Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 9

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Chapter 9

Wise Nonsense

Jesus changes the unchangeable

In this chapter I’m will try to help you to feel less spiritually knowledgeable so that you can learn something. In fact, if I can help you feel as spiritually informed as a seven-year-old child, then I will have succeeded beyond my highest expectation. That probably sounds like complete nonsense, but I’m convinced that it’s wise nonsense.

You see, there’s more than one way to teach and to learn. Jesus once told his disciples, “Anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15). Jesus knew that what his disciples considered completely settled about God and about themselves was blocking them from further spiritual growth. He challenged them to become more childlike so that they might grow up in the things of God.

Like Jesus’ first disciples, we have each absorbed certain erroneous ideas and habits that we have cast in personal concrete. Such barriers of the mind must be broken down for us to make spiritual progress.

Jesus often used paradoxes to shatter personal complacency. One expert in biblical literature defines a paradox as “an apparent contradiction which, upon reflection, is seen to express a genuine truth.”

Paradoxes help us learn, because they sneak up on us from a totally fresh perspective. They force us to stop and think like few other techniques can. The title of this chapter, “Wise Nonsense,” expresses a paradox. It seems contradictory because wisdom and nonsense describe opposite ideas. On reflection, we realize that some truths sound like nonsense but actually express the very wisdom of God.

Jesus expressed such a truth when he said, “Whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Seeming contradictions abound in his teaching. Such paradoxes give us an opportunity to go back and become a little more childlike so that we can see God’s truth like spiritual adults.

The Rich Man’s Poverty

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
(Mark 10:17–22)

With a love for vivid action, Mark’s Gospel describes a young man dashing up to Jesus, falling on his knees, and repeatedly asking him what personal deeds would lead to eternal life. The young man’s question unveiled the very heart and soul of common ideas about salvation in his time. First-century Judaism taught salvation through certain merit-producing works. We might call it salvation by the “merit system.” This rich man wanted to add eternal life to the bulging portfolio of his wealth.

The Jews considered the Mosaic Law a way of earning merit with God. The Pharisees had listed over six hundred commandments from the law and then had elaborated those even further to provide additional ways of making points. The Jews imagined a steadily accumulating account of merits that God would weigh in his balances at the end of a person’s life. In the time of Jesus, the law-abiding Jew fully expected the balance to tip in his favor.

On the other hand, they regarded Gentiles as totally without any prospect of salvation because they lacked knowledge of God’s merit system. That whole concept guided the wording of the rich man’s question: “Good teacher . . . what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17).

Jesus responded to the question in strong terms; he attacked being addressed as “good teacher” (Mark 10:17). Jesus threw the whole idea of human merit into the trash by saying, “No one is good — except God alone” (Mark 10:18). In criticizing the man’s question, Jesus began to cut away at the cultural, foundational ideas that undergirded it.

As long as men think they can attain goodness through human works, they are not ready to attain the only goodness that will ever bring eternal life. Only by renouncing their own goodness can a person obtain the gift of Christ’s goodness through faith. Jesus bluntly shot the man’s question down because it was hindering his approach to God. In effect, Jesus expressed a paradox: only by denying any merit do we gain merit.

Jesus next focused the man’s attention on the commandments of the Law. Here the man revealed the depth of his blindness. By claiming that he had kept all of the Law since he was a boy, he had missed the whole point of the Law!

A sincere Israelite who tried to keep the Law would soon realize that he could not possibly do it. His failure should lead him to throw himself upon the mercy of God. But the insidiousness of Pharisaism lay in the fact that it had diluted God’s law and made it humanly attainable. Such a heinous deception had captured this man’s mind.

In trying to reach this rich man, Jesus moved him from something hard to something even harder for him. After challenging him with the Law, Jesus then confronted him with the need to give away his wealth. Paradoxically, Jesus told the man that he had to give up all of his treasure if he wished to have treasure.

