A Sower went out to Sow

Matthew 13:1-9

Jesus sat in the boat and looked at the large crowd gathered along the shore. His heart was elated and broken at the same time. The people assembled here were evidence of the Father’s powerful work and the coming of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed. They had seen Jesus’ mighty deeds and heard him teach about the coming kingdom. Now they were moved to follow Jesus – well, at least as far as the edge of town.

Still, Jesus knew that some would really not understand. Some would fall away when persecution raised its ugly head. Still others would be drawn away by the lure of the world’s supposed treasures.

Some of Jesus’ opponents may have even asked Jesus, “Tell us about this kingdom you preach about. If it is so great, why isn’t everyone getting on board? Some of your own disciples are abandoning you!”

Thankfully, Jesus also knew that many of those who followed him would also persevere in faith to inherit the kingdom. It was to this end that Jesus came. Sometimes, Jesus’ message bore fruit in the most unlikely places.

So Jesus told a parable about a farmer who sowed his seeds, knowing that not every seed would produce fruit for the coming harvest. Some seed would be eaten by birds. Some would fall on rocky ground. Some would fall where it would be choked out by weeds. But some would produce a harvest that would bring joy to the farmer’s heart.

Now God isn’t exactly like a farmer sowing seeds. You can only take the analogy so far.

Farmers aren’t invested emotionally in every seed that doesn’t bear fruit. If farmers get a good return on their time, money and effort, that’s certainly enough. But God is not growing soybeans and people aren’t dirt. Every person for whom Jesus died is precious to him, including those who don’t understand him, those who deny him and those who leave him for apparently greener pastures. Every person matters, including those who ultimately fail to enter the kingdom.

To the people on the shore, Jesus’ message was a challenge. What will you do with this Jesus whom you have followed to the shoreline? Will you let his word take root in you and grow?  Unlike soil, human beings are not passive recipients of the sower’s seed.

Surely the kingdom will come whether you or I or the individuals gathered on the shore to hear Jesus speak are there to be a part of it. Jesus’ parable is both a word of warning and encouragement. The kingdom is coming, and those who remain united to Jesus will inherit it. Don’t let the evil one’s threats or the world’s empty promises draw you away.

Related: The Parable of the Sower

 

Your Son, Your Only Son Whom You Love

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” Genesis 22:2

abraham-isaac

In the story line of the Bible, the sacrifice of Isaac represents a direct threat to God’s covenant promise to Abraham. God had promised Abraham, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” How can God make Abraham’s descendants a great nation and a blessing to the world if Isaac is dead? I can think of no better answer than the one offered by the author of the New Testament epistle of Hebrews. “Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” But while that is how I approach this text theologically, it’s not how I approach it emotionally.

Continue reading “Your Son, Your Only Son Whom You Love”

The Election of Second Sons in Genesis

In ancient cultures, the first-born son normally held the place of privilege within important families. The first born was the heir, not only of the father’s property, but of the father’s prerogatives and place in society. This pattern persisted among the landed gentry at least into the 18th century *.

Surprisingly, then, God displays an unmistakable pattern of choosing second sons In the Book of Genesis.

Continue reading “The Election of Second Sons in Genesis”

Covenant Inclusion and Greatness in Genesis

God called Abram and promised to make him a great nation with a great name.

The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3)

Worldly greatness, however, is not central to the covenant. Abraham and Hagar’s son Ishmael is excluded from God’s covenant people, but God promises to make him a great nation anyway.

So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!” But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:18-21)

Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac will carry God’s covenant promise, and God’s chosen people will be his descendants. Isaac will the covenantal heir through whom God will fulfill his purposes in the world. Both Isaac and Ishmael, however, will be the father of great nations. God’s covenant, it seems, is not primarily a path to greatness. The covenant is about something else.

Continue reading “Covenant Inclusion and Greatness in Genesis”

Why the Stone Was Rolled Away

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. (Matthew 28:2-6)

Matthew’s gospel gives us perhaps the most dramatic version of the empty tomb story. There’s an earthquake. There’s an angel whose appearance was like lightning. The angel rolls the stone away. The guards become so terrified that they fall to the ground. There is, however, one obvious element missing from Matthew’s account.

In the mid-second century, the author of the apocryphal, so-called “Gospel of Peter” wanted to fill in the missing piece of the story.

But in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers were safeguarding it two by two in every watch, there was a loud voice in heaven; and they saw that the heavens were opened and that two males who had much radiance had come down from there and come near the sepulcher. But that stone which had been thrust against the door, having rolled by itself, went a distance off the side; and the sepulcher opened, and both the young men entered. And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them.

In the so-called Gospel of Peter, the stone rolled itself away so that Jesus (and his cross!) could get out. In the Gospel of Matthew, the angel (or messenger) rolled the stone away so that the women could look in.

Matthew draws us a dramatic picture of the tomb on Easter morning, but he never tells us about Jesus emerging from the tomb. The stone is rolled away from an empty sepulcher. The grave could not hold the savior. Rather, the angel rolls the stone away from the entrance of the tomb so that the women could see evidence of the angel’s proclamation:

He is not here. For he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.