4/29/15, 4/30/15 Different Kinds Of Hearts Receive The Word

“Now I will explain this parable to you.  The seed is the Word of God.  For now, I AM the sower of the seed.  Soon, I will send you out to sow, and to teach others to sow.  Some people hear the Word, but Satan blinds them so that they immediately dismiss it as nonsense and go on about their lives.  This is the seed that falls on the path, and is immediately eaten by the birds.  Some people hear the Word and receive it with joy in their hearts, but they do not change their lives because of it.  They do not immerse themselves in studying the Word and what it should mean for them.  They do not try to live out what they have just heard.  They do not show any outward sign that what they have heard has made any difference in their lives whatsoever.  This is the seed that falls on rocky ground, and is not able to grow because it has no root.  Some people receive the Word with joy in their hearts, and they start to grow in their faith, learning and understanding more each day.  But Satan puts many obstacles in their paths and they do not have enough faith to overcome them.  Worldly things – worries about money, work, family, social standing – begin to crowd out Heavenly things in their hearts, and the outward signs of a changed life begin to falter and fail.  This is the seed that falls among the thorn bushes and is crowded out and choked by the thorns of the daily complications of life.”

“But some people hear the Word, receive it with joy in their hearts, and make it the center of their new lives.  They grow in their faith, learning and understanding more each day, hungrily devouring every Heavenly lesson they can.  Because their faith is a vibrant, living part of them, the center of their lives, they are able to deal with obstacles that are placed in front of them every day without getting overwhelmed and giving up in exhaustion.  They bear much fruit, passing on the Word and all that they have received from it to everyone they meet.  This is the seed that falls on fertile soil and thrives.  Yet even among those who would be fertile soil, there are differences.  Some produce a crop 100 times what is sown, some 60 times, and some 30.  This is not to say that some are better than others, but rather that some have greater opportunities to reach more people than others.  A rich man who may be able to gather an audience of thousands of friends and acquaintances may be able to do far more than a poor man who is known only by his neighbors and family.  But it is the quality of your fruit that the Lord looks at, not the quantity, because it can also work in the opposite way.  The rich man who has gathered a large audience to proclaim the Word may not be able to reach more than a handful of people with the message he brings, and so will change only a few hearts.  And because the method of reaching these people is not a personal one, the Word may not be sown as deeply in their hearts as it is in the man proclaiming it.  On the other hand, the poor man may be deeply respected by his few friends and family, and because of this he may reach a whole community of people, who in turn develop a deeply rooted faith of their own and become the new generation of sowers.  Until you reach the Kingdom of Heaven, you will never know the full extent of your influence here on earth.”

Matthew 13:18-23, Mark 4:13-20, Luke 8:11-15

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4/27/15, 4/28/15 If You Will, Listen With Hearts To Understand

Now there are confused faces everywhere He looks.  On the shore, the people have been sitting quietly, listening intently, many of them truly desiring to understand and to follow this Man in whom they have placed their hope.  Many of the people are poor farmers, and so the images in the story are familiar to them.  But what could any of this have to do with God?  They can’t imagine.  In the boat with Jesus, the apostles are surprised by the story as well.  Jesus has just recently finished teaching the people on the mountain, using very direct language.  And now, He tells a story that, though using familiar imagery, is very confusing to all who hear it.  Why would He do this?  They could understand if Jesus spoke this way to the rich, highly educated Yeshiva students who are training to be rabbis.  Many rabbis use parables in teaching their students.  But these are poor peasants.  Many of them can’t read or write.  Most have never been to school.  They have not had the privilege of sitting under the teaching of a great rabbinical scholar.  Why wouldn’t Jesus use plain language that all of them can understand?

Jesus sees His apostles’ inner struggles and explains to them, “I need to begin to separate the people who sincerely want to understand and follow Me from those who are just here for the miracles, hoping to be singled out for something special.  Those who can’t be bothered will drift away, leaving the ones who seek a greater understanding of the ways of God and His Kingdom.  The mysteries of the Kingdom will be explained to you, who have left all to follow Me, and to those who would follow after you, and you will never cease to increase in the riches of wisdom and understanding.  But to the rest, it will seem to be nonsense, not worth their time and efforts, and so even the little wisdom they may have now will not stay with them.  In this way, the prophecy of Isaiah will be fulfilled, which says, ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull.  Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them.’  But you, who see and hear and gain understanding and wisdom, consider yourselves among the most blessed of all time!  Because you have the unique opportunity of seeing, hearing, and understanding that which many prophets and holy people throughout the ages have desired but were never able to receive.”

