What Is the Hundredfold Harvest in the Parable of the Sower?

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Matthew 13:18-23

For many people, this parable isn’t “the Parable of the Sower”; it’s “the Parable of the Soil.” We often focus on Christ’s explanation of the four types of soil (in Matthew 13:18-23) and apply this to our own hearts. We ask ourselves, “Which kind of soil am I?”

Am I the soil who allows the evil one to snatch the gospel from me? Am I the soil that initially receives the gospel with joy, but then falls away when met with opposition? Or am I the soil who allows worry to choke our faith before it reaches full bloom?

When pastors preach this sermon, they often insist that we need to pull out our spiritual weeds and prepare our metaphorical soil for Christ’s word. When Jesus preaches this sermon, however, his focus isn’t on the soil; it’s on the sower.

“Hear then the parable of the sower,” Jesus says (Matthew 13:18). Although Jesus explains the meaning of the soil to his disciples, he chooses to emphasize the sower (and not the soil) in his title. Why?

As it turns out, if you take your eyes off the soil and focus on the sower, you’ll find an interesting question staring back at you: Why is this sower tossing precious seed into barren places?

If you ask any farmer, they’ll tell you that seed is precious—it isn’t unlimited—and so you have to be strategic about where (and how) you sow it. Seeds, after all, can’t grow just anywhere. This is why farmers have fields and why these fields have to be plowed, rotated, and regularly maintained.

This sower, however, tosses precious seed onto the road (where it is eaten by birds), into rocky places without much earth (where it withers away), and among thorns (where it is strangled). Isn’t this strange?

What would you think if you walked outside and saw a farmer throwing seeds onto the road? Onto a pile of rocks? Into a tangled mess of thorns? What would you think if you knew that this was the first place he chose to sow these seeds?

You would probably wonder what he was doing. The action is so strange that it must have some explanation: No grown person would choose to plant seeds in the street!

To answer this question, however, we must ask another: Why does Jesus tell this parable? Too often, we read scriptures out of context. If we do not read the events that happen before and after a scripture, we run the risk of shaping the scripture around our own lives (instead of shaping our lives around the scripture!).

Also, when we read scripture out of context, we get the impression that it is a series of timeless truths, rather than the invasion of God into the ordinary times of human life.

Jesus is telling this story in response to somethingbut what? We have to travel back a few chapters to find out. That’s because this scripture passage isn’t its own story—it’s a continuation of the story that we have been reading for the last month.

This story begins with Jesus’ heart being moved within him at the sight of the crowds that are following him (Matthew 9:36). He thinks of these crowds as “sheep with no shepherd”—but why?

Because their religious leaders are no longer able to recognize the God which they claim to serve (link to Second Sunday after Pentecost blog).

Before this scripture, three times the religious leaders accuse Christ’s power of coming from the devil.

“It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons,” they cry (Matthew 12:24). Claiming that God’s power comes from the devil, however, is the unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:31-33).

In other words, the very people who should have been shepherding God’s people had sinned and their sin could not possibly be forgiven. They were leading people away from God and this deeply troubled Jesus.

So, Jesus gathers together his 12 closest followers and instructs them to go out and minister to his flock.

“Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons,” he instructs the disciples (Matthew 10:8). He then warns the disciples that when they do this, they will face opposition. When they travel into villages, people will reject them—even though they are proclaiming the truth, healing the sick, raising the dead, and casting out demons.

Jesus even guarantees the disciples that they will face opposition from their own families (Matthew 10:34-38). As they attempt to act as shepherds to those who have gone astray, they are guaranteed persecution.

What this isn’t just the way that Jesus’ disciples will suffer—it’s the way that Jesus, himself, will suffer!

In Matthew 12, Jesus takes the withered hand of a man at the synagogue and makes it new. The religious leaders are outraged.

“Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” The religious leaders say (Matthew 12:10). The scripture tells us that they confront Jesus for the sole purpose of publically accusing him of wrongdoing. So, when the tables turn and they are publically corrected by him, the leaders begin to plot for ways to destroy him.

