Category Archives: Biblical Lesson/Teaching

The Four Soils: The Rocky Ground

Luke 8:6

Code: B170816

Just a short drive from the freeways and congestion of Los Angeles you’ll find barren hills and mountains. During the rainy season they suddenly spring to life with luxuriant-looking greenery. But they quickly revert to a parched brown. The green that looked so promising turns into lifeless scrub, good for nothing but feeding California’s wildfires as tinder.

That’s a perfect metaphor for the way some people respond to the gospel. They are the polar opposite of the hard-hearted hearers we discussed last time. They are the “rocky soil” in Christ’s original parable.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

The soil spread thinly over a layer of rock illustrates a shallow-hearted person who responds immediately but only superficially. Without deep roots, vegetation cannot live long in a dry climate. It grows green and leafy quickly, but dies just as quickly, before reaching fruit-bearing maturity. Such growth is useless for any profitable purpose.

Psalm 129:6 similarly compares the wicked to “grass upon the housetops, which withers before it grows up.” In the thin layer of dust that accumulates on a flat roof, grass or weeds may sprout and even look lush for a short season, but it is in a location that cannot sustain long-term life. It is doomed as soon as it sprouts—and even the dead straw left in the end is useless for any good purpose. The psalm goes on to say that “the reaper does not fill his hand [with it], nor he who binds sheaves, his arms” (Psalm 129:7, NKJV).

Rocky soil hearers seem receptive. They show a keen interest. Jesus says they “receive the word with joy” (Luke 8:13). They are exhilarated by it. But all that enthusiasm obscures the fact that there is no root. They “believe for a while.” That’s an important fact to acknowledge: intellectually, at least, they are receptive, affirmative—even quite enthusiastic. There is a kind of temporary credence that is not authentic faith, precisely because it is superficial—shallow, rootless, totally at the mercy of the hostile elements that are sure to test its viability.

It’s not a question of if but when such “faith” will fail. It usually (but not always) happens sooner rather than later. Each person who responds positively to the Word of God will face a “time of temptation.” The Greek word translated “temptation” in Luke 8:13 can also refer to a trial or a test—and that is clearly the sense here. The new disciple’s faith will eventually be put to the test under the threat of persecution, by one of life’s calamities, or by the sheer difficulty of maintaining the pretense of deep, abiding belief. If it’s superficial, rootless, heartless faith, no matter how enthusiastic the response may have seemed in the beginning, that person will “fall away”—meaning she will abandon the faith completely.

Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine.” Hebrews 3:14 says, “For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end.” The apostle Paul said you can know you are truly reconciled to God “if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard” (Colossians 1:23).

Those whose faith is merely temporary hear the gospel and respond, quickly and superficially. Perhaps they have some selfish motive (thinking Jesus will fix their worldly problems or make life easy for them). They don’t truly count the cost. For a while they bask in some emotion—a feeling of relief, exhilaration, euphoria, or whatever. There are tears of joy, embraces, high fives, and a lot of activity—at first. That tends to convince other believers that this is a true conversion, well rooted in genuine conviction. We might even be inclined to think that’s a better response than the quiet restraint of some genuine believer who is so deeply convicted about his sin and unworthiness that all he feels is a profound sense of meekness and quiet gratitude.

An outburst of joy is not the distinguishing feature of an authentic conversion. Joy is a fine and appropriate response, of course. All heaven is filled with rejoicing when a soul is converted. “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). But as Jesus makes clear in our parable, great joy sometimes accompanies false conversion. Neither hyperactive joy nor grateful quietude proves anything one way or another about whether someone’s profession of faith is an expression of superficial, temporary belief or deep and lasting conviction. The person’s fruit (or lack of it) will reveal that. “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

It doesn’t ultimately matter how much enthusiasm the shallow hearer shows in that initial response to the Word of God: if it’s a shallow conviction with no real root, that person will eventually fall away. And when that happens, it proves definitively that in spite of all that apparent joy and zeal, the person never truly believed in the first place. “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).

 

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170816
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The Four Soils: Beside the Road

Luke 8:5

Code: B170814

Ineffective evangelism can cause a lot of soul searching for the one evangelizing. Some re-evaluate the message while others question their methodology. But those are only worthwhile endeavors insofar as the message remains faithful to the one true gospel (Galatians 1:8–9) and the methodology is obedient to Christ’s command: “That repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

Beyond that it all boils down to something we have absolutely no control over—the heart condition of those who hear the gospel. When Jesus started to teach using parables, He began by explaining that very issue.

