Friday, July 31, 2015
How can a blade of corn resist the poison of our pesticides? How can an infant sprouting of seed withstand the onslaught of bugs, birds, drought, or flood? In an effort to create stronger plants (and animals), large chemical corporations experiment with modifying the genetic composition of “life” in order to create more “sustainable” harvests. But the science of GMOs, particularly when published by companies that have a long history of covering up the damage of carcinogens found in their products, does little to reassure the fears of the consuming public. Does the process of genetic modification end in the plants we alter … or does it continue in us after we consume them … and to what effect? Does altering a tomato to make it more red, and less seedy, have a side effect in me when I consume it? In short, how could we possibly assess the damage that genetic alteration could do to us, especially when we are certain profit was the motive behind the science?
But perhaps the more interesting question is … does humanity itself need a genetic level alteration? In our previous studies, Peter recalled to John Mark is his gospel, the first parable or story-telling lesson of Jesus Christ to His followers. It was a story of the sower (God the Father) sowing His Seed (Jesus Christ) into the earth or (hearts of mankind). The response to the Father taking the initiative to sow His Son into us varied in this story. And without the lens of Jesus Christ and His mission to redeem all of mankind, we might tend to miss the point for the details. But our salvation from ourselves, that is, the removing of even our desire to sin, can only be accomplished as we allow Christ to change us from the inside out. In short, we are asking Jesus to modify what we want, how we think, and who we are. Perhaps what humanity needs is a genetic level re-wiring of who we are, in order to become something else, and something better. At least we know the changes God proposes to us, are NOT motivated by profit, or any selfish reason on His part, they are motivated by a love that would see us be happy and live lives of meaning and fulfillment.
And it is the “process” of salvation that follows the analogy of growth or decay. Peter picks up the conversation with Jesus in chapter 4 of John Marks gospel and in verse 24 saying … “And he said unto them, Take heed what ye hear: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given.” This is not just an admonition to be fair with others in our business dealings. It is bigger than that. “Take heed” or pay attention to, or give consideration to … what we hear. The “wisdom” of the Pharisees was all around the disciples at that time. Many were content to seek the wisdom of tradition, of what their parents had taught them, of what the establishment dictated was truth. This collective “wisdom” gathered through centuries of studying scriptures, was ready to deny Christ and see Him murdered for His dissent. To choose to listen and learn from Jesus Christ instead of from the religious leadership of His day, was considered a radical thing. It was enough to get you thrown out of the Temple, and denied re-entry.
Imagine the irony of being cast out of the earthly Temple, because you sought the wisdom of the Heavenly sent Temple of Christ. What understanding of real Truth the disciples would gain, would come only from the direct interactions and study of Jesus Christ. It is no different today. We risk losing Jesus in our quest to master the scriptures. We allow our preconceptions to govern what we permit our minds to absorb from the reading of His word. And we translate our certainty about what we “know” from scripture to create boundaries between one Christian and another, because we do not see eye-to-eye on every point of faith … while ignoring our privilege to love one another like He loves us. Instead we prefer to denigrate one another for a “lack of understanding” of the written word, and in so doing, reveal we know so little ourselves of the personification of the Word. What disagreement over doctrine should so cause us to isolate ourselves from each other, and refuse love that is so desperately needed from each other? Perhaps if we “took heed” of what we heard in the voice of Jesus Christ calling us to love each other as our first priority, the other differences would resolve themselves, or we would discover, they did not matter anyway.
When we are harsh with each other in the application of the word, Christ warns us that our actions and motives will be returned to us. The phrase … “with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you” … is not about retribution from others, or from God. It is more dangerous than that, it is a warning about self-created GMOs of a spiritual nature. As we permit ourselves to apply the word of God in judgment and condemnation of others for their misdeeds, we “become” judgmental and condemning people. We slowly but surely extinguish the caring for others from our insides out. We modify our genetic spiritual condition over time such that we do not realize what we are doing until we become the people we used to pity or despise. Love is destroyed within us. Love is altered to the point where our hate speech is rationalized as a form of “loving” others. We actually think we are doing them a favor for condemning them for their sins, all the while ignoring our lack of love in us. We may go so far as to perform miracles in the powerful name of Christ, but in truth He does not “know us”, because we have no Love in us.
