conclusion. How differently things might have turned out for me last Wednesday night had I reacted like the disciples.

Max Lucado says it quite well, “Man by himself cannot deal with his own guilt. He must have help from the outside. In order to forgive himself, he must have forgiveness from the one he has offended. Yet man is unworthy to ask God for forgiveness. That then, is the whole reason for the cross” (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, p. 139-140).

It’s not unusual for Jesus to ask us to get out of our boat and do the impossible with Him. We, like Peter, must be willing. And then we, unlike Peter, must have faith it can be done and keep our eyes on the One who initially called us. It may be forgiving the unforgiveable, or showing mercy to the unmerciful, or loving the unlovable. Walking on water (figuratively) is possible. But only with the One who knows how to bend those natural rules.

Chapter Forty One – Matthew 14: Out-Giving a Giver

Giving heart

What if I give all I have / What will that gift do / My child a gift like that could change the world / It could feed a multitude – Ray Boltz, What If I Give All, from the 1996 album “No Greater Sacrifice”.

To give unselfishly / To love the least of these / Jesus I’m learning how to live with open hands / All these treasures that I own / Will never satisfy my soul / Jesus I lay them at Your throne with open hands – Matt Papa, Open Hands, from the 2009 album “Your Kingdom Come”.

John the Baptist, cousin of the Christ, has just been executed by the Roman puppet sitting on the throne of the Galilean region. Understandably, Jesus goes off by himself to grieve (v. 13). But the crowds follow Him to an out of the way place and instead of getting angry, He feels compassion for them and heals their sick (v. 14)! There are so many of them that these acts take up a good chunk of the day to the point that the disciples become worried.

“This is a remote place and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves” (v. 15).

But Jesus says something surprising. He tells His disciples to feed the crowd. They protest: We only have two fish and five loaves of bread! How are we going to feed all these people with just that scrawny amount of food? (v.16). They forget, and I did too, that Jesus has already empowered them to do what He is suggesting (10:8). When He sent them out to minister, He gave them all the tools and ability to do as He was doing. I’m assuming He didn’t take any of that back when they returned. But does the Christ chastise them? No.

Instead, He takes what has been provided, blesses it and multiplies it to the point where it more than feeds about 5,000 men. That doesn’t include all the women and children. Supposing that maybe half of the men are married or in attendance with significant others, plus one child for every couple, that equals at least 10,000 people being fed that day. Some scholars put the number as high as 15,000. Matthew writes, “They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterwards the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers” (v. 20).

I don’t know if this is a literal twelve baskets or a figurative one since the number twelve in Jewish culture tends to signify completeness. Still, the fact that no one left hungry is amazing. What a caterer Jesus is! He’s better than the most efficient banquet team on the planet.

Which all goes to show that even the most paltry of offerings can be multiplied exponentially in the hands of the Christ. We don’t have to come to Him with bucket loads of talent or wealth or possessions. He takes what we already have and does wonders with it if we let Him. I know sometimes I tend to think that donating a few dollars to a local charity won’t do much to help the overall problem. But I forget that if others also give what little they have, the issue becomes much more manageable. Jesus doesn’t expect us to work in a vacuum. But He does expect each of us to do our part.

What do I have today that the Son of Man can use In the world to make it a better place? What am I holding onto for fear it won’t be enough, forgetting that in His hands it’s multiplied to the point of solving the problem? I’m reminded of the story of the widow who gave two small coins, all she had, into the offering plate at the temple (Luke 21:1-4). Jesus points her out to the disciples saying others gave out of their surplus, but not her. With Him, it seems to be about the quality of the gift, not the quantity. What a relief!

I may not have much, but that’s okay in Jesus’ book. All He asks is that I open my hands and let Him work. He may use all I have, or He may only use a portion of it. Doesn’t matter. The child who gave the five loaves and two fish received twelve baskets of leftovers to take home. Nothing was wasted. I think sometimes I forget that Jesus doesn’t leave us empty-handed but fills us back up with more than we gave. I once heard a pastor say, “You can’t out-give God. You can try, but you can’t out-give a giver.”

