Mustard Seeds and Leaven

mustard seed

Reading the Word

Matthew 13:31–33 (ESV)

31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Parallel Text: Mark 4:30-32

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus tells a parable using an illustration of a mustard seed to teach about the kingdom of heaven. In this parable, Jesus describes the mustard seed as “the smallest of all seeds.” Some critics like to point out that the mustard seed is not truly the smallest seed. There are smaller ones. This critique misses the point. Jesus was not making a scientific statement. He was making a statement that was familiar to his hearers. The mustard seed was the smallest of the seeds they were familiar with and used regularly. The mustard seed was popular in proverbial sayings to designate the smallest of things. His audience understood what he was saying.

The kingdom of heaven begins as a tiny and seemingly insignificant thing, but grows into a large plant. Jesus uses the term “tree” to emphasize its large size, especially in comparison to other herb plants in a garden. It would dwarf them!

Jesus also taught that the kingdom is like leaven. It does not take long before the leaven is worked throughout an entire lump of dough and the whole thing is affected. In the same way, the kingdom spreads and impacts all places and things.

As Jesus’ followers, we need to hear these words. We need to be reminded that the kingdom grows through what may seem small and insignificant. It happens through our small churches, our faithful sharing of the gospel with our neighbors and friends, and through the ordinary things we do each day. These things may seem meager and mostly meaningless, but in the end a kingdom is growing that includes people from every nation, tribe, and tongue to the glory of God. Praise God for his kingdom!

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Wheat and Weeds

woman picking plant on field

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Reading the Word

Matthew 13:24–30, 36-43 (ESV)

24 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25 but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”

Matthew 13:36–43 (ESV)

36 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Understanding and Applying the Word

This parable is divided into two parts. The parable is given in verses 24-30 and its interpretation appears in verses 36-43. There are two other short parables given in between these sections.

The parable describes a farmer sowing seed in his field. Another, an enemy of the farmer, sneaks in later and sows weeds among the farmer’s crops. The weeds became evident only as the crops matured. The farmer instructs his workers to leave the weeds until the harvest so the workers do not unintentionally harm the crops trying to remove the weeds. At harvest time, the weeds will be separated from the harvest and destroyed.

Jesus’ interpretation tells us that the good seed represents the sons of the kingdom (i.e. believers), while the weeds represent sons of the evil one (i.e. non-believers). At the end of the age, God will gather all people and they will be separated into two groups: those who belong to Jesus Christ through faith and those who do not. Those who belong to Christ will be gathered to be with him. Those who do not belong to Jesus will be judged for their sin and condemned for eternity.

The parable depicts final judgment. The Bible tells us that we have all sinned against God and deserve judgment and destruction. However, God has provided a sacrifice for our sins to pay the penalty. The sacrifice is Jesus Christ, who went to the cross on our behalf. All who trust in him will be saved while those who reject God’s provision will stand in their sin for judgment. Our God has graciously provided payment for our sin. Won’t you turn to Christ today?

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A Future Harvest

harvest

Reading the Word

Mark 4:26–29 (ESV)

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Only Mark’s Gospel records this short parable. The story is of a farmer who scatters seed, but is powerless to make the seed grow. The man goes about his days working the ground and cultivating while the seed sprouts and produces a crop that the farmer can harvest, but it was the earth that gave the growth “by itself”, not the man. The farmer does not know fully how these things work together.

Jesus tells us that, in the same way we are powerless over the growth of the kingdom. We do our part in spreading the news of the kingdom, but it is God who gives the growth. He alone can change hearts and bring people into the kingdom. Let us continue to work in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ, knowing that God is at work in the world and that there is a harvest day coming.

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The Parable of the Sower

The Sower

The Sower (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Matthew 13:1–23 (ESV)

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 He who has ears, let him hear.”

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“ ‘ “You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

18 “Hear then the parable of the sower: 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21 yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23 As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 4:1-25; Luke 8:4-18

Understanding and Applying the Word

This parable is a well-known portion of Scripture. However, it is often misunderstood or lends itself to confusion. When the parable is examined, what does it mean that one type of soil produced no results at all, while others began to produce a plant before failing, while the last produced plants that produced a high yield for harvest?

The parable is actually quite easy to understand when we look at the one thing that separates the final soil, the “good soil”, from all of the others. The good soil is the only one that produced a harvest. The seed thrown along the path, sown in the rocky soil, and in the thorns all failed to produce any kind of harvest. The seeds were wasted. It was only the good soil that produced.

Jesus tells us that this parable illustrates the different ways people respond to his preaching. Some do not care to hear at all, some are quick to abandon Jesus at the first sign of trouble, and others are too entangled in the affairs of the world to follow Jesus. Even so, there are those who will hear Jesus’ words, follow him, and produce the fruit of obedience to Jesus in their lives. They are the ones who truly belong to Jesus.

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Who Is My Family?

arms bonding closeness daylight

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Reading the Word

Matthew 12:46–50 (ESV)

46 While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 48 But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Parallel Texts: Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21

Understanding and Applying the Word

While Jesus was drawing crowds and rumors about him being the Messiah were spreading, his family came to see him. Mark tells us in 3:20-21 that they thought Jesus was “out of his mind.” John tells us in 7:1-5 that at least some of his brothers did not believe in him. When word was brought to Jesus that his mother and brothers wanted to speak to him, he replied, “Who are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

With these words, Jesus tells us who is true family is. They are the disciples who live in obedience to the will of God. Jesus’ true followers enter into a relationship with him that is more significant and longer lasting than that of a biological family. The family of God is open to all who believe and follow Christ. The Church is the representation of this family in the world. We belong to the family of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. And we ought to think of our spiritual family in the same way that Jesus did. It is of great and eternal significance!

