Thursday, March 03, 2016

Access Granted

My Life Group lesson for Feb. 28, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

I always enjoyed TV theme songs on shows growing up, including all the syndicated shows that our parents watched. Nowadays many shows barely even have music, but in the old days the themes told the story.

Complete the lyric, name the show:

“Let me tell you a story about a man named Jeb …” (The Beverly Hillbillies)
“Just sit right down and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip...” (Gilligan’s Island)
“A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse, of course…” (Mr. Ed)
“Here’s the story, of a lovely lady, who was bringing up three very lovely girls…” (The Brady Bunch)
“Love, exciting and new, come aboard, we’re expecting you …” (The Love Boat)
“Making your way in the world today, takes everything you’ve got …” (Cheers)
“Now this is the story all about how, my life got flipped, turned upside down …” (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)
“Who lives in a pineapple under the sea …” (SpongeBob SquarePants)
“Sunny day, sweeping the clouds away …” (Sesame Street)
“If you like to talk to tomatoes, if a squash can make you smile …” (Veggie Tales)

Theme songs and their stories help us to remember and connect the dots from week to week to remember it better.

Jesus was a master storyteller. He used illustrations as a major part of His teaching and preaching.

This week we’re going to take a look at one of His parables in Matthew chapter 13.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Matthew 13:1-58

*** The Gospel of Matthew alternates between Jesus teaching and Jesus doing. Matthew opens with Jesus being born and preparing for ministry (ch. 1-4), followed by teaching the Sermon on the Mount (ch. 5-7), miracle work (ch. 8-9) and then Jesus starts teaching the disciples their mission instructions (ch. 10-13).

*** Opposition to Jesus was also increasing from those indifferent to His message and from religious leaders.

*** The disciples, though, were responding in faith to Jesus' message, believing Him to be the Messiah He claimed to be.

A CROWD (Matt. 13:1-3a)

1 On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. 2 Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. 3a Then He told them many things in parables, saying:

*** Speaking to the masses.

--- The crowds are still following Jesus, so many that if He was trying to do so, Jesus couldn’t kick back by the Sea of Galilee and relax.

He had to get in a boat to separate Himself enough so that He could talk to them without being crushed. (Mark chapter 4 and Luke chapter 8 tell it the same way.)

*** A useful analogy.

--- In Greek "parable" means "to lay something beside something else for the purpose of comparison."

Jesus is comparing something common to the audience and to God's Kingdom in order to drive home a point and reveal the larger truth.

--- In the Gospels it can refer to a brief rhetorical question such as: “How can Satan drive out Satan?” (Mark 3:23); “Can the blind guide the blind? Won’t they both fall into a pit?” (Luke 6:39). The term also refers to more detailed stories, like the parable of the sower, the good Samaritan, or the prodigal son.

--- Jesus used everyday objects around them to make comparisons, things like mustard seeds, bread, wheat and weeds, fishing nets, etc.

(I don't think Jesus would have used TV theme songs as an analogy to His parables, but He didn't have the option back then, either!)

A PARABLE (Matt. 13:3b-9)

3b “Consider the sower who went out to sow. 4 As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. 6 But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. 7 Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. 8 Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown. 9 Anyone who has ears should listen!”

*** Where is your seed?

--- The parable of the sower is about how people hear and receive the Word of God, rather than a parable of how they come to Christ.

The audience was clear that God is the sower in this parable, using farming language they would understand.

Old Testament prophets frequently referred to God as a sower (Jer. 31:27-28; Hos. 2:23). Isaiah 55:10-11 compares a seed that germinates and sprouts to God’s word “that comes from My mouth” and “will not return to Me empty.”

*** There are four types of soil in which the seeds fall:

(1) Along the path (v. 4) - Jesus explains in Luke 8:12 that "the seed along the path are those who have heard and then the Devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved."

Jesus wasn't doing any focus groups to determine the exact demographic he was trying to reach. He was teaching to anyone and everyone, sowing seeds all over the place. Some of of the people heard the message but didn't understand it or didn't take it to heart.

(2) Rocky ground (v. 5-6) - Since there isn't much soil, the seeds spring up quickly but there's no depth to take root, and thus when the sun got super hot the seedlings were scorched and withered away.

As Jesus explained to the disciples later, this represents people who hear the word, receive it with joy, but fall away in the face of trials. In a time of "pressure or persecution," (v. 21) they stumble and turn away from the Kingdom.

