The Gospel in Ecclesiastes:) ❤️
In 2 Corinthians 4:7,
Paul makes a beautiful statement that
"we have this treasure in earthen vessels,
so that the surpassing greatness of the
power will be of God and not from ourselves.”
The context helps us understand what is the treasure in earthen vessels (other translations say “jars of clay”). Paul is exhorting his readers that, even though there is great difficulty in their ministry, he is encouraged
(2 Corinthians 4:1).
He acknowledges that in his ministry he had received mercy and that he and the others who shared that ministry are not losing heart (in this case he is also referring to Timothy, see 2 Corinthians 1:1).
They could have confidence because they were
walking in the truth of God’s Word
and not in their own cleverness or craftiness
(2 Corinthians 4:2).
Because their confidence was in His truth
and not their own ability,
they could fulfill their ministry with
even as God could observe their actions
(2 Corinthians 4:2).
Even though Paul and Timothy’s gospel-proclaiming ministry was at times met with rejection, it was not because of any flaw in the good news itself. Unbelievers suffer from a blindness of the mind and are unable to see the
“light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God”
(2 Corinthians 4:3–4).
Because of this great need, the message of the gospel is so important. They weren’t proclaiming or promoting themselves; rather, they were serving others by proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5). The light that Paul and Timothy were proclaiming had come from God--that same God who had originally created light (Genesis 1:3) and who had determined that
Christ would come to provide light to humanity
God had accomplished the creation of light and the
coming of Jesus.
What He determines shall happen; it will indeed take place, and God had shone light in Paul’s and Timothy’s hearts that they would be equipped to present the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ and the eternal life He provides
(2 Corinthians 4:6).
It is for this reason that Paul explains that they
have the treasure in earthen vessels
(2 Corinthians 4:7)
and why that is significant.
Paul says elsewhere that, if he will boast,
he will boast in the Lord
(2 Corinthians 10:17).
He is doing exactly that here when he says that they have the treasure in earthen vessels (2 Corinthians 4:7). The marvel that Paul is communicating is that, even as Paul and Timothy (and presumably the other disciples) were proclaiming Christ, they were not fulfilling this responsibility in their own power. Instead, God had provided the life, the power, and the message. Paul understood that those who were doing the actual proclaiming were simply earthen vessels—with no glory or merit of their own. As he said to the Corinthians in his previous letter, “Neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:7). Such lowly and humble people were given an incredible treasure—the personal and lifegiving knowledge of Jesus Christ in their own lives and the good news to proclaim to others. This shows how surpassing is the strength and power of God, and those who hear the message can be encouraged that the power is from God and His truth. The power does not originate in the cleverness or strength of people.
As God uses broken and imperfect people, we can also be encouraged that God can use us to accomplish important things and that, when we use the tools He provides, the power is not our own, but His.
We are simply earthen vessels / jars of clay; the treasure is
God’s gift inside.
In 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul defends his ministry from those who would attack him and the gospel he proclaims. Chapter 4 is a key part of Paul’s argument, as he acknowledges the many weaknesses his detractors have highlighted, both physical and mental (2 Corinthians 10:10). However, rather than promote his own strength, Paul points to God’s power, which sustains him through every crisis (2 Corinthians 4:7). In verses 8–9, he lists a series of four problems but contrasts them with God’s protection and provision. Verse 8 contains one of these interesting antitheses, as Paul states that the apostles are “perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8).
According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, the word for “perplexed” in the original language simply means to be “confused,” “uncertain,” or “in doubt.” A great example of this word is found in Galatians 4:20, where Paul is experiencing “pastoral perplexity” over the Galatians’ inconsistent behavior. One minute, they were excited about the gospel, and the next they were following false teachers (Galatians 4:14–17)! Like many pastors throughout history, Paul experienced doubts and uncertainty about his ministry, his personal strength, and the churches he left behind during his travels (2 Corinthians 11:28–29). These are the doubts he expresses when he describes himself as “perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8).
The word translated “despair” reveals a fascinating wordplay: in the original language, it is the same word translated “perplexed,” except with the prefix ex- added. Just like the word extra in English, the prefix ex- in this case emphasizes the original word to its fullest extent. The idea is “beyond perplexed” or “totally perplexed.” Paul is saying that he has experienced doubt and confusion, but not to the point of despair or breaking. He has been confused, but not confounded; doubting, but not despairing; lost, but never losing everything. The main idea is that Paul has experienced confusion and doubt, but God has never allowed that perplexity to overwhelm him.
What about us? Like Paul, we often experience confusion and doubt. We may wonder why God allows something bad to happen to us or whether someone we care about is going to succeed in the Christian faith. These feelings of uncertainty are normal. Like Paul, we can take comfort in the fact that God remains in control of every situation in our lives. We can be “perplexed, but not in despair,” because we “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
Paul defends his apostleship for the sake of the Corinthians so they can be encouraged and built up in the certainty of the gospel (2 Corinthians 12:19). In his letter Paul recounts some of the difficulties and persecutions he and other apostles were facing. In this context he notes that they were “persecuted, but not forsaken” (2 Corinthians 4:9, ESV).
Paul was thankful to be proclaiming a message of grace and freedom rather than law and bondage (2 Corinthians 3), and, because of the importance of that ministry, he and the other apostles would not lose heart.
Rather, they would be bold in their
proclamation of the truth
(2 Corinthians 4:1–2).
They had clear consciences as they fulfilled the ministry of proclaiming that truth to everyone, even though there were many who were blinded and would not accept that message
(2 Corinthians 4:3–4).
They were not proclaiming this message in their own power or by their own wisdom; they were proclaiming Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:5–6). They readily recognized their own weakness and limitation—they were merely earthen vessels for a heavenly message of grace (2 Corinthians 4:7)—and the power of the message was not of themselves. Consequently, the Corinthians could have confidence in the apostles’ message because it was true and originated from God.
The apostles were not the source of the power; they were simply ministers of it.
Paul underscores their own limitations and weakness when he explains that they are afflicted in every way, but not crushed (2 Corinthians 4:8a)—they had hardship, but that hardship could not defeat them because they were standing in the truth. They were perplexed, but not in despair. They struggled with perhaps even a degree of anxiety but would not fall into depression because of the certainty of their hope (2 Corinthians 4:8b).
They were persecuted but not forsaken (2 Corinthians 4:9a)—though many had rejected their message and even did so violently at times, Paul knew they were not alone. God had not left them, no matter how severe the rejection by some. They had even been literally struck down, but they were not destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:9b). No matter the difficulty they faced, the apostles recognized it was nothing as severe as Christ had encountered, and they were simply fulfilling what He had commissioned them to do (2 Corinthians 4:10–11). Even in their weakness and the difficulties they faced, they kept in mind the reason for their ministry: that people could receive Christ by faith and have life (2 Corinthians 4:12).
Everything Paul and the other apostles faced, they did so for the sake of those who would receive their message (2 Corinthians 4:15). So, even in difficult and painful situations, they would not lose heart (2 Corinthians 4:16). They were not focused on the temporal difficulties; instead, they set their minds on the eternal value of the ministry God had given them (2 Corinthians 4:16–18).
In some ways, we also may face persecution and difficulty, but, if we are suffering for that which has eternal value, then we are not forsaken. God never deserts or forsakes those who are His (John 10:27–31; Hebrews 13:5).
We can focus on Him—like the apostles did—and not lose heart (see Hebrews 12:1–3).
What does 2 Corinthians 2:4 mean? Paul visited the Corinthians briefly following the writing of 1 Corinthians. During that painful visit, a confrontation took place. This appears to have been with a church member challenging Paul's authority as an apostle. It is unclear if most in the church sided with Paul or with this other man. Paul wrote the now-lost letter to them in order to urge the church to deal with this man and make clear their support for Paul's authority as an apostle of Jesus.
Writing that letter, Paul now says, caused him great pain. He wrote it out of affliction and anguish of heart, shedding tears as he sent it. He did not write it in order to cause them pain. That's the last thing Paul wanted for them. Instead, he wrote it because he loved them so deeply. He knew that hearing the truth might hurt them, but he also hoped it would bring healing to everyone involved. Apparently, that's exactly what has happened.
Many of the principles of God’s kingdom
When Paul pleaded with God to remove his affliction—one he called a “thorn in the flesh”—the Lord said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:8–9, NKJV). The New Living Translation says, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” God’s strength is made perfect in weakness because He delights in taking situations where human strength is lacking to demonstrate the greatness of His power.
God’s denial of Paul’s request for healing turned out to be a blessing in the apostle’s life.
One commentary explains that the thorn “kept Paul from imagining himself as a spiritual superman, and revealed to him the reality of his human mortality and weakness despite his extraordinary revelations. The ‘thorn’ also kept Paul pinned close to the Lord, in trust and confidence”
Paul stopped protesting his situation and began to boast and even take pleasure in his weakness so that the power of Christ could work through him: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Paul expressed the paradox of his condition—that in his frailty, he was strong because his strength came from Christ.
The words made perfect in 2 Corinthians 12:9 mean
“fully or entirely accomplished or made complete.”
Christ’s power is made complete—it is able to fully accomplish its purpose—when His people are weak and depend on Him for strength.
When we, like Paul, stop resisting and complaining and let the power of Christ rest on us, we make room to receive countless unexpected blessings from the Lord. By allowing God’s strength to be made perfect in our weakness, we have the opportunity to display God’s glory flawlessly. “The grace and power of God interlock with human lives at the point of human weakness,”
Over and over, the Bible gives examples of God’s strength manifesting when His people are weak. Moses, the great leader of Israel, was deeply aware of his human shortcomings (Exodus 4:10). When the Lord called him to go to Pharaoh, Moses cried, “I’m not adequate. Please send someone else!” But God replied, “Go anyway, Moses, because I will be with you” (see Exodus 4:12–15).
Gideon’s story proves that God can accomplish great things through people who forget about their human weaknesses, trust in God’s strength, and obey His guidance (Judges 6:14–16). And, of course, our most notable biblical example, Jesus Christ, was “crucified in weakness” but “now lives by the power of God” (2 Corinthians 13:4, NLT).
First Corinthians 1:27 teaches, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” We must never shrink away from God because of our weakness but run to Him, letting Him equip and empower us to accomplish His will. We must remember His promise: “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:29–31).
When we are in a position of need, it allows us to see how much we need God
(2 Corinthians 1:9; 3:5; 13:4).
The more aware we are of our weakness, the more God can reveal His power through us: “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves” (2 Corinthians 4:7, NLT).
God’s strength is made perfect in weakness when we put our faith and trust in Him. The Lord’s presence is all we need in times of weakness. His great power and sufficiency rest on us as we find our strength in Him, and He is glorified. We can say with the psalmist, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26).
Revelation 3:1 says,
The word of him
the seven spirits of God and seven stars
'We are coming up to the Feast of Trumpets on Sunday evening...
