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Jackson Drive 2012 Fall Series
"Early Parables Of Jesus From Matthew"
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October 21, 2012
Until We Have Ears
Men seldom see things alike. It’s not that reality wears so many faces; it’s just that men choose to look at things differently. Some people in Jesus’ day were sure that He was the Son of God, but they were in the minority. Many very religious people thought He kept the wrong company—prostitutes, well-known extortioners, notorious people. And, after all, “a man is known by the company he keeps.” He said He spent His time with sinners because they needed Him (Luke 5:31).
But most people thought that was a likely story. Some thought they had never heard a man speak with the wisdom and clarity that Jesus did (John 7:45). Others laughed at the idea that a man of such little learning and background—a nobody—could be thought wise, except perhaps by the ignorant and irreligious (Mark 6:3; John 7:47-49). Jesus said that His teaching came from God and that those who wanted to do God’s will would be able to recognize that (John 7:15-17). Many, however, still complained that His teaching was vague (John 10:24) and often preposterous (John 6:42,52).
Jesus did not come to a very good end. It is said that men die as they have lived—and Jesus’ death was scandalous. He was charged with high crimes by the rulers of His people and executed in the company of two notorious thieves. Many thought it absolutely ludicrous that such a weak, pathetic figure should claim to be the Son of God, the King of kings, and they said so (Matthew 27:39‑44). The truth is that even His disciples who had believed in Him were deeply shaken by the cross (Matthew 26:56). Jesus said He had to die to save others from their sins (Matthew 26:28). Still, the most learned Jews likely continued to repeat what the law clearly said, that a man hanged on a tree was accursed of God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
From every worldly-wise and fleshly point of view Jesus of Nazareth could not have been the Christ of God (1Corinthians 1:23). That was how most folk felt about it. Which is not surprising since most folk have usually been worldly-wise and practical-minded. In (2Corinthians 5:16) Paul says that he at one time saw Jesus just this way—“after the flesh”—a man who got just what was coming to Him. This is not really so remarkable. Isaiah had long before announced that God’s Servant would be “despised and rejected of men,” and they would “esteem him smitten of God” because of His own great wickedness (Isaiah 53:3‑4). He had earlier described Him as “a stone of stumbling and … a rock of offense” (Isaiah 8:14). But Paul did not go on looking at Jesus in this hard-headed, practical-minded, worldly—wise, “common sense” sort of way (2Corinthians 5:16). He came to understand that not just the Gentiles but the Jews as well, all men, were hopelessly ensnared by sin (Romans 3:23). He saw why Jesus had to come into the world (1Timothy 1:15) and why He had to die in our stead (Galatians 1:4). He became a new man in Christ with a new set of values and a new way of looking at things (2Corinthians 5:17). He learned to walk by faith in God rather than by human wisdom (2Corinthians 5:7).
The gospel does not deny that Jesus’ death was shameful. Apostolic preachers did not reject the Old Testament edict that a man hanged on a tree was accursed of God. They swallowed whole the disgrace and shame of the cross (Galatians 3:13b) and moved to the more critical question of “Why?” Why was the Christ of God brought to such degradation? Why was He made to suffer such contempt? And then they gave the answer that we all so dread to hear. It was not for His own sins but for ours that He was accursed (Galatians 3:13a). “God laid upon him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). “He who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf … that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2Corinthians 5:21).
We, too, may first look at the cross and imagine that we are seeing a scandalous man dying a scandalous death—but if we look long enough, and honestly enough, we will finally realize that the scandal is that of our own sinfulness and the glory is that of His great love. Whether that happens to us or not depends on the kind of spirit we bring to the cross. A proud man will find it incomprehensible and unacceptable. The humble man will find it altogether believable and desirable. As Jesus Himself said, no one can hear the message until he has ears to hear it (Luke 8:8). The choice between pride and humility is clearly ours.
— Paul Earnheart
How Do Churches Grow?
