kingdom, Holy Spirit, our hearts, joy, Jesus, discipleship, feast, marriage

The Parable of the Wedding Feast, #22

Luke 14:16-24, Message

16-17 Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’

18 “Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’

19 “Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’

20 “And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’

21 “The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and down-and-out you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’

23-24 “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’”

There is danger here, and it gives this parable an edge. It seems that there are two kinds of people in this story: the well to do, and the misfits. Each plays an integral part–something that must be understood. We may not like what we see.

But the edginess that cuts in this parable is the real frustration of a man who has invited the respectable as guests to a wedding feast. But there’s nothing but good excuses. On the outward, they seem appropriate. In this story; three men justify their absence with what seems like reasonable.

But there’s more here. To refuse a wedding invite—was never done. It was the ultimate snub.

The overseer is outraged (obviously) by the conduct of these men.

He directs his servants to do something quite radical. He knows that the feast must have guests; the quantity reflects the quality. He orders that the servants scour the city, the streets and the alleys. He must have guests.

He doesn’t really care whether they’re misfits or not.

He’ll take misfits and rascals, losers and the homeless—it doesn’t matter, he wants warm bodies. He’ll take anyone at this point. He has decided that there will be guests, no matter what.

It’s grace—pure and simple.

The parable is a direct indictment of the religious situation of his day. Since the Jewish leaders have decided to reject Jesus, to spurn the invite to join in—he’ll invite the outsiders, the Gentiles. That is the first and obvious interpretation.

The second would be the “open door” given to the undeserving. We’re the ones who get to eat bbq lamb, and drink the best wine. It’s grace—pure and simple. And guess what, Jesus has room for more. There is a place at his table for you!

“Then he said to me, “Write: Blessed are those invited to the marriage feast of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These words of God are true.'”

Rev. 19:9

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The Parable of the Growing Seed, #21

Mark 4:26-29

 “The kingdom of God is like this,” he said. “A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day; the seed sprouts and grows, although he doesn’t know how.” 

“The soil produces a crop by itself—first the blade, then the head, and then the full grain on the head. 29 As soon as the crop is ready, he sends for the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

From a seed to a plant. We have no idea how this happens, it just does. This is a “kingdom” parable, one of several that explain what God’s realm is, and how it happens. In this particular story, we’re told how the Holy Spirit works. It also explains our role in this (which isn’t a whole lot).

The farmer puts the seed in the ground—and that’s it. He’s done his work, there’s nothing more he can do. He doesn’t do anything else from this point, and honestly he can’t. And yet the soil needs to be prepared—plowed, fertilized and tilled again. You might say he creates the conditions (that’s what makes a good farmer, I guess) for something to happen.

He doesn’t massage the seed, coaxing it to grow. He doesn’t sing to it, or tell it about the wonders of being lush and green. He does zero. The seed grows on its own. He goes to bed, and gets up. After several days, bingo! That seed turns into a plant—something green and alive. He doesn’t do a thing. Life occurs without his work.

The point is this. God’s work is done invisibly within us (and that’s a relief)!

“The secret of growth is in the seed, not in the soil nor in the weather nor in the cultivating. These all help, but the seed spontaneously works according to its own nature.”

Robertson’s Commentary

God’s kingdom works pretty much like this. The farmer doesn’t cause the seed growth, all he does is go to bed! He sleeps and waits and watches. It grows and he hasn’t the slightest. It’s a complete mystery. He has done everything he can, and God has done the rest. He “shares” in this amazing transformation, but the father has done it all.

We trust in a process we cannot see, or really understand.

We don’t dig the seed up every morning to see what’s happening. We just let the (super)natural happen. And it does!

The farmer has faith in the process (after all, he did plant the seed), but that’s it. There’s a verse in 2 Thessalonians 1:3 the should be considered. It gives us confidence and a definite trust in this process of growth. The Apostle Paul understands this “principle of growth.”

“We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, since your faith is flourishing and the love each one of you has for one another is increasing.”

We must trust God completely to grow. We’re responsible for tilling and planting. But you need to understand what happens after that is up to him. The kingdom of God is supernatural. It’s exactly how the kingdom happens—and we must be patient and wise.

“The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it.”