Israelis are wishing each other "happy holidays" and getting ready to eat lots of sweet food, and hear the sound of the shofar.
It's a time to look back and take stock,
to remember our covenant with God and
prepare our hearts for the high holidays.
Why not spend time this weekend thinking back over your own walk with God, and how it all started... and praying into all that's to come!"
One of the “appointed feasts of the LORD”
given to Israel in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament)
is known today as Rosh Hashanah, literally “Head of the Year.”
We read about Rosh Hashanah in the Torah,
the Jewish Law found in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
"And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel, saying,
In the seventh month,
on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of solemn rest,
a memorial proclaimed with blast of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work,
and you shall present a food offering to the LORD’”
Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year,
is also known as Yom Teruah
or the Day of Trumpets.
The word teruah means “to shout or make a noise,” so this holiday is marked by the blowing of the shofar or ram’s horn in Jewish synagogues around the world. Rosh Hashanah falls on the first day of the Hebrew month of Tishri on the Jewish calendar, which usually corresponds to September or October. It always falls on the seventh new moon of the Jewish year.
After the destruction of the Jewish
temple in Jerusalem in AD 70,
even though this feast day falls on the
seventh month of the Jewish religious calendar,
it began to be called Rosh Hashanah
and became the beginning of the Jewish civil calendar.
Rosh Hashanah begins a ten-day period
leading up to
the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur,
the Day of Atonement.
These ten days are called the yomim nora’im or
Days of Awe in modern Judaism.
The sounding of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a wake-up blast and a sobering reminder that the time is near for
the Day of Atonement.
It is a call to teshuvah, which is
and turning back to the LORD.
These ten days are ones of
heart-searching and self-examination.
The sound of the shofar for the Jew was, and still continues to be, a call to examine one’s life, to make amends with all those one may have wronged in the previous year, and to ask forgiveness for any vows one may have broken.
So the primary theme of Rosh Hashanah is one of repentance.
During Rosh Hashanah a common greeting/blessing is “May your name be inscribed”—a wish for one’s name to be written in the book of life. Jewish people enjoy sweets on Rosh Hashanah:
treats made with apples, honey, raisins, figs, and pomegranates.
Eating sweet things symbolizes the desire for a “sweet” year;
also included is the idea that the enjoyment of sweet things can help counter the sorrow associated with repentance.
In the eating of pomegranates, some Rosh Hashanah celebrants express the wish that their good deeds
will be as numerous as the seeds of the pomegranate.
Others eat portions of the head of a fish or a sheep,
symbolizing the desire to be “the head, not the tail”
(see Deuteronomy 28:13).
According to rabbinic tradition,
on Rosh Hashanah the
destiny of the righteous are sealed.
The righteous are written into the Book of Life,
These are given the ten days until Yom Kippur to exercise repentance and self-examination and then seal their fate. Then, on the Day of Atonement, everyone has his or her name inscribed into one of the two books.
Like all of the Lord’s appointed days in the Hebrew Bible,
points Christians to an even greater reality.
If you've placed your faith in the
Jewish Messiah, Jesus,
you appreciate the true meaning of
the call to repentance and of
turning our hearts toward God of Israel.
God's Word, the logos, warns of the Day of Judgment,
which is yet to come,
For those who have placed their
trust in the atoning work of Jesus
through His life, death, burial, and resurrection
(2 Corinthians 5:21),
their names are already written into the Lamb’s Book of Life.
And now, even we believers in Jesus listen for that trumpet call,
“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command,
with the voice of an archangel,
and with the sound of the trumpet of God.
(1 Thessalonians 4:16–18).
A parallel reference is
1 Corinthians 15:51-53,
This is the same "trumpet of God" mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:16.
Paul further states in 1 Corinthians 15:51 that God will also change believers who are still living at the time into spirit.
So the return of Jesus Christ
and the resurrection of the saints occur in the same time period.
What is the significance of the trumpet of which Paul wrote?
The book of Revelation tells of seven trumpets sounded by seven angelic beings at the end of the age
(the first six coming in chapters 8-9).
The drama builds through each event announced by a trumpet blast
until the seventh and final angel sounds in Revelation 11.
His announcement is the finale, the last and greatest event:
The return of Jesus Christ
to inaugurate the Kingdom of God
"Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying,
'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever!'"
This trumpet announces the coming of divine wrath
and the time of rewarding God's servants
And combined with the other verses, it's clear that Jesus descends at the blowing of this seventh trumpet--
and that this is when the saints are caught up to Him-
-whether that is a spiritual or physical resurrections isn't clear-
When does this occur in the timeline of end-time events?
In a prophecy Jesus gave,
He referred to a
desecration in Jerusalem--
the abomination of desolation--
to come before the Great Tribulation
Jesus continued in Matthew 24:29:
"Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven,
and the powers of the heavens will be shaken."
He said that all nations on earth would
see the sign of His coming and would mourn.
Then He stated that they would
see Him coming with power and glory and that
He would send His angels to gather
His resurrected followers with a great sound of a trumpet
Compare this with Revelation 6,
where we find a time of terrible final martyrdom
This is followed by the heavenly signs Jesus was referring to
and the people of the earth lamenting
Notice the conclusion of the lament:
"For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?"
This corresponds to Joel 2:31,
where we are told that
"the sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood,
before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord."
That means that, in the book of Revelation,
the trumpets blown after the heavenly signs
represent the time of the Day of the Lord.
-The seventh trumpet-
comes at the end of this year-long Day of the Lord--
at the end of the 3 1⁄2-year period of end-time calamity.
The dead in Christ are raised and living believers are changed and made immortal at this point in time. They cannot have been taken up into glory before the tribulation period. Scripture doesn't allow for a rapture of the saints to heaven for an interim of several years!
Whether this is a physical
or spiritual resurrections
is yet to be seen.
Will be a time of continuing unveiling,
that better aligns with the book as it unfolds in real-time
-Protection for the saints-
We see that believers aren't taken off the earth during the Great Tribulation. But God will protect believers during this time of severe distress. The most specific reference to the protection that God promises for His people at the end of the age is in Revelation 12.
Revelation 12:14 says,
"But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle,
that she might fly into the wilderness to her place,
where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time,
from the presence of the serpent."
The times here denote years—one (time) plus two (times)
plus one half (half a time), equaling 3 1⁄2 years,
the period of the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord.
And note that the protection is not in heaven but in the wilderness, or the desert as it's often translated. It's on the earth, not in heaven.
The context tells us that at least part of God's people will suffer persecution while God protects the rest of the faithful: "And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 12:17).
It is possible that the result of this persecution will be martyrdom.
The Bible records many ways by which
God protected His people in the past,
but does not reveal specifically how, where or when--
or even all of the "who"—He will protect in the end.
However, we can have confidence that
He will reveal
what we need to know at
the essential time.
In the meantime, our focus must be on the spiritual preparation
for Christ's return and the establishment of the Kingdom
The trumpet of Messiah's Return
Today if you greet someone in Israel with
Happy Feast of Trumpets,
They'll look at you like you fell off the moon.
Dive into this exciting theory of how this festival day not only points to the coming of the Lord in power to Mount Sinai but also the return of our King and Messiah to the mount of olives in power and Glory. Hopefully seeing these amazing prophecies fulfilled and foreshadowed through modern and ancient traditions will strengthen your faith and have you look with anticipation to our King’s return.
Go deeper into these festivals with our articles online! https://www.oneforisrael.org/category…
God’s Enduring Love for Israel
A momentous juncture has been reached for a country and a people whose very existence tells us God and the Bible can be trusted. That country, an ongoing focus of world attention in the Middle East, is the state of Israel—now celebrating its 70th anniversary. Its people are primarily the Jewish people—with 6.5 million Jews living here in their homeland and more than that living abroad, mostly in the United States. The Jewish state and people constitute a sign that God cares and is involved—evidence of the grace of God.
Have you ever wondered if God really cares for the human race? With all the evil and suffering in the world, can we ever really trust the teaching of the Bible about a just, merciful and all-powerful God?
These are honest questions that sometimes come to the minds of sincere people wanting to believe the Bible and trust in God. A look at the world and at history can be sobering, causing us to doubt. And some even read the Bible and wonder why God did some things we read about there.
Let us consider, then, God’s enduring love for Israel.
Understanding the world through the backstory of IsraelJesus Christ told the people of His day they needed to “discern this time” (Luke 12:56). He said they were able to look at the sky, see a cloud rise out of the west and say, “A shower is coming,” while if the south wind were to blow, they’d say, “There will be hot weather” (Luke 12:54-55). But this same people had trouble discerning exactly who He was, and they could not act on the message of the gospel He taught.
How about you?
Can you discern your time, our time, in relation to Bible prophecy? Can you discern today’s world with all the many events shaping our lives? Do we understand why today’s world seems increasingly out of control and a place we don’t even recognize anymore because of the moral, cultural and social changes around us?
You can understand today’s world events—and you need to. Because your faith in and understanding about God depends on your discernment of this time. Let me show you how by focusing on a part of the world we regularly hear about in the news.
Again, let’s look at the state of Israel. This tiny nation in the Middle East plays a significant role in world affairs. The state of Israel is now 70 years old, having been proclaimed on May 14, 1948, by David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, following the Nov. 29, 1947, United Nations Resolution 181 vote calling for partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
During this 70-year period the Jewish state has fought many wars against its Arab neighbors. Its survival is constantly threatened by hostile and unrelenting Islamic terror groups. In time the United Nations came to regularly condemn Israel through resolutions, with member states constantly attacking Israel’s policies and actions. Israel lives in a tough Middle East neighborhood, where it’s continually forced to defend its existence to survive.
However, in spite of 70 years of hostility Israel has developed a vibrant, prosperous society. Its people make positive life-enhancing contributions to the world in many critical areas, such as technology, medicine, education and humanitarian efforts. So why does Israel struggle against continual danger? Why must it defend itself before the court of world nations? Why the antagonism and hatred?
If we are to understand this paradox of hostility and blessing surrounding Israel, we must look to the Bible for the story. Scripture gives us the backstory of Israel’s origin. Only in the Bible do we find the divine purpose for Israel’s existence—both in the ancient world and as a modern nation today.
Covenant relationship arising from God’s devoted loveThe ancient nation of Israel was made up of the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob, himself the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham, known as the father of all faithful people who seek after the true Creator God. Now any man with 12 sons makes for an interesting story. Jacob was no exception. His life, as revealed in the book of Genesis, involves all the elements of a good story—betrayal, revenge, children by multiple wives and concubines. It’s all there, the good and the bad.
For purposes here the story told about Jacob wrestling all night with a Being who can only be God is perhaps the most important. At daybreak God gives Jacob a new name, Israel, meaning “prevailer with God” or “prince of God.” This name, Israel, is given to the nation that arises from his 12 sons. The man Israel concludes his life in Egypt with his sons and their families after they escape a severe famine. Years pass, and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob come out of slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses in the great Exodus.
