Three Reasons Jesus Spoke in Parables

Daily Reading
Genesis 14 (Listen – 4:04)
Matthew 13 (Listen – 7:23)

Matthew 13.10-11
The disciples came to [Jesus] and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”

Jesus’ disciples were flummoxed. While this happened often to these men to whom the Messiah would entrust his church, this time we might have shared their bewilderment. Jesus came to save the lost, redeem the oppressed, and show God’s love for the world. Yet, for some reason, he concealed his message in parables. His answer to their question, that some have been given knowledge and others have not, looks disturbing (more-so when lifted from its context, as above). What was Jesus saying?

1. Jesus was responding to the religious elite’s rejection of him. The rejection of Christ, recorded in the previous chapters of Matthew, is harsh. Just prior to this encounter the religious leaders respond to one of Jesus’ miracles by calling him an agent of the devil. [1] “The die has been cast,” summarizes Pastor Stanley Toussaint. “The people of Israel are amazed at the power of Jesus and His speech, but they fail to recognize Him as their King… they have separated the fruit from the tree.” [2]

2. Parables mercifully spared the hard-hearted from rejecting Christ’s message. Instead of rejecting the religious leaders as they rejected him, Christ began speaking in parables. He delivered grace to all who would hear and gave the hard-hearted space to respond. (The Pharisees Nicodemus and Saul of Tarsus later come to faith, as does religious council member Joseph of Arimathea, and many others.)

3. What was concealed in parables was revealed on the cross and after the grave. If humankind’s primary problem was lack of knowledge then Jesus would have doubled down on his teaching so none would perish due to ignorance. Instead he went to the cross to die the death we deserved and rose from the grave to give us the life we could not have earned. We may wrestle with Christ’s teachings, but the answer we need is found in his sacrifice.

Prayer
God, thank you for your patience with those who rejected you. Apart from you our hearts are like theirs. Thank you that you walk with your rejectors, sacrifice for them, and love them so deeply you would give your life. Give us patience and fruitfulness as we respond and share your grace with those around us.

Miracles and Parables Among Skeptics
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1] See Matthew 12.22-32. | [2] Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King. p. 168.

 

Faith Among Skeptics

Daily Reading
Genesis 13 (Listen – 2:16)
Matthew 12 (Listen – 6:41)

Matthew 12.6

[Jesus said,] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.

“Modern philosophy has been inhospitable to the soul,” laments Alan Mittleman in the Harvard Theological Review. [1] No longer just the soul, but anything non-physical is called into question or explained as a consequence of material realities. (Love, joy, and pain are each given physical root in chemical responses.) How are we to deal with things of faith which transcend the concrete?

In some ways this isn’t just a modern problem. Timothy Keller explores a real philosophical challenge from the first century though a fictional conversation between a Roman and his Christian neighbor. Watch the disconnect between religious Roman life and Christianity, as well as the beauty of a faith which transcends the zeitgeist: 

The [Roman] neighbor says, “Oh, you’re a Christian. That’s great. I love religion, all the pageantry. That’s really wonderful. Where is your temple? 

The Christian would’ve said, “We don’t have a temple. Jesus is our temple. He has fulfilled it. He’s the final temple. We don’t need temples anymore.”

The neighbor would say, “Well, you have no temple? Where do your priests operate?

“We don’t have any priests. Jesus is our Priest. He’s the final Priest. He has put priests out of business. We don’t need any mediator. He’s the Mediator.”

“No temple? No priests? Where do you do your rituals, the things that make you acceptable to God?

“Jesus is our sacrifice, so we don’t have any more sacrifices.”

Finally, the neighbor says, “What kind of religion is this?” 

The Christian would say, “It’s no kind of religion at all, because we didn’t get a religion; we got a person. We don’t have a God so high up there we need a religion to sort of get in connection with him. ‘Come in, God. Come in.’ He came to us. He died for us. He came into our midst, and now we don’t have a religion. We have a person.”

