Kingdom Parables

If a farmer plants his seed, he plans to harvest

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In agricultural operations, seed is planted for survival. For many, farming is not a recreational hobby, it is a means of providing for oneself and one’s family. It’s also a risky proposition. Seed planted may grow, or may be wiped out by drought, catastrophic weather events (like hail or windstorms), or by pests.

A farmer’s income is also subject to the whims of the market, with sudden drops in commodity prices cutting into his bottom line. Therefore, when a farmer plants seed, he prepares his field, and he sows in such a way to maximize the yield from his field. Efficiency is a matter of life and death. And if the farmer has made the investment of purchasing seed, then planting it in the field, he has every intention of reaping that harvest, and getting a return on his investment. It’s the only way he keeps the farm, and provides for his family.

The idea of planting a seed without harvesting is not only foolish, but unheard of in the agricultural community. If a farmer plants a seed, he intends to harvest that seed, and he will.

It’s this concept that Jesus teaches in Mark 4:26-29:

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

In those verses, Jesus likens the Kingdom of God to a man who plants his seed into the ground, and watches it grow. When it has fully developed, the man harvests his crop. Simple concept. So, what does that have to do with the Kingdom of God?

To answer that question, we need to go back and look at the pattern set forth in the other Kingdom Parables, namely, the parables of the sower and the wheat and tares. In those parables, Jesus explained that the field is the world, the man is the Son of Man, and the seed is the Word, the Gospel.

The man in the story plants, and harvests. Likewise, Jesus Christ sowed the seed of the Gospel, and He will harvest His believers.

You see, 2,000 years ago, Christ came, preached the Gospel of His Kingdom, called the world to repentance, and then was crucified for our sins, thus taking the punishment of God for those sins, thus freeing us to be able to enter His Kingdom if we repent and believe.

Over the centuries, the Gospel has spread throughout the entire world, with billions being saved over the history of Christianity. As time moves forward, prophecies are fulfilled, and we see that the time of the return of Christ draws closer.

The day is coming that the time will be fulfilled, “the full corn in the ear,” and it will be time to harvest, that is, it will be time for Christ to return to Earth and establish His Kingdom.

What the parable of the growing corn teaches us is that as certain as a farmer will harvest his crop, you can depend upon the Lord to return and establish His Kingdom. Are you ready for that day?

Judgment Day’s a’ Comin’

Jesus continues His teachings of the Kingdom Parables in Mark 4:21-29, where He warns us to be ready for Judgment Day. In these verses, Jesus warns us that all will be revealed in the parable of the candlestick. Therefore, we need to hear (listen, learn, believe and apply) His word. He also warns us to be careful what we believe, then He teaches that Judgment Day is certain in the Parable of the Corn. For more, listen to the sermon posted above.

The Kingdom Parables (Sermon Audio)

For more background on this message, check out The Most Misinterpreted Parable Ever, The Counterfeiters, and Understanding Why Things Happen.

The Most Misinterpreted Parable Ever

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In Matthew 13:31-33, Jesus gave the parable of the Mustard Seed, which goes as follows:

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field:Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.

The Parable of the Mustard Seed is one of the most misinterpreted parables in the Bible. Because of the beauty of the songbirds that line our trees, and possibly even the portrayal of birds in Disney princess movies, we tend to think of birds as good, beautiful creatures. However, the birds that Jesus referred to were nothing like the mockingbirds, parakeets and robins we see today. The birds who inhabited Israel during Jesus day were more like vultures, buzzards and crows.

That explains why these birds were symbolic of demonic forces. In explaining the Parable of the Sower, Jesus said the fowl of the air symbolized the evil one which snatches up the seed of the Gospel before it takes root. Since the symbols of the parables remain consistent throughout them all, then the fowl of the air in the Parable of the Sower symbolize the same thing as the birds of the air in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

So, to interpret the Parable of the Mustard Seed, let’s put the symbols to work. The man who sowed the mustard seed in his field is the Son of Man, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The field is the world. The seed is the word, the Gospel.

