A Tragedy

This is it, this year celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the most important cultural icons of my youth.  It was a life-changing discovery for me, one that defined my teens years.

It wasn’t the founding of “intel” or Pierre Trudeau becoming Prime Minister of Canada.  It was the introduction of “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.”

That’s right, the Big Mac has just turned fifty and it hasn’t changed in the five decades since it joined the McDonald’s menu.

But the disturbing news is that in one recent study it was discovered that only one out of five millennials has tried the Big Mac.

Think about it, 80 % of those in our community under the age of 30 have never tasted a Big Mac.

Do you know there are people in our community who have never been inside a church and they have never tasted God’s grace? And that is a tragedy.

If by some bizarre choice you have never experienced McDonald’s fries your loss is temporal although you might get to try them in heaven. But if you’ve never experienced Christ’s forgiveness your loss will be forever. And forever is a long time, especially without a Big Mac and Fries.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

A Story of Forgiveness

Do you like scary stories?  I have never really been into scary movies, although I went to a couple as a teenager just to prove a point.  And if you have to ask what that point is then you’ve never been a teenaged boy.

And when Carrie’s hand came out of the grave at the end of the original movie, well let me tell you. . . I didn’t sleep for a week.

I used to enjoy horror novels, from authors like John Saul, Graham Masterton and Stephen King, but even they have lost their appeal over the years.  Although I will usually try to plug my way through one Stephen King epic on vacation.   I keep meaning to re-read “The Stand” and maybe this year I will.  Now if I want a good supernatural thrill I tend to drift to Dean Koontz, a good Catholic boy he knows how to keep it clean.

 

But Jesus tells one of the scariest stories that I’ve ever heard, and Ben read it for you earlier.

This is week five of our “Stories told by Jesus” series.  Through the summer we’ve been looking at some of the stories, or parables that Jesus told.   And so far, it seems that most of them have had a bit of an agricultural feel.  There was the man working in the field who found the treasure, the owner of the vineyard who hired the workers.  The story of the seed that was planted and flourished and last week we looked at the parable of the weeds that were sown in the wheat by the farmer’s enemy.

This week we are going in a very different direction.  This is one of those occasions where Jesus was asked a question and he responds by telling a story.   The parable of the Good Samaritan is another example of this.

 

It begins with a question that was asked by Peter, a question that could have been asked by any one of us.     Matthew 18:21  Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

And that is a valid question, as a matter of fact, it’s a question that if you haven’t asked out loud you have asked it in your heart.  “how many times must I be hurt?” “How can I ever let it go?” “How can I ever trust them again?”  “How often should I forgive someone who sins against me?”  And I think Peter was being generous with the offer of forgiving someone multiple times for the same offence.

Most people struggle with this concept.  This isn’t simply forgiving someone who has hurt you multiple times.   This is forgiving someone whom you have already forgiven and forgiven and forgiven.

And they keep doing “it”, whatever “it” is over and over again.

I don’t know if Peter had someone or something specific in mind, if he was asking for a “friend” or if it was just hypothetical.  But he was probably blown away by Jesus reply because I certainly would have been.  Because instead of commending Peter on the grace that he was willing to show, we read in the very next verse:  Matthew 18:22  “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!

You can almost hear Peter’s mind at work, “Seventy times seven?  Why that’s almost five hundred times, that’s insane.”

And so Jesus does what Jesus does so well, he tells a story, a really scary story.

Matthew 18:23-25  “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him.  In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.

The story begins simply as A Story of Justice To us this seems a little excessive, but the servant was simply getting what he deserved, within the social context of the day.

Today we find it so easy to judge history based on what we know is right today. My Daddy called that “20-20 hindsight”

But the story wasn’t told in Halifax in 2018, it was told in Israel 2000 years ago and if you owed a debt that you couldn’t pay then you and yours belonged to your creditors.  It was just that simple.

And in this story, there was no way the man could pay the debt.  None at all.

Now remember this is a story, Jesus is prone to exaggerate in his stories, that’s fine.  He is trying to make a point.  So, while the NLT says the man owed millions of dollars that doesn’t even begin to do Jesus’ words justice.

The figure that Jesus used when he told the story was 10,000 talents.  A talent was a measure of silver.  And 10,000 talents was 375 tons of silver.

I checked the other day and silver was worth $21.68 Canadian an ounce, and there are 32,000 ounces in a ton, so, knot, knot carry the two, two is five and five is seven. That means that in today’s currency a ton of silver would be worth about $693,760.00.  And the man owed 375 tons of silver.  So, in round numbers, he owed a little over 260 million dollars.

And he could not pay.  And so, his master was going to have him and his family and everything he owned sold to pay the debt.  Which wouldn’t have covered even a tiny fraction of it.

 

Jesus was illustrating the divide between God and man.  This is the reality of Romans 3:23  For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.

We’ve done this before, let’s use my nifty iPulpit as an illustrative device.

If down here are the really nasty people, the Hitlers and the Stalins and people who spit their gum on the sidewalk and park in handicap spaces without a permit.

And up here at the top are the really good nice godly people.  People like Billy Graham and Mother Theresa and you.  And the rest of us are somewhere in between then God and His holiness are where the sun is.  And there is no way we can bridge that gap.

We all know that, or at least I hope we all know that.  And the consequences of that sin is found in Romans 6:23  For the wages of sin is death, . . .  Paul isn’t talking about a physical death, he’s talking about a spiritual death, the death that happens to our soul when we are separated from God and all that is good for ever.

In our theology, we call that separation Hell.  You might be thinking that you don’t believe in hell, that doesn’t change the reality of hell, it won’t make it one degree cooler or one day shorter.

So much like justice for the servant was to be sold into slavery, justice for us is to be separated from God for eternity.

 

But luckily for the servant and for us, the story doesn’t end there.

And so, the story continues: Matthew 18:26 But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’

So, the master was seeking justice and the servant wanted it to be A Story of Mercy

When the servant realized the consequences of his actions and all of our actions have consequences, he asked for the opportunity to try and repay what he owed.

And we already showed there was no way the servant was ever going to be able to pay even a portion of what he owed.   If he was able to repay his debt at $100,000.00 a year it would take him 2,600 years to pay it off.

What often happens at whatever point we become aware of God and aware of our sinful nature, we try and fix it.  We try to become better, we try to be more religious, we try and pray more, we go to church more, try to read out bibles more and we try to be nicer.

And it doesn’t seem to work.  The Old Testament prophet reminds us in Isaiah 64:6  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.

In our best of intentions, we want to be better, we want to bridge that gap.  But like the amount the servant owed it is impossible.

And so the story continues, Matthew 18:27  Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.

Instead of justice or mercy, the master made it A Story of Grace 

 

We sing about grace and we talk about grace, but do we really understand the concept of Grace?  The Collins English Dictionary defines Grace as : “The free and unmerited favour of God shown towards man.”  Or simply put, Grace is getting what we don’t deserve.

The servant in the story did not deserve to have his debt forgiven, but it was.