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You Want a Sign? How about an Empty Tomb?

Empty Tomb

Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. On Sundays, I include a suggested Scripture reading, but no supplemental material. Please be sure to subscribe to this page or our Facebook page so you can follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Christ in 2019.

Reading the Word

Matthew 12:38–45 (ESV)

38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. 41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

43 “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation.”

Blaspheming the Work of God

black and white cemetery christ church

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Reading the Word

Matthew 12:22–37 (ESV)

22 Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. 26 And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Parallel Text: Mark 3:20-30

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus heals a man who is demon-possessed and the Pharisees accused Jesus of exercising the power of Satan to do so. In response, Jesus tells them that it would make no sense for him to do that. It would equate to Satan fighting against himself.

Instead, Jesus’ power was the power of God at work. For the Pharisees to resist Jesus and deny him was equivalent to resisting the kingdom of God and blaspheming the work of the Holy Spirit. To oppose God and the work of the Spirit would bring judgment and condemnation.

Those who mock Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity need to think carefully about what they are doing. If Jesus is who he claimed to be, then to resist him and dismiss his teachings is foolishness. To treat the Bible, which he authenticated, as inferior to human understanding or to persecute his Church is to stand against Christ himself. One day all will stand before Jesus and be judged. How will he judge those who had every opportunity to trust in him, but chose to actively oppose him and his people? Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and rose from the dead as evidence of the truth of his claim. You owe it to yourself to examine the truth of the Resurrection. Below is a link to some resources that could help you get started.

https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/popular-writings/jesus-of-nazareth/

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No, They Are Not Inferior

Genesis 127 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 8:1–3 (ESV)

1 Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In these verses, we are told of those who were with Jesus as he traveled and preached. His constant followers included the twelve disciples and three women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Susanna. There were also “many others”, but Luke draws our attention to these three women.

In Jesus’ day, women were thought of as second-class citizens in many ways. Other rabbis often refused to teach women because they were thought to be inferior. Jesus turns the social mindset on its head by not only ministering to these women, but also allowing them to travel with him. They were not considered of secondary nature to Jesus. They were valued and were very important to him. In fact, we are told that they helped support Jesus “out of their means.” They were financial support for him. We also notice that the three women mentioned were from greatly different social backgrounds. Mary Magdalene was likely poor or had very little while Joanna is said to be the wife of Chuza, King Herod’s household manager. We are not told about Susanna’s background.

Jesus’ ministry was shocking for many reasons. It confronted many of the accepted norms of the day. One of the more important things that Jesus made clear is that God loves all people and views them all as equally valuable. It does not matter if you are Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, male or female. Scripture tells us that all people are created in the image of God and are loved and cherished by him (Genesis 1:27; John 3:16). Jesus offended many because he loved all people, regardless of background. We are called to show the same love even today.

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Great Forgiveness and Great Love

Christ at Simon the Pharisee

Christ at Simon the Pharisee (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 7:36–50 (ESV)

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus went to a Pharisee’s home to eat with him. While there, a “woman of the city, a sinner” arrives and wept at Jesus’ feet, wiped them with her hair, and anointed them with oil. This was a great show of love and honor by the woman. The problem, as expressed by the Pharisee, is the woman was a known prostitute! Why would Jesus allow such a woman to touch him? If he were really a prophet he would not allow such a sinner to come near him, right?

No so! Jesus responds to the Pharisee with a parable about a moneylender. He loaned two people money and forgave both of their debts. One had borrowed five hundred denarii, the other fifty. Who would love the moneylender more? Who would be the most thankful?  Well, of course it would be the one whose debt had been greater.

Jesus used the parable to speak of the woman prostitute’s and the Pharisee’s attitude towards Jesus. The woman knew her sin was great and that the forgiveness she had been granted through Jesus was great. She loved Jesus greatly. On the other hand, the Pharisee did not believe he needed forgiveness because he was already righteous on his own. He did not need Jesus and did not feel deep gratitude towards him.

When we are able to see our sinfulness and honestly admit the deep debt we owe as a result, our love for Christ will grow. Such understanding helps us better understand the great love Christ has shown for us by going to the cross as a sacrifice for our sins. Think of John 3:16 and what it means about God’s love:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

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Following Christ Is Not a List of Rules

Matthew 1128 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Matthew 11:25–30 (ESV)

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus calls on all with the words “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” When a disciple followed a teacher, the disciple followed the teaching and rules laid down by the teacher. The Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ day had laid down extensive rules about what constituted acceptable religion. The path of those leaders was suffocating and a great burden and failed to give life (cf. Matthew 23:1-4). Jesus changes all of that. He promises rest from the heavy load of rules and restrictions. He promises a light load.

Perhaps you know someone or have attended a church where being a Christian is defined by a list of rules that tell what is and is not allowable. Scripture tells us that we are not accepted by God because of anything we can do (or not do), but we are accepted through our relationship with Jesus Christ. He lived the perfect, sinless life that none of us could and his righteousness is credited to us. Yes, our lives should be marked by growth in holiness and a desire to please the Lord, but not because we think that is what makes us acceptable to God. We are accepted by God because of Christ alone. Our desire to please the Lord is motivated by our love for him and because the Holy Spirit is at work within us to change our wills and desires. Are you frustrated and overburdened with trying to follow all of the rules? Run to Jesus. He kept them all for you.

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