Matthew 13:10-17, Mark 4:10-12, Luke 8:9-10, Isaiah 6:9-10

4/26/15 Planting Words In Fertile Hearts

After speaking with His mother and brothers about the risk He is taking by criticizing the Pharisees, Jesus calls His 12 apostles together and gets into a boat waiting for Him at the shoreline.  A large crowd has gathered to see and hear Him, as always, and He likes to speak from a boat a little ways out in the water in order to be seen and heard more clearly, and so that the people don’t try to crowd each other to get closer to Him.  He begins to speak to them, telling them a story, or a parable:  “It is planting time, and a farmer goes out to sow his seed in his field.  He is rather careless with the spreading of the seed, letting some of the seeds fall in rocky places, some among thorn bushes, some on the walking path, and the rest in the good soil.  The seed that falls in the rocky places does not grow well, because the roots cannot reach the depth needed to get the right amount of water and nutrients.  The seed that falls among the thorns grows better, but then the thorn bushes crowd and choke out the plants, and they cannot thrive.  The seed that falls on the walking path never gets the chance to grow, because the birds immediately swoop down and devour it.  But the seed that falls on the good soil is tended, watered, and given everything needed to thrive, and it produces a good crop – in some areas 100 times, 60 times, or 30 times what is sown.  If you will listen to understand, please do!  This is an important lesson for all who would follow Me.”

Matthew 13:1-9, Mark 4:1-9, Luke 8:4-8

4/25/15 Who Is My Brother, Sister, Mother?

As this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees is taking place within the home of the man Jesus has just freed from demonic possession, His mother and brothers are standing outside waiting for Him with those of His followers who had not joined the 12 apostles inside.  They overhear enough of the conversation  to begin to grow worried.  They know that the Pharisees are going to go back and report all that they hear to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council in Jerusalem, and that High Priest Caiaphas will use everything he can against Jesus.  They are afraid that the plot to kill Jesus is growing, and could be carried out at any time, especially now that Jesus has begun to really come down hard on the Pharisees.  After seeing her sons exchange nervous looks, Mary whispers to one of Jesus’ followers, “Could you tell Him we need to speak with Him out here when He is ready?”  The man nods and enters the house.  “Rabbi, Your mother and brothers are outside and they want to talk to You when You get a chance,” he tells Jesus.  Another onlooker speaks up at this saying, “Your mother is truly blessed to have You for a son!”  Jesus looks at the people gathered in the small house and smiles.  “I know of their concern, and I will go out to them soon.  Thank you.  But My family is in this room with Me as well.”  He sees puzzled expressions on many faces.  “All who believe in Me, whose hearts’ desires are to do the will of My Father in Heaven and to love and care for the people they meet, these are my mother and brothers and sisters.”  As the faces of His apostles turn from puzzlement to understanding and wonder, Jesus turns and leaves the house to have a discussion with His mother and brothers outside.

Matthew 12:46-50, Mark 3:20-21, 31-35, Luke 11:27-28

4/24/15 With What Will You Fill The Void?

“The people of Israel are in worse shape than this man whom I have just set free from the demons that had possession of him.  He knows who it is that has set him free, and his heart will forever be changed because of it.  But most of the people of Israel do not really believe in Me.  The miracles done, unless they are personal and heart-changing in nature, do not have any lasting influence on them or their perceptions.  They see miracles and go back to their daily routines, as if nothing has happened.  And so it is like a man who has been set free from his demons, but does not change his heart as a result.  The demons go out of him and look for a new home.  But when they don’t find a suitable one, they say, “Let’s go back and see if our previous home is still available.”  They return to the man and find that he is, indeed available to them, empty and cleaned out with no security system in place to keep them out.  Excited now, the demons go and find friends to come and live with them.  And so the man ends up being worse off than he had been before.  When people see miracles, but have no heart change as a result, and do not believe in the One God has sent to them, they remain in their sin, and the void in their heart is still there.  This makes them vulnerable to attacks from Satan, who wants more than anything to steal as many people as possible away from God and His Kingdom.  But if you see what I do and believe that God has sent Me to save you from your sinful lives, the void in your heart will be filled with God’s Holy Spirit, and there will be no home available to Satan’s demons when they come looking.”