If there’s anything that Jesus has proven to be in the first fourteen chapters of Matthew, it’s a giver. Even in difficult personal times, like grieving the loss of His cousin, He still meets the needs of others. What makes me think it will be any different for me? Why am I still holding back?

Chapter Forty – Matthew 14: Death of a Prophet

john the baptist

I believe that one day I will see your Kingdom come and I wanna hear you say ‘welcome home my child, well done’ / so I step to the edge and I take a deep breath… / I’m going all in / Headfirst into the deep end / I hear you calling / And this time the fear won’t win – Matthew West, All In, from the 2017 album of the same title.

We need to take a side street and visit some ancient history before we move on much further, for in the beginning of chapter fourteen, Matthew re-introduces us to Roman ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas. We know this individual existed because he is recorded in the writings of Josephus (“History of the Jewish War” “B.J.” ii. 9) and other early manuscripts such as the English translation of Graetz (ii. 114). He is the son of Herod the Great who attempted to murder Jesus as a child (2:16-18).

Herod Antipas is mentioned a few times in scripture – most notably for imprisoning and executing John the Baptist (v. 6-11), but also for playing a role in condemning Jesus to death (Luke 23:6-11). More on that later. For now, let’s focus on Herod and John the Baptist. The reason he is in prison is because he has been speaking out against Herod’s relationship with his brother’s former wife (Mark 6:17-18). “Herod wanted to kill John, but he was afraid of a riot because all the people believed John was a prophet” (v. 5).

What to do? What to do? You are living in sin with your brother’s wife and one of the only guys to call you out for your immorality is also a beloved religious figure of the people you rule over. You can’t bring yourself to order his execution and you can’t bring yourself to let him go free. I wonder how the people of Galilee felt about John being locked up. They may have seen it as more Roman oppression and resented Herod for it. That’s quite a dilemma. It’s what we call a no-win situation.

We’re not told how long John was kept locked up. But we do know how the story ends. Herod has a birthday party. His step-daughter dances for him and he likes it enough to promise her anything (v. 6-7). So she talks it over with her mother – you know, “What should I ask for, mom? He said I could have up to half of his kingdom!” (Mark 6:23). The mother tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist on a silver tray. How’s that for dealing with a man you don’t like?

Herod instantly regrets his vow but follows through on it anyway, and John in beheaded in prison (v. 10). It’s not the ending I would have chosen if I were John. He is, after all, a respected man of God who is merely doing and saying what God has given him to do and say. He’s a faithful servant. Shouldn’t someone who has dedicated their life to the service of another at least have a happy ending? Shouldn’t there be a get-out-of-jail-free card?

But no. The only way for John to get out of prison was via a body bag (v. 12). It doesn’t seem fair. He was “all in” for sure.

Please note, and this is very important, God is not interested in what is fair. Ever. He is interested in what is right. Period. Re-read that if you need to. How do I know? He basically tells us through the prophet Micah:

“…the Lord has told you what is good and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8).

It’s not much simpler or plainer than that. Even I, with my limited capacity at times, can grasp that. So can my six-year old nephew. Do what is right. Love mercy. Walk humbly. Don’t worry about what it “fair”. My high-school history teacher once told his class that “fair is when something goes your way.”

John the Baptist was a faithful servant who did all three of these things. He rotted in prison and was later killed for it. It’s not fair from John’s perspective. The death of a prophet never is.

Sometimes I think about what John’s final moments must have been like. I imagine him stoically facing his executioners, accepting his fate. I do not believe he begged for his life. Someone who has lived life well would have no regrets, no ambitions to eek out another moment past the appointed time. Maybe I’m wrong. We don’t know – John’s reaction to the executioners showing up outside his cell is not recorded.