We do not deserve to have our sins forgiven, but they are.

And up to this point, this has been a salvation message.  But that wasn’t what it was intended to be.  Because most of us here today have experienced the grace of God.  And if you haven’t you can.

This is where the story takes a very unexpected twist.

Matthew 18:28-30  “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.  “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded.  But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.

What seemed fairly straightforward now becomes A Story With a Twist

If this was a horror movie, it’s here the music would change to a minor key.

You see what happens right? The servant has been forgiven, he has experienced grace in his life, but instead of that shaping who he was, it made no difference at all.

When Jesus told the story, he said that the fellow servant owed his colleague 100 Denarius, and a Denarius was a day’s wage.  So, the servant who had been forgiven 260 million dollars was owed the equivalent of four months’ salary.

Not a paltry amount by any stretch of the imagination, until you compared it to what the first servant had been forgiven.  It was over 17,000 times smaller.  It was like I owed you $15,000.00 and Gary owed me a small coffee from Tim’s.

This isn’t one of those stories that leaves us scratching our heads, the meaning is very plain.  We might choose to muddy the water with our opinions and our theology but the story itself is very plain.

The first servant was forgiven an unimaginable debt, a debt that he could never possibly repay on his own.  He was shown grace.

And when he had the chance to show grace to someone else, he blew it.  Not once, not twice but continually.

Immediately after he experiences grace, he goes and finds the servant who owed him money and demanded Justice.  And it gets worse, he then physically accosts the man, we are told that he grabbed the man by the throat.  And when the man begs him for more mercy and more time to pay he has him thrown into debtors’ prison.   He not only refuses to show the man grace, he won’t even show him mercy.

And maybe we could understand if this had of happened before the servant himself had been forgiven.  Four months’ salary was a considerable personal debt, but not after having 260 million dollars wiped off the books.

The servant demanded of others what he was unwilling to give to others.

And what happens?  Let’s keep reading.

Matthew 18:31-34  When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened.  Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me.  Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

Now The Story Gets Scary

You understand that this is not a salvation message, the warning was not about the original debt that the man owed.  That had been forgiven.   This was about his attitude after his debt had been forgiven.

The first part of the message was an invitation to those here today who have never experienced God’s grace.  To know that regardless of the debt you owe to God, his grace is more than enough to cover it.  All you have to do is ask.

The last part of the message, the scary part, is for the rest of us.  This part of the story is for those of us who have been forgiven.

Jesus was very clear in his teaching, those who have experienced grace are expected to show grace.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught, Matthew 5:7  God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.   Who is shown mercy?  The merciful.

Later when Jesus is teaching the apostles to pray we learn what we now call the “Lord’s Prayer”.  And most of us could probably recite it by heart.  But do you ever stop and reflect on the part that says in Matthew 6:12  and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. ?

The story is told that the author Robert Louise Stevenson led his family in their daily devotions each evening.  And a part of the routine was praying the Lord’s Prayer together.

Well, one night in the middle of the prayer he just stopped and left the room.  Stevenson suffered from a variety of illnesses and so his wife went after him and asked if he was feeling all right, to which he responded, “I’m not fit to pray the Lord’s prayer today.”

Are there days when we aren’t fit to pray the words, forgive me my sins, as I have forgiven those who have sinned against me?

In the parable, when the servant refused to forgive the man who indebted to him, and his master found out we are told Matthew 18:34  Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.

Now obviously the man couldn’t repay his entire debt, we’ve already established that. And the reality is, that that debt had already been forgiven.  Remember from the story, Matthew 18:27  Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.  The debt had been forgiven, it was gone.

The debt that he now owed was what resulted from his lack of forgiveness.  And it was here that he needed to show forgiveness in order to gain forgiveness.

Our outflow of mercy to others always has to equal God’s inflow of mercy to us.

But the story doesn’t stop here.

Matthew 18:35  Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”

It’s at this point that The Story Gets Scarier

I had mentioned how much the ending of the movie Carrie scared me, a big part of that was I thought the scary part was done.  Nope.

Jesus could have finished the parable at verse 34, and most people would have got it, but Jesus didn’t want most people to get it, he wanted everybody to get it.

Again, this parable is addressed to the forgiven, the saved, those who had tasted the grace of God.

And Jesus says Matthew 18:35 Jesus said “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.” In order to find out what Jesus’ Heavenly Father will do to us if we don’t forgive, we need to go back to the previous verse:  Matthew 18:34 “Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.”

Now, I don’t know where your theology is, but God isn’t going to unforgive you.  He’s not going to say, “Wow, you didn’t forgive that person, so remember all those things I said I forgave you for, I take it back, you are unforgiven.”

We have claimed the promise of Psalm 103:12  He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. And in Micah 7:19  Once again you will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean!

So, if God doesn’t unforgive us for our past sins what’s the big deal?  The big deal is that you are living in disobedience to God.  Every day that you let go by that you have not forgiven that grievance, whatever that grievance may have been, you are being disobedient to God.

How long can you as a Christian, live in disobedience to God without it affecting your spiritual life?  What is the debt that needs to be repaid?  The debt of unforgiveness.  I had a professor in Bible College who encouraged us to keep short accounts with God.  In other words, don’t continue to live in disobedience.

 

You understand that the prison of unforgiveness is built by those who refuse to forgive and the keys are held by the same person.

 

Catherine Ponder wrote, “When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.”

 

And you understand that when you say, “I can never forgive them”, you are locking yourself into a cell of resentment and bitterness.  And the bizarre thing is that you hold the key, at any time you can unlock the door and free yourself.  If you choose to.

It was Lewis Smedes  who said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”

I had a conversation with a senior citizen once who recalled an incident that happened in elementary school.  I forget what the actual offence was, it was a slight of some kind.  And they said, “I can never forgive them for what they did to me.”  For well over seventy years that slight had been colouring their life and shaping their personality.

You don’t forgive for the benefit of the person who hurt you, and you don’t forgive for God’s benefit, you forgive for your benefit.   You forgive to set yourself free from resentment and bitterness.  You forgive to free up room in your spirit for love and compassion and Jesus.

And you forgive so God will forgive your unforgiveness.

Let me close with these words that Paul wrote to those who followed Jesus in the city of Ephesus because they are also meant for those who follow Jesus in the city of Halifax today.

Ephesians 4:30-32  And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.  Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour.  Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

 

A Story of Weeds

If I could grow flowers like I grow weeds we would have the most awesome gardens in Kingswood.

I’ve kind of given up on weed control.   I’m through, I quit, I’ve thrown in the towel, they’ve won.

Ever since the municipality and then the province banned chemical weed control it’s been a losing battle.  I’ve tried all the organic solution and I have come to the conclusion that “Organic” is the scientific term for “Doesn’t work”

And I understand the hazards associated with “Weed and Feed” and the like, but our lawns sure were prettier back in the day.

Now if it’s green and it grows I just mow it and call it a lawn.

This is week four of our “Stories told by Jesus” series and we’ve been looking at some of the Parables, which is just a fancy term for stories, that Jesus told in the Gospels.

