Isaiah’s parables of the sower: when God threshes you

The sower / Tissot. Isaiah 28:23-29

The Sower / James Tissot, between 1886 and 1894

We’ve all heard sermons on Jesus’ parable of the sower, told in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. He told the crowd, “listen if you have ears.”

Then he quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10. He told his disciples essentially that he told parables so people without spiritual ears would not understand.

Isaiah himself provides two parables about farming. Like Jesus’ parable, they seem like obvious facts about what farmers do.

Those with ears to hear, those who belong to God’s kingdom, can find important spiritual truths in them. 

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Who wants to stone Jesus?

The Stoning of the Blasphemer / Charles Foster

The Stoning of the Blasphemer / Charles Foster: The Story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation (1873)

In John 8:59, a crowd wanted to stone Jesus. Today I’m going to start there and work backwards for a while. Why, you might ask, would I do that?

Careful writers often proofread from end to beginning. They have worked on their draft for so long they know what it’s supposed to say.

So they read the last paragraph, then the previous paragraph, and so on to the beginning. It shows what they otherwise might easily miss.

Reading familiar Bible passages from the end to the beginning can also show details we have probably read past before.… Read the rest

The wrath of Jesus

Christ cleansing the temple. Wrath of Jesus

Christ Cleansing the Temple / Luca Giordano, mid 1670s

We like to think of Jesus as gentle and loving.

Some people even teach that the love of God means there can’t be a hell.

They’re reading selectively and ignoring passages that describe the wrath of Jesus.

In fact, most of what the Bible teaches about hell comes from the lips of an angry Jesus. In one outburst he consigned the entire town where he lived to hell!

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Exchanging swords for plowshares

Isaiah 2:4

Isaiah 2:4 written on a wall across the street from the United Nations Building in New York City

God’s promise, “they shall beat their swords into plowshares,” stands on a wall near the United Nations. The UN exists because the world wanted to make it come true.

What happened?

The first four verses of Isaiah 2 leading up to that promise presents a compelling image: God’s house sits on a mountain higher than any other mountain on earth, and “all the nations stream to it.”

Imagine! A stream flowing uphill! 

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Oh how I love your—law?

Moses / Michelangelo

Moses / Michelangelo

We Christians love God. We sing of our love for God in hundreds of hymns and praise choruses. But have you ever thought about what it is about him you love?

Somehow, I suspect many Christians would come up with a long list before they ever echoed the psalmist:

Oh, how I love Your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandments have made me wiser than my enemies,
for they are continually with me. – Psalm 119:97-98 ( all references from MEV)

I have no idea how many times I read past that verse before I noticed a problem: It’s easy to love promises and attributes.… Read the rest

Is God an angry taskmaster? Don’t be fooled by stinking thinking

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

Cain Fleeing from the Wrath of God (The Body of Abel Found by Adam and Eve) / William Blake c. 1805-1809

God has a reputation as an angry taskmaster who’s difficult to please. He has a bunch of rules and punishes anyone who falls afoul of them. He lives in a place called heaven. Everyone wants to go there, but it’s hard to be good enough.

A cursory reading of the Bible confirms this picture. A careful reading reveals an entirely different picture.

Actually comparing the Bible with other ancient literature confirms the truth: God is love. He prefers mercy to wrath and grace to judgment.… Read the rest

Jesus’ return: Like a thief in the night

Jesus' return second coming of ChristWould you ever think to compare Jesus to a thief? The Bible does in describing Jesus’ return. More than once.

Living by faith requires living not only in the light of the resurrection, but also in the hope of the second coming of Christ.

In his flesh, Jesus didn’t know when he’d return, but he knew it will be a time when no one expects him.

Jesus himself said, “If the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matthew 24:43, NASB).”

Paul wrote, “Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you.… Read the rest

Taking God’s promises and commandments personally

Bible opened to John 3:16 -- God's promisesYou’ve read a lot about claiming promises in the Bible. But then you look at many of them and find that God made them to specific individuals for specific purposes.

Are those promises really for you? What can you do with them?

Somehow we don’t have the same curiosity about commandments in the Bible, but at least some of them raise the same questions.

In Joshua 1:6-9, God gave commandments and promises to Joshua. Joshua had long known that he would succeed Moses as Israel’s leader and take them into the Promised Land. Now, Moses had died. It was time for him to step in.… Read the rest

Holy drunkenness on Pentecost

Pentecost / El Greco (1597)

Did your church acknowledge Pentecost? If so, how? The church has become divided over the significance of the events of the first Christian Pentecost.

Pentecostals emphasize the supernatural events and consider them normative. Others fear them and try to explain them away.

Some even teach that God no longer performs supernatural acts and that anyone who claims otherwise follows the devil! So what happened? And what does it matter now?

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Do you know that you know Jesus?

Jesus light of the world

Light of the World / William Holden Hunt (1853)

Do good people go to heaven? No. There aren’t any! Only redeemed people go to heaven, and we’re redeemed only through knowing Jesus.

It takes more than going to church. It takes more than acknowledging Jesus as a historical figure. The living Christ is a real person. He is active in the world—and in the life of every individual.

He does not appear to our physical senses. We can neither see him, touch him, nor hear the sound of his voice. How can we know that we know him?

The Bible has a simple answer: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, NASB).… Read the rest