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Entries in Seed (2)

Tuesday
Jul162019

More Parables II

Mark 4:30-41.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Sunday, July 14, 2019.

Today we will continue in Mark 4 looking at another parable that Jesus told.  In it we will see that Jesus knew that his Church would become a large thing and that the devil would take advantage of that to hide his servants among the branches.  Ultimately God is in control and he is not afraid of the things that we fear.

We must learn to pray and to trust his final decisions regarding the difficulties allowed in our life and in his Church.  God always has a way through for us that leads to him and his glory.

The parable of the Mustard Seed

In this parable, Jesus employs the planted seed metaphor again.  We are also told that this is a picture of the “Kingdom of God.”  This parable is also in Matthew and Luke.  In Matthew 13 we told that this is a picture of the “Kingdom of Heaven.”  I only point this out because some try to force a technical difference upon these phrases.  However, at least in this case, it is extremely stretched to think that Jesus means anything other than that these phrases are basically synonymous.  Though the Kingdom of Heaven includes the spirit realm and the earthly realm, the parables are generally focused on the earthly realm. 

This parable is short and makes a clear and simple message that is basically about the size of the plant that grows from the seed.  Since the plant represents the whole Church (geographically and chronologically), the seed here represents the deposit of the Gospel into the earth.  What looks like the smallest of seeds grows into a plant that is larger than the other garden plants.  Historically, we can see that this is very true.  The Church began as a small group compared to the other religions of the world, but grows to become a very large concern, even to the point that there are over 2 billion people today who have some connection to Christianity.

Some point to this parable as an illustration of Jesus being in error.  They state that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed on the earth.  However, in the context, Jesus is talking about seeds that a 1st century Judean would be sowing in their garden.  In fact, the term “on earth” is literally upon the earth and is used in the same way that we would call dirt “earth.”  Matthew doesn’t even use the phrase, “upon the earth.”  There it says of the seed, “which a man took and sowed in his field.”  Jesus is not claiming that the mustard seed is the smallest seed of all the seeds upon the entire planet.  He is not at an International Botany Convention presenting his scientific research on the mustard seed.  When we are intellectually honest with what Jesus is saying, it is clear that he means the mustard seed was smaller than the seeds they would have been planting in Israel at that point in time.  People who make this objection are being bull-headed and attempt to force the words of Jesus to mean something other than what he intended.

Another area people like to pick on is the size of the mustard plant.  They will say that a mustard plant doesn’t get big enough for birds to nest.  However, some mustard plants can get up to 12 feet tall.  The point Jesus makes is not that all mustard seeds will end up big enough that birds will build nests in them.  The main point that it will be larger than the other plants who started with bigger seeds.  Also, that this particular mustard plan will be large enough that birds would nest in it.  The emphasis is its largeness, not that all mustard plants have bird nests.  Thus, the Kingdom of God, or the Church, starts out small, but ends up being larger than the other plants (religions).

In light of the parable of the sower, we must deal with the phrase, “birds of the air.”  There it had a sinister interpretation, and it pointed to the work of Satan and his evil spirits to remove God’s Word from our life.  Though there does not seem to be a need for a sinister interpretation in this parable (due to the fact that it emphasizes the large size of the plant), it makes sense in light of the countless other places where Christ warns that Satan would sow tares among his field, false teachers and prophets would arise, and that deception would be prevalent especially in the last days.  Thus, the Church would become so big that false spirits and leaders would be set up in particular branches without being ran away.

Verses 33-34 tell us that Jesus told many such parables to the crowds, and yet explained the meaning to his disciples later, when they were alone.

To sum up, the parable of the sower emphasizes the importance of the condition of our heart and mind when we hear the word of God.  The parable of the Lamp under a Bushel emphasizes the purpose that God has in giving light, and our responsibility in receiving it.  The parable of the Growing Seed emphasizes that God’s plan is inevitable.  His Word will build the Kingdom of God, until it is ready to be harvested, and then God will harvest it.  Likewise, the mustard seed emphasizes that the Church would become quite large.

Let us remember that Jesus was not contemplating nature and coming up with spiritual knowledge.  He is operating the other direction.  It is his knowledge of spiritual truth that allows him to pick out illustrations from the world around him.  We must be careful of taking these or other natural analogies and attempting to press them into further truths that the Bible does not reveal.  Truth opens our eyes to the world around us.  However, trying to discover new truth by studying nature leads to countless false ideas and false religions of our own making.

