Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Mustard Seed

 

The stories Jesus told are inescapably weighted with ethos and revelation. Theologians have expounded chapters on the intricacies of even the simplest of his parables—agreeing and disagreeing along the way. Yet even so, and no doubt contributing to their appeal, the parables of Jesus are also simple enough to compel a child to listen:

“What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man cast in his garden; it grew and became a tree and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”(1)

Though the theological and methodological approaches to this parable may be varied, perhaps in varying degrees each contends a similar truth: The kingdom of God holds much to be discovered, discussed, and held in wonder.

German theologian Joachim Jeremias argues that Jesus is not describing the kingdom as the mustard seed itself, but as the vision of the seed brought to fruition.(2) In other words, the kingdom of God is not the tiny seed, but the giant shrub into which it grows, and in whose boughs the birds make their nests. Jesus is looking for the audience to compare the kingdom of God to the final stage of the process from seedling to tree, and hence internalize the vision of a great and protective kingdom. Writes Jeremias, “The tree which shelters the birds is a common metaphor for a mighty kingdom which protects its vassals.”(2) For this influential scholar, the parable of the mustard seed depicts the sharp contrast between the kingdom of God in its fledging beginnings and the mighty kingdom that is breaking-in beyond all asking or perceiving. The kingdom of God is in the process of realization, and this is both an essential component for understanding the parable of the mustard seed, and every word Jesus ever said.

Others contend that the nature of metaphor itself is such that it leaves Jesus’s descriptions of the kingdom largely unarticulated, requiring hearers to draw out the conclusions based on what they know of him, the character of God, and the intricacies of life. The kingdom of God as it is compared to a grain of mustard planted in a garden sets up a point of contrast that is “creative of meaning,” to use the words of another theologian, and unending in dialogue: How is a kingdom like a tiny, planted seed? Who is the man who planted it? How is the realm of God like a tree with branches providing shelter? The conclusions are many—and transforming. Like all of his parables, the comparison of “kingdom” and “seed” sets hearers up for surprise. It is a metaphorical narrative that calls for participation, and leads hearers to a point of decision: Will you continue to see signs of the kingdom as futile and diminutive or will you open your eyes to the possibility of a great and hidden reality? For many scholars, this parable describes the advent of a radical world in its tiny beginnings. It subverts our well-ordered vision of what is, and leaves in its place a system of signs that point us to the person of Jesus and the kingdom he proclaims. We are invited into a conversation about the kingdom of God and its surprising and transcendent presence in our everyday situations.

Still other renderings of the kingdom and the mustard seed weigh in on the social context and cultural conventions of the first century world of the parables. As a Jewish rabbi speaking parabolically of the kingdom of God within a Jewish and Hellenistic context, Jesus would have conceivably elicited reactions quite different than ours today. William Herzog’s description of Mediterranean life as daily affected by insufficient and limited resources might illumine reactions of the audience to the great promise of the kingdom Jesus describes. If everything surrounding first century peasant life seemed in short supply, the description of the kingdom of heaven as a negligible grain of mustard growing into a great tree would undoubtedly be received in earnest wonder. The kingdom of God as the greatest of all shrubs reverses the imagery of status and social-standing by turning the smallest of all seeds into something of momentous proportions. The promise of shelter in the shade of the branches of God’s great reach would also have been a subversion of order to those who were slaves to the land beneath those branches.

In each of these approaches to Jesus’s unlikely comparison, we find truths and wonders worth gleaning as if from a great and fruitful tree. The parable of the mustard seed depicts the inconspicuous ministry of Jesus and the sometimes hidden signs of his significance as holding a potential far beyond metaphor or imagination, culture or history. The kingdom of God is not in the future only, nor is it only at hand in a history we cannot reach; it is here even now, reaching out with branches that bid all to come and dwell. As with all of Jesus’s stories, which “leap out of their historical situation and confront us as if they had not yet spoken their final word,” this parable of the kingdom will continue to surprise us if we will continue to inquire.(3) The great reality of the kingdom has been planted within the life and words of the human Christ, always ready to break forth the fullness of meaning, gradually or suddenly, or sometimes both.

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) This parable is told in Luke 13:18-19, Mark 4:30-32, and Matthew 13:31-32.

(2) Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1972), 102.

(3) David Gowler quoting Richard Pevear in What Are They Saying about the Parables? (New York: Paulist Press, 2000), 2.

Our Daily Bread — Whose Mess?

 

Read: Matthew 15:7-21

Bible in a Year: Psalms 49-50; Romans 1

Out of the heart come evil thoughts . . . . These are what defile a person. —Matthew 15:19-20

“Could they not carry their own garbage this far?” I grumbled to Jay as I picked up empty bottles from the beach and tossed them into the trash bin less than 20 feet away. “Did leaving the beach a mess for others make them feel better about themselves? I sure hope these people are tourists. I don’t want to think that any locals would treat our beach with such disrespect.”