Too many Christians apply this text as a warning of punishment from God if we are unfair to others. The punishment is not FROM God, it is FROM us; and will be inflicted on us, by us. This text is a warning label from God about the dangers of spiritual GMOs. We have the ability to alter ourselves in a negative way by attempting to use scriptures as a method of judgment, instead of a tool of redemption. The point was never to condemn sinners as they justly deserve, but instead to redeem sinners in spite of them (and us) never deserving redemption. The point of scripture was to find true forgiveness for every single misdeed we ever did, no matter how bad, how often, or how premeditated our actions were. And beyond forgiveness, to find a way to escape repeating these painful deeds, in our submission to Jesus Christ, and His power to remove even these desires from within us. We should allow Christ to modify who we are … if we attempt the modification process ourselves, we produce no better results than Monsanto. Instead of true spiritual growth through having Christ re-wire us, we produce true spiritual decay because we attempt to do it ourselves, choking all signs of love for others out of our stony hearts.
But there is a promise in this text as well for it further reads … “and unto you that hear, more shall be given”. This is not a warning, but a cause for celebration. It is liberating to be made free from ourselves, and our past, and our tendency to cause pain to those we love. The seed of Jesus Christ, can grow within us as we let it. He can teach us how to love others like He loves others. In so doing, more light and real Truth is brought to our minds. As we love others in a tangible way, we begin to learn His Truth in a tangible way. We begin to see the fallacy of attempting to bring others to Christ, while casting stones at them every step of the journey. We begin to see that the positive motivation of love that would free us, is far more alluring, than the threat of a punishment God does not even want to give out. Instead of painting God as a tyrant who demands obedience and love, we begin to see Him for who He truly is, a God who loves us so much, He would rather die than see us suffer and share that fate. He came not only to forgive us, but to redeem us from the self-inflicted pain we are helplessly addicted to. In short His love motivated Him to save us, not see us punished for being who we are. He wishes to free us from who we are, and modify us to restore us, to who we were intended to be.
The lesson of Jesus continues in verse 25 saying … “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.” Here again is a promise of growth and bearing fruit for those who seek wisdom from Jesus Christ. Instead of looking to other “spiritual” pathways to God as every other religion would have us do; and instead of looking to self within Christianity to find “our interpretation” is king; we can safely look to Jesus Christ for the wisdom we need. That wisdom is only found in our transformation in becoming like Him. It is not found in a refusal to be changed by Christ, but an embrace of His changes for us. We become like Him, that is, we become the ears of corn He intends us to be, when we allow Him to modify the core of who we are. When we attempt to find wisdom internally, or through “alternative” means, we remain only the weeds we ever were, sustaining a self-fulfilling prophecy for our destiny.
It is the destiny of “self” that is described in the latter part of this verse saying … “and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath”. The little understanding of Christ a person may have had before, will be extinguished within them as they choke it out, by constantly seeking other means of finding spiritual wisdom. Christians naturally assume this text is meant to apply to Muslims, or Buddhists, or people who seek any other god but Christ. However all too often it is Christians who have lost the distinction of relying upon self for wisdom, instead of being willing to un-learn, and re-learn, the Truth from Jesus Christ.
A symptom of this can be revealed in how willing you would be to worship God or share His love in a church that is not your own, in a denomination that is not your own, on a day you normally choose to do other things on. There are those Seventh Day Adventists who believe finding themselves in church on a Sunday is a sin, and non-SDA’s who equally dislike the idea of worshipping on Saturday. While both struggle to honor God on the day they believe is correct, I do not recall a preclusion to worship God on other days of the week. Both lines-of-thinking typically conduct meetings of prayer on a Wednesday evening. Does our disagreement over doctrine so preclude us from association with each other even in the middle of the week, in the evening, in order to pray? Are we so hardened in our doctrinal positions, that we are unable to cross self-imposed denominational boundaries even to associate for prayer mid-week? And yet we claim our wisdom is based on Christ, and we remain “certain” of this fact, and steadfast in our refusal to associate with other believers, let alone pray with them … “because they don’t understand”. Someone does not understand, but it is not “them”.
That Christians would so fear each other that they cannot meet together, crossing self-imposed denominational boundaries, for prayer midweek is beyond comprehension. That so many Christians would refuse to take time to attend these midweek meetings for prayer (even within their own denomination), is a further testament to where our priorities are, and how little we perceive our “need” of God to be. Being too busy to dedicate a small amount of time to pray to God to ask Him for His blessings … not for ourselves (we do that nearly all the time) … but for others who so desperately need our intercession, is a testament to how much we truly love others. Our television schedules, the demands of raising a family, the project at work that requires extra effort, all find a way of making us “too busy” to go to the inconvenience of a midweek meeting to pray for the souls of others, who remain lost in their self-inflicted pain. Our spiritual GMO created through the lens of self is bearing fruit … just not the kind we would eat, if we truly saw it for what it is.