Prayer
God we are so thankful we’re not called to earn you, but called to know you. We acknowledge that your ways are beyond ours. Give us faith to trust and knowledge to understand. We want to know you. We want to be articulate about who you are — sometimes in conditions hostile to things of faith and spirituality. Give us grace, boldness, and wisdom as we have opportunity to share who you are and what you’ve done for us.

Miracles and Parables Among Skeptics
Part 1 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Footnotes

[1]  Alan Mittleman (2014). Making the Case for the Soul in an Age of Neuroscience. Harvard Theological Review, 107, pp 485-493. | [2] Keller, T. J. The Lord of the Sabbath. The Timothy Keller Sermon Archive. New York City: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2006.

Go and Learn

Daily Reading
Genesis 9-10 (Listen – 7:19)
Matthew 9 (Listen – 4:56)
*We’re reading and listening to the NIV this year. See why.

Matthew 9.13
[Jesus said,] “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Pharisees were liberal in their view of who could have God’s presence, says Hebrew University Historian Daniel Schwartz. [1] There was no debate among Jewish scholars in Jesus’ day that Israel had broken God’s covenant with them. The key question of their time was how the covenant could be restored — and the answer extended from theology into the reality of everyday life.

The Sadducees believed God’s presence could only reside in a certain kind of person: those born of the proper lineage and actively participating in Temple life in Jerusalem. This was a significant problem for most ancient Jews as they were spread throughout the Near East. Moving was almost always an unthinkable risk since land was life in an agrarian society. The Pharisees grew in power because they offered Jews outside of Jerusalem an alternative. In short, they believed keeping the law was the way a person’s standing with God was restored. They were fastidious about the law because it was their only hope.

The Pharisees and Sadducees each crafted a way for a person to restore their relationship with God through their own volition. The Sadducees wanted people to give up on their cities, neighborhoods, and vocations, believing God’s plan was limited to a particular culture and place. The Pharisees looked at their Scriptures like a rulebook, missing—in Jesus’ opinion—the entire point of the Scriptures.

“Go and learn” is a rabbinic phrase which means the hearer has missed something in the Scriptures and needs to study with greater attention. Jesus wasn’t a sage who commanded his followers to study the laws and do their best to conduct flawless lives. Any prophet could have done that. Jesus’ foundational claim was that he was the Son of God who came to extend God’s mercy to the world. Restoration was possible through him.

Prayer

Thank you, Father, for extending your mercy to us. Thank you that your love isn’t limited to those who obey best, or are born to the right family, or live in a particular culture. Guide us to read Scripture in such a way that leads us to be dependent on you and not on our own strength. Help us to extend your mercy to those around us in ways that lead them to you. 

This Week: Anger and Forgiveness, Miracles and Mercy
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org

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Weekend Readings

Saturday: Genesis 11 (Listen – 3:47); Matthew 10 (Listen – 5:07)
Sunday: Genesis 12 (Listen – 2:50); Matthew 11 (Listen – 4:06)

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Footnotes

[1] See Daniel Schwartz’ discussion on requirements for God’s presence inside Jewish Movements of the New Testament Period in The Jewish Annotated Study Bible, pp.526-530. Oxford University Press, 2011.

Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health

Highlighted Text: 2 Cor. 13:5
Full Text: Prov. 1, 2 Cor. 13

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. [1]

How do doctors diagnose physical health? They ask questions, e.g., Have you experienced any breathing difficulties? In his short book, “Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health” [2], Don Whitney suggests doing the same:

  • Do you thirst for God? Jonathan Edwards wrote, “So holy desire, exercised in longings, hungerings, and thirstings after God and holiness, is often mentioned in Scripture as an important part of true religion.” [3]
  • Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word? Thomas Chalmers wrote, “The sum and substance of the preparation needed for a coming eternity is that you believe what the Bible tells you and do what the Bible bids you.” [4]
  • Are you more loving? Martin Luther wrote, “The more a person loves, the closer he approaches the image of God.” [5]
  • Are you more sensitive to God’s presence? A.W. Pink wrote, “If the soul of the believer is in a healthy condition, he will take occasion to frequently come into God’s presence on purpose to have communion with Him.” [6]
  • Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others? John Calvin said, “There is nothing in which men resemble God more truly than in doing good to others.” [7]
  • Do you delight in the bride of Christ? Peter Jeffrey wrote, “The closer you are to the Lord, the closer you will be to other believers.” [8]
  • Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you? Peter Jeffrey wrote, “Without a disciplined life, you will stagnate as a Christian.” [9]
  • Do you still grieve over sin? J.C. Ryle wrote, “I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin.” [10]
  • Are you a quick forgiver? James Coulter wrote, “The unforgiving spirit … is the number one killer of spiritual life.” [11]
  • Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus? C.H. Spurgeon said, “You may judge of a man by what he groans after.” [12]