In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, the man, (Jesus Christ), sows the seed (the Gospel) into His field (The world), and it grows into a mighty tree. Good story… now what does it mean? To answer that question, we must remember the reason Jesus gave us the parables. In Matthew 13:11, Jesus said, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom.” The Lord wants us to understand what will happen with the Christian movement as we get closer to His return, and as we get closer to His establishing His Kingdom on earth.

Each of these parables follows a common theme. Things start out pure, then corrupt as time moves forward. The same can be said for the Christian movement. It started pure, with Christ preaching with His disciples on the shores of Galilee. Over the past two millennia, we’ve seen false doctrines, sin, and impure motives infiltrate Christianity to the point that there have been massive splits within the movement, with some denominations following heretical teachings, and others following scripture, but being marred with sin and scandal.

Seeing these things develop would most certainly be discouraging, if we did not understand how they fulfill the prophecies of Christ. Jesus told us 2,000 years ago that this is the way things would be, and that things would progressively get worse until His return. Thus, we have the Parable of the Mustard Seed.

In the parable, the man (Jesus) sows the seed (the Gospel) in the world. The seed is the least of all the seeds. Likewise, the Gospel is regarded as the least of all the philosophies in the world. Think about it. In academia, we study the philosophies of Aristotle, Plato, Thoreau, Mark Twain, Jefferson, and many others. How much time is spent in academia studying and parsing the Gospel? Very little. Christianity is often criticized, with little attention paid to its central theme, redeeming love.

Yet, as disregarded as the Gospel is, it has transformed the world. Christianity spread rapidly in the Roman Empire, and even influenced people at the highest level of government. As disregarded as the Gospel is, Christianity has been extremely influential in western literature and culture.

With that in mind, let’s continue to follow the Parable of the Mustard Seed. Jesus said that the mustard seed is the least of all seeds, but when it is grown, it is the greatest of all herbs, and becomes a tree. Thus, we see the words of Christ fulfilled.

So far, so good. All who interpret the Parable of the Mustard seed agree on the interpretation I’ve given so far. It’s when the birds enter that we have controversy.

Most people interpret these scriptures to say that the kingdom started out small, but grew in power and influence into a huge, beautiful tree until the birds of the air came and built nests and sang beautiful songs from the branches. It’s a beautiful vision, but not one based on reality, and even more importantly, not one based on the prophecies of Christ.

Given the true symbolism of the birds of the air, and what a bird was to the people of Israel in the 1st century, we see that birds are not a good thing. It’s why Christ used them as symbols of demons. They pollute. They ruin. Don’t believe me? Have you ever seen what a group of buzzards will do to a tree? Furthermore, would you park under a tree in the Walmart parking lot that was inhabited by grackles?

When Jesus said, “the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof,” He was predicting that as the Gospel influenced the world more, and as it spread throughout the world, Satan would seek to pollute its presence and influence. Satan does this through inserting false doctrines into church teaching, by placing false Christians, teachers and pastors among the Lord’s churches, and by tempting Christians to sin in very public and profane ways.

That’s why there are so many scandals surrounding churches and Christian denominations today. Satan’s birds have roosted in the tree of the Lord’s Kingdom. Christ predicted it. And with the tree coming to near maturity, we know that the return of the Lord must be near, so we can take comfort in that. The Lord will return, and correct everything. And He will heal us.

So, when you see sin in the church, or you see a church rocked by scandal, don’t be discouraged, and don’t let your faith be shaken. The Lord told us these spiritual attacks would come. Keep looking to the sky, for your redemption draweth nigh.

The Counterfeiters

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It’s Superbowl Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, and you’ve got tickets! How exciting!

You’ve spent the weekend in Miami, and now you are waiting in line, eager to enter Hard Rock Stadium for one of the biggest sporting events in the world. For once, you are going to be a part of sports history.

Then it happens. The gate attendant tells you that your tickets are counterfeit. You had bought them on a ticket exchange site, and you fell victim to a scam artist. There is no recourse. They will not let you into the stadium. You’ve lost your money, and you are dealing with massive disappointment.