And the lessons of growth had only just begun …
Friday, July 24, 2015
It is important for us, as we read the story Peter recalled to John Mark in chapter four of his gospel, that we see the words clearly. For some of us, this requires insuring our reading glasses are on, or that we look at the words through the proper part of our bifocal lens. Without this enhancement to our vision, it is difficult to read the words and gain the meaning behind them. But whether your eyes are new, or still maintain a 20/20 reading clarity, there is yet another lens through which scripture can be viewed. This is the lens of Jesus Christ, and His infinite love for us, and great desire to see us redeemed. To read scripture, especially when presented in parable or story-form, without keeping in mind the mission of Christ for our redemption, it is easy to begin to insert self into the themes. Our corrupted thinking begins to influence the meaning we derive from scripture, or stories we read within them. Perhaps the most telling example of the corrupting influence of “self” even when reading scriptures, was given by our Pharisee forefathers.
The Pharisee was a devout man, dedicated to the study of scripture, the debate of its meaning, and the knowledge of God he believed it would impart to him. The Pharisee shared the same philosophy as most Bible based faith and denominations of our day. Where we depart from them (I should hope) is that modern Christians assert the divinity of Christ, and are willing to see scripture through the lens of Jesus Christ. As we do this, we gain clarity behind not only the words, but the motives of scripture. We begin to see how things work together for our redemption, instead of our condemnation. We begin to see how stories were designed to lead us to being made free from sin, not remain bound in slavery to it. The argument between the Pharisees traditions of keeping Sabbath, and the way Jesus intended for it to be kept, could have been resolved quickly, if the Pharisees were willing to submit their ideas to actual Author of the Law. But instead they chose to embrace their own “wisdom”, and refused to be taught by Jesus Christ. When we look at our doctrines, that so distinctly divide denominations of the Christian faith today, can we say we are any different?
As we have allowed our own perceptions, traditions, and egos to enter in to the discussion and debates over the meaning of scriptures. We have divided believers from each other over the disagreements among us. None of us are willing to humble ourselves and admit we could have much to learn on a topic we are so certain about. All of us, believe we have it right, and that we most closely represent what God intended. Yet not ALL of us could be correct in this assertion, and still maintain so many differences in our faith. Our obvious lack of clarity, and unity, is evidence of how much of “self” has crept in to the interpretation of scripture. While we hold to a certainty of our beliefs, we echo the path of our Pharisee forefathers. The advantage the disciples had over us, is that Jesus Christ was a new phenomenon to them. As they encountered the Messiah, they quickly realized He knew Truth, the whole of Truth. No matter what traditions or wisdom had been imparted to the disciples before they met Jesus, they were willing to re-learn anything now that they were in His presence.
If modern Christians were so willing to admit their own fallibility in examining the word, and their complete need of Jesus to see it rightly, perhaps unity could be restored. In the aftermath of reciting the parable of the sower, Peter recounts to John Mark some interesting dialog and back story about this first parable recalled in scripture. In our previous study we reviewed the story itself, and the interpretation of its themes both given directly by Jesus Christ. Now Peter takes us behind the scenes, after the sermon, in the quiet time with the Master. After the crowds have gone home, and the disciples are alone with Christ, they go to the source of Truth, in order to know more about what He has taught them and the people. John Mark begins the behind the scenes conversation in verse 10 saying … “And when he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable.” Keep in mind the disciples officially numbered 12, but in this instance there were a few more folks there, that stayed behind to understand the gospel better. Perhaps this group included Lazarus and his sisters, perhaps it included Mary Magdalene, or the blood relatives of Christ His siblings and His mother. In any case, it is this group that asks Jesus for more.
Jesus responds in verse 11 saying … “And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: [verse 12] That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.” The distinction between the disciple’s ability to understand what Christ was saying, and the Pharisees, was the willingness to see Truth only through the lens of Jesus Christ. This group of believers including the twelve, did not go home, or away from Christ to study what He meant alone and by themselves, to “reason” out what the Truth of this story was. Instead they went directly to the source of Truth, and asked Him. The disciples did not pair off into small groups and go break down scriptures and debate meanings until they came to consensus. It was not human consensus that was needed. It was clarity only Jesus Christ could bring. When we read scripture, do we ask Christ directly for its meaning, or do we look at each other and attempt to gain consensus on what it means? Are we willing to put aside our own ideas and listen to what Christ may add to our mistaken “wisdom”?