No doubt we've seen this, experienced it, and probably not blamed someone for not making it through the persecution. How many would be in our worship service if they knew that they and their families could lose their jobs and property for doing so? Or even be arrested or killed on the way out?

Kristen's cousin Katy’s team left Vietnam and one of her teammates blogged about rules in government-run churches:

1.) There is to be no clapping, during the songs; 2.) Traditional Bibles are only to be used; 3.) No speakers should be used in the church, due to complaints of it being loud; 4.) A church can be built if over 200 people come; 5.)Songs that are sung should only be from a hymn book; 6.) Don't greet people around you.

(3) Fell among thorns (v. 7) - There was no growth in these seeds because they were choked out.

Jesus interpreted them as “the worries of this age and the seduction of wealth” (v. 22).

Jesus warned of the temptation of greed frequently, telling believers “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth. […] For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19,21). He added: “No one can be a slave of two masters. […] You cannot be slaves of God and of money” (v. 24).

If you are seduced by the desire for materialism, the chance that you'll produce spiritual fruit is low. If you thought becoming a follower of Jesus meant you'd be automatically prosperous, you've been misled. You'll be strangled in your commitment to God. (4) Fell on good ground (v. 8) - The good news is that some seeds will indeed end up in good soil and produce a bumper crop of souls to be harvested for eternity.

Jesus interpreted the good soil as “one who hears and understands the word” (v. 23).

These are Christians of genuine faith and discipleship, everything we are supposed to be or at least striving to be.

*** Listen!

--- Jesus ends the parable by telling us to pay attention to His teaching.

--- The focus of the parable is not on the sower or the seed, but the soil. Although Jesus gives us four scenarios, really there are only two types of soil: Those that produce fruit and those that do not.

*** Question – How do you respond to Jesus’ use of parables? What can you take away from this parable?

A REASON (Matt. 13:10-13)

10 Then the disciples came up and asked Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” 11 He answered them, “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know, but it has not been given to them. 12 For whoever has, more will be given to him, and he will have more than enough. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. 13 For this reason I speak to them in parables, because looking they do not see, and hearing they do not listen or understand.”

*** The secret word is: “Password.”

--- How many of you have a password that is “12345” or “password” because you are tired of coming up with a new one for everything?

--- What do you use when coming up with a password? Birthdays? Addresses? Anniversaries? Why do you keep the password a secret? What would make you share it with someone?

*** Vague, much?

--- Until this chapter Jesus spoke clearly and without parables. But now when the people weren’t responding to His message, Jesus began using parables that they didn’t understand. But to those who believed, He explained every detail.

--- The disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the crowd in parables, and Jesus responded: “Because the secrets of the kingdom of heaven have been given for you to know.”

Why did Jesus utilize a method of instruction that would conceal the truth from the crowds? Or was He concealing anything from them?

Jesus clarified the comment with the principle that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Only those with a right relationship to Jesus can understand fully. Those who are willing to hear with faith will receive more faith and will grow in their understanding. Those unwilling to hear with faith will continue to wallow in their unbelief, their blindness ever increasing.

The disciples many times seemed to be slow to grasp the point of Jesus’ ministry, but they had responded to Jesus’ call in faith, so the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven was revealed to them.

The Pharisees, on the other hand, refused to see Jesus’ miraculous deeds as the work of God. They refused to hear His teaching with faith. The result was that their blindness and deafness only increased.

--- In verse 13 Jesus quoted Isaiah 6:9-10 to provide a scriptural basis for His response:

Go! Say to these people: Keep listening, but do not understand; keep looking, but do not perceive. Dull the minds of these people; deafen their ears and blind their eyes; otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears, understand with their minds, turn back, and be healed.

As in the days of Jesus, the leadership in Isaiah’s day had shut their eyes to the Truth, and had rejected God and His Word, so God had turned from them.

*** Question – Why are there so many who hear the Word of God but do not understand it, or let it make a difference in their lives?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

People can hear the same song and come up with different lyrics, themes and meanings to it.

Jesus frequently spoke in a way that could be interpreted different ways, depending on our relationship with God.

He wasn’t trying to exclude any listeners. He was trying to reveal the secrets of His kingdom to His followers.

*** What type of soil are you? Are you poor soil bearing no fruit? Where’s the spiritual fruit in your life?

*** Who around you needs a relationship with Jesus in order to have an understanding of His parables?

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