Friday, March 31, 2006

The Gospel (3)

This is part 3 of chapter 5 of my book, Biblical Glasses.

Jesus continued His ministry by healing the sick, curing the lame, and driving out demons. He began to teach the large crowds that gathered to see Him. His most famous preaching session was the Sermon on the Mount. There Jesus taught the Beatitudes. He said: “Blessed are you when people insult you … because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). He taught His followers to be salt and light to the world. “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Jesus taught people why He came: Not to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law.

The law requires perfection. In fact, one must be perfect to enter heaven. “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). The perfection of Christ was revealed through His obedience to the law, along with His lack of the sin nature that all other humans inherit from their fathers through the first man, Adam. Since we are sinners from birth, we can be made perfect only through spiritual re-birth by trusting in Jesus’ perfection, which came by His perfect life, substitutionary death as atonement for sin, and bodily resurrection.

Jesus taught that adultery is committed by simply looking lustfully at someone other than our spouse. Jesus said that divorce is permitted only in cases of marital unfaithfulness. Jesus condemned swearing; He said: “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ ‘No’” (Matthew 5:37). He taught us to go the extra mile for everyone by serving the poor with compassion and giving to the needy in secret, by loving our enemies and praying for those who persecute us. According to Jesus, we are not to worry about our lives, because God will provide for our needs—financially, physically, materially, emotionally, and most of all spiritually.

Jesus taught us not to judge others without first examining ourselves. By praying in secret and sincerely asking God for what we need, God will hear us and provide. We are to watch out for false prophets, those who sound like they know the truth but do not bear fruit consistent with God’s Word. We are to build ourselves on the foundation of God’s Word, centered on Jesus Christ, to live righteously. “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus taught us to tell others about His love, comparing unbelievers to ripe crops ready to be harvested by proclaiming the Gospel. Unbelievers, also like sheep without a shepherd, need to hear His message. Jesus asks His disciples to be His workers; we are called to share the message of the Gospel with all the nations of the world. Disciples are like sheep dogs, corralling the flock to be under the care of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Later, Jesus and the twelve apostles scattered in pairs to share His message. Jesus equipped the apostles to heal the demonically possessed. The Holy Spirit was in them, and they were on fire with God’s Word. Once the group was re-united, Jesus continued healing and teaching. The apostles traveled the region with Jesus, and many more followers gathered in the crowds around Him.

Meanwhile, the religious leaders, made up of mostly Pharisees and Sadducees, began seeking ways to trap Jesus into blasphemy or answering a question that seemingly had no politically correct answer. Each time they tried to confound Him, Jesus responded brilliantly in truth, causing them to despise Him even more! The religious leaders were hypocrites—outwardly righteous, but inwardly rotten; they knew that Jesus was insulting their manmade laws and rules, while lifting up the laws and rules established by God. Jesus began predicting His own death and resurrection, even using Old Testament references to Jonah, who stayed three days in the belly of a giant fish.

One day when Jesus was praying, His disciples asked how to pray. Jesus taught them the Lord’s Prayer, which included simply worded praise and adoration, confession of sins and asking for forgiveness, thanksgiving, and supplication, or requests. Jesus said to pray privately, not like the Pharisees. Prayer is simply communicating, carrying on a conversation, with God. Prayer is intimacy with God. He already knows what we are going to say, but it is beneficial for us to know He cares. We can talk to Him, but we need to remember to listen for His response as well!

Jesus started teaching in parables when the corrupt religious leaders began looking to accuse Him of blasphemy. Jesus’ parables related a deeper meaning to everyday events for the people listening to Him. Figuring out the parables was easy for those who desired to know Him, but the arrogant, self-righteous religious leaders did not understand the parables of Jesus. Some of Jesus’ over thirty parables include:

The Four Soils (The Sower): A farmer scattered seed, and it fell on four different types of ground (the path, rocky soil, thorny ground, and good, fertile soil). Only when the seed fell on good soil did it produce a high-yielding crop. The Word of God falls on our ears, and we can hear it four different ways. The path is like the Word going in one ear and out the other. It never really gets heard. Rocky soil is like hearing the Word but throwing it out after only a short time, because the pressures of this life get in the way. Thorny ground is like hearing the Word and applying it to daily life. But life ends up getting in the way, and the Word is given a low priority. God does not like being a low priority in our lives. The good, fertile soil is hearing and applying the Word to our lives permanently and as a high priority, so we productively serve God.

The Weeds: A farmer planted wheat, but an evil man snuck into the pasture and sowed tares (weeds that look like wheat) in with the wheat. When the wheat and tares began to grow, the farmer’s servants asked if they should pull up the tares. The farmer said to let them grow up together, because trying to pull up only the tares would damage the wheat. At first glance, the two were hard to tell apart. At harvest time, the servants could tell the difference between the wheat and the tares, because the wheat bowed humbly under its own weight, while the tares stood tall with pride. The servants harvested the wheat, storing it in the barn, and the tares, throwing them in the furnace. Christians are the wheat and unbelievers are the tares. Rather than pluck out the unrighteous now, the angels of God will wait until harvest time, when God is ready to cast unbelievers into the furnace of hell. Christians will go to heaven.

The Mustard Seed: Christianity started as the smallest of seeds, but it became a large, prospering tree where shelter is always available under its branches.

The Yeast: Christianity is like a little yeast; it spreads throughout the dough.

The Hidden Treasure: The Kingdom of God is like a hidden treasure in a field. When it is found, a man will sell everything he has to buy the field in which the treasure lies.