The word, without Christ, CANNOT save you. It is not your accumulated wisdom that saves you, it is your submission to Jesus Christ. It does not matter how many scriptures you read and memorize, it matters how fully you are willing to allow Christ to re-create you into the person He intended you to be. As you are willing to depend and submit yourself to Christ, He is able to bring the actual truth of scriptures to your mind. As you believe you already know the truth, He has little room to actually teach you something because you discard it immediately since it does not fit your preconceived ideas. There is no room in the certain-mind for something more, or something different, than fits its own ideas. Our certainty is a reflection of our ego. Our dependence and constant willingness to be taught, is our first step on the journey to His Truth. Our faith must be based in the Author of the scriptures, not in the certainty of its reader. Jesus will ALWAYS know more about His scriptures than we will. He will always get it right, as opposed to how often we get it wrong. It was the willingness of this group of believers to ask Jesus for His explanation and not try to create one of their own, that granted them insight into more Truth.
Those who base their own salvation in what they do, and in what they know, will retain who they are, and what they want … being bound in the addiction of self-love, and remain enslaved to their own sins. It is only in coming to Christ and humbling ourselves, giving up the ideas of self-control, and self-assurance, that we can find He is the One who makes us free from ourselves. It is our self-reliance that keeps us from being truly converted. It is our self-reliance that keeps us enslaved to sins, instead of finding more than forgiveness from them, but to find freedom from them. Only Jesus Christ can save us in this way. For a modern Christian to repeat the path of the Pharisee will have the same result, it does not lead to salvation but to destruction. The path of self always leads only to this destination. We can see the scriptures but not understand them, we can hear the teachings but not perceive the Truth. This is because we refuse to humble our own perceptions and be taught through the lens of Jesus Christ.
Then to emphasize the need to see scripture through Jesus Christ, He asks them the rhetorical question in verse 13 saying … “And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?” Jesus is saying to them, this is only the first example of a main theme of truth that will be revealed in story form. Many more will follow. If the disciples and this group of dedicated believers cannot understand this story’s meaning on their own, they will not understand any other bit of scripture either. If even the simplest story requires Jesus Christ to understand it properly, how could we hope to interpret the later writings of John in Revelations of Jesus Christ? The writings of Paul will be more profound and carry deeper meaning. The stories of the Old Testament while literal, will still require the lens of the redemptive love of Christ in order to be understood properly. The lesson for these group of believers and for us, is the same. We need Jesus Christ to understand ALL of scripture.
Then Jesus begins His interpretation which we studied earlier except for the start of the interpretation found in verse 14 saying … “The sower soweth the word.” This is the summation of the gospel. God the Father soweth the Word (His Son Jesus Christ) into our hearts, and into the world. God the Father did not send down golden scrolls for us to read, understand, and gain salvation from our own wisdom. It was not another book we needed. It was the person of His Son Jesus Christ. We needed to see Him live out a definition of how far love will go to save the object of its affection. We needed to see and bear witness to how much the Father God wants to see us restored physically from our diseases, and mentally from our addiction to sin. This could not be accomplished through texts. It had to be lived in person. We had to see the person of God, in the form of His only Son, come to this world and live love for us, and die rather than see us suffer that fate. Our scriptures RECALL those events, they do NOT replace them. Our scripture points us back to the Author of the book, not simply to the words within the book. It is the Author that is most important. What was sown into us is Jesus Christ, the Word of God in literal form.
Then Jesus explains His story to the group of believers gathered there from verse 15 to 20 as we have already reviewed in part one of this study. But He goes a step further, revealing yet another Truth founded in Himself. There is no Truth that will be kept hidden forever. Jesus continues in verse 21 saying … “And he said unto them, Is a candle brought to be put under a bushel, or under a bed? and not to be set on a candlestick? [verse 22] For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad. [verse 23] If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.” Whether we accept the Truth of Jesus Christ or not for ourselves, His Truth will be revealed in those who do. The light of Christ cannot be contained under a bushel or a bed, or put in a place where it cannot be seen. The light of Christ shining through us, His love for others reflected through us, cannot be contained. It reaches out to those in need, and touches them. The love of Christ reflected through us, cannot pass by the needs of another, it MUST meet them.
Those who obsess over the meaning of scripture, and do not stop their debate long enough to love someone else, do not have Truth, nor can they comprehend it in any meaningful way. They may have the name of Jesus Christ, but have no idea who it is they claim to serve. While they are busy studying in Sabbath Schools attempting to gain more knowledge; those who have been touched by the fire of His Love cannot help but to DO something about their beliefs. Those touched by the fire of His love, are driven to meet the needs of others, and reach out to them in meaningful acts of love and kindness. They are not content to sit and study, they would rather learn by doing. They would rather be active, they are like little children who will not sit still. They do not disdain the word or scripture, they instead are driven to apply those words in the living examples of their lives. They preach with their hands and their hearts. And the reflection of Christ within them is unmistakable.
