Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 13

Gartenkresse

Growth.

The jar was beginning to stink. Germinating alfalfa sprouts on the kitchen window sill usually produce quick and tasty results; a spoonful of seeds kept moist, rinsed daily and drained through a cheesecloth lid can grow into a jarful of crisp green sprouts in four or five days. But this batch had become stunted at only millimetres in length. The feeble sprouts looked like they were better suited for the compost than my sandwich. What had gone wrong?

Jesus observes a similar scenario in chapter thirteen of our survey of the gospel of Matthew. He tells a crowd of listeners a parable about seed being broadcast throughout a farmer’s field. Being a parable, though, means He is presenting a truth about something much deeper and more significant than what appears on the surface. It’s not about farming methods, land use, or profit margins. Jesus is describing a scenario, like my alfalfa-sprout-letdown, where the returns on a planting take a surprising turn. Listen.

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).

Did you notice how many different areas of the farmer’s field Jesus describes? There are the pathway areas—heavily trodden and as hard as baked clay; there are the rocky outcrops—uneven surfaces thinly covered with topsoil; there are the sections where only a hint of disturbance in the soil is apparent at seed-planting but where thorny perennials dominate and drain the soil’s nutrients. We are beginning to feel sorry for the farmer whose field, it seems, is less than ideal for a harvest. Finally, though, Jesus describes an area of good soil—where seeds germinate, grow, reach their full potential as plants, and produce a crop up to a hundred times greater than the seed from which they grew.

Did you feel the tension ease as the farmer finally gets a return for all his hard work? There is something fulfilling, a sense of justice satisfied, a strain relieved, when some seed accomplishes what it was designed to do. Seeds are supposed to grow.

What is Jesus really describing in this parable, this mini-story that is meant to cause people to think about some core realities of life? That’s exactly what His disciples asked Jesus after He had told them the parable.

Jesus explained that soil is a metaphor for a person’s heart of hearts—the inner core of a person that is either open to God or puts up barriers between itself and God; Jesus describes hearts with barriers against God as being hardened, shallow, and distracted. He pictures hearts open to God as a rich and healthy environment for growth. The seed is the message of God’s kingdom revealed by the Word of God. The core of the seed (it’s germ) is the assertion that all people are separated from their Creator by sin, but that Jesus Himself is our Redeemer—the Giver of the second chance. For the seed to both germinate and grow to maturity, individuals must accept the message of the seed and entrust themselves daily to God. They must allow God to cultivate their heart to free them from hardness of heart, shallowness of purpose, and distraction by things of lesser value. True and lasting personal growth can only happen this way.

And why had my alfalfa sprout project aborted? I had inadvertently placed the seed-filled jar in a way that blocked any air from entering or leaving the jar. In the same way, unless we allow the Spirit of God to blow truth into our lives our faith will become stunted and we will lose the crisp, fresh texture of a life being changed by God.

Our take-home thought is Jesus’ recommendation at the end of His parable. Remember it? He counsels, “He who has ears, let him hear.” We’ve been given ears. We ought to use them to really hear what Jesus has explained. Do we want to grow and flourish as humans?—then attend to the issue Jesus has described. If not, we ought not to be surprised seeing our lives gradually deteriorating, shriveling, becoming stunted and frustrated. The time for planting and growing is at hand.

(Photo Credit: [Rainer Zenz.File:Gartenkresse.jpg|Gartenkresse]

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Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 12

Translated Msg

Interpreter.

When the HSBC’s slogan ‘Assume Nothing’ was mistranslated as ‘Do Nothing’, business slackened significantly—it took $10M of rebranding to restore customer confidence in the misrepresented company. When Pepsi’s tag line ‘Come Alive With the Pepsi Generation’ was translated into Taiwanese as ‘Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead’ the company was left with a big promise to fulfill. And when the Parker pen company advertised ‘It won’t leak in your pocket and embarrass you’ came out in Spanish as “It won’t leak in your pocket and make you pregnant’ more than a few eyebrows were raised. Knowing the intended message matters.

In contrast, Jesus was the perfect interpreter; His life on earth performed the unique task of interpreting God’s true intentions for planet earth in general and for the human species in particular. Chapter twelve of Matthew’s gospel describes for us some of the difficulties Jesus faced when the messages of the self-appointed interpreters of the day clashed with His message. A quick summary would be: The religious teachers of the day demanded the people obey the letter of the Law; Jesus taught His followers (through parables, teachings, and example) to be moved by the Spirit of the Law.

“Look!” scorned the Pharisees, following Jesus into a farmer’s field like vultures encircling their prey. They had seen Jesus allow His disciples to glean grain kernels from a field to take the edge off their hunger. “Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

They followed Jesus into the local synagogue, finding an opportunity to bait Him. “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” they challenged, looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.