And so, over the first three weeks of this series we have seen how Jesus looked across the countryside looking for everyday events to illustrate the eternal nature of His Kingdom, a man working in a field, workers being hired to work in a vineyard and a farmer sowing seed and eventually gaining a harvest

Through the pictures he has drawn, his followers have seen the Kingdom planted and begin to grow and mature, having an impact on individuals and society as a whole.  And there has been no hint of problems, everybody having a wonderful time.

And sometimes that’s what we expect of church and life, just a meandering ride down a gently flowing river.  When I was a teenager we lived on the Hammond River, just outside of Saint John New Brunswick, and sometimes in the summer we would cart our big inner tubes upstream and drift down the river, just lying back in the sunshine.

But that isn’t life and it certainly isn’t the reality of God’s Kingdom, as long as there are people involved and as long as there are forces out there that oppose the kingdom of God.  Through these parables, Jesus was explaining what the Kingdom is really like not simply reinforcing how we would like to see the Kingdom.

And so Jesus looks out across a wheat field gently swaying in the afternoon breeze and says look, Matthew 13:24-26  Here is another story Jesus told: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field.  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.  When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew.

In another one of Jesus’ parables he talks about a farmer sowing seed and how some of the seed fell on the pathway and didn’t take root, and other seed fell on shallow soil and wasn’t able to survive and other seed feel into thorn bushes and was choked out, and finally how some seed landed in fertile soil and produced a flourishing crop.

In that parable, Jesus was illustrating how his words and teaching would be received by the world, how it would not be productive in everyone’s life.  And we understand that and we see it happen, but we kind of hope that when the seed finally begins to grow and reproduce that is the happy ending to the story, and everyone lived happily ever after.

But here we see the reality, the crop has been planted, the seed has taken root, the wheat begins to grow and then those tending the fields notice a problem, they discover that not all the plants are the same.  That the majority of the plants are indeed the wheat that was planted but in amongst the good wheat are plants that look like wheat at first glance but upon closer examination are something completely different.

In the NLT we read Matthew 13:25  But that night as the workers slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat, then slipped away.

But that doesn’t really say it all, because we aren’t really an agricultural society we don’t get the true meaning of Christ’s words.  When we think of weeds we think of dandelions and thistles and other nasties that invade our lawns.  And they are a nuisance and aren’t ascetically pleasing but not much beyond that.

In the King James Version, the verse reads this way Matthew 13:25 But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. Which means even less because nobody here really knows what a “tare” is.   But if we were to go back into the original language the word that the NLT translates Weed and the KJV translates Tare is actually the Greek word zizanion (dziz-an’-ee-on) but you probably already knew that.  And this story is the only place that this word is used in the Bible.  And it doesn’t just mean weed it refers to a very specific type of weed.

Those is the know tell us the weed that is spoken of here was what is known today as Bearded Darnel, or false wheat and that when darnel is starting to grow that it looks like wheat, here is a picture.  But the grain of the darnel was slightly poisonous.  William Barclay describes it this way “It causes dizziness and sickness and is narcotic in its effects, and even a small amount has a bitter and unpleasant taste. In the end it was usually separated by hand.”

But what does it all mean? There’s the farmer and the enemy, the wheat and the weeds, people wanting to tear up the wheat and others saying, “wait not yet”.  Kind of confusing in a parable sort of way, but unlike most of the other parables Jesus took the time to explain this parable a little more.  Apparently, he wanted to make sure that they understood the ramifications of this one, it was important, and he didn’t want any confusion.

And if it was that important to those who first heard it then it should be that important to us, so if you have your Bibles turn with me to Matthew 13:37-43  Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed.  The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one.  The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.  “Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world.  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

 

So, let’s take a look at the explanation.

First of all, There Is One Field.   Jesus tells us the “The field is the world”.  And there is only one world, sometimes you will hear the media talk about the first world, or the third world or people will try to define various parts of the planet as the “Christian world” or the “Muslim world”. But there is only one world and that is a world that Jesus came to live in, to preach to and to die for.

We all know John 3:16  “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”   Jesus didn’t come simply to reach a specific people group while offering no hope for the rest of humanity.  His sacrifice wasn’t simply for one slice of the population he came for the world.

And he expects his people to take his message of hope and grace to the entire world.  The last command of Christ to his apostles if found in Matthew 28:19  Jesus said: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

 And for two thousand years, Christ followers have been doing that.  Within a generation of the resurrection of Jesus, his message had been spread across the Middle East, into Asia and Europe and down to Africa.  Before the first apostles died there were believers worshipping in India, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Italy and beyond.  They had reached the world as they knew it.

It was Wesley who said, “The world is my parish.”  But he was simply following the command of Jesus and the example of those who went before him.  And it is why when the European nations started to colonize the “New Worlds” that they had “Discovered”, which is kind of like Newton discovering gravity, did things just float around before he made that discovery?

Sorry, a little bit of a tangent, when the New World was opened up the church was there with the message.  Was it because they wanted to eradicate the culture of the aboriginal people?  No, it was because they wanted to share the grace of Christ with them.  They truly believed the words that Matthew quoted in relation to the coming of Christ, Matthew 4:16  the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined.”

And that is why Cornerstone is actively ministering to people in Haiti and Ghana and Ukraine and Japan.  It’s why Pastor Deborah is planning a vision trip to Sierra Leone to see how we can develop a partnership with our work there because we are still obeying his command to spread the word of his grace to all people.

Christ came for the whole world, not just our little corner of it and there are people of the Kingdom all over the world.  The message is alive in them.  If they are doing their part, then we shouldn’t be asking “Well what about those who don’t know about Jesus?”  Wherever there is a Christ Follower then people should know about the Christ they are following.

So, There Is One Field.

And There Are Two Sowers.  In the parable, Jesus tells us that the farmer spread good seed and then his enemy came and spread bad seed.  And then in the explanation of the parable, Jesus tells us first in Matthew 13:37  Jesus replied, “The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed.”

And most people would like the explanation to end with that statement.  Most people that we know have no problem believing in Jesus, even if they never develop a personal relationship with him they have nice warm, fuzzy thoughts about him, the baby Jesus in the manger, Jesus feeding hungry people, Jesus holding a lamb.  But Jesus continues in the story to tell us Matthew 13:39  The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil.

A number of years ago I was in a conversation with a minster from a more liberal denomination who was talking about his time in Newfoundland and he said, “You know they still believe in the Devil there?”  Surveys show time and time again that the vast majority of North Americans believe there is a God, there are very few atheists in North America, they might live like there is no God, but they believe there is one.

On the other hand, the number of people who believe that there is an actual Devil is considerably fewer.  But Jesus had no doubts about the existence of Satan, nor does the bible.

Kind of like the two little boys who were talking about the Devil and one little guy said, “I figure in the end he just like Santa Claus, it will turn out to be your dad in a red suit.”

Jesus’ best friend, while he was on this earth, wrote in 1 Peter 5:8  Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.

