Christianity 201

February 1, 2018

Parables of Jesus: The Tricky Bits

by Clarke Dixon

In reading through the parables of Jesus from Mark chapter 4, there are certain parts that have always stood out to me as being difficult to understand. While we might normally gravitate to the familiar parables, I figured that if I found some parts tricky, you might also. So let’s take the difficult path and look at two tricky bits.

First Tricky Bit: Is God keeping secrets, and keeping people outside?

10 When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. 11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables;
12 in order that
‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’ ” Mark 4:10-12

From verse 11 we might wonder if God is keeping secrets and from verse 12 we might wonder if He does so because He does not want people to be forgiven. This seems a direct contradiction of 2 Peter 3:9:

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

So how are we to understand this? First off, the word translated “secret” by the NRSV may be better translated as “mystery”. However, even that word comes with baggage as we tend to think of mystery as something we could never know. Here the idea is that though we couldn’t know it before, it has been revealed to us and can now be known. While a secret is something meant to be kept hidden, this “mystery” is something shared.

However, those “outside” (verse 11) won’t be able to understand this mystery while those on the inside will. The point is not that we should pity the people outside, but that we should invite them in. The point is not that those outside should stay there, but that they should push in. We have seen people pushing in to see Jesus before in Mark’s Gospel. We can think of the paralytic in chapter 2 whose friends were so desperate to get him before Jesus they dug a hole in the roof and lowered him in. Note that the first thing Jesus tells him is that his sins are forgiven. That kind of thing happens when you press in to Jesus.

The parables are meant to get people thinking and questioning. Are you outside, thinking that you know everything you need to know and there is noting about Jesus or yourself that you need to learn? Or are you pressing in to find out? The question is not, “are you stuck outside?”, the questions is “are you coming in?”

Second Tricky Bit: Is God being harsh when those who have nothing lose everything?

24 And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. 25 For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” Mark 4:24-25

It seems both harsh and without logic to say that those who have nothing will lose everything. What are we to make of this? Imagine you have nothing, but are given a house. You don’t even send a thank you note to the generous person who gave you the house.  You go on with your life, living in the home, but you put no work into it. You never clean it and do no maintenance of any sort even though water has started pouring in from the roof, windows and foundation. You live in it, but you turn your back on it. Your benefactor, being very generous indeed, offers to give you a much better home, but you turn your nose up at the offer. Though you earned nothing, even what you do have will eventually be lost when the house falls apart. This is like our relationship with God. God has been good to every one of us in that He has given us life. Life is a gift from his hands, a sign of grace. Now suppose, though you live now by the grace of God, you turn your back on Him and refuse to have anything to do with Him. You refuse the offer of a further gift of eternal life. What will happen? Even what you have though have not earned, namely life, will be taken away from you. Separation from God, what we often call hell, is not harsh on God’s part. It is a natural consequence of the sin that separates us from God. It is what happens when we refuse the generous gift of Jesus who deals with that sin.

While the parables reveal truths about God’s Kingdom, they also reveal truths about us. God is bringing His kingdom. Are you pressing into it, or turning your back on it?

God is offering you a love relationship. Are you pressing into that relationship or turning your back? Jesus didn’t turn His back on you when he could have, when perhaps he should have. His back was to the cross.

All Scripture references are taken from NRSV

Read more at ClarkeDixon.wordpress.com

Based on a 32-minute sermon. Click here to listen in full.

 

 

March 26, 2017

The Prodigal Son and God’s Love for the Repentant Sinner

by Russell Young

Luke relates the parable of the lost or prodigal son. (Lk 15:11─31) The story is quite well known. According to its presentation, a wealthy father had two sons and the younger wanted his inheritance even while the father lived. Having been given it, he squandered it in “riotous living” until he had nothing left. Starvation caused him to humbly return home where he was compassionately and enthusiastically greeted by his anxious father. The older son had remained home and had worked the remaining part of the estate for his father. Seeing his father’s delight in the return of the reckless son and the celebration that was taking place, the older son became upset since his faithfulness to his father had never been recognized.

This parable is often presented to show the “forgiveness” and love of the father and/or the hard-heartedness of the brother who had faithfully toiled for so long. Regardless, the revelation of God’s heart concerning the repentance of a sinner is highlighted within the parable. The verse leading to the parable (Luke 15:10) reads that “there is much rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Repentance shows humility rather than pride. It indicates that the sinner has recognized the sovereignty of God and his laws and that he or she is subject to them. God loves the repentant person who is prepared to honour him and his creation.

Perhaps writings that have attempted to apply meaning to all aspects of this parable are confusing the issue. The father’s joy at the return of his son has been made clear. He loved his son and wanted fellowship with him. Without doubt, he had misused his inheritance and had done many foolish things, but he had learned some valuable lessons. His misadventure had taught him a great deal. From the parable, it seems that he had returned ready to be a committed and faithful son. Does our heavenly Father want anything less? Could he expect anything more?