God remembers the promise He made to Abraham—a promise that Abraham’s descendants would be strangers and servants in a land not theirs. The Egyptian captivity lasted several generations until God delivered the Israelites from slavery and brought them back to the land God promised to their forefathers, the land known today as Israel.
As God had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob regarding the land, so He also entered into a covenant relationship with their descendants, the children of Israel who had grown into the nation of Israel. This covenant relationship between God and the people, the terms of which both agreed to, is at the heart of the story of the state of Israel today.
This is not an old story from the ancient mists of time. This is not a myth created by ignorant tribes who somehow wandered into this land and created an epic story to justify their presence. God loved these people. His desire was to give them every opportunity for peace and success—allowing them to grow and prosper. Israel the nation was to become a model for all others to emulate in following His way of life, showing that His laws and judgments can produce a culture blessed with peace and prosperity.
Notice how God said it in Scripture in Deuteronomy 7: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to a be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The Israelites had an amazing opportunity with God. They were given a special land to serve as a special people.
And note what lay behind God choosing them: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
God had a deep spiritual love for the nation of Israel. This love, I say again, is at the heart of this story. God promised Abraham his family would grow into a nation and inherit promises lasting for generations, far beyond his day and into the modern world. Notice what God said next:
“Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9)
God is faithful. He keeps His agreements for a thousand generations. Here is a key to understanding why the modern state of Israel sits in the same geographical spot as ancient Israel. The Jewish state is a continuation of the people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship so long ago.
There were multiple covenants involved in this relationship, including that with Abraham previously. God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, where the nation agreed to be His people and accept the terms of obedience to His laws, was a marriage agreement—with God as the Husband (compare Jeremiah 31:32). And God made yet another covenant with the Israelites prior to their entry into Canaan in Deuteronomy 29–30 concerning the habitation of the land—with destruction and casting out for disobedience, and yet bringing the people back with repentance in the future.
This is something you don’t read about in your history books. But this special covenant relationship and God’s promises and prophecies concerning His people and the Promised Land are at the heart of understanding the importance of today’s state of Israel after 70 years of survival and the controversies over and within Jerusalem, its capital.
A love story gone wrong—to yet be put rightLet me take you into a passage of the Bible that is profound. It reveals the deep love and passion that God has for Israel. This love started thousands of years ago and continues to this day. And while the love story we find here is between God and one particular people, it’s ultimately meant for all peoples and nations. It’s also a sign that God is faithful to all His promises for mankind.
This narrative is found in Ezekiel 16, where God speaks through His prophet to Jerusalem, the heartbeat of the nation. “On the day you were born,” God says, “your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water . . . nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field . . .” (Ezekiel 16:3-5).
Recall that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were wanderers with no permanent home. When Abraham’s wife Sarah died he had to purchase a burial spot from his neighbors. Jacob took his family into Egypt to find food to survive, and his descendants became slaves making mud bricks for Pharaoh. No one but God was looking out for the children of Israel.
Then God says: “When I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you . . . ‘Live!’ . . . I made you thrive like a plant in the field, and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful” (Ezekiel 16:6-7). “But,” He further said, “you were naked and vulnerable, fragile and exposed” (verse 7, The Message).
God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and brought them into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After many years as a small confederation of tribes, the fledgling nation grew into a major power under its greatest kings, David and his son Solomon. Israel’s location enabled it to act as a stabilizing power preventing such nations as Egypt, Assyria and Media from dominating the region.
God’s transformation of Israel is described in these terms: “I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered a covenant of marriage with you . . . I gave you a fashionable wardrobe of expensive clothing. I adorned you with jewelry . . . emerald rings, sapphire earrings, and a diamond tiara . . . You were absolutely stunning . . . You became world-famous” (Ezekiel 16:8-14, MSG).
But this did not last. Israel did not live up to its part of the agreement. It did not keep the laws of God. The people adopted pagan forms of worship from neighboring nations, and they effectively abandoned God, the true and ultimate source of their wealth, security and standing among the nations.
God describes it as adultery—immoral and unfaithful relations outside the marriage partnership—and even harlotry.
He states: “But you began to trust in your beauty. You used the good name you had and became unfaithful to me. You acted like a prostitute with every man who passed by. You gave yourself to them all!” (Ezekiel 16:15, Easy-to-Read Version).
God said they took all the clothes and fine food He had given—the wealth and the prosperity and status as a powerful nation—and used them in foreign, idolatrous worship: “You acted like a prostitute with those false gods!” (Ezekiel 16:19, ERV).
So depraved was God’s unfaithful bride Israel that, rather than having strangers pay her for sexual relations as a typical prostitute, she paid them (Ezekiel 16:31-34). Every norm was turned inside out!
This graphic passage of Scripture, with its beautiful imagery descending into horror, shows the depth of God’s feeling for the nation He created from nothing and made His own—His model nation to all the other nations. Israel’s story did not end well. God brought other powerful nations like the Assyrians and Babylonians against His people—to destroy and remove them from the land.
Yet through all the unfaithfulness, idolatry and ultimate decline, God always held out a lifeline of hope based on His enduring love for the people who once held such promise.
God said to Israel, “I’ll remember the covenant I made with you when you were young and I’ll make a new covenant with you that will last forever” (Ezekiel 16:60, MSG). Israel would then be forgiven and changed: “You will be so ashamed of the evil things you did that you will not be able to say anything. But I will make you pure, and you will never be ashamed again!” (Ezekiel 16:63, ERV).
This final phase of an everlasting new covenant with Israel has not happened yet. The Church of God, as spiritual Israel, is a forerunner in this new relationship, the fullness of which won’t occur till Jesus Christ returns to earth and sets up the Kingdom of God to last forever. At that time, all of Israel will be brought into this relationship, and Israelites from all over the world will return to the same land. Then, with Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all the earth, all nations will be led to become part of God’s covenant relationship with Israel.
Judah only a part of Israel—yet set forth as clear testimonyLet’s pause to consider a little understood piece of the historical puzzle. The modern Jewish state bears the ancient name of Israel but in actuality represents only a small part of the entire people of Israel whose ancestors lived in the land and to whom so many of the biblical prophecies apply.
As we have seen, in the Bible the nation of Israel refers to the 12 tribes that marched out of Egypt under Moses in the story of the Exodus. These 12 tribes were descended from the 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob whose name was changed to Israel by God.
But here is what you should understand at this point. One of these sons was named Judah. His descendants were Judahites, a name later shortened in passing through other languages into the term Jews. King David, who was of the tribe of Judah, came to rule over all 12 tribes—as did his son Solomon.
But after Solomon, the nation was split into two kingdoms—the kingdom of Israel in the north, made up of 10 tribes, and the kingdom of Judah in the south, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and a large portion of Levi, as well as a few from other tribes who ended up moving to the south. The people of this southern kingdom all came to be known as Judahites or Jews.
What this means is that the Jews, the people of Judah, made up only one part of the larger nation of Israel. So you don’t have to be ethnically Jewish to be an Israelite!
But how did the Jews become so prominent? Why do people usually think of the Israelites today as only the Jews? It’s a good question, and the Bible gives us the answer.
The northern kingdom of Israel existed for about 200 years after Solomon’s death before falling captive to the Assyrian Empire. The northern Israelites were forcibly exiled from the land and scattered. They are known in history as the lost 10 tribes of Israel. But they are not truly lost even though they have largely forgotten their identity.
God had said they would be sifted among the nations as grain without the smallest grain falling to the ground (Amos 9:9). And indeed, through comparing history and prophecy, we are able to identify the nations descended from the northern tribes of Israel today.
The southern kingdom of Judah survived longer than Israel, but eventually it too fell—in its case to the Babylonian Empire. Most of the people of the ancient Jewish state were taken to Babylon. Seventy years later, after Persia took over from Babylon, a group of Jews, fulfilling a prophecy of Jeremiah, returned to Jerusalem, with a few more to soon follow, and the city of Jerusalem and its temple were rebuilt.
A partially restored Jewish nation then existed in Jerusalem with its distinctive culture until the time of Jesus and the New Testament Church, when the Roman Empire ruled over the land.
It was about 40 years after rejecting Jesus that the Jewish nation collapsed in A.D. 70 at the hand of the Romans, who destroyed Jerusalem and its temple following a Jewish rebellion. Still another Jewish revolt was put down by the Romans in 135. Many of the Jews were scattered in these Roman actions, joining the Jewish Diaspora (or dispersion among the nations) that existed since Babylonian times. Descendants of the scattered Jews founded today’s state of Israel in 1948.
The existence of the modern state of Israel is necessary to the fulfillment of certain end-time prophecies and also assures mankind of God’s enduring faithfulness. As He remains committed to His people, we can also be confident that His promises to all nations and peoples are sure. In fact, Israel is a key factor in this.
The promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob involve both spiritual and physical promises. These promises will be poured out on all the nations—including you and me.
To understand the existence of the state of Israel today is to understand God and His prophetic timeline. The constant opposition of most of the world’s nations to Israel today, many with severe hatred, is tangible proof of the removal of God from mankind’s knowledge. But God’s grace and enduring love transcends this corrupt condition that will come to an end. Your Bible shows us that God’s spiritual promises will be given to all. Peace, restoration and eternal life are the hope of all nations!
God’s people not cast away—to still be a blessing to allIn the book of Romans, the apostle Paul tells the story of ancient Israel’s rise and fall and hope of restoration. The Israelites had a deep relationship with God. Their opportunity was to become a nation based on the law of God and His glory. God made special promises to the people of Israel, setting them apart from all other nations, promising protection and prosperity. All of the physical blessings God promised were lesser types of greater spiritual blessings to be found in Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of King David.
But ancient Israel failed. As we saw earlier, they split apart, and through a combination of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking they dishonored and disobeyed God—resulting in their captivity and exile. Most of Israel, with the exception of the Jews, forgot who they were. And the Jews have not done as they should.
But Paul’s desire and his prayer for Israel, his people, was that they would be saved (Romans 10:1). Even though they did not obey the gospel (Romans 10:16), their rejection is not total or permanent, as Paul makes clear in Romans 11. God has not cast Israel aside. Through Paul, God reveals there is a remnant of Israel among today’s nations, and by His grace they will be regathered.
But here is the amazing and little understood truth: Israel’s rejection of God works to His glory and purpose! All other nations and peoples, what the Bible calls the gentiles, can have this same relationship with God based on His eternal promises. In God’s time, all will have opportunity to know Him. For God loves not just the people of Israel, but the whole world for whom He gave His Son to die (John 3:16).
The apostle Paul says that blindness has come on Israel until the fullness of the gentiles has come in. In a magnificent piece of writing Paul is inspired to show that Israel, all 12 tribes, and the whole world will have the opportunity for salvation. All nations will have the opportunity to receive the full promises of God, both physical and spiritual.