Did you catch that, “Your great enemy”?  The Devil isn’t just some impersonal force, he is not just the personification of evil he is real and he is the enemy of those who serve God and he whispers in people’s ears, “there has to be more than one way”, “It doesn’t matter who you worship as long as you are sincere”, “You’re really not all that bad” and “A loving God wouldn’t send people to hell.”  And all the time he is sowing seeds, seeds that take root.

Which leads us to the next point.

Matthew 13:38  The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one.

There Are Two Crops  There was the wheat and there were the weeds.  And remember they looked very much alike but they were different very different, one was good, and one was bad.  And again, most people don’t want to hear that there is such a clear delineation, they don’t want to see that line drawn that clearly in the sand.  Most folks, outside the church and inside the church would like to see the line fuzzier, they would like to think there are those who serve God and then there are those who are at various places and levels and almost serve God and only kind of serve the Devil, or don’t serve God but don’t serve the Devil, they serve. . . well, they are not sure who they serve.

But Jesus didn’t say there were 12 different crops, or 7 different crops not even 3 different crops, there were two.  One represented those who chose to serve God, those who belong to the Kingdom and there were those who chose not to serve God who don’t belong to the Kingdom, they belong to the Devil.  It goes back to the Bob Dylan song that says “You gotta serve somebody, it might be the devil, or it might be the Lord but you got to serve somebody.”

And Paul gives us this insight in Ephesians 2:2  You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God.

Two thoughts here 1. If we are Christ followers, before we were Christ followers we were obeying the Devil but now we are obeying Christ.  2. If we are not Christ followers we are still obeying the Devil.

As much as we’d like to think that people who are good, nice, sincere people but don’t have a relationship with Jesus are going to be kind of ok, that isn’t what the word of God says.  Jesus tells us in John 14:6  Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

Because if we could get to heaven by being good, nice, sincere people than there would have been no reason for Christ to come and for Christ to die and for Christ to be raised from the dead, and instead of John 3:3  Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus would have said John 3:3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are good, nice, sincere people, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

So we have one field, two sowers, two crops and then Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:30  Let both grow together until the harvest.

There is One Harvest

Remember when the servants discovered that the weeds had been sowed they wanted to rip them up but the farmer told them to wait.  Matthew 13:29  “‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.”

We need to protect our relationship with Christ, that’s important.  And throughout the New Testament, we see that we need to protect the local church from false teachers and false teachings, that’s important but from this parable, it would seem that Kingdom of Heaven is capable of taking care of itself.  That in the end, it’s not our mandate to try and dig up the weeds too soon.

That’s why the Inquisition was so wrong they were trying to tear up the weeds.  And that is why the witch trials were so wrong they were trying to tear up the weeds, and we just aren’t qualified to make that decision and what ends up happening is we burn people at the stake just because they weigh the same as a duck.

Any time we try to legislate morality or head down the path of our own private Jihad (holy war) against some particular behaviour in the world we end up doing more damage than good.  I read one day that if God hates the same people that you hate then you can be pretty sure you’ve created God in your own image.  In the end, we need to let God sort it out.

It was Samuel Johnson who wrote, “God Himself, sir, does not propose to judge a man until his life is over. Why should you and I?”

So, Jesus tells us that the weeds will be separated from the wheat at the appropriate time, and when is the appropriate time?  Matthew 13:39 The harvest is the end of the world, . . .

And there is no reason to get into great theological debates about when that is going to happen because it is enough to know that it is going to happen.

It’s going to happen corporately, that is the world as we know it has a best before date and we don’t know what that date is but someday this is all going to end.  But personally, there will be an “End of the World” for each of us individually.  That is that our existence in this world will end, and this is what the word of God tells us in Hebrews 9:27  . . . each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment,

Every one of us shares that in common, we are all going to die, that is the end of our world and we are all going to be judged.  But that leaves us with the end of the parable, Matthew 13:30  Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds, tie them into bundles, and burn them, and to put the wheat in the barn.’”

There are Two Futures  There used to be a time that the church preached that there was a Heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned but then somewhere we decided that we didn’t like the concept of hell and stopped preaching about it, but that didn’t make it any less real, it just meant that we were shirking our responsibility. In Jesus’ explanation of this parable, this is how he spells it out.  Matthew 13:41-43  The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!

When we tell people that Cornerstone exists to help depopulate hell we believe it.  We believe that there will be people in heaven who would have been in hell if this church didn’t exist to tell people there is a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned.

Will hell be fire and brimstone, and demons with pointy tales poking people with their pitchforks? I don’t know.  What I do know is that when it will be a separation from God and from love and from light and from all that is good and all that is pure.

I want to finish with one of my favourite stories and I know you’ve all heard it before but bear with me.  The story is told that when Calvin Coolidge was Vice-President of the United States he was chairing a congressional meeting that was becoming very heated.  During the meeting, one Congressman stood up and told another, “Sir you can go straight to hell”.  Well, the victim was understandably upset and looked to the Vice President for support and saw that he was reading a book.  “Mr Coolidge” cried the victim “Did you hear what he told me to do?” “Yes” replied the Vice-President, “But I checked the rulebook and you don’t have to go.”

Well, friends, I have checked the rule book and you don’t have to go.  The word of God promises us in James 4:7  So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

So, where you at?  When the harvest comes, and it will come, what will be your destination?

Choices equal Consequences

The bible teaches us to be careful because we will reap what we sow.  That’s still a valuable life lesson for people to learn today, the concept that our personal choices have consequences.

A Montreal woman recently posted negative comments on social media about her OBGYN, as well as calling the Doctor’s receptionist snooty, and then she was shocked when her doctor dumped her as a patient.

The woman, who is four and a half months pregnant says that she should be allowed freedom of expression and have the right to post her thoughts.  She actually has both of those things.   Nobody has said that she can’t express her opinion or post her thoughts online.  She just needs to learn that there are consequences.

She has the freedom to express her opinion about her doctor and her doctor has the freedom to no longer be her doctor, it’s just that simple.

I don’t remember a lot from physics, but I do remember Newton’s third law?  You know the one that says: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Every choice we make will have consequences, sometimes good consequences sometimes bad consequences, but we have to understand that they are our choices.  And maybe then, we will make better choices.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

 

 

 

The Story of a Seed

It was the end of August in 1979. I was a 19-year-old fisherman on the herring seiner Rali 2 out of Paspébiac, Quebec. Don’t ask why a crew from Saint John and Grand Manan were crewing a seiner from Quebec, it’s a long story.

We had spent the summer in the Bay of Fundy and that season was over, so we had returned to Quebec to fish in the Gaspe before heading to Newfoundland for the fall.

The herring had been running and we were excited about our prospects when we received word that the department of fisheries had cut the quota in that area for a week. That seemed to be the story of the summer, if we had market we had no fish, if we had fish we had no market if we had both the DFO stepped in and we had no quota.

We were told the restrictions would be lifted in a week or so and we decided to go home for that week.

On Sunday, September 2nd, my best friend invited me to attend church with him, actually pestered me, nagged me cajoled me would be more accurate, but whatever.

