Tag Archives: Kingdom of Heaven

Seeds of Truth

Jesus frequently left people scratching their heads, trying to figure out what He meant.  But when He told the parable of the sower (see: Sow What) he explained what it meant:

“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)

Jesus was talking about you – “anyone,” He said, anyone who hears the message about the Kingdom.  And that’s you.  The message of the Kingdom is the message of Jesus, how He came to give people eternal life.  But there’s a couple of things to pay attention to.  First, it’s not simply hearing the message, but how you process it that makes all the difference.

Next, it’s important to realize that when the message is not understood, it bounces  off  hearts have become hardened to it.  But it does not simply lie there.  Jesus said it is “snatched away” by the “evil one.”  There is a very real battle going on over your heart and soul.  Another name for the “evil one” is “the father of lies.”  If you turn away the truth, you open yourself up to believe lies.

Thirdly, receiving the message with an emotional rush – perhaps joy – is frequently ineffective, because sooner or later the joy wears off.  Trouble comes (because of the real battle for your heart) and the joy fades.  If you latched onto Jesus because you think He will always make you happy, you will inevitably be left empty and disillusioned.  This is important to know, since so many people try to use emotionalism to convince people about Jesus.  Watch out for that.  The message of the Kingdom makes sense when you truly understand it.  You don’t need to be manipulated into believing it.

You should note that some receive the message but the “deceitfulness of wealth” and various worries of life choke it.  Jesus said you cannot worship God and money.  Again, there is a battle going on, and the evil one wants you to think you will be happy if you are rich.  Some people have a tenuous grasp of the truth but they let go of it to chase money.  Pay attention.

The only seed that matters to a farmer is the one that grows, matures and produces a crop.  The only “planting” of the message about Jesus that makes any difference, ultimately, is the one that results in life (the birth of the Holy Spirit in a soul), growth (heartfelt changes that emerge from the Spirit’s life inside) and a “crop” (new life in Christ is infectious, it rubs off on others.)

There is a lot to ponder in this parable and its explanation.  Taking the time to understand it is well worth it.

Quotes from: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

According to Plan

Was Jesus racist?  it sounded like it when He first sent out His apostles.

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6)

Why only tell Israel?  Didn’t the other nations deserve to hear the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven?  It was not that He cared about them more than the other nations.  To the contrary, Jesus’ ultimate goal was to give the invitation and opportunity to everyone on earth.  As He explained to His disciples, late in His ministry:

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

So, why did Jesus send His disciples only to the people of Israel in the beginning?  it was how God’s plan was designed to work.  When you split wood, you can’t use a sledgehammer.  You must hit the wood with a sharp point and then gradually spread the force outward.  When you start a fire, you cannot pile all the wood on at once and try to light a log with your match.  You must start small, with carefully prepared kindling.

For 2000 years, through the times of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah and Daniel (to name but a few), God carefully prepared Israel to “get it” when Jesus would come.  Their history and cultural DNA gave them the context to understand His message, His sacrifice and His offer of redemption.  All these things had explained to Israel through their prophets and other sacred writings.  When Jesus struck His “match,” it needed to be applied to the kindling of the “lost sheep of Israel.”  For more about that strategy, see “Sourdough Theology.”

Expert professionals sometimes do things that seem illogical or counterproductive to us,  But then those things work and we think, “Hey, they really do know what they are doing.  In a similar way, I am awestruck by how God’s plan to rescue all peoples by choosing one people, revealed many hundreds of years in advance, was applied, unchanged, by Jesus,   After His resurrection, Jesus reiterated how the plan would work:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8)

Their small, local witness, would gradually expand outward, until all the world had heard the News.  That original plan continues to work, 2000 years later.

Perhaps God really does know what He is doing…

What’s Enough?

There’s a surefire way to get backstage at a concert: know somebody and get a backstage pass. No pass? No backstage. Don’t know anyone? No pass. When I was in the sound business, I routinely saw people plead with the security guard, trying to get backstage. They always had a story. “We were in a band together in high school; I know he wants to see me…” But the stories never worked. The only thing that worked was a pass, given to those who knew someone. I think about those desperate pleas whenever I read these sobering words of Jesus:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'” (Matthew 7:21-23)

It’s not enough to call Jesus Lord. It’s not enough to do miraculous things in Jesus’ Name, or to preach in a bold and prophetic tone of voice. The only thing that is enough Jesus said, is to “do the will of My Father in Heaven.”  Say what? Does Jesus mean only those who always do the will of God?   If not, then what does He mean by,  “…only he who does the will of God?”  Jesus gives a strong hint when He says, “I never knew you.”

The word, know, in Scripture frequently refers to a close, intimate and personal relationship. “Knowing” Jesus is more than knowing Who He is. It is more than wearing a Jesus T-shirt, or publicly claiming to be a Christian.  It has nothing to do with my doing amazing things for Jesus.  Knowing Jesus means entering into a close, personal relationship with the the Son of God. Because of Who He is, such a relationship begins with reverent humility and transparency.  In the words of the hymn, I come to Him “Just as I am, without one plea…”  Knowing Jesus includes a willingness for Jesus to know me.  Nothing about me is off limits in our relationship.

And that relationship, that knowing and being known by Jesus, is God’s will. And that – only that – is enough.

Little Word; Big Difference

JFK will be remembered for saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”  FDR is remembered in the words, “… a date that will live in infamy.”   For Ronald Reagan, it was, “…tear down this wall!”   For Bill Clinton: “It depends on what the meaning of the word, is, is.”   Doesn’t quite rise to the same level of dignity and inspiration, but Bill was on to something.  There are times when a tiny word makes a huge difference.  Like the word, “is” in this quote from Jesus:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5:3)

In the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus holds out eight promises.  Mourners will be comforted, the merciful will be shown mercy, etc.  But the first and last promises aren’t “will be” promises, they are “is” promises.  Which means, at least in some measure, they matter right now!  

The first promise is for those who are poor in spirit” (For more about what that means, see: Winning in Last Place).  Those who are spiritually bankrupt and who know it, who come to Jesus with nothing to offer, are promised the kingdom of heaven now.  In the present tense.

Which means, most of what people know about heaven is wrong.

1.   Heaven is not merely that “better place” Aunt Sally went to be after her terrible accident at the car wash.  The kingdom of heaven is available now.

2.   Entrance to heaven is not determined by how good you have been.  The kingdom of heaven is open to those who are “poor in spirit.”

Here’s the not-so-fine print:  By definition, a kingdom has a king.  People in kingdoms have submitted to the king.  In this case, the King is Jesus.  Once you understand that Jesus is Almighty God, that He loved you so much, He lowered Himself to come for you in human form and die to pay for your sin – once you really grasp that reality – it is logical to acknowledge that He is your King.

People who think they can join the kingdom because they have been good, are not “poor in spirit,” and don’t understand that a kingdom only has one king.

However, those who enter the kingdom of heaven now have not yet experienced the full measure of how wonderful it will be one day.  People who surrender to King Jesus, are blessed now in His kingdom, and receive the Holy Spirit, living eternally in their souls – all right now.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  (John 14:16-17)

But they still live in this darkened, corrupted world where they will have trouble.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

The “poor in spirit,” who submit to King Jesus, have the kingdom of heaven “already but not yet.”   The full experience and glory of the Kingdom of Heaven will not be realized until Jesus is universally accepted as the King.  We yearn for that day but cannot begin to fully imagine what it will be like.  We are like children born in refugee camps who have no way to imagine life on a cruise ship.  We have no capacity to imagine the full experience of heaven.  Not yet.

However, right now,  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.