Notice Romans 11:1-2 where Paul asks, “Has God cast away His people?” He then answers: “Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” God had used physical Israelites such as Paul to form the very foundations of the Christian Church. Jesus Himself was a Jew!
Paul goes on to explain that because of unbelief leading to sin, the original physical Israelites were cut off from being part of spiritual Israel—God’s covenant people—but that these are to ultimately be rejoined to Israel on repentance, as are the gentiles.
He says in verses Romans 11:11-15 that by those of physical Israelite descent being cut off at this time, salvation is opened to the world. Gentiles thus have a place in God’s true spiritual Israel today. Yet it’s further explained that God is not finished with the physical descendants of Israel. By their being brought back into God’s grace, they will yet serve as the model nation for all peoples they were intended to be. This will happen during the coming reign of Christ on earth. Then all will be given the opportunity to be saved, Israel being used powerfully in “the reconciling of the world” (Romans 11:15). All the tribes of Israel, not just the Jews, will be united.
Then all mankind will seek the Lord. In fact, “in those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23). All nations will come to Jerusalem and learn of His ways. Jerusalem, the capital of the modern state of Israel, will one day become the capital of the whole world under God (see Jeremiah 3:17).
So Israel matters. Not just the Jewish state in the Middle East today. All the tribes matter to God. And all the nations of the world matter to God—yet they must all become part of Israel to be saved and live forever as God’s family, nation and Kingdom.
In one last burst of inspired enthusiasm Paul exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).
The understanding of the identity and role of Israel is the key to understanding today’s world and the march of history toward the Kingdom of God. The understanding of Israel shows us the enduring promises of God’s salvation for all the nations. Because He is faithful in His committed love toward Israel, He will be faithful in His promises through Christ to all people—including you and me—with all of us given a part in His covenant nation. This great love story involves God’s love for all people. That is the good news of the gospel!
Finally, let me repeat that to understand Israel is to understand God and His prophetic timeline. The state of Israel’s existence, in spite of all the odds, is a sign that God controls the destiny of all nations. It is proof that God watches over history and is guiding our world with all its peoples to His ultimate purpose. God watches over the nations. The state of Israel is living proof!
The world at large will continue to plot and rage against Israel and the Jewish people. But they will survive and will complete their God-ordained purpose. Remember this as you watch today’s headlines!
of the Leaven is found in two of the Gospels.
It is a very simple story--
a snapshot of life, really:
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough”
(Matthew 13:33; cf. Luke 13:20-21).
Jesus uses this story as an object lesson to illustrate the kingdom of heaven.
A woman takes yeast (leaven) and mixes it into dough.
Eventually, the whole of the dough is leavened.
What does it mean?
it’s important to define “kingdom of heaven.”
By this, Jesus is referring to His domain as the Messiah.
In the current age, the kingdom of heaven is
spiritual, existing within the hearts of believers
Later, the kingdom will be
when the Lord Jesus
establishes His throne on this earth
(After the tribulation, at the End of Jacob's Trouble).
In the Parable of the Leaven,
we learn several things about the
working of the kingdom in our present age.
Each of these lessons stems from the nature of yeast.
First, the kingdom of God
may have small beginnings, but it will increase.
Yeast is microscopic in size (like an apple seed),
and only a little is kneaded into the dough.
Yet, given time, the yeast will spread through all the dough.
In the same way, Jesus’ domain started with twelve men
in an obscure corner of Galilee,
but it has spread throughout the world.
The gospel makes progress.
the kingdom of God exerts its influence from within,
not from without.
Yeast makes dough rise from within.
God first changes the heart of a person,
and that internal change has external manifestations.
The gospel influence in a culture works the same way:
Christians within a culture
act as agents of change,
slowly transforming that culture from within.
we praise the joy found in the living God!
Our identity is found in the living God!
Jesus changed culture through contagious love
the effect of the kingdom of God will be comprehensive.
Just as yeast works until the dough has completely risen,
the ultimate benefit of the kingdom of God will be worldwide
(Psalm 72:19; Daniel 2:35).
"The earth will be filled with the knowledge
of the glory of the LORD,
as the waters cover the sea”
although the kingdom of God works invisibly,
its effect is evident to all.
Yeast does its job slowly, secretly and silently,
but no one can deny its effect on bread.
The same is TRUE
of the work of grace
in our hearts.
The nature of yeast is to grow and to change whatever it contacts.
When we accept Christ,
His grace grows in our hearts and changes us from the inside out.
As the gospel transforms lives,
it exerts a pervasive influence in the world at large.
As we “reflect the Lord’s glory, [we] are
being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory,
which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”
(2 Corinthians 3:18).
Unleavened bread is bread that is made without leaven,
which is another word for yeast.
Yeast makes bread rise,
so when bread is unleavened, it remains flat and dense.
The Israelites ate unleavened bread as part of the Passover celebration.
It was symbolic of the haste
with which the Israelites fled Egypt during the Exodus--
they left so quickly that the bread did not have time to rise.
God instructed them to commemorate the event
by eating unleavened bread:
"You shall eat no leavened bread with it.
Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread,
the bread of affliction—for you came
out of the land of Egypt in haste—that
all the days of your life you may
remember the day when you
came out of the land of Egypt"
Other verses that command the eating of unleavened bread are
Exodus 12:8; 29:2; and Numbers 9:11.
Leaven is also a symbol of separation from God. Even a small amount of leaven is sufficient to affect an entire lump of dough, and likewise, a little sin-or separation, will hurt the church, nation, or the whole of a person's life
wandering from God starts out small, in the thoughts, and then affects the will and the actions (James 1:14-15).
Paul warns the Corinthians that "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" and is using this analogy to refer to our need for God's sovereignty, spiritual unity, and repentance.
For Christ, our
Passover lamb, has been sacrificed"
(1 Corinthians 5:6-7).
Now, once a lump has been leavened, it is not possible to cleanse out the leaven, because it has permeated the dough.
What Paul is asking the Corinthians to do in "cleansing out the old leaven" is impossible,
for sin cannot be eliminated by
human effort or obedience to the law-
Repentance in Yeshua
The law was given
to make us aware of sin
(Romans 3:20; Romans 7:7).
The law is not meant to discourage us,
but to encourage us
who is the propitiation for our sins.
His sacrifice on the cross paid for our sin and made it possible for us to remove the leaven from the lump, as Paul puts it.
Another word for this is sanctification
(Hebrews 10:10, 14).
As we come into the light,
and confess that we are indeed stained by sin,
He is "faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"
(1 John 1:9).
Thankfully, unleavening is
His work, not ours
The Bible teaches that
we do not have the power
to remove sin.
It has permeated us completely, from birth, because—despite future good or evil actions—every person is born in sin simply because we are members of Adam.
The first Adam brought separation from God,
but the second Adam (Jesus Christ)
❤️ brought life ❤️
(1 Corinthians 15:22).
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
The King James Version and New King James use the word sorrows in Isaiah 53:3 in identifying the Messiah as “a man of sorrows.” The NIV translates the word as “suffering,” as does the ESV, which also notes an alternate translation could be “pains.” Isaiah 52:13—53:12 is the climactic fourth of the Servant Songs and is often referred to as the “Song of the Suffering Servant.” If you simply read these verses carefully, you will note how much pain, suffering, and sorrow that Jesus, the Suffering Servant, actually endures (italics added for emphasis):
“See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him--
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness--
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
“Who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
“Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
“He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Jesus is called “a man of sorrows” because of how much suffering He had to endure. He suffered first by leaving the glories of heaven and entering the human race as a man. Then He suffered all the things that humanity suffers, and then finally He suffered the wrath of God as the sin-bearer. Such suffering must have been all the more acute for Him, given His perfect nature. Who of us could ever understand the depths of what His righteous spirit suffered as He lived among fallen humanity?
Although He is called “a man of sorrows,” Jesus was not a morose, doleful person. He did endure times of sadness, but He could rejoice in His sufferings as He focused on the final outcome. Jesus is “the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus endured many pains, hardships, sufferings, and sorrows, but He kept His eyes on the final joy of completing God’s purpose and redeeming His lost sheep.
The old hymn by Philip Bliss is appropriate to quote here:
“Man of Sorrows,” what a name
For the Son of God, who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood--
Sealed my pardon with His blood:
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Guilty, vile and helpless, we,
Spotless Lamb of God was He;
Full atonement! can it be?
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
Lifted up was He to die,
“It is finished,” was His cry;
Now in heav’n exalted high:
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah! what a Savior!
It was Jesus’ willingness to endure suffering and sorrow in a world of suffering and sorrow that ultimately rescues all who trust in Him from the very presence of any suffering and sorrow. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
The phrase unsearchable riches of Christ
comes from Ephesians 3:8–9:
“To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan
of the mystery hidden for ages in God,
who created all things” (ESV).
The Greek for “unsearchable riches” is translated “boundless riches”
The Greek word translated “unsearchable” describes something that cannot be fully comprehended or explored. In other words, there is no limit to the riches of Christ; they are past finding out. Try as we might, we can never plumb the depths of Christ’s worth. Paul delineates some of these riches in Ephesians 1:7–14: redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, the knowledge of the mystery of His will, the message of truth, the sealing of the Holy Spirit, and the guarantee of our inheritance. These are spiritual riches with eternal benefits, and we cannot fully comprehend them.
Jesus taught two short parables that emphasize the value of eternal life and the kingdom of God: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:44–46). Like a hidden treasure or a pearl of great price, admission to the kingdom is of incalculable worth—and it is Jesus Christ who grants the admission. The unsearchable riches of Christ are on display in every believer’s heart.
The unsearchable riches of Christ cannot be fully traced out. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9), so the riches of Christ include all that God is. The unsearchable riches of Christ are the Glory of God, the Truth of God, the Wisdom of God, the Life of God, and the Love of God. In Christ, God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3). In Christ are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). In Christ, God “has given us everything we need for a godly life” (2 Peter 1:3).
In Ephesians 3:8 Paul refers to himself as “less than the least of all the Lord’s people.” This humble statement is then contrasted with “the boundless riches of Christ.” Paul describes himself as the lowest of believers while lifting Jesus up as the greatest of all. Every believer, in like humility, acknowledges the all-surpassing goodness and grace of God: “The LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:11).
Christ’s riches that He makes available to us
are not material but spiritual.
The unsearchable riches of Christ provide salvation to everyone who believes (John 3:16; Romans 1:16). We may be the worst of sinners, yet Jesus can forgive us and transform our lives (Romans 12:1–2). It is the gift that truly keeps on giving, as we are changed, by God’s Spirit, into “loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled” people (Galatians 5:22–23, CEV).
King Solomon was a man of great riches and wisdom, and his fame spread throughout the known world. Dignitaries from other countries came to hear his wisdom and see his lavish display of wealth (1 Kings 10:24).
Scripture says that Solomon had no equal in the earth at that time: “King Solomon was greater in
riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth”
Yet, for all that, Solomon’s riches were not unsearchable.