And so that Sunday evening I found myself at First Wesleyan Church in Saint John New Brunswick. The second time I had been in a church service in 7 years.

The pastor, Jack McKenzie, was on vacation and a student from Bethany Bible College, Bob Coulotte was filling in for him.

I don’t recall what Bob preached on that night, but at the end of the service, I found myself committing my life to Christ and feeling a call to full-time ministry.

And it was completely unexpected. When I told people that I had become a Christian and that I was going to Bible college, they looked at me like I had said I had become a Martian.

There was no context, I wasn’t a churchgoer, I had expressed no interest in spiritual things, I wasn’t seeking God.

At nineteen if I was anything I was a hedonist.

Which is defined in the Collins English Dictionary as: Hedonist: Someone who believes that having pleasure is the most important thing in life.

My philosophy was when I got too old for wine women and song, I’d give up singing.
Although if you asked me, I probably wouldn’t have defined myself as a hedonist because as Mason Cooley once said “The philosophy of hedonism means little to lovers of pleasure. They have no inclination to read philosophy, or to write it.”

So, while I may not have identified as a hedonist, I was a hedonist.

But regardless of my philosophy of life, most people who knew me would say that my life took a 180-degree turn that night, and it was completely unexpected.

This is week three of our “Stories” series here at Cornerstone. And for the next couple of months as a staff, we are focusing on Stories told by Jesus. His parables. And Jesus really was a master storyteller.

I began two weeks ago telling the story of a found treasure, last week Deborah told the story of the workers in the vineyard and this week’s story was summed up in the scripture that was read earlier. It is sometimes known as “The Parable of the Growing Seed”.

It is the story of a small seed that was sown, flourished, and eventually bore a harvest. But for the man who sowed the seed, the process remained a mystery.

Jesus told his listeners in Mark 4:27 Night and day, while he (the farmer) is asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. Sounds like a mystery to me.

But the farmer had been doing it for years even if he didn’t completely understand how it happened, he knew it happened.

But was it really a mystery?

So let’s start with Mark 4:26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”

The first thing that needs to be noted is that The Ground was Prepared

I know that it doesn’t say that the ground was prepared, but it does say that the man was a farmer.

I’m not a farmer and I’m not a gardener, but any stretch of the imagination, I would be the person who would simply go out and spread seed on soil that hadn’t been prepared and then wonder why it didn’t grow.

On the other hand, Angela loves to garden, and I love Angela so there have been times that I have been called on to prepare the soil for her to plant her seeds in.

And you prepare the soil by removing any rocks, and breaking the soil up and tearing out the weeds and mixing in the fertilizer and eventually the soil is ready to plant in.

The hero of our story probably pulled the rocks out by hand and tilled the ground with a hoe and mixed in manure from his animals. Perhaps if he was a successful farmer with a lot of land he may have used a donkey or an ox to pull a plough to prepare the soil.

But regardless of the how we have to assume that since he was a farmer that he took the time to prepare the soil.

He understood that in order for the seed to grow there would need to be work done before the seeds were planted. And if you weren’t around for the preparation of the soil you might watch the farmer sowing his seed and not realize the work that had already gone into the process.

Very seldom do you hear about a person who had never heard the gospel suddenly embracing the claims of Christ.

The night that I was became a Christ Follower was only the second time I had been in a church service in 7 years. And both of those times were under duress.

But, I remember my parents having bedtime prayers with me when I was little, I remember as a child going to Sunday School at the Salvation Army when we were living in Germany and at the Baptist church when we were living outside of Fredericton.

I remember going to Vacation Bible School when we were vacationing on Grand Manan in the summer. I think my parents saw it as free childcare, but regardless of their motives, I was there. At the Wesleyan VBS, the Baptist VBS and the Pentecostal VBS.

When I was in my early teens a neighbour invited me to attend Christian Service brigade at Rothesay Baptist Church, I think I was their project that year.

And while those events didn’t seem to make a major difference in my life, the soil was being prepared.

Solomon tells us in Proverbs 22:6 Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

Sometimes we wonder “Why?” when we don’t see immediate fruit, but the soil is being prepared. In the parable, the chances of the seed germinating and growing would have been drastically reduced if the farmer hadn’t taken the time to prepare the soil in advance.

And the chance of a person coming to faith is exponentially increased if the soil was prepared when they were young. Don’t give up on that person you love. To paraphrase Solomon, “Do your best when they are young and pray for the best when they are older.”

But it wasn’t enough that the farmer had prepared the soil.

Mark 4:26 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground.”

The second thing we discover here was The Seed Was Sown

If the farmer had of prepared the soil but never planted anything, all of his work would have been in vain. The purpose of preparing the soil was to plant the seed.

Different times through the Gospels Jesus used “Seeds” as an illustrative device. And the seed represents an invitation to accept the grace of Jesus, an invitation to join the Kingdom of God.

And there are different ways to plant a seed. We had our lawn over seeded this spring and they spread the seed willy nilly with a broadcast spreader. But when Angela planted her carrots and beans this spring she planted each seed individually.

But regardless of how the seeds are planted they need to be planted.

I have heard people say they are just going to live their lives for Jesus, let their light shine and let God take care of the rest. But there is no seed being sown. You live your life for Jesus and let your light shine and people will just think you are a really nice person.

I mentioned that the night I became a Christian that I don’t remember what the preacher said, and I don’t. Except for a sermon illustration he used, I remember that, and that has been a valuable lesson for me as a preacher. Sermon illustrations are important, they might be the only thing a person remembers of the sermon.

But the seed was sown by my best friend who had become a believer the year before. And Reg shared the gospel with me several times without success. I brushed him off and told him maybe later, said I’d think about it. But I really wasn’t all that interested.

But he didn’t quit.

God’s word promises us in Isaiah 55:11 It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it.

And Reg believed that he believed that if he kept sowing seeds some of it would take.

There is a great story told about John Wesley’s mother Susanna. She and her husband Samuel had 19 children, 10 of who lived. A small family, Susanna was actually the 25th of 25 children.

And she home schooled all ten of her children. Boys and girls learned to read and write, as well as mathematics, Greek and Latin and an appreciation for the classics. She didn’t think a child should have lessons until they turned five, but the day after their fifth birthday lessons began. Beginning with learning their alphabet, which she expected them to learn on the first day. And 8 of her children did that, she considered the other two kind of slow.

The story is that her husband had the curiosity to sit by one day and count while she repeated the same lesson to one child over and over ” I wonder at your patience” he said, “you have told that child twenty times that same thing.”

“Yes” she answered, “If I had satisfied myself by mentioning it only nineteen times, I should
have lost all my labour. It was the twentieth time that crowned it.”

If Reg had of quit telling me about Jesus after the first or third or fifth time I wonder what would have happened? But he was faithful and that night when he invited me to church, once again, instead of coming up with an excuse I accepted. And that night Bob preached and extended an invitation to come forward to accept to Christ and I didn’t go forward. And the service finished, and people were leaving, and Reg looked at me and asked, “Do you want to go forward and talk to God about becoming a Christian?” And I said “Yes”.