Jesus had engaged his earthly ministry to redeem a lost people and was amid a people who had rejected God’s righteous requirements for thousands of years. His sorrow for Jerusalem was expressed as follows: “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate.” (Lk 13:34─35) His heart was breaking because of the bleakness that sin had brought upon God’s chosen people. In this parable he is bringing the need for repentance to the lost sons of Israel and expressing to them the joy that the Father feels when truth is finally recognized and appreciated.

The issue of repentance applies to humankind today. God’s lamentation over the state of wickedness that exists in the hearts of his created people was expressed early following the tenure of people upon the earth. “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Gen 6:5─6 NIV) God loves his creation and it was for his pleasure that he had created in the first place. Hearts have become thoroughly evil in his estimation and there is no good thing in them. God wants repentance! He wants hearts committed to him and to doing good. Perhaps, like the father in the parable, the church of Christ should rejoice more exuberantly with God when a repentant sinner acknowledges hurt to humankind and to God and returns humbly to meet the heart of God.

For those who want to direct the parable to address the father’s rejoicing over the wayward “believer’s” return it needs to be appreciated that the prodigal had no inheritance and no recourse to attaining any. He had returned home having wasted it. The inheritance that belongs to the believer is the same inheritance that Christ will receive since the believer is a co-heir with Christ. (Rom 8:17) God will not be mocked, the “believer” cannot truthfully be repentant and act otherwise. Concerning the nature of his preaching, Paul told King Agrippa that his preaching to the Gentiles was that “they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” (Acts 26:20 NIV) The writer of Hebrews has recorded: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26─27 NIV) God will not be mocked and “believers” who repent after deliberately continuing to sin will not enjoy the celebration that the prodigal received.

Those who want to find meaning in the parable through reflecting on the attitude of the elder son through his hesitancy to rejoice at the return of the lost son need to understand that the elder has been presented as having been fully obedient to his father and the father did not chastise him but conveyed his heart over the return of his lost son. He desired the son to rejoice, as well. The elder son was to get all his father’s inheritance and was to be with him always. (Lk 15:31)

This parable was an attempt to reach out to the children of Israel to encourage repentance and a return to the family and perhaps it should not be considered beyond this point. There is great rejoicing in heaven when a sinner has been convinced of the pain he has brought to the heart of God and returns contritely and committed to live a life of humility and obedience. As depicted in this presentation by Christ, believers can cause rejoicing in heaven and can “shine like the brightness of the heavens” (Dan 12:3 NIV) through encouraging repentance and a walk of righteousness by believers. The father shared his heart that you might bless him.


Russell Young is the Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 and author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.

9781512757514

June 25, 2015

When the Parables Come Home to Roost

“And I remembered the word of the Lord…”  Acts 11:16a

Many of us who grew up in church learned the various parables and teachings of Jesus and then simply filed them away in the back of our minds somewhere. However, there are times when things happen in life and you find yourself saying; “Oh, so that’s what Jesus was talking about!”

So it was with me this week, with the parable of the wages.

Matthew 20:1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This week I found myself in a situation where I assumed that somebody was receiving a whole lot of money that, as it turns out, was not the case. It took about 24 hours, but in the in-between time I was feeling both bitter and angry. In the parable above, it’s a story about someone getting eleven-times the amount. The workers in the early morning, or the first hour (sunrise or about six in the morning) are paid the same as those as those hired late in the day (or five in the afternoon).

In my story, the person was claiming to be the beneficiary of an amount about five hundred times more than I was paid for a similar project with the same employer. I knew that the situation was more complex than that, but the economies of scale were completely out of line with a more meager amount I had agreed for doing something similar.

And there’s the key phrase: I had agreed.

Tempering all my frustration was the parable from Matthew 20, parked in the back of my mind. I had agreed. The workers in the parable cried, ‘Unfair!’ But I had agreed. The landowner finds himself in a position to be generous with those who had been waiting to work but were not hired. (Interesting to note that they were still available for work, they hadn’t given up and gone home even thought it was 5:00 PM.) I had agreed. The employer in my story has restructured some of their affairs and perhaps now is in a better position to be more generous. I had agreed.

In the end, the other person in my story is probably considered more qualified, deemed to have paid more dues and has more platform.

And in the end, as it turns out, they are not on the receiving end of anything close to five hundred times the amount I was paid.

The parable suddenly jumped from a back-of-mind story to something with immediate relevance to my life; my world.

The parables do that. The teachings of Jesus do that. The words of scripture do that. In the full verse of Acts 11:16 (above) Peter specifically remembers something that Jesus has said and quotes the passage. Here’s the full context.

At C201 we put scripture verses in green to remind us that, just like a branch that is alive is green inside, so it is that the scriptures have life.

Watch out for those Bible passages you filed away in your memory bank a long time ago. When you’re feeling angry, or frustrated, or bitter, or disappointed; the parables suddenly spring to life. They come back to humble you, to correct you, to lead you to healthier thinking, to spur you to right actions.

All scripture is God breathed

 

October 10, 2011

Our Lives are But a Breath

While the United States political system operates with two very dominant political parties, here in Canada, our provincial (state) and federal legislatures and parliament are usually comprised of representatives from three or more parties. Even as I type this on Thursday night, votes are being counted in my home province to determine who lead us and under a parliamentary system, the premier (governor) is the one whose party nets the most representatives.