Later on in this passage (in a different place), Jesus heals a man who is blind, mute, and suffering from demon possession. Instead of rejoicing, these religious leaders malign him once again.

“This fellow does not cast out demons expect by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons,” they say (Matthew 12:24). Jesus responds by explaining how this cannot possibly be true, but the religious leaders pay no attention.

“Teacher, we want to see a sign from you,” they say.

This request comes from the very religious leaders who (1) watched Jesus heal a man who was blind, mute, and demon-possessed and (2) are responsible to God for directing the people to him. How painful this must have been! This is why Jesus told his disciples that the religious leaders would reject them: because they first rejected him.

Even more painful than being rejected by religious leaders, however, is the rejection that Jesus faced at the hands of his own relatives. Mark 3 tells us that when Jesus’ brothers and mother heard about what he was doing, “they went out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (Mark 3:21). Jesus’ own family thought that he was crazy.

Everything that Jesus said would happen to his disciples happened to him.

But, what, then, is the question that Jesus is responding to? The same set of questions that his followers find themselves confronted with today: How can Jesus be God if the few people who follow him are tax collectors and sinners?

“How can you be God if the religious leaders reject you?” People challenge him. “Your own family thinks that you’re crazy! Why should anyone listen to you?”

So Jesus tells a story about a sower who sows in strange places. A sower who sows in a place where he knows there will be no harvest.

This isn’t a story about a sower who tosses seed onto the road in the hopes that at least one seed will take root and grow. Jesus is very clear: The seed is gobbled up by the birds. The seed is withered by the sun. The seed is choked by the weeds. Therefore, the sower is deliberately putting seeds in places where he knows it won’t grow—but why?

Because the sower is mirroring an aspect of God’s character that has been true of God’s character throughout the Bible: He does not only send his word to those who receive it. In Romans 1, Paul tells us that God has shared his word with everyone—even those who reject it. He also tells us why.

[God’s] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made, so [every human being is] without excuse. (Romans 1:20)

God presents his word for two reasons: (1) to redeem those who are willing to receive it, and (2) to judge those who reject it. He does not reserve his word only for those he knows will accept it—and neither should we. God sends his word even to those whom he knows will (by their own choice) reject him. It isn’t God’s will for these individuals to perish, but he is well-aware of the choice which they will make before they make it.

Always, God’s word brings out the darkness in people’s hearts. This isn’t to say that this darkness is created by God’s word—the darkness always exists within the person. John 3:20 says, “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come to the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” The light of God’s word reveals the darkness that was hiding in us all along—it reveals the deeds which we do our best to hide.

In Acts, we see that, typically, the disciples are rejected by the first group of people to whom they preach—the Jews. Paul was even stoned and left for dead by a group of Jews. Shortly after this, however, he pulled himself up from the ground, dusted himself off, and walked back into the city. He began proclaiming the gospel again to an entirely new group (the Gentiles)—who were much more receptive to the message.

This is the character of God—He sends his word out everywhere and to everyone. We must go and do likewise. The sower does not begin with the fertile field. He first plants seed where he knows it won’t grow. Even after this, he chooses to plant in another place where the seed will ultimately die. The fertile field isn’t his first attempt—it’s his fourth!

Let us now go and preach in our hometowns—even though they reject us!

Let us continue to preach—even when religious leaders threaten us!

Let us share the gospel with our family—even if they think we are crazy!

For Jesus, despite being rejected by his hometown ( Why?

In Jesus’ parable, the seed which falls on the fertile ground is said to produce a hundredfold harvest. This phrase should remind us of Jesus’ promise in Matthew 19:29: “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.”

When Jesus says “harvest”, he is not referring to material prosperity—he is referring to the church. If you sow the seeds of the gospel, you will find that every so often your seed will fall upon rich soil: Someone will hear God’s word and believe. This person, this harvest, will be your new brother or sisters in Christ.