That idea also struck at the foundations of Jewish piety, which taught that charitable gifts, fasting, and prayer were the three best ways of pleasing God. The rich were thought to have heaven “in the bag” because throughout a lifetime they could dole out little token gifts from their great wealth. The Pharisees forbade anyone from giving away all of their wealth at one time because that would be throwing away salvation — or so they taught.

By asking the man to give away his wealth, Jesus was taking away the best hope for salvation that the man had, according to the thinking of his day. In essence, Jesus told the man that the only way he could get to heaven was to give away the exact thing that he thought would get him there. Give away all to gain all. What wise nonsense!

Many commentators have likely misunderstood Mark 10:21a, which says, “Jesus looked at him and loved him.” It is often said that Jesus felt some special regard for this man. I don’t think that’s the case at all. Mark was simply telling us that Jesus looked at the man and then loved him in the full, biblical sense of the word.

Biblical love does not consist of some warm and fuzzy feeling toward someone else, but rather it is an act of self-giving for the benefit of another person. Jesus loved this man by revealing to him what was blocking his way to heaven. Paradoxically, Jesus’ love brought this man shock and sorrow. In Mark 10:22 we are told that “the man’s face fell,” which means that he was both shocked and appalled by what Jesus had said.

While Jesus was trying to reach through mental barriers to save this rich man, the disciples were standing beside him, taking it all in. Their heads were swimming with confusion and their hearts were filling with despair.

Possible Impossibilities

23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
(Mark 10:23–27)

Jesus’ first statement hit the disciples like a ton of bricks: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Mark 10:23). In telling us that “the disciples were amazed,” Mark used a Greek verb that indicates they didn’t get over their astounded state quickly. Something shattering happened right in front of their eyes and yet defied belief. Jesus knew that his own disciples held the same erroneous beliefs about wealth that the rich man did!

Jesus then treated the disciples much as he did the rich man, by moving from something hard for them to accept to something even harder. Jesus had them off balance and then knocked them further off balance so that they might learn. The approach is counter-intuitive but very effective.

With a piece of exaggerated humor, Jesus took the biggest animal in Israel, the camel, and imagined it passing through the smallest opening, the eye of a needle. By implication, Jesus was saying that it is impossible for someone who trusts in riches to enter the kingdom of God.

The effect of Christ’s words was to bring his disciples to the point of despair. Mark wrote that the disciples were “even more amazed”; the Greek verb means “to be overwhelmed.” Jesus had knocked flat all their ideas about wealth. In despair, the dumbfounded disciples turned to one another and wondered how anyone could possibly be saved.

That exchange led to two more paradoxes. The first is that men must reach despair in order to find hope. The disciples had to abandon all hope in the methods of this world so that they might gain the only true hope. Jesus extended that hope to them with another paradox: with God the impossible becomes possible. Their hope did not lie in themselves but in him.

The entire sequence, including both the rich man and the disciples, expresses a profound paradox about wealth. Wealth seems to men of all ages to bring the greatest security, but that security is deceptive. By relying on wealth, they fail to seek the only security that really does exist, security in God. So, paradoxically, the greatest security brings the greatest peril.

Those who have everything stand in the greatest danger of ending life with nothing. Being overwhelmed by Christ’s words, the disciples reacted like the rich man. Yet, unlike him, they did not leave Jesus. That illustrates the vast gulf that lay between those who responded to Jesus and those who walked away from him.

After wiping away the thoughts that his disciples cherished so deeply, Jesus then began to build new ways of thinking. They must leave behind cultural patterns and ways of thought, which lead to dead ends of impossibility. They must instead trust in the Lord, with whom all things become possible.

The Last First

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
(Mark 10:28-31)

Quite understandably, Peter sought reassurance from Jesus. In reply, Jesus acknowledged that his disciples had given up both families and inheritances for his sake. As a result, they would win the grand prize. Paradoxically, they forsook all to receive even more in its place. Those who seem according to the standards of the world to have it made, those using the world’s patterns, will in fact be last in the age to come. By contrast, the disciples of Jesus, whom the religious establishment considered to be the last, will prove in the age to come to be the children of the Father, and therefore the first of all.