They could be quantified; the gold bars could be counted, and he had no inexhaustible supply of silver. Besides that, Solomon’s riches were only the temporal treasures of this world.
Jesus is “greater than Solomon”
The treasures of Christ are inexhaustible,
they are unsearchable,
and they are forever.
The apostle Paul never missed a teaching opportunity.
In Ephesians 3:1–13, he interrupted his own prayer to expound on the divine mystery of God revealed in the
New Testament church of Jesus Christ.
The previously hidden secret was now made known—both Jews and Gentiles would
share equally in the gospel of salvation
God had a specific purpose for using the church in this way: “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in
Christ Jesus our Lord” (Ephesians 3:10–11).
The word translated “manifold” in Ephesians 3:10 means “many and varied; having many features and forms; wrought in various colors; diversified, intricate, complex, many-sided.”
in His extraordinary plan of salvation,
as seen in the new and mysterious creation of the church,
is a multi-faceted, many-colored,
culturally diverse, rich, and
beautiful community of believers.
There is no other human co-op like it in the world.
According to Bible commentators,
“the manifold wisdom of God”
is a poetic and artistic expression
suggesting the intricate nature of an embroidered pattern
as in Joseph’s “tunic of many colors” (Genesis 37:3, NKJV).
Each member of the body of Christ manifests a different aspect of God’s image (Genesis 1:26–27; James 3:9; Ephesians 4:24).
Together, believers form a perfect blend of harmony and diversity.
The many features, forms, and colors of fellowship in the church reflect the manifold wisdom of God.
For the earliest Christians, and particularly the Jews, the up-to-that-time secret mystery of the church was truly a mind-blowing revelation. Even “the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” were learning about it for the first time. To the Romans, Paul declared, “Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!” (Romans 11:33, NLT).
Paul referred to the church as “the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people. To them, God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26–27).
God’s mystery is Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Jesus possesses the manifold wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24, 30) and reveals it to the world through His body, the church. We have Christ in us—the hope of glory. It still astonishes and overwhelms that God has chosen to package the treasure of His manifold wisdom in fragile, human “jars of clay” (2 Corinthians 4:7–11).
The Bible reveals the manifold wisdom of God as
unsearchable, deep, and beyond measure
(Isaiah 40:28; Psalm 92:5; 147:5).
James describes it as “wisdom from above,” which is “first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere” (James 3:17, NLT). On the other hand, human wisdom has no merit of its own (1 Corinthians 1:19–21; Isaiah 29:14).
Nevertheless, God gives His wisdom to humans as a gift
(Proverbs 2:6; 1 Corinthians 2:6–16; James 1:5), and His followers are to continue praying and asking Him for spiritual wisdom (Colossians 1:9).
As believers, we can picture the manifold wisdom of God as a global, body of Christ-shaped tapestry.
Our individual lives are the various colored threads woven together in unity of purpose—to display God’s manifold wisdom through the church.
We do this by taking the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ to all the people of the world.
Prophetic statements sometimes apply to more than one fulfillment, a principle we could call "duality."
A prime example of duality is Christ's
first coming to atone for our sins and His
second coming to rule as King of Kings.
Such dual themes are common in Bible prophecy.
Jesus specifically alluded to the dual application of some prophecies in Matthew 17:11-12. Asked about the prophecy of "Elijah," who would precede the coming of the Messiah (Malachi 4:5), Jesus responded: "Indeed, Elijah is coming first and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already …" (Matthew 17:11-12).
The disciples understood that the "Elijah" who had come already was John the Baptist (verse 13). Jesus Himself explained that John, already dead when
Christ uttered these words,
was a first fulfillment of Malachi's prophecy.
But Christ's clear implication is that another Elijah will precede His second coming, announcing His return just as John the Baptist preceded Christ's first coming. John no longer could do anything in the future. But as a forerunner, John had fulfilled, at least in part, Malachi's prophecy.
Another prophecy with dual application is Jesus' Olivet prophecy (Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21), so named because He gave it on the Mount of Olives or Mount Olivet, overlooking Jerusalem. Many conditions described in this prophecy existed in the days leading up to the Romans' siege and destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
But Christ makes it clear that
similar conditions would prevail
shortly before His return.
Another example of dual fulfillment is in references to the "Day of the Lord" such as in Isaiah 13:6: "Wail, for the day of the Lord is at hand! It will come as destruction from the Almighty."
Verse 1 of that chapter identifies the time setting as when the
Babylonian Empire threatened the kingdom of Judah
(Babylon invaded Judah and captured Jerusalem in 586 B.C.), and it is in this setting that Isaiah wrote that
"the day of the LORD is at hand!"
However, he again mentioned the Day of the LORD in Isaiah 13:9: "Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it." His subsequent inspired words, though, show that he is writing about the time of the end:
"For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine.
"I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; I will halt the arrogance of the proud, and will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.
I will make a mortal more rare than fine gold,
a man more than the golden wedge of Ophir.
Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth will move out of her place, in the wrath of the Lord of hosts and in the day of His fierce anger" (Isaiah 13:10-13).
We must carefully examine the context of prophecies to understand their meaning and discern whether the prophecy seems incomplete after its first fulfillment. It is equally important to avoid reading duality into passages that do not support such interpretation.
We should take great care to properly discern whether duality is a factor in any particular prophecy. Often we may recognize a prophecy's fulfillment only after it is well under way or already has taken place.
What are parables?
Parables were short, relevant stories that Jesus told to
communicate spiritual truths.
Jesus used "well-known" aspects of first-century life to
help illustrate and communicate the message of the kingdom.
The parables showcase the wisdom of Jesus as the master teacher. But the parables served a unique function in Jesus’ ministry in polarizing the crowds between those who hear him and those who truly understand him. It is to that function of the parables I want to look at together today as we begin this series.
Jesus teaches this parable of the sower in verses 1–8 and then explains this parable to his disciples in verses 18–23. Between its teaching and explanation, Jesus speaks to the purpose of his teaching parables.
In many ways, the parable of the sower is a
parable about the parables.
Thus, it makes it a fitting place to start as we begin this series on the parables.
Traditionally called “The Parable of the Sower,” the sower really isn’t the main point of the parable. I think a better name for it might be “The Parable of the Four Soils.”
The point of the parable explains the various "reactions" to the gospel.
We will see that the good seed of the gospel can fall upon various soils of the human heart.
In other words, the parable is trying to answer the question,
“Why do so many people respond so differently to the Gospel?”
In sum, the secrets of the kingdom can only be understood by God’s gracious aid.
We will first consider the purpose of the parables, focusing on verses 10–17, before then explaining and applying the parable of the four soils.
The Purpose of the Parables (Matthew 13:10–17)
Jesus tells the parable to the crowd. A sower goes out to sow. Some seed fell on the path; birds ate it. Some seed fell on rocky ground; the sun scorched it. Some seed fell among the thorns; the thorns choked it. Some seed fell on good soil and produced fruit. Then Jesus wraps up the parable with,
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Amazingly, Jesus doesn’t seek to explain the parable to the crowd or interpret it for them.
That’s not the way the parable works. Parables forced the hearer to think about the message, wrestle with its meaning, and thus examine their own hearts.
Jesus intends the parable to force people to
contemplate and respond to his teaching.
Parables were culturally relevant illustrations that functioned like a "puzzle box" enclosing the nature and purpose of
the kingdom of heaven.
Yet, only those who have ears to hear the truth can hear it.
As Jesus taught by the sea, all audibly heard the teaching of the parable; not all will comprehend its message.
This leads to verses 10-17 of the passage, in which Jesus explains the purpose of the parables. While Jesus taught the parable to the crowd, he explains his purpose in the parables to his disciples. He pulls them in and discloses to them the secret of the kingdom. The word “secret” comes from the Greek word mysterion. The word is used similarly by Paul when he talks in Ephesians of how God made known
“the mystery of his will, according to his purpose,
which he set forth in Christ” (Eph. 1:9).
The secrets of the kingdom refer to the hidden purposes of God’s
kingdom that must be spiritually understood.
The secret isn’t obscure, possessed only by a few entrusted folks. Rather, the kingdom of God is proclaimed publicly through Jesus’ teaching in parables. Yet, few understand the nature of Christ’s kingdom.
They see but do not perceive. They hear but do not understand.
In Matthew 13:12-13, Jesus speaks of the
polarizing reaction to his teaching in parables.
Those who wrestle, engage, and ponder
over Jesus’ teaching will discover
More understanding will be given.
They will know the secrets of the kingdom.
Yet, for the one who ignores, discards, and casts aside Jesus’ teaching will have what little truth received taken away. He says, “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.” (Matthew 13:12, ESV)
Jesus taught in parables because the parables create and expose these spiritual realities—the parables
spiritually harden or spiritually enlighten.
Look at verse 13, “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.”
Jesus roots his teaching in Isaiah 6 and quotes this
prophecy in verses 14 and 15.
In many ways, Jesus intends the parables to polarize the crowd.
He’s separating the wheat from the chaff. He is separating true spiritual seekers of Christ’s kingdom from phony impostors. Notice what Jesus says in verse 11, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” You see, understanding of Christ’s kingdom must be given. Some receive this understanding, and others do not.
We must pause here for a moment and consider
how do we gain spiritual truth?
How does anyone understand the kingdom of God?
How can anyone believe in the gospel? Jesus points to God’s sovereignty as the reason any one of us understands the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.
As he explains to the disciples, they see and hear, not because of their brilliance but because they are blessed.
Blessed by who? Blessed by God.
He tells them in verses 16–17,
“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.”
Just as Jesus will say a few chapters on in Matthew, in Matthew 16:17,
when Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ,
the Lord responds, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah!
For flesh and blood has -not revealed- this to you,
but my Father who is in heaven.”
It is God who reveals to anyone the secrets of the kingdom.
We can’t comprehend the identity of Jesus without God’s help and aid.
Our sin causes such blindness and such deafness to the truth that it requires the supernatural aid of God to regenerate our hearts and enable us to behold the glory and salvation of Christ.
Just as Paul taught the Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
So, the parables then identify those who are supernaturally enabled to understand the teaching of Christ and behold the glory of Christ.
Yet, there is a lesson as well here in terms of
how the Spirit works in bringing us into
the knowledge of the secrets of Christ’s kingdom.
The parables provoke spiritual interest and spur the
pursuit of more understanding to meaning.
It says in verse 12, “For the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance.”
There is a lesson for those of us who know the
Spirit of God as our teacher.
Our ability to understand spiritual truth is spiritually given.
But once we have the Holy Spirit, knowing the truth is like a muscle.
If you train and exercise your muscles, they will grow stronger, and you will be able to lift a heavier and heavier weight.
However, if you don’t use it, it atrophies. It gets weak and shrivels away.
Similarly, if we understand the truth that’s been revealed, we will have a greater ability to comprehend more truth.
