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Archive for tag Matthew 13

Faithful Francis

As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty. -- Matthew 13:23

Francis is the real deal.

Luke 8:15 describes Francis as receiving the word and holding it fast in an honest and good heart. As the simplest of the four characters in Jesus' parable, Francis doesn't fall into the errors of the others. Mind is open to the gospel; heart is set on Jesus and Jesus alone.

Francis is not crippled by serving two masters - everything: every relationship, every possession, every talent, every minute is consciously given to serving God. Francis recognises that God created all of life and both desires and deserves to be honoured in all of life. Francis might be an outgoing, in-your-face evangelist that somehow manages to naturally slip into conversations about God in an average 27.63 seconds from first introductions or might be the kind of person who rarely says much to anyone but displays the transforming power of the gospel and the love of Christ - the type people turn to to share their problems with. Or Francis might be the practical type that drops dinner round to the young couple that spent last night in the hospital and came home parents. Or perhaps the person who invests time in young people showing them by instruction and example what it means to follow Jesus.

But whatever Francis does - whether vocal or silent - is done in the service of God. It is inspired by the recognition of God's grace towards them. It is empowered by God's spirit within them. It's done in the imitation of Jesus.

Francis is open and honest. Humble and loving. Obedient. Francis has the heart of a servant. How? Francis knows what it means to be loved by God.

Examples

Jesus. The perfect example of the one whose perfect obedience and love towards God the Father is the basis of all our hope. Talk about that for "bearing much fruit!"

John. The apostle who knew that Jesus loved him. His affections and priorities are simple: he loves Jesus and he loves like Jesus.

To Ponder

  • Who do I know who lives like this? When did I last thank God for placing them in my life? How can I learn from them? How can I encourage them?
  • What is it that leaves me short of the mark? Where are my ideas and ambitions out of sync with the gospel? What is holding me back from living like this?

And finally...

Pray that you will fall into the final category. One who bears fruit. One who sees the likeness of Christ reproduced in themselves through following him in the power of the Holy Spirit and in others as you evangelise and make disciples. And pray for your loved ones, that they will too.

Why are you still on your computer when you could be on your knees?

Polytheistic Pamela

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. -- Matthew 13:22

Pamela is a rock. She knows and understands the gospel. Her faith is evidently deep and meaningful. She is growing, albeit slowly. She's in church (whenever she can make it) and she faithfully gives (when she can afford it) and she faithfully prays (when she can find the time).

But work is just insane at the moment. There's a credit crunch and everyone's a bit worried about their job, Pamela included. So she's putting in some extra hours.

And she's a concerned about her image, so trips to the hair dressers are a big deal. And her nails. And that little bit of teeth whitening - oh and slight straightening.

She's the one you can depend on - she almost always says yes when someone asks for her help.

And she keeps up with her non-Christian friends, but she's usually too tired to even think about, must less talk about, Christian things and so she just enjoys their company. Which helps keep relationships running smoothly.

She's angling for a promotion and putting a lot of work into getting it.

She's afraid of being lonely, so she's always got a boyfriend. It doesn't really matter that he's not a Christian, he's "sympathetic" and he's a man. Her man.

Pamela's problem is that she hasn't understood that Jesus is enough. That he is sufficient.

She is unable or unwilling to cast her burdens and worries on the one who cares for her (1 Peter 5:7). The ambitions and desires that she has absorbed from the society and culture that she lives in matter almost as much to her as Jesus - and they're starting to crowd him out.

She needs to see that her life and priorities must be assembled to God's specifications not her own. There will be things that she fears; things that she loves - but they must never be allowed to displace the stuff that is more important than life itself.

When Jesus explains the most important commandment in Mark 12:29, he starts the quotation with "Hear O Israel, the Lord, the Lord your God is one." The understanding that God is one, that God is sovereign, that single-minded devotion to Jesus is all that is required is central to dealing with the fears and temptations that pull us towards the worship of multiple gods.

Examples

Solomon was man of unparalleled wisdom. Yet too much time hanging out with hundreds of hot heathen wives seduced him; he began to engage in the idolatrous worship of other gods.

In contrast, Paul (Php 3:14) was guided by one thing, one ambition, one goal. One pure and holy passion ruled his life. He refused to be side-tracked or diverted from being sold out for Jesus.

To Ponder

  • What do I spend my time worrying about? What do I allow to crowd out my devotional time with God? What saps my passion for the gospel? What do I need to cut loose because it impairs my ability to follow Christ?
  • What is my friend involved in that is diluting the impact of their faith? What should I be praying for them, for their desires? Where and how should I be provoking them to be more dedicated to their Lord?