Even when everyone else rejects you, the church will always be there for you—you will always have your brothers and sisters in Christ. Even if these brothers and sisters don’t share your culture, ethnicity, political views, denomination, or interests, they are your family in Christ, your hundredfold harvest.

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How the Context of a Scripture Offers a Panoramic View Of God’s Character: An Excerpt from Living in the Underground Church

Most of us would agree that to understand a passage of scripture we must understand its context. In fact, this is why many people do not read the Bible very much or very deeply on their own: They think they cannot understand it fully or correctly unless the context is first explained to them by a professional like a pastor, or by Bible study notes or commentaries and books written by theologians.

Pastors and theologians reinforce this idea by filling their sermons and books with information about scripture that is only available outside of scripture: cultural insights, historical information, theological commentary, and word studies. The unspoken message is clear: Context is necessary for proper scripture reading, and context is the domain of professionals.

As I was writing this, for example, I heard from a sister in our ministry how she has established a weekly gathering of mothers from her neighborhood to read the Bible according to the method described in this book. “Except we don’t do the context question,” she added. She did not need to explain why. To her it was simply obvious: She and the other mothers are not pastors or Bible scholars; therefore, they do not know enough to provide the necessary context for the passages of scripture they read each week in their study.

But there is another kind of Bible context that is readily available to everyone. It is the most important kind of context of all. This kind of context requires no professional training or theological background to discover. In fact, professionals are often more likely to overlook or neglect this kind of context because it seems so basic.

The kind of context commended here is simply a deep attentiveness to all the information about a passage that is available from inside scripture itself.

By “deep attentiveness,” I am not referring to anything mysterious or supernatural. I am referring to the practice of consciously asking and answering each of the following questions as simply and straightforwardly as possible each time you read a passage of scripture:

  • Who is speaking?
  • Who is being addressed?
  • Where are they located as they are speaking, and why are they there?
  • Why are they speaking, according to the scripture (e.g., What is the presenting issue)?
  • How does this passage of scripture connect to the scripture directly before it?
  • How does this passage of scripture connect to the scripture directly after it?
  • How does this passage of scripture connect to other scriptures in the Bible? Are there any other scriptures that:
    • use the same or similar wording?
    • involve the same people, place, or time?
    • make reference to this scripture, or to which this scripture makes reference?

Every question given here except the last one can be answered by someone opening a Bible for the first time. The last question gradually becomes answerable to more we read, even when we read with no outside help or coaching.

Yet it is surprising how seldom these questions are asked. One reason why is that many of us take up the Bible to read because we are seeking a direct word from God to address our present situation. Perhaps the most extreme form of this is people who open the Bible to a random page, point, read the verse, and receive it as God’s direction.

But we must remember that the primary purpose of scripture is not to give us guidance but to reveal God’s character. To say it a little differently, God did not create the Bible as a way of passing notes to us supernaturally to tell us what to do. As the writer of Hebrews put it:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.[5]

This is why Christ tells the disciples that he is the way, not that he shows the way.[6] When we read the Bible to find God’s direct word to us in our present situation, we are actually ignoring or overlooking God’s self-revelation, which is the whole meaning and purpose of scripture. There is no way to ignore or overlook God’s self-revelation and yet receive his guidance in our present situation.

That is because God’s self-revelation is his guidance: As he reveals his character to us in scripture, we come to know him. As we come to know him, we are then able to identify his presence and work in our lives and in the world around us, and we then know how to act so as to submit to and advance that. Understanding context in the scripture is the prelude to understanding our life as context for God’s work. The context for God’s work changes across countries and centuries and cultures, but his character remains the same. His activity in any context is thus identifiable, provided we learn to recognize it in as many different contexts as possible. Scripture is where we learn to do this.