Paul puts it in another way in 1 Corinthians chapter 1. The world considers the cross foolishness, but the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. The very thing the world considers laughable is the thing that God will use to save those who will put their faith in his Son. Paradoxically, through death (at the cross) comes life (for all who believe).

I hope that you can see how Jesus used paradoxes to get his disciples to think new thoughts about God. He knocked them off balance and brought them to the point of despair so that they might find the only true hope.

Becoming Childlike Adults in Christ

I want to apply this passage by asking you to rethink some things in a manner similar to the way Jesus taught his first disciples. In setting aside long-established ideas, we can become more like children for a little while, and more pliable in Christ’s hands. Use the following ideas to guide you:

1. One of our greatest needs is to develop Christ’s viewpoint on life’s complex issues. As you study the Scriptures, here are two suggestions:

Meditate the most on the verses you like the least.

Doesn’t that sound like fun? Such behavior would be paradoxical, and it would have a significant purpose. When God says something that you find most uncomfortable, that is probably the very time when the theological system in your head needs to be changed!

Look for situations in which Jesus behaves in a way that would feel embarrassing or very unnatural for you.

Remember how Jesus treated the unsaved rich man. He didn’t deal with him the way any contemporary Christian would. What can we learn from that? In teaching his disciples, Jesus first knocked them off balance and then knocked them totally down! How can we take advantage of this novel method in terms of teaching and learning in our own lives?

By carefully evaluating such unusual approaches, we can pick up profound insights about our own ways of doing things. Such situations certainly should lead us to wonder whether we derive our own patterns of behavior from our surrounding culture or from Jesus.

2. Things are not always what they seem to be. Wealth and accomplishment can deceive us by promising something they can’t deliver. Wealth promises security, but there is no lasting security except in the Lord.

Great or numerous accomplishments can deceive us into thinking that we are doing something of lasting value. But only those actions that serve Christ, his people, and his kingdom will truly endure and be rewarded.

Thousands of years ago, three pharaohs each erected a great pyramid outside of Cairo; each pyramid took over twenty years to build. Can you personally name a single one of these men? Can you imagine putting out such vast effort without even accomplishing lasting fame?

Where is your security based? Is it based in your bank account? Or in your good acts?

Will your busy actions stand the test of time?

3. Some of the things that the Lord calls on us to do bring us struggle, because our life experiences cry out, “That won’t work!” But the very essence of living by faith is doing things his way even when we can’t see what the consequences will be. The rich man considered Christ’s ideas nonsense. By contrast, the disciples were willing to follow him even when the road led them to despair.

4. What are your two greatest strengths, personally or spiritually? I want you to think of something concrete about yourself and even to write it down.

Are you reliable, loving, or intelligent? What do people value about you? Are you giving, articulate, honest or kind?

When I filled in those blanks, I put down knowledge first. A great deal of my life has focused on accumulating and teaching knowledge. But, you know there is something paradoxical about knowledge, because Jesus couldn’t teach some of the scribes anything. They already considered themselves so smart that they didn’t think there was anything that an untutored teacher from Galilee could tell them.

Here is the point: have you considered the seemingly absurd possibility that your greatest strengths may be your areas of greatest weakness in your walk with Christ?

What you do best may need some rethinking and readjustment. The purpose of that is not to do away with your strengths, but to keep them from becoming weaknesses.

As believers we need to be willing to open every door of our lives, including those areas that we consider totally settled. We need to re-evaluate even our greatest strengths so that Jesus can make us ever more effective for him.

A Final Word

As strange as it may sound, I hope I have helped you feel less certain about your beliefs, about yourself, and about how to live for Christ. If you feel a little more like a child, a little off balance, then this chapter has met its goal.

I always loved downhill skiing. I found it exhilarating to ski up to a steep place and look down. The thing that’s tough about it is that the way to ski a steep run is to lean downhill and begin to pick up speed. That doesn’t sound right, does it!

