Parables and Listening.

As I close my eyes I see Jesus walking on the water – it is still like a mirror.

“Though you may be experiencing a storm of what ifs and maybes at the moment – just because I seem to be asleep – does not mean I don’t care or cannot still the storm. How would you know the true goodness of Jesus if your life was just a long carefree holiday? It is in the storm that you will discover my power to calm it – remember what I said to the disciples in the boat? ‘Oh ye of little faith’ – that was not a rebuke it was a reminder that I was busy building their faith by allowing them to feel lost in the storm and then experiencing my love and power as I calmed it was just a word. They were still going to face storms but each time they experience my work, my rescue, their faith would grow. So my dear son and the readers of the blog, just remind yourself of the fact of the goodness of Jesus who is always there to comfort you with positive intent.

As we come now to Matthew 13., the theme of this blog comes to the fore again. The theme of “listening to Jesus”. Jesus speaks in the light of His use of parables to teach. The first point He makes is that understanding the message of the parables is not available to everyone. He specifically says to the disciples, “The secrets of the kingdom have been given for you to know”. It is the special privilege of those who follow Jesus to be able to understand the parables. IOW it can be seen as a form of judgement on those who are outside the kingdom.

He then goes on and explains that it is because of their hardened hearts that people outside will not be able to understand. OK if we take that and turn it over in our minds, it means He holds the privilege of revealing the secrets to whoever He wishes, because there must be a point at which those whose hearts are not hardened but are not yet in the kingdom will, at least understand and hear something of what He is saying.

The beauty of the promise is that those who have will be given more. Remember the beatitude, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. So there is an encouragement here to all who read this blog. If you come to His word to hear Him speak, and your heart is softened, IOW you are hungering to hear Him, you will indeed have that beautiful privilege of meeting with Him and hearing Him speak. We don’t have to do something special to hear Him, simply desire it and to listen carefully to what He is saying to you through His word.

The first parable demonstrates this. Jesus is the sower and He is sowing the seed which Is His word. Notice that the crop does not depend on the goodness or effectiveness of the seed. It depends on the soil into which it is sown. Then there are all the factors that affect whether the seed will grow and produce a crop. It has a lot to do with the soil, is it rocky or on a footpath? That is hardened. Hardened soil will not provide a suitable bed for seed to grow. Or are there many weeds representing the distractions of the world and the Devil.

The first three are probably descriptions of the outsider’s hearts. However the factors mentioned here can also prevent the insider from hearing Jesus’ word effectively. Hardened hearts and the distractions of the world are a factor which faces us all from time to time. So the admonition is that we should always be looking to have soft, receptive hearts when we come to Jesus to hear Him speak to us. Ready to listen and obey. Thy will be done Oh Lord.

This passage is once again a warning that studying God’s word for the sake of studying it will not necessarily lead one to hear Him speak to you. His word has been given to us as a vehicle to be able to hear Him and meet with Him personally. We should remind ourselves of this regularly and ask Him to give you a hunger and thirst for Him through His word and any other way we may meet with Him.

Let’s listen to Jesus then.

Who IS this Man?

I send Martha to the kitchen so that Mary can sit at Jesus feet.

I have been singing and longing – Jesus only Jesus help me trust you more and more”.

“ Look at the cross – look at the figure on the cross. It is not just a picture – it is a real person – look at the blood running down the face from the crown of thorns pushed into His scalp, look at the hands and feet pierced by spikes – feel the agony – that was for you that he did that, for you as much as anyone else. Now you have also been singing, ‘How long oh Lord, how long?’ That is the experience I am giving you to help you to trust me more and more. If the path was easy and the answer immediate and pat it would not contribute to your trust at all. So I take you at a measured pace along a path I have preconceived so that your trust will grow day by day and will be rewarded at the end of the path. Take a deep breath then, relax and placed your trust in Me – remember it does not ultimately depend on you. You cannot bring anything to contribute. It depends in the end entirely on Me and my grip on you.”

