My Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32)

School starts in a couple of days, so I thought it might be fun to start today off with a test. Don't worry, it will be a fun test. I'm going to show you a whole bunch of pictures. Your job is to take a look at each person and tell me whether or not they look like a follower of Jesus Christ. Ready? Let's go.
Various pictures of people - some reading the Bible, praying; a pastor; some with tattoos and piercings
That wasn't too hard, was it? Every day, we look at people and make assumptions about who they are and what they believe based on their appearance. Most of the time, our assumptions hold up. If you asked somebody carrying a Bible and walking into church about their relationship with Jesus, you might get an intelligent answer. I don't recommend this, but if you go to a woman dressed a certain way on a street corner downtown and ask her about her relationship with Jesus, you may get a different answer.The result is that we define a list of markers that tell us who's in and who's out. For instance: if you get pierced in certain places, or tattooed, you're out. If you go to church and read the Bible, you're in.After a while, we forget that these markers are just assumptions. They begin to become important. They become ironclad rules and ways to view everyone we come in contact with. The problem is: the markers are bogus. They're dead wrong. As we're about to find out today, these markers may lead us to wrong conclusions about others, and even more dangerously, about ourselves.Let's look together at Matthew 21 today. I'm going to read a story that every parent can relate to. It starts in verse 28:
28"But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, 'son, go out and work in the vineyard today.' 29The son answered, 'No, I won't go,' but later he changed his mind and went anyway. 30Then the father told the other son, 'You go,' and he said, 'Yes, sir, I will.' But he didn't go. 31Which of the two was obeying his father?"They replied, "The first, of course."Then Jesus explained his meaning: "I assure you, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. 32For John the Baptist came and showed you the way to life, and you didn't believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to turn from your sins and believe him."
When Jesus told this story, the eldest son had twice the privilege of any other child. He would inherit a double portion of the estate. Essentially, the father was telling him: "Son, you know you're getting the lion share of what I have. I need your help in looking after your future estate." What's shocking is how gruff his response is. It's completely lacking in respect. There's no politeness or regret shown. It's a simple refusal. It would have been shocking for a son to be that disrespectful in the culture Jesus was addressing.The second son didn't have the same vested interest in the estate, but his answer was a lot more respectful. He said, "Yes, sir, I will." He spoke well, but he didn't follow through. Jesus then asks the question, "Which of the two was obeying his father?"Let's think about that for a minute. On one hand, you've got the son who showed his father no respect, but who at least did what the father asked in the end. On the other hand, you've got the son who showed great respect for the father, but didn't follow through. Who's the better son? The first one. Jesus then looks at the group of religious leaders - the group that had been trying to trip him up and discredit them - and says something that they would have found incredibly offensive and disturbing. I'll read what he said from the Message paraphrase:
Jesus said, "Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God's kingdom. 32John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn't care enough to change and believe him. (Matthew 21:31-32)
There you've got a group of people who had all the right markers to identify them as followers of God. If you asked the religious leaders if they attended synagogue, they would have said, "Absolutely. We never miss. We even go when we're sick." If you asked them if they studied God's Word, they would have said, "Every day. We love to study God's Word." If you asked them if they obey it, they would have said, "We make a career out of obeying God's Word. We've even set our standards higher than what it requires. We don't just read it, we live it." Yet when Jesus stood before them, he told them that they were like the second son, who said all the right things but did not listen to the father. Despite all the right markers, they completely missed the point.I hope you're catching the significance of that. We have a lot in common with this group. We read the Bible, we go to church, we try to obey the Bible. Yet Jesus says we can completely be off base in our efforts to follow him.Then he refers to this other group. He calls them crooks and whores. If you asked them when they attend synagogue, they'd probably say, "Not very often. Don't fell too welcome there." If you asked them about their Bible knowledge, they might lose every sword drill going. If you asked them how they obeyed the Bible, you'd probably get a long list of all that they've done to mess up. If you asked them if they were faithful followers of God, they might even look down at the ground in embarrassment. Yet Jesus says that these crooks and whores are going to precede the religious people into God's kingdom.On the Day of Judgment, I think of the religious leaders trying to make their way to the front of the line. "Excuse me, religious leader coming through. Let me through to the front." But pretty soon they realize that they don't have front of the line status. They're behind the prostitutes and crooks. The whores and crooks make it into God's Kingdom. But when the religious leaders get to the front, they discover they're not allowed in. This is a completely different way of thinking.The reason why is simple. It's about our response to Jesus, our willingness to change. Those of us with all the right markers, all the right approaches, who haven't responded by making a complete turnaround of obedience in our lives, will miss out. Those of us who have none of the right markers, who have made all the mistakes in our lives, who measure 0 out