To go that fast is scary and seems like the last thing you would want to do. But — paradoxically — up to a certain point, the faster your skis go, the more control they can give you. And so, what feels like the worst thing you can do is actually the thing that can bring you the most stability and control.

So, if you feel a little off balance by what has been said, don’t fight it. Take your uncertainty and your new concerns right where a child should go — to the Father. Study his Word. Pray for renewed wisdom. What you will find is that Jesus will take your weakened convictions and rebuild them, just as he did for his first disciples.

Coming next . . .

In Chapter 10, Jesus must pause in his daunting journey to Jerusalem and correct disciples who are scrambling for personal power in a manner more suited to Herod’s palace than to their Lord’s trek to the cross.

Books: The Path to the Cross — Chapter 6

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Chapter 6

The Number One Killer

Jesus analyzes the heart

Cancer is a word that ignites ugly fears. No disease has captured the attention of Americans the way cancer has. That is strange, because health statistics prove that heart disease kills far more Americans than cancer does. Yet when opinion surveys are taken in America, most people will predictably rank cancer as a greater killer than heart disease.

From these facts, it appears that we are easily distracted by things that have a strong emotional component. Cancer seizes our attention and summons strong feelings. Other things that are dull and simple, even though vitally important, may easily be forced from our conscious minds.

In this media-driven age, we watch television programs with multi-million dollar budgets on our HD-TVs and become increasingly attuned to flash. One communications expert has said that our society has become so used to over-stimulated communication that it takes sensory overkill to get people’s attention.

The Leading Spiritual Killer

Happily, only a fraction of us will ever have to face cancer or heart disease. But I invite your attention to an insidious killer that threatens every one of us to one extent or another. First, be warned that this killer comes disguised in dullness and simplicity, so you are already conditioned to ignore it. Some of you will feel little urgency when I tell you what it is, and that’s too bad.

This silent assassin is spiritual heart disease, a problem Jesus treated with utmost seriousness. In fact, he spoke about it in his very first parable. Jesus warned people from the outset that, if they wanted to understand anything else that he was going to say, then they had to deal with this problem.

In the early part of his ministry Christ had gained wide acceptance and popularity. Because of his great miracles, people thronged from the entire region to see him. Once again the spectacular had captured men’s minds.

But Jesus had drawn some unfavorable attention as well, and agents from Jerusalem began to track him around. Pharisees and Sadducees could always be found near him, opposing what he said. They couldn’t deny that Jesus had great power to work miracles, so they had come up with an explanation.

They acknowledged Jesus’ miraculous powers, but said that he drew them from Satan rather than from God. In response, Jesus rightly accused them of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. As such opposition hardened against him, Jesus spoke increasingly in parables. One such parable focused on spiritual heart disease.

The Field and the Farmer

4 While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: 5 “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. 6 Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture.
7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants.

8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”
When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
(Luke 8:4–8)

Jesus had been traveling from town to town in Galilee in the manner of an itinerant rabbi. He was spreading the word about the kingdom of God and how men might enter it. Some who heard trusted in Christ; others flatly rejected him; and still others had every response in between. The parable speaks of various ways that people respond to the Word of God.

Jesus said that some of the seed fell along the path (Luke 8:5), which seems like a strange place to be sowing seeds. But the farmers of Israel had clever ways of reducing the labor involved in planting a crop. They would take the family donkey and strap a sack of seed on his back. After cutting a small hole in the sack, the donkey would be released to wander at will around the property dropping seed. Some seed dribbled out onto the path. After the donkey had done his work, the farmer would simply go out and sow seed in the spots that the animal had missed.

The seed that fell on the path suffered a predictable fate — “it was trampled on” (Luke 8:5). The Greek verb can mean that something is physically stepped on, but it also has the figurative meaning of treating something with disdain. We have the same idiom in English. Most of us have seen pictures of foreign nationals trampling on an American flag to show their contempt. Trampling on God’s Word is worse!

The seed on the path didn’t stay for long; it had only a brief opportunity to take root. Soon it was taken away altogether.