When Jesus left the synagogue, the Pharisees also slipped out, dogging him like hounds on a scented trail. Hearing the people rejoicing over the healing of a blind and mute demon-possessed man, the Pharisees then grumbled, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”

“Teacher,” they sneered, having missed the action, “We want to see a miraculous sign from you.”

For anyone else it would have been exhausting dealing with the bitter denunciations of the gatekeepers of Jewish Law and culture. For Jesus it must have been heartbreaking. He knew the heart of the Law like none other. He had come from the Father, having created all that is in existence; the moral standard by which His creatures were designed to live had been misinterpreted until the Lawgiver Himself had become obliterated by the power-hungry Law-keepers. The understanding of the moral nature of God was being deliberately twisted, distorted and skewed to benefit the ulterior motives of those who considered themselves experts of the Law. The Pharisees were mistranslating ‘Assume nothing’ into ‘Do nothing.’

How did Jesus respond?

To the issues of misrepresenting Sabbath Day requirements for eating and healing, Jesus replied, “(I am) the Lord of the Sabbath” and “it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” We can imagine how that enraged the Law-keepers—who was this man, claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath and telling them what was good?

But Jesus wasn’t finished correcting their misinterpretations. The hunted became the hunter as Jesus faced the Pharisaical pack and confronted them with the seriousness of their errors. Jesus would not take issue when people attacked Him personally. But when they went so far as to deny the work of the Holy Spirit in His miracles, assigning the power rather to the work of Satan, Jesus took exception. “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit,” Jesus warned, “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Jesus said much more to them, not mincing His words as He cut to the heart of their problem. Their hearts were cold to God. Everything that comes from a heart cold and closed to God results in misinterpretation of God’s words and God’s ways—worse, it ultimately results in that person becoming completely hardened and unable to accept the greatest miraculous sign given to the world—Himself, God incarnate, paying the debt for our moral crime by accepting an unjust execution at our hands.

We do well to take Jesus’ words to heart. How often have we misinterpreted Jesus by acceding to His goodness as a moral teacher while denying His ultimate sovereignty over our lives? We are often tempted to interpret His words in a way that preserves our autonomy, but is that what He intends for us? Let’s dust off that old Bible, crack it open, ask for His Spirit’s presence and wisdom to interpret for us what He means, and then obey Him. Then ‘Assume Nothing’ will never be misunderstood as ‘Do Nothing’.

(Photo Credit: elspeth-itsamystery.blogspot.com)

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 11

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Invitation.

Locked in prison awaiting execution was not what John the Baptist had expected. It’s not that he minded spartan fare—he had been living in the desert off locusts and wild honey for years. But when a vocation like John’s is disrupted and replaced with weeks in dank, dark confinement it can cause a body to doubt.

“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John directed his followers to inquire of Jesus.

Do you hear the confusion in John’s voice? From conception John had been set apart for a specific purpose: to fulfill an ancient prophecy to be “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’.” John understood it as a calling to prepare the people for the coming of the long-awaited Messiah by urging them to humble their hearts in repentance. But one too many calls to repentance had landed him in prison, and a niggling thought was pestering him: was Jesus not the Messiah? How could Messiah’s messenger end up here?

Jesus’ reply is equally thoughtful and combines both a warning and an invitation.

“Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me,” He begins, and then finishes with “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus knew this was exactly what John the imprisoned needed to hear. John was feeling discouraged and maybe even on the verge of doubting. Things weren’t going well for him and in situations like his it is natural for feelings to begin to usurp conviction. Have you ever felt like John?

Jesus responds to John by encouraging him to face the facts—Jesus is the great Realist who knows the havoc our fears and delusions can wreak in our lives. In effect, Jesus is saying, ‘You are not in prison in spite of being my messenger—you are there because of me.’ Jesus’ work on earth paralleled a work in the unseen realm where righting a human wrong requires divine arbitration. The Apostle Paul would later describe this as “a struggle not against flesh and blood, but against…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Eph. 6:12).

Following Jesus is not about taking the easy way out; it’s about taking the true way to real life, which, He warns, won’t always appear attractive on the surface. It means choosing to ally ourselves with Jesus in a world where dark earthly authorities and evil spiritual forces will focus their power against anyone in Jesus’ service. Those who do not crumble under the assault, says Jesus, are blessed—are doing the right and reasonable thing in terms of eternity.

But He doesn’t stop there. It’s not just a warning that He gives; it’s also an invitation.

Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us. He’s referring to the practice of harnessing beasts of burden together to allow them to pull a load more easily than one alone could have done. He’s saying that yes, those who ally themselves with Him will be—for a time—in the line of fire from earthly and spiritual forces opposed to Him, but He will make the burden bearable and even restful for our souls. It’s an oxymoron we find hard to conceive of until we actually choose to obey it. But it is a promise made by the One who would go on to bear the weight and burden of the guilt of all our trespasses against God—who rose from the grave that evil men and dark demons had hoped would swallow Him up and now stands at the Father’s side awaiting the right time to bring final justice to every created being.