of 10 on the religious scale, are accepted if change our direction and follow Jesus.I want to give you a new model for thinking about this today. I'm not even sure it's the correct model, but it may provide a good, or at least a different picture of what it means to follow Jesus. Up until now, a lot of us have believed that following Jesus starts with a crisis or conversion experience in which we accept Jesus as our Savior and then begin to do certain things, like pray and go to church. I want to suggest a different model today.Here's the model I'd like to suggest. You may have some people who look close to Jesus, but they're moving away. In other words, they're close - they do certain things like pray, read the Bible, go to church, and live moral lives. The only problem is that they're moving away from Jesus. They're close but the distance between them and Jesus is increasing, not decreasing. The trajectory of their lives is taking them away from Jesus.Then you've got some people over here who are distant from Jesus by every standard you can imagine. They don't know the Bible. They might not go to church. They haven't lived moral lives. Yet, despite their distance from Jesus, they're moving closer to him. They're following him. They may be far away, but they're headed closer to Jesus, just as this other group is moving away.I'd like to suggest that the key issue isn't our current proximity to Jesus. It's the direction of our lives. The key is whether we're following Jesus, no matter how far away we've been. If we are, that counts a lot more than those who are close to Jesus but moving away.Do you see what this model does? It breaks down the markers or the boundaries that define who's in and who's out. You may have some who are within the boundaries, but who are moving away from Jesus. Then you may have some outside the boundaries - who dress or act a certain way - who actually are going to be welcomed into God's kingdom, because they're getting closer. We've got to maybe keep some of the markers that are good - certain ways of thinking and acting - but to tear down the fences between the boundaries that define who's in and out. Keep the good things like spiritual disciplines and activities that might help us follow Christ, but stop judging who's in and who's out by the boundaries.The truth is that I know a lot of people who look a long way from Jesus, and who say the wrong things and look the wrong way. But when they talk about Jesus, they talk with such a tenderness that you know they're following. They're far away, but they love him and want to follow him with all of their being.I know some others who look the right way and say all the right things. They live good, moral lives. Yet you never sense a tenderness or a closeness with Jesus. If anything, you sense a brittle spirit. They're closer, but they're either stopped following Jesus, and if you stop even for a minute, you get further away because Jesus keeps moving. Or else they're consciously moving away from him.I want to ask you to throw out your old ways of thinking about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I don't know where we got the idea that praying a prayer one day would get us in. It's much more than that. It's a complete turning around of our lives. It's not about a respectful answer when Jesus asks us to follow him. It's about a complete change in direction in our life (repentance), and in following him from that day forward.It's interesting that one of the earliest names for Christianity was the Way (Acts 9:2). I like that. The Way implies a journey.I still believe in justification, and all the other good stuff that Paul teaches about our position in Christ. But our relationship with Christ is much more than a one-time event. It's something that's lived out every day from that point on. Paul's a good example of that. His life was never again safe or comfortable once he started to follow Jesus.A couple of questions. I'm not going to ask you about how close you are to Jesus today. I'm going to ask you a more important question. What's the trajectory of your life? Are you getting closer, or getting further away? Are you following, no matter how far away you are?Answer honestly. You may have said all the right things to God. You may always talk to him with the greatest of respect. You may go to church and read the Bible and do all the things that the religious leaders did. But you may be getting further and further away from God without even realizing it.You may be here today feeling so unworthy because you're so far away and you're so discouraged about all the things you've done. But Jesus says it doesn't matter. You're following. That's all that matters.Let me challenge you with one more image. Our kids are the age that they'll go anywhere with us just because we're going. I tell our kids, "Get ready and hop in the car," and they do so without even asking where we're going. I know that will change one day. They even leave all their stuff behind and go with us and a tent and a couple of sleeping bags to camp somewhere, just because we tell them we're going. They'd follow us to another country if we asked them to.Contrast that to me. When Charlene asks me to get in the car, I say, "Where are we going?" Depending on how she answers, I either go along or tell her I don't feel like going.What if this is a picture of what it means to follow Jesus? What if we act like kids and be willing to go anywhere and leave anything, simply because Jesus asks us to go? Maybe on the way we'll ask him where we're going, but we would never think of not following him. We'll go whenever and wherever he asks.Prayer:
Father, help us move beyond the markers today. Help us to see what it really means to follow you.I've been so wrong in the past about what it means to follow Jesus Christ. It's not about the boundaries or markers. It's about following Jesus, whenever, wherever he asks.Examine yourself: ask God to show you your heart.Ask him to grant you a willingness to follow Jesus, no matter how far away you are.Thank you, Father, that it doesn't matter how far away we've been, or even how far away we are today. What matters is that we do what Jesus asks us to do, and follow him beginning today. May you give us the courage to follow, in Jesus' name.

