The Stories In Our Lives
Call out your favorite childhood stories - mine were Hardy Boys books!
When families and close friends gather there stories fill the air. As children we loved to listen in on the stories our parents and grandparents told.
We are able to remember stories much more easily than lists of dates and other facts.
For multiple reasons, Jesus used ‘stories’ or what the NT describes as ‘parables’ to help His followers understand what the Kingdom of God was like.
Beginning today and for the next few Sunday’s we will dig into Jesus’ parables about the kingdom. Our goal will be to discover what Jesus described as ‘secrets of the Kingdom,’ that is the principles and practices that define what kingdom living looks like (see Matt 13:11-13)
There is no mistaking the primary subject of all Jesus’ message: Matthew 4:23 “Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”
The Sermon of the Mount begins and ends with references to the Kingdom of God - Matthew 5:3 ““The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” ; Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.” ; Matthew 7:21 ““Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.”
According to Jewish belief of the first century, the coming of God’s Kingdom meant “the Jews would be restored to their ancestral rights and would practice their ancestral religion with the rest of the world looking on with awe, and/or making pilgrimages to Zion, and/or being ground to powder is Jewish feet.”
N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Vol. One, Christian Origins and the Question of God (Minneapolis, MN.: Fortress Press, 1992), 285.
This view fueled he hopes of those among whom Jesus healed, those to whom Jesus spoke, and even those whom Jesus called as ‘apostles.’
Now in this parable Jesus seems to say that not everyone will become a fruitful participant the God’s Kingdom activity.
Some seed fell on ground that was unprepared, unready, and unable to sustain full growth and development.
How could this be? All those to whom Jesus spoke were Jews - by birth and genealogy they belonged to the tribes, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Now they are hearing they may not be part of God’s active Kingdom?
Even the disciples were challenged by Jesus’ clear illustration - Matthew 13:10 “Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?””
Jesus’ answer is not limited to this parable alone. Rather He is telling His closest followers that they are hearing differently than the crowds around them.
The crowds following Jesus ‘look without seeing, hear without listening or understanding.’ In vs 15, quoting from Isaiah, Jesus points to a the condition that creates ears that don’t understand and eyes that see without comprehending: a calloused heart.
Since God created humans to inhabit the earth, He has always provided witnesses to His Word and His ways. In the OT era we call those men and women through whom He spoke ‘prophets.’ These men and women often were recipients of visions from God that they were to tell to those around them. Sometimes they were given specific messages to share with specific individuals and/or nations.
Quoting from Isaiah, one of the more well-known prophets of the past Jesus explains His use of parables by reminding His closest followers that circumstances in Isaiah’s day were not all that different from their own.
There are several important issues that vs 10-17 raise:
First, much of what Jesus has to say cannot be understood apart from a radical faith commitment to Him. We can marvel at the way Jesus told stories. We can be awed by His use of illustrations. We can be moved by His ability to speak so that 5,000 men and their families were able to hear.
Without a faith commitment to Him, one demonstrated by the apostles who had left their livelihoods, their families, their pasts to fully commit themselves to the person of Jesus, much of what Jesus has to say remains a mystery.
Second, genealogy alone is no guarantee of God’s gracious provision and promise. I’ve been reading through Ezekiel, a prophet who had been deported from Israel to Babylon. One question those who were exiled with him often asks…but we are the Chosen People, we are the Ones whom God has chosen to rescue from Egypt, to inhabit the land of Promise and so on. Why are all these tragedies occuring in our lives? Where is God in the midst of these tragic events? Didn’t He promise that His own would never suffer, never face difficulty?
Much like those Jews of earlier centuries - during the times of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the Jews listening to Jesus were asking the same questions: We are the Chosen Ones. Why has Rome been allowed to oppress us? Why are our rulers not reigning on the throne of David in Jersualem?
Third, sin - personal choices to disobey God, specific ways of ignoring God’s clear commands has long-term consequences. Jesus will receive affirmation from the crowds when He exposes the sin of the Pharisees and other religious leaders. However, as Jesus spoke about specific sin in the lives of ordinary Jewish people their heart grew calloused and their ears no longer listened and their eyes were clouded and unable to comprehend.
Listen again to Jesus’ explanation of the parable recorded in Matt 13:18-23 ““You, then, listen to the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word about the kingdom and doesn’t understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the one sown along the path. And the one sown on rocky ground—this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. Yet he has no root in himself, but is short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he stumbles. Now the one sown among the thorns—this is one who hears the word, but the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. But the one sown on the good ground—this is one who hears and understands the word, who does bear fruit and yields: some 100, some 60, some 30 times what was sown.””
There are four responses to the message of the ‘kingdom.’ First, there are always people who just won’t hear. For reasons we are not able to penetrate, when the message of the Kingdom is proclaimed the evil one hinders some people’s ability to hear.
Notice that in the original telling (vs4) Jesus simply indicated a bird came and picked up the seed. Here, as He explains it to His disciples, He elaborates. It’s part of the on-going battle between Satan, the adversary and God. Even though Satan has been informed regarding his ultimate defeat, he is energetically seeking to keep people from hearing and appropriating God’s Word. Paul, an early follower of Jesus reminded believers in Corinth that “...if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:3–4, HCSB)
The second the third responses are more easily observed and understood. Some hear the word of the Kingdom. They respond with eager anticipation. But at the first sign of trouble, the first sign of struggle these hearers turn away. A significant and yet neglected truth: we grow best and strongest when we are tested and tried.
