Master Storyteller

Matthew 13

January 13

I was excited to see that Matthew 13 begins with the Parable of the Sower because that is definitely one of my favorite parables. And then there was the Parable of the Weeds – oh that’s a great one, too. And, the Mustard Seed and Yeast. As well as the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl and finally, the Fishing Net. I believe Matthew 13 is the home of more parables than any other chapter of the Bible -but please correct me if I am wrong. It’s been a long time since I was in junior high, but I still remember Joyce Knapp, my junior high class Sunday School teacher, describing parables as earthly stories with heavenly meaning. Jesus was a master at telling stories about common, everyday things everyone listening would know about (fields, farming, seeds, yeast, weeds, fishing nets), and creating out of it a deeper spiritual, godly lesson. He didn’t give long confusing lectures filled with mile long words that you need a masters level degree to understand. He wanted to make it as simple as he could so that anyone willing to listen with an open mind could learn, even while knowing that many would not get it because they didn’t want to change or didn’t think they needed what Jesus had to offer.

What was it Jesus was offering? What was the point of all these earthly stories with “heavenly” meaning? It is interesting that Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the phrase “The kingdom of heaven is like…” to introduce many of Jesus’ parables. In fact the term “kingdom of heaven” is only found in the book of Matthew (31 times – and 8 of those are in Matthew 13). The other gospel writers, as well as Paul in his letters, refer instead to the kingdom of God (even Matthew uses this term 5 times). When Matthew was writing with the Jews in mind he knew they took very seriously the commandment to, “Not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7) So, in order to remain guiltless it might be better to not use his name at all. So, when speaking of God and godly things, Matthew often replaced the word God with heaven as that is the throne of God and it would be understood that he was speaking of godly, holy matters belonging to God, without having to risk misusing his name or offending a Jewish listener. These parables are not about being whisked away to heaven when you die. Indeed, they are very much grounded in what is happening on earth both now and in the future judgment. These parables of the kingdom of heaven/God are down-to-earth stories illustrating spiritual/Godly matters.

Take some time today reading and even rereading these parables. Each one has a gem hidden for those who will listen and seek. Each one reveals a little more about what Jesus found most important, what God is preparing, what is required, what is most valuable, what the evil one is up to, what is promised, what are dangerous challenges, what is worthy of sacrifice, what judgment will look like, what is to come, what will be. It’s a treasure hunt in Jesus’ parables. What does the Master want you to find in his stories?

There is one verse that really struck me as I read and re-read Matthew 13. It seems to say perfectly what discussed earlier this week about not throwing away the Old Testament but adding to it the love and beauty of Jesus and what he taught and what he has done and will do. After telling 7 parables Jesus asks his disciples if they are getting it. They reply yes. Then, “He (Jesus) said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.'” (Matthew 13:52 – NIV) The teacher of the (Old Testament) law who learns and lives by these (New Testament) principles spoken by Jesus and recorded by Matthew as the kingdom of heaven parables and teachings has double the treasure – both old and new.

What treasure in His Word will you find today? How will you use these treasures to make a difference in your life? How will you use these treasures to make a difference in someone else’s life?

-Marcia Railton

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Which of the Matthew 13 parables is your favorite today? Why? What is the lesson Jesus was teaching? Why is this important? How can you apply it or put it into action today?
  2. Jesus chose perfect illustrations for his parables. Even 2,000 years later, even if you are not a farmer, you know what happens when a seed is planted. Even if you have never been fishing, you understand how a net works. But consider how you would create a parable with one of these same teachings using a modern day illustration.
  3. Consider the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9 and 18-23). What 4 types of soil did Jesus mention and what do they stand for? What happened to each of the seeds? Have you seen these 4 instances occur to others? What kind of soil best describes you right now, and in the past? What lessons can you learn for evangelism from this parable?

Listening to Jesus

Today’s Bible Reading – Matthew 25 and Genesis 49 & 50

                I Love stories, don’t you?

Here’s a story by CS Lewis found in the book: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader as retold by Jennifer Neyhart:

               “Eustace is a character you kind of just want to punch in the face until his transformation experience with Aslan. He was arrogant, self-centered, and all around annoying to Edmund and Lucy.