Idolatrous Ivan

20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. -- Matthew 13:20-21

Idolatrous Ivan loves the gospel. Quite how he came to faith we don't know... it may have been an evangelistic event, an alpha course, a friend whose life he admired.

Ivan's joy is real. His worship is genuine and sincere. He is upbeat and inspiring to those around him. But his faith has a fatal flaw: he views the gospel as a means to some other end. Jesus is his tool.

There's something in Ivan's life that he values above the gospel, above salvation. Maybe it's comfort, maybe it's his family, job, some relationship. He comes to faith not with empty hands but with preconditions.

Suddenly that precondition fails. A loved one dies. He loses his job. He gets beaten up for being a Christian. Some storm enters his life and shatters his happiness and he throws in the towel.

The reason is distressingly simple: Jesus was not Ivan's God. He may have been his servant, his friend, his adviser, his helpmate, his guide - but comfort, or a healthy family, or financial security was the God Ivan really worshipped. And when there was a conflict and Ivan had to chose between gods, between idols to serve, he jettisons Jesus.

To reach Ivan, we must impress Jesus as the ultimate blessing of the gospel, not merely the means of blessing. According to the shorter Westminster Catechism, the chief end of man is to worship God and enjoy him forever: this fundamental understanding needs to be impressed upon Ivan. He must understand that a gospel of grace means that God sets the preconditions and the terms of salvation, not us.

Examples

Paul's fellow worker Demas (2 Tim 4:10) falls more in love with the world and, it seems, abandons his faith in pursuit of "the present world."

Abraham is the opposite - desperate for a son, an heir, he even sleeps with his wife's servant. But he refuses to place his son above God - and is would rather sacrifice him to God than disobey God.

To Ponder

  • What do I really desire? What would really hurt my faith if I lost it? What have I made an idol of? Do I examine my heart and take stock of its desires?
  • What is it that my friend really wants? Am I presenting Jesus merely as a means to worship some other idol, or I am presenting him as both Saviour and Lord? Do I warn my friends when I see temporary, empty things taking too great a place in their affections?

Clueless Craig

When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. Matthew 13:19

What's Craig's problem? What's going wrong here?

There is a credibility gap that prevents Craig from ever coming to terms with the gospel. The precise excuse or reason varies from person to person: it is what Tim Keller would call a "defeater belief."

Craig may have an intellectual understanding of the gospel. He may know his bible inside out. He may be a fool who embraces his ignorance. He may be sympathetic towards "faith" or strongly antagonistic. But whatever else is going on, he has a barrier to belief that prevents any sort of progress.

Such beliefs abound in modern society - "religion is the enemy of progress", "religion is the enemy of reason," "religion is the source of human conflict," "religion is irrelevant," "religion is repressive," "it doesn't matter what you believe," "religion is a crutch." Often mingling truth with untruth, they are dangerous and seductive lies.

For Craig to understand the gospel the barrier must be shown to be untrue. This is not a merely intellectual exercise: the issue is spiritual. The source of lies is the devil himself (Jn 8:44); any response that does not involve prayer and reliance on the spirit of God, the spirit of truth, is doomed. We need to pray for revelation; for Craig's eyes to be opened to the truth.

Examples

The pharisees - "blind guides" - were blinded by tradition and a false understanding of what pleases God.

Herod was a hedonist. He listened to the preaching of John the Baptist and was impressed by it, but was unable to turn his back on his immoral lifestyle. He believed that his route to happiness was compromised by the gospel.

To ponder

  • Do I assume that I will never be Craig? Or do I earnestly pray that God will confront the lies that I believe and live by and replace them with truth? Do I ask people to pray that for me?
  • Do I give up to easily when someone simply can't or won't see the relevance of the gospel? Or do I recognise this as a symptom of the devil's activity and respond appropriately?

Parable of the Sower

In the parable of the sower (Matt 13:1-9), Jesus describes the way we respond to God's word in agricultural terms. In Matthew 13:18-23, he explains that the parable identifies four basic responses.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Matthew 13:18-23
  • The path (v19) is the non-starter, the person who never "gets it": Clueless Craig
  • The rocky ground (v20-21) is a person who has passion without perseverance: Idolatrous Ivan
  • The thorny ground (v22) is a person with depth but without radical commitment: Polytheistic Pamela
  • The good soil (v23) is the person who hears, has passion, depth and singleminded devotion: Faithful Francis.

More thoughts on the characters and application to follow...