The disciples, who have already latched on to Jesus’ teaching, have demonstrated that they are true hearers, and Jesus gives them greater insight into his message and kingdom.
Truth gives way to greater truth.
The more truth we respond too, the more truth we can understand.
Those who reject the truth, cannot understand Jesus’ parables.
There is also a warning here if you are not a Christian. It is vital that you respond to the truth of God. When we fail to respond to the truth of the gospel, whether it is from a friend or from a sermon, our hearts begin to harden against the truth. Though we hear it, we do truly hear it in our hearts. Before long, truth ricochets off of us, and the result is hard-hearted resistance.
The Parable of the Four Soils (Matthew 13:1–9; 18–23)
In many ways, Jesus gives us a detailed interpretation of this parable because it’s so essential in understanding all the other parables. It is the key to understanding all the parables. This is the parable about parables.
Now before we get into the specifics of the parable, we must note that in first-century Palestine, plowing came after sowing. So as the sower scatters his seed, he is not being careless as he’s throwing the seed, thus accidentally throwing some on the path.
The purpose of the parable isn’t to urge us to be discriminatory in sharing the gospel, “Well that guy looks to be like the soil on the path, so I’m not going to share Jesus with him.” Or, “Oh well she looks like the superficial seed on the rocky ground, best not share the Gospel with her!”
No, that’s not the point of the parable.
If anything, the parable encourages us to be as widespread as possible with the sowing, but the parable helps give us a framework for understanding the various responses that come after the sowing.
The sower sows the good seed of the Word upon the various soils.
This good word is the gospel itself, of how Jesus has come to die on the cross to save us from our sins.
It’s the message of his kingdom.
Jesus came to fulfill the demands of God’s Law,
and as the messiah,
he will lay down his life for sinners so that anyone who would repent and believe in Christ would not perish but have everlasting life.
The seed sown is the message of the gospel, the
announcement of the kingship of Christ,
the heralding of the way of salvation through God’s Son.
The gospel is a good seed, a good word!
It is news—the best of news!
However, not everyone receives the gospel with joy.
As the seed is sown, the four soils
represent different types of human hearts.
The parable asks us both to examine our own hearts
while at the same time giving God’s church a
framework for understanding
the variety of reactions to our evangelism.
So as we walk through Jesus’ interpretation of this parable, the question that should be in our minds is this: what type of soil is my heart?
Keep that question in the back of your mind as we discuss these four types of soils.
1. The Unreceptive Path: The Hard Heart
As the sower sows the seed, some of it falls upon the path. The seed has no time to grow on the hard, compacted soil and a bird quickly snatches it up. Our hearts can become so hard that the gospel bounces off of our hearts, and Satan quickly snatches it away. The image of the path brings to mind the idea of travel, commerce, and busyness. There is so much traffic and activity upon the heart that the word of God cannot take root in their heart. They hear the gospel, but they have no understanding. This person keeps themselves so busy with activity that they do not have time to contemplate spiritual things. They run to and fro at a frantic pace. When they do slow down, they keep their minds busy by the bombardment of media, news, and entertainment options available. No room, no time, no opportunity exists for the gospel to take root. If they hear the gospel, their heart is so trampled down by frantic activity they have no time to consider it. The evil one snatches it away with speed.
This is a frightening reality because you can hear the gospel so frequently taught and preached and yet not understand it. A hard-heartedness can easily seep into active churchgoers. You get into the habit of going to church because that is how your mom raised you, or you want to look moral and important somehow. You sit week after week under the teaching of the gospel, and your heart is so hard that the word just bounces off of you. You leave unchanged, unmoved, and unresponsive to the word of God.
If you are unresponsive to the gospel, then your heart may have been hardened against the gospel. And I pray that somehow God would get your attention before it is too late. Often, what this type of heart needs is a good plowing up to soften up the soil. Your heart needs good breaking with the cutting of the plow. It is a mercy for God to bring tragedy and suffering into your life in order to soften your heart and unclog your ears. With a heart tiled by suffering and softened by pain, you are ready to truly hear the gospel message.
2. The Superficial Gravel: The Shallow Heart
The seed was also sown upon rocky ground. The terrain of Palestine is a rocky one. Much of the land is covered with 2-3 inches of soil over limestone bedrock. As a result, seeds scattered in such areas would begin to take root, but the roots couldn’t grow deep into the soil. When the heat of the sun beamed down upon the young plant, it dried out and died. The shallow roots couldn’t take the heat.
Such hearts hear the gospel and initially find great joy in it. Filled with zeal, they become quite impassioned about Jesus, but as soon as tragedy or persecution hits, they abandon Jesus. More often than not, these people become the greatest antagonist against Christianity. When they hear about Jesus, they superficially attach themselves to the church, but their excitement does not last. It withers once life becomes difficult and dies out.
Here we must caution against the dangers of emotionalism. Experiencing great feelings doesn’t necessarily mean that you know Christ. It’s common for people to chase experiences—whether it’s a conference, a youth camp, or a worship service. You can chase an experience all you want, but you might not have necessarily gained Christ. Such experience chasers are often like this soil. It’s all frothy emotions and crocodile tears, but there are no roots. They never develop a deep faith and trust in Jesus. Thus, as soon as the heat of the sun bears down upon them, they reveal themselves as the imposters they truly are. As soon as life gets hard, persecution occurs, or suffering strikes, they go from praising Jesus to blaming Jesus. For the true Christian, deeply rooted in the gospel, the heat of the sun strengthens us grow by forcing our roots to go deeper. Sufferings and trials grow and mature the Christian, yet for those who have only superficially attached themselves to Jesus, the heat shrivels them up.
Emotions are by no means a bad thing for the Christian. Indeed, we should have great feelings and love for Jesus, but true faith in Jesus is a deep trust and confidence in God’s Word that goes beyond how we feel in any given moment. Only the true Christian can praise Jesus through sorrow and cling to Christ in tragedy.
3. The Worldly Weeds: The Divided Heart
The third type of soil is that of the worldly weeds. This is the divided heart. It’s the type of heart that refuses repentance. It’s a divided heart because it attempts to add a love of Jesus along with love for the world. But, no matter how hard you may try, you cannot sustain split loves like that. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.” Or, as James puts it, “Friendship with the world is hatred towards God” (Jam. 4:4). Or, as John puts it, “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 1:15).
You see, true faith, saving faith is a complete and total devotion to Jesus. Those who have divided allegiance to Jesus end up rejecting Jesus in the end. It’s not as if they were Christians and then they lost their salvation. They were never Christian at all. They never truly repented of their former way of life. The roots of the world lie beneath the surface of their hearts. As the good seed of the gospel comes to them, it begins to grow, but the thorns and thistles of the world quickly choke out the seed.
For each of these three soils so far, we must state firmly that none of them were truly Christian, though they may initially seem to be Christian. The first soil obviously rejects the seed, and Satan swallows it up. The second soil, the shallow heart, never truly becomes a Christian as the seed of the gospel doesn’t last. The third soil, the divided heart, also never truly becomes a Christian, as the gospel is choked out. Though to us looking at the outside, there may be initial signs of spiritual life; it doesn’t last. Time reveals their so-called faith as phony. The roots are too shallow to endure hardship or worldly desires choke out the gospel plant.
These three soils help us understand the various responses to the Gospel message.
However, there is a fourth soil Jesus gives us.
4. The Good Soil: The Fruitful Heart
This fourth soil is the good soil of the fruitful heart.
The message of the gospel comes into their life
and begins to
take root and grow.
Their heart is ready, supernaturally prepared,
for accepting the Gospel seed.
The soil is soft, ready to receive the word, not hardened like the path.
The soil is deep, ready to put down roots deeply,
not like rocky like the gravel.
The soil is pure, not contaminated by worldly weeds
that choke out the gospel from their hearts.
The Holy Spirit had gone before
and prepared the heart in regeneration
for true faith in Christ to take root.
Jesus tells us that this soil represents the
one who hears, accepts, and bears fruits.
This person hears the gospel and accepts it as true.
They hear of what Jesus has done for them, how he is the son of God who came down from heaven, became flesh, and dwelt among us. They hear of his death for the sins of humanity.
They hear of his victorious resurrection, conquering sin and death.
They hear it and accept it—they truly believe in him,
that Christ is the king!
It is only by the power of God that any of us can truly hear this gospel!
So the message of the gospel is received, but what is the evidence of authentic hearing of the gospel? Well, Jesus is pretty clear: it is a life lived in fruitfulness. The seed of the gospel produces fruit thirty, sixty, or a hundredfold!
What sort of fruit does this look like in the Christian life? Well, it means the fruit of the Spirit is evident in your life, and not just evident by continually increasing.
Paul tells us: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:22–24, ESV)
Fruit in the Christian life is also displayed through evangelism.
A tree produces fruit for reproduction.
In the same way, we,
through our witness,
must proclaim the gospel to others.
We speak of what Christ has done for us and invite others to put their faith in Jesus!
The mark of the true Christian is Spirit-empowered, persevering fruitfulness.
The four soils indicate four types of hearing, with only one soil representing the true hearing and acceptance of the Gospel message. Examine yourself and ask which type of soil reflects my heart?
I pray that today the Spirit would show you the depths of your heart and help you to truly hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ this morning. He has come to deliver you from your sin and save your soul. Through this sermon (and every sermon), I’m throwing out the seed of the gospel. If you’ve been coming to Redemption a while and hearing the gospel, I pray that the Lord has brought great fruit into your life as you accepted and received Christ. As you believe the truth, may the Lord give you greater understanding and enjoyment of Christ. May truth beget an increasing knowledge of the truth in your life, manifested by the fruitfulness that comes from Christian maturity!
However, if you’ve been coming here a while and there is no fruit in your life, the problem isn’t with the good seed of the gospel but your heart. Receive Christ. Grow deep roots into Christ. Uproot the worldly weeds that choke out Christ from your life. For some of you, you may have never truly, authentically heard the gospel. The message has hit your ears but never your heart. I pray today you would respond for the first time in saving faith. May the Lord give you to know of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. May he bless your eyes, for they see. May he bless your ears, for they hear. He who has ears, let him hear.
Why did Jesus often tell those he healed to remain silent?
It is interesting that on a number of occasions after Jesus performed a mighty deed, he commanded those who benefited to not tell anyone.
This is especially the case in Mark’s gospel.
Why did Jesus do this?
The messianic secret is a feature of the Gospel.
Another major part of the answer to my initial question has to do with the nature of miracles and their main purpose.
It seems they were mostly about confirming the man and his message. They were not ends in themselves.
They pointed to the nature of salvation and the long-awaited messiah.
The connection between miracles and salvation can be seen in many places. For example, the story of the healing of the paralytic in Matthew. 9:1-8
shows the inseparable link between forgiveness of sins and the man’s healing.