The next portion of seed fell on rock (Luke 8:6). Many parts of Israel have thin layers of soil on top of rock shelves. You can’t tell the rock layer is there by looking at the soil, or even by looking at the plants. But as the plants grow larger it soon becomes evident that their root systems have no access to moisture. After a promising start, such plants soon wither under the burning sun.

The seed that falls among the thorn bushes (Luke 8:7) also struggles to live. The thorn bushes compete with the new plants for both moisture and sunlight, making survival difficult.

Only the fourth type of soil, the “good soil” (Luke 8:8), had any production, but what amazing production! As we will see, this yield was God-given.

After telling this simple parable, Jesus did something quite extraordinary: he shouted in a loud voice to the crowd, saying, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Luke 8:8). Jesus gave his words terrific emphasis in two ways: first, by the intensity of his shout, and second, by a grammatical construction that communicated an added impact to his listeners. The NET Bible says, “The one who has ears to hear had better listen!” That is outstanding translation!

In the discussion above, I have introduced a small amount of interpretive material, but for a moment put yourself in the place of the original listeners. What would you have known, based upon the simple facts of the parable?

Without interpretation being provided, I doubt if anyone would have known very much. In fact, some who came out to hear the great teacher and miracle worker probably turned to one another and said, “Is that all there is? Is that all he’s going to say? I didn’t need to come out here to hear that!” Some of Christ’s listeners likely turned away and went home in disappointment. Was he testing them?

A Desire to Hear

9 His disciples asked him what this parable meant. 10 He said, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that, “‘though seeing, they may not see; though hearing, they may not understand.’”
(Luke 8:9–10)

The Greek grammar of Luke 8:9 makes it clear that Jesus’ disciples asked him repeatedly what the parable meant. That should lead us to question why they had to demonstrate such persistence.

The simplest answer is that Jesus did not reply to them the first time they asked. He didn’t divulge the meaning of the parable to them immediately. He designed his response to act as a filter, screening out those who were resisting the teachings of the Word of God.

But that approach also met the needs of those who had spiritual hunger, the receptivity of the human heart to spiritual things. So, the ones who didn’t want to know gave up and went away, while those heeding his command to “hear indeed” were granted deep understanding.

The Lord’s method reminds me of what he said in the Sermon on the Mount, when he instructed the disciples to keep on asking, seeking, and knocking so that the door might be opened to them (Matt. 7:7–8). Jesus acknowledged his method by quoting the prophet Isaiah, who described a people who would see, and yet not see, who would hear and yet not hear.

The Parable Interpreted

11 “This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. 12 Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. 13 Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. 14 The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. 15 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.
(Luke 8:11–15)

In interpreting the parable, Jesus never revealed the identity of the farmer, but it seems obvious that he is the farmer. Most commentators agree on this.

Jesus interpreted the soils by describing four kinds of responses by the human heart to the Word of God.

  • Resistant (Luke 8:12), on the path;
  • Opportunistic (Luke 8:13), on rocky ground;
  • Distracted (Luke 8:14), among thorns;
  • Receptive (Luke 8:15), on good soil.

Let’s study each type of heart in detail.

The Resistant Heart

The first soil, the soil on the path, represents the resistant heart. I find that Christians who study Luke 8:12 often miss part of the meaning by jumping to the concluding part of the verse. Notice first that these people do hear. Even so, the things Jesus said do not find a reception in their hearts. Like the hard-packed ground of the path, the soil of their hearts doesn’t take in the seed.

As a result, the seed has no opportunity to penetrate. After a brief period, the devil removes any further opportunity “from their hearts.” Here Jesus plainly identified the soil with the condition of the heart. He was talking about spiritual heart trouble and making a diagnosis. Such people have had ample opportunity, but, by hardening their hearts, they have failed to make any use of their moment.

The Opportunistic Heart

The second soil represents the opportunistic heart. By “opportunistic” I mean someone who has — as Charles Dickens said of one of his characters — “a keen eye for the main chance.” The opportunist asks, “What’s in it for me right now?”

Jesus intentionally used the Greek middle voice for the words translated “receive” and “fall away.” The middle voice frequently implies self-benefit. Such people either embrace the Word or reject it, depending upon whether it seems to benefit their purpose at the moment.

Christ made it quite clear that the beginning of hardship leads such a person to see no further benefit in hearing the Word. That’s when they fall away. It may be that some of the people Jesus was speaking about had been influenced by the Pharisees’ charges that he worked his miracles through the power of Satan. Such criticism could have easily deflected the opportunistic heart from the Word of God.

After all, such a person could expect expulsion from their synagogue for following Jesus. What immediate benefit would that bring?

The Distracted Heart

The seed that fell among the thorns represents the distracted heart. In my own spiritual heart, this danger threatens most. At times I allow the worries and concerns of this world to crowd out concern for what God is doing. Riding in the car listening to an all-news radio station constantly injects worries about economic troubles, terrorism, pandemics, street crime, and many other things.

I’m not suggesting total isolation from those things, but I find that my heart is too often distracted by them. In most cases I can do absolutely nothing about the problem, and yet it occupies my conscious attention. The common availability of a 24/7 news cycle means that lots of people are getting paid to ask questions and raise fears.

Jesus warned that distraction comes not only in a negative form, but in a positive one, too. The riches and pleasures of this world can also occupy the central focus of our lives.

In many parts of the Western world we have an unprecedented chance to enjoy the pleasures and challenges of life. We need not regard such opportunities as inherently wrong, because they aren’t. But the pursuit of pleasures can achieve such dominance in our lives that it crowds out more important things, such as drawing closer to God.

The dull and simple challenge of nurturing our own spiritual lives pales by comparison to the flash and glitter of our iPad or Internet feed. How tragic it is if we can only be reached by the sensory overkill of our culture and not by the spiritual challenge of life with Christ! At this writing, Facebook absorbs enormous amounts of time from Christians who ought to know better.

I’m not alone in this problem, because we are a distracted culture. It concerns me that so many people in church hear God’s Word, walk out the door and soon sit down to watch two back-to-back professional football games. (I often watch, too.) No one will keep this balance for us. Our spiritual heart condition is our personal responsibility.

Jesus says that the distracted person never matures. The stunted plant cannot produce mature fruit. Failure to mature always has a high price.

The Receptive Heart

The good soil represents the receptive heart that eventually produces tremendous, God-given bounty. Just as in the case of the other three kinds of people, the receptive person hears the Word of God. The difference is that they cling to it. Actually, the Greek word gives the idea of holding onto something for all you’re worth!

Once I was standing on the deck of a Navy submarine in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. A helicopter was hovering over me with a long cable and sling hanging down beneath it. They were going to use this rig to lift me from the submarine into the helicopter. Almost the instant I sat down in the sling, the young sailor told me, “Hold onto the cable.” And up I went!

You better believe I held onto that cable! There wasn’t another thing on my mind! That’s the kind of grip that a person with a good and noble heart gives to the truth of God.

But notice that Jesus said that retaining the Word is not enough; the fruitful person must also persevere before producing a crop (Luke 8:15). At this point some of us encounter another cultural stumbling block. Americans don’t persevere very often. Yet a person can’t plant the seeds and reap the crop the next day; nor the next week; nor the next month. It requires persevering care over an extended period of time before the harvest comes. Our cultural emphasis on the instant and the immediate undermines the concept of perseverance.

Many people find it difficult to make commitments and then stick to them. It’s not simply because of difficulties that come along. Distraction often rears its ugly head and draws a person off toward some better offer. That concerns me, because the body of Christ requires commitment at every level. That’s what it’s all about — commitment to Christ and to one another.

The Warning

16 “No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. 17 For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”
(Luke 8:16–18)

It’s obvious that most of the parable deals with the issue of salvation rather than Christian living. Jesus began by talking to an audience largely composed of unbelievers (Luke 8:1, 4). Their hope lay in allowing the Word of God to find a place in their own hearts so that they might trust in Jesus and have eternal life.

Yet pertinent principles for Christian living can be drawn from each of the soils, or heart types. Certainly by the time Jesus spoke about persevering to produce a crop, he had gone beyond salvation.

The sober warning that begins in verse 16 was addressed to Jesus’ disciples, who pressed him earnestly so that they might “hear indeed.” They had to take these matters seriously, because God always gives his blessings for a purpose. He has given the Word of God to instruct us, the Spirit of God to dwell within us, and the body of Christ to encourage us so that we can yield an abundant harvest. That’s the meaning of Luke 8:16.

God has lighted the lamp so that it will cast light and accomplish his purpose (Luke 8:16–18). In this indirect way, Jesus challenged his disciples not to waste what God had implanted in their hearts.

Jesus also told them that in the course of time their response would become known. Because there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed in time. By application to us, that means that what we do with the Word of God will ultimately show up in our lives.

In his final challenge to his disciples to hear carefully Jesus said, “Whoever has will be given more” (Luke 8:18). That’s the outcome I want in my life and in the lives of other believers.

Testing and Healing Our Hearts

Use the following concepts to evaluate your own heart condition and your behavior.

1. In light of our Lord’s parable, how would you evaluate your general heart condition — your response to Christ and his Word?





The American mindset in the 1970s became so self-interested that it was labeled the “me generation.” Self-interest can eat up everything else! Unfortunately, in 2011 things are not much different.

Or perhaps you are distracted. Facebook, sports on cable television, ferrying children to activities and other things already make that possible.

2. One way to determine whether we are receptive to God’s Word is to evaluate our behavior.

Do you think that God’s principles are increasingly being integrated into your behavior as time goes on?

What kind of feedback do you get from others about your commitment to Christ and growth in him?

I hope that they tell you that you are becoming more mature in Christ and that they see growth in your life. You probably won’t get any feedback unless you overtly ask for it. Certainly I see value in each of us monitoring their own spiritual condition, but we tend to believe what we want to believe. Others may give a more realistic evaluation.

A Final Word

In every phase of life we must pay attention to priorities. I don’t think I was ever struck so much by that fact as when I went to my first Dallas Cowboys football game. My father had bought end zone seats, and we were watching the game through binoculars.

Pittsburgh had the ball, and their linemen came up to take position at the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh’s quarterback was looking hard at the Dallas defense as he walked slowly toward the line to take the snap. The Dallas defense was jumping all around trying to confuse him.

Distracted by the movements of the defense, the quarterback put his hand under the right guard to take the snap. Then he called the snap signal and the center — one person to his left —  snapped the football straight up into the air. There was a wild struggle to catch the loose football when it came down.

The quarterback may grasp the defense perfectly, but if he doesn’t get the snap from center, he’s in big trouble! The distracted quarterback had forgotten about priorities.

Our top priority is to deal with our own spiritual heart condition. Only in that way can we yield a crop “a hundred times more than was sown.”

Coming next . . .

In Chapter 7, we see Jesus in the midst of his ministry. The challenge was that everyone had an agenda for Jesus to follow. How did he manage those pressures?

Craig Blomberg on Church Discipline

Church discipline is a widely neglected practice in our evangelical churches. Craig Blomberg has some excellent observations on what the key passage (Matt. 18:15–17) means. Because Blomberg always begins with the biblical text, he finds things that others miss entirely. This time he hits the target by noting that Jesus emphasized searching our hearts for what others might have against us (Matt. 5:23–24).

Blomberg makes a contribution to our understanding by saying that church discipline is never said to be about major sins, yet that is the only form I have ever seen. Most minor issues could and should be handled privately (Matt. 18:15). That out to happen routinely for the unity of the body of Christ. Too many of us avoid people over minor things that could have been resolved long ago.

He also suggests that instead of what amounts to total expulsion at the end of the process, churches might consider barring the offending person from taking communion or other activities only a believer could participate in. After all, our church services are generally open to non-Christians and we want them there to hear God’s Word and see the body of Christ in action.

Check it out!