As we move into Ch 12 of Matthew, the focus falls again clearly on the answer to the question, “Who is this Man?” The Sabbath was a clear point of contact between God and His people. In many ways they misunderstood the purpose of the Sabbath, trying to keep it simply by refraining from work, without realizing the real purpose that God had set the day aside for .A celebration of the covenant and their relationship of awe and adoration of Yahweh, demonstrated by a life of obedience. So regularly the people are castigated for profaning the Sabbath, not simply for working on that day but for following other Gods. Which He takes as a sign of their rejection of Him and His love for them. So the Sabbath represented the contact point between God and His people and showed their trust in Him and His love for them.

Now at the beginning of ch 12 there is a conflict between Jesus over the keeping of the Sabbath. It could be a full dress repetition of the Old Testament problem of God’s people. Their rejection of Him as their Lord Jehovah. By saying “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath”, Jesus is actually reprimanding the Pharisees for their inability to recognize who He really is. He is the One to whom the Sabbath was pointing to all along!

To underline this Matthew then repeats Isaiah’s prophecy from Isa 42:1-4. This man standing before the Pharisees and before you dear reader, is none other than this unique “Servant” of Yahweh whom the sabbath was pointing to all along.

In the background the other theme of Matthew is playing out. The theme of rejection of the Messiah, especially by the religious establishment. Not only were the Pharisees rejecting the claims that Jesus was making, they were actively becoming engaged in discrediting Him. This was only the beginning and would rise in vigour till it would eventually lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. In the next section till vs 37, Matthew shows to what extent their rejection will actually go. They are prepared to identify Him as Beelzibub – the Devil himself. Consider to what extent they had sunk.

Now friends, as we ponder this. This is a warning. The act of rejecting Jesus is a short step from actually considering His supernatural power as demonic. C.S.Lewis has said that if one rejects Jesus’ claim as to who He is, then the only alternative is that He was either mad or bad. Yes – even the Devil himself.

Once again we are reminded of the importance of understanding the OT symbolism, especially that of the Sabbath correctly, to be able to fully appreciate who Jesus is. It is in reading and re-reading passages like this that our faith grows and is undergirded. So that we are ready when the little voice inside us says, “Is He really God?”. “Does He really care?” “Can I really trust Him?”

It is interesting how severely Jesus addresses these “important” men. “Brood of vipers” for instance. As you read this you can see the subtle shift of Jesus’ words, He is not of the Devil, it is they who stand beside the Devil trying to carry out his purposes. Ultimately He says, as He repeats what He had already said in 7:15 ff, “It is by their fruit that they will be recognized”. A timely word in this day with some debates in the religious sphere hitting rock bottom.

What Response can we Expect?

The angels called Him Jesus, Mary called him Jesus – but I call him Lord.

I am overcome by a sense of worship – bowing low before the “Lord”, “Jehovah”– “I AM”– “Before everything and after everything” – I look up and see a bright shining light rising up and up lighting up even the mountains and then I feel as if I am being lifted like on the wings of an eagle into this light, into His Presence.

“Yes Ian, in the presence of My great worth it is appropriate that you declare that. That you feel that, that is why you have been made. I receive your worship – you are precious to me just as every other saint is precious to Me. I hold you tight in Jesus – you are safe and secure in Me – your feet on the Rock. Allow yourself just to appreciate Me and feel My Presence here in the room with you – this is just a tiny foretaste of what it is going to be like when you come home into my Presence. Experience My joy – receive it and express it. Amen”

Moving into ch 11 of Matthew, we first have the story of John the Baptist. (Just a little side morsel of interest: My father’s name was Johannes and everyone knew him only as “Doper” – Baptiser). I think the story of John here is summed up in vs 13 John was the last in the line of the OT prophets. Just as Jesus stated in ch 5 that He had come to fulfil the law and the prophets, so John comes completing and ending the role of the OT prophets. To underline that, he is persecuted and put to death just as many of those prophets had been treated.

However there is a connection here also with the instruction by Jesus to take the message of the gospel out. This is confirmed by the rest of the chapter. As we take out the gospel, what sort of response are we to expect? Surely such a precious message, a pearl of inestimable value will be gladly grasped by everyone. Jesus warns that is not going to be the case.

People create their own expectations of what God is like. Just as some children want to play weddings and others funerals, so people who hear the gospel will find fault with the Jesus you present. Ascetic and self sacrificing? No . Normal and behaving like any ordinary person? No.