The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great. (Luke 8:5–8)

This is a foundational truth that the church desperately needs to be reminded of—set in an agricultural story analogous to evangelism. Jesus went on to explain that the seed represents the message and the soil represents the heart of the hearer (Luke 8:11–15). And the various soil types in the story cover the whole range of human heart conditions.

The Hard Soil Beside the Road

The first soil type we encounter is the pressed-down, dry, and hardened soil “beside the road” (Luke 8:5). It pictures a heart that is impervious to biblical truth. This is perhaps the most disturbing and hopeless of all the conditions Jesus depicts. Unbelief and a love of sin have made the heart a dense, rocklike environment where truth cannot possibly penetrate, much less take root. The hearer is therefore oblivious, hopeless, spiritually dead—and totally susceptible to the stratagems of Satan.

Jesus explains: “Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12). That verse, by the way, explains the true goal symbolized in the work of the sower. His aim is that people might “believe and be saved.” There is only one way to sow the proper seed for such a goal: by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. The sower is an evangelist. He is hoping for a harvest of souls.

Inevitably, he encounters hearers whose hearts are like concrete. The Old Testament calls them “obstinate” (Exodus 32:9) people who “stiffened their neck” (2 Kings 17:14). The clear implication is that such people have deliberately hardened their own hearts. “They have stiffened their necks so as not to heed My words” (Jeremiah 19:15). Of Zedekiah, the evil young king who “did evil in the sight of the Lord his God” (2 Chronicles 36:12), Scripture says, “He stiffened his neck and hardened his heart against turning to the Lord God of Israel” (2 Chronicles 36:13). He deliberately steeled his own will against repentance. Men like that were the ones who stoned Stephen, and he called them on it: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did” (Acts 7:51).

Such a person is depicted by the well-worn, barren footpath around the field. This heart is a thoroughfare, crossed by the mixed multitude of iniquities that continually traverse it. It is not fenced, so it lies exposed to all the evil stomping of everything wicked that comes along. It is never plowed by conviction. It is never cultivated with any kind of self-searching, self-examination, contrition, honest assessment of guilt, or true repentance. The heart is as hardened against the sweet beckoning of grace as it is against the dreadful terrors of judgment. Indifference, insensibility, and a love for sin have made this person’s heart dense, dry, and impenetrable.

This is the fool of Proverbs—the person who despises wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7) and “has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart” (Proverbs 18:2, NKJV). What’s interesting here is that Jesus is not describing atheists in His parable. He is speaking to people in a highly religious culture, and the hardest of all hearts in His audience this day are the religious aristocracy—the top scribes and Pharisees, the same ones who had so recently blasphemed the Holy Spirit, cutting themselves off from grace altogether. Their sin epitomizes the absolute ultimate in hard-heartedness. The rank atheist is in a better state spiritually than they are. Elsewhere, Jesus said to them, “You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father” (John 8:44).

In explaining His parable, Jesus again says hardened hearts are utterly at the mercy of the evil one. “The devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

How does the devil snatch the Word of God away from a heart? He has many devices, and we should not be ignorant of them (2 Corinthians 2:11). If you think Satan and his works are always obviously diabolical, you are going to be defrauded by him. He uses deceit. “He is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). He transforms himself and his servants as angels of light and ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). He confuses people through false teachers who come in Christ’s name but subtly attack or undermine the truth of the gospel. He also exploits sinful human passions: fear of what others might think, pride, stubbornness, prejudice, or various lusts. He appeals to the fallen heart’s love for the pleasures of sin. He knows

that people love “darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds [are] evil” (John 3:19), and he takes advantage of that. It is easy for him to make himself appealing to those who love darkness. Then having gained the sinner’s trust and attention, he diverts the mind from the truth of the Word, effectively snatching it away from the person’s consciousness.

That hardened soil by the roadside was emblematic of many in Christ’s audience. Jesus’ followers abandoned Him in droves once He stopped feeding them physically and started talking about the bread of eternal life (John 6:26–66). But the impenetrable surface of the roadside didn’t typify the hearts of all who followed him—including those who did so superficially. That’s why Jesus discussed three other kinds of soil in His parable. And as we’ll see in the days ahead, those different soil types run the whole range of human responses to the gospel.