The very next day I came across a prayer I had written years earlier about judging others. My own words reminded me of how wrong I was to take pride in cleaning up other people’s messes. The truth is, I have plenty of my own that I simply ignore—especially in the spiritual sense.

I am quick to claim that the reason I can’t get my life in order is because others keep messing it up. And I am quick to conclude that the “garbage” stinking up my surroundings belongs to someone other than me. But neither is true. Nothing outside of me can condemn or contaminate me—only what’s inside (Matt. 15:19-20). The real garbage is the attitude that causes me to turn up my nose at a tiny whiff of someone else’s sin while ignoring the stench of my own. —Julie Ackerman Link

Forgive me, Lord, for refusing to throw away my own “trash.” Open my eyes to the damage that pride does to Your natural and spiritual creation. May I have no part of it.Share this prayer from our Facebook page with your friends. facebook.com/ourdailybread

Most of us are farsighted about sin—we see the sins of others but not our own.

INSIGHT: In today’s passage, Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, a group of the religious elite in Israel. They taught that obeying the law was the most important thing, so they emphasized external behavior. Jesus called attention to the condition of the heart and essentially said, “It doesn’t matter if you do everything right. If your heart is bad, you are still defiled.”

Charles Stanley – The Believer’s Passion

 

2 Timothy 1:1-11

A fire will not continue to burn strongly unless it’s stoked. Similarly, a believer’s fervor, if left untended, can diminish.

New Christians often share their faith passionately and sense God’s joy and peace. Yet this zeal can fade unintentionally. From today’s passage, we gather that Timothy had let his flame of faith cool slightly (vv. 6-7).

Believers can experience “cooling” for several reasons. When tragedy strikes, a person may feel that his prayers went unanswered and that God doesn’t care. If he then prays less, it’s easy to drift away from the Lord. At other times, Christians can be sidetracked by the world’s priorities—Timothy’s enthusiasm wavered because of false teaching and fear. Whatever the apparent trigger may be, Satan is the underlying cause; he lures believers away from single-minded devotion to Jesus.

Drifting can be subtle and hard to detect. Six questions can help you assess whether your enthusiasm for God remains strong:

  1. Do you have joy in the Lord and a desire to serve Him, share the gospel, and help others in need?
  2. Do you spend time in the Word daily?
  3. Do you pray, knowing that God is listening and working in your life?
  4. Do you faithfully attend church and tithe?
  5. Do you experience joy, peace, contentment, and hope in Jesus?
  6. Do you stand firm in your godly convictions?

If some of your answers recently changed from “yes” to “no,” your fire may be diminishing. Acknowledge this to the Lord. Ask for His help to fuel your passion.

Bible in One Year: Isaiah 28-30

 

Alistair Begg – Nevertheless

 

Nevertheless, I am continually with you. Psalm 73:23

Nevertheless”-as if, notwithstanding all the foolishness and ignorance that Asaph had just been confessing to God, not one atom was it less true and certain that Asaph was saved and accepted, and that the blessing of being constantly in God’s presence was undoubtedly his. Fully conscious of his own lost estate and of the deceitfulness and vileness of his nature, yet, by a glorious outburst of faith, he sings, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you.”

Believer, you are forced to enter into Asaph’s confession and acknowledgment; endeavor in like spirit to say “nevertheless, since I belong to Christ I am continually with God!” By this is meant continually upon His mind-He is always thinking of me for my good. Continually before His eye-the eye of the Lord never sleeps but is perpetually watching over my welfare. Continually in His hand, so that none shall be able to pluck me away. Continually on His heart, worn there as a memorial, even as the high priest bore the names of the twelve tribes upon his heart forever.

You always think of me, O God. The tender mercies of Your love continually yearn toward me. You are always making providence work for my good. You have set me as a signet upon Your arm; Your love is strong as death, and many waters cannot quench it; neither can the floods drown it. Surprising grace! You see me in Christ, and though in myself disapproved, You behold me as wearing Christ’s garments and washed in His blood, and so I stand accepted in Your presence. I am therefore continually in Your favor-“continually with you.”

Here is comfort for the tried and afflicted soul; vexed with the tempest within, look at the calm without. “Nevertheless”-O say it in your heart, and take the peace it gives. “Nevertheless, I am continually with you.”

The Family Bible Reading Plan

  • Judges 12
  • Acts 16

Devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg.