Matthew 12:43-45, Luke 11:24-26

4/23/15 Be Careful What You Wish For

“Give us a sign, then, to prove that You are sent from God,” the Pharisees demand of Jesus.  But Jesus replies to them, “When God sent you prophets, your ancestors did not believe that God had sent them.  They, too, asked for signs to prove that the prophets had been sent by God to deliver His Holy Messages to the people.  The relationship between God and His people Israel has always been like that of a husband and a wife.  During the times when the wife, Israel, has been faithful to her husband, God, Israel and her people have prospered.  But when the people have turned against God and His prophets, demanding signs because they don’t want to listen to what the prophets have to tell them about their sinful and unfaithful behavior, disaster has always followed.  And now God has sent Me, His Son, to you, and you demand a sign of Me to prove where I AM from.  Learn from your ancestors and their mistakes before it is too late for you!  The only sign you will receive is the sign of the prophet Jonah.  He spent 3 days in the belly of a great fish before the fish spat him out onto dry land again.  Like Jonah, the Son of Man will be in the ground for 3 days.  After Jonah returned to dry land, he went to Nineveh and told the people there to repent and turn away from their sinful behavior, because otherwise the Lord would destroy them, and the people did as they were told.  Sadly, you will not listen to the message sent to you by One greater than Jonah, and so the people of Nineveh will be your judges!   Likewise, the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem from the southernmost part of the earth, based solely on the faith she had in what had been told her about the wisdom of Solomon.  She came and heard him, and her faith was rewarded.  Now, she also will be your judge, because you do not believe in One who is greater than Solomon.”

Matthew 12:38-42, Luke 11:29-32

4/22/15 Common Sense!

Jesus, always in control of any situation, calmly sets the Pharisees in their place.  “If any group of people is split by disagreement and fighting amongst themselves, they will fail in their endeavors.  A civil war in any country or kingdom weakens it.  In the same way, if Satan and the ranks of his demons are divided against each other, Satan will fail.  What reason would Satan have to cast one of his demons out of a man he is possessing?  None!  It would be like an army commander letting his soldiers turn traitor and join the ranks of the enemy.  Besides, I am not the only one to ever cast a demon out of someone.  You yourselves, and your own disciples, have done this!  By whose power do you do it?  If you claim to cast out demons by the power of God, then why do you accuse Me of doing the same thing by the power of Satan?  Let those who have been released from their bondage be your judges in this!  If I obtain My power from God, that means that when I tell You I AM sent from Him, I AM telling you the truth, and the Kingdom of God has come down to you.  If you try to enter the house of a strong man to rob him, you will fail, unless you first conquer and restrain the strong man.  So it is here.  This world is Satan’s domain.  If I AM to reclaim it from him for God and His Kingdom, I must first overpower Satan and his demons.  You are working against Me, and therefore are working for Satan, scattering those people who might have been part of My flock and taking away their chance for salvation.”

Matthew 22:25-30, Mark 3:22-30, Luke 11:14-23

4/21/15 Where Does This Power Come From?

Jesus and His apostles, along with the women who are helping with the work, begin to travel from village to village, preaching the Good News that the Kingdom of Heaven is near, healing people and setting them free from demons.  One man is brought to Jesus who is possessed by a demon that is making him blind and mute.  Jesus rebukes the demon and drives it out of the man, healing the man’s soul, setting him free, and returning his sight and his voice.  The man is incredibly grateful and the people who witness this are astonished at the transformation he has just undergone.  They begin to believe that maybe Jesus really could be the Messiah.  But the Pharisees, having followed Jesus from Jerusalem to bear witness to what they deem to be the worst kind of blasphemy, will not believe.  One calls out, “Jesus of Nazareth is the son of Satan!  His power to drive out demons comes from the king of the demons!”

Matthew 12:22-24

4/20/15 The Women’s Contribution

At breakfast the following morning, Jesus speaks with His followers about the next phase of their work.  “My dear friends, I must begin at once travelling all over our land, spreading the Good News that I have come to proclaim.  I would ask that you accompany Me and assist Me in this.  But we will be gone for quite a while.  We will need to rely on the kindness and hospitality of the people of the towns we visit for our food and lodging.  Will you join Me?”  The 12 apostles agree without hesitation.  Then some of the women who had been travelling with them, several of them having been healed or set free by Jesus, begin to conference together in a small group.  Mary of Magdala stands, and looking at the ground, speaks for the group, saying, “My Lord, we would like to help with Your work if You will allow it.”  Joanna, the wife of Chuza, King Herod Antipas’ steward, stands with her friend Suzanna, and adds her voice, “Yes, My Lord, we have money to contribute for food and lodging, and we can do the cooking and washing, and anything else You ask of us.  We are so thankful for all You have done for us, we want to do what we can to help You.”  Jesus, the King of Heaven, now humbly relies on the generosity of those He has come to save.  He graciously accepts their offer and they begin to pack their belongings for the long journey.