Arnold Glascow

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The Dishonest Manager, #17

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Luke 16:1-9, ESV

“There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his possessions. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your management, for you can no longer be manager.’ 

And the manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that when I am removed from management, people may receive me into their houses.’” 

“So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[a] of oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures[b] of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’” 

The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world[c] are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth,[d] so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

This one’s a challenge. I’ve wrestled off and on with this passage for 40 years, and until just lately have I’ve gotten an idea, (maybe) of what this parable is about. (If I’m off the wall, please let me know.) I must say, first of all, that the dishonest manager’s trickery is never endorsed by Jesus. The man is a thief and a scoundrel. He has embezzled his master’s money, and betrayed his trust. That’s a bad thing.

But yet there is something worth emulating about his conduct.

He’s a genuine businessman–focused and direct. He’s always got a plan, he’s always thinking ahead. He has a definite direction. There’s a purpose and a direct idea–a focus, and that sets him apart from others. Jesus makes an observation to his disciples. It’s the key to this parable. Notice what I’ve highlighted:

8-9 “Now here’s a surprise: The master praised the crooked manager! And why? Because he knew how to look after himself.” “Streetwise people are smarter in this regard than law-abiding citizens.”

“They are on constant alert, looking for angles, surviving by their wits. I want you to be smart in the same way—but for what is right

—using every adversity to stimulate you to creative survival, to concentrate your attention on the bare essentials, so you’ll live, really live, and not complacently just get by on good behavior.”

Luke 16:8-9, Message

A sailor will tell you that the hardest boat to steer is one that is dead in the water. Perfectly still it can’t be directed. It has to be moving. I wonder sometimes if some of Jesus’ disciples are too passive. They’ve repented and experienced God’s grace; they are definitely saved and going to heaven. That’s wonderful. But they’re just stalled after that. They have become passive and unfocused. They seem to float and drift and take whatever current that moves them along.

That “dead in the water” passivity isn’t what Jesus is looking for. This parable stresses the need to be aware, alert and always “looking for angles.” People like this have an edge about them, they’re like the salesman in a leisure suit– they’re always focused on their next “lucrative” move. They’re the “hustlers” of the Christian walk!

Jesus made an observation about that same sort of intensity in the ministry of John the Baptist:

“The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.”

Luke 16:16

There needs to be a holy violence, it seems, something that’s pressing–something we’re striving for. Paul understood this also:

 “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 3:14, KJV

Jesus is making it quite clear that a passive walk is contrary to true discipleship. There must be movement towards a goal. We can’t just float through a nice, quiet Christian life. There needs to be a zeal and a holy direction. Yes, we need to wait, and listen! Being still and quiet before him is critical. But we can’t lose our direction and focus. It seems we must be forceful.

I believe that this parable reveals to us that a holy zeal is needed. The dishonest manager was a rascal and a cheat. But yet there was something that Jesus approved of, a directed zeal for that which we should have. Perhaps we’ve gotten a bit lax–floating through our salvation without any direction.

We definitely need to be people who love, and who are controlled by the Spirit. But we also need to be a people who press into the things of God. We need a directed zeal and definite purpose. Being a passive believer isn’t an option, and it doesn’t please God. We need to become believers who are always looking at God’s glory, and are moving toward it with a holy zeal, and a specific purpose.

“Men could be content to have the kingdom of Heaven; but they are loathe to fight for it. They choose rather to go in a feather bed to Hell than to be carried to Heaven in a ‘fiery chariot’ of zeal and violence.”

    Thomas Watson

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Take the Lowest Place, #16

Luke 14:7-11, CSB

He told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they would choose the best places for themselves: 

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, don’t sit in the place of honor, because a more distinguished person than you may have been invited by your host. The one who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in humiliation, you will proceed to take the lowest place.”

10 “But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when the one who invited you comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ You will then be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Choose your seat carefully. In Jesus’ day, there was a definite seating order to a wedding feast. It wasn’t first come, first served. There was a strict protocol, where one’s importance mattered. Honored people got honorable seats–close to the front as possible. Average people got average spots; but no one wanted be at the bottom, having to sit at the “kids table.”

Jesus was watching, and he what he saw was a spiritual principle of his Kingdom.