“Although Jesus’ miracles teach about his power to heal physically, these signs are especially meant to turn attention to the kingdom of God (6:33; 9:12). Similarly, in the Book of Acts signs and wonders constitute the primary method of drawing attention to the claims of the gospel, but it is the gospel itself that is paramount (e.g., Acts 14:3).”
The same can be said about Mark’s gospel.
Miracles are primarily pointers, and they point to a person.
As James Edwards comments: “For Mark the significance of Jesus cannot be fully conveyed by what he does, but only by who he is.
One can be amazed by a miracle, but one can only trust and believe a person.”
Moreover, Jesus did not want to be sidetracked from the main purpose of the incarnation: the cross. Jewish expectations at the time of what the messiah would be like were quite different from his.
They were looking for a military conqueror,
a political liberator.
Although this was a proper expectation based on much Old Testament teaching, it was not the whole package.
That the coming messiah should
first suffer, then rule,
was not part of most Jewish expectations.
But the idea of a suffering messiah was there nonetheless (as in the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 52:13-53:12). What the Jews were eagerly looking forward to from the day of the Lord was God’s vindication: God’s salvation of his people and judgement on their enemies.
The coming messiah was looked on as a great deliverer or judge, in the tradition of Moses, Samson or Gideon.
Jesus knew these skewed expectations would become an obstacle to his appointed task of his substitutionary death.
He could not allow those who wanted to make him a political revolutionary to deter him from his true mission.
Thus he had to urge quiet, so that he might follow his father’s will, not the misguided will of the crowd.
Here's an interesting thought experiment -- if you knew you had a finite amount of time to teach people everything they needed to know about abundant life now and eternal life to come ... how would you do it? If we're honest, I'll bet most of us would choose as straightforward a method as possible. Maybe contract law, or exhaustive doctrine? Among several kinds of teaching, one of Jesus' favorites was story.
Moreover, his stories were sometimes strange or enigmatic,
and he did not always try to explain them.
What was he up to?
Jesus knew that human beings are "story-formed people." We perceive and process our lives in the form of characters, plot, conflict, and resolution.
So he used stories as a primary way of engaging our imaginations and inviting us to explore the deep truths he wanted us to know.
One such story is the parable of the vineyard, in Matthew 20:1-16.
(Click the scripture reference to read it online!)
When reading parables, remember the principles we've outlined so far in this series,
"Lost in Translation."
Be aware of your own cultural lens;
give priority to the historical context in which it was written;
beware of creative normative commands from narratives meant to illustrate truth.
In this parable, the vineyard would conjure in the first-century Jewish mind the important metaphor of the vineyard for God's people (see Isaiah 5:7). This isn't a story about how to do business, or about a free capitalist market, or about employing day laborers.
It's a story about God's people...especially who's in and who's out.
Jesus often designed his parables to begin with a setup, then offer an unexpected ending.
It was a skillful way of exposing us, especially when we have hard hearts.
This parable is a classic reversal of expectations: not only does the landowner pay the last workers first, he pays them a full day's wage!
So what is Jesus trying to get across, if it's not about fair wages or being a generous employer? Parables aren't allegories (stories in which every element symbolizes something else -- think Orwell's "Animal Farm"). So we can't pick them apart piece by piece -- if we pull the petals off a rose, we'll lose the beauty of the whole!
Instead, the parables are illustrating truth about "the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus even starts this parable that way!
In this case, Jesus is challenging people who feel that they somehow deserve privilege in God's kingdom.
These might be people who have lived faithfully, tithed generously, even made personal sacrifices for God's glory. In these cases, it can be all too easy to mistakenly believe we "deserve" something from God, or that there are degrees of belonging in God's kingdom.
But the simple fact is that everything we have is the result of God's grace -- a gift from our generous Landowner.
Philip Yancey brilliantly put it this way: "God give gifts, not wages."
When we accept the fact that we are recipients of God's grace
rather than earners of God's favor,
we will discover the kind of gratitude
that permeates the hearts of
so many people we read about in
the Gospels and Acts.
And oh, how we need this gratitude today!
How we live in a cultural grace-drought!
The Church has been called and equipped with the Holy Spirit to lead the way within our divisive, petty and backbiting culture to let God's rivers of living water flow through us into this dry and thirsty land.
But it starts with remembering that
we are all latecomers to the vineyard.
We are all recipients of God's scandalous grace.
We are all given more than we deserve
from the One who wants us to have abundant lives.
1) Which characters do you primarily relate to in this parable?
2) Do you feel like a "latecomer" to God's kingdom? How does it make you feel to consider that you are a latecomer, rather than one of the faithful all-day laborers?
3) Do you know anyone that you would find difficult sharing an equal share of the Church? (If you don't think of anyone, consider people who have wronged you, or wronged someone else. Think of people who do things you don't approve of. This is how many 1st century Jews thought of Gentiles and others they considered "unclean.")
4) What can you do to change your attitude toward the person(s) you thought of in #3? How can you bring all of this to God honestly in prayer?
Therefore I tell you, do not worry
about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky:
They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are? And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?
Why do you worry about clothing?
Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin.
Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?
So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’
For the unconverted pursue these things,
and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.
But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness,
and all these things will be given to you as well.
So then, do not worry about tomorrow,
for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Today has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:25-34 (NET)
How can we overcome worry and fear?
It has been said that the most repeated phrase in Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.” Some variation of it is mentioned over 350 times. God said it to Gideon when calling him to lead Israel (Judges 6:23). God said it to Jeremiah when calling him to be a prophet to the nations (Jer 1:8). Christ said it to the women at his resurrection (Matt 28:10). Philippians 4:6
says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”
When Adam sinned in the garden, a new word entered his vocabulary. He said, “I was ‘afraid.’” Now man continually lives with fear—fear of failure, fear of success, fear of death.
Fear became the norm because there was an absence of love.
John says, “perfect love drives out fear”
(1 John 4:18).
People’s relationships with God and others are fractured.
Therefore, people are constantly plagued by fears, which often inhibit their ability to love and receive love.
Here in Matthew 6:25-34, Christ commands his disciples to not worry about their needs—what they will eat, drink, or wear. Previously, in Matthew 6:19-24, Christ taught the disciples to not store up treasures on earth. Believers should not store up wealth like the rest of the world, but they also should not be consumed with worry about their needs, as God will provide for them.
Some might say, “Aren’t some forms of worry healthy?” Certainly, we should be concerned. Concern helps us to be diligent and prudent. In 2 Corinthians 11:28, Paul says, “Apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxious concern for all the churches.”
He had a constant concern over the welfare of the churches.
We should be concerned about our spiritual lives and that of others, and many other things.
But we should not worry.
Worry negatively affects us and is rooted in our lack of trust in God.
In this passage, Christ said the disciples had “little faith” (v. 30).
They had faith to believe God for eternal salvation
but not for his daily provision.
Worry is sin because it denies the wisdom of God;
it says that He doesn’t know what He’s doing.
It denies the love of God; it says He does not care.
And it denies the power of God;
it says that He isn’t able to deliver me
from whatever is causing me to worry.
In this study, we will consider how to overcome worry.
What principles does Christ give about overcoming worry in
To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on Eternal Matters Instead of Temporary Ones
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?
Therefore” points back to verses 19-24, where Christ calls the disciples to store up treasures in heaven instead of on the earth. Then he describes how wealth can spiritually blind and master us. Essentially, Christ calls believers to focus on eternal matters—like riches in heaven—instead of focusing on temporary matters like wealth or our basic needs. In verse 25, he says, “Isn’t there more to life than food and more to the body than clothing?”
When believers live only for food, clothes, etc., they debase themselves to being like animals. Life becomes all about serving our physical body. Really that is what most advertising is about:
“Eat this!” Wear this! Watch this!”
It is all about making the body attractive, pleasant smelling, comfortable, and entertained.
Christ later says the pagans worry about these things (v. 32).
Their primary concerns are temporal matters—not eternal ones--
and they live in a constant rat race to fulfill those desires.
However, believers are citizens, not only of this earth, but of heaven. Therefore, we must be primarily concerned about the affairs of heaven, even as we abide on the earth. Christ emphasizes this in Matthew 6:33 when he says seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
To overcome worry, we must focus on eternal matters—like becoming holy, seeing others saved, growing, and building God’s kingdom. Colossians 3:1-4 says:
Therefore, if you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Keep thinking about things above, not things on the earth, for you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ (who is your life) appears, then you too will be revealed in glory with him.
Often the way you conquer a passion is by focusing on a greater passion. To focus on earthly matters like riches and basic needs will always breed worry and anxiety.
Focusing on eternal matters delivers us from those worries and brings God’s peace.
Application Question: What is the difference between concern and worry? What are the things that you commonly worry about? How is God calling you to focus more on eternal matters?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on Our Father’s Providential Care
Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you more valuable than they are?... Why do you worry about clothing? Think about how the flowers of the field grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, won’t he clothe you even more, you people of little faith?
Matthew 6:26, 28-30
Next, Christ gives three examples of God’s providential care in order to encourage believers to not worry but to instead trust God. He says look at the “birds in the sky,” how God feeds them (v. 26). Look at the “flowers of the field,” how they grow. Their clothes are better than that of Solomon (v 28-29).
We can discern this with the naked eye as we consider their rich colors and designs; however, if one looked through a microscope, the rich complexity of color and texture would be even more apparent.
God also provides for the grass, even though its lifespan is short (v. 30). When Christ says the grass is thrown into the fire “to heat the oven,” he probably refers to how the ancients would grab nearby grass and flowers and use them for fuel to further heat up their clay ovens.2
Interestingly, Christ talks about how God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers and grass and yet we know these happen by “natural” processes. This reflects the doctrine of God’s providence.
This means God is not like a watchmaker who creates a watch, with the mechanisms inside, and simply allows it to run all on its own—apart from the makers intervention.
God is intricately involved in every aspect of his creation.
Scripture says Christ sustains all things by his word (Heb 1:3).
Everything is totally dependent upon God. He gives man life, breath, and everything else (Acts 17:25).
Even our moment by moment breaths
cannot happen apart from God’s grace.
Therefore, though birds gather their food, God is involved in their hunt for it. God is involved in the intricate processes of flowers blooming and grass gaining its color. Nothing happens apart from God in this world. It all happens in such a way that one could say, “God did it”
(Job 1:21, Amos 3:6, Isaiah 45:6).
The action of the birds to feed themselves reminds us that we are still responsible to work in order to provide for ourselves and others.
Paul said that a person that doesn’t work shouldn’t eat (2 Thess 3:10). Christ’s command to not worry should not create laziness or complacency in us. We should work, and work hard, as unto the Lord (Col 3:23).
However, Christ’s teaching should create trust,
as we understand God’s sovereign care for us.
Certainly, this is one of the reasons we often
struggle with fear.
We think God has left us, and we have to survive on our own.
We may not actually think that most times, but our thoughts and actions imply that, when we live and act out of fear and worry.
If we are going to overcome worry,
we must focus on God’s providential care for us.