Figure the Cost (Luke 14:25-35)

I'm looking for someone who's hungry to volunteer, because I brought some food from home. I didn't get it here without facing great danger. Anyone met our dog? She's about nine pounds, part dog, part rat. We feed her this stuff here. It's not even the fancy dog food - it's just plain Dog Chow, Senior Formula. I don't really care for the stuff myself.When we feed her, she guards her food like it's gold. I don't know why. We've got more downstairs, and nobody really has ever tried to eat her food, at least not for a long time. (When our kids were babies, they might have tried once or twice.) She growls and hovers over her bowl when any of us get close. She actually looks a little ridiculous.We're going to read a passage today that makes we wonder if we sometimes look as ridiculous as this. We're somewhat similar in that we guard and growl over our lives and our stuff and get threatened whenever we think God is interested in what we have. God must look at us and think, "You're all worried about that?" but we are.Today's passage is about us guarding our stuff - our relationships, our possessions, our plans, and our life - when we see God coming. It's about our instinctive fear that God is going to ask for too much. It's about what it takes to really follow him. It's an easy passage to understand, but it's a surprising passage because the entry requirements to the kingdom are set so high. If you have your Bibles with you, let's look at it together. It's found in Luke 14.Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, and he's got a large group of people following him. The crowd thinks that Jesus is on his way to overthrow the Roman government and re-establish God's kingdom on earth through the nation of Israel. They think Jesus is on his way to confront people like Pontius Pilate. Jesus knows that he's going to meet Pontius Pilate, but as a bound prisoner. He's going to be arrested and murdered. His followers really have no idea what they're signing up for.

Our Relationships

On the way, then, Jesus turns around and tells them, "If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).Eugene Peterson's paraphrase The Message puts it a little differently. "Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters-yes, even one's own self!-can't be my disciple." The issue isn't hating, since Jesus told us we have to love even our enemies. The issue is preference. If we want to follow Jesus, there are going to be times that there are relational choices that need to be made. We'll have to choose whether our relationships with people have higher priority, or our relationship with Jesus. Jesus says that you can't decide to put people first and still follow him.When I got married, we had the usual discussions about the guest list. I insisted on inviting this one individual. She and her whole family had been lifelong friends of our family. They were almost like brothers and sisters. There was only one problem. I dated her. I remember my wife essentially saying, "If you're going to marry me, there are some choices that you need to make." I didn't listen, but I get the point now. I can't be married to Charlene and make relational choices that put me in conflict with my marriage. We can't be followers of Christ and put any other relationship ahead of the one we have with him.How do I know when I'm doing this? For some, it's easy. If they follow Christ, they know they're risking being cut off from their families. For the rest of us, it's probably a little more subtle. We can't put any other relationships ahead of our relationship with Jesus.

