April 27: Parable of the Wedding Feast

Read Matthew 22:1-14

I have been to a few elaborate weddings and receptions over the years. Perhaps the most memorable of them was one held in Radolfzell, Germany. Following the beautiful ceremony, wedding guests enjoyed a reception aboard a ship that cruised for hours on Lake Constance. In addition to delicious food, we as guests also enjoyed beautiful views of the surrounding countryside including the Alps.

But there is coming yet a wedding and banquet that will cause the one I’ve just described to pale in comparison. God, our Father and King, is planning a wedding celebration for His Son, Jesus.

So who is invited? That’s an interesting question. Many invitations have already been extended. In fact, many of the guests that you would expect to see have declined the invitation. God sent the prophets of the Old Testament and even His own Son, the groom Himself, to extend the invitation to the people of Israel. But many not only declined the invitation, they even persecuted the messengers and killed the Son. After the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, apostolic eyewitnesses of the Son also went out with the message of invitation to the wedding feast. To accept the invitation was to accept the Son. But, once again, most of His own declined, rejecting Him and mistreating the apostles. In anger, God brought judgment on His own people through the destruction of their city Jerusalem and their temple in 70 a.d.

But the rejection of the Jews has allowed for the invitation of Gentiles. Although persecution of the messengers and opposition toward the King and His Son have continued, many have responded to this invitation over the last 2,000 years.

There is, however, an important distinction to be made. The response of potential guests is not always as simple as those who outright and perhaps violently decline in juxtaposition to those who wholeheartedly embrace. There are those who may think that they have properly RSVP’d only to discover their names are not on the list. You see, only those who have embraced the Son as Savior will be there to celebrate.

Have you responded with the only acceptable RSVP? Are you extending wedding invitations to others?

sbk

Posted in Parables

April 26: Parable of the Dishonest Manager

Read Luke 16:1-15

Did you reach the conclusion that I initially reached? That this everyday story is a difficult one? Did you struggle the way that I did in uncovering the everlasting implications? Did you treat this parable the same way we have many others . . . trying to make most of the details match up with some kind of spiritual, everlasting counterpart? That’s where we went wrong.

Christ’s point here is one of contrasts. It is that godless people know how to use worldly wealth for their own benefit. Meanwhile, the Christ follower doesn’t. Imagine if we were to use honest wisdom in accomplishing the will of God! Imagine if we were to leverage our resources for the Kingdom of God. Imagine if we were to strategically plan in order to help people become followers of God.

Certainly, there is much more that can be said about verses 1-12, but I believe verse 13 merits focused attention. Having used money to illustrate His thoughts in the previous verses, Jesus inserts an important warning. Beware, you cannot serve God and money.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

To which one are you a servant? Of course, all of us know the preferred answer. God wants us to serve Him exclusively. We understand that. But we can slowly, almost imperceptibly, become a slave to money. It may go virtually unnoticed because it is the norm for our culture. It is normal to create financial responsibilities that are right up to or even beyond our ability to pay. As a result, much of the breathing room of life is removed. We find ourselves handcuffed to a second job, overtime, or payments. Those responsibilities can prevent us from making decisions that put us more at the disposal of our heavenly Father and that enable us to give priority to His purposes in this world.

God or money? Which is your master? To which are you a servant?

sbk

Posted in Parables

April 25: Parable of Children

Read Matthew 18:1-14

It is interesting to see how adults respond to children. While a parent or grandparent dotes over every little thing the “cutie-pie” does, others may roll their eyes in disgust over the latest interruption of the “little nuisance.” That mindset is nothing new. Even the disciples objected as children were brought to Jesus. Instead, Christ made clear that they were the object of His love. (See Matt. 19:13-15.)

In today’s reading, Jesus uses a child as an object lesson. That’s right. A child is the very example of kingdom greatness. In humility, children make no pretenses of meriting the approval and love of an adult. And yet, in simple, trusting dependence, they surrender themselves completely into the loving care of the adult. True greatness is portrayed in the fact that they allow the adult to throw them into the air, fully confident that the same adult will catch them. True greatness is pictured in the fact that they see the adult as the one who can meet their every need. Children remind us of the kind of Christ followers we should be.

Meanwhile, children also remind us of the kind of loving care that believers receive. Believers have both a loving father and angelic servants that are looking out for them. This deep-seated concern is portrayed in a parable of a shepherd and one hundred sheep. When one of the sheep goes astray, the shepherd does not simply say, “Oh, well. At least I still have ninety-nine.” Instead, it was obvious to both the shepherd and Christ’s listeners that the shepherd would comb the mountainside and the valleys in search of the lost sheep. When the shepherd and sheep are reunited, the dominant response of the shepherd is not disgust that the sheep had wandered but the joy that it had been found.

Trusting dependence . . . that is the picture of the follower you should be.

Loving protection . . . that is the picture of the kind of care you receive.

“Thank You, Abba Father, that you welcome me in Your presence and watch over me in Your love.  Oh that my trusting dependence would grow today!”

sbk

Posted in Parables

April 24: Budgets and Battles

Read Luke 14:25-35

There were so many reasons that crowds gathered around Jesus. The way He taught and the content of His teaching were like none other in His day. He extended compassion and healing to those in need. He cared for those who were neglected by others.

So people flocked to Him.

But His ultimate purpose was not to gather a crowd; not even one that seemed to follow Him from place to place. Beyonce and Lebron James can do that. Instead, Jesus wanted people who would do more than appreciate Him. He was after those who would sacrifice all as they prioritized Him.

And so, as the crowds gathered, He had this frank conversation with them. Allow me to paraphrase:

“Do you really understand what following Me entails? Well, let Me help you. Are you ready to give Me a higher priority than your closest family members? Are you willing to value Me more than you do your own welfare, even if it means laying down your life for Me? It’s a cross-walk . . . a journey towards crucifixion really. You have to die to self daily and be prepared to physically do the same if it comes to that. Are you ready? Are you willing?”

