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Weekly Word

Entries in Sincerity (3)

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

Tuesday
Apr012014

The True Jesus: Jesus Teaches About John

Today we will look at Luke 7:24-28.  Jesus had sent a message back to John (who was in prison) telling him to not lose faith.  John clearly was struggling with what he believed should be and what was happening.  After John’s disciples leave to give him the message, Jesus teaches about the greatness of John because it was important for people to understand who he was and how integral he was to God’s plan.  Yet, at the end Jesus gives us a strange twist.  Let’s check it out.

Why Were People Drawn To John

In verse 24 Jesus asks the people why they went out into the barren places to listen to John.  He does so by asking a rhetorical question, of which the answer is obvious.  Did they go out to see a “reed shaken by the wind?”  This word picture is of a person who is easily moved by circumstances and the opinions of man (i.e. the winds of the time).  Though the reed may look substantial, it grows in marshy areas or along rivers, lakes and streams.  Thus it can be easily uprooted.  Clearly, this was not a picture of John the Baptist.  People were drawn to John because he was a sincere, steadfast, passionate, God-pleaser.  John stood strong even against Herod Antipas and his sins because he wanted to please God.

Another way in which this picture of the shaken reed can be understood is to read 1 Kings 14.  In that passage the prophet uses a shaken, bruised reed as a picture of how God would come upon Israel.  He would knock Israel down, and scatter it to the winds.  Thus the bruised reed is a picture of Judgment.  John was clearly a righteous man and not under judgment.  In fact you could say John is himself a dried reed in the hand of God to chastise Israel in order to draw some to repentance.  This was very different from the religious leaders of the day and drew people to him.  John seemed to be authentic and he was.  John’s passionate stand against the sins of Israel from the least to the greatest in the land culminated in his imprisonment and eventual beheading.  This gave people hope that the Messiah truly was about to come.

Next Jesus asks if they went out to John in order to see a man dressed in soft clothing.  This question is pretty much a joke.  Anyone who had seen John would laugh at the idea of him in soft clothing.  John was the ultimate picture of self-denial.  This was in stark contrast with the political and religious leaders of the day.  He is pictured as living in the wilderness on locusts and wild honey (i.e. living off the land), wearing camel hair cloak, and a leather belt.  He didn’t just abstain from luxuries.  He abstained from even the normal pleasures of life.  This again increased his authenticity in the eyes of the people.  John was not seeking to “fleece the sheep” for his own benefit.

The next question in verse 26 begins to hone in on the truth.  Did you go to see a prophet?  Definitely the answer is yes.  John was a true prophet of God.  The people went out to John recognized this about him.  But John was more than a prophet of God.  What the people couldn’t see is that John was the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy in Malachi 3.  God had promised to send a Forerunner to the Messiah whose job would be to herald the Messiah’s coming and help people be prepared for Him. 

Even more, Jesus points to John as the greatest of the prophets up to that point.  Does that mean John was greater than Moses and Elijah?  Yes it does.  However, “greater” likely does not point to greater in faithfulness or love of God.  Rather John is greater in function or position.  John ministers in the presence of the Messiah.  He also successfully turns hearts from sin towards the Messiah.  Lastly he gets to witness the beginning of the promised Kingdom of God.  These are things that Moses and Elijah would have loved to have seen.  In this regard, John’s experience parallels that of Moses.  Just like Moses teaches the people to follow God and leads them to the Promised Land, but doesn’t get to go in, so John the Baptist teaches and leads the people to Jesus and His promised Kingdom.  However, John is to be executed and not allowed to enter the coming Church.  He could have been an excellent Apostle.  However, it was not the calling God had given him.  This of course leads us to the issue of the Kingdom of God.  Wasn’t Israel already a part of the Kingdom of God?  How could it be coming or at hand?

The Kingdom of God

If you study the Scriptures, you will see that Israel is part of God’s Kingdom.  Many places He is called their King.  However, both in experience and through the prophets, the people were promised a greater stage of that Kingdom.  Not a Kingdom ruled by men who variously fell short of God’s righteousness, but by God’s Anointed (Christ) who would perfectly rule the people and expand the Kingdom over the whole earth.  When Jesus came He initiated this Kingdom of God.  Since then Christians have been the citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus and Jesus is the King.  This rule in the hearts of men has gone to the ends of the earth.  However, this is not the completion of all promised.  It is now a natural people ruled by a spiritual kingdom that does not have an earthly headquarters, nor an earthly ruler.  But that is coming.  Thus the Kingdom of God was both present and future.