When you meet Christians like this, you begin to redefine what a Christian truly is. If you find yourself driven to love others beyond any reasonable understanding of why you feel the way you do, you are blessed to have found the Word sown into your heart. The stony heart of apathy, and dislike for others, that may have once ruled your actions has given way to the living Word of Love that Jesus Christ alone can create within you. If inaction still rules your life, then perhaps your first order of business should be to cast yourself at the feet of the Author. Perhaps spend less time reading, studying, and debating, and more time doing, loving, and caring for those who clearly do not deserve it. As we submit our hearts to Jesus Christ, He fills them with His infinite love for others. As we begin to act on His love for others, we begin to live out scripture, rather than just study it. We begin to see the meaning of scripture reflected through our actions to make the life of someone else better than it was before we encountered them.
This light, created by the fire of His love for others, and reflected through us as we are willing to submit to Jesus Christ, cannot be hidden from the world. For it will not allow itself to be hidden. His love must be set free in us, to reach those who are in so desperate need of it. This life, this way of living, is what is meant to replace the cold, unfeeling, intellectual embrace of the Word. His goal is not that we become scholars and professors of the theory of the gospel, but that we become doctoral experts and practitioners of the gospel. The parable or story-telling of the seed that is sown into good ground, was not just meant for some, but for all. None of us, and nothing evil we have done in our past, can prevent God from making our future the future of good and fertile ground. We too can become vessels that reflect His fire and His light to the world. As our passion to love others grows within us, it will not be hidden, but employed. And the world will be the better place for it.
Having finished His first story … a series of them would follow quickly.
Friday, July 17, 2015
Movies truly “move” the world. The art of storytelling accentuated with visual effects, soaring musical scores, dramatic portrayals, and carefully scripted story lines combine into a 2-hour presentation that absorbs the senses and instructs the mind. An entire industry exists to edit, package, and market a film. Some films intended to entertain, others to offer the quick stimulus of fear, still others to make us feel kinship and empathy with a character who suffers injustice, or triumphs in spite of the odds. But at the end of the day, a movie is nothing more than taking the art of storytelling to its highest level. And this art did not originate with the birth of the camera, it has been a part of our culture from Adam to now. The children of Adam never experienced the Tree of Life for themselves. By the time they enter the story of our world, Adam and Eve had been forced to leave the Garden of Eden and build a home outside of it. An angel stood there guarding the entrance to Eden with a flaming sword. And despite the level of evil that would grow to cause the destruction of the world by flood … no human or dinosaur would ever challenge that angel for access .., and live.
So for Cain, Able and Seth to know what the garden was like, Adam and Eve would have to tell them about it from memory, and thus the art of the story was born. It would be an oral tradition handed down all the way to Noah. The grandchildren of Noah had never seen the angel who stood guard at the entrance to the Garden of Eden before the flood. They never knew the world before it had been destroyed by water, and then abated to start over. They never saw the creatures born of the evil of the minds of men, nor witnessed the abomination of altering DNA into things that should have never existed. We discover the bones and the evidence of such atrocities now, but God chose not to preserve them in the great flood, to end those things that should have not existed but for the wickedness of men. So to understand how evil, evil can be, the grandchildren of Noah would have to be told the stories of life before the flood.
Without the written parchment to record the recounting of witnesses who would pass on, stories tend to decay and pass away. Even now, films of antiquity must be preserved with great care, or they too would disappear from our ability to enjoy them. Oral traditions tend to have a much shorter shelf life. When Moses would appear on the scene, the Law of God would be written in stone. This would erase a complete dependence on oral tradition, and introduce something of permanence in the recounting of God’s saving love. Stone does not decay. The redemption of Israel from the slavery of oppression would be chronicled in books that would be meticulously preserved until our day. Moses would be given a recounting of the important parts of the Genesis story, and it is through his record we understand what we do about our creation and our beginnings.
But outside of a documentary, no one expects a movie to be a truly accurate accounting of the story it attempts to portray. The characters in it, rarely quote their inspiration word for word, second for second, as the story may have originally occurred … or a movie would last years instead of hours. Instead paraphrasing main ideas occurs, symbolism is employed to accentuate a point, and what might have taken years in real time to relay can be condensed into a digestible time period to sit in a theatre and enjoy the spectacle. This needed condensation of time is not intended to destroy the point of the movie, or lessen its emotional impact, if it does the movie is discarded as “bad”. The condensation of time must be used to effect, the symbolism well employed, in order that we remain emotionally invested in what we perceive, and that our learning is accentuated not destroyed. Often elements of a story may have never actually happened, they are “made up” to help move the story along, or help us understand the real dilemma of the characters portrayed so that the main point remains intact. Audiences understand this phenomenon and do not stomp out of the theatre because one of the Marvel Super-heroes strays off the story line for a minute or two.