 

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170814
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

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Can You Repent Without Changing?

When a sexual sinner repents, self dies and God reigns. It is far more than merely giving up one’s sexual sin, but surrendering one’s whole life. In this age, sin will always be present in us. But in true repentance, the sinner’s life is no longer controlled by his sexual sin. Instead, he is governed by a longing to obey God.

For more than 25 years, I have counseled Christian men and women who have lived in bondage to sexual sin. I’ve met with people who have hired prostitutes, had affairs, were addicted to pornography, lied, and blamed a spouse for their problems. I’ve listened while they described financial loss, job loss, sleep loss, and familial loss, all due to sexual sin.

As we look to the future, we see the spiritual and relational threats of sexual sin are even greater in the coming generation. Preteens are increasingly engaging in oral sex, and large numbers are likely to access porn (intentionally or unintentionally), often setting in motion a life of bondage. A few generations ago, dating relationships for teens moved from the front porch to the back seat, changing sexual behavior forever. Today, “friends with benefits” and sexting are becoming increasingly normal.

The already serious problem of sexual sin in the church is growing even more serious.

Diagnosis Dictates Treatment

Critical to addressing the increasing amount of sexual sin in the church is understanding that sinful behavior is an indication of a deeper problem.

Tragically, our therapeutic culture often wields greater influence on what needs to change, and how change occurs, than the church does. Contrary to what many believe, freedom from sexual sin doesn’t begin with addressing past painful experiences. Having counseled thousands of men and women, I find that the first step in overcoming sexual sin is to understand that sexual misbehavior is the heart’s arrogant attempt to deal with pain, and that the pain itself is not the problem.

A proper diagnosis should dictate the treatment method. If the diagnosis is wrong, the treatment will be ineffective. But if we believe in God, and trust his word, we can receive a correct diagnosis and know our Master Physician.

Jesus clearly stated the core problem: “From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality . . . adultery . . . sensuality” (Mark 7:21–22). In other words, when it comes to sexual sin, Jesus says our core problem is not what was done to us, but what resides in us.

If our primary problem is sin — and our corrupt, rebellious nature — then we know what primarily needs to be addressed. Since a diagnosis dictates the treatment, if sin is the diagnosis, it must be treated with faith and repentance. With sexual sin, real change can only begin with real repentance — a change of the heart.

Repentance Is Not Recovery

Heart change brings high motivation for behavior change. This is not the motivation of self-disgust or remorse over the harm done to others, but a higher calling. The deceitful heart is a self-centered machine that demands, “It’s my way in life, relationships, and sex. It’s all about me.” Therefore, the repentant sexual sinner gives up the illusionary control of personal desires, the control of life itself.

Let me say it as clearly as I can: When it comes to sexual sin and addiction, recovery is not repentance, and repentance is not recovery. Repentance is not merely human effort. It is not a self-help program. Repentance is God’s surgical procedure, in which he not only humbles the sinner, but works a change in him that is visible from the outside. Yes, the sexual sin stops, but a spouse says of a former sexual sinner, “He’s a different man,” or, “She’s a different woman.”

In repentance, the sexual sinner understands he has broken the law of God and is legally guilty in God’s court. The sexual sinner cries out for mercy, knowing that mercy rests entirely on God’s good pleasure. Biblical repentance not only renounces the sexual behavior; it renounces the world, the flesh, and the devil.

In repentance, the sexual sinner turns from self-seeking and self-trusting to their God. Her internal heart has changed and her controlling desire is for God’s purpose and glory. In other words, there is a new internal drive toward spiritual, relational, and sexual maturity, a striving “for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Death Yielding Life

Repentance is a death. When a sexual sinner repents, self dies and God reigns. It is far more than merely giving up one’s sexual sin, but surrendering one’s whole life.

In this age, sin will always be present in us. But in true repentance, the sinner’s life is no longer controlled by his sexual sin. Instead, he is governed by a longing to obey God.

True repentance bears fruit, which goes beyond sobriety. It begins a change from the inside out. There is not only change in behavior, but everything begins to shift at all levels of one’s being. A man becomes a different man; a woman becomes a different woman.