Our Lives

It gets even starker. "And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me" (Luke 14:27). In Jesus' time, those who were going to be executed had to carry the crossbeam of the cross to the execution site. It would be a little like asking someone who's about to be electrocuted to check the wiring of the electric chair to make sure everything is in order. Or to take someone who's going to the gas chamber to the store to help carry the gas canisters back."Carry your own cross." Anyone got plans, goals? Following Jesus means that we put him ahead of our own lives. We die to ourselves and follow him instead. You have no idea how much this terrifies and excites me.I hate to tell you this, because you have the power to change this, but I've got it pretty good here. God's called me to follow him, and I don't have much of a choice. But I've ended up in not too bad a situation. I get a salary and a health plan. Even on my really bad days, I still get paid to do what I'm doing. Lately I've been asking myself what would happen if God asked me to give all of that up and so something different, something where there was no salary or health plan or security. I'd like to say that I'd do it, but it scares me to death. Yet Jesus says, "You can't be my disciple if you don't die to yourself and follow me."I asked someone who's a leader in the North American church what he would do if he were my age again. He said the answer's different for everyone, but if he had the courage he would go out and plant a church with the goal of planting a hundred churches over the next year. I sometimes worry that I'll get to an age at which I'll wish that I had taken more risks instead of playing it safe.Can you relate? That's my version of dog kibble that I'm growling over. What's yours?Jesus told a couple of stories to drive this home. I'll read them from The Message:
Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn't first sit down and figure the cost so you'll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you're going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: "He started something he couldn't finish."Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can't, won't he send an emissary and work out a truce? (Luke 14:28-32)
We've just laid the new carpet here. They ran a bit short and never finished the main stairs going upstairs. It's okay for today, but imagine if it stayed that way because we ran out of money. It would look pretty strange if we left it that way permanently.I know someone (okay, I'm married to her) who sands, rips wallpaper out, even rips the main parts of bathrooms out before I know that we're going to repaint and renovate. I walk in one day and say, "I guess we're redoing our bathroom." Once she's started, the decision's already made.You get the point. Jesus wants us to consider in advance whether we're committed to finishing the job we start when we follow him. It's a little late to change our mind once we start. It's the idea of advance commitment, of a realistic estimate of the cost of following Jesus. This is what it takes.