On one of the islands the crew lands on, Eustace finds a dragon’s lair and is very greedy for the treasure. He puts on a gold bracelet and falls asleep, and when he wakes up, he has been turned into a dragon. Lewis writes, “Sleeping on a dragon’s hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself.” Eustace had fleeting thoughts of relief at being the biggest thing around, but he quickly realizes he is cut off from his friends, and all of humanity, and he feels a weight of loneliness and desperately wants to change.

That night, Aslan comes to Eustace and leads him to a large well “like a very big round bath with marble steps going down into it.” Eustace describes the scene to Edmund after the fact. He says the water was so clear and he thought if he could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in his leg (from the gold bracelet he had put on when he was human). But Aslan told him he had to undress first. And doesn’t God ask this of us? As Lewis wrote in Letters to Malcolm: “We must lay before him [God] what is in us; not what ought to be in us.”

Eustace found that no matter how many layers of dragon skins he managed to peel off of himself, he was still a dragon.

“Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘You will have to let me undress you.’ I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know – if you’ve ever picked the scab off a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off … And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on – and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again…” – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

 This scene always grabs my heart. It reminds me that I cannot fix myself. It paints a beautiful picture of baptism and transformation to new life. It humbles me as I put myself in Eustace’s place. And even long after our initial baptism we have the ongoing challenge of surrendering to God’s work in our lives which can be painful at times, even when it’s a good pain.

And I like Lewis’s note of narration at the end of this scene as well:

“It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.”        

https://www.jenniferneyhart.com/2014/10/c-s-lewis-undragoning-of-eustace.html

End of Story.

Jeff’s comments:

                Stories have a way of capturing our attention and keeping our interest.  In a really good story like the undragoning of Eustace we might discover after reading it that it stays with us, that it somehow changes the way we see the world or the way that we are in the world.

                Jesus was a master storyteller.  Throughout the Gospels we hear him telling stories, and amazing stories they were as they somehow manage to transcend time and place and language and cultural barriers.

                In Matthew 25 Jesus tells three stories.  One story is about bridesmaids and oil, one is about masters and servants and bags of gold, and one is about sheep and goats.  Jesus told these stories just a few days before he was to be arrested, tried, condemned and nailed to a Roman cross and publicly executed. 

If you’ve ever been around someone who knew that they were going to die soon, you know that near the end of life people usually want to focus on those things which are most important.  They want to say “ I love you” to people they care about.  They want to say “ I’m sorry” to the people they have hurt or they want to say “I forgive you” to the people who have hurt them.  Since Jesus is running out of time and opportunities to preach and teach before his arrest you can imagine that what he has to say is very important to him. This is Jesus saying “I love you” to people he cared deeply about.

I encourage you to read and reflect on those stories in Matthew 25. 

Why is he talking about weddings and bridesmaids and having enough oil and the danger of missing out on the wedding banquet?  What does he want us to do or not do?

Why is he talking about a rich landowner going away on a long trip and leaving behind something valuable and asking his trusted workers to manage his valuable gold well?  What does he want us to do or not do?

Why is he talking about sheep and goats and why is he praising and rewarding some for the good things they do to help others (and him) and condemning  and punishing others for the good things that they fail to do to help others (and him)?  What does he want us to do or not do?

Spend some time thinking about each story.  Imagine yourself there in the story.  What’s it like to be a bridesmaid who wasn’t ready and missed out on your friend’s wedding?  What’s it like to be a worker who gets praised and rewarded for working hard when the master returns?  What’s it like to be called a goat (not The G.O.A.T. –a.k.a. Michael Jordan or Drew Brees) but a goat who failed to care for the sick, the hungry, the prisoners and the naked and gets turned away by Jesus?

Listen to Jesus’ stories and allow them to teach you whatever Jesus wants you to learn.

-Pastor Jeff Fletcher

Luke 16-17:10

In our world today, there are so many distractions that can lead us away from God. When we turn our focus on other things, we can get choked out like the seeds in the parable of the sower. When we consider what is worth pursuing in life, we have to ask ourselves whether or not the things that we are pursuing are things that glorify God. If they do not, they have no true worth. 

In today’s reading, Jesus tells a series of parables that show how we should view money and possessions in our lives. The Pharisees listened to his teachings and scoffed at Jesus, because they loved Money. Jesus recognizes this, and tells them that “ What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:14b). What do you value highly in your life? How does that affect your ability to glorify God with your life? 

We’ve all been given an allotted period of time that we can use for God and for ourselves. We are responsible to manage that time wisely. We are stewards, not only of our wealth, but our very lives. Luke 16:10-13 says, 

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “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.”

