“Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.
“Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved.
“Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away.
“The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
“But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.
“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:11–18)
It hardly seems fair what Jesus said, that the one who has will get even more, while the one who lacks will lose even the little he has. But Jesus was not talking about the redistribution of physical wealth. Instead, Jesus was talking about what happens when the message of God is taught. He was commenting on his parable of the sower and the scattered seeds: those who pay attention learn and those who don’t, don’t. Those who listened carefully to what God had to say would understand God even better, while those who didn’t pay attention to God’s words would lose even what limited understanding of spiritual matters they had.
Carefully paying attention to what God has to say brings ever greater understanding to people, while ignoring God leaves them in greater ignorance. Jesus was merely describing the reality of teaching human beings.
It’s one thing to not know; it’s another thing to “know” something that isn’t so. Then, in order to learn, we first have to unlearn something wrong. That’s the state the Pharisees were in: they were in a knowledge deficit. So what they thought they knew, even that was taken from them. The Pharisees and those like them were in a state akin to someone who has tried and failed to make a repair. When the repair person arrives, he has to undo our attempted fix before he can focus on the actual repair. We must pay attention to God’s words or we will remain ignorant or even worse than ignorant: misinformed.
When the messengers of John had departed, he began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written:
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’
For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. (Luke 7:24–30)
Jesus praised John the Baptist, but not while any of his disciples could hear him. Jesus waited until they had departed before he began teaching the crowd about how much John the Baptist meant to the world and how there was no prophet greater than John the Baptist.
But yet, having said all those wonderful things about the man, Jesus told those left listening to him that the “least” in God’s kingdom was “greater” than John the Baptist. How so? What did Jesus mean by that?
Jesus did not mean that John the Baptist was not a part of the kingdom of God. John had been preaching the same message about the coming kingdom, after all. Nor was Jesus denigrating the prophet after just having praised him. Jesus was not putting John down at all. Rather, Jesus meant that being a great prophet, even was as great as John, was nothing compared to being a member of God’s kingdom. Jesus wanted those listening to realize that the kingdom of God was greater than anything they could comprehend. John was the pinnacle of human achievement in this world, and yet the lowliest member of God’s kingdom is better, greater, more marvelous than him.
Jesus’ words suggest that we really don’t comprehend just how marvelous being a part of God’s kingdom is, or what it will be like for us in eternity.
“You don’t get wormy apples off a healthy tree, nor good apples off a diseased tree. The health of the apple tells the health of the tree. You must begin with your own life-giving lives. It’s who you are, not what you say and do, that counts. Your true being brims over into true words and deeds.”
“Why are you so polite with me, always saying ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘That’s right, sir,’ but never doing a thing I tell you? These words I speak to you are not mere additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.
“If you work the words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid the foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last. But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a dumb carpenter who built a house but skipped the foundation. When the swollen river came crashing in, it collapsed like a house of cards. It was a total loss.” (Luke 6:43–49)
Words do have power, but only as people act on them. We are saved by our faith. Some may wonder if that makes it “too easy.” If all we have to do is believe, then why should we bother to be good? But faith doesn’t just stay locked up in our skulls. Real faith is not just “yes, sir.” Real faith always leads us to act. If we really believe that Jesus has reconciled us, transformed us, and put his Spirit in us, then we can’t help but start living as if that is so.
What we really believe comes out in how we choose to live. For instance, we believe in gravity. Therefore, we don’t purposely try to set our coffee mugs down in the middle of the air. If we believe in rainstorms and if we believe the basic principles of homebuilding, then when we build our house, we will choose to build its foundations on solid rock rather than shifting sands. Our beliefs, our faith, what we trust changes our lives. Belief does not exist isolated from life: belief is what powers it. Faith is what drives us to act the way we act, to make the choices we choose to make. It may be easy to say “yes, sir.” But our belief is real only if we also do “yes, sir.” What we believe will manifest in our actions.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’” (Matthew 25:31–40)
By speaking about separating goats and sheep, Jesus made an allusion to the words of the prophet Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 34 God compared Israel to a flock with God as the shepherd who would judge between “one sheep and another, and between rams and goats” (Ezekiel 34:17). In Ezekiel, God was criticizing the religious and political leadership for mistreating the weak and poor and that God would judge them for it the same way a shepherd would judge between sheep. Jesus used the same imagery to point out that God’s concerns were no different in his time than they were in Ezekiel’s. He accused the religious establishment of being no better than their ancestors were. He told them they were mistreating those most in need.
God is not separated from the people of the world just because we can’t see him. Wherever we are, there he is in our midst, no matter what we are doing, no matter what we are about, no matter where we go. God feels each kindness, each blessing we bestow on those around us. As we treat human beings, created in the image of God, we treat God himself.
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
“Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know.” (Matthew 24:36–50)
Not long before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that neither he nor the angels knew when the final judgment and his second coming might be. Although Jesus is God, he had become a human being. Paul wrote that in becoming human, Jesus had “emptied himself” (Philippians 2:7). In his humanity, God the Son was not all powerful, or all knowing, or able to be in all places at once. As he himself said, all that he knew and all that he did, he did by means of his Father (John 8:28).
Jesus, by becoming one of us, chose to give up his unlimited power and unlimited knowledge. He had access to the limitless only through his Father. As Christians, thanks to the indwelling Holy Spirit, we too have that same access to Jesus’ Father. Thanks to what Jesus did on the cross, we too have become God’s children.
On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.
Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”
And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching. And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. (Mark 11:12–18)
Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah when he said that the temple would be called “a house of prayer for all the nations” (Isaiah 56:7). In context, Isaiah’s prophesy predicted that a time would come when foreigners—gentiles—would bind themselves to God and love his name.
When Jesus cleansed the temple of the money changers and those selling doves, his purpose was not to level an attack on making money. Jesus was not against capitalism. He was not even suggesting that selling things for religious purposes was wrong. Instead, he was attacking people who were taking advantage of the poor and the foreigners who were coming to the Temple for the purpose of worshipping God. He was attacking criminal behavior. The system that the religious establishment had created around the temple was keeping those who wanted to reach God from getting to him. Rather than facilitating worship and prayer, the religious leaders were standing in its way. They were making it harder for people to find the kingdom of God.
God is not about putting up roadblocks to faith. He is about removing all the barriers that stand between him and people. He wants nothing to distract us from worshipping him, talking to him, and spending time with him. Jesus has gotten rid of everything that could keep us away.