The reason why movies exist today, why oral traditions of storytelling began with Adam and Eve, why Moses wrote down the recounting of history in his age remain the same … storytelling is effective. While we recall a favorite book, or movie, or time at the feet of our grandparents so long ago; we can remember new elements of the story, or new interpretations of what was relayed. In point of fact, the original story was never changed in its telling to us … what has changed is our perspective, our own experiences, and the truth we can now perceive in the same words, and same stories, we heard or experienced so long ago. The story remains the same, but our ability to understand more of its truths is brought about by our maturing process and life experiences. It is perhaps for this reason that Jesus chose to reveal some truth about the gospel in the form of parables, or storytelling, to those who sought to hear Him.
In our day, I have often joined in the voices who wish He would have just spoken plainly instead of through parables. But then I must remember the Bible is full of plainly worded speech and language, and it is perhaps my own resistance to truth that keeps me from accepting those ideas. So perhaps “I” needed Jesus to preserve the art of storytelling for “me”, in order that I too might return to the same stories and discover new truths in them, because my own experiences have changed since the last time I read them. They are the same truths, the same main themes, the same ideas that Jesus wished for me to learn. The stories and parables of Christ are not point for point, exactly accurate literal words; that I must mimic with precision in order to understand what Christ was attempting to communicate. They are instead like the movies and storytelling of my own day, without all the production quality, but with a far deeper scripted story line, that offers me truth like no movie I have ever seen has been able to do. As I begin to grasp His main themes, I begin to get a different perspective on truth, and salvation, and what it means to be made free from who we are.
Peter recounts the storytelling technique of Christ to teach truth about salvation for the first time in John Mark’s gospel in chapter 4 and verse 1. Up to this point, only literal recollections of events that had occurred were cited by Peter through Mark. “Plain speech” had formed the record up to this point, so chapter 4 was a departure from the style of the gospel till now. However, there was a reason why Christ chose to teach us through stories, and Peter was keen to preserve them for us. So he begins his recounting in verse one saying … “And he began again to teach by the sea side: and there was gathered unto him a great multitude, so that he entered into a ship, and sat in the sea; and the whole multitude was by the sea on the land. [verse 2] And he taught them many things by parables, and said unto them in his doctrine,” The doctrines, or the truth of redemption as taught by Christ would be slowly revealed in parables. This would allow His audience to digest them over time, and not be inundated with too much too quickly.
Imagine the alternative for a moment. You and I know, through the study of His word, that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God almighty. He is God on earth at this time, in the flesh. If the crowds had grasped this concept thoroughly and believed it with all their hearts, how could they allow the Romans or the Jews to put God to death? They, like you and I, would have fought to the death to protect their God from human stupidity. You and I know that it is only through the power of the redeeming love of Jesus Christ, that we can be made free, even from the desire to sin. Had the crowds of that day embraced this idea with all their hearts, the world may have been made ready for saving right then and there. No need to delay His coming, and again yet another fight to the death to protect the savior of our very souls and nature, from the stupidity of those steeped in evil. These truths necessitated time to understand and adopt by those being taught (including us), in order that we build trust with our God, and do not react in haste to the truth that is revealed to us, interfering with the plans God has for our own redemption, and the redemption of others.
So the story begins by Jesus in verse 3 saying … “Hearken; Behold, there went out a sower to sow:” It is easy to simply continue with the story here instead of pausing for a bit. But the point here is critical. It is God who takes the initiative to go out and sow the seed of His Word in us. We did NOT ask for this to occur. We were instead steeped in our embrace of sin and self-love. We were not really interested in asking for redemption from our condition. Instead, we were where the story finds us in just a few moments. However God, was keenly interested in our redemption. He does not wait for an invitation from diseased souls who are incapable of asking for what is good for them. Instead He goes about His mission to see His precious children redeemed, even when they do not know this is good for them, or do not have the good sense to ask for the freedom He offers. God initiates the process of our salvation. Lest you think your faith originated in you, it did not. Lest you think your desire for God originated in you, it did not. Your ability to even make a choice to find the freedom God offers, began with Him taking up His role of sower of seed.
The story continues in verse 4 saying … “And it came to pass, as he sowed, some fell by the way side, and the fowls of the air came and devoured it up.” To better understand this part of the main theme, I will recount the words of Christ to explain this passage found in verse 15 below as He says … “And these are they by the way side, where the word is sown; but when they have heard, Satan cometh immediately, and taketh away the word that was sown in their hearts.” Ouch! For a brief fleeting moment, nearly before a decision can even be reached, there are those of us who squander our opportunity to be saved by Jesus Christ, to be made free from the sins we have chosen to embrace through our addictive love of self.