Who is the master in your life? Let’s turn our focus on God. He is worthy of all our life. 

~Cayce Fletcher

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 16:1-17:10.

Tomorrow we will read John 11.

Luke 14-15

I love enjoying Sunday dinner with others. Sharing a potluck or going out to eat together is great, but in our reading we see Jesus was invited to the house of a prominent Pharisee where he was being carefully watched. Some of the leaders had been listening very carefully to Jesus, but not to learn from him. They hoped to find fault with Jesus and to catch him in something he said then report him to the authorities. Imagine being a guest at this table. You have the opportunity to sit and eat with the Son of God. You have the chance to hear his teaching. But these leaders are so blind that they are trying to set a trap for Jesus. The leaders get their wish because a man who is suffering is there. Of course, out of compassion the Lord heals the man. Rejoicing should have happened around this table, but instead Jesus has to explain that healing on the Sabbath is doing good and it is acceptable.

Jesus noticed that these guests were picking the places of honor at the table. They were self-promoting and needed to learn the importance of humility that Jesus illustrates through a parable of taking the lowest position at a feast.  Explaining that “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  

Jesus then teaches that meals should be given for the less fortunate, which will result in the host being blessed and repaid at the resurrection of the righteous. Someone at Jesus table said to him, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

Jesus then used a parable to explain that the “stuff of life” should never keep us from accepting the invitation we have received from the Lord to the great banquet He has prepared for us. When we count the cost of being a disciple, we realize that giving up the things of this life are a small price to sit at the Kingdom feast table. As Christ said “many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom.” I love that he states that there are places for us at that feast (reserved seating). Each person is important to God as we see in Chapter 15. Stay close to our Heavenly Father and rejoice when those that are lost are found. Remember that we will one day celebrate like never before around our Father’s table at the Kingdom feast.

~ Rebecca Dauksas

Today’s Bible passage can be read or listened to at BibleGateway here – Luke 14-15.

Tomorrow we will read Luke 16:1-17:10.

The Kingdom of God is Like

Luke 13

Then he told this parable

During this time of year, you can simply feel it in the air — people buzzing like bees, quickly moving from place to place, passing off presents, sternly shaking hands, embracing each other, even some merry kissing under the mistletoe.  All humanity grows a bit closer in this glorious time of the year – flu season.  That is right – the flu — the microscopic menace spreading like wildfire, which we can only hope to contain.  Yet the flu is like the Kingdom of God.  Wait. What?

To see the comparison, we started with the question Jesus poses in Luke Chapter 13, “What is the Kingdom of God like?  What should I compare it to?”  He points to two tiny, but curious, examples from nature that illustrate the uncontainable and incurable makeup of the message of the Kingdom of God: the mustard seed and yeast.  Two of the smallest items that can be seen with naked eye can easily work their way into their host with seemingly no offense.  Once mustard seeds are sown, it would be an impossible task to remove them from their soil.  Additionally, if you were to knead yeast into a dough, it would be equally difficult to eradicate.  In just a small matter of time each grow (for lack of better biological terms), changing the landscape around them.

I am by no means a scientist or theologian when I make the claim that the Kingdom of God is like a virus, but I see it as an alike analogy to the yeast and seed, present in today’s known world.  When we become infected by a single strand of a seemingly insignificant substance it almost immediately multiples.  Our body’s biology begins to react by reprioritizing processes and protocols.  Even the most cautious of host cannot help but spread the contagion to others.  Similarly, the hope we have in the Kingdom of God starts merely as a few words that come in through our eyes or ears, terribly trivial when placed within the context of the hundreds of millions we will experience in our lifetime, yet they knowingly or unknowingly work on our hearts differently.  As these words begin to work in us, our priorities shift, our behaviors change, and our effort increases.  The virus begs to be shared in every encounter inside and outside the body – passing of presents, sternly shaking hands, embracing each other, or even in merry kissing under the mistletoe.  It becomes the definition of our existence.

You will undoubtedly be sharing space with the suffering in the coming weeks. As you hear the coughs, sniffles, or maybe even some of the more unsavory sounds of the infected this season, remember that you too, suffer in a similar way.  The eternal infection – the Kingdom of God – is the longing placed into the hearts of all men by God who made them incomplete without it, but this virus is the cure for the condition of humanity, not the sickness. Work it into the dough, sow the seed, and spread the disease, to help others to know what the Kingdom of God is like.