There is a great need today for Christians to remember what their business is in the world. You would think it impossible for disciples of Jesus Christ to forget that He “came into the world to save sinners” (1Timothy 1:15), “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10)—but it has been managed. Local churches now, as of old, can fall prey to a sterile orthodoxy that lacks both passion and compassion (Revelation 2:2-5). Christians who do not “live for the lost” in both their individual and collective lives have become as useless as road dust and can no longer justify their existence. The Lord has not been unclear about that (Matthew 5:13).
It is for this reason that my heart has thrilled at what seems to be a resurgence of evangelistic fervor among the disciples I know. It may indeed be yet no larger than a man’s hand, but it is there and it is filled with promise. This is as it should be, for there is a desperate need for us to be about our Father’s business both at home and abroad, remembering all the while that this will be accomplished not by some institutional scheme, but by the awakened concern of individual saints who have come to know their Savior better and to love Him more.
Given the fragile infant nature of this new evangelistic stirring among us, it may be premature and even risky to be issuing warnings, but memories of the past serve to edge with concern the joy I feel at this emerging sense of compassion for lost souls. I can still remember the ground swell of missionary zeal that arose in the churches following the upheaval of a world war which scattered Christians from their previously narrow circles to new places in their own country and abroad. A rising post-war prosperity joined with a new awareness of the size of the world produced an explosion of evangelism. The churches grew in numbers and wealth, and a heady spirit of self confidence took hold of many disciples as they moved from their modest meeting houses on “the wrong side of the tracks” into larger and more impressive buildings.
It was an exhilarating time, but it was also a dangerous time. From a people compelled by humble circumstances to trust in the Lord, we were transformed into a proud-spirited institution that gloried in its new-found social status. Even as men were fanning out across the world to tell the story of a simple undenominational discipleship, the gospel was in the process of being lost to presumptuous pride. Human wisdom introduced “better methods” of accomplishing God’s purposes, and accommodations were made with the society to which the churches were more closely linked. It didn’t have to happen and it shouldn’t have happened, but we do well to note that it did happen.
My present joy at every new manifestation of zeal for perishing sinners is undiluted, but how bitter it would be to see this godly earnestness subverted by a repetition of old folly. So, while we are calling our brethren to the harvest field, let us give equal attention to the soundness of our faith and lives. This will happen as a matter of course if we maintain the humble spirit of our Savior and continue to know that the “victory is of the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31). As we enlarge the place of our tent and lengthen its cords, we need to remember to strengthen its stakes (Isaiah 54:2) by speaking “the things which befit the sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1) and holding fast “the pattern of sound words … in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2Timothy 1:13).
The last thing I intend to suggest by all this is that we become paranoid about numerical growth. Sometimes I think there are as many Christians who take pride in being few as there are that grow puffed up by being many. It is not the NUMBER that is significant but the PEOPLE. People are lost one by one and they will be saved the same way. If we succeed in recovering every lost person we can, our numbers will of necessity increase, but it will still be the individual souls that are important and the glory and power will still be the Lord’s.
A friend of mine recently asked me why I was so skeptical of numerical goal-setting in promoting growth in local churches. It was a new question for me, but he had read me accurately. I have an uneasiness about any great emphasis on statistics in measuring the growth of churches. I am skeptical because numbers can so often mask what is happening to people. The ultimate goal of our Father for His children is both spiritual and personal. He wills that we be “conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). Success or failure in this enterprise cannot be measured by mere statistics. A far more important question to raise as numbers change is how individual saints are faring in their effort to be more Christ-like. Churches only truly grow as the individual members of those assemblies grow. What is the glory of our numbers if people are not prepared to go to heaven?
There are no ultimate concrete number goals to be set. God is not willing that ANY should perish (2Peter 3:9). If our numbers increase, and God grant that they shall, let it be because we have shown compassion to one more lost soul who needs the gospel with its saving and transforming power, and not because we are trying to build “great churches.” This whole thing is about people going to heaven. May we never forget that.