Light of the World

Today’s parable is fairly short and sweet.  You can find it in Matthew 5:14-16, Mark 4:21,22, and Luke 8:16,17:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NASB)

And the modern version:

No one turns on a light and then covers it with a blanket, they let it light the whole room; just as you cannot hide a city that is built on a hilltop, people can see it from miles away.

This parable is found in the middle of what many call the “Sermon on the Mount.”  Jesus is teaching the multitudes about godly living.  The light in this parable is indeed the Christian way of life.  The message of the parable is pretty easy to understand: the way we live is not to be so alike everyone else that we are indistinguishable from the rest of the darkness (the world).  We are to shine with righteous light that the difference is revealed in the unrighteous darkness of the rest of the world.

To me, the key to this parable is found in verse 16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven,” (Matthew 5:16 NASB).  Our good works are to be so abundant that, like a bright light, you cannot help but notice the light (the Christian) and its Source (God).  If people are not glorifying or at least acknowledging God’s influence as a result of our lives, we are hiding our light and are not living a life worthy of our calling.

To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ, (2 Thessalonians 1:11,12 NASB).

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The Rich Fool

Today’s parable is one of the parables found only in Luke.

And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’  So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21 NASB)

The modern version:

A man living in a small house began to collect many valuable works of art and treasures; soon the small house could not hold any more.  The man thought to himself, “If I buy a larger house, I will have much more room to store my valuables for many years to come.”  However, God said to him, “You fool!  Tonight your life will end and then what will happen to all your precious treasures?”  Anyone who is greedy and only stores up things for himself is like this fool.  He is not rich with God.

The context for this parable places Jesus teaching the masses again.  A man approaches him and demands that Jesus tell the man’s brother to fairly divide their family’s inheritance.  After rebuking the man for trying to involve Him in petty family squabbles, Jesus then presents this parable on greed.  Whether the parable was meant for the man’s brother or the man, himself, you can decide.

What is this parable talking about?  I think it is important to keep in mind when analyzing these parables that the “bad guy” in the parable is usually not some evil person that no one can relate to.  They are usually normal everyday people who just about anyone can relate to, which is what makes them so effective for teaching.  The rich man in the parable might have started out with noble intentions, he is storing up enough food/provisions to make sure that he has enough for when emergencies such as famine or illness comes along, such as we might have an “emergency fund”.  He gets into trouble when he has gathered so much wealth that he begins to take his focus off of the Provider of the wealth and starts to focus on the wealth itself.  Need has a way of keeping us focused on the provisions of God.  When our needs are fulfilled, especially to the excess, our focus tends to shift toward our own resources.  1 Timothy 6:9,10 warns us:

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (NASB)

And verse 17 says:

Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  (NASB)

In verse 10, the Greek text uses a word that means “seduce”.  Some are “seduced” by wealth and it pulls them away from the love of God.  Not a good position to find yourself in.

So, we have established that hoarding his resources/treasures is what the man is doing wrong in the parable.  What should he be doing with his excess wealth instead?  We might find additional insight in 1 Timothy:

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed. (1 Timothy 6:18,19 NASB, emphasis added)

Look at Luke 12 again, in verse 15:

Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.”

Jesus says life isn’t about what you possess.  It’s about God’s gifts and how you choose to use them.  God will give abundance…:

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; (1 Corinthians 9:8 NASB)

… it’s up to you to be responsible and God-focused enough to use the resources in the right manner and in a way worthy of your calling as Christians.

Like Children in the Market

Today’s parable is a short one, but is a good one to think about.  You can find it in Matt. 11: 16-19 and Luke 7:31, 32.  Although I have only been posting one version of the parables, go ahead and read each instance of the parable.  You can often receive further insight by studying the different gospel perspectives.  Here is today’s in Luke:

“To what then shall I compare the men of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the market place and call to one another, and they say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep’.” (Luke 7:31,32 NASB)

In today’s language, it might look something like this:

What shall I call people of today’s world?  You are like children playing together.  Some call to the others and say “We sang songs, and you did not dance; we told sad stories, and you did not cry.”

The children of the parable appear to be God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  The ones that call to the others are the prophets sent to the Israelites by God.  The messages from God (songs in the parable) spoken by the prophets were ignored.  They refused to rejoice when the message was joyful, or mourn when the message was sad, or repent when the message was convicting.  God (and as a result, Jesus) is constantly reprimanding His children for ignoring the prophets and the messages they brought.