Our Stuff

Our relationships, our lives - what else is left? Jesus says, "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:33). This is one of those verses you read again to try to find the loophole. At first glance it looks like we need to be selling everything that we have if we're to follow him. In a sense, it does.What Jesus is really getting at, though, isn't the disposal of our assets. I think the real issue is ownership. There's a huge difference between when I own my stuff and when God does. Jesus says that we need to give up everything that we have and transfer its ownership to God. Whatever he wants to do with it is fine. If he wants to get rid of it, we'll get rid of it. If he wants us to give it to someone else, no questions asked. It's not ours anymore. It's God's.This is where it gets really personal. For many of us, we can make changes in our relationships. We can give up our goals and plans, thinking we're giving up our very lives. But when it comes to transferring ownership of all that we have to God, for him to do as he wills, that's where we really begin to squirm.What gets me is what Jesus didn't say. He didn't say, "You can't be an elite disciple if you don't live that way." It's not like there's an elite status of follower who gives everything up and follows Jesus, while the rest of us meet a lower standard. Jesus didn't say, "Here's what you get for giving up everything. For those who can't, we have a second level of membership for those who give up 10%." He said, "This is the standard for anyone who wants to follow me. Here's the minimum level of entry. You've got to die to yourself. You've got to give up ownership of everything that you have. You have to put me before any of your relationships, plans, or possessions. Then you can follow me. Anything less and you can't be my disciple."Then he finishes: "Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. 'He who has ears to hear, let him hear.'" (Luke 14:34). Salt really can't change its properties. Jesus was saying, "Just as salt can't be anything but salt, so too my followers can't be anything but fully committed. Anything less and you're not really my disciple."Here's the good news: if this is too much for you, then you have a choice. You can turn Jesus down and keep your life, your stuff, everything for yourself. Jesus will let you. That's the good news. The bad news is this: you get to keep your stuff. That's all you get to keep. It's like the equivalent of my dog keeping her dog kibble. That's all she gets to keep.But if we live this way, if we choose to come and surrender everything that we have, everything that we own, everything we are, then we can follow Jesus. It's like giving up the kibble and getting filet mignon in return. You give up your life, but in return you get something far better. "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it" (Luke 9:24).I don't want to trivialize this. It does cost. Some have literally given up their lives as a result of following Jesus. He's not just talking figuratively. There will be a real cost to following Jesus.It used to be in the form of persecution. The ancient historian Tacitus wrote of Christians who were convicted of "hatred against the human race":
And they were put to death with insults , either dressed in the skins of beasts, to perish by the worrying of dogs, or else put on crosses to be set on fire when daylight failed, for use as light by night. Nero had thrown open his gardens for that spectacle, and mingled with the people in jockey's dress, or driving a chariot.
A later follower of Christ, the Roman lawyer Tertullian, said:
Torture us, rack us, condemn us, crush us; your cruelty only proves our innocence. That is why God suffers us to suffer all this. But nothing whatever is accomplished by your cruelties, each more exquisite than the last. It is the bait that wins men for our school. We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed.
Today, in some parts of the world, people are still giving up their lives for following Christ. I think that somewhere along the line, Satan figured out that there's a weapon that's even more powerful than persecution: apathy. Persecution seems to strengthen followers of Christ. Apathy is much more effective at preventing them from following Christ fully.This is the cost. There are no words that I can say that would make you want to pay this cost to follow Christ. This may scare you half to death. But it's the cost for any of us who want to follow him. Nothing less is enough.I guess one day we'll look back and see that what we were so afraid to give up was really no more valuable than this bowl of dog kibble. But that's not how it looks to us today. That's why I want to close by asking you to tell God that you're scared. He can handle it.Then offer him whatever it is that you're scared to offer him. Tell him you're scared as you do it. Pray that he would increase your willingness to surrender whatever it is. Picture it as this stuff - as dog kibble that you're handing over. It's like a little plastic trinket that a girl doesn't want to give up to her father, while her father wants to exchange it for a real jewel. Hand it over, however hard it is.You may not be ready to do this. I think there were a lot who heard what Jesus said and walked away. Don't make any vows that you're not ready to make today. But if you're ready, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, this is what it will take.Then lastly, thank him for what he's promised: that "everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, as well as receiving eternal life in the world to come" (Luke 18:29-30).Prayer
Tell him you're scared Offer it over Thank him for his promiseThis is where true freedom is found. As Robin Mark sings:
Jesus All for Jesus All I am and have and ever Hope to beAll my ambitions Hopes and plans I surrender these into Your handsFor it is only in Your will that I am free

Kingdom Snapshots (Matthew 13:24-52)

Jesus gives us seven pictures of the Kingdom of God in this passage. The Kingdom can best be explained through pictures like these. We won't look at the first picture, a well-known one (The Parable of the Sower and the Seed). We're going to look at some of the others, which are a little more obscure. These six have something in common. Jesus begins each one by saying, "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..."

First Picture: Weeds

24Here is another story Jesus told: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. 25But that night as everyone slept, his enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat. 26When the crop began to grow and produce grain, the weeds also grew. 27The farmer's servants came and told him, 'sir, the field where you planted that good seed is full of weeds!'

28"'An enemy has done it!' the farmer exclaimed."'Shall we pull out the weeds?' they asked.

29"He replied, 'No, you'll hurt the wheat if you do. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. Then I will tell the harvesters to sort out the weeds and burn them and to put the wheat in the barn.'"

The, the explanation in verse 36:

36Then, leaving the crowds outside, Jesus went into the house. His disciples said, "Please explain the story of the weeds in the field."

37"All right," he said. "I, the Son of Man, am the farmer who plants the good seed. 38The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. 39The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.

40"Just as the weeds are separated out and burned, so it will be at the end of the world. 41I, the Son of Man, will send my angels, and they will remove from my Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil, 42and they will throw them into the furnace and burn them. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the godly will shine like the sun in their Father's Kingdom. Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand!

This story isn't about the church. Some have taught that this story is about unbelievers who will always be in the church, and that you can't straighten this out until the end times. They're wrong. The field is the world (verse 38). It's about us living in the world, side by side with those who don't follow Jesus.

This is a picture of the Kingdom. Until later, it's a Kingdom that exists very much within an imperfect world. We sometimes assume our goal is to bring God's Kingdom into this world. That's okay, until we're surprised that his Kingdom isn't fully here. Laws are passed that we don't agree with. Stuff happens that the church can't influence. Jesus says that this shouldn't surprise us.