Jesus calms the storm

At verse 35, Mark turns back to the narrative of events that Jesus and his disciples encountered.  The next situation starts out with a simple task.  They are clearly on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus instructs his disciples to take them to the other side via a boat.  At least 4 of the disciples had extensive experience boating on this sea, so this is not hard thing.  In comparison, Christ gives us a very simple thing to do.  Quit living life for self, pick up your cross, and follow him.  Essentially, we trust him as the way to peace with God and we share that message with those we encounter.  Simple.  These are not difficult things in and of themselves.

However, the disciples encounter difficulty along the way of accomplishing the simple task.  A storm rises up and begins to swamp the boat.  It is clearly worse than any they have seen before and are unable to bail or, at least, keep up with the water coming into the boat.  They sense it is going to sink and they with it.  It is unlikely that they would be able to swim to shore in such a turbulent storm.  It is amazing how even simple things can quickly be complicated by difficulties.  Raising your children for the Lord is a simple thing, but the difficulties we encounter from our culture and from within our own children can sometimes make us feel like we are going under and have failed.  Our mind knows that God allows difficulty, but our heart continually says, “Surely, if God was in it, there would be little difficulty.”  However, without difficulty, we would not be aware that God is truly with us, and we would not become likely him, overcoming adversity.

The difficulty of the storm and their impending death causes the disciples to question whether Jesus cares about them.  Doubt rises in their hearts.  Jesus is sleeping in the stern of the boat.  Why does he not care that we are perishing?  We often judge God’s actions, or more precisely his lack of action, as if he were us.  Things in life often become difficult and threatening.  However, Scripture is abundantly clear on this point.  God cares about us more than we can imagine. He has provided everything that we need, and, when we were without help and hopeless, while we were yet sinners, he stepped in and died in our place in a cruel and horrible death.  The disciples had not seen Jesus on the cross at this point, but we have.  How can we doubt his love when he has shown us by the cross just how much he loves us?  Yes, he cares for you.  Even though it appears that he is doing nothing, or is asleep in the back seat.

Jesus wakes up and rebukes the storm.  “Peace, be still!”  At that point, the winds stopped and it says there was a “great calm.”  He didn’t just turn the storm down enough that they could make it.  He commanded the wind to completely stop and suddenly it was Lake Place, or for our neck of the woods, Lake Serene.

Notice that Jesus had a question for his disciples.  For every question that we have for God in this life, we should remember that he has questions of his own, and we are far less prepared to answer his than he is ours.  Why are you so fearful?  How is it you have no faith?  If I really am a child of God, so loved by him that he would come and die on the cross for me, then what do I have to fear?  Clearly the answer is nothing.  For us, death on a cross or death on the seas are horrible things that we would seek to avoid at all costs.  However, for God these are not problems.   He can “fix” them in a second.  So, if he allows them to continue, he must have a reason.  God’s plans are different than our because even death cannot stop the purpose of the God of the Resurrection.  He can immediately end our difficulty and sometimes does, as we cry out to him in prayer.  Other times, when we cry out to God, he brings just enough relief to help us through the difficulty.  However, sometimes the difficulty, even the death, may be his plan.

Thus, Jesus shows us the way on the night in which he was betrayed and handed over to be executed.  He prayed, “Father, if possible, may this cup pass from me.  Nevertheless, your will be done.”  God knows our fears and has purposed to help us in life as we pray to him.  Yet, sometimes there are things that he will not remove, not because he doesn’t love us, but precisely because he does love us.

The powerful display of speaking to nature and it responding shocks the disciples.  Please…it would shock us today.  Our scientists have enough trouble telling us what the weather is going to do today, much less control it.  Sure, there are projects around the world that seek to use directed energy to affect weather, but such things are child’s play compared to what Jesus did and can still do.  It was pure, raw, and undeniably the power of the Creator.  He spoke, “Let there be peace, and there was peace.”  The disciples went from questioning if Jesus cared for them to questioning just who this guy was.  The answer to that question is that he is the Son of God who has all power and authority over heaven and earth.  If you are on the side of such a being, what have you to fear?  Nothing.  What is there not to trust?  Nothing.  May God strengthen our faith and may all our fears be cast at the feet of the one who is greater than even death itself.

