Friday, September 23, 2016

"Sowing 'seed' in the kingdom!"

Day #268

Scripture Reading:  Mark 3 - 4 …

What do you think of when you hear the words, “the kingdom of God”?  Most people think about heaven and eternity.  Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God from the beginning of His ministry and called those who would follow Him to “seek first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).  Yet few then or now understood what He meant.  Jesus was talking about the reign of God over all things and life lived in His presence, acknowledging His reign.  God sent His Son to begin that reign and even now Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father, ruling over all things as the Head of His Body, the Church.  Only those who confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord are part of God’s kingdom and it is to us that God now gives the mission to proclaim His reign to the world as we await Jesus’ return.  This is what Jesus was thinking about all the time, and it is what YOU should be thinking about all the time!!

A pastor whose sermons I listen to occasionally online always introduces the time of receiving the tithes and offerings of God's people by saying, "We're going to sow seed into the kingdom …"  Every time I hear that I assume he is referring to Paul's words in II Corinthians 9, verse 6, where he is talking about giving an offering, "Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”  The problem today is that too many people seem to think that this means if I give of my finances to the Lord, God will bless me financially with more to give (and of course, more to use for ME!).  That SEEMS to be what God is saying in II Corinthians 9, and it is true that God CAN do that and He MAY do that, but He also may not.  

The deeper lesson Paul is teaching is what Jesus refers to in His parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13 and here in Mark 4:  the seed that is sown is the Word of God.  The financial gifts of the Corinthians and others were enabling the Gospel to be proclaimed, even as their gifts were meeting the needs of those in Jerusalem and in other places, and the result was that people were glorifying God!  But not all people. 

The ultimate goal in God's kingdom is always that God will receive glory, that HIS name will be praised, and the way that happens is when the Word falls on good ground and produces a harvest of righteousness.  That's why Jesus came to preach the good news and to call people to repentance and faith.  The Pharisees didn't understand this concept of giving glory to God through a life of faith and obedience.  They were still living under the law, attempting to earn their standing before God by their own righteousness.  They believed Jesus was teaching that the law of God was somehow bad, that people didn’t have to obey it, even though that was the opposite of what He taught.  Jesus simply wanted the Pharisees and others to know that they COULDN’T keep the law; that they needed a Savior!!

But because the Pharisees were spiritually blind and because they did not know or believe who Jesus was and why He had come into the world, they were continually testing Him, trying to accuse Him of sinning by breaking God’s law.  They saw the crowds beginning to follow Jesus and they were afraid of losing their position as the religious leaders of the Jews.  Their minds could not accept God’s plan to provide a different way to be righteous in His sight:  by faith!

As Mark 3 begins, it appears that they brought a man with a shriveled hand into the synagogue to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath.  Jesus met them head-on by asking them, "Which is lawful on the Sabbath:  to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill it?" (3:4).  When they didn't answer, Jesus looked at them in anger and was "deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts" (3:5).  Then Jesus healed the man and the Pharisees responded by plotting how they might kill Him.  Their hearts were NOT good ground!

They accused Jesus of casting out demons by Beelzebub, as though His power came from Satan.  THIS is the unforgivable sin:  to attribute to Satan what is being done by the power of the Spirit of God (3:29).  Even His mother and brothers did not yet understand.  But Jesus came to teach, to lay the foundation for His Church, to explain how the kingdom of God "works" and to call people into it.  His Word had power because God's Word has power.  Do you "have ears to hear" (4:9)?  Do you understand the "secret of the kingdom of God?" (4:11).

Like the crowds then, the crowds today want God to do things for them HERE and NOW!  When He does, they're happy ... if He doesn't meet their expectations, they are discouraged or depressed or angry, and wonder why.  But those of us who have been made good ground by the grace and power of God receive His Word and trust Him in every circumstance, living to tell others of our loving, good and faithful Father, who is at the same time holy, righteous and just.  We confess that we are aliens and strangers in this world, and we look for a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:13-16).

For us, the words of Jesus are sweet to our ears.  Jesus calms the storm and calls us to get rid of our fear and believe!  The disciples asked, "Who is this?" (4:41).  But we KNOW who He is!!  This is Jesus, the Christ, the eternal Son of God, our Savior and our Lord!!  The crowds would leave Jesus when His teaching didn't suit them (John 6), and Jesus would turn to the disciples and ask them, "Do you want to leave me, too?"  (John 6:67).  But in a moment of clarity, moved by the Spirit, Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go?  YOU have the WORDS of eternal life.  We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God" (6:68-69).

I pray that as you read Mark's Gospel, and as you hear Jesus' words, YOU know who He is and believe in Him.  And I pray you are good ground and that you will bear fruit for His kingdom!!  “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (4:9).

"Heavenly Father, I thank You for sending Jesus to teach the truth of Your kingdom, and then for giving the perfect sacrifice on the cross to open the door for those who believe to enter it.  I praise You for the work of Your Spirit, by whose power You bring the dead to life ... for You have brought ME to life!  Continue your work in me, so that I may produce a harvest for YOU.  In Jesus' name, Amen"

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