The context of this parable is centered around Jesus as He is speaking to the people about John the Baptizer.  Jesus tells the people that John was the prophet they had been waiting for.  One of the many signs the people were waiting for before the coming of their Messiah was the return of Elijah:

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers totheir children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5,6 NASB)

Jesus tells the people that John was indeed Elijah (at least the symbolic reincarnation of Elijah).  Some believed this, others were skeptical.

One of the problems that faced the Jews was that it is one thing to know what to look for, it is another thing entirely to recognize it when you see it.  God promised His children special signs to point to their deliverance.  Unfortunately, everyone had their own ideas of what those signs would look like when they were fulfilled.  Many of the Jews were expecting a true resurrection of Elijah, Elijah in the flesh, so they rejected John and his teaching.  Others were expecting a powerful, earthly king to deliver them from the Romans, so they rejected Jesus, the holy King.

Luckily for us, we have a chance to learn from their mistakes.  We have to be careful not to let our own expectations get in the way of what God is truly trying to accomplish.  He will exceed our expectations every time if we will only let Him.

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:20, 21 NASB).

A Kingdom Divided

Today we find Jesus once again locking horns with the Pharisees and religious leaders.  You can find our story in Matthew 12:24-30, Mark 3:22-27, and Luke 11:14-23.  Jesus had just called a demon out of a man.  The Pharisees tried to discredit Jesus by claiming that He got this power to cast out demons from Beelzebul, the ruler of demons (also known as Satan).  Jesus uses the following parable to show how absurd this accusation (and incidentally blasphemy) was.  I’d like to present this parable in two parts.

Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls.  If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul.  And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges.  But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you… He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters. (Luke 11:14-20, 23 NASB).

Or a more modern phrasing may go something like this:

A company who has employees that are constantly undoing each other’s work will never progress, the business would fail.  If Satan is casting out his own demons, he won’t make any progress in establishing his kingdom.  You are either for Me or against Me, if you are not working with Me, you are working against Me.

What Jesus is saying in this part of the parable makes sense, if you are trying to establish an agenda, having a friend go and undo all your work is pretty counter-productive.  But if Jesus is indeed casting demons out by the power of God, then God is on His side and His whole mission can only be truth.  Sometimes the Pharisees and Jewish leaders tried so hard to discredit Jesus that they didn’t always think their statements through.  You have to imagine that the Pharisees and leaders were pretty upset at Jesus for calling them out on their foolishness in front of all those people.  As a side note, it is interesting that as Jesus says “He who is not with Me is against Me”, He doesn’t not imply the existence of neutral parties.  You cannot remain neutral.  You are either for Jesus, or you aren’t.

Now for the second part of the parable which is still related to the topic, but slightly different:

When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are undisturbed.  But when someone stronger than he attacks him and overpowers him, he takes away from him all his armor on which he had relied and distributes his plunder. (Luke 11:21-22 NASB)

A modern way to put this might sound something like this:

If you wish to steal from a man who is heavily armed, you must first unarm him and render him harmless before you can make off with his things.

Now, think about the claim that the Pharisees are making here.  They are saying that Jesus is a servant of Satan.  A mere underling!  They have verbally stripped Jesus of His holy status of the Son of God.  This is outright blasphemy!  Blasphemy said out of complete ignorance is still blasphemy, no one would know that better than those making the accusation.  So Jesus makes this statement about the strong man to say: not only does He have His OWN power (given to Him by His Father) over demons, but He even has power over Beelzebul (the strong man, in our analogy), himself! God has dominion over all, including the Prince of Demons.  If only the Pharisees had even a clue of Who they were messing with…

I’d like to point out one more thing before I end this post.  Look at verse 16 in Luke 11: “Others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven” (NASB).  They were demanding a sign.  He had just cast out a demon!! What more did they want?  And yet, how often do we, ourselves, ask for signs when the signs are right in front of us, we are just too blind to see.  Let us pray for eyes to see and ears to hear.

God bless you all throughout the week and may He give you the insight and wisdom to see what He wants you to see.

The Great Physician

The parable we are going to look at today is found in the Bible just before the one we studied last time.  You can find it in Matthew 9:10-13, Mark 2:13-17, and Luke 5:29-32.  It reads:

And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick.  I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32 NASB)

While this parable is fairly simple to understand even in today’s world, here is what it might look like in modern day language:

You do not go to the doctor when you are well, you go when you are sick.  I did not come to invite those who are already righteous to repent of their sins, but those who are sinners.  No need to be “preaching to the choir”.

This parable was spoken in the same context as the last one: Levi was giving a banquet.  Jesus and his disciples were eating with other tax collectors and “sinners”.  The Pharisees were appalled that Jesus would even think about doing this.  “The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Luke 5:30 NASB).  To understand why, you need to understand the relationships between these people.

