God is love, right? And doesn’t he command us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to honor our parents? So when he says, “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated” (Romans 9:13, quoting Malachi 1:2-3) or “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother. . . such a person cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), it makes us uncomfortable.
Biblically illiterate people (who, alas, include preachers and the seminary professors who mistaught them) will claim that Jesus said no such thing and that the Old Testament misrepresents God. Let us not forget some important facts:
A familiar Advent scripture says that a child will be born to us and the government will rest on his shoulders. A less obviously Advent-related scripture explains what that government will be like. The child, of course, is Jesus. In both scriptures, he has an extensive list of important titles.
The kingdom of heaven is a major theme of Matthew’s gospel, including most of the parables in Matthew 13. The chapter begins with the parable of the sower (or the four soils) and its explanation. All the other parables in the chapter compare the kingdom of heaven to something or someone. Four other chapters include parables that illustrate what the kingdom of heaven is like.
This post will examine the short parables at the end of Matthew 13. He spoke these parables to the disciples alone, not to a crowd.
The Parable of the Sower appears in all three synoptic gospels. Jesus implied it is the key to understanding his other parables. Today, thinking of it as the parable of the four soils might make it easier to grasp. After all, the sower went out to sow seed, and the parable never mentions him again. It doesn’t really say much about the seed, either, except that it’s apparently some kind of grain. But the soils? They’re crucially important.
The three accounts are a little different, but the differences don’t alter the basic points.
A sower went out to sow seed. In those days, that meant taking a bag of seed and throwing it on the ground.… Read the rest
The first time recorded in Scripture that John the Baptist ever saw Jesus, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, CSB). The next day, he said the same thing to two of his disciples, Andrew and John, when Jesus passed by them. The two left him to follow Jesus.
The scene has become so familiar that it’s easy to fail to notice how little John’s society was prepared to hear it. Not to mention ours.
The healing of the blind man of Bethsaida, one of the few incidents unique to Mark’s gospel, must be the oddest of Jesus’ miracles. It says that when he got to Bethsaida, the townspeople brought a blind man to him and begged him to heal him. Begged? It’s almost as if he seemed unwilling at first.
Then, Jesus took the man by the hand and led him out of town. And at first, the healing seemed not to work. The man could see, but not clearly. Jesus had to try again.
Did Jesus have an “oops” moment? Or did he have a reason for performing a two-step healing?… Read the rest
Christians have been awaiting the return of Jesus Christ since the very beginning of the church. In fact, as early as Amos (almost 800 years before Christ), people were looking forward to the Day of the Lord. And beginning with Amos, the prophets and apostles have warned us it won’t be a pleasant time.
The coming wrath of God is not a pleasant thought. Many Christians recoil because they can’t reconcile it with his love. But we must remember that every syllable of the Bible perfectly describes God’s love. Even the parts we don’t like. With that in mind, let’s take a careful look at 2 Peter 3.… Read the rest
The church celebrates Christmas and Easter in a big way. Many churches at least devote a sermon to Pentecost, the birthday of the church. How many Christians know about Ascension Day? It’s exactly forty days after Easter, which means it always falls on a Thursday. It’s easy for it to come and go without notice. So why is Jesus’ ascension important?
Christians can probably quote some Bible verses about how Christ has redeemed us. Otherwise, we don’t use “redeem” much anymore these days. When we do use it, it has two basic meanings.
It used to be that we could take books of stamps to a redemption center and exchange them for a toaster. That is, we redeemed the toaster by presenting the stamps. We can still redeem something we’ve taken to a pawn shop. And we talk about redeeming a coupon, although we don’t say we redeem our discount by presenting the coupon.
Or second, when we fail somehow, we can do something to redeem ourselves.… Read the rest
If there’s one person in history who has the most personal reason to declare, “Christ died for me,” it’s Barabbas. All four gospels relate how Pilate wanted to release Jesus and how the priests’ mob demanded that he release Barabbas instead.
It’s easy to read past Barabbas and not think much about him. The possibility that he, too, bore the name Jesus gives us an opportunity to take a closer look. He’s much more important than he might seem at first.
A textual variant encourages us to take a closer look. Matthew’s gospel, at least in some manuscripts, identifies him as “Jesus Barabbas.”… Read the rest