Jesus often teaches out of the things we encounter–real life events. Spiritual truth often hits us from those things we actually see. If you want to know what God is doing in your life, all you need to do is look around at the “practical” things, and start to see the spiritual lessons inside them. We learn from real-life. That’s how he often teaches us, he combines the Word with what we’re experiencing.

Our natural inclination is to move higher up. We often think that we’re deserving, and so we take our “rightful” positions. That’s the way humans think. We all want to sit in the best possible place, and so we end up wheedling our way up front. We can fall into the subtle trap of self-promotion. But that’s not how discipleship works.

Jesus corrects, advising us to take the lowest place. I think verse 11 is the key to figuring out this seating arrangement. We’re starting to see a physical situation become a spiritual lesson. There’s much to learn. Here’s verse 11 in the Amplified version:

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled [before others], and he who habitually humbles himself (keeps a realistic self-view) will be exalted.”

This translation injects some realism into our lives, especially in how we see ourselves. It’s something quite foundational. It lays down a principle that is always true in his Kingdom (1 Peter 5:6). If we don’t accept and implement this, we’ll suffer a definite deficiency in our discipleship. It stunts the growth of many believers. And that is tragic.

The whole scene lays out how life in the spirit really works, and it seems terribly paradoxical.

Our human logic asserts that deliberately choosing the lesser is foolish, things really don’t work that way. We think, (falsely,) that we’ll only advance by asserting ourselves. But Jesus, quite aptly, clarifies the ways of the Kingdom–true maturity will only come if we decide to take the lowest place.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

James 4:10

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An Unworthy Servant, #14

Luke 17:7-10

“Which one of you having a servant tending sheep or plowing will say to him when he comes in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? Instead, will he not tell him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, get ready, and serve me while I eat and drink; later you can eat and drink’?” 

“Does he thank that servant because he did what was commanded? 10 In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we’ve only done our duty.’”

“The will of God for your life is simply that you submit yourself to Him each day and say, “Father, Your will for today is mine. Your pleasure for today is mine. Your work for today is mine. I trust You to be God. You lead me today and I will follow.”

    Kay Arthur

Really now. What little we give determines so much, since we owe him so much. The service that we can give to our master is just a small repayment for everything. Settle that now and God will use you.

Question: Is the master unfair? Does he lord his authority over the servant–taking advantage of him? Every time I read this passage, questions like this always comes up.

#1, the Holy Spirit really hasn’t taught me yet. That’s very possible. Until he does, the parable isn’t truly understood.

#2, I’m a product of my country, no such things like slaves, we’re a democracy. Equal rights and all that jazz.

#3, It’s purposefully constructed to create issues in my mind and heart. Something that “irritates” me–but in a good way.

And maybe they’re all true. But no matter how I “squeeze” out this parable, I always hit this spiritual speed bump. But I like it, and I love reading it, no matter what it does to me.

We owe everything to him. Plain and simple.

Jesus wants to be my master. I’m his servant (at least I really want to be). Reading this parable puts this idea into a real perspective. I do like this verse, 1 Corinthians 6:20, in the CEV:

“God paid a great price for you. So use your body to honor God.”

A transaction has been made for your soul. God has intervened, and he’s given you salvation. We have a life now that will give us life, eternally. Since he is our master, we can no longer direct our own lives. Like the “unworthy servant” in verse 10, we now walk forgiven and very much redeemed. And we owe it all to him, he’s our savior and our master.

“The question in salvation is not whether Jesus is Lord, but whether we are submissive to His lordship.”

   John MacArthur

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On the Rock, #13

Matthew 7:24-26, NCV

“Everyone who hears my words and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 It rained hard, the floods came, and the winds blew and hit that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. 26 Everyone who hears my words and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”

Embedded in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, are these words: they absolutely penetrate any “religious” sensitivity we think we have. This parable Jesus taught carries the full weight of divine authority. Up to now, Jesus’ listeners just might reduce his words to nice religious platitudes–something future, and maybe conceptual. I must warn you, this isn’t the case.

Obedience is the critical idea here. If they’re wise, they are told to put all they’ve heard into practice. It’s really not enough to hear and respect what Jesus declares–they must do the words. Jesus isn’t simply a great moral teacher, all that he says is authoritative; and not just in a benevolent, superficial way–what he says are the very words of God to people, like you and I.

There are two builders in this parable. Two different men; the wise and the foolish.

The each have their own strategies, their methods are quite different. Both listen; but one responds with careful planning. He understands the potential dangers–rain, floods and wind are going to happen. It’s funny, our Lord never “sugarcoats” life. Nasty things are going to happen, weather that’s quite hostile. Following Jesus never gives us any immunity; there are no special favors given to a believer. (Only comfort.)

The other (Jesus addresses him as foolish) are those who’ve decided to take a shortcut in all of this construction stuff. Maybe it takes too much time? But he decides to implement the work as soon as he can. Maybe his motive is just wanting to put Jesus’ words into practice. Maybe (just my conjecture) he feels compelled to initiate Jesus’ teachings as soon as he can? Maybe he’s got a noble reason in this? (In God’s kingdom however, I’ve learned that there aren’t any instant breakfasts on the menu.)

Obedience is mentioned twice. Enthusiasm is never mentioned; eagerness in all of this is not good spirituality it seems. Careful work (and planning) are critical issues. This is just an example–Matthew 5:3 is the first Beatitude:

“They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty,
    for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

How diligent are we putting this into effect? Do we just slap it down and move to the others as quickly as we can? Many commentators refer to the Beatitudes as the “foundation stones” of the disciple’s life. Many believe that each one builds off the other–they compliment and support each other. Sometimes I wonder about my own foundation; am I laying it right, and level?

I want to stress that your take your time laying down his words. Examine carefully what he’s telling you about your construction. He’s our true Architect–we are only the builders. We read his plans, examine his blueprints. We really need to be faithful.

“Using the gift God gave me, I laid the foundation of that house like an expert builder. Others are building on that foundation, but all people should be careful how they build on it.”

1 Corinthians 3:10

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.”

1 Timothy 4:15

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The Old & The New, #12

Matthew 9:16-17, LB

16 “And who would patch an old garment with unshrunk cloth? For the patch would tear away and make the hole worse. 17 And who would use old wineskins to store new wine? For the old skins would burst with the pressure, and the wine would be spilled and skins ruined. Only new wineskins are used to store new wine. That way both are preserved.”

Some might suggest that Jesus came to bolster up the old covenant, to rehabilitate Judaism and to bring it back in alignment with God’s will. This wasn’t the plan of the father. Jesus understood that he didn’t come to repair or reform the old, but to institute the new. That which is old and stagnant could never be made new and fresh.

The kingdom of God was to be something the world had never seen before. Jesus adeptly uses two illustrations to declare what the Holy Spirit was now doing. Patching up the old with something new that wouldn’t ever work, a tear would happen. And to pour fresh wine into something old could never handle the pressure of the new–that would be the height of foolishness.

The Pharisees’ and the scribes were hanging on to Jesus’ every word (and you’d better believe it.) They suddenly understood the threat of his Kingdom had on their own initiative. And these guys were scared; they were threatened by the coming of this new thing. These men were counting on “tradition” to preserve the order of things. They were old wineskins.

I’m thoroughly convinced that God is always up to something that’s totally brand new. Throughout history we see him show up on the scene with things that challenge his believers even further. He’s always had new things up his sleeves. He’s always faithful and true, no question about that. But he’s always been creative and busy in our present-day lives.

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they sprout I proclaim them to you.”

Isaiah 42:9, (43:19; 46:9-10).

The real challenge is whether we can keep up with what he’s doing. He’s the “I am,” not the “I was” or what “I will be.” He’s present in this “now” moment! And if that’s true, I out to get a grip. To solidify isn’t the answer.

So what does this really mean? Perhaps, I suppose, I’m to think that the Holy Spirit is full of amazing and incredible surprises!

He’s always moving the goal posts, pulling us along with him. To be honest, I’ve changed dramatically in the last 30 years as a Christian. I think I understand more about the Father than I did in July 1982. (And sometimes, it seems like I know him less.)

I once got trapped in a “rip tide” off of a beach in Mexico. It dragged me along with it, and I couldn’t escape it. The current was pulling,, and I remember flailing against it; but no matter how much I fought and struggled I couldn’t resist the pull. Perhaps that’s how the father’s kingdom works. His spirit is never still or stagnant. He tugs on us, so we must follow him, if we’re going to be obedient.