The explanation comes in the next paragraph. It is necessary for Jesus to reveal Himself v 25 before He is seen and accepted. These wonderful truths are hidden from those who have great worldly wisdom and say they are following Him in their way with a preconceived idea of who He is and what He is like. A God made in the image that suits their ideas. 1 Cor 2 from vs 6 describes that in detail. We see that played out even today where books are published by theologians and experts in the bible where they express all sorts of doubts and theories which take away the very nature of the gospel, while the simple, ordinary people accept it without question when they meet Jesus face to face.

This, like so many other truths of the gospel is perhaps difficult to understand yet can and should be accepted at face value. Our role is for us to accept and then repeat the beautiful invitation in vs 28. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”. The deep realization of your need is a prerequisite for receiving everything that Jesus wants to offer you. Just as He said in the beatitudes, blessed are the poor in spirit, that is those who realize their need and hunger and thirst, they will be filled. They will receive what Jesus died to give us.

Is that how you experience the gospel? Is that how you and I are to present it? Like offering water and bread to one crawling out of the wilderness where they have been lost for ever. It is not up to us to force a response. That comes from Jesus and we must expect much rejection, but never take it personally. Remember last week, “Who do you fear most?” But we can and must keep praying for Him to open the eyes and ears of those we speak to and be faithful to Him in all circumstances.

Who do you fear the Most?

I go to sit at Jesus‘s feet. He is not sitting high up on a golden throne – he is sitting on my level on a cushion. As I sit at his feet my eyes are taken up by those feet – scuffed and bruised from contact with the world, but washed by the host.

“ I did not invite you here to wash my feet, I came to wash your feet – your feet represent that part of you which comes physically and actually in contact with the world. Your feet become stained by the world and its ways. Your feet also take you on the way you go, yes which path you follow. But your feet do not have a mind of their own – they represent what your heart’s desires are. So that is why I wash your feet – representing that part of you which is most easily contaminated. I wash your feet so that you can take up your cross and follow me rather than go your own way into the world. My washing is powerful because I wash with my own blood and dry your feet with my grace – come, follow me today and every day and I will cleanse your feet and give you the direction you should go”.

At the end of the Sermon On The Mount Matthew tells us Jesus looked at the crowds and was deeply moved. The word translated ‘compassion’ does not fully bring out the full depth of His sorrow at the state of the world. His gut is moved deeply. The message, the gospel, He has just preached, is the only answer to that awful state. So the logical conclusion to this is that it must be taken out and shared that as many people as possible may hear it. Taken into the world to those who are ready to hear it and respond – ‘the harvest’. What are you and I to do in response to this? Well firstly pray for workers to take this message out in the world. Then secondly, be the bearers of the message yourself as you go out. That is the example he gives of the 12 being sent out. Some are chosen for a special assignment, but everyone of us should also feel that urgency as we move around.

Jesus gives various instructions and warnings to the 12. But I want to focus on 10:26 – 31. Three times Jesus says to them, “Do not fear“. I suppose that is the logical response to the warning of the reality of persecution which he had just told disciples they faced. But what about us? Of course many Christians do face the reality of persecution today, but what about you and I? Jesus gives a stark choice. Either, “Fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul or fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell”.

I had to search myself deeply. How does this message affect my motivation to speak out the message of the hope of the gospel in hostile situations? Where that message may be sneered at or you stand the chance of being mocked and rejected. The answer lies in a little word in v31. The word “value” or “worth”.. I have been told that the greatest need of every person is to be valued. Mankind is driven by this need. Yet here we see that in Jesus we find the greatest value. Our real value. So valuable that He died for us. If therefore, Matthew writes, we have this great value will not Jesus protect us because he values us so much. After all if He died for you and I, is it not just a small thing in comparison to show this love and protection as we speak out on His behalf. Do you want to live out this value?

If fact the very motivation for us to speak out lies in this realization of our value in His eyes. And so Jesus goes on to remind us, “That if we are ashamed of Him before men, well… He will be ashamed of us before the Father in heaven“. v 33. So expect rejection, even and especially in the close relationship of families. It is not necessary to seek that, but often there is a choice we must make, to stand up for Him and be counted or to keep quiet and go with the flow.

That friends, is one of the things that is a very real part of living a life where you take up your cross daily as you follow Him.v38 You demonstrate your worth, especially when you show your appreciation as you follow Him and stand up and be counted on His behalf.