We have been inundated with the phrase: God won’t ever give you more than you can handle. I see it almost every week on social media.
I doubt Daniel felt that way being locked in a room with hungry lions.
The Israelites didn’t shout that when they felt trapped between the uncrossable Red Sea and the undefeated army of Pharaoh.
Peter, one of Jesus’ earliest disciples didn’t call out from the waves as he walked on water, It’s OK, God won’t give me more than I can handle!
Storms will come. Difficult circumstances will arise. Testing is part of life. God intends these circumstances to remind us we can’t handle them on our own…we need Him!
Some, when tested and or tried, fall away because, well, they feel as though God abandoned them, and when the feelings are gone, so is God.
The third group of those who respond also eagerly respond. A pastor and author John Ortberg shared this observation regarding this group of hearers and responders:
For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.
Quoted by Comer, John Mark. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (p. 27). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Finally, the last group of responders are those that hear the message of the Kingdom, respond, and stay the course. And staying the course is the test of genuine faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not church attendance or religious behavior that signifies fruitfulness. It’s staying the course, persevering to use an old fashioned word.
Those who stay the course, those who keep on keepin’ on will produce fruit. Don’t get hung up in the numbers Jesus used. They are simply illustrations of how some plants - in exactly the same conditions - produce different yields.
I am not here to judge any of you present in person of via Facebook. I can’t know your heart. But that is where the issue begins and ends.
What causes calloused hearts? I can only speak from experience - as one who has had a calloused heart in the past, and has a tendency to allow callouses to grow back.
I doubt any of us participating today are those whom the adversary has hardened so that we can no longer hear.
It’s the middle two categories where I often find myself.
I love a well-told story. I read a lot of fiction - some historical fiction and some just plain vanilla fiction. A well told detective story will spur me to be more observant of my surroundings for a day or two. I recently watched a series called The Queens Gambit, and I immediately downloaded some chess games on my phone and tablet. I haven’t touched those apps in quite a while. A good western makes me want to move into a big valley, surrounded by mountains and acres and acres of land. But then the work of maintaining such a spread…maybe it’s not for me!
So what happens? Like many of you I’ve allowed callouses to develop and grow. Let me identify some I’ve dealt with and maybe you can identify with these as well:
Impatience - I do not like to wait. Stop lights that seem to stay red for an eternity, fast food drive through lines that take approximately twice as long as going inside and ordering; waiting for a package I’ve ordered on Amazon…what’s with this NEXT DAY delivery if you live away from a major city?
Impertinence - I generally assume my opinions and reflections are always correct. Question my long-held assumptions and my stubbornly held ideas and I might just cut you off. I’ll get defensive right away.
Incapacity - I have been known to be so involved in so many tasks I lose my ability to slow down and truly care. I say I care, but deep in my heart I know I’ve said that just to move on to the next issue, the next task.
Now let me share with you how God will remove these callouses and move us towards fruitfulness:
TIME - Apparently God hasn’t gotten the urgent memos we keep sending: Hurry Up, God, we are in trouble.
Jesus came unveiling the Kingdom of God in His word and in His activities 2,000 years ago. Hurry up God.
God has all the time in the world. He is eternal, without time. Let Him set the timetable. Let Him do the work of creating the environment for the return of Jesus.
DISCIPLINE - I know it’s a dirty word. Think about a seed that becomes a tomato plant. It’s buried in dark, wet soil. It sprouts and takes weeks and weeks and weeks and heat and moisture and some more heat before finally a tomato is visible.
Why do we think growing as a believer is an overnight experience?
DEVOTION - When Cindy and I met I didn’t really think much of her and Jean Brown, her best friend. They were kind of rude when we first met at the Baptist Student building just off campus in St Joe.
When we started dating, though, I chose to devote myself to getting to know her - listening to her, observing her (no, not stalking!)46 years later I still have to choose to devote myself to her. It’s not that I’m interested in other women, but I can get so engaged in the meetings I attend, the projects I’m working on, the football games I want to watch and so on.
I’m not here to judge. I am here to offer you hope. The Word - the gospel of the Kingdom of God - is being offered to all of us. Right now, in this space God is offering us life, a life that is unhurried, a life that is fruitful, a life that is free from the guilt and shame that come as we sin.
Acknowledge that apart from God’s presence in your life you are lost. You are dead spiritually. The only way to life is through a relationship with God
Believe that Jesus, the One and Only Son of God died on the cross to bear your shame, your guilt, the God-ordained penalty for your sin.
Believe that God raised Him from the dead. I can’t explain how, but I have staked my life, my career, all I have on the assurance that Jesus was raised from the dead and lives eternally.
Confess Him - simply tell someone. You can tell us here in the building, you can tell me via social media. But you need to tell someone.
Finally, act on your conviction. Get engaged in church that features Bibel teaching. Find a group of believers who will walk with you in the midst of the trials and testings that will come. Find a group of believers that will welcome you, help you grow, stretch you. Follow in the first public step of obedience: Baptism. IF you’d like to know more about that,PLEASE let me know - you can grab me as soon as we are done here this morning, our you can connect with me on social media.