John was preparing people’s hearts to enter into this new stage of the kingdom of God.  He called them to repentance and spiritual cleansing, and to faith in Jesus.  They would be able to hear and respond to the Messiah’s call, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”  The Good News of the Work of Jesus is that everyone is invited to join the Kingdom that had come about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Thus John has a tremendously glorious position within the Kingdom of God.

Yet, Jesus strangely says that those who are the least in the coming kingdom of God will be greater than John.  This amazing point begs the question of how the least in the Church can be greater than John.  Our experience would beg to differ with Christ.  But again this is not about devotion or faithfulness.  It is about position.  Let’s look at the ways those who entered the Kingdom of Christ received something greater.

First, we have a greater knowledge of Christ than John.  John understood better than all up to him who the Messiah was.  But he didn’t know everything.  That is why we see him doubting in prison.  Jesus encouraged John, but He shared His teachings and prophecies with His disciples.  John did not have this.  The Holy Spirit even led the Apostles into further truth than Christ taught them because they weren’t ready for it yet.  See John 16:12.

Second, we have a greater position before God.  John participates in the transition, but never gets to participate in the life and joy of the Church.  Like I said earlier, he is like Moses in this way.  Longing to enter in and yet having to be content with the position and calling God has given you.  John the Baptist still lived under the Tutor of the Law of Moses.  However, we have become the adult sons and daughters of God, no longer under the teacher.  We are able to work alongside the Father in the freedom of love rather than under the restriction of Law.

Lastly, our privileges are greater than John’s.  John did have the Spirit in His life, but he never got to see the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all God’s people.  He didn’t get to see that in operation within the Church community.  We have been given spiritual gifts that John did not get to see.  Even the fellowship of believers within a community was foreign to all that John experienced (an outcast living in the desert).  I could go on but I think you can see the point I am making.

Let me close this by saying that God isn’t done yet.  You have been given something in Christ that the prophets of the Old Testament would have longed to have seen and experienced.  You are blessed beyond belief.  What a privilege we have been given by God.  Am I thankful?  Do I treat my Christianity lightly?  Or, do I despise it and think it is worthless?  I am amazed when I see videos of people witnessing on the streets of our cities and they run into people who say they are Christians, but they don’t live any different from the world.  They are enamored with the world over the top of Jesus and His kingdom.  The apostle John warned us not to love the world or the things of the world because they are all passing away.  Do you know that the kingdom of God is on the verge of an even greater stage?  In fact it could be said that in the millennial kingdom the least will be greater than the greatest of the Church today.  God is not done yet.  He will complete all that He said he would.  Why throw all that away for some trinkets that are going to be destroyed tomorrow?  Are you living far below your position and privileges in Christ?  Maybe we need to hear John’s words one more time.  Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Jesus Teaches about John Audio

Tuesday
Oct022012

Our Present Life III

Today we will pick up at 1 Peter 1:22-25.  As review, Peter has encouraged them: to keep their Hope in Christ to the end, to pursue holiness, to live with a fear of the Lord, and now today, Peter encourages them to go deeper in their love for one another. 

Love One Another Fervently With A Pure Heart

Verse 22 has a lot to say, but the core of the verse is at the end.  Love one another fervently with a pure heart.  Let’s look first at the word fervently.  The root of this word has the idea of being stretched out, as in stretching out one’s hand to do something.  It can be translated as earnest.  In a sense Peter is asking them to go the extra mile in their love for one another and stretch themselves out.  By analogy, perhaps we can think of a football player who is trying the catch the ball.  Sometimes the quarterback throws it just a bit too far in front of us.  At that moment the receiver has a decision to make.  Do I stretch myself out and risk getting hit to catch that ball?  Or, do I play it safe and not try so hard?  Players who stretch out to make the catch don’t do it because they like getting creamed.  They do it because they are earnest in making that catch.  They are willing to expose themselves for the sake of making the catch.  How about you?  Do you stretch yourself out in love or do you play it safe and only meet out love in small, safe increments?

He also reminds them to love with a pure heart.  This is talking about our motives.  Do I have impure motives?  Sometimes our great successes at love were actually motivated by what we thought we would get in return.  “I’ll love you as long as it makes me feel good.  But as soon as it no longer brings me pleasure, I’m out of here.”  Or, perhaps we do loving things because of the social prestige that it gains us.  Maybe I am just conforming to expectations that I am afraid to try and break out of.  Whatever our motivation behind love, if it isn’t for the right motives then it is for naught.  In any group it is easy to give in to social pressure.  We are not to “act” like Christ.  We are to pick up our cross and follow him.  That takes some sincere and pure motivations.

Peter points out how they had been obeying the truth by sincerely loving each other.  So his main purpose is to call them to a higher level of love—a stretched out love.  If you are going to obey the truth and love then do so with all your heart and all your might.  Notice that he points out that they had been made pure by their obedience.  When we think of obedience and God’s word, a good picture to keep in mind is pruning.  God’s Word points out those dead areas of our life and pursuits of our heart that need to be cut off.  It also points out those areas that need to be cut off so that we can be more fruitful.  This “cleaning” of our hearts is what enables us to stretch ourselves out in love.

However, this cannot just be a surface obedience.  Peter mentions that they obeyed “through the Spirit.”  Their obedience was led, encouraged and corrected by the Holy Spirit.  They were responding to his inner promptings to the Word of God.

He then reminds them of their new birth.  This was mentioned back in verse 3.  This new birth was not a biological birth from the corruptible seed of man.  Biology is impotent to help us.  Even if we could perfect all DNA errors, we are passing away along with this world.  They were spiritually birthed by the incorruptible seed of God’s Word, or Truth.  The verse in Luke 18:11 points out this analogy.  “The seed is the Word of God.”  It cannot perish.  It will never pass away.  The information you start with affects the durability and outcome of what it creates.  No biology can create eternal life.  Only God’s Word can give us eternal life.

Lastly Peter ties this in with the Gospel.  The good news of who Jesus was, what he did, and what he is doing now, was the main Truth of God that they had received.  That Gospel is living in that it is active and powerful.  It is also living in that it is life-giving.  However the Gospel is also eternal.  It has been said that the gospel will never cease, although the need to spread it will.

Peter quotes from Isaiah 40:6-8.  In this verse they are reminded how the things of this world are passing away, but the Word of the Lord will remain forever.  Now Isaiah 40 is an amazing passage within an amazing book.  Scholars through the ages have pointed out that Isaiah is a mini-Bible.  It has 66 chapters like the 66 books of the Bible.  The first 39 chapters deal with Israel’s failures under the law and the judgment of God upon the nations.  However, chapter 40 begins a turning in the book where Isaiah points to the good news of God’s merciful salvation.  Just as they had received the gospel, so Peter quotes from this chapter in Isaiah that is pointing towards that very same gospel. 

It is worth it to look at Isaiah 40 for a brief moment.  It starts out with the cry to “comfort, yes, comfort My people!” says your God.”  Then in verse 10 he points out that the Lord will come with a strong hand and rule for him.  This hand will shepherd the flock of God and gather the lambs into his arms and carry them in his bosom.  This is clearly a picture of Jesus the messiah.  Then the chapter ends with the famous lines, “they that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength; they will mount up with wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”  The things of this world are passing away, but God’s Word is going to remain.  No matter what you are hoping in, if it is something other than God’s Word, then it is going to fail you.  Don’t let the failure of the things of this world, religious people included, take your hope off of what is true: God’s word.  We have to learn to wait upon the Lord in faith.

Here is some food for thought.  We need to ask ourselves, “What is hindering my love from being His love?”  Don’t just ask yourself if you love, but do I love like He did?  Lord, help us to remove those things that would keep us from loving like you.

Another thought is a quote that someone came up with.  A coach is someone who makes you do what you don’t want to do so that you can become what you want to become.  Perhaps those difficult things that are causing you to want to quit loving are just God’s way of stretching you.  Is God stretching you?  Have you only saw the reason why you shouldn’t have to love and not the reasons why it is imperative that you do?  May God fill us with a fervent love that comes from a pure motivation: to be like Jesus.

Our Present Life III audio