 

Charles Spurgeon – Everywhere and yet forgotten

 

“Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:9,10

Suggested Further Reading: Deuteronomy 8:11-20

This forgetfulness of God is growing upon this perverse generation. Time was, in the old puritanic days, when every shower of rain was seen to come from heaven, when every ray of sunshine was blessed, and God was thanked for having given fair weather to ingather the fruits of the harvest. Then, men talked of God as doing everything. But in our days where is our God? We have the laws of matter. Alas! Alas! That names with little meaning should have destroyed our memory of the Eternal One. We talk now of phenomena, and of the chain of events, as if all things happened by machinery; as if the world were a huge clock which had been wound up in eternity, and continued to work without a present God. Nay, not only our philosophers, but even our poets rant in the same way. They sing of the works of nature. But who is that fair goddess, Nature? Is she a heathen deity, or what? Do we not act as if we were ashamed of our God, or as if his name had become obsolete? Go abroad wherever you may, you hear little said concerning him who made the heavens, and who formed the earth and the sea; but everything is nature, and the laws of motion and of matter. And do not Christians often use words which would lead you to suppose that they believed in the old goddess, Luck, or rested in that equally false deity, Fortune, or trembled before the demon of Misfortune? Oh for the day when God shall be seen, and little else beside! Better, my brethren, that philosophical discoveries were lost, than that God should be concealed behind them. Better that our poets had ceased to write, and that all their flaming words were buried with their ashes, than that they should serve as a cloud before the face of the eternal Creator.

For meditation: When men replace Father God by mother nature, God leaves them to behave in ways which are unnatural and opposed to their false new deity (Romans 1:21-27).

Sermon no. 326

29 July (1860)

John MacArthur – The Joy of Anticipated Reward

 

“That the proof of your faith . . . may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).

Your future reward is directly related to your present service.

The joy you experience after your faith has been tested and proven genuine is largely due to your present blessings and assurance of salvation. But there’s a future aspect as well: the joy of anticipating the reward you’ll receive from Jesus when you see Him face to face and hear “Well done, good and faithful servant! . . . Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21, NIV). Peter described it as the “praise and glory and honor [you’ll receive] at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).

“Praise” in that text speaks of verbal commendation. To receive “glory” is to be made like Christ. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s glory (John 1:14) and “we know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Paul spoke of those who “by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality” (Rom. 2:7). As a result they will receive what they seek (v. 10).

Peter probably used “honor” as a synonym for rewards, which God will grant to all who faithfully serve Him. I believe those rewards are various capacities for heavenly service and are directly related to the believer’s service in this life. Jesus said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done” (Rev. 22:12, emphasis added). Paul said, “He who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Cor. 3:8, emphasis added).

God alone is worthy of praise, glory, and honor, but He will give you all three because you’ll be in the image of Jesus Christ—sinless and fully glorified (1 John 3:2). Until that time, “watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 8).

Suggestions for Prayer

Praise the Lord for the joy of anticipating your future reward.

For Further Study

Peter spoke of a time when Jesus will reward believers. What do these verses teach about that time: Romans 8:18, 1 Corinthians 1:7-8, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, and 1 Peter 4:10-13?

Joyce Meyer – Taking a Peace Inventory

 

And He came and preached the glad tidings of peace to you who were afar off and [peace] to those who were near.- Ephesians 2:17

Do you enjoy a peaceful atmosphere most of the time? Are you thankful and able to keep your peace during the storms of life? Are you at peace with God? Are you at peace with yourself? These are important questions. It is good to take a “peace inventory,” checking various areas of our lives to see if we need to make adjustments anywhere.

Jesus said He gave us His peace (see John 14:27). If He gives us His peace, we can gratefully walk in it and enjoy it. The minute we sense that we are losing our peace, we need to make a decision to calm down. I have found that the sooner I calm down, the easier it is to do so. If I allow myself to become extremely upset, it not only takes a toll on me emotionally, mentally, and physically, but it is more difficult to return to peace.

Jesus has provided peace for our lives, but we must appropriate it, not letting our hearts get troubled or afraid. We cannot just passively wait to feel peaceful. We are to pursue peace and refuse to live without it.

Prayer of Thanks

Father, thank You for the gift of peace that You have given me. As I do an inventory of my life, I choose to receive Your peace and live in it each day. I am so grateful that with Your help I can be at rest and enjoy Your peace.

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – Everything I Need

 

“Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need!” (Psalm 23:1).

A minister telephoned his sermon topic to his local newspaper one day.

“The Lord is My Shepherd,” he said.

“Is that all?” he was asked.

“That’s enough,” the pastor replied.

The weekend church page carried his sermon topic as: “The Lord is My Shepherd – That’s Enough.”

Thoroughly satisfied with the meaning of the expanded title, he used it as his subject on Sunday morning – to the delight and great benefit of the congregation.

Surely the truth of this familiar verse, when properly assessed, should delight and benefit each one of us. Who but our wonderful Lord could serve as such a faithful shepherd? And what better description is there of His loving care for us than that which is implied in the word shepherd?