Tax collectors were often considered some of the lowest of the low.  Not only were many of them dishonest (taking more than required so they could fill their own pockets), but many Jews felt they were traitors for siding with and working for the Roman empire.  The Jews, and especially rabbis and teachers of the Law, such as Jesus, would avoid their company as if the tax collectors’ (and other sinners’) “uncleanliness” would somehow rub off on them (this is not completely off-base since they had been taught in the old covenant to avoid all sinful people).  Incidentally, the Greek word for “sinner” also means “detestable”.

Jesus came to change all that.  He came to change how people viewed each other.  He taught that God loves all people regardless of life station or personal struggles.  He came to give all people a chance to be saved (even the “sick” sinful people), not just the chosen “healthy” Jews.  The Jews would have (and continue to have) a very hard time accepting this concept (which leads into the parable we discussed in the last post).

Jesus describes Himself as a physician in this parable, a healer.  Though Jesus healed many different physical ailments (Matt. 4:23), He came to heal our souls’ diseases, as well.  What a great healer He is!  He came for the sick-at-heart, the weary, the lost, the ones looked down upon, the struggling, the sinful.  He came for all.  “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b NASB).  Isn’t it comforting to know that He offers to heal, to save even the worst of us?

I hope you have enjoyed today’s study and you will return for the next post.  God bless!

The Great Storyteller

Stories have been used to teach and inspire throughout the ages.  For example, the ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, used stories about things in nature, called fables, to portray moral lessons about life.  The Bible also uses many different story forms to teach God’s people: prose, verse, song.  While the Bible is full of stories, I want to focus on a particular story form today, the parable.  The word “parable” comes from the Greek word “parabole” (par-ab-ol-ay) and refers to a fictitious narrative comparing one thing to another in an effort to explain a specific doctrine.  Jesus favored the parable in many of His teachings.  Because His teaching is so full of these types of stories, I felt that it would be beneficial to study these parables and see if we could come up with some modern stories to help make the older teachings relevant to our times.

I have compiled a list of about 55 different parables written in the New Testament gospels.  We probably won’t go through all of these, but maybe we can learn some tools to use when studying the other stories on our own.  I would like to first, introduce the parable; second, offer a more “modern” (and hopefully not horrible) version of my own crafting; and then, attempt to explain the parable as best as I can.  Please do NOT take my opinion for granted, but please study every concept offered for yourselves so that you can be sure of the truth.  Model yourselves after the Bereans who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11 NASB).

The first parable I would like to examine today is found in Matthew (9:16-17), Mark (2:21-22), and Luke (5:36-39) and is actually two-fold, two versions of the same story:

And He was also telling them a parable: “No one tears a piece of cloth from a new garment and puts it on an old garment; otherwise he will both tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, ‘The old is good enough’.” (Luke 5:36-39 NASB)

Here is a possible modern equivalent to this story:

No one takes machine parts from a new model and puts them into an old machine; otherwise he will ruin both the part and the machine.  Likewise, no one takes the old parts and puts them in the new machine expecting them to work well.  And no one installs new software on an out-dated computer, or neither will run well, just as no one will install out-dated software on a new computer and expect it to run well.  Oftentimes, no one using the old software wants to upgrade because they believe what they have is sufficient.

Before I actually explain the parable, I’d like to offer some background surrounding the parable.  Jesus was invited to a banquet at the house of a tax-collector (read “rich person with a some-what low reputation”) named Levi (also called Matthew, one of the apostles).  Many other tax-collectors were eating at the table, and other people were there including the Pharisees (teachers of the law) who were observing.  How would you like your preacher or elders of your church standing over you while you ate, watching your every move and judging your actions!  The Pharisees started confronting Jesus and His disciples about some of the traditional practices that were not being observed by Jesus or His disciples.  Jesus explains His and His followers’ behavior with the above parable (as well as one other found in the verses just before this parable).

The meaning of the parable is actually found in one of the reasons Jesus came to the earth: to fulfill the old covenant (the Law) and establish the new covenant (grace).  As the ambassador of the new covenant, Jesus is explaining that there are going to be a lot of new concepts in the new covenant that do not mesh well with the old Law.  Some things may actually seem like contradictions if looked at from the old perspective (and vice versa).  If one is bound by the old covenant (represented in the parable as the old garment/wineskin), they will be hard-pressed to accept all that is offered in the new covenant (represented in the parable as the new cloth/wine).  In order to accept the new, the container has to be changed, it, also, has to be made new.

I hope that this explanation gives you some insight and that you will join me in the next post as we continue to study the teachings of Jesus.