What we do know is Jesus’ reaction – He grieved the loss of His cousin (v.13). More on that in the next chapter. In the end, it seems as though we must keep in mind that “the lord of the gentle breeze is lord of the rough and tumble” (Steven Curtis Chapman, King of the Jungle, from the 1994 album “Heaven In the Real World”). God is god not only in the good times. If He were, He wouldn’t be much of a god. When we go through difficult times, whether it’s the loss of someone we love, the loss of our freedom, or the loss of our life – we can count on Him to still be there. And to grieve with us. It’s a hard thing to say, and an even harder thing to do. But let’s do it. Let’s go all in, like John.

Chapter Thirty Nine – Matthew 13: A Leap of Faith

leap-of-faith-goldfish_med_37503448-768x600

Leap of faith without a net makes us want to hedge our bet / Waters never part until our feet get wet – Petra, Beyond Belief, from the 1990 album of the same title

The Christ has finished with His Kingdom parables for now and returns to His hometown of Nazareth. Why the trip home? Maybe He is nostalgic. Maybe He is also checking in with family that resides there. We don’t know as Matthew doesn’t say. But at some point, He makes His way to the local synagogue and begins teaching.  The reaction from the parishioners is interesting. On one hand, most of them are amazed at His teaching and wonder, “Where does He get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” (v. 54b). But then they start thinking about who Jesus is – someone they’ve known since He was a toddler and whose family still lives in town – and “they were deeply offended and refused to believe in Him” (v. 57).

Seems like an extreme reaction to me. But that’s how Jesus rolls. Most people are drawn to Him but there are those who are simply repelled for some reason. In this case, I believe the townsfolk of Nazareth are too close to the situation.  “Jesus had come to them as a prophet, one who challenged them to respond to unpopular spiritual truth. They did not listen to the timeless message because they could not see beyond the man” (Study Bible, p. 1571). And I wonder how often that still happens today; people can’t see the Savior because they are too hung up on the historical figure. Or they don’t believe in the historical figure. It’s probably more the latter.

And why not? Look at who His representatives on earth are today. You and I – and a bunch of old white men who seek power in political climates rather than in spiritual realms.  I wouldn’t believe in us either. In their 1995 song “What if I Stumble”, the Christian rock group DC Talk makes the following statement:

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”.

And they’re right. Look at how hard it is to convince people that Jesus is who He says He is when He’s performing miracles to back up His claims right in front of them. Forget our sloppy Christian lives today. “Unbelief blinds people to the truth and robs them of hope” (Study Bible, p. 1571). The people of Jesus’ day missed the Messiah standing right in front of them because they were too hung up on His past. How are people of today missing the Messiah in us?

The question we need to ask ourselves is how are we measuring up? Do we miss God’s work in the world because of our unbelief or our mistaken beliefs? What do you think God would accomplish in the world through us if we simply stepped out and went beyond belief? If we really lived what we said we believed? How many waters would part if we simply got our feet wet?

Or maybe you’re on the outside looking in and wondering what all the hype is about. You don’t see miracles because of your unbelief. You are more like the townsfolk of Nazareth. I’m not sure what it would take to convince them (or anyone) of who Jesus is. The late C.S. Lewis once said there are only four possibilities when it comes to the Christ:

He’s a legend (meaning He never really existed)

He’s a liar (because He claimed to be the Messiah and knew He was not)

He’s a lunatic (because He claimed to be the Messiah, thought He was but was not)

Or He is Lord (He is who He claimed to be).

It’s a decision that we have to make for ourselves. We can’t force it on other people (though there are plenty of people in the world today who are trying to do just that). All we can do is live it out to the best of our abilities. All we can do is go beyond belief. Take that leap of faith. Go on and hedge your bet. This gamble pays off in big ways.