More Parables II audio

Tuesday
Feb172015

What is the Kingdom of Heaven Like?

Today we will be looking at Luke 13:18-21.

In this passage we have two parables that explain what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like.  They are very small parables and so only give a small view of the Kingdom.  However, in Matthew 13 we have these same parables along with 5 others.

Now it is important to understand what Jesus is referring to when he uses this phrase, “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Jesus is speaking about the Church Age that was about to begin.  The faithful remnant of Israel had been awaiting the day when the Messiah would come and rule over Israel and the whole earth in righteousness and truth.  God had promised to bring the rule of God that exists in Heaven to the earth.  Of course they did not understand that this Kingdom would have two stages.  The first stage is a time when Christ would only interact with His people spiritually.  He would not judge the nations and rule over them literally.  However, He would rule over a remnant of every nation, tribe and tongue as the Gospel was received by people everywhere.  The second stage will be when Jesus comes back literally (visibly, physically) to the earth.  He will judge the wicked rulers and armies of the nations and establish a visible administration upon the earth.  Now that Jesus was here and they believed Him to be the Messiah, the questions on their mind had to do with when he would do this.  Yet, Jesus knows that they don’t completely understand what is coming.  Thus his descriptions of the coming Kingdom of Heaven are not exactly what they were expecting.  Let’s get into the passage.

It Is Like A Mustard Seed

The Gospel and the Word of God are often referred to as a seed.  This makes sense because they are information and have the power to cause spiritual life and growth.  Yet, in this passage it is clear that the seed is a reference to the visible size of the Church or Kingdom of Heaven.  When it is planted it will look small and unremarkable.  Yes, Christ initially had a huge following of people who listened to him.  However, the closer he came to the cross less and less people followed him.  On the Day of Pentecost there are only 120 believers assembled together.  This small seed may not look like much but it had a destiny that was given by God.

This very small seed would grow into a remarkable tree.  In fact on the Day of Pentecost we see the remarkable growth that the Kingdom would experience- 3,000 people were saved on that day i.e. 25,000% growth.  This small group would grow into a large community that would spread throughout the whole earth, which is much greater than any would have thought.  If you look at the statistics of the Church today we see large numbers that claim to believe in Jesus in every corner of the globe.

The parable also points out that the tree will be a place of rest and shelter.  Especially in the Middle East, a tree is a source of shade from the intense heat.  Both people and animals can use trees for resting but also for protection from predators.  It is important to recognize that the Old Testament uses the image of a tree to speak of the empires of Assyria and Babylon.  In fact in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream where he and his kingdom are described as a large tree covering the whole earth.  He is told that the tree will be cut down and its branches stripped off.  This is interesting because whether we want to admit it or not the Church has become like a great empire throughout the earth.  The nations have long recognized this truth and the institutional power that is wielded by the Church.  We can see this in the fact that the Vatican has over 110 embassies throughout the world and 80 nations have embassies to Vatican City.  It is here that we begin to sense a sinister turn to the revelation.  Why would Jesus use a metaphor that was used of wicked empires in the past?  We could say that the Church would be different and not be wicked.  Yet, history teaches us that the institutional aspect of the Church has not been good at following Jesus. 

We also must notice the reference to the birds resting in the branches.  Yes, it can be a simple reference to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air (common folk and those who rule over them and are of higher station).  Yet, Jesus had used the image of the birds in the Parable of the Sower.  Here the birds of the air are the evil spirits of the Devil who are working to eat the seed of the Gospel out of people’s lives.  Also, in Revelation 18 verse 2 we see a statement during the judgment of Mystery Babylon, who is a promoter of false doctrine and false worship in league with the Last Days empire of the Antichrist.  “And he cried mightily with a loud voice saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!”  Notice the clear connection between the literal “demons” and the metaphorical “hated bird.”  Now I admit that based upon this parable alone one might hesitate to say that the birds of Luke 13:19 are intended to be pointing to demons.  In fact, I tend to see a double meaning here.  Yes, the Church would become a good thing that would give rest and shelter to the weary and righteous.  However, all earthly institutions have a kind of institutional creep in which at best it loses focus on its true purpose and at worst is taken over by those who are opposed to the purpose.  On top of this we have the prophetic announcements that there will be a great apostasy in the last days leading up to the rise of Antichrist.  Typically apostasy has not simply left a church.  Rather, apostasy always tries to take over the group and only leaves if made to.  We can also recognize that in Matthew 13, four of the seven parables have unquestionable sinister elements.  Thus the Church would be a good thing.  But the visible institution would eventually evidence evil spirits roosting throughout it.  With that said, let’s move to the next parable.