-Aaron Winner

Return Home

Luke 8

Luke 8_39

Luke 8 is a pretty fast-paced chapter.  Jesus is in full ministry mode at this point and going about performing many miracles and teaching a lot of parables.  Here are a couple that jumped out at me.

 

Jesus tells the parable of the Sower, a farmer who is spreading seeds. The seeds grow based on the quality of soil that they are planted in.  The disciples do not understand the parable, so Jesus explains it in more clear language in Luke 8:11-15.

 

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

 

I think it is important to realize that the gospel is not directly injected into our hearts (metaphorically) but is presented to us.  It is up to us to make the decision to accept it, and then to purposefully fill our lives with the word in order to change our hearts.  As Jesus said, only through perseverance will we grow.  You cannot be passive about your relationship with God.

 

Later in the chapter Jesus drives out many demons from one man and they go into a herd of pigs, which immediately drown themselves.  Which is kind of weird.   But anyway, the man’s life had been completely changed by Jesus and he wanted to serve Jesus, and here is Jesus’ response in Luke 8:38-39.

 

38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

 

Instead of hitting the road with Jesus and spreading his testimony all over he is instructed to stay in his hometown and to give his testimony to the people in his hometown.  When a lot of people think about spreading the gospel they think about people far away that haven’t heard the gospel, and some are called to travel great distances as some of the disciples were, but many more of us are called to stay home and tell our story to unbelievers in our home towns.  Either way it is very important to share what God has done for you in order to help strengthen the faith of other believers.  For my family God performed a mighty act of healing in my Mom with her cancer and I try to share that as much as I can to show the power of prayer.

So I encourage you to “return home and tell how much God has done for you”.

– Chris Mattison

One Track Mind

Matthew 13-14

mat-13-45-ww-stock-9x

Monday, May 1

I think it would have been an incredible experience to hear Jesus talk when he was here on earth.  His ministry did not last a real long time, but he did have the opportunity to talk to many people while he was here.  I think it is safe to assume that in his limited time teaching the multitudes, he focused on what was most important for them to know.  He often used parables to make the teaching more understandable.  In Matthew 13, Jesus shared 7 different parables with the people.  Let’s find out what he thought was important to share:

Parable of the Sower:  this was a parable about how different people respond when they hear the kingdom message.

Parable of Tares Among Wheat:  the kingdom of heaven was compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but the enemy also sowed tares in the same field.

Parable of the Mustard Seed:  the kingdom of heaven is compared to a mustard seed.

Parable of the Leaven:  the kingdom of heaven is like leaven.

Parable of the Hidden Treasure:  the kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.

Parable of the Costly Pearl:  the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls.

Parable of a Dragnet:  the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet cast into the sea and gathering fish of every kind.

It is pretty plain to see what Jesus’ most important message was about.  He had a one track mind about the kingdom.  He would not stop talking about the kingdom.  He talked about the kingdom over and over and over and over; seven times in chapter 13 alone.  This same message is just as relevant today as it was then because the chance to live in the kingdom is still attainable today.  This has to be our number one message the same way as it was Jesus’ number one message.

A couple other incredible experiences would have been to see Jesus feeding the 5,000+ and Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14.  I have questions about these events.  Did anyone actually see the bread multiply with their own eyes (that would have been cool)?  Did they cook the fish or just eat it raw?  Without television or movies, how did the disciples know about ghosts (they thought Jesus was a ghost when he was walking toward them on the water)?  Had they seen ghosts before?  Are ghosts real?  When Jesus walked on the water did he move up and down with the waves or was it more of a steady/smooth walk?  How did Jesus know that Peter lost faith when he started sinking?  Did Jesus actually know what was in Peter’s mind or did God know what was in Peter’s mind and Jesus then figured out what was happening when he saw him sinking?  Perhaps you did not have all of the same questions that I had, but thank you for reading this far.

The main lesson to learn from chapter 14 is about faith.  Peter was able to walk on water until his faith weakened and many people were healed when they had faith they would be healed when they touched Jesus’ cloak.  Another lesson to learn in chapter 14 is to not trust women who please you with their dancing, but I will let you read about that yourself.

-Rick McClain

 

(Photo Credit: http://www.alittleperspective.com/matthew-13-2016/)

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