And this transformation of heart brings a transformation in relationships. He becomes a different husband; she becomes a different wife. Where sexual sin was destroying a relationship, the fruit of repentance begins restoring a relationship, as each person considers the other more important than himself (Philippians 2:3).

This article previously appeared on DesiringGod.org, and is used with permission.

The post Can You Repent Without Changing? appeared first on The Aquila Report.

CultureWatch: Apostates Destroying Our Churches

The Bible is full of warnings about those who would lead God’s people astray with lies and false teachings, and drag them into sinful, immoral lifestyles. We should steer clear of such people and have nothing to do with them. Yet sadly we seem to find these apostates regularly doing their worst as they lead so many to perdition.

A key example of this are all the so-called Christian leaders who are siding with sodomy and siding against God and his word. I have written often about such false shepherds. My daily reading at the moment is in the prophets, and it seems like almost every chapter has something to say about such false teachers and fake leaders.

For example, why does Jeremiah 15:1 come to mind as we consider all these apostate religious leaders supporting sodomy? It says: “Then the Lord said to me: ‘Even if Moses and Samuel were to stand before me, my heart would not go out to this people. Send them away from my presence! Let them go!’”

atheism 4Wow, those are some very strong words. Yahweh is saying he wants nothing to do with them, and it is no use even trying to intercede for them. That is heavy duty stuff indeed – yet many Christians today would totally reject such a passage.

They would claim that God could never be like this. They would argue that God is always merciful and gracious, and he would never drive anyone away from himself. And they would insist that God would never tell anyone to stop praying for others.

Well, I prefer to side with God and his word on such matters. In fact, on a number of occasions we read about how God actually says that we should stop praying for certain people. The book of Jeremiah contains other examples of this. Here are a few more:

-Jeremiah 7:16 “So do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them; do not plead with me, for I will not listen to you.”
-Jeremiah 11:14 “Do not pray for this people nor offer any plea or petition for them, because I will not listen when they call to me in the time of their distress.”
-Jeremiah 14:11 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Do not pray for the well-being of this people’.”

Such admonitions not to pray for certain people, or how their prayers will go unanswered, are found elsewhere. For example, consider just three more such texts:

-Psalm 80:4 O LORD God Almighty, how long will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?
-Proverbs 28:9 If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction,
even their prayers are detestable.
-Isaiah 1:15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood;

And we find similar things in the New Testament. Consider one such passage. 1 John 5:16 says this: “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.”

The point is, there are times when even a loving and gracious God says we should save our breath and not pray to him or pray for others. Sometimes people reach a point of no return. Sometimes it is pointless to pray for them. Those are hard words, but they are biblical words.

Chris Wright in his commentary on Jeremiah says this about the four times Jeremiah is told not to pray for his people:

Prophets not only preached, they also prayed. It was part of the prophetic calling. Moses, the model prophet, was the model intercessor. Samuel, Isaiah, and Amos did the same. Jeremiah, then, would have been praying for his people – until God told him to stop. This people were so far gone in rebellion that they were past praying for. It was such a habit for Jeremiah, however, that God had to repeat the instruction several times – making it even more stark in its implications. The triple prohibition of 7:16 is empathetic, and shows the kind of urgent, pleading prayer that must have exercised Jeremiah’s voice when it wasn’t being used for preaching to the people; prayers, pleas and petitions, all now must fall silent.

For I will not listen to you – or to them (11:14; 14:11-12). The words seem harsh and unfeeling, until we set them in the context. Who was not listening to whom? The fact that God now refuses to listen to his people’s prayers is set in the context of repeated emphasis on how they have persistently refused to listen to God’s commands and appeals. Those who will not listen will in the end not be heard either.

If this was true for God’s people back then, how much so for God’s people today? We really have no excuse here. We have the entire revelation of God available to us. The Old and New testaments are readily available to us. We can all read the plain teachings of Scripture of such sins as homosexuality.

If we refuse to listen to and obey God’s word, then he has every reason to stop listening to us. Things are that serious. We need to wake up and get real here. Rejecting the clear teachings of Scripture means that we are rejecting God himself. When we get to that place, we are in dire straits indeed.

We all can rejoice in the grace and mercy of a loving and forgiving God. But contrary to so many worldly Christians, God will not extend his forgiveness and mercy to us forever. There are limits. And when we say no to God often enough and defiantly enough, then he is bound to say a clear no to us.