These may well be those poor souls who have no one praying for their salvation, and have only a limited opportunity to ever hear the word of God. The one single chance presents itself, and in nearly an immediate response, the love-of-self Satan sells us, floods over them to quickly take away the adoption of the seeds of salvation. It may represent an even worse scenario where the love of God is misrepresented by someone bearing the name Christian, and the hate of Satan that spews from the mouth of the supposed “Christian” robs the unbeliever of even a motive to begin to seek change. We might pray to be vessels of His love, and not thieves of souls spouting the hate speech of the enemy.
You will note, this story is not about a gardener who is transplanting fully grown trees. That symbolism does not work. The process of salvation does not begin with maturity, it ends with it. The removal of sins from our lives does not happen in full in an instant because we won’t let it. For us to bear fruit will take time with God to mature, we will need to learn what it means to love like He loves. We are too ignorant to know that is what we need. We are too stooped in our addiction to self-love to recognize how bad off we are, and how desperately we need to be saved from ourselves. So the process of salvation begins with a seed, with a still small voice, with an inclination to seek something more, to end the pain we bring upon ourselves. It begins with something small, but it ends with something huge and magnificent. It is worth considering, that repeated attempts to get us to find the salvation God offers are themselves an added blessing. For this crowd described in this first allegory received only the one invitation, squandered it, and were never able to find another attempt. There is a finality that comes from choosing to continue to embrace the self-styled-salvation Satan offers. That finality ends in our destruction, not in our self-based-salvation.
Jesus continues in verse 5 saying … “And some fell on stony ground, where it had not much earth; and immediately it sprang up, because it had no depth of earth: [verse 6] But when the sun was up, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away.” The explanation Christ offered is found in verse 16 saying … “And these are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; [verse 17] And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately they are offended.” There is a depth to the story that is revealed in this scene. The Word is Jesus Christ. It is not the accumulation of our interpretation of doctrines or the wealth of our memorization of scripture that is described here. It is our willingness to submit ourselves to Jesus Christ, and allow Him to remake our desires and who we are.
There is a class of Christian who appreciate the theory of salvation. They believe in the power of Jesus Christ to save them, and they profess to accept His offer. Immediately the Word sprang up in these souls. They did not allow Satan to take it from them, as the first group willingly did. But they did not allow the seed to penetrate into the core of who they are either. These are the Christians who want God to solve some particular sin they struggle with … but not all of them. They are willing to give a part of themselves over to Christ to be saved, but the stone of their hearts remains unconverted. The benefits of following Christ and lessening the pain of their self-love appeal to them. But to truly change everything about themselves is just something that is a bit too far for them. These Christians are able to give to the poor what they have in excess, but not everything they have. These Christians have 50/50 marriages made up of give and take, not a marriage based on giving everything all the time no matter the response. In short, these Christians are living with a “balanced” idea of salvation where being “reasonable” about how much we give, and how much we allow Christ to change our hearts seems like the right approach to them.
But the problem with withholding parts of ourselves, and entry into our hearts of stone from Christ, is that the disease we suffer from remains within us. When the trials of life, and the desire of Satan to hurt God by hurting us enter our lives, we run from God, instead of running to Him. We compromise beliefs and ethics in order to lessen the pain the world brings. We align with the world to lessen its hatred of us. We become offended at the idea of giving “everything”. We become offended at the idea of having to change “who” we are for the sake of our salvation. We believe we should be able to change parts of us, and leave the other parts intact. Having to become someone else entirely is offensive to us, as we see ourselves as “good people” who are plainly “good enough” and if that is not enough for Christ, then that is His problem instead of ours. Who is He anyway to ask us to give “everything”, nobody gives “everything” … except … well Jesus Christ did to redeem us. Giving everything was what our God did for us, and it is in giving everything to others, that our hearts of stone begin to melt into hearts of flesh, that are moved by the needs and pain of others, not just ourselves.
Scene 3 in our story resumes with the work of the Sower continuing His efforts for our redemption and begins in verse 7 saying … “And some fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up, and choked it, and it yielded no fruit.” The explanation of Christ found in verse 18 saying … “And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, [verse 19] And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” This is the horror scene of this movie. It might be frightening to think of Satan’s evil crows stealing our salvation with our gleeful willingness at the outset of this story. It might be scary to think we might embrace it partially, and then find we have lost it to the stone of our hearts in a brief time. But this is the horror scene altogether. Jason, Freddy, and Manson together conspire for this scene of the movie.