So, when it comes to the Bible, life in the underground church is a three-step process, not a two-step one. Here is the erroneous, incomplete two-step process:

We read a scripture –> That scripture reveals God’s presence and direction in our present situation

Here is the correct, complete three-step process:

We read a scripture –> That scripture reveals God’s character –> Because God’s character is unchanging, we are increasingly able to recognize God’s presence and direction in our present situation

When we read the Bible according to this three-step process, we can see why context is so crucial: We cannot fully understand God’s character or actions in any scripture passage without it. In fact, the role of context is not to provide us with historical or cultural background information about the passage of scripture we are reading. It is to provide us with as panoramic a view as possible of God’s character in the passage of scripture we are reading.

Consider a simple example: Jesus’ sending of the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:1-4:

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.[7]

Using the list of context questions noted above, we can see that some are quite easy to answer:

  • Who is speaking? Jesus.
  • Who is being addressed? The twelve disciples.

But very quickly, even simple questions become more challenging:

  • Where are they stranding as they are speaking?

Here, Matthew provides no exact answer. If we read the verses before and after this scripture passage (which are two of the context questions also noted on the list), we can see in Matthew 9:35-36 and Matthew 11:1 a few details about Jesus’ location:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.[8]

After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.[9]

The last of our context questions (to which we will return later in this chapter) asks if there are other scriptures that are connected to this scripture. Mark 3:13-19 and Luke 6:12-16 also record Jesus’ sending of the twelve. Mark 3:13 does give a specific location: “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.”[10] Luke 6:12-13 adds even more details, specifying a time of day:

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.

Part of understanding the context of a scripture, however, is noting what the writer does not say. In this case, Matthew omits the mention of a place. We should not presume that this is because Matthew overlooks the detail or disagrees with Mark or Luke about it. Instead, we should recognize that Matthew may be emphasizing something different here about the character of God than is emphasized in Mark and Luke. We can understand this emphasis in answering the next context questions:

  • Why are they speaking, according to the scripture (e.g., What is the presenting issue)?
  • How does this passage of scripture connect to the scripture directly before it?
  • How does this passage of scripture connect to the scripture directly after it?

If we read only Matthew 10:1-4, the presenting issue for Jesus sending out his disciples is not clear. But if we read beginning in Matthew 9, a picture begins to emerge. Immediately before the scripture this week, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue. The religious leaders had seen him strengthen the legs of a paralyzed man, raise a girl from the dead, give sight to two blind men, and, most recently, heal a demon-oppressed man. Yet they whispered amongst themselves, “He does this through the devil” (Matthew 9:34).

The religious leaders, who God had charged with leading people to him, could not recognize God—even when he stood right in front of them in human form. They even said he was in league with Satan.

Yet wherever Jesus went, God’s people followed him around.

When Jesus saw these people, he was “moved with compassion” because they were “weary and scattered.”[11] It is precisely because of his character—specifically, his compassion and concern for the weariness and scattering of his beloved sheep—that he decides to send out his twelve most fully trained under-shepherds.

Matthew helps us to see that the “sending of the twelve” was not a timeless, formal occasion, such as might be portrayed by an artist’s skillful brush. It was an event spurred by the deep, biting pain that Christ felt upon seeing his lost sheep. Truly, this was more like a harrowing moment in the wilderness than a graduation ceremony on a mountaintop. Jesus gave out rapid-fire instructions: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons” (Matthew 10:8). Do, in other words, whatever is necessary to care for these sheep.

One final context question will bring this aspect of the character of God fully to the forefront of our understanding of this passage:

  • How does this passage of scripture connect to other scriptures in the Bible? Are there any other scriptures that:
    • use the same or similar wording?
    • involve the same people, place, or time?
    • make reference to this scripture, or to which this scripture makes reference?

The phrase in this passage that will gradually come to catch our attention as we read more and more scripture is “sheep without a shepherd.” It is a phrase that goes all the way back to the beginning of the Bible, in Numbers 27:15-17:

Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.”[12]

What Jesus sees when he looks out over God’s people is exactly what Moses fears: sheep without a shepherd.