What if he hadn’t asked? What if he just thought, “Well he had the chance, and he didn’t take it, maybe next time.”

The soil had been prepared and the seed had been sown.

But there more to the story of the seed than simply the preparation of the soil and the sowing of the seed.

Let’s go back to the story, Mark 4:26-28 Jesus also said, “The Kingdom of God is like a farmer who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, while he’s asleep or awake, the seed sprouts and grows, but he does not understand how it happens. The earth produces the crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally, the grain ripens.”

It’s here we discover that Stuff Happened

Between the sowing and the reaping stuff happened, in this case, it was good stuff.

The sun shined just the right amount, it rained just the right amount and the seed grew and boll weevils or locust didn’t come along and eat the tender shoots.

Our first summer out of Bible College we took a position in Up State New York, close to the Quebec and Ontario border. The town was surrounded by farms. That summer it seemed to rain a little bit each night and the sun shone every day and all the farmers and gardeners had bumper crops. We know because we were given more zucchini then I’d ever seen before in my entire life.

For a crop to grow it needs sunshine and it needs rain.

Sometimes we get bummed out over rain. Last year I got to visit a land where it never rained, where the sun always shined, and the skies were not cloudy all day. Here’s a picture. Yep, that’s called the desert.

If the farmer had of prepared the soil and planted the seed and that summer had turned into a drought or the wettest summer they had ever seen there might have been no harvest.

And the farmer had no control over either one of those things.

The ground can be prepared, and the seed can be sown but sometimes there still doesn’t seem to be any results.

During the year before I became a Christ follower, there were things that were happening that I didn’t know about, and probably wouldn’t have appreciated if I did know about them. I was on a number of prayer lists at Bethany Bible College and at Saint John First I had become a regular prayer request.

And the change I saw evidenced in the life of my best friend that year was helping the seed to grow. I remember going to Sussex one night to visit Reg at the college. And on my way home I stopped at my favourite Auntie, who was a believer. And I told her “I don’t understand it, I have a good job, a nice car, everything I can ask for and I’m miserable. Reg can’t even afford to pay attention and he’s happy”

And she said, “Maybe you need what he has.” To which I replied, “No, pretty sure that’s not it.”

And that year I didn’t run into any Christians who acted like jerks. And God worked in my heart.

I’ve mentioned before that was the year I was introduced to both “Jesus Christ Super Star” and “God Spell” and they presented Jesus to me in a way that spoke to me. And I know there are all kinds of theological problems with Super Star and God Spell. But I didn’t know that in 1979, all I knew what that they showed me a Jesus that I kind of liked. And the mystery is that the seed that was sown by my best friend was watered and nurtured by all kinds of different things.

The farmer didn’t understand all the things that made the seed grow, he knew that he couldn’t control everything, like the sun and the rain.

But there were things he could control. He could pull weeds, he could work at keeping critters from eating the plants. If need be he might have even been able to water his plants if there wasn’t enough rain.

When we’ve shared the gospel with people, we can never completely understand what happens in their hearts. We don’t know their history and the baggage they might carry. But we can do our part to not be jerks and to show them the love of Christ. And let God do his part.

Mark 4:29 “And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle, for the harvest time has come.”

And finally, There was a Harvest

At the end of the day, the farmer harvested what he had sown. And it wasn’t a one to one process, instead, that one seed produced a plant that had many seeds.

When I was teaching “Strategies for Church Planting” at Kingswood I would ask my students what an apple seed was supposed to produce. And they would say apples. Well no, an apple seed doesn’t produce an apple, it produces an apple tree which in turn produces an apple orchard.

There is a warning that Paul gives to the Galatian church that is also a promise. Galatians 6:7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. The warning, of course, is that bad behaviour and bad choices result in bad consequences. But the promise, of course, is that You will always harvest what you plant.

Gertrude Stein once wrote, “A vegetable garden, in the beginning, looks so promising and then after all little by little it grows nothing but vegetables, nothing, nothing but vegetables.”

The kingdom of God exists because the ground was prepared, seeds were planted and eventually, believers were the harvest. But not just a believer. Remember the fruit of the apple seed isn’t an apple it’s an apple tree and eventually an apple orchard.

The fruit of the seed that Reg Thomas planted wasn’t a Christian, it was 38 years of ministry. It was each person I have led to the Lord either personally or through my preaching, and each person they have led to the Lord.

There are people here who are the fruit of that seed that Reg began to sow a year before I made a commitment.

And maybe you are sitting there thinking, “So what? What does that have to do with me?”

Well, Jesus told those who followed him 2000 years ago, Luke 6:43-44 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs never grow on thornbushes, nor grapes on bramble bushes. And today, July 22, 2018 trees are still identified by their fruit, and part of the fruit is seeds.

Each one of you will plant seeds of some kind, and while you might not have control over what happens once you’ve sown the seed, you will choose what type of seed you are going to sow.

And after you sow the seed it’s simple, love God, love others and don’t be a Jerk.

God speaking through the prophet Hosea tells us in Hosea 10:12 I said, “Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of love.”

And so let me leave you with the words of Paul to the Corinthians 2 Corinthians 9:6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.

Free PowerPoint may be available for this message, contact me at denn@cornerstonehfx.ca

It’s Pretty Important for Me

A number of years ago, a friend of mine bought a book entitled, “The 100 Most Important Events In Christian History.”

In the course of a conversation, he asked me what I would consider fit into that category.   It didn’t take me very long to come to my conclusion, “My salvation”, I replied.

And maybe you are thinking, “ . . . but what about the Reformation, the Crusades, Wesley’s conversion and Billy Graham’s 1949 crusade in Los Angeles?”    Oh sure, they were important and maybe even earth shattering but in my opinion they pale in comparison to September 2nd 1979 when I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ.

I wasn’t terrible, hadn’t robbed a liquor store or killed anyone, but I was in need of God and had done nothing to deserve His favour and yet he reached down from heaven and forgave the sins of a young fisherman and made me a child of the King.

My conversion story may not get into my friend’s book, but it did get me into Gods book and that has to be one of the most important events in Christian History, at least that’s the way I see it.  And your salvation is every bit as important as mine, or Wesley’s or Augustine’s.    Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible

 

Wisdom for the Ages

Recently I have found myself immersed in a book of wisdom. I’m sure Angela is growing tired of my constant interruptions as I regale her with yet another new discovery. As I read I am constantly thinking:” Wow!” “Amazing” & ”I didn’t know that.” Stories of great achievements by folks with obscure names and stories of inspirations share the pages of this book and I want to share many of the things I have discovered with those around me. Of course, you realize that I’m talking about Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader.

I have also discovered a few mistakes in my reading. Not major mistakes but enough that I tend to read the rest with a grain of salt. Uncle John, I am sure, would remind me “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

And then he would let me know that quote came from Alexander Pope in An Essay on Criticism that Pope wrote in 1709 but wasn’t published until 1711. But I digress.