I have often quoted R. C. Sproul on these matters, but his words are so very good here that they are worth once again running with:

God’s grace is not infinite. God is infinite, and God is gracious. We experience the grace of an infinite God, but grace is not infinite. God sets limits to his patience and forbearance. He warns us over and over again that someday the ax will fall and His judgment will be poured out.
Since it is our tendency to take grace for granted, my guess is that God found it necessary from time to time to remind Israel that grace must never be assumed. On rare but dramatic occasions He showed the dreadful power of His justice. He killed Nadab and Abihu. He killed Uzzah. He commanded the slaughter of the Canaanites. It is as if He were saying, “Be careful. While you enjoy the benefits of my grace, don’t forget my justice. Don’t forget the gravity of sin. Remember that I am holy.”

And again:

We hear all the time about God’s infinite grace and mercy. I cringe when I hear it. God’s mercy is infinite insofar as it is mercy bestowed upon us by a Being who is infinite, but when the term infinite is used to describe his mercy rather than his person, I have problems with it because the Bible makes very clear that there is a limit to God’s mercy. There is a limit to his grace, and he is determined not to pour out his mercy on impenitent people forever. There is a time, as the Old Testament repeatedly reports, particularly in the book of the prophet Jeremiah, that God stops being gracious with people, and he gives them over to their sin.”

Those believers – and especially their leaders – who are now shaking their fists at God concerning his intentions for human sexuality, marriage and family had better carefully reconsider. This blatant unbelief and rebellion will not be allowed to continue forever.

The best thing these apostates and false shepherds can do – indeed, the only thing they can do – is to get on their faces before Almighty God, repent, and ask for his mercy before it is too late.

Bible Texts Prosperity Preachers Wish Did Not Exist

If you survey the Bible you will not find a single verse that warns you against the detrimental spiritual effect of material poverty. Yet you will find many passages in the Bible warning you against the detrimental effects of wealth—and especially love for wealth. You never hear prosperity preachers preaching on such verses. It is as if their Bibles do not have such verses.

Every so often when engaged in discussion on the subject of the prosperity gospel, I hear voices sympathetic to this doctrinal poison say, “But surely God does not want us to be poor, does he?” This is viewed as a trump card, as if there is no middle ground between being stinking rich and being in abject poverty. The Bible has many texts that answer that question.

People who say such things suffer from deliberate amnesia. They choose to forget the words of the wise man who prayed to God, saying, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God” (Proverbs 30:7-9).

If you survey the Bible you will not find a single verse that warns you against the detrimental spiritual effect of material poverty. Yet you will find many passages in the Bible warning you against the detrimental effects of wealth—and especially love for wealth. You never hear prosperity preachers preaching on such verses. It is as if their Bibles do not have such verses.

Here are a few from the lips of our Saviour.

In his famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:19-24).

Then the Lord Jesus in Mark 10:17–25 dealt with a rich young ruler who wanted eternal life as long as he was not asked to sacrifice his great wealth. When Jesus told him to sell all that he had and give it to the poor so that he would have treasure in heaven, the Bible tells us that the saying disheartened him. He went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Jesus went on to make the unequivocal statement, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God…! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” I repeat; you never hear these words from the lips of prosperity gospel preachers. Rather, they give the impression that being materially wealthy is the sure sign that all is well between your soul and God.

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The post Bible Texts Prosperity Preachers Wish Did Not Exist appeared first on The Aquila Report.

The Seismic Shift in Christ’s Teaching

Matthew 13:3Luke 8:5–8

Code: B170807

One very busy day near the end of Jesus’ second year of public ministry, the whole character of His teaching changed. The continual rejection of His teaching by hostile Pharisees triggered a massive and sudden shift. He stopped preaching straightforward sermons peppered with key prophetic texts from the Old Testament. From that point on, whenever He taught publicly, He spoke in parables.

While parables can help illustrate and explain truth to anyone who listens with an hear of faith, their primary biblical function is to conceal truth from unwilling and unbelieving auditors—by neatly wrapping the mysteries of Christ’s kingdom in familiar symbols and simple stories. This is not an incidental point. It was Jesus’ own declared purpose to “utter things hidden.” Everything He taught from that day forward would be concealed from everyone except those with ears to hear.