How do you reconcile God’s providence with the actions of created beings? Does this comfort you?
Why or why not?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Recognize Our Great Value to God
Look at the birds in the sky: They do not sow, or reap, or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Aren’t you more valuable than they are?
In what ways are humans (and specifically believers) more valuable than other parts of creation?
It must be noticed that Christ doesn’t say the “bird’s Father.” He says the disciples’ Father feeds them. Christ then says, “
Aren’t you more valuable than they are?”
Birds are not made in the image of God, nor being recreated in his image (2 Cor 3:18). They are not sons and daughters of God—co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17). God made man his chief in creation. In the recreation, which happens at the new birth, he makes us one with Christ and indwells us. We are certainly more valuable than birds, flowers, and grass. How much more will God make sure that we have all our needs? He doesn’t promise us our wants. Sometimes we worry because we lack our wants. God promises to provide our needs (Phil 4:19).
Therefore, a great amount of our worry happens
because we don’t understand our immense value to God.
Romans 8:31-32 says,
What then shall we say about these things?
If God is for us, who can be against us?
Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?
If God gave his best for us—his Son--
how will he not also provide everything else we need?
We are of supreme value.
God gave it all for us.
How can we grow in understanding our value?
1. We must constantly study Scripture to know our value.
We must learn everything that God says about us and everything that he promises to us. We must internalize these truths. The more we do this, the more we’ll overcome worry. Constantly studying God’s Word is especially important because the world always tells us something different:
We are an accident of evolution with no purpose.
We need degrees, position, money, and beauty to have value.
But, God says, “You are my everything—the apple of my eye! I gave it all for you.” We must constantly hear and accept his voice to overcome worry.
2. We must constantly pray to understand our value.In Ephesians 1:18 (NIV), Paul prays, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” He petitions for the Ephesians to know [experientially] the riches of God’s inheritance in his people. He doesn’t pray for them to know their inheritance in God, but believers as God’s inheritance. To God we are his reward—we are his joy and passion. We are special to him. Since Paul prays for the Ephesians to know this, it means that they didn’t know it as they should, and prayer was a means to grow in this knowledge. Therefore, we must constantly pray to know it as well.
Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (ESV). Our God enjoys us so much he sings over us and wants to quiet our fears with his love. We must continue to grow in understanding this reality to overcome our fear. No doubt, this is the reason that Satan constantly attacks God’s character. He wanted Eve and Job to think God was untrustworthy and evil and, therefore, curse God to his face. If Satan can get us to doubt God’s character and our value to him, he can consume us with doubt, suspicion, fear, and depression—all to our own detriment. Do you know your great value to God? You’re his beloved child.
What are some of the lies the world system teaches believers
(and people in general)
about our identity?
How have these lies/societal expectations affected you negatively?
In what ways has God been revealing to you
your supreme value to him?
How has this affected you?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Recognize How Unproductive It Is_ And which of you by worrying can add even one hour to his life?
Christ says worry will not make us live longer. In fact, it might help us die early. MacArthur shares:
You can worry yourself to death, but not to life. Dr. Charles Mayo, of the famous Mayo Clinic, wrote, “Worry affects the circulation, the heart, the glands and the whole nervous system. I have never met a man or known a man to die of overwork, but I have known a lot who died of worry.”3
Worry does not benefit us physically, mentally, or spiritually. Proverbs says anxiety in the heart of a man brings depression (Prov 12:25). Typically, we start to worry about something, and it affects our entire mood (and often that of others). Next, we find ourselves down and discouraged. Worry also negatively affects us spiritually. In Matthew 13:22 (NIV), in the Parable of the Sowers, Christ describes the seed sown upon thorny ground as “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” When we are constantly worrying, it hinders our ability to receive God’s Word and apply it to our lives. No doubt, there are many in the church who listen to their favorite pastor’s podcasts every week, read all the new latest Christian books, and yet their labor profits them nothing. Worry stunts their spiritual growth.
This makes perfect sense. If the Bible is God’s words for us, as it contains his teachings about our value to him, his providence over our lives, and promises to us, and yet we still live in worry, then essentially, we are calling God a liar. How can God’s Word profit us if we don’t believe him? How can anybody’s words profit us if we don’t trust what they are saying. If every word is received with suspicion, then we won’t make plans based on what they are saying. In the same way, to worry is to say that God and his Word are untrustworthy, and therefore, Scripture will not profit us.
It should be noted that “life” can also be translated “height” or “stature” (c.f. Zacchaeus was little in stature, Lk 19:3).4 Since the word for “hour” is a unit of measurement, some versions translate this, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (as in the KJV). Worrying won’t increase your life or your height. It is illogical, unproductive, and harmful!
In what ways have you experienced the harm of worry--
physically, mentally, and spiritually?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Pursue God’s Promises:
So then, don’t worry saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the unconverted pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Some have counted over 3,000 promises in Scripture,
and Matthew 6:33 is one of the greatest.
Christ promises the disciples that if they made God’s kingdom and his righteousness their chief priority, all their needs would be met.
The word “pursue” is a present imperative meaning that this must be one’s unceasing quest, not an occasional endeavor.5 When God’s kingdom and righteousness are our priority, God meets our needs, which ultimately delivers us from fear and worry.
What does God’s kingdom and righteousness refer to?
There is considerable overlap with both of these concepts, so we shouldn’t be too dogmatic about the specifics. With that said, the kingdom is the place of God’s reign.
Therefore, every time a person comes to know Christ--
they become part of the kingdom.
Christians must make evangelism their primary endeavor
whether at work, church, home, or abroad. They must constantly pray for people to know Christ and take advantage of opportunities to witness and invite others to church. They must make their life attractive by being righteous and not living a compromised life, which just pushes people away from God. When Christians live like the world, the world doesn’t understand why they need to follow Christ.
Seeking first God’s righteousness also includes the conquering of sin in our lives and replacing it with righteous acts and attitudes.
We must pursue the fruits of the Spirit--
love, joy, peace, longsuffering, mercy, etc.
We must pursue righteousness by serving and discipling other believers.
But it also includes social justice—pursuing God’s righteousness outside the walls of the church.
Believers should feed the poor, fight for the rights of the unborn, the trafficked, and neglected.
Believers must pursue righteous ethics in education, government, and our communities.
As this happens, others are drawn into the kingdom.
When we pursue God’s kingdom and his righteousness,
God meets our needs,
which implies the opposite of this promise is also true.
When we don’t pursue his kingdom, but instead neglect God and enjoy the world and sin, we will often lack.
As in the Parable of the Prodigal Son,
God often allows his wayward children to go away from him, enjoy sin, and reap the consequences of it. He allows them to experience lack
until they come to their senses and return home (Lk 15).
With Israel in the Old Testament,
when they neglected tithing, practicing the Sabbath, caring for the poor, etc.,
God allowed famine and other calamities to
turn them back to their priority—God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
does that happen to us individually, corporately as a church,
and nationally as a nation?
This is part of the reason we must pursue God’s kingdom.
As believers are consumed with the greatest concerns, God blesses them—delivering them from lesser worries.
With that said, there are many other promises given in Scripture that help us overcome worry.
What are some other promises that help us overcome worry?
Philippians 4:6-7 says,
Do not be anxious about anything.
Instead, in every situation,
through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, tell your requests to God.
And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
If we pray in every situation, if we bring our petitions (requests) before God in every situation, and if we give thanks in every situation,
God will give us his peace.
Worry often overwhelms us because we are not people of prayer--
people who constantly pray in every situation.
We pray only when things are bad and not when they are good.
Or we pray when things are good and get mad at God when they are bad. Or we don’t pray at all.
This type of person will lack peace. Sometimes we lack peace because we fail to bring our petitions before the Lord.
We don’t ask for peace; we don’t ask for reconciliation in a difficult relationship.
In addition, we don’t give thanks in all things.
Instead we complain, worry, and get angry.
We can’t receive God’s promise of peace in those situations.
Another promise in Isaiah 26:3 says, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”
If we are going to have peace when life is bad,
we must make it our aim
to keep our minds on God.
Get rid of ungodly TV shows, ungodly magazine articles, ungodly music, and ungodly conversations. If we put nothing but God in our hearts and minds through worship, prayer, fellowship, and serving, we’ll find our worries dissipate.
Are you pursuing God’s promises?
This is how we
How have you seen yourself, your community, or your nation experience
lack because God’s kingdom and righteousness were not prioritized?
What types of social justice issues is
God calling you to get involved in and how?
How have you experienced God’s peace
when taking advantage of his promises?
To Overcome Worry, We Must Focus on God’s Grace for Today:
So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.
It must be noted that Christ says today will have “trouble.”
The fact that Christ calls us not to worry is not based on the fact that
believers are exempt from hardship.
We have no such promise.
In this world, we will have “trouble and suffering”
We live in a sin-filled world--
we will hurt people and they will hurt us.
Because of man’s sin,
God’s curse is on creation--
we experience earthquakes, flooding, drought, and other natural disasters.
The curse affects our work--
there is pain and toil in our daily labor, and it’s often unfruitful.
We get a failing grade on a paper, though
we worked our hardest to complete it.
Our work projects give us mental stress and at times
Through pain and toil,
we will provide for ourselves on this earth (Gen 3:17-18).
There will always be some trouble in the day,
and some days will have more than others.
However, amidst the troubles,
God promises to give us grace for the day.
Lamentations 3:22-23(NIV) says,
"Because of the Lord’s great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
As we wake up in the morning and seek his face, grace is distributed.
As Israel in the wilderness
only received enough bread for the day,
God often does the same with us.
He often gives grace for the step that we are on,
but not the next step--
only grace for the day.
Why does God only provide grace for the day and not for tomorrow or next year?
The reason is because God desires us to be dependent on him,
instead of independent of him.
If he provided grace for the week, we would neglect God till next week. If he provided grace for the year, we would neglect him until next year—all to our own detriment.
God will always provide grace for the day. It is when we bear the burden of the next day, it is too much for us. George Macdonald said: “No man ever sank under the burden of the day. It is when tomorrow’s burden is added to the burden of today, that the weight is more than a man can bear.”
Worrying does not enable you to escape evil. It makes you unfit to cope with it. The truth is, we always have the strength to bear the trouble when it comes. But we do not have the strength to bear worrying about it. If you add today’s troubles to tomorrow’s troubles, you give yourself an impossible burden.
So how should we overcome our worries?
Live in the day!
Take advantage of the grace God gives you to be faithful today.
You’ve got a trial in your family?
Do your best to love them today! Don’t worry about how you will love them tomorrow. You’ve got a difficult boss that you can’t stand?
Honor and serve him today!
Tomorrow God’s mercies are new.
Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Thank you, Lord! Amen!
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced God’s grace for today and not the next day?
How has God kept you dependent as you waited on his direction or provisions?
Why does he often only provide grace and mercy for the day and not the next?
How can we overcome worry?