Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Wednesday, 19 January 2022:
Genesis 17:1 — “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.”
God’s standard for His people has not changed. God’s expectation for His chosen people is clear and consistent throughout the whole Bible: “Walk before me, and be blameless…. Keep the way of the Lord.” Previously in Matthew we heard Jesus say, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Today, Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven…. depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21, 23)
Though we are saved by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8, 9), we are expected to obey in response to grace. The Great Commission says, “Go therefore and make disciples [not merely ‘believers’ like the demons described in James] of all nations…. teaching them to observe [obey] all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) We are saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone. Or as James says, “faith without deeds is useless (James 2:20).” Genuine faith inevitably produces a changed life from a changed heart. We are saved not by our works but by faith; but genuine faith works. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17)!” Jesus said, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8).” The “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22, 23).”
The Bible is clear that, of our own merit, no one is righteous (Psalm 143:2; Romans 3:10), rather we are made righteous through Christ (II Corinthians 5:21; Romans 4). However, in our state of grace, we are compelled to “seek righteousness”. (Zephaniah 2:3; Matthew 6:33) With all our might and with all our heart, we “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).” The genuinely saved person will change for the better (2 Corinthians 5:17). That person is saved “for good works” (Ephesians 2:10), and there is no way (s)he can fail to bring forth at least some of the fruit that characterizes the redeemed (Matthew 7:17). His desires are transformed; (s)he begins to hate sin and love righteousness. He will not be sinless, but the pattern of his life will be decreasing sin and increasing righteousness. The fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5 begins in love and ends in self-control. The love of Christ compels us to have the self-control required to obey God, a self-control which was never in us before we accepted Jesus Christ, a self-control which could not be manifested in us by the law, only genuine love. Where there is love, there is obedience.
Matthew 13:10-13 – “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’ And he answered them, ‘To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.’”
Today, Jesus delivers one of His most well-known parables, The Parable of the Sower. Matthew 13 opens with, “That same day Jesus went out of the house….” The same day as what? This was the same day as the events recorded in Matthew 12. This was the Sabbath day when Jesus and the disciples were chastised by the Pharisees for plucking heads of grain to eat. Then, Jesus was further criticized for breaking the Sabbath again by healing a man in the synagogue, and the Pharisees further accused Jesus of doing His work through the power of Satan. In response, Jesus calls His skeptics “an evil and adulterous generation.”
After the confrontation described in Matthew 12, Jesus walks outside and a crowd gathers around Him, standing (not sitting) to hear His words. (Matthew 13:1, 2) Then He delivers The Parable of the Sower. After Jesus addressed the crowd, “the disciples” (His followers) separately asked Him about the parable. Since Jesus explains the meaning of the parable, I won’t focus on that today (though we should all consider which seed/soil combination represents our lives), rather I would like to consider Jesus’ response to their question, “Why do you speak to them in parables?”
Jesus said, “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” You see, many people ‘heard’ Jesus speak, but in their hearts, they really didn’t want to listen, understand, and accept what He was saying. Many people saw Jesus, the Son of God, face to face and saw Him perform many miracles, but they didn’t want to follow Him and accept Him as Lord and Savior, leaving their old lifestyles behind. Few ‘held fast to God’s word with an honest and good heart.’ (Luke 8:15) Few truly hungered and thirsted for righteousness. (Matthew 5:6)
When Jesus “went out of the house” after teaching and rebuking the Pharisees, I wonder how many followed Him because they wanted to hear more and commit to what they had learned? How many people were willing to stand there on the beach and really listen?
When Jesus spoke in parables, no one, not even the disciples, understood what the parables meant. But, as opposed to the crowd, the disciples stuck around and asked Jesus to explain the parables, and He did. Why did the disciples ask? Because they really wanted to understand, because they were honest enough, humble enough, and willing to ask, and because they trusted Jesus to answer. At the end of the day, most people simply didn’t understand because they really didn’t care to know the Teacher or His teachings and, therefore, didn’t ask.
As we will see later, the harder Jesus’ teachings get, the fewer people will be willing to follow – “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ … After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. So Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.’” (John 60, 66-69)
So, how intently are you willing to study God’s word to Know Him and His truth? How committed are you obeying God’s word? As you read your Bible this year, what will you do when you read things that are hard to understand or hard to accept? Obviously, we can’t pull Jesus aside and ask Him to simply explain it to us, but Jesus said, “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth…. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin.” (John 14:16, 17; John 16:7-15) As you read God’s word, do so in the Spirit, and pray to God to reveal His truth to you more and more. And patiently wait upon the Lord to increase your understanding, diligently obey what you do understand – “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15)
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) — 19 Jan 22: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18) Pray that God will increase your passion for His word and further open your eyes to His truth.