Our king is moving. We must follow Him.

Scripture tells us that his kingdom is always growing, (Matthew 13:31-33.) He is always faithful and consistent to his people, but yet he’s also always taking us somewhere else. Abraham, Moses, the Jewish exodus all tell us he loves to stretch out his servants this way. Discipleship means following, not sitting under a nice tree, we’ve become brand spanking new—whether we like it or not, (2 Cor 5:17.)

The Bible is full of revival, and renewal, but God refuses to simply re-educate and legislate us to do his will. Rather he re-makes us. We WALK by faith (always steadily moving) and being a pilgrim means we never get to camp out in a nice, comfortable spot. He’s always leading, and I’m always following.

“For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

Of Moses, (Hebrews 11:10)

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Losing Your Coin, #9

Luke 15:8-10

 “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

She’s completely lost it. It’s commonly understood that the coin had a hole in its center, and it was given to her (along with other coins) on her wedding day. Most likely it was put on a silver chain that she wore on her forehead when she left the house. It was sort of like us wearing a wedding ring. It marked her as a married woman. It was her treasure. It was valuable.

Archaeologists digging in houses have found coins in the cracks of the rocks of floors. They discovered these while excavating out the houses dating from New Testament times. These weren’t wedding coins, but it’s interesting nevertheless.

The listeners to this story would’ve clearly understood Jesus.

Each one knew exactly how frantic she would be over this. Perhaps these were the most precious thing she owned, and losing that coin would of pretty much consumed her until she found it.

She’s thinking, “Where did I have it last?” The house was most likely the place. She lights a lamp to see better, and to hopefully find it. She searches diligently, and there might have been fear involved–but definitely worry and concern. She was totally absorbed in finding that missing coin.

Searching over and over–sometimes at the same spot, once, twice or three times, as if something may’ve changed since they last time she looked. She was getting frantic now.

And suddenly, there it was! Not where she expected it, but that doesn’t matter. The entire situation seemed laughable now that she held it. But now, she was ready to do cartwheels. Incredible relief flooded throughout her heart, nothing really had mattered–or taken precedence over finding it.

And that’s what the Father is like.

He’s been searching for us–oh so diligently. He’s brought out an extra lamp, and a broom–he’s been searching the corners, and examining the cracks. The coin is his. Notice verse 5, “I have found my lost coin.’” The word ‘my’ seems to jump out, and that’s significant.

Another key word is joy. Or “rejoice.”

Joy is his heart. And all of heaven responds to its discovery, and oh my, there is one heck of a party when it’s found! How valuable the human soul must be, that both God and Satan are pursuing to possess it. And I honestly don’t really understand God’s passion for finding us, or Satan’s hate.

“Come and celebrate with me’, she says, ‘for I have found that coin I lost.’ I tell you, it is the same in Heaven—there is rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner whose heart is changed.””

Verse 10, Phillips

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An Itty-Bitty Seed, #3

From a Seed

Matthew 13:31-32

“He put another parable before them, saying, 

“The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew is writing to Jewish readers, so he chooses to use the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead of the kingdom of God. Essentially they’re the same thing, but his readers probably would object over the use of “God.” Matthew wanted to avoid any kind of controversy–he really didn’t want to create issues, he honestly wanted them to understand. A good move.

Is the mustard seed the smallest? Not really, but for the sake of the story it is.

A small seed gets planted, and guess what? It gets bigger than everything else in the garden (“Miracle Grow?) The little seed becomes a big tree. The birds even build their nests in it. (Some have suggested that the birds are satanic, but I think that’s a stretch.)

Small beginnings which grew up even larger than anyone’s expectations. The little seed exploded into this humongous tree. Who would’ve guessed?

That’s the way his kingdom is to grow inside of us, and inside the Church. The kingdom of heaven (or God) erupts into our lives.It grows fast, and it grows big and it doesn’t fool around. It’s just a very small thing, that takes off and it’s enormous. Everything our Father does grows, but only if it’s his doing.

Obedience is necessary, but the Spirit is critical. Growth is packed inside every seed, I don’t really understand it all, but Jesus has this figured out.

“In the future, the mountain with the Lord’s temple will be the highest of all. It will reach above the hills; every nation will rush to it.”

Isaiah 2:2, CEV

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