“Come to me,” Jesus invites. Join my team; pull with me as I till the land and plant the seeds that will grow into an amazing harvest. Then join me feasting on the abundance that my hard labour will have produced.

So when (not if, but when) we feel tempted to fall away from our alignment with Jesus because we seem to be paying a higher price than we imagined and the turmoil we face is anything but restful, we are invited to quiet our soul and just come to Jesus. Even, come back, if we’ve strayed far. We’re not too far to turn our hearts back toward Him, find our rest in Him and learn from Him. Imagine a King and Master who calls Himself “gentle and humble in heart”—can you come to a God like that and trust Him to ultimately do right by you?

John the imprisoned Baptist did turn away from his doubts and rest in Jesus, as have untold other followers of Jesus through two millennia so far. Let’s heed the warning and accept the invitation to be part of the team of those who choose to be yoked with Jesus through thick and thin. Be assured we will find what our soul longs for. Rest.

(Photo Credit: Abdalian, Leon H.,[[File:Pair of oxen at the Clinton Fair.jpg|thumb|Pair of oxen at the Clinton Fair]]

Twenty-eight Days With Jesus, Day 10

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Fearless

Ever been faced with a threat to your health or life? Ever barely missed being hit by an oncoming vehicle, a falling tree limb, a vicious dog or other serious threat? You know the feeling; a rush of adrenaline courses through your body, you involuntarily take in a gasping lungful of air and you react with the old ‘Fight or Flight’ response.

Fear is a powerful motivator. It can make us do things we never thought possible, or prevent us from doing things we assumed were inevitable. But sometimes fear takes on proportions it was never meant to have in our lives. It weakens us by limiting the opportunities we are willing to step into that would benefit our lives or others’.

Jesus tackles the concept of fear in this ‘Day 10’ of our exploration of Jesus’ life as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Chapter ten lets us eavesdrop in on Jesus and His twelve closest friends as He appoints and authorizes them for a task. He is engaging the disciples in a sort of commissioning—preparing His apprentices for their first outreach project into the Jewish communities in their area. While the appointment is specific to the disciples, Jesus’ teaching regarding fear is very relevant to each of our lives and worth considering.

Jesus is preparing the Twelve to accomplish the double task of going to Jewish communities in the vicinity and healing every disease and sickness—physical, mental or spiritual—while teaching the message, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” He doesn’t want them to go into the task thinking all will be rosy. There will be barriers. Those who perceive their own power might be usurped by this ‘heavenly kingdom’ will not take kindly to the message. They never do. In fact Jesus warns His followers, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves” and “Be on your guard.” Followers of Jesus need to be wise in their exercise of the task Jesus gives them.

So Jesus comes right out and voices what they have all been wondering, saying, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” He is preparing them for a worst-case scenario. Most of those first disciples would face martyrs’ deaths—the Roman Empire of the day was free to inflict the death penalty where it perceived a threat—but the disciples didn’t know that yet. None of us know how we will meet our earthly end. And Jesus wants to discuss the issue of fear, because many situations are possible in our lives. We may face any number of worst-case scenarios; any one of an array of fear-inducing developments may arise to threaten our health, our welfare, or our lives. Jesus wants to prepare all of His followers to meet and defeat this great inner enemy each of us have known at some time or another. How does He do it? What deep metaphysical and rational reason does Jesus provide to enable His followers to combat and conquer fear? He tells them to consider the wild birds of nature.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus muses. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” I imagine Jesus makes this last comment with a smile. He can be the master of understatement when He wants to be. He is asking, ‘Do you even begin to know the great worth the Heavenly Father places on each of you?’

Jesus is revealing the depth of personal interest God the Father takes in each individual. Can anything truly disastrous happen in the life of a person who has entrusted himself or herself to God’s care? The answer to that rhetorical question is no! We must gather that thought and frame it; we need to place it forefront in our minds, understanding it as perhaps the single most important truth for understanding how to live our lives in this often dangerous and daunting world. God is with us; what need we fear?

David begins a psalm with that thought. “The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?” he asks himself. “The LORD is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” Again the answer is implied: an emphatic ‘no one!’

The secret to thwarting fear is to focus on the Father. Keeping in mind His great love for each of us makes the fearsome threats of life pale in comparison. We are of great value and worth to the God of the universe. Would He let anything hinder His plans for us? Absolutely not! Believe it—and watch those fears disappear.

(Photo Credit: [[File:TwoSparrows.jpg|thumb|TwoSparrows]])