Chapter Thirty Eight – Matthew 13: More Kingdom Talk

pearl

To give all that you are, for all that He is – This is the gospel according to Jesus

  • Steve Camp, Consider the Cost, from the 1991 album of the same title

God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To take my hands off of my life
And the way it should go

God You don’t need me
But somehow You want me
Oh, how You love me
Somehow that frees me
To open my hands up
And give You control

  • Tenth Avenue North, Control (Somehow You Want Me), from the 2016 album “Followers”

The key phrase in the remaining five parables of this chapter is “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” (v. 31, 33, 44, 45, & 47). Jesus repeats these words to begin each simile. In one instance, the Christ says it’s like a mustard seed. In the others, it’s like yeast, a hidden treasure, and a wily merchant.  Finally, He compares it to a fishing net. Seems like Jesus is all over the place, doesn’t it?  How are we supposed to get any type of clarity? What is the Kingdom of Heaven really like?

It’s complicated for one thing. It’s all of these similes and more. The Christ is trying to communicate to mere human minds the lofty ideals of a spiritual place. It starts small like a mustard seed or a bit of yeast yet manages to grow and permeate society. It is valuable like a hidden treasure that is found in a field. The person who finds it sells everything he has to acquire the field and thus, the treasure within its borders. It catches everything in its wake like a fishing net thrown into the water. Therefore, it is indiscriminate.

But the parable I want to focus on here is the one about the wily merchant. It’s the shortest parable that is recorded in this chapter, but it is perhaps the most important. Let’s take a look:

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!” (v. 45-46).

What is the Christ trying to say here? For one thing, He’s saying that He is the merchant and we are the choice pearls. He is saying that He will give everything to make us His. He’s saying He is relentless in His pursuit of us. “In contrast to the previous picture, Jesus is now displaying another aspect of the Kingdom. The contrast becomes vivid in the transaction – the Kingdom pays the ultimate price to possess the pearl, the price God was willing to pay to redeem us” (Study Bible, p. 1671). That makes us valuable and wanted. Isn’t that amazing?

It’s so freeing to know no matter what we do or don’t achieve in life, God has already considered us as prized for a place in His Kingdom. Why? Because we are image-bearers (Genesis 1:26-27). We bear the image of God. We are the piece de la resistance in His creation and He was willing to give up EVERYTHING to keep us with Him. That’s the whole point of the Christ. God steps down from the comfort and luxury of His heavenly throne and takes on flesh, which He allows to be destroyed just so we are redeemed. It’s crazy. But no other figure in all of human history (past, present, future) will ever do this for us. Not another god. Not a superhero. Not a Nobel Prize Winner or a star athlete. The richest man on earth, Jeff Bezos of Amazon fame, will never sacrifice himself for any one of us, let alone all of us. Only Jesus.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Jesus is the only one who can control us without destroying us. Everything else, everything else, taken to its extreme will be our ruin. I don’t care what it is – love, hate, food, drugs, sex, others, fame, fortune, success, failure…all of it leads to our downfall. We can’t save ourselves. So Jesus reaches down and offers to save us. He thinks that much of us. Which makes me wonder why so many of us think so little of ourselves? Don’t we know our value? Don’t we know our place? It’s in His Kingdom. Why don’t we take our hands off of our live and give Him control?

And You reach for me, with a love that quiets all my fears / And You reach for me, like a Father wipes away the tears / So many people in this world but I hear You calling out my name / You reach for me / Now I’m never gonna be the same – Peter Furler, Reach, from the 2011 album “On Fire”.

Chapter Thirty Seven – Matthew 13: Farmers, Soil and Weeds

scatter-seeds

For your consideration – congregations in sanctuaries must be temporary / Not isolating but infiltrating / No time for delaying / The world is waiting for a love that will come to them / We got to spread out thin / We got to go to them / Like seeds in the wind – scattering

  • Geoff Moore and the Distance, Scattering, from the 1997 album “Threads”

The first two parables that Matthew records in chapter 13 deal with agricultural themes – something that would have been clearly understood in Jesus’ day; not so much in 21st century America where the closest the majority of us get to fresh produce happens in our local grocery store or farmers market. We rarely get dirt under our nails or callouses on our hands from working the soil. Some of us would only have a green thumb if we stuck our thumb in green paint. That’s ok. I don’t have to be an artist to appreciate Picasso and I don’t have to be a farmer to understand the meaning of Jesus’ parables.