As we reflect on the wider context of the Gospel of Matthew as a whole, we may remember that Matthew, in Matthew 2:6, has already prepared us to recognize that Jesus has been sent by God to be the very shepherd that his people lack, the one for which Moses had prayed:

And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah, are not least among the ruling cities of Judah, for a ruler will come from you who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.[13]

And as we think about the wider context of the Bible as a whole, we may come to see that Matthew is quoting Micah 5:2, in which we learn that the shepherd who will come is the Eternal One, God himself:

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.[14]

These deeper resonances in scripture may not reveal themselves to us upon our first reading. But it is the nature and the good pleasure of the Holy Spirit to bring them increasingly to our remembrance over time, the more we saturate our mind with scripture, and the more we focus on the character of God each time we open a passage of scripture and seek to understand his character in context.

 

[5] Hebrews 1:1-2a, NIV.

[6] Cf. John 14:5-6.

[7] Matthew 10:1-4, NIV.

[8] John 9:35-36, NIV.

[9] Matthew 11:1, NIV.

[10] Mark 3:13, NIV.

[11] Matthew 9:36, NKJV.

[12] Numbers 27:15-17, NIV.

[13] Matthew 2:6, NIV.

[14] Micah 5:2, NIV.

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Why Did John the Baptist Doubt Jesus?

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Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Today’s scripture is about a real mystery. The mystery involves Jesus and a man named John the Baptist. But in order to understand what the mystery is, we need to understand a little bit about John the Baptist.

Who was John the Baptist? The Bible tells us a lot about him:

  • In today’s scripture, Jesus says that John the Baptist was “more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9).
  • In today’s scripture, Jesus also says this about John the Baptist: “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11).
  • The mothers of John the Baptist and Jesus were related (Luke 1:36).
  • What made John great? Actually, that’s the wrong question. The right question is: Who made John great? The answer was God. John was not great because of something he did. John was great because God gave him the most important job in human history: He was to prepare the way for the Messiah, God’s chosen one (Luke 1:16-17). The way God had John do this was to send him to baptize in the Jordan River. Many came to be baptized by him. (Luke 3:3).
  • But that wasn’t the most important part of preparing the way for the Messiah. The most important part was that the Messiah himself showed up to receive baptism! Jesus came to John to be baptized by him. John tried to prevent him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, not the other way around!” But Jesus insisted (Matthew 3:13-15). When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, he saw the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus. And then John the Baptists said, in John 1:32-34:

I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.

So when Jesus says that no one is greater than John the Baptist, he is not simply being polite. Who could be greater than the one chosen and prepared to baptize the Son of God?

With this context in mind, we can understand the mystery that is presented in today’s scripture. In today’s scripture, John the Baptist is in jail. Well, that part is not the mystery: John had criticized the king for marrying his sister-in-law (Matthew 14:3-4).

When John the Baptist was in jail, he sent two of his students to Jesus to ask him this question: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3)

So the mystery is this:

Why did John the Baptist doubt Jesus? He had spent his whole life preparing the way for God’s chosen one. He had seen the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus. God had told him, “Whoever the Holy Spirit descends on, that’s my chosen one.” After all that, how could John come to doubt that Jesus was the one?

Maybe we could just say, “Well, that’s what happens when you end up in prison and suffer: You lose your faith.” Not too long after John the Baptist sent the messengers to Jesus, John’s head was cut off (Matthew 14:10). Perhaps he knew the end was coming, and he was simply scared.

But according to today’s scripture, that’s not what Jesus thought. Jesus said that John the Baptist was not “a reed shaken in the wind” (Matthew 11:7). In other words, nothing scared John. And in today’s scripture, Jesus didn’t rebuke John. That’s a very important clue to our mystery. Even at the moment that John seemed to be doubting Jesus, Jesus still praised him as “more than a prophet” and “the greatest born of women.” Jesus said that his mission and John’s were inseparable. He told a parable about children in the marketplace to explain that the crowds had rejected not only Jesus but John also. No, there is no rebuke for John from Jesus; only praise and empathy.