With Him as our Shepherd, what else could we possibly need? He has promised to be our daily provision, our healer, our all in all. Truly nothing happens to the genuine believer without the knowledge and permissive will of our heavenly Father.

Bible Reading: Psalm 23:1-6

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: “Dear Lord, help me to see You today as my Shepherd – gracious caretaker and friend, provider of everything I could ever possibly need.”

Presidential Prayer Team; P.G. – Loving Boldness

 

There was a time David hid in fear for his life from King Saul. In his prayer, he lamented that no one took notice, much less cared about him.

No refuge remains to me; no one cares for my soul.

Psalm 142:4

As you look up and down the streets where you live, how many of those folks do you even take notice of? Are there any you truly care about? Thankfully, in America today it is still possible to share what Jesus has done for you with people you meet. You know that God cares, and He has commissioned you to witness for Him. Why are Christians in the United States often reluctant to share? Some are fearful; others lazy. Yet to not speak up is disobedience, and Jesus said if you love Him, you will keep His commandments. Soul winners not only follow Christ, they abide in Him…and the time is coming when sharing His love will no longer be possible.

When praying today, think of specific people that need to hear His truth. Ask God to prepare their hearts in advance – and then share Christ with them with loving boldness. Then remember Christian men and women in government, and pray for doors of opportunity to open for them to witness.

Recommended Reading: I John 3:11-22

 

Greg Laurie –The Ultimate Objective of Prayer

 

And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” —Exodus 33:18

When I was a new Christian, I always prayed for things for myself. Lord, bless me. Give this to me. Provide this for me.

But as A. B. Simpson wrote, “Once it was the blessing, now it is the Lord; once it was the feeling, now it is His Word; once His gifts I wanted, now the Giver own; once I sought for healing, now himself alone.”

As we start growing spiritually, we will start saying more often, “Lord, I just want You. I want more of You. I want to know You better. No matter where I go, everything is good as long as You go with me, and I go with You.” That is a mark of spiritual maturity.

Jacob, after years of conniving and scheming, met his match when the Lord Himself showed up and they had a wrestling match (which of course Jacob lost). It started out with Jacob trying to overpower what may have been an angel or perhaps the Lord Himself. In the end, Jacob was hanging on to Him. It started off with cunning, and it ended up with clinging. It began with resisting, and it turned into resting.

Wrestling with God in prayer doesn’t mean getting God to do what we want Him to do. It means that we are going to completely surrender to what He wants to do. That is the ultimate goal.

When Moses said to the Lord, “Please, show me Your glory,” he was saying, “God, I want to see You now. I want You to actually show Your face to me.”

That really is what prayer is all about. It is not about getting stuff from God. Prayer, when it reaches its ultimate objective, is getting God. It is God that you want—it’s closeness with Him.

Max Lucado – Handling the Tough Times

 

How do you handle your tough times? When you are tired of trying, tired of forgiving, tired of hard weeks or hard-headed people—how do you manage your dark days? With a bottle of pills? Alcohol? A day at the spa? Many opt for such treatments. So many, in fact, we assume they reenergize the sad life. But do they? They may numb the pain, but do they remove it?  We like sheep follow each other over the edge, falling headlong into bars, binges and beds. Is there a solution? Indeed there is.

Be quick to pray. Talk to Christ who invites. “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out? Come to Me. Get away with Me and you’ll recover your life” (Matthew 11:28-30). Jesus says, “I will show you how to take a real rest.” God who is never downcast, never tires of your down days! Just go to him!

From Facing Your Giants

Night Light for Couples – “I Promise…”

 

“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’” Matthew 5:37

Love can be defined in myriad ways, but in marriage “I love you” really means “I promise to be there for you all of my days.” It is a promise that says, “I’ll be there when you lose your job, your health, your parents, your looks, your confidence, your friends.” It’s a promise that tells your partner, “I’ll build you up; I’ll overlook your weaknesses; I’ll forgive your mistakes; I’ll put your needs above my own; I’ll stick by you even when the going gets tough.”

This kind of assurance will hold you steady through all of life’s ups and downs, through all the “better or worse” conditions.

The Lord has demonstrated throughout the ages that He keeps His promises—including the most important one of all, reserving a spot in heaven for each of His followers, for all eternity. Since God keeps His promises, we must keep ours too—especially the one we made before God, our family, our friends, and our church on our wedding day.

Just between us…

  • What part of my wedding vow means the most to you now?
  • In what ways has our pledge to “stick together no matter what” seen us through hard times?
  • How do we benefit spiritually from keeping our commitments?

Dear Lord, give us Your strength today to honor our promises. May our word be our bond—to each other, to our friends, and to family and associates. Thank You that You never waiver on Your promises to us! Amen.

From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson