I have compassion on the crowd

Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.”

What image do you see when you hear the disciples report about the compassion of Christ? Do you read words like "moved by compassion" and wonder how they knew Jesus was being moved by compassion? Do you ever think about a Jesus who walked about the countryside being confronted by "the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others" who were in much pain? Do you see him weeping as these are laid at his feet? Can you envision the healing tears of the son of God? Can you see the compassion of the Lord?

In the book of Hebrews we read about our High Priest Jesus who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. The eternal compassion of Jesus astounds me. When I pray I picture him there with me. As I walk through life I imagine him cheering me on. When I hurt He hurts with me. His compassion is great and without comparison. I am in awe of his compassion both on the crowds and on me. And with those crowds I glorify God for the gift of His son in my life.

I am unworthy of your compassion Lord. I thank you and give glory to your name.

O woman, great is your faith!

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

This account can be a troubling one if it is generalized and one tries to say that salvation is exclusive to the Jews. The words “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs” are confusing if one does not realize that Jesus' mission was first to his countrymen. It is why Paul says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

Even so, I must admit that I am so inspired when I read this account of a gentile woman coming to Jesus in behalf of her tormented daughter. It inspires me to press in and pray when answers seem so far away. This woman would not settle for a rebuff from the Lord.. she would not accept no.. she was fearless and bold.. she fought tenaciously for her daughter.. Jesus calls her faith great.. and her daughter was healed.

God help to be bold, fearless, persistent and tenacious when I pray.

Let them alone; they are blind guides.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Jesus has offended the religious leaders by comparing them to vain people who honor God with their lips but have hearts alienated from Him. He further compares them to blind guides who are leading their followers astray. The tension between Jesus and the Pharisees seems to increase as the story continues. In these verses He indicates that the Pharisees are not ordained by the Father.

His instructions to "let them alone" is a compelling one for people like me. It causes me to wonder when I should stop conversations with people who embrace differing theological views. I have a hard time doing that - especially online.. I am in the middle of such a dialog today. Maybe it is more about attitude? Maybe I need to learn to leave some of those with pharisaical attitudes alone?

Lord help me to avoid useless religious conversations.

This defiles a person.

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”
But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Religious people sometimes seem to be all about the food we eat, the drinks we imbibe, the music we listen to and the movies we watch. Such were the religious leaders that confronted Jesus about eating with unwashed hands.. they were focused more on the externals of the law than the heart of it. And the things that they spoke defiled them.

In verbiage similar to that spoken in the sermon on the mount Jesus reminds us that sin is an issue of the heart. The real issue of Christian life is not all of the things we do but the reasons that we do them. I think that the issue is one of transformation. A transformed heart is one that is free from the sins that Jesus speaks about.. and is not defiled when it speaks.

Lord help me to focus on the internals, rather than the externals, of life.

You hypocrites!

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
I can relate a bit to the way that Jesus reacts here to these religious leaders. I sometimes bristle when I hear various doctrines and theologies presented as fact. Often religious people elevate their own thinkings to the level of scripture. And when someone does not agree with them they, like the Pharisees, try to exert a phony kind of authority.

Jesus identifies the issue as one of hypocrisy and he presents a definition of hypocrisy that is a bit different. He calls them hypocrites because their spirituality is all external.. their focus is on the letter of their traditions rather than the spirit of the law.. their doctrines come from their heads rather than the heart of God.. they worship God in vain.

Lord, help me to not lean on my own understanding of the scriptures.

O you of little faith, why did you doubt?

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him, they sent around to all that region and brought to him all who were sick and implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

What would it have been like to have been one of disciples in the boat? Jesus has just scared the heck out of them, the winds are still raging and now they see impetuous Peter going overboard? They watch Peter walk on water for a bit and then they watch as Jesus saves the sinking Peter. They hear Jesus rebuke Peter for doubting rather than encouraging him for getting out of the boat. And as the wind ceases they fall down and worship the Son of God. Daylight comes and they are once again on dry land.

This image presents a picture of what it is sometimes like to follow Jesus. In the midst of a stormy trial we often sit in our boat scared to death about the wind. And when God shows up we don't recognize him as he walks towards us. Sometimes we ask God if we can jump ship and he allows it even though he knows we will sink.. and we experience his gentle rebuke. Then the stormy trial passes and all we can do is worship Him and acknowledge who he is.

I think that the last few verses of this passage are so filled with hope as people are healed as they simply, in faith, touch the fringe of Christ's robe. It directs me back to Peter. Little faith will sometimes cause us to walk on troubled waters for a bit and it will sometimes bring healing in a simple act of desperation. There is nothing formulaic about faith.. be it little or large.. faith simply comes when we fix our eyes on Jesus and not the winds and the waves.

Help me to keep my eyes on you Jesus.. in troubled and calm waters.

Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

Ever wonder why Jesus sent his friends off in a boat? My thinking is that he wanted to be alone to further process his deep feelings of grief over the death of John the Baptist. I wonder what his prayers looked like up on that mountain. When my first wife died my prayers became a spiritual lifeline. Mostly I prayed for strength for me and my kids. I imagine that Jesus prayed similar prayers.

Somewhere between 3am and 6am Jesus comes to his disciples who had been struggling against the waves and the wind for some time. Interesting that he could have come earlier but chose to let the disciples struggle for some time. Perhaps that is a sermon in miniature about the way that God works. Perhaps Jesus would have prayed all night long if his friends did not need him.

The reactions of his friends are pretty predictable.. I imagine that I too would have cried out in fear at the sight of someone walking towards me on the water. I love Jesus' reaction to their fear.. he doesn't chastise them for a lack of faith like he did on another occasion when storms hit their boat.. he simply comforts them telling them to take heart and not be afraid.

Help me to be persevere in faith Lord knowing that the fourth watch is coming.

You give them something to eat

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus has just heard the news about the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. He responds by withdrawing to a quite place. People handle grief differently. Some want to be alone and some want to be surrounded by friends - Jesus wanted to be alone. Yet his fame would not allow an extended time of grieving alone. This is the context of his compassion. From the depths of his grief Jesus heals hurting people and then does an amazing miracle.

Interesting how Jesus works the miracle of the fishes and the loaves. For everyone to eat a few people had to give Jesus all of their food. The disciples wanted to send the crowds away.. they only had enough food for themselves.. but Jesus wanted them to let go of the safety of their food. I think that there is a message for us in this story. Miracles and compassion can be released in the midst of grief when we let go of our fishes and loaves.

Lord, help me to let go of my fishes and loaves.

A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown

And when Jesus had finished these parables, he went away from there, and coming to his hometown he taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” And they took offense at him.

But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.

Familiarity is something that many of us deal with. The word itself seems to have it's root in the word "family". Consider this saying:"Familiarity breeds contempt". It is sometimes difficult for some to honor a person who they have known all of their lives. Consider Jacob's son Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. Joseph's brothers listened to Joseph speak of his dreams of leadership and contempt grew in their hearts.

On the flip-side it is often so difficult for children who have been raised in the religious families to not develop a contempt for their religious environment, leaders and family.
I think that children are very insightful and when they see (or even smell out) a bit of hypocrisy they often react with a bit of contempt.

The sad thing about familiarity.. whether it be from adults or children.. is how it cuts you off from faith. Familiarity with people and organizations can sometimes obscure God. Sometimes it can skew our impressions of Him. And many times if takes an unfamiliar face to bring faith to the surface.

Lord, help me to be an unfamiliar face for someone today.

Have you understood all these things?

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

As he shared and explained parables concerning the Kingdom with his disciples Jesus would often say to them "He who has ears, let him hear." He now turns to them and asks them if they actually heard and understood when he was saying. And like many of us would have done they all answered in the affirmative. And I am sure they might have understood with their heads.. but, like us, I doubt that they had a real understanding of them in their hearts.

Speaking to his disciples, and to us, Jesus uses the word scribe calls to describe those who understand his teachings. Here are a few words describing the vocation of a scribe:
One of the group of Palestinian scholars and teachers of Jewish law and tradition, active from the 5th century b.c. to the 1st century a.d., who transcribed, edited, and interpreted the scriptures.
Jesus says that we, like the scribes, are entrusted to understand, interpret and teach the scriptures. He sees us developing a mastery of the Word of God and having the ability to bring treasure from both the old and new testaments.

Help me to hear your voice today Lord and bring your treasure to the world.

The kingdom of heaven is like a net

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The imagery of a net being cast into water again taps into something that Jesus' listeners were very familiar with. The fishermen daily cast their nets and, after pulling them in, sorted out the fish that were edible from those who were not - fish that did not have fins and scales were not to be eaten and the others thrown away. The picture here is that people, like fish, will one day be judged by spiritual beings who know the difference between those who are righteous and those who are evil.

This is the second time in this chapter that Jesus uses the phrase "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." He uses it a total of six times in Matthew's gospel. These words communicate two things to me: weeping communicates sorrow; gnashing of teeth communicates anger (as in Acts 7:34). I see no clear reason for the anger except perhaps an anger that emanates from the evils of pride.

Lead me Lord. Not into temptation but deliver me from evil.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it."

In the beginning it seemed that God, and his kingdom, was anything but hidden. Yet since Adam left the garden God has seemed to be increasingly invisible to us. I remember how, when I was young, I did not even think about God when I was in my early twenties. But then a moment came when I bowed my heart to Jesus and that which seemed invisible was now visible to me. That which seemed hidden was found.

Can you imagine going through life never knowing that you were loved by a distant relative? What would it be like to discover one day that they had died and left you a great inheritance? And how would you react when you found letters to you that blessed and nourished your life? What effect would these discoveries have on your life? And even greater is the treasure bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.

Open my heart Father to the treasure that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.”

He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

There is a hubbub these days about a young pastor who wrote a book that espouses something different that a traditional view of hell. Passages like this one are somewhat problematic for that view. In this explanation of the parable Jesus indicates that:
  1. The good news has been sown by the Son of God himself.
  2. The consequences in the end will be different for the righteous and the unrighteous.
  3. The unrighteous will go to a place of weeping.
Interesting that Jesus does not mention Hell or Gehenna in this explanation but uses the example of a fiery furnace. Obviously the furnace is not literal, as we know it anyways, because we are talking about spiritual, not physical, bodies. So I do not think the actual attributes of hell (or heaven for that matter) are all that important. But the teaching that the consequences will be different is a very important one.

Some believe that these negative consequences portrayed by Jesus are real yet will be temporary. They believe that the unrighteous will be given a chance to repent after they die and change their destination. I think that is a fine notion but I have to wonder if these will even repent then. And of course no one really knows what it will be like to live in a timeless existence.. perhaps nothing will be temporary after we die.

I trust you Lord to sort out the consequences of our actions after we die.

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven

He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

I can imagine some women listening as Jesus speaks words that they would have an experiential understanding of. Like the tiny mustard seed that grew into a huge tree Jesus compares the kingdom to leaven, an agent of expansion and growth. Here is a definition:
Leaven: An element, influence, or agent that works subtly to lighten, enliven, or modify a whole.
When I consider the words lighten and enliven I think about something that is growing. I once heard that healthy organisms grow. Such is true when the kingdom of heaven comes. When it comes we often experience subtle growth and change.

When we pray "Thy kingdom come ... on earth as it is in heaven" we are asking for spiritual life to invade our world and modify it.. we are asking for an expansion of that spiritual life in our midst.. we are asking God to take a seed of faith and produce spiritual fruit.

Let your kingdom come in me today Lord and bring spiritual growth.

The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

I wonder how many who sat listening to Jesus were farmers? Again Jesus teaches using the example of a small seed and how it becomes something bigger than anyone could have imagined. It reminds me of something else that Jesus said:
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. [John 12:23-24]
The seed that was planted in the ground was Jesus himself. And when He was resurrected from death everything changed. No one hearing him speak these words could have ever imagined the impact that Jesus Christ would have on the world. Who could have ever thought that kingdoms would be uprooted.. religious thought revolutionized.. and lives would be so utterly changed.. just because a seed was sown in the ground.

I need resurrection today Lord. Help me to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow you.

An enemy has done this.

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”

Again Jesus speaks a farming parable. He teaches us about the mixture of wheat and weeds, real and phony believers, in the world. Consider these definitions of a weed:
  • a valueless plant growing wild, especially one that grows on cultivated ground to the exclusion or injury of the desired crop.
  • any undesirable or troublesome plant, especially one that grows profusely where it is not wanted.
No one likes weeds because they are valueless, undesirable and troublesome. When we seen one our first inclination is to pull it out. We can do this because we can recognize it. Not necessarily so with the weeds that Jesus speaks of. By inference He tells us that it is not always so easy to identify the human kind of weed. And he says that we should leave the sorting of believers and unbelievers to God and the angels.

This seems all well and good until we consider the ways that we sort out human weeds these days. Many times we judge people to be weeds that are not and sometimes we are blinded to the ones that are really weeds. It is a very complicated mess. It is why Jesus says to leave such things to God who knows the heart.. who can separate the weeds from the wheat.

Help me Lord not to judge another person's heart.

Hear then the parable of the sower.

“Hear then the parable of the sower:
  • When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.
  • As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away.
  • As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
  • As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
I thought that it might be good to frame Jesus explanation of the parable in a bulleted fashion. He explains to us that their are four different types of hearts. Here are my thoughts about each type:
  • The Hard Heart: The seed never penetrates the soil because the path has been walked on and packed down. This speaks to me about how sometimes life experiences can harden a heart towards God.
  • The Shallow Heart: The seed grows and quickly dies before emerging. I know of many that have fallen away when life gets hard. I think that if they would have looked past their pain things might have been different.
  • The Strangled Heart: The seed grows and emerges but bears no fruit. We choke out our spiritual life when our focus is on material things and worldly aspirations. Pride will always strangle our heart.
  • The Persevering Heart: Fruit doesn’t come immediately but with time. This reminds me that Jesus tells us that following him involves denying ourself and picking up our cross. Humility will cause us to persevere and produce fruit.
When I think about a farm I think about the importance of plowing before we sow and weeding and watering after seed is planted. So it is with our hearts.. we must allow God's word to plow us, weed us and water us if we are to see the fruit of the spirit grow in our lives.

Blessed are your eyes ... and your ears.

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

This verse was one of my late wife Ellen's favorites. In her early twenties she was blind for three years. I can still remember that day when she got the news about her eyes.. I can still feel the devastation as we held each and cried uncontrollably. Those years were so difficult. And the joy that Ellen experienced as she got her sight, and her life, back was indescribable.. God healed her and our lives forever changed.

That last statement rings true for me too. When I was born again it was like my eyes began to see for the very first time. My life changed as I began to see and hear life through God's eyes. It was like I had been blind to reality for so many years. My eyes were opened to mercy as I experienced God's forgiveness. Sounds of joy rang in my ears as I discovered His grace. My eyes and my ears still blessed in so many ways.

Lord, help me to see like you see and hear like you hear.

Why do you speak to them in parables?

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Have you ever heard a joke and just didn't get it even when it was explained to you?
This was the state of the religious leaders who followed Jesus around trying to trip him up. Jesus spoke in stories called parables that spoke about how leaders like the scribes and Pharisees would reject him and his message. Because of their lust for power and predisposition to jealousy they simply did not get the messages contain in the parables. Here is a part of the passage from Isaiah that Jesus quotes about them:
"this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed"
But Jesus speaks something very different about those who follow him. He contrasts those who have hearts that are not dull, ears to hear and eyes to see with the religious leaders. He says that people who follow him will have more and those who oppose him have less. History seems to validate that idea.

I believe in you Lord. Help me to reject the things that dull my heart, my eyes and ears.

A sower went out to sow.

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

I love stories whether they are communicated orally, in writing or on video - stories have a way of drawing us in and teaching us in ways that nothing else can. Jesus understood this and often taught in stories that are called parables. He begins this passage in Matthew telling the first of six parables. In a few days I will speak to this one in specific (when Jesus explains it to the disciples) but today I want to speak about it in general.

The story is so universal because everyone, especially those present, understood the idea of planting seeds. Here are a few points we can glean from it:
  1. The sower cast seed on places he knew that the seed would not grow. When I think about that I consider how needlessly careful I am when I speak about God. It is better to speak truth in love and let the seed fall where it may.
  2. The sower had no control over the condition of the soil. The sower only sows.. it is not his responsibility to plow.. he is only concerned about casting seed. It is good when we know what our role is and what it is not.
  3. The sower did not know what the results his sowing would produce. We really do not know what results our words will have. All we can know is the motives and attitude that we speak them with. It is up to the hearer to actually hear.
These verses speak to me about how limited our responsibility is and how we need to trust the Lord as we cast spiritual seeds in the world.

Lord, help me to have the confidence to cast your seed in the world.

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

One of the first songs I remember singing when I first believed in 1976 had a refrain that went "I'm so glad I'm a part of the family of God". I loved the idea of having a spiritual family but, with time, understood that spiritual family did not always translate to church family. When someone left for another church the idea of family took on the persona of a divorce. Yet I rejoice knowing that many who I churched with 30 years ago are still my friends.

I love how Jesus calls us family members. It it amazing how he embraces those who believe in him as family and not merely as servants.. in other places he calls us friends. When he compares us to his actual family members he is not denigrating those relationships but speaking to the importance of having a relationship with God that will outlast temporal family relationships. This eternal relationship is one we should remember when we feel alone.

Lord, thank you that I have the privilege of calling you Father.

The last state of that person is worse than the first

“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

There is a tendency to take these verses literal and try to explain the interactions of demons with human beings - I once approached them that way. When we focus on that aspect we really miss the greater message of it. We miss that Jesus is speaking of a generation of unbelieving people.. an evil generation, if you will, that embraces some sort of faith for a season and then falls away. It reminds me of these chilling verses in Hebrews:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
I am really not a fire and brimstone kind of guy. In my life I have found that love, and not fear, brings me closer to God. Yet these verses and others like them must be included in a complete theology. They speak to me of temporal and eternal consequences. When a person continually rejects the Holy Spirit they harden their heart towards Him.. and these continual actions cause the last spiritual state of that person to be worse than the first.

Lord, I lift to you those with hard hearts. Help them to simply say yes to you.

An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

A common thread throughout history is the way that people chase after God for signs. Sometimes it is about rain for crops.. many times a quest for prosperity.. often hurting people simple want relief. Don't get me wrong.. I have many needs and want to see miraculous signs.. but I have learned that seeking signs and seeking God are opposites.

I remember that night in 1976 when I first prayed. My heart broke as I saw my young wife go forward for healing prayer. I closed my eyes and told God that I would give my life to him if he healed her. As soon as I prayed that prayer I knew that it was wrong and responded by giving my life to Him with not strings attached.

Interesting how the religious leaders now want a sign after quarreling with Jesus when he gave them signs on the Sabbath. Their request for a sign comes across as a bit preposterous. Yet to them, and to us, Jesus speaks of the sign given to all peoples of all times.. the resurrection.. in truth no other sign is needed.

Help me Lord to be one who seeks you for who you are and not what you do.

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

The Pharisees have accused Jesus of being in league with Satan because he cast a demon from a man who was blind and mute. Jesus responds the way that John the Baptist did and calls them a brood of vipers. He does not mince words and says that their words are representative of people who have evil hearts.

Many people bristle at the idea that some have evil hearts.. these think that all people are basically good. It reminds me of our need for spiritual rebirth and inner transformation.. and of this promise from the prophet Ezekiel:
I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
The truth is that we all need a new heart that is neither evil or desperately wicked. The promise is that God will give us that new heart when we respond to him. And our mouths will speak good things from that new heart.

Thank you Lord for your transforming power. Thank you for my new heart.

No city or house divided against itself will stand

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someone enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Once again Jesus is confronted by pejorative religious unbelief as a man is miraculously healed by him. Sadly everyone was amazed by this miracle except the religious leaders. How could their hearts be so hard and lacking compassion? It seems that jealousy has taken hold of them and blinded them.

In this state of jealousy they begin to rationalize that Jesus is in league with Satan. Jesus mocks their logic and says that only one stronger than Satan could cast him out. He then confronts their opposition. Interesting how he implies that they should be with him and not he with them.. the religious leaders.

Jesus then says something very chilling. He says that there is a sin that will not be forgiven. Much has been written about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.. my thinking is that this sin is basically the sin of continually rejecting the convicting presence of the Holy Spirit as the Pharisees did in the gospels.

Come Holy Spirit. I need your presence in my life.

Stretch out your hand

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

This passage, and others like it, are some of the most chilling ones in the gospels. Can you imagine bringing a loved one to the hospital and finding that the emergency room was closed because it is Sunday? Such is the hypocritical legalism of the Pharisees. Jesus exposes their callous indifference by comparing this hurting man to one of their sheep. They are embarrassed, become angry and begin to plot evil.

The scene transitions to the miraculous and all of the silly banter with the Pharisees about the Sabbath seems to fade as Jesus brings heaven to earth. The words “Stretch out your hand” are so understated. Can you imagine what it would have been like to have been that man? Jesus doesn't touch him but merely speaks a few words to him and his withered hand become like his healthy one as he stretches it in faith. Amazing!

I am in awe of your compassion and power Lord Jesus. You are God the Son!