Christ’s First Parable

Jesus marked that monumental transitional moment with a story that would have been immediately familiar to everyone within earshot. In fact, from his location on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, his audience might have been able to view a scene that matched precisely what Jesus was saying:

“The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture. Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out. Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:5–8)

No one would be mystified by the story itself. For Jesus’ actual listeners, living in an agricultural society, this was everyday life. But beneath the familiar expressions lay profound truths still concealed from the casual listener.

Jesus’ oft-repeated words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear,” reveal that most of his listeners did not understand His teaching. Luke 8:9–10 picks up the story at that point:

His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’”

The Parable of the Sower, as it is popularly known, is a simple story whose meaning on the surface is not the least bit mysterious. But following the narrative of the story isn’t the same as understanding its relationship to the kingdom of God. The true significance of what Jesus is teaching is not immediately obvious. The parable needs to be explained.

Well-Known, But Not Well-Understood

Jesus urged His hearers to investigate the true meaning of the parable. That is made clear by a statement in the second half of Luke 8:8: “As He said these things, He would call out, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’”—implying that as He told the parable, He stressed more than once the need to pay attention, listen with a believing heart, and look beyond the surface for the true meaning.

In fact, that Luke 8:5–8 is commonly known as the Parable of the Sower highlights why it needs careful explanation—the story isn’t about the sower. As the Lord explained to His diligent hearers (Luke 8:11–15), the parable is a timeless pattern for New Testament evangelism. While the truths are not overly complex, failure to properly understand and apply the parable has spawned no end of pseudo-evangelistic mischief.

In spite of the simplicity of Christ’s explanation, the church has managed to consistently convolute the message. Scripture is clear about Christ’s evangelistic theme, and the meaning behind the seed, the sower, and the soils. Where the church often errs is in viewing each component as a variable that can be altered to create different results—an interpretation that departs from the Lord’s explanation, and, as we’ll see next time, utterly upends the biblical perspective on evangelism.

   

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170807
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/about#copyright).

Peter: The Compassionate and Courageous Leader

Luke 22:31–32John 21:18

Code: B170804

The apostle Peter was not an obvious candidate for leading the early church. He was impulsive, reckless, and vacillated between chest-beating bravado and cowardly retreat—not exactly the kind of guy you’d want to have responsible for your own well-being.

But Jesus Christ spent three years refining the raw materials of Peter’s lifeexposed him to life-shaping experiences, and modeled the true qualities of God-honoring leadership: submissionself-restraint, humility, servanthood, compassion, and courage. Today we’ll examine the last two of those leadership qualities that Christ modelled and taught to Peter.

Compassion

When the Lord warned Peter about his impending denial, He said, “Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). Wheat was typically separated from the chaff by being shaken and tossed up into the air in a stiff wind. The chaff was blown away and the wheat would fall into a pile, thus purified.

We might have expected Jesus to reassure Peter by saying, “I’m not going to allow Satan to sift you.” But He didn’t. He essentially let Peter know that He had given Satan the permission he sought. He would allow the devil to put Peter to the test (as God did in the case of Job). He said, in essence, “I’m going to let him do it. I’m going to let Satan shake the very foundations of your life. Then I’m going to let him toss you to the wind—until there’s nothing left but the reality of your faith.” Jesus did reassure Peter that the apostle’s faith would survive the ordeal. “I have prayed for you,” Jesus told him, “that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32).

It was then that Peter arrogantly insisted that he would never stumble. Yet despite his protestations, before the night was over, he did deny Jesus, and his whole world was severely shaken. His ego was deflated. His self-confidence was annihilated. His pride suffered greatly. But his faith never failed.

What was this all about? Jesus was equipping Peter to strengthen the brethren. People with natural leadership abilities often tend to be short on compassion, lousy comforters, and impatient with others. They don’t stop very long to care for the wounded as they pursue their goals. Peter needed to learn compassion through his own ordeal, so that when it was over, he could strengthen others in theirs.

For the rest of his life, Peter would need to show compassion to people who were struggling. After being sifted by Satan, Peter was well equipped to empathize with others’ weaknesses. He could hardly help having great compassion for those who succumbed to temptation or fell into sin. He had been there. And by that experience he learned to be compassionate, tender-hearted, gracious, kind, and comforting to others who were lacerated by sin and personal failure.

In 1 Peter 5:8–10, he wrote,

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.