In the first one, He introduces us to a farmer indiscriminately scattering seed on four different types of soil which “represent different responses to God’s message” (Study Bible, p. 1569).  The seed is the word of God and the farmer is His messenger (all of us). Some of the seed falls on a footpath and is eaten by birds. Some seed falls on shallow ground and is quickly wilted by the hot sun. Some seed falls among thorns that choke the young plants. And some seed falls on good soil and produces a crop worth harvesting.

First of all, if I were a farmer I would care a little more about where I was scattering. I mean, why waste seed? But Jesus doesn’t see it like that. He wants us to openly share the good news of God’s word with everyone, even though most of the time it won’t produce worthwhile results. The truth is, people will respond differently to how we live our lives because their “soil” is in different states of readiness to hear what God has to say. “Some are hardened, others are shallow, others are contaminated by distracting worries” (Study Bible, p. 1569) and a few are receptive. Jesus says it doesn’t matter.  Scatter indiscriminately anyway and don’t be concerned with the results.

Notice also how the crop yield for the good soil varies. Jesus says it produces “a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as has been planted!” (v. 23). Again, Jesus is breaking the rules of agriculture.  That’s God multiplying the outcome considering what was invested. It just proves that you don’t have to hold back on your supply of seed. For one thing, with God it’s infinite, and for another a little bit on good soil produces an amazing return. It begs the question: what kind of soil am I? Exactly how has God’s word taken root in my life? If I am “good soil” what kind of yield have I produced?

The second parable focuses upon an enemy sowing weeds among a field of wheat the farmer has just planted. His farmhands want to pull up the weeds (nonbelievers) but risk also pulling up the wheat (believers). The reason is that before they mature, weeds and blades of wheat look an awful lot alike. Therefore, the weeds and wheat must remain side by side until the time of harvest. Jesus says this harvest is the end of the world (v.39), a time when His angels (harvesters) will separate the wheat (good) from the weeds (evil), which will be thrown away.   “There are true and false believers in churches today, but we should be cautious in our judgments because only Christ is qualified to make the final separation. If [we] start judging, [we] may damage some of the good “plants”. It’s more important to judge our own response to God than to analyze others’ responses” (Study Bible, p. 1570).

While I mostly agree with this sentiment (Jesus did say not to judge others 7:1), Jesus has also said twice (7:17 & 12:33) that you will be able to tell what kind of tree you’re looking at by the fruit it produces. There’s a bit of “discernment” required. And when there’s a group of bad trees leading the church, it seems like the correct and necessary thing to do to call it out. After all, non-believers only see a tree and if it’s producing bad fruit they tend to think most “trees” are bad. This view stains the effort of what Jesus is trying to accomplish through us; namely, bringing people into the Kingdom.

I also find it interesting that in his explanation of the parable, Jesus uses the phrase “fiery furnace” (v. 42) to describe where the weeds will be thrown. There is a story about a rich man in Luke 16 who has died and is in agony in the flames (v. 24). In the view of many scholars, they believe these references are to hell and the fact that hell will be a hot place. Maybe this is true. I’m certainly not as learned as some. But I did hear someone at some point in time suggest that hell will actually be an empty void of suffering without the presence of God. I tend to believe that view because it fits better with the portrait of a loving, benevolent God. Why would He sentence lost people to a fiery place when I believe He will simply respect the wishes of individuals who do not want to spend eternity with Him?

If there is a fiery place of torment, I believe Revelations indicates this will be the eternal resting place for Satan and his minions (20:10, 14-15; 21:8). One thing is certain: more study is required. Revelations is a confusing book and not our focus here.

In any event, Jesus concludes his explanations of the second parable with the words “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (v. 43b). He’s opening the door to everyone in that sentence and not discriminating against anyone based on any of the qualifiers that people throw up to prevent others from entering the Kingdom. I like that. The question now is: do I do the same? Am I opening the doors for everyone? If I’m not, then I’m not imitating my Savior.

Go forth and scatter indiscriminately. Remember, good soil produces a bountiful harvest.