Luke 8:1-3

4/17/15, 4/18/15, 4/19/15 The Trap, The Unexpected Outrage, The Humiliation

reclining at the table washing jesus feet

A man named Simon, a devout Pharisee, hears that Jesus is nearby, and plans a dinner party for Him and several fellow Pharisees at his house.  He goes out to listen to Jesus’s teaching, and when He is finished for the day, goes up to speak with Him.  “Rabbi, I would like to invite You to dine with me this evening.  I have invited several other guests as well, who wish to speak with You and hear what You have to say.”  Jesus accepts the invitation and they set out for Simon’s house.  Simon has heard rumors that Jesus does not keep all 613 strict Pharisaical laws, and wants to see for himself what this unconventional Man will do.  The custom among the Jewish people is for everyone to remove their shoes upon entering a home, and to have their feet washed.  Since everyone wears sandals, and the streets are strewn with animal droppings here and there, it is not just a nice custom but a health precaution.  But tonight, Simon offers his guest no water to wash His feet with.  Another custom is to anoint the head of an honored guest with oil, and to kiss him, as a sign of respect.  For Jesus, this would also show that Simon believes in His claim to be the Son of God.  But he refrains from bestowing this honor upon his guest as well.  Jesus, knowing Simon’s heart, is neither surprised nor troubled by this absence of respect.  He follows Simon into the house and to the table, where He reclines with the other guests, already assembled.  The supper begins pleasantly, with polite conversation, and the food is very good.  But soon, the atmosphere changes abruptly.

A woman enters the house.  This is not unheard of, for it is customary for Jewish homes to be left open to show hospitality to those in need.  But this particular woman will not be welcomed if anyone notices her entrance.  She quietly slips inside and makes her way to the dining room.  She looks around at the guests reclining at the table, shaking but determined, searching for one face.  Aha!  There He is.  Silently, she comes up behind Him, kneels, and begins to cry.  She takes His feet in her hands and washes them with her tears.  When she is satisfied that they are clean, she dries them with her hair and kisses them.  And then, she takes an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, pure nard from the scent of it, breaks it open, and pours it over His feet.  The guests at the table have been frozen in astonishment at the audacity of this woman.  But now, the breaking of the jar seems to break the ice that has frozen them in place.  Simon rises to confront this woman, thinking to himself, “If this Rabbi were truly the Son of God, He would know that this woman is a prostitute and would never allow her to defile Him like this!”  But Jesus calmly beats him to the punch.

Jesus turns to Simon and addresses him, saying, “Simon, I want to ask you a question.”  “Of course, Rabbi, anything You wish,” Simon replies, inwardly seething but trying to maintain a calm exterior.  “If two men were both unable to pay a debt owed to a certain businessman, one a debt of $500 and the other a debt of $5,000, and this businessman decides to just let it go, and forgives their debts, which man would be more grateful?”  Simon responds, “Well, obviously, the one with the greater debt.”  Jesus nods and smiles, turning toward the woman still weeping on the floor behind Him.  “This woman has been forgiven a very large debt.  Yes, I know exactly who she is, and who she was before she came to me for forgiveness of her sins.  Because she has been forgiven of a very great sin, she has a lot of gratitude in her heart.  She has shown this by giving Me more honor than you did at My arrival.  She has washed My feet – not just with water, but with her tears, and dried them not with a towel but with her hair.  She has bestowed a kiss, not on My hand or face, but on My feet.  And she has anointed My feet with perfumed oil.  It is not because of what she has done today that I have forgiven her, but the repentance and belief of her heart that propelled her to come to Me for forgiveness.  I have forgiven you for your sins against Me, even though you have not asked for this.  But even if you had, this is a little thing for you, not even a thought in your head.  And so you do not love Me as this woman does.”  Turning to her, Jesus says to her, “Again, I tell you, your sins are forgiven.  You may live now as a new woman, free from your life of sin, with peace in your heart.”  And all the guests, watching the unorthodox scene, wonder, “How does He have the power to forgive sins?  Only the LORD Almighty can do this.  Could He be who He claims to be?”  Simon, feeling humiliated, sits there fuming at this arrogant Man, believing Him to be a charlatan.

Luke 7:36-50,  http://www.riverviewflumc.org/Easter_2010.html,https://mysteriesandmanners.files.wordpress.com/…/mary…