Second Picture: Mustard Seed

31He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

God's Kingdom has incredibly small beginnings. It's easy to overlook - but don't misunderstand its impact. The Kingdom can't be judged by its seeming smallness. It will prevail.

Third Picture: Yeast

33He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

This is one of my favorite pictures. It speaks of our smallness, our insignificance - and yet our influence within this world. Our influence is out of proportion to its size. We permeate, infiltrate, and influence society.

Fourth and Fifth Pictures: Hidden Treasure and Pearl

44"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

45"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

The hidden treasure story speaks of how the Kingdom doesn't seem to make sense at first. It involves a surrender of everything. Why? It doesn't seem to make sense. Until...

This man buys a field. He pays way too much - far more than it's looks like it's worth. He sells all that he has to get it. Nobody can figure out why. It's only when he takes possession that it begins to make sense. He knew, all along, about a treasure buried there that made it all worthwhile.

Our commitment to the Kingdom can't possibly make sense - until you see its real value in the end. To use another picture, it's like a pearl that's so valuable that the pearl expert is willing to part with everything else to purchase it. The true value of the Kingdom makes everything we give up for it more than worthwhile.

Sixth Picture: Net

47"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Finally, a story about how the Kingdom will look in the end. This isn't a comfortable picture. It's one of judgment, of everything sorted out in the end. It gives urgency to our work for the Kingdom today.

Secret Seed (Mark 4:26-32)

Last week, I did a 10k run. I was feeling pretty proud of myself, until I talked to a friend about his running schedule. he's preparing for a marathon. He runs about four times a week. Three of them, he said, were short runs; one was longer.

I made the mistake of asking him how long his short runs were. He said, "About 9k." Suddenly, my 10k run didn't seem so significant anymore.

Most of us know that feeling - the feeling that something that's important to us really doesn't measure up.

That's true of the church. We expect the church to be triumphant. It's the Body of Christ. Jesus has given us all authority. Yet we often find the church is weak, broken, and imperfect.

Jesus' Stories (Mark 4)

The First Story

26Jesus also said, "Here is another illustration of what the Kingdom of God is like: A farmer planted seeds in a field, 27and then he went on with his other activities. As the days went by, the seeds sprouted and grew without the farmer's help, 28because the earth produces crops on its own. First a leaf blade pushes through, then the heads of wheat are formed, and finally the grain ripens. 29And as soon as the grain is ready, the farmer comes and harvests it with a sickle."

The first story is about something we take for granted - the growth of seeds into wheat. The farmer is part of this process in which the seed is planted and grows. He can't understand it or explain it, but he's part of the process.

What's the story about? It's ultimately not about the farmer, or waiting. It's about the seed, which represents the Gospel.

What does it tell us? The Gospel is powerful - it has a power to grow all on its own. We're part of the process, but we can't explain it or even understand it. The Kingdom's development can't be hurried or skipped. Its growth is the work of God. We can't make it grow or even explain how it grows.

The Second Story

30Jesus asked, "How can I describe the Kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? 31It is like a tiny mustard seed. Though this is one of the smallest of seeds, 32it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can come and find shelter."

A mustard seed was known for being tiny. It takes 725-760 seeds to make a gram. Yet out of these tiny seeds came huge tree-like shrubs (6-10 feet). Once mustard seeds were planted, it was hard to ever get the place free of them.

This again is about the Kingdom of God. It has seemingly insignificant beginnings, yet one day it will be seen by all. We can't judge its effects by its current size. It's the current activity of GOd, not the evidence that we see right now, that guarantees the outcome.

Out of nothing, ignoring all failure, God is carrying out his Kingdom to completion.

Lessons

God's reign rarely makes headlines. It's easy to write it off and ignore it.

But we can't miss how God's Kingdom really operates. It advances through defeat, crucifixion, and prison. It's not what we thought it would be like. It's not often mighty, fast, or successful. It's silent and often overlooked.

Our role, like the farmer's, is to do our part and never give up, even when it looks like nothing's happening as a result of our work.