Such is not only common with tickets to sporting goods, it also happens with currency. Working as a cashier at a local truck stop, I have on more than one occasion broken the news to a customer that the $20 bill they handed me was counterfeit. Their faces showed expressions of deep betrayal, as the bill had been given to them as a payment for a service rendered.

These situations are extremely disappointing and sometimes tragic. But nothing is as horrible as spending a life believing a counterfeit gospel. In Matthew 13:24-30, Jesus tells the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares goes as follows:

Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Remembering the rules for interpreting the Kingdom Parables from our last post, which concurs with Jesus’ explanation of this parable in Matthew 13:37-40, we see the following symbols at work:

  • The man – the Son of Man, Jesus Christ.
  • The good seed – the Word of God, the Gospel.
  • The field – the world.
  • The wheat – the children of the Kingdom.
  • The tares – The children of the wicked one.

While the primary message of this parable is that Satan will place false converts and false believers among the children of God to derail the Lord’s work, the implied warning of the spread of a counterfeit Gospel cannot be ignored.

The tares, the children of the wicked one, were sown into the field as seed. Bad seed. Counterfeit seed. If the good seed is the Gospel, then it follows that the bad seed is a counterfeit gospel.

Counterfeit gospels take on many forms. Some teach that you must perform certain works, are take part in certain rituals to be saved. Some teach that you can lose your salvation. Some teach that God loves all people and all will be welcomed into Heaven. Some teach that salvation is so simple, one does not even have to repent to obtain it.

The counterfeit gospels and false doctrines being taught are so rampant, we cannot possible address them all in one blog post, neither do we have to. To identify a counterfeit Gospel, one need only know the true Gospel.

Interestingly enough, this is also how the U.S. Secret Service learns to spot counterfeit currency. They don’t study counterfeit currency. They study the true currency to the point that if anything on that bill is out of place, they instantly identify the error, and thus conclude the currency is counterfeit.

So, with that in mind, let’s be reminded of the true Gospel, summarized in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 as how “Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the scriptures.”

Christ died for our sins. In dying for our sins, He took the punishment for our sins, thus shielding us from the wrath of God. This payment for our sins cost Him His life. Thus, He died for our sins, and was buried. However, on the third day, He took His life back, and rose from the grave.

So now, Christ has not only cleared our sin-debt by giving His life for our sins, but He rose again, and ever lives to intercede for us. In other words, Christ rose again to advocate for us and to open the gates of Heaven for us. This is salvation.

Scripture is clear on how to access that salvation, how to accept it. Romans 5:1 says “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Isaiah 45:22 says, “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am the LORD, there is none else.”

And the verses that drive it all home, Ephesians 2:8-9, “For it is by grace that you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not of works lest any man should boast.”

Based on these verses, we see that the true Gospel:

  • Is how Christ paid for our sins by dying on the cross.
  • That Christ rose again to save us and give us eternal life.
  • That salvation is gained by repenting of sin and trusting (believing) in Jesus Christ.

Deviations, additions or subtractions from that Gospel are counterfeit. What a tragedy it would be to live a good, religious life, only to realize that you never believed the true Gospel. What a tragedy it would be to live life believing a lie. If you have never placed your faith in Christ for salvation, make that decision now.

The implied warning of a counterfeit gospel is only a small sideline to the Parable of the Wheat and Tares. The real point to this parable is that Satan uses false believers and counterfeit Christians to derail the cause of Christ.

Imagine the huge inconvenience for the farmer who had to go through the process of separating the wheat from the tares at harvest time.

Likewise, the cause of Christ can be frustrated by the antics of those who claim to be Christian, but are not. This is one reason bad things happen in good churches. Understanding this can help prevent discouragement and disillusionment when the unthinkable happens. Satan is working to derail, discourage and discredit the Lord’s churches.

Notice, however, what the parable says about the man’s reaction to finding tares in his wheat field. The man told his servants not to root out the tares, because the wheat would be uprooted and damaged in the process. Instead, the wheat and the tares would be allowed to come to full maturity before being separated at the harvest.

As the wheat and the tares mature, you can tell which is which by the fruit they bear. Likewise, Jesus said you could tell the true believers from the false believers by their fruit.