“This is not a decision that you can afford to postpone. It is one to be made at the outset. And if you did not make it then, make it today. Decide the way that a builder does. After getting an estimate on construction, the builder sits down and decides if he is able and willing to pay for it. Are you willing to pay the price? Decide the way a Commander in Chief does. He doesn’t intentionally send troops into harm’s way when he knows that the loss of life and strategic locations and resources are inevitable. Are you willing to do what is necessary to come away victorious?”

No matter what your devotion to Christ looks like, there is likely room for greater surrender . . . greater devotion . . . greater sacrifice, in order to reflect the greater priority that Christ is coming to have in your life.

sbk

Posted in Parables

April 23: The Pharisees and the Tax Collector

Read Luke 18:9-14

“At least I . . .”

According to Jesus, many statements beginning with those three words are dangerous. What often follows is some kind of comparative, perhaps prideful self justification. Through that statement, we point to our own merits while implying the deficiencies of another.

That is what the Pharisee in Christ’s story was doing. While both he and the tax collector stood in the temple praying, his “at least I . . .” attitude was revealed. In his mind, he was better than others. As he prayed, he tried to remind God of all the things he was not. In his mind, these were the things that merited God’s special favor and attention.

But pride can blind us to reality. Self righteousness causes us to elevate ourselves and treat others with contempt. Self justification encourages us to pray, “God, you are lucky to have me!” instead of “God, I desperately need you!”

The tax collector uttered the essence of that latter prayer in Christ’s story. Had he been guilty of some things? To be sure . . . perhaps even some of the things the Pharisee had named off. But he humbly and honestly acknowledged his true condition before God as a sinner. And he called out to God in brokenness for the mercy that only God could give.

Jesus makes it clear that it was the tax collector who walked away from that temple experience justified. It is the one who demonstrates humility rather than pride. It is the one who doesn’t exalt self. It is the one who identifies his issues. It is the one who asks God for forgiveness. It is the one who rejoices when others do the same.

So which person are you? Are you the Pharisee or the tax collector? Are you one who looks down at others or are you one who looks down when you consider your own sin? And are you one who looks up to God as your only source of righteousness?

sbk

Posted in Parables

April 22: Foundations

Read Matthew 7:15-29

“By their fruit you will recognize them.”

According to Jesus, that statement is not only true of trees and vegetation, but also of people. Grapes don’t grow on thorn bushes. Figs are not produced on thistle plants. The fruit will be consistent with the type of plant. In like fashion, genuine Christ followers will produce fruit consistent with their identity.

To be sure, the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22, 23) is perhaps one of most obvious evidences of true disciples. In today’s reading, however, Jesus goes in a different direction. He even calls into question two ideas that, to many, might be considered conclusive proof.

  • Some people just simply claim a relationship with Jesus. There are those who refer to Him as “Lord.” But a genuine commitment to Christ is more than having the right verbage.
  • Some people point to evidence of ministry on His behalf. Some of those ministries may appear to be flashy, sacrificial, and helpful. Still, that is not the final convincing evidence that Jesus gives.

So what is it that Jesus points to as the true fruit of His followers?

Obedience.

Yes, it is that simple. It is evidenced by the person “who does the will of My Father who is in heaven” (v. 21). It is clear in the one who does more than hear the teachings of Christ (vv. 24-27). The real fruit is demonstrated by the person who hears and does what Christ teaches. If your life is characterized by mere knowledge of His teaching and not by a response to that teaching, there may be cause for concern.

That is not to suggest, however, that we are rescued from eternal judgment by acts of obedience. That is not it at all. It is only through faith in the work of Christ that we receive forgiveness from our past, purpose in our present, and hope for our future. Meanwhile, acts of obedience are the fruits that flow from a truly transformed life. It is only this kind of life that will withstand the peril of divine judgment.

sbk

Posted in Parables

April 21: Salt and Light

Read Matthew 5:1-16

As Moses received the call of God to lead his Israelite brothers and sisters out of bondage in Egypt, he asked God to identify Himself. The answer he was given was that “Yahweh” had sent him. God is the great “I am.” He is the self-existent, eternal one. Dependent on none other and abiding forever, He is the one to whom we look.

But the Bible doesn’t only give us reminders of God’s identity.Jesus also informs us of our own. Nestled in the early verses of the Sermon on the Mount are two symbolic/parabolic reminders. Followers of Jesus are salt and light. If you are a follower of Jesus, you are to be salt and light.

In the first century, salt served two purposes. We are familiar with the first, because, still today, it enhances taste. What would corn on the cob or french fries be without salt? When salt is missing on some of our favorite dishes, we notice it immediately. But, in the time of Jesus, salt also served the purpose of preserving foods. Even into more recent times, prior to methods of refrigeration, raw foods were salted. The salt drew out the moisture making it impossible to support harmful molds and bacteria. If you are a follower of Jesus, your preserving presence in this world should be as obvious as salted food.

Meanwhile, followers of Jesus are also light in a darkened world. Light was not intended to be concealed. It was intended to be obvious, to stand out. I suppose there are a variety of ways in which Christians have stood out over the centuries. They have been the “odd man out” with regard to the way they dressed or the list of things they do not do. While things like that may still have their place today, Jesus describes “good works” as the feature that captures the attention of others. Is your life characterized by compassionate acts? By generosity? By helpfulness? By genuine concern and kind gestures?

Oh, there is one more thing. Somehow, as others taste those “salt of the earth” and observe those “light of the world” differences in us, somehow they know to give glory and credit to God. That must mean that our walk is complemented by our talk.

sbk

Posted in Parables