So who are you afraid of? The word here is phobos from which we get the word phobia. Is your overwhelming awe and wonder for the unseen One who created you and the world you live in and has saved you, stronger than the fear you have for those in the world who stand before you physically?

What a message we have in or hands!. A pearl of great price, meant to be shown and shared with as many people as possible in our daily lives.

The Sermon, rounded off.

Just a reminder to you all. This is an interactive blog. You are invited to contribute. Just click on or tap the title you want to comment on and the platform will open up to write on.

I consciously humble myself before the Lord reminding myself I have nothing to bring to him except my response to his love.

“ Yes I am the Ancient of Days – none before Me none beyond Me – I bracket the time I created. And in the middle – the centrepoint is the gospel – the only true good news – the gospel that brings you peace – the gospel that brings anyone who embraces it peace. This is governed by one factor – My love – My holiness which exudes My love and it embraces all My creation. And it is in that love that I hold the future, your future and the future of the entire universe. The knowledge and understanding of all this is what holds the key to your peace and sense of security – so despite the apparent darkness of the night – within all that My love holds you in its steely yet warm grip. Don’t waste time trying to peer into the future, just relax and experience my peace today.”

Back to Matthew. Despite the fact that the so called “Sermon on the Mount” is written as an apparent complete message in chapters 5-7, it seems the entire message extends beyond that. In Mat 4:23 he writes that Jesus was, “Teaching …and preaching the good news of the kingdom”. In 8:35 he brackets that with the statement “Jesus went through all the villages teaching….and preaching the good news of the kingdom.” So this message of the good news of the kingdom, the “gospel” as we know it, extends a bit beyond what is written under the sermon.

That makes sense as we follow the two chapters after the sermon which are demonstrating the practical application of the Sermon and how to participate in that good news.

So firstly we see various messages on healing. Is that not what Jesus has come to do? To restore the damage of the curse and make us whole as the first fruits, as it were of the Messianic age which lead to the ultimate consummation of the kingdom. Within those stories of healing there is an emphasis on faith, which is the key factor for the “news” to become experientially real for anyone. There are a variety of expressions of faith, from a distance, by a word, through a touch, there is no fixed way that we could say, “That is the way”. The only thing that is constant is trust which Jesus follows by acting on it.

Then the last story in this cameo is in 9:27 ff where Jesus heals two blind men. Is this not a visible reminder that we are blind to this good news till Jesus opens our eyes? He also needs to open our ears and mouth. This supernatural work of revelation is implicit in our understanding of the spiritual dimension of the kingdom.

Then there are various stories of exorcism. That surely is demonstrating Jesus’ victory over the demonic world and the fact that through the gospel He delivers us from the Evil One.

Central to the stories is the question of forgiveness of sin, 9:1-8. Immediately after that Matthew, in telling of his own story, reminds us that coming to Jesus for forgiveness requires a recognition of one’s sinfulness and your need for God’s forgiveness. So implicit in the act of forgiveness we are reminded of the need for repentance. What a beautiful way to demonstrated that as Matthew tells of his response to Jesus call. He turns away from his old sinful life and leaves that to follow Jesus. Then just to underline this we are told the story of fasting. In the Old Testament the act of fasting was most commonly an outward sign of repentance.

I can go on about the reaction of the crowds which demonstrate Jesus’ deity. The reminder of the New Covenant, wineskins and cloth, which makes this action possible and more. But why don’t you go back and explore what else you can see which reveals aspects of the gospel.

So returning to 6:3 and the instruction to ‘enter through the ‘Narrow Way’.’ Entry through this way is on the one hand so easy. The way has been opened by Jesus and He does all the work. All He expects from us is a genuine desire, a recognition of our lostness and a desire to follow Him by turning your lives over to Him. At the same time it is extremely difficult because of people’s pride and insisting on doing things their own way rather than God’s way. That is surely why so few people find this way and enter in. Hence the admonition that it is only by doing it God’s way that there is access into the Kingdom. (7:21b)

Imbibe all this and let it enrich your understanding of the wonderful gospel of peace through Jesus and allow it to prepare you even more to be able to speak it to others, because the fields are white unto harvest.