The application to this passage is that we, as Christians, need not be concerned with identifying and distinguishing the true believers from the false believers. Instead, we are to grow and bear fruit, and allow the Lord to judge in the end time.

At the core of this parable is the instruction to believe the true Gospel, and trust the Lord to judge righteously on the day of judgment. If we do this, we will not be discouraged by the antics of the tares, for we will have the understanding of why they do what they do.

The tares have been sowed to frustrate our purpose. The more they frustrate our purpose, the closer we grow to harvest day. At harvest time, we will be gathered in the Lord’s presence. Be encouraged. Satan’s attacks are evidence that you are being effective for the Lord.

May God bless you as you continue your walk with Him.

Understanding what happened…

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Church hurt is real.

Too many times in my personal history, I have been betrayed by people who claimed to love me and pray for me. Too many times, this hurt has been done, “in Jesus name.” None of the following experiences happened at Life Point. In every case, reconciliation was made.

My personal experiences involve false accusations of alcohol abuse when I was still a teenager in youth group. I had a senior pastor try to end my ministry through character assassination before my ministry even began. I had a church member make the baseless accusation that I was compromising the word of God. (He even admitted he couldn’t identify any false doctrine I taught.)

I once called upon a lay minister in a congregation I pastored to preach in my absence. The Sunday I was absent, he called an emergency business meeting to discipline me for the behavior of my kids (all three of whom were preschool aged.)

Those are just my personal experiences. I have heard countless stories of others who have been hurt by the misbehavior of church members and clergy. I have ministered to those who were discouraged by high profile scandals.

As all of this continues, we are increasingly seeing leaders and churches abandon Biblical truth, and attack other churches who refuse to follow suit.

What is happening to Christianity? What is happening to the church in America? How can God be real, and in control, and allow such misbehavior among the people who are called by His name?

There are two simple answers, and then the really deep answer.

Simple answer #1.

People are sinners. The church is an assembly of scripturally baptized believers who have come together to carry out the Lord’s work. These scripturally baptized believers are Christians. They are saved. But they are still sinners. Sinners saved by God’s grace.

With the sin nature still tempting and deceiving these believers, they are still susceptible to sinful choices and self-deception, hence the hurtful behavior. Man’s base instinct is selfishness and pride. Most church hurt is caused by those two things. Selfishness and pride.

Furthermore, many who claim to be Christian aren’t. They don’t believe. They aren’t scripturally baptized. And they don’t gather with the church to advance the Kingdom of God. These false Christians (many of whom have deceived themselves into thinking they are) are often the culprits of church hurt, but not always.

Simple answer #2. 

God has a history of being patient with sinners, and with His disobedient children. This patience is marked by His willingness to defer punishment in order to give His children time to repent. Read the history of Israel. They openly rebelled against God for 390 years before He allowed them to be taken captive by the Babylonians. God is patient.

While God’s grace and patience may aggravate those of us who scream for justice, it is incredibly important that we realize that the same patience God has extended to them, He has extended to us. We, too, benefit from God’s patience, for we, too, have sinned, and in some cases, are responsible for the church hurt of others.

And now, the really deep answer.

It’s safe to say that many Christians and churches are not following God’s word, and many have done wrong in the name of the Lord. Many Christians and churches have blasphemed God’s name by tailoring their beliefs and actions to the values of the day, rather than conforming their beliefs and actions to the Bible.

Over the past two centuries, we’ve seen people use scripture to justify racism and segregation, and to justify the marginalization of certain groups of people. We’ve seen people deny the truth of the Bible.

Even worse, we’ve seen high profile preachers fall to sexual sin, some refusing to repent, and others committing financial fraud. Many of these preachers were charlatans to begin with, but the sins of charlatans blaspheme the name of God.

It is easy to focus on our personal church hurt, and the public sins of high-profile Christianity, and (a) become discouraged, (b) assume that Christianity is bad, and (c) walk away from the faith. Such reactions, however, come from not understanding God’s plan with man. The things we see in today’s society do not surprise God. In fact, 2,000 years ago, Christ told us to look for them.