The Net: The net was cast by the fishermen. It corralled a multitude of fish; the good fish were kept, while the bad fish were thrown into the furnace. Christians are the good fish; unbelievers are the bad fish. The fishermen are God’s angels; the furnace is hell.

The Lost Sheep: If just one sheep out of a hundred goes astray, a good shepherd will rescue it. In the same way, if just one true Christian falls away, God will rescue him and bring him back. There will be more rejoicing over the one repentant sinner than for the ninety-nine who did not need to repent.

The Unforgiving Debtor (The Unmerciful Servant): A servant was forgiven an extremely large debt by a king, and then he went and demanded payment from those who owed him just a small amount of money. When the king found out, he had the man thrown in prison. As Christians, we are to forgive our debtors, because all of our debts have been forgiven by God through the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus.

The Workers in the Vineyard: A man hired some workers early in the morning, promising them a day’s wages for a day’s work. Throughout the day, the man hired more workers. At the end of day, all the workers received the same wages, and those who began working in the morning complained that it was not fair. The man promised a day’s wages, and that is what they received. All who choose Christ as their Savior and Lord are rewarded with eternal life, no matter when they choose to follow Him in their lifetime. Of course, choosing Christ early in life makes for a more useful Christian. We should want to be used by God!

The Two Sons: A man had two sons and asked them to do a chore. One son said he would obey, but he never did. The other son said he would not obey, but he did as his father asked. We cannot pretend to obey God, having faith without works; instead, we show our faith by our behavior. Our lifestyle should reflect our faith.

The Wicked Tenants: A man built a farm and hired servants to tend the land while he went away. At harvest time, the man sent many servants to collect from the tenants, but the tenants killed the servants. Finally, the man sent his son to collect, and the tenants killed him too. The owner would return to kill the tenants for their evil. The religious leaders did not recognize their Messiah, so they killed Him, along with all the prophets who came before Him. They thought He was a threat to them, rather than a Savior for them. In our disobedience, we are responsible for His death. God will punish those who murdered His Son without accepting His sacrifice.

The Wedding Feast: A man had a wedding reception, but when the invitees did not show up, he invited street people to come. In the same way, Jesus invited the Jews to accept His gift of eternal life, but many of them did not accept the gift. So He offers eternal life to everyone!

The Ten Bridesmaids: A man promised to come for his bride, so ten bridesmaids waited for him to return. Those who were ready and waiting were allowed to attend the wedding, but those who were not prepared when he came were left out and not allowed in. Christ has promised to return; everyone prepared for His return will join Him in heaven. Anyone who is not prepared will be left behind.

The Loaned Money (The Talents): A wealthy man gave three servants various amounts of money to watch over, according to their ability, while he was gone. Two of the three servants made the most of their responsibility, doubling the money. Because they were faithful with what they had been given, they were rewarded by their master. The third servant was irresponsible with what he had been given, and the master called him wicked and lazy and threw him out into the darkness. Everyone who has will be given more; he who has nothing will lose everything. We are God’s stewards.

The Sheep and Goats: Jesus will come in judgment, and like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, He will separate the chosen ones who served God, giving them a reward, from the unbelievers who did not serve God; they will be eternally punished!

The Good Samaritan: A man traveling along a mountain pass was robbed and beaten by thieves. As he lay on the side of the road, a priest passed by him and did not offer help. Then a fellow countryman passed by without helping. Then a Samaritan, a foreigner, came by and assisted the man. The Samaritan, comparable to our worst enemy, even paid for the man to rest in a nearby inn. Jesus said we are to be like the Samaritan, loving and caring for those who despise us.

The Prodigal Son: A man had two sons, and the younger one asked for his inheritance early. This was an unheard-of thing to do, but the father gave the son his portion of the inheritance anyway. The son went to foreign lands and “squandered his wealth in wild living” (Luke 15:13). When a famine hit, the son had no money left. He begged for food and even worked as a slave feeding filthy pigs. This was a low to which a Jew must never have stooped, but the son was desperate. After some time, he remembered his father and decided to return home and beg his father for a position as a slave. Surely that would be better than feeding pigs! Upon the return (repentance) of the prodigal son, the father rejoiced, and there was a grand celebration. Now the other son, the loyal one, was angry at his father’s love for the son who squandered everything. But the father said: “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:31-32).

Rich Man and Lazarus: The rich man died and went to hell, and Lazarus, a sore-covered beggar, died and went to heaven. The rich man cried out in torment from hell, “Have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:24). He was told that a great chasm had separated heaven and hell, so no one could travel between the two places. Therefore the rich man asked for someone to warn his brothers, still living on earth, so they would not end up in hell. He was told that the brothers had plenty of evidence of the horrors of hell, as foretold by Moses and the prophets. The rich man said they would surely repent if someone from the dead returned to warn them, but he was told, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Hard-hearted people simply cannot be convinced of the truth of the Gospel, even with evidence of Jesus’ resurrection, unless the Holy Spirit first changes their hearts.

Pharisee/Tax Collector: These two men prayed to God. The Pharisee stood up and shouted, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11-12). The tax collector humbly stood back and asked God for mercy, recognizing he was a sinner and not even worthy to look unto heaven. It was the tax collector who, in the end, was justified before God. Jesus said: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). We often compare ourselves with those worse than us, because it makes us look good! But we need only compare ourselves to the standard God has set, perfection, to see our wretchedness and how desperate we should be for forgiveness.

The True Vine: Jesus is the vine, and His disciples are the branches. Branches must stay connected to the vine to remain alive and continue to grow to produce fruit for God’s glory. If the branches detach, they will shrivel up, die, and be burned in the furnace. We can stay connected to Jesus by studying the Bible, obeying God’s commands, and loving others.

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