Peter understood human weakness, and he understood it well. He had been to the bottom. His own weaknesses had been thrown in his face. But he had been established, strengthened, and settled by the Lord. As usual, he was writing out of his own experience. These were not theoretical precepts he taught.

Courage

Finally, Peter had to learn courage. Not the impetuous, headlong, false kind of “courage” that caused him to swing his sword so wildly at Malchus, but a mature, settled, intrepid willingness to suffer for Christ’s sake.

The kingdom of darkness is set against the kingdom of light. Lies are set against the truth. Satan is set against God. And demons are set against the holy purposes of Christ. Therefore Peter would face difficulty wherever he went. Christ told him,

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go. (John 21:18)

What did that mean? The apostle John gives a clear answer: “Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death [Peter] would glorify God” (John 21:19).

The price of preaching would be death for Peter. Persecution. Oppression. Trouble. Torture. Ultimately, martyrdom. Peter would need rock-solid courage to persevere.

You can practically see the birth of real courage in Peter’s heart at Pentecost, when he was filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Prior to that, he had shown flashes of a fickle kind of courage. That is why he impetuously drew his sword in front of a multitude of armed soldiers one minute but denied Jesus when challenged by a servant girl a few hours later. His courage, like everything in his life, was marred by instability.

After Pentecost, however, we see a different Peter. Acts 4 describes how Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling counsel. They were solemnly instructed “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:18).

Peter and John boldly replied, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19–20). Soon they were brought back before the Sanhedrin for continuing to preach. Again they told them the same thing: “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit and driven by the knowledge that Christ had risen from the dead, had acquired an unshakable, rock-solid courage.

In Peter’s first epistle we get a hint of why he was filled with such courage. Writing to Christians dispersed all over the Roman Empire because of persecution, he tells them:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:3–7)

Peter was secure in Christ, and he knew it. He had seen the risen Christ, so he knew Christ had conquered death. He knew that whatever earthly trials came his way, they were merely temporary. The trials, though often painful and always distasteful, were nothing compared to the hope of eternal glory (cf. Romans 8:18). The genuineness of true faith, he knew, was infinitely more precious than any perishing earthly riches, because his faith would redound to the praise and glory of Christ at His appearing. That hope is what gave Peter such courage.

The Transformed Leader

As Peter learned all these lessons and his character was transformed—as he became the man Christ wanted him to be—he gradually changed from Simon into Rock. He learned submission, restraint, humility, love, compassion, and courage from the Lord’s example. And because of the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart, he did become a great leader.

He preached at Pentecost and three thousand people were saved (Acts 2:14–41). He and John healed a lame man (Acts 3:1–10). He was so powerful that people were healed in his shadow (Acts 5:15–16). He raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36–42). He introduced the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). And he wrote two epistles, 1 and 2 Peter, in which he featured the very same lessons he had learned from the Lord about true character.

What a man Peter was! Was he perfect? No. In Galatians 2 the apostle Paul relates an incident in which Peter compromised the gospel of grace due to intimidation by influential heretics. We see a brief flash of the old Simon. Paul rebuked Peter in the presence of everyone (Galatians 2:14).

To Peter’s credit, he responded to Paul’s correction. And when the error of the heretics was finally confronted at a full council of church leaders and apostles in Jerusalem, it was Peter who spoke up first in defense of the gospel of divine grace. He introduced the argument that won the day (Acts 15:7–14). He was in effect defending the apostle Paul’s ministry. The whole episode shows how Simon Peter remained teachable, humble, and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction and correction.

How did Peter’s life end? We know that Jesus told Peter he would die as a martyr (John 21:18–19). But Scripture doesn’t record the death of Peter. All the records of early church history indicate that Peter was crucified. Eusebius cites the testimony of Clement, who says that before Peter was crucified he was forced to watch the crucifixion of his own wife. As he watched her being led to her death, Clement says, Peter called to her by name, saying, “Remember the Lord.” When it was Peter’s turn to die, he pleaded to be crucified upside down because he wasn’t worthy to die as his Lord had died. And thus he was nailed to a cross head-downward.

Peter’s life could be summed up in the final words of his second epistle: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). That is exactly what Simon Peter did, and that is why he became Rock—the great leader of the early church.

 

(Adapted from Twelve Ordinary Men.)

 


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