Too many people view the Bible the same way. It’s an interesting book that is full of neat things, but they aren’t sure they can trust it and it certainly isn’t life-changing. And it will never be life changing until we embrace it for what it is: the Word of God.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible. 

Be Careful What You Share

Perhaps you’ve seen some of the warnings and maybe you’ve even shared them. Many of the warnings have been showing up on Facebook and other social media. They involve Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) and they are alarming and true. People are being warned that DHMO is used by the nuclear power industry, that it is used in the production of pesticides, is present in most poisons and it is guaranteed to be fatal to humans in large quantities and yet it is still used in everyday products and food.

And it is amazing how many people simply hit share in order to warn their friends about the dangers of Dihydrogen Monoxide without further investigating the claims about this mysterious and supposedly deadly compound. If people checked, they would discover that DHMO is a colourless and odourless chemical compound, and is simply another chemical name for. . . water.

And that’s just funny and pretty much harmless. But not everything that people share on social media is funny or harmless and if you share it then you are responsible for it. Be sure that what you are sharing is consistent with your faith and your witness and maybe even ask yourself: WJST? Would Jesus share this? Because if He wouldn’t, chances are, you shouldn’t either.

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible.

The Story of a Treasure

It is a serendipitous story, which is a story about serendipity.

Serendipity, isn’t that a great word?  It is probably one of my favourite words.

In 2004 it was included in a list of the ten hardest English words to translate.

You know what serendipity means right?  Serendipity means an unplanned fortuitous discovery.  And if you didn’t know what serendipity meant then you just made a serendipitous discovery

Fleming’s accidental discovery of Penicillin is a great example of serendipity.

It sometimes happens to me when I am reading; I will be enjoying a novel, kind of zoned out, I read fiction for the same reason we watch TV, for entertainment, not enlightenment.  And then all of a sudden, I will come across the most incredible phrase or an idea for a message.  And that wasn’t what I was looking for.  It is serendipity.

And this is a serendipitous story.  The hero of the story is working in a field that he does not own, we don’t know if he was hired to do whatever he was doing or if he was helping someone out as a favour.  All we know is that in the process of doing something he unexpectedly found something and the something that he found was of greater value than the something he was doing or even of the field he was doing something in.

We are told that he immediately covered the treasure up, went and liquidated all of his assets and bought the field, and presumably the treasure as well.  I don’t know how he explained his sudden affinity for the field to the previous owner, but it is just a story.

This summer our preaching series is “Stores told by Jesus”.  And through the next couple of months, we are focusing on the Parables that Jesus told through the gospels.

A parable is simply a story with a meaning.   Kind of like a fable but parable sounds more spiritual.  Aesop told fables, Jesus told parables.  They could also be called allegories, but they aren’t they are called parables.

This particular parable is one of the eight times in the New Testament that Jesus begins a parable with the words “The Kingdom of Heaven” or “The Kingdom of God” is like a . . .

So, in this parable, Jesus begins to draw a picture which describes his Kingdom.  Matthew 13:44  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”

And you might be smarter than me, and this might make perfect sense to you, but these thirty-six words make me ask a whole pile of questions.  What was the man doing in the field?  How did he find the treasure?  What type of treasure was it?  Was what he did entirely on the up and up?  What is actually buried on Oak Island?

Well, the last question didn’t come out of the scripture, but it had to do with treasure and the scripture made me think of the Oak Island Treasure.

I personally am torn between it being Captain Kidd’s treasure and the lost treasure of the Knights Templar.  But I regress.

The answer to most of those questions, including the Oak Island one is that we don’t know.  And it obviously wasn’t important, or Christ would have told us, it’s just a parable.  The important part of the story is that the man found something he wasn’t necessarily looking for and was willing to give all he had in order to obtain it.

Upon first reading and without putting it in a historical context it is easy to question the ethics of the man in the story.  He finds this treasure that doesn’t belong to him and he doesn’t tell the owner of the land about it, instead he reburies the treasure and negotiates the purchase of the land, which apparently would have been worth more if the treasure had of been figured into it.

So here is the question, who owned the treasure?  The simplest answer would be: Whoever hid the treasure in the first place.  But apparently, they were no longer in the equation, it couldn’t have been the landowner because he was willing to sell the land with the treasure still buried, so it can be assumed that he didn’t even know the treasure was there.

So, if the original owner was no longer present than the short answer is: whoever owned the land owned the treasure.  But here is the caveat, only if he knew about it.

Let’s put it in a modern setting.  Next Saturday as you are driving out of whatever estate you live in you notice a yard sale and so you stop and as you go through the treasures that the homeowner is selling you come across a really ugly painting that has $8.00 marked on it, you ask the person if that is the best they will do and they agree to drop their price to $5.00 and you purchase the painting.   Now if the painting had been done by Bob Smith it would be worth $5.00 and the seller would have received what he wanted, and all would be well with the universe.  But what if the painting was a Jackson Pollock and was worth $50,000,000.00?   The seller still got the $5.00 he wanted from the painting.

You ask, “But, shouldn’t he get some of the $50,000,000.00?”

 

I don’t know, what about the person he got the painting from? And perhaps the person that person got the painting from?  And what if it was a painting that Jackson Pollock had sold in 1948 for $5.00 because he wasn’t famous yet and sold it for the price of the canvas.  If you knew it was a Pollock would you have a moral obligation to tell the seller what you knew?  Or would you be within your rights to simply give him what he wanted for the painting?

Sources tell us that 2000 years ago it was very common for people to bury items of value.  There were no banks or investments companies as we know them, no safety deposit boxes and the area was constantly being conquered and re-conquered.  There had been the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, and the Greeks and now the Romans.  And so, if it appeared that the occupiers were going to take your valuables you might bury them, or if you were going on a trip and wanted to make sure that your valuables were safe while you were gone you would bury them.

Remember the story of the man who gave the money to his servants to invest?  Two of them did exactly that and saw the money increase but do you remember what the remaining servant did with the money he was given?

Sure you do, Matthew 25:18  But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

The downside, of course, was if something happened to you and nobody else knew where you hid your money, oh well.

In the Daily Study Bible, William Barclay tells us “Jewish Rabbinic law was quite clear: “What finds belong to the finder, and what finds must one cause to be proclaimed? These finds belong to the finder–if a man finds scattered fruit, scattered money…these belong to the finder.” In point of fact this man had a prior right to what he had found.”   Or roughly translated “Finders Keepers.”

So if the man was ploughing or digging or whatever he was doing and found the treasure and the owner of the land did not know it was there than it belonged to the person who found it, that was the common law at the time, and we wouldn’t even have been having this discussion because everyone would have understood the concept.  When people heard the story, their reaction would have been “dude that is so cool, wish I found a treasure.”

I think it’s interesting that instead of just taking the treasure, which apparently he was entitled to do, that instead he purchased the land before he claimed the treasure.