Lord, We long for life in you and, therefore, we must have health and growth. Let us test ourselves, as we seek your face in our quiet times alone with you and in our community. Lift our eyes to Jesus, as we press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in him. Amen.

[Note: Supporting Scripture references for each question are found in the footnotes.]

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Footnotes

[1] 2 Cor. 13:5 ESV.  |  [2] Donald S. Whitney. Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. I love his questions because they focus on the state of the heart toward God (which is the goal) and see Christian obedience and the practice of Christian disciplines (which are the means) as evidence of the state of the heart. Also, in each chapter, he expands on these questions and offers “practical steps” for growing in each of these areas.  |  [3] Do you thirst for God? See, e.g., Ps. 42; Ps. 63; Phil. 3:1-11. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [4] Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word? See, e.g., Ps. 119; 1 Ptr. 2:2; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Thes. 2:10. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [5] Are you more loving? See, e.g., Jn. 15:12; Jn 15:17; Rom. 12:10; Rom. 13:8; 1 Cor. 16:14; Gal. 5:14; Eph. 5:2; 1 Thes. 4:9. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [6] Are you more sensitive to God’s presence? See, e.g., Gen. 28:16 (when Jacob didn’t recognize God’s presence); Matt. 28:20; Ps. 139:5-12; Matt. 1:23; Acts 11:21; Matt. 18:10; Rev. 21:3. (Tons more in the chapter.) Also, I love this chapter because it talks about times when we go through the desert and how those increase our later senses of His presence.  |  [7] Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others? See, e.g., Acts 4:33-34; Gal. 2:10; Jms 2:15-16; Jn. 10:10; Jn. 13:1-17. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [8] Do you delight in the bride of Christ? See, e.g., Eph. 5:25-27; 1 Jn. 3:14; Ps. 16:3. (Tons more in the chapter.) (Note: Delighting in “our friends who are in the church” is not the same as delighting “in the church.” In New York, I have found that it is so easy only to spend time with those I already like and am drawn to. Yet the church is filled with all kinds of people. Do I delight in the church? This is the goal; my, how far I have to go!  |  [9] Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you? See, e.g., Heb. 12:14; 1 Tim. 4:7; Mark 1:35. (Tons more in the chapter.) He also asks, “What are the spiritual disciplines?” and “What are the dangers of the spiritual disciplines?” – two important questions.  |  [10] Do you still grieve over sin? See, e.g., 1 Ptr. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:15; 2 Cor. 7:8-11. (Tons more in the chapter.) He also provides wonderful examples of great saints in more “modern” times (Edwards, etc.).  |  [11] Are you a quick forgiver? See, e.g., Mark 11:25-26; 2 Cor. 5:17. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [12] Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus? See, e.g., Rom. 8:22-23; 2 Cor. 5:2. (Tons more in the chapter.)  |  [13] For those who read our 843 Acres in Google Reader, please disregard the accidental version of this post that was published yesterday.

What Happens When We See God

Highlighted Text: Job 42:5
Full Text: Job 42, 2 Cor. 12

Sight | We can read about God and study His Word and yet never be changed. God is just an idea until He comes and speaks into our hearts. Before God spoke to him, Job was quick to remember his own righteousness. When he heard God’s voice, however, he fell in brokenness and confessed, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you”[1].

Perspective | Job immediately had two new senses about the Lord – that His sovereignty was absolute: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted”[2], and that His wisdom was infinitely superior to human knowledge: “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” [3]. In light of having these two new senses about God, Job also had a new sense about himself: “I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” [4].