Something greater than the temple is here

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

Many of my friends refer to Sunday as the Sabbath and some friends even observe the Jewish Sabbath. In these few sentences Jesus seems to redefine the whole concept of Sabbath saying that he is the lord of the Sabbath. It reminds me of these thoughts from the fourth chapter of Hebrews:
... we who have believed enter that rest ... there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
There is a rest in believing. There is a peace that passes brainy understanding when we trust the Lord with all of our heart. Why would we ever want something one day a week when we can have it every day? Why follow the law when you can follow the spirit of the law?

Is there any doubt in anyone's mind that Jesus knew that he was God Incarnate when he speaks of being lord of the Sabbath and greater than the temple. Try to imagine what the Pharisees thought when they heard him say that he was greater than the temple of God's presence. As Jesus speaks to them he projects the idea that he is greater than King David and priests who minister in the temple. In saying these things he acknowledges the kingly and priestly nature of the Messiah. Jesus knew who he was.

Lord Jesus, I confess you as Lord of lords and King of kings. You are God.

Come to me ... and I will give you rest

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

There is no verse that speaks so well to the heart of Christ as this one. His invitation is so clear. Jesus speaks to that deep part of us that is weary and in need of encouragement. When I think of the rest that I need I go directly to peace - life can be so stressful and peace can be so hard to find. This is the context of Christ's invitation.

When Jesus speaks of himself he gives us a peek into what peace looks like. When he speaks of being gentle and lowly in heart he calls humility to come forth in our lives. The truth is that we will never have peace if we are not humble.. pride will always bring stress to our lives.. peace will accompany an attitude of humility.

The image of a yoke speaks deeply to me about how Jesus wants to walk beside us. In John's gospel he says that he will send the Holy Spirit when he leaves the earth. He uses the Greek word paraklÄ“tos to describe the Spirit. The word is translated helper or comforter and carries the idea of one who is called along side of us to help.

Jesus' invitation is not for us to simply come but to come and walk with him. His promise is that when we come he will be there. His assurance is that he will bear our burden and the load we carry will greatly lighten. His pledge is that we will find rest when we come to him.

Lord, I come.

You have ... revealed them to little children

At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

There is a spiritual knowledge that can only be received by spiritual children who have not learned to rely on their heads for information. Sadly, I can relate to leading a religious life where my head continued to trump my heart. This verse in Proverbs 3 changed that aspect of my life when I began to fully embrace it:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
The religious side of me bristles at the idea that following God is not about following rules.. I love rules because I can use them to follow God.. of course that is exactly the way that the Pharisees lived. To them, and to us, Jesus tells us that following God and understanding spiritual truth is not about religious rules.

When I think about children I first consider how much these little ones love. Is there anything more endearing than the innocent way that children accept what their parents say as truth. Children are believing. Children have not learned to rely on their own understanding. They know what it is to trust with ALL of their heart.

Lord, I give you all of my adult religious filters. Give me the heart of a child.

They would have repented long ago

Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.”

Repentance is a word that is sometimes associated with a negative fire and brimstone style of preaching. I think that is unfortunate. I find repentance to be one of the most positive and life-giving words in the dictionary. In essence, repentance is a turning from disbelief to belief. Repentance is not so much what you turn from but Who you turn to. It should be a part of the way we live each day - turning our hearts towards Jesus and trusting in him.

The view that Jesus gives about people who will not repent is one of the most serious in all of the gospels. He lays out the consequences of living continual unrepentant lives and speaks of the day in which unrepentant souls will be judged. He says that the people in Chorazin and Bethsaida would be judged not for what they did not see but for what they saw. And so it is for us today.. we have all in some way tasted of the goodness of God.. yet not all respond to that goodness with repentance.

Your goodness leads me to repentance Lord. Help me to see your goodness today.

The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.”

The message of repentance that John the Baptist preached was very different to the message taught by the religious leaders of his day. These leaders were intimidated by John and use all manner of fleshly force to keep control of their religious positions. These leaders were spiritual bullies who used their positions to exalt their rules and intimidate the masses. When the masses flocked to baptismal waters these leaders sensed their control slipping and violence grew in their hearts.

As Jesus confronted these religious leaders we saw this violence grow and take root in their hearts. Their obsession for fleshly religious power blinds them to what is really going on. They do not see those in need of forgiveness, healing and deliverance. These power hungry men will stop at nothing to maintain their fleshly power and control. In their quest for power they begin to plot Jesus' death. Looking back we can see that their violent and manipulative deeds were anything but wise.

Lord give me ears to hear and to have wisdom justified by deeds.