And so as I worked on this message I was thinking about what the treasure was.  Was it God’s love?  Was it God’s Grace?  Was it Salvation?  The answer is: Yes.  Because the treasure is: The Kingdom of Heaven.  The question that Jesus is answering here is not: what is the treasure?  That is the answer, not the question.  The question is: what is the Kingdom of Heaven?  And the answer is Matthew 13:44  “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.”

 And we all know what a treasure is right?  It’s a treasure.  It’s not ordinary and it’s not every day, it’s special and it’s valuable.  In this case, it was worth more than everything else the man owned.

The Treasure Was There For Whoever Found it the scripture doesn’t say that he was a special man, just that he was a man.  He didn’t find the treasure because he was special, he was special because he found the treasure.

I think it’s interesting that the man wasn’t even looking for treasure, he was just going about his life.   We talk about those who are on a spiritual quest, looking for answers and seeking a higher meaning. And that is wonderful because the word of God promises us in Hebrews 11:6  And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

 

But it’s not always like that, most times God simply interrupts our lives, but too often we ignore him.

The night I met God, that wasn’t the plan, it wasn’t on my agenda, I wasn’t seeking God that day.  My day planner didn’t say: get up, putter around the house, go for a long drive with the roof down, have supper, go to church as a favour to a friend, become a Christ Follower and feel called to the ministry.”

I was just a fisherman home from the Gaspe for a few days; I wasn’t on a spiritual journey or on a quest, certainly wasn’t looking for a treasure.  And yet I found it, or maybe it found me. In this story, the Kingdom of God was hidden but it could be found, and it could be found by whoever was open to finding it.  We don’t know if others had come close or perhaps it had even been stumbled on before but those who found it either hadn’t recognized it for the treasure it was or perhaps they didn’t know what it was they had found.

What I love most about the Gospels is the calling of the individual apostles.  Some like Andrew came looking for Jesus, but for many of them, they were just ordinary people going about their ordinary lives when they discovered the Kingdom of Heaven.  They were fisherman and government employees and accountants and people trying to overthrow the government, in other words, they were just people.

Some of you already know the story eight years ago I received an envelope that had for a return address “The Protocol Office”.    It was an invitation to a reception being held in the presence of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

It was an intimate affair, just Angela and 10,0000 other people, but that is beside the point.  It was a very classy invitation.  I later discovered that I was put on the list because I am considered to be a community leader.  Cool.  But that isn’t what I was trying for, I am just doing my job.

There is a great statement that closes the Bible, in Revelation 22:17 we read “Come.” Let anyone who hears this say, “Come.” Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life.  In the King James Version, it says whosoever will”.     The Kingdom of Heaven is not limited by our nationality, or our skin colour, or our gender, it is open to whosoever will.   The invitation 2000 years ago was Let anyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who desires drink freely from the water of life. And the invitation is there for you today.

You may never receive an invitation to a reception for the Queen of England, but the opportunity to meet the King of the Universe is extended to everybody, and that trumps the House of Windsor.

The Treasure was Free: It was not Cheap We understand that the Grace of God is free and it is there for whosoever will, but it is not cheap.  Several times in the Gospels Jesus is asked by people what they needed to do to follow him or to have eternal life and his answer was “Go sell all you have and give it away.” But that wasn’t a requirement of everyone.  How come?  Because it wasn’t about what they possessed it was about what possessed them. And the fact that Jesus didn’t require it from everyone only brings comfort to those he would require it from.

But it’s not our possessions that Jesus wants, it’s our loyalty.  He wants to be number 1 in our lives, not number 37 or 25 or 4 or even 2 he wants to be number 1. He wants to be the priority. Luke 16:13  “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

You may think you can serve two masters but there will come a time in your life that you will have to decide: where do my loyalties lie?  What is my priority in this situation?  Where will I give my time?  Where will I give my money?  One of the stories that I was talking about is found in Matthew 19:20-22  “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?”  Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”  But when the young man heard this, he went away very sad, for he had many possessions.

 

The young man discovered what he owned and what owned him.

Jim Elliot was a missionary who was working with Wycliffe  Bible Translators to bring the gospel to a remote South American tribe in the late 1950s, and he was killed in the process.   And just days before he was killed he wrote in his journal, “He is no fool – who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”  In a very real way, the hero of our story gave up what he could not keep to gain that which he could not lose.

Whatever the treasure was that the man discovered, it was worth everything the man had.  And that is the lesson that Jesus is teaching.  The Kingdom of Heaven is worth everything we have.  We might think we have it “all”, but “all” will pale in comparison to what God has to offer.  The offer of a past that is forgiven, and of a future that is assured.

Because the secret of the Kingdom is that in giving up you get more.  You say “But Denn, my family has to come first” or “My career is a priority” or, or, or.  But remember the words of Jesus when he said Matthew 6:33  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

When the Kingdom is your priority and you live the way that Jesus wants you to live then you become a better parent and you become a better spouse and you become a better employee and you become a better employer and you become a better person and ultimately you gain what you were seeking all along.

And if there is a conflict between the Kingdom and what you want, it may appear that in the short term your way is the most advantageous, but it won’t prove that way in the long term.

You probably all remember the WWJD phase that the church went through.  What would Jesus do?  But that isn’t the question, because we aren’t Jesus.  The question is WWJHMD “What would Jesus Have Me Do?”  And it’s only when we are focused on his Kingdom that we are able to ask that and answer it.

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:21  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

So, if you have determined in your life that your treasure is the Kingdom of Heaven then your heart will follow.  But don’t expect everyone to see the value of the Kingdom, it was Wesley who said “The kingdom of God within us is a treasure indeed, but a treasure hid from the world”  and Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18  The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

Here is the confusing thing: Even though the man found the treasure The Treasure is Still There.  It wasn’t that the man didn’t find all the treasure, it is the mystery of faith that the same treasure that was found by Peter and James and Paul, the same treasure found by Augustine and Wesley and Calvin, the same treasure found by Mother Theresa and Billy Graham is still there for us today.  The Bible promises us in Hebrews 13:8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

And God’s Kingdom is still waiting to be discovered by you.

 

 

Why Worry?

A couple of weekends ago I broke a tooth.  It was nasty. I could feel it with my tongue and half of the tooth was missing.  I wasn’t sure if it was the tooth or the filling that was broken, but I knew that something had to be done.

First thing on Monday I called our dentist who was able to fit me in in three days.  And during that time, I wondered if I would need a root canal or a crown, how much insurance would cover and how much I would have to pay.

When the dentist came in I told her what had happened, and she told me to open wide.  As she examined the damage she exclaimed “that little thing?”  And I said “No,
there’s a massive part of my tooth missing.”

The reality is that a massive part of the tooth wasn’t missing, I had simply chipped the tooth, she smoothed it out, touched it up and my portion of the bill was twenty bucks.

I spent four days, worrying about something that I couldn’t do anything about and ultimately never happened, time that I’ll never get back.

But, you probably never worry and fret only to discover what you thought was major was simply minor.   Or do you?

Have a great week and remember: To see what is really possible, you will have to attempt the impossible