Sense | This is what happens when we see God. We don’t have to ask God to show us our sin for what it is; we merely need to ask God to open our eyes to see Him in His magnificent and sovereign holiness. When our eyes behold His glory, we automatically see how utterly different we are from Him [5]. Then what happens to us? Do we become joyless and depressing people? No! We get a brokenhearted joy and a childlike faith that trusts in God. As Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior” [6].

Prayer | Lord, When we’re not in your presence, it’s easy to think more highly of ourselves than we ought. We praise our own abilities and knowledge instead of your sovereignty and wisdom. Yet, when the reality of your holiness comes bursting forth into our hearts, we see how unworthy we are – apart from Jesus – to live in your mighty love. Therefore, make us broken and changed people, who trust in you with childlike faith. Make our objections to you give way to our worship of you. Give us a sense of your holiness so that we live in confession. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Job 42:5 ESV  |  [2] Job 42:2 ESV  |  [3] Job 42:3 ESV  |  [4] Job 42:6 ESV  |  [5] Isaiah saw the Lord and proclaimed, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:6 ESV), and Peter saw Jesus perform a miracle and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8 ESV).  |  [6] Jonathan Edwards. Religious Affections. (portion in italics is taken from 1 Peter 1:8). Elsewhere Jonathan Edwards elaborated on the experience of David Brainerd, “I saw that I had been heaping up my devotions before God, fasting, praying, pretending, and indeed really thinking sometimes, that I was aiming for the glory of God; whereas I never once truly intended it, but only my own happiness. I saw, that as I had never done any thing for God, I had no claim on any thing from him, but perdition, on account of my hypocrisy and mockery. Oh how different did my duties now appear from what they used to do! I used to charge them with sin and imperfection; but this was only on account of the wanderings and vain thoughts attending them, and not because I had no regard to God in them; for this I thought I had. But when I saw evidently that I had regard to nothing but self-interest, then they appeared a vile mockery of God, self-worship, and a continual course of lies; so that I now saw that something worse had attended my duties, than barely a few wanderings; for the whole world was nothing but self-worship, and a horrid abuse of God. I continued, as I remember, in this state of mind, from Friday morning till the Sabbath evening following (July 12, 1739) when I was walking again in the same solitary place, where I was brought to see myself lost and helpless, as before mentioned. Here, in a mournful melancholy state, I was attempting to pray; but found no heart to engage in that or any other duty; my former concern, exercise and religious affections were now gone. I thought the Spirit of God had quite left me; but still was not distressed; yet disconsolate, as if there was nothing in heaven or earth could make me happy. Having been thus endeavoring to pray though, as I thought, very stupid and senseless for near half an hour, then as I was walking in a dark, thick grove, unspeakable glory seemed to open to the view and apprehension of my soul. I do not mean any external brightness, for I saw no such thing; nor do I intend any imagination of a body of light, somewhere in the third heavens, or any thing of that nature; but it was a new inward apprehension or view that I had of God, such as I never had before, nor any thing which had the least resemblance of it. I stood still, wondered, and admired! I knew that I never had seen before any thing comparable to it for excellency and beauty; it was widely different from all the conceptions that ever I had of God, or things divine. I had no particular apprehension of any one person in the Trinity, either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Ghost; but it appeared to be divine glory. My soul rejoiced with joy unspeakable, to see such a God, such a glorious Divine Being; and I was inwardly pleased and satisfied that he should be God over all for ever and ever. My soul was so captivated and delighted with the excellency, loveliness, greatness, and other perfections of God, that I was even swallowed up in him; at least to that degree, that I had no thought (as I remember) at first about my own salvation, and scarce reflected there was such a creature as myself.” See how Brainerd FIRST saw his own sinfulness and wretchedness and THEN saw the unspeakable joy of the Lord – so much that he even forgot about himself! This is the process that God uses to show us who He is and who we are in light of who He is. This is how He makes us brokenhearted in joy and childlike in faith. See Jonathan Edwards. The Life and Diary of David Brainerd.

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