In Matthew 13, Jesus began teaching in parables by giving us the parable of the sower. The parables that followed in Matthew 13 are known as “The Kingdom Parables.” The Kingdom Parables are a prophecy of the future of the Kingdom on Earth, prior to the return of Christ. In them, Christ shows us the future state of the church.

These parables not only explain what is happening in modern Christianity, but they also show that the more these problems persist, the closer we are to the return of Christ. The Lord wants us to understand this, as He said in Matthew 13:11, “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Jesus begins the Kingdom Parables with the Parable of the Sower. In Mark 4:13, Jesus said the Parable of the Sower is the key to understanding all parables. That means that the symbols used in the Parable of the Sower carry over to all of the Kingdom Parables. This is an important detail, because failing to apply the same meaning to the same symbols leads to the misinterpretation of the parables, which leads to false expectations, which leads to disillusionment.

Over the coming week, we will explore the Kingdom Parables. However, here is a quick summary.

  1. The parable of the sower – A man goes forth to sow. Some seed falls by the wayside and is snatched up by the birds (the fowl of the air). Some falls among the thorns and is choked out. Some falls upon stony ground and never takes root in itself. Some falls on good ground and brings forth fruit. Jesus later explains that the sower is the Son of Man (Jesus Himself). The seed is the word. The field is the world. The birds (fowl) is the evil one (Satan and his demons.) Again, these symbols carry over into all of the parables.
  2. The Wheat and the Tares – A man sows good seed in his field. His enemy sows bad seed (tares). As the plants grow, the man realizes what his enemy has done. Instead of rooting out the tares, the man allows them to abide, fearing that he would lose the wheat in the process. At harvest time, the wheat is separated from the tares. The wheat is gathered into the man’s barns, the tares are burned. This parable symbolizes the effects of a false gospel being spread throughout the world, and how the followers of that false gospel can infiltrate God’s churches. Instead of trying to root out the followers of the false gospel, we should bring forth fruit to honor our Lord. Doing so draws a contrast between the believers of the true Gospel, and the believers of the false gospel. This parable reinforces the symbolism of the Parable of the Sower.
  3. The Parable of the Mustard Seed – This is one of the most misinterpreted parables. A man (the sower, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ) sowed a grain of mustard seed (the word) in His field. The seed is small, but grows into a mighty tree, such that the birds (Satan and his demons) lodge in the branches thereof. This parable teaches that, as the Gospel and Christianity gain influence in the world, Satan and his demons will show up in order to pollute it. (Seriously, ever seen what an abundance of birds like grackles and buzzards will do to a tree?) This parable explains why bad things happen in churches.
  4. The Parable of the Leaven – Leaven is always symbolic of sin. It’s why the bread we use for the Lord’s supper is unleavened. Christ was, and is, sinless. It’s why the Israelites were told to sweep out the leaven from their homes in preparation for Passover. That massive cleaning effort symbolized repentance. In the Parable of the Leaven, a woman takes the leaven and hides it in three measures of meal, until the whole lump was leavened. This parable shows how infectious sin is. It can infiltrate everything, and it does. This parable shows that a time will come when even on its best days, sin will be rampant in the church. (And this should be no surprise. The Apostle Paul wrote that even when he would do good, evil was present within him.) This parable not only explains why bad things happen in churches, but also why sometimes it seems that everything is self-serving.

Following the parable of the leaven, the Lord further explains the wheat and the tares before giving a few more parables that explain our salvation and redemption. All together, the parables explain why things go wrong, and how the Lord redeems us from such.

So, when I experience church hurt, I remember that the ones who offended me were merely acting out of their own hurt and misunderstanding, that the Lord loves them, and that He loves me too. Understanding that, along with the fact that the Lord is still in control, and He is still coming to establish His Kingdom on Earth once and for all, I am able to better heal from such hurt, with my faith and relationship with the Lord in tact.

Have you experienced church hurt? Feel free to share your story with us.

 

 

Pastor Leland Acker has led Life Point Baptist Church since its founding in 2008.