A few things to note. The ground of these souls is not condemned as was the stone of other recipients. They did not immediately reject the word, or allow Satan to steal it from them. All indications are the ground looks like good ground. These souls embraced the salvation of Christ, or so it would appear. They spend time with Christ. Weeds do not kill in an instant, they take time to grow up as well. In fact the distinction between the seeds of grass and the seeds of weeds is hard to tell in the infancy of the life of the plant. They both look green. They both look pretty. They seem to equally decorate the lawn we hope to enjoy. But there is a distinction. The plants are actually different. One is rooted in the salvation of the Lord, the other only looks that way. The Christian in this scene looks like a good guy, and seems to be doing the right things. His only problem is that it appears his best friend is Charles Manson. And when Chuck is not around, he looks for counsel from Freddy Kruger, and Jason to get advice. Of course to the Christian, these ruthless psychopathic killers look as harmless as the cute little yellow Minions. But they are not, they are in fact, ruthless killers, who leave no one left alive.
An “innocent” Christian considers the needs of his own life as he makes decisions about his future. His job, the needs of getting a promotion, and a good increase in pay are important to him. He worries about the repair costs of his Mercedes, and whether he can afford to buy the necklace for his wife. The pressure of wealth is no less a burden to him, than the advice of Charles Manson. Jason and Freddy stand ready to inform him about where money should be invested in the stock market, and that becoming a millionaire is not as rewarding as becoming a billionaire. The horror of this scene, is that it is not the poor who are its victims, it is those who consider themselves successful Christians. Americans meet this criteria in no small quantities. We live in a country of relative wealth, or at least comparative wealth. We have ease, vacations, weekends and pools. We eat out, and drive advanced automobiles. We work in industries and jobs that require better education, or offer better pay than any contemporary in any other nation. Our families need our financial support, and we are blessed enough to be able to provide it.
The horror story of this scene, is that it looks to impact those who are NOT in great need, instead they look “normal”. The condition of this horror does not impact the poor, it impacts the rich, and even more terrifying … the middle class. This could well describe the state of Christianity in every denomination in our nation. We have our poor, and sometimes we consider ourselves to be in need, but most of us are surviving. And in our survival, we consider the cares of this world that begin to choke out our ability to spend our resources on others. We can afford to give less and less instead of more and more. Our blessings look more and more like Freddy Kruger, an anchor around our souls, than an opportunity to make a real difference in the life of someone else who neither deserves our love, nor can repay it. The deceitfulness of the lure of our wealth, is that no matter how much we have, we will always “need” just a little bit more. We lie to ourselves, that if we get that raise, or bonus, we will surely use part of it as a gift back to God. But for every dollar we acquire there is always a destination in mind for it before it even touches our hands. Our “needs” always find a way of outpacing our supply. And thus the lie of the lure of wealth chokes our “ability” to give.
Had the movie ended in scene 3 with the horror of losing salvation slowly insidiously and over time, choked out by the Charles Manson’s of the world who look like regular guys and seem to offer practical advice; this would be a horrible story. But fortunately, in the movie script Christ was relaying, the movie had one more act. A scene 4 was ready for entry on the big screen as follows beginning in verse 8 saying … “And other fell on good ground, and did yield fruit that sprang up and increased; and brought forth, some thirty, and some sixty, and some an hundred. [verse 9] And he said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The explanation Christ offers beginning in verse 20 saying … “And these are they which are sown on good ground; such as hear the word, and receive it, and bring forth fruit, some thirtyfold, some sixty, and some an hundred.” This is the redemption scene. This is the scene that is the main point of this picture, and the reason why the story was told in the first place.
The intent of this story was not to leave any single audience member in the danger of immediate loss, or quickly withering away, or even losing the battle over time to the lie of wealth in this world. The intent of this story was to get it right. To find salvation, and witness the results of what it does. In this scene, the seed grows up and does something the other scenes have lacked. It bears fruit. The amount of fruit for these souls varies. It is not uniform. It is not exactly the same for each of us. But it is common to each of us. It is unavoidable. We cannot help but bear fruit. It is His fruit in us. This is the end state of maturity not the beginning of it. When we grow up in Christ, we become like He is. We begin to love others like He loves others. When we love this way, we cannot help but to meet another’s needs. We don’t look at it as a burden to us financially but as an opportunity to us to love someone else. The fruit we bear is “real” wealth. It is the wealth of providing for others, for loving others like He loves them. This is the only “real” currency in heaven. When we love like Christ loves, we regret that giving our all, is so meager. If we had one more penny, we would share it, even if it were our last one. God does everything for us. He loves us that much. This story was designed to show us that. It was not designed that any should be excluded, but that ALL should be in the good ground category.
But there was more Christ had to teach His disciples and us that we will soon learn …