Gardendale Nazarene

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Parables | Pastor's Blog | Gardendale Nazarene

Parables

Beauty of Forgiveness

“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,

“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’

For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
–Luke 7:31-35 ESV

Today's parable is one we rarely read or take the time to dissect. It is a short parable. Yet if you are like me, it leaves me scratching my head.

So, what exactly is this parable's message? Let's take a moment to dissect it. We have a group of children who played a fun song (possibly at a wedding) and the people didn't dance. Then, they play a somber song (possibly at a funeral) and the people didn't weep.

The issue we see is the people did not respond appropriately. Jesus then brings it home. When John the Baptist came, you thought he was demon possessed. When Jesus came, you thought he was drunk.

In other words, you missed the message of John the Baptist (Repent!). You also missed the message of Jesus (the joyful message of His forgiveness).

How does this parable speak to us today? Let me ask this question– Why do people reject Christ today?

Some might say, Christians are... too boring, too judgmental, too 'goody two-shoes', too involved in politics, too concerned about 'silly things'... The list could go on forever.

Do you know something about this list? It reflects the shortcomings of Christians, not Christ. All of these things reflect our need for a savior. The question isn't, "Do we need forgiveness?" The question is, "Do we respond appropriately to the beauty of forgiveness found in Jesus Christ and His Cross?"

I know it is easy to be overwhelmed by the constant news cycle. I know we are just a little over a week away from the election. The real questions are, Do you hear the children playing the flute? Are you willing to dance to the joyful message of His forgiveness?

We are people who have something wonderful to celebrate. May we see the beauty of Jesus' message and respond appropriately!

Invisible People

In Luke 18, we read the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The story reads, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’”

We see two characters in this parable- a Pharisee (one presumed righteous) and a tax collector (one presumed unrighteous).

Let’s briefly look at the two characters. First, we see the Pharisee beginning his prayer with thanksgiving, but the thanksgiving is not ‘thanks’ at all. Rather, his supposed thanks turns into judgment. “Lord, I’m glad I’m not as pitiful as those nasty sinners!” What kind of prayer is this?

Then the Pharisee recounts his own righteousness. “I fast twice a week, rather than the once a year required by the law. I tithe on all my produce, not just that which is stipulated by the law.”

The tax collector, on the other hand, understands his place before God. He stands humbly before God and admits his position, a sinner. As we have seen with many of the parables, Jesus loved to use this reversal of characters.

The challenge to me in this parable relates to a quote a few months ago from one of our General Superintendents, David Busic. Dr. Busic wrote, “Who are the ‘invisible’ people in our communities who are not in or touched by our churches? Why are they absent? What will we do?”

I think it is easy to fall into the trap of the Pharisee. Sometimes, it is too easy to look down on those ‘tax-collectors’ in our lives. This parable reminds us that we all approach God in the same way, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

I believe when we understand our place before God, it is much easier to see the ‘invisible’ people in our communities who desperately need God. When we remember our need for God, we can’t help but be moved to compassion for those who do not know God.

This year, I have been challenging the church board with Busic's quote. This challenge is not just for the church board, it is for all of us. It is my prayer, that we pray that God will open our eyes to those in our community that are not 'touched' by the local churches. Will we look down on them as a Pharisee? Or will we join them in prayer, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

A House Divided

This morning's parable is one of those odd stories in the Gospels. It is found in Mark 3:20-30.

The crowds following Jesus are growing. This is becoming a problem for the religious leaders. They probably asked themselves, "How exactly are we going to deal with this 'Jesus problem?'"

As the word spread about Jesus, it spread also to his family. Verse 21 reads, "And when his family heard it, they went out to seize him, for they were saying, 'He is out of his mind.'"

The scribes agreed with the sentiment, actually, they were convinced that Jesus was possessed. The next verse gives us their statement, "'He is possessed by Beelzebul,' and 'by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.'"

This statement should not be easily dismissed- the scribes were saying that Jesus' actions were being controlled by Satan. He was under the 'prince of demons.' This is a very serious accusation and Jesus responds directly and with authority.

The text tells us that Jesus calls to them and speaks to them in a parable. This parable has three similar statements that reel the scribes in before Jesus finalizes His point in the next assertion.

  • If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
  • If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
  • If Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.

Jesus then extends this parable with a mini-parable, "But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house" (Mark 3:27 ESV).

What is Jesus telling the scribes through these parables? Two things jump out to me. First, Jesus is reminding us that His work is in unity with the mission of God. His actions are in line with the Spirit.

Following this parable is a couple of those peculiar verses. Verses 28 and 29 read, "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin."

What does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Context is key. Jesus is telling them– when they say things against Him, those will be forgiven ("Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they are doing"). However, when the scribes said Jesus' actions were those of satan, they made a statement that God's Spirit in Him is the work of satan.

The Holy Spirit's actions (i.e. healing, freeing people of unclean spirits, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, etc.) are easily discernible from the works of satan. Jesus' struggle with the scribes was that they didn't recognize God's Spirit when it was right before them. For His Kingdom is not divided.

Second, in order for the strong man (satan) to be defeated, he has to be bound. In order to bind a strong man, you must be stronger than the one who needs binding. Guess what? Jesus will (and has) defeated satan.

When I read this parable, I take assurance in the fact that God is ruling and the Holy Spirit's action might be unrecognizable to those in the world, but that shouldn't stop us from seeing the captives set free!

The Sower, Part 1

Today's parable will probably turn into 'the rest of this month's parable.' There is just too much to cover in one week.

If you remember the setting for last week, we saw how Jesus' family thought he was 'out of his mind' (Mk 3:21). Mark wraps us that section with Jesus asking the question, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" A couple verses later, Jesus tells us, "...whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother."

This context opens the parable of the sower. If you look at
Mark 4:1-9, you will see that Jesus is beside the sea and a crowd has gathered.

Let's focus this week on the sea. Next week, we will move into the actual parable.

I would ask that you read a few verses and look for similarities:
  • Mark 1:16 & 17- Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”
  • Mark 2:13 & 14- He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
  • Mark 3:7- Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the sea, and a great crowd followed, from Galilee and Judea...

What do these passages have in common? I hope you noticed they all center around two things- the sea and the disciples. It seems that when Jesus is at the sea, his disciples need to pay attention! Mark is calling our attention to these things so that we sit up and take note.

The last point I would like for you to see today is this- Jesus begins this parable with a pivotal word in the Jewish world. Look at verse 3:

"
Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow."
"
Listen!" This command would have taken the people back to the most important imperative in their faith, "Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is One."

Jesus opens this parable with a command, "Listen!"
Listen because a prophet is speaking.
Listen because God is speaking.

May we gather, as His disciples, to listen. So many things in our world fight for our attention. The voice of God is so easily drowned out and lost in the static of our world.

Listen because
the Lord is speaking!

It is my prayer, that we sit up and take notice. God is speaking. May we turn off the noise around us to listen to the One who brings life.