It Is Like Yeast

Leaven or yeast is used in cooking for causing bread to rise.  Thus in the culinary field it is a good thing.  Yet, in the Bible yeast is used symbolically as a picture of sin.  Sin operates by the similar principle of puffing up a person or group with pockets of empty vain things.  Sin also may start small but it will affect the entire loaf if it is not removed.  This is why Israel was to eat unleavened bread during the feast after Passover.  Those who were saved by Christ were to follow Him in His righteousness.  Thus Jesus is clearly saying that the Church as a visible institution would be stained with sinful people who would begin to affect the whole.  Yes, we could try to make this speak well by saying it represents the ability of the Church to work throughout and affect the whole world for good.  But the sinister things keep stacking up.

It is like yeast that a woman has hidden…  As if the image of yeast wasn’t bad enough.  Why is the woman hiding the yeast in the grain?  Clearly it is not supposed to be in the grain and she is doing what she shouldn’t.  Here intentions are not good.  At this point it is god for us to remember that in Luke 12 Jesus had warned his disciples to watch out for the “leaven” of the Pharisees.  The leaven referred to the corrupting influence of their false teaching.  This woman has sowed false teaching among the grain (the Lord’s harvest) and, like the Jezebel of Revelation 2:20, she will affect all who allow her and her influence to stay.

Next we notice that she is hiding the leaven in “3 measures of grain.”  As I said, the Grain represents the visible Church that is the harvest of the earth to the Lord.  Yet, the amount referenced would stick out to the original hearers as the amount that was used for the Grain Offering at the temple.  It was also used when Abraham fed the Lord and the angels before Sodom was destroyed.  Thus the worship and fellowship of the Church, both among itself and with its Lord, is affected by the work of this woman who promotes false doctrine.

Christ warns that the false teaching will affect the whole thing.  Paul warns against this in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your glorying is not good.  Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?  Therefore, purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened.  For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.  Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”  Paul was telling the Corinthians to remove the “leavened lump.”  This is first of all false doctrine and second of all anyone who will not cease promoting it.  The early Church had to fight in order to keep the Gospel free from the leavening influence of sinful teaching.  Over time, however, some leadership quit resisting false teaching and eventually began embracing it.  As false teaching took over an institution, true Christians would have to separate in order to spare themselves from the corrupting influence.  Some point to the multitude of denominations today as a condemnation of the Church because it does not love.  Although there is a sliver of truth in this, we are told to separate from those who call themselves Christians but promote false teaching and ungodly lifestyles.  Thus the multitude of denominations is proof that no institution is safe from the corrupting influence of this woman and her yeast.  In all of this, only the institutions and those who cling to them are corrupted.  The true Church of God always follows Jesus through the difficult path of the wilderness.  He always leads us forward in victory, if we will follow and listen to him alone.

Final Thoughts:

It is important today for Churches to stand with Christ uncompromisingly.  That does not mean we should lack love and service for the lost.  However, the Gospel has always been a call to the hurting of this world to save themselves from this wicked and corrupt world that is under the judgment of God.  It is a call to shelter from the storm.  We have to be about our Father’s business of calling all who will to enter into the shelter that Jesus provides.  He is our covering and shelter from the coming Judgment.  Pointing people to Jesus and following him is primary.  False doctrines have a way of making something other than Jesus primary.

We also need to keep up the work of the Lord in the midst of growing resistance and apostasy within the Church.  Stand for the Faith that has been delivered, once and for all, to the saints.  If you are in a church that will not put up with such warnings, but instead embraces the false doctrines of today, then find a group of believers that will stand for Truth.  They do exist.  Don’t listen to the Devil’s lie that you are the only one.

Lastly, we must do so until the Judgment day arrives.  Even when all the world is falling apart around us, our job is to simply remain faithful at the work the Lord has given us to do.  Work now while it is day, for the night comes when no man can work.  Don’t let the corruption that happens in the world and in the Church weaken your resolve to live for Jesus.

Kingdom of Heaven audio