At the federal level this spring, the unthinkable happened. While our national political scene has been dominated by the Conservative party and the Liberal party. But the third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP) was fronted by an affable — no, make that downright loveable — guy named Jack Layton, who, after all the votes were counted, became the first NDP leader to lead the official opposition.

But then, the unthinkable happened again. Cancer struck Jack Layton down rather swiftly at age 61, and instead of seeing what he might have done in the House of Commons, instead, we watched his state funeral.

I mention all that because I was struck by a number of similarities with the death of Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs. Both very likeable or even loveable guys, both struck down at the peak of their personal accomplishments; Jobs at only 56 years of age.

Life can be short.

Life can end suddenly.

And I can’t help think of a third person, a somewhat ‘once upon a time’ character that Jesus mentions in a parable, though when scripture says, ‘a certain man,’ though the general hermeneutic approach is to take this as hypothetical, I believe the omniscient Christ could have been drawing on a real character or a composite.

Luke 12 (NIV) 16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

Another guy at the top of his game. Planning to expand in one sense, but planning to coast a bit — we might call it entering some years of profit-taking — in another. But he never gets to enjoy his riches or see what happens next.

And into the shock of that sudden crisis, Jesus interjects another issue: the man seems to have no succession plan. There’s been no preparation for the next chapter, and suddenly it comes upon him.

Maybe the guy in the story has the wrong priorities, after all the parable comes after this:

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

And he follows it up with his own prescription for how to relate to material things:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

One pastor we listen to online ends each sermon with, “Now go out and build the kingdom.” That’s what we’re here to do. Political empires will come and go and business fortunes will be amassed and then lost. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Jack Layton was admirable in Canadian politics as also was Steve Jobs in American business. It would seem we lost both men all too soon. But let’s use the shortness of their lives as a reminder to make each day count, and to measure what ‘count’ means with eternity in view.

Now go out and build the kingdom.

January 17, 2011

Focus on Jesus

I have frequented Texas pastor Trey Morgan’s blog even before I started my own.   This appeared first on his blog last week as Eight Things That Amaze Me About Jesus.


  1. He Cared About People. We need more people like this. Jesus put others needs before his own. He didn’t just feel sorry for people, he actually served others, loved them and guided them into a relationship with his Father. He didn’t look for “deserving” people to care for (there were none) … but “undeserving.” He healed, fed and touched those in need (Mark 10:45). He taught us what real ministry is: Service. There was no class distinction for Jesus. He cared for the fishermen, tax collectors, the adulterer and the 5 time divorcee. He cared about people.
  2. Jesus Was A Man of Action. His life would have been one big action movie. There was nothing boring about his life. He spent his time here not just telling people how to live, but showing (action) people how to live (John 14:9). He calls you and I to the same life of adventure, and anybody who says being a follower of Jesus is boring … doesn’t have a clue what they’re talking about.
  3. Jesus was a Communicator. There seems to be two kinds of teachers in this world … communicators and intellectuals. Communicators take the difficult and make it simple. Intellectuals take the simple and make it difficult. Unfortunately, there are far too many intellectuals trying to communicate the Gospel today. Jesus was simply a communicator. Jesus didn’t preach many “expository” sermons and nor did he quote lots of scripture, however, the overwhelming majority of the time he told stories and painted pictures. He taught with a towel, a bird, a flower, a shepherd, a son, a coin, a flower, a child, a plank and other stories to make his point. He knew how to communicate.
  4. Jesus Had Something To Say. After he preached the sermon on the mount, the people were amazed by his teaching because he taught with authority (Matthew 7:28-29). Like the old E.F. Hutton commercial, when Jesus talked, people listened. Jesus taught on significant things that people needed to know. Things like eternity, death, how to treat one another, how to forgive and how to enter the Kingdom of God. He didn’t spend much time preaching about the Hittites, Perizzites or Jebusites.
  5. Jesus Offended the Religious People & Hung Out With Sinners. The only people who Jesus looked down on were the “religious” people who looked down on others. Jesus didn’t give a rip what the religious people thought of him. Jesus called them snakes, vipers and white washed tombs (Matthew 23:25-36). Instead, Jesus hung out with sinners. The people Jesus reached out to were the “sinners”, the prostitutes, the fishermen, the adulterer, the divorcee and the tax collectors (Luke 19:10, Matthew 9:12). Jesus hung out with the wrong type of people. He hung out with them so much that he was even accused of being a drunkard and a glutton.
  6. Jesus Came as a Common Man. It amazes me that Jesus, the Son of God, came not as a prince born in a fancy clean castle, but instead as a common man born in a barn. He worked, sweated, hurt, became angry, was happy, was sad, was tempted and experienced death. All the same things I experience day to day. He knows what it’s like to be a common person and relates to my struggles (Hebrews 2:18).
  7. Jesus Offered What No One Else Could. Sales people will promise you the sky, but only Jesus can give you peace and salvation (John 14:27, John 14:6). No one can give you what Jesus can.
  8. Jesus … (You Fill in # 8 With One You Like!)

~Trey Morgan