Tuesday, June 28, 2016

THE REAL DEAL

Pixaby (Public Domain)
Mark 4:25
Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”

Jesus was a master storyteller. And like every good storyteller He began His stories with things with which His audience was familiar. It’s one of the basic principles of teaching—begin with something the audience understands and then take them to something that they don’t yet understand. So when Jesus said: “I am the Great Shepherd” everyone pictured a shepherd because this was sheep-raising country and they understood the image. Having hooked them with an image they understood, Jesus then explained how He qualified as that good shepherd because He wasn’t like a hired man who ran at the first sign of danger, but rather He, as the Great Shepherd, would give His life for the sheep.

But for many in His audience the story of the shepherd was nothing more than a story about a shepherd. They couldn’t make the leap in thinking that would take them from the familiar to the spiritual. They didn’t understand the idea that they were the sheep and that Jesus, as their Great Shepherd, was going to give His life to save them. They didn’t understand because they didn’t have the faith yet to believe. Often Jesus’ stories went over the head of those who were listening to Him because He used these parables often, rather than speaking plainly and saying: “You are sinners and I am your Saviour. The punishment for your sin is death and to provide a way for you to avoid eternal death, I am going to receive the punishment for your sins that you should suffer. And if you accept the sacrifice I am making for you and ask for forgiveness, you will be guaranteed a place at God’s side in heaven.

Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t always “get it,” didn’t always understand the meaning of the parables Jesus told. He would have to explain things to them in private. Why wouldn’t Jesus make things plain to people?

Well, let me tell you a story. I come to visit you. It’s a hot day and you offer me a glass of water because you know that after my long walk to get to your house, I must be dehydrated. But I don’t feel my need for water. I don’t realize I’m dehydrated. And even though the jug is right there, I refuse your offer. Later, you bring out the chips and dip for an afternoon snack. And suddenly I feel thirsty—the salt made me aware of my need of water. The jug is right there. You offer me a drink of water and this time I accept because I now know what I need.

The purpose of the parable was to create the curiosity that responded to the need. Those who didn’t feel the need, the hunger for something, that thirst for something, would simply write off what Jesus was saying as a nice story. Those who felt the need would come to Him and ask Him to explain, as the disciples did. He would then explain the truth behind the story. Those seeking the truth would persevere until they found the Truth—in Him.

In Mark 4 we have the record of several parables or stories that Jesus told. The first one was the parable of the sower. Again, this would be a familiar picture to the audience gathered around Jesus. This was an agricultural land—they understood about sowers and seed. They knew that birds came along and stole the seed before it could take root. They knew that seed was often sown on poor land where the rocks didn’t allow for the roots to take hold and find moisture below the surface. When the sun was hot, the blade that had sprouted would often die. They knew that weeds could choke out what had been sown. They knew that a harvest could produce different amounts of fruit.

Jesus told them a story about a lamp. They understood that for a lamp to be useful it would be silly to hide it under a bowl or under the bed. It had to be somewhere it could be seen.

He told them about the sower who planted the seed and though he doesn’t understand how, that seed produces a harvest which the farmer then gathers.

The Lord explained about the mustard seed—something so small that it might be ignored but something that, despite its size, would grow into a tree big enough to support flocks of birds. They understood mustard seed.

But they didn’t always understand the meaning behind the story. What He wanted them to feel was such a need to understand that meaning that they would come and ask Him. Their “thirst” for truth, that need to know more, would be an indication that the Spirit of God was working in their lives to bring them to faith in Jesus. Those in whom the Spirit was not working would simply say “Nice story” and walk away.

This hunger, this thirst, was what Jesus was talking about in the Beatitudes when He said: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

That brings us to something Jesus said while He was telling these three stories. Mark 4:24, 25 tells us this, quoting Jesus: “‘Consider carefully what you hear,’ he continued, ‘With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.’

Years and years ago when I was in Sunday School, there was a little chorus that we sang once in a while. I couldn't find all the words so am not sure if I have them right, but it went something like this:

You have a talent, use it for the Lord.
You have a talent, use it for the Lord.
If you do not use it,
You will surely lose it,
You have a talent, use it for the Lord.


The simple song kind of illustrates what we have in these two verses from Mark 4:  “‘Consider carefully what you hear,’ he continued, ‘With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.’

Use it or lose it! The song speaks about talent, but Jesus’ message is what to do about this hunger and thirst that God gives us for Truth, for Him. The idea behind Jesus’ words in Mark is that the more we nurture the hunger and thirst for Him, the more we will hunger and thirst, the more we will persevere in discovering more about Him, and the more He will reveal Himself to us. The less we nurture that hunger and thirst and ask God to fill it for us, the more it is likely that we will lose our enthusiasm for the pursuit altogether.

Let’s go back to that parable of the sower that Jesus told, and that I mentioned before.

1 Again Jesus began to teach by the lake. The crowd that gathered around him was so large that he got into a boat and sat in it out on the lake, while all the people were along the shore at the water’s edge. 2 He taught them many things by parables, and in his teaching said: 3 “Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.

The first “seed” or Gospel that fell, fell on those who were not prepared to hear. The message did not penetrate at all and is described as being taken away by Satan (the birds). In the second description, the seed took root, but there were things that tested just whether or not those roots were deep enough; if there really was true saving faith present. And there wasn’t, and eventually what appeared to be a thriving believer turned out to be a imposter. The third description is of a seed that took root, but here we have a stunted “plant,” a believer who let everything distract him/her from pursuing the Lord. There was little hunger or thirst here for righteousness because other things got in the way, here described as the “worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desire for other things” that come in and “choke the word, making it unfruitful." Then we have the last which describes those who “use it and don’t lose it” those who have, want more, and get more of God which only makes them want more and because they want more of Him, God delights in giving more of Himself to them.

Our prayer should be that of the psalmist when he wrote in Psalm 42: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirst for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Are you, am I, more thirsty to meet with God than we were yesterday? That’s the question. The answer needs to be yes. If it isn’t we run the risk of ceasing to be thirsty and hungry for Him at all and then we are in serious trouble.

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