So why did John doubt Jesus, then? If fear wasn’t the cause of the doubt, what was?

The key to solving our mystery is Jesus’ prayer in verses 25-27 of today’s scripture. Here is what Jesus prayed to his father:

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

From Jesus’ prayer we learn one of the most important truths about the character of God that we need to remember every day of our Christian lives: God is not subject to human perception. Nothing about God can be known by anyone unless the Son chooses to reveal it to them. Nothing! You can read the whole Bible; you can even memorize the whole Bible; but unless God chooses to reveal himself to you, your reading will be fruitless. You can go to church. You can pray 24 hours a day. You can dedicate your life to God. But you still cannot know anything about him unless he chooses to reveal himself to you. God could stand right in front of you, two centimeters away from your nose, and you still cannot see him unless he permits you to see him.

But Jesus’ prayer tells us even more than that. It says that being wise and prudent is no advantage in knowing God. God reveals himself to whomever he wants to reveal himself. He chooses to reveal himself not to the wise but to the babes. In Christ, God chose to reveal himself to tax collectors and sinners, shepherds, lepers, children, divorcees, and uneducated men. He did not choose to reveal himself to the righteous or the religious leaders or the political leaders. God does not reveal himself to you because you are important or because you are interested. He reveals himself to you because “it seemed good to him” to do so. And God does not reveal himself to you because you are holy. You are holy because God chooses to reveal himself to you.

This is a theme that runs all the way through the Bible. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:20-21:

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

But we should not hear these things and say, “Aha! So it is not my fault that I don’t know God. It is God’s fault. He has not revealed himself to me. If he had, then I would have understood him.”

But that is not what Jesus says. In today’s scripture Jesus pronounced woe on all the cities of Galilee (Matthew 11:20-24). But he did not pronounce woe on John the Baptist. Why?

Because John had been faithful to everything God had revealed to him. He had prepared the way for God’s chosen one. He had not wavered from his task. But the cities of Galilee had not been faithful. He had revealed himself to them, and they had rejected him. So in Matthew 11:21-22, Jesus said to those cities, “If the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be much more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.”

Why will it be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for the cities of Galilee? Because God knows what he revealed to them. In the cities of Galilee, he revealed himself—in human form! Standing two centimeters in front of their noses, teaching them and healing them!

But Jesus did not say that Tyre and Sidon would not be judged. In fact, in Ezekiel 26-28, God pronounces one of the harshest judgments in the Bible against Tyre and Sidon! In Ezekiel 26:21, God says to Tyre, “I will bring you to a horrible end and you will be no more.” So in today’s scripture, Jesus is saying to the cities of Galilee, “You thought that judgment was bad? The judgment against you will be much worse!”

In fact, no human being in any city can say, “It is not my fault that I don’t know God. It is God’s fault.” In Romans 1:18-20, Paul writes,

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

So not even North Koreans can say to God, “Oh, we didn’t know about God in North Korea. It was Kim Il Sung’s fault. We were educated in materialism. We have an excuse.” But Paul says: No excuse! God has revealed enough of himself to each human being on earth who has ever lived that no one of any nation has any excuse.

But now we have two ideas that seem to contradict each other. On the one hand, we say that we can only know God if he reveals himself to us; we can’t force that to happen. God reveals himself to the babes, not to the wise or learned. But on the other hand, we say that God has revealed himself to everyone, so we are without excuse. How can we connect these two ideas together?

And this is the focus of today’s scripture: We must accept God’s revelation the way he wants to give it, when he wants to give it. But instead, we insist that God reveal himself the way we want it, when we want to receive it. In Jesus’ generation, the people rejected both John and Jesus. Neither revealed a God that they were willing to receive. Jesus said in Matthew 11:18-19, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man [Jesus] came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” We are blind to God because we have a certain picture of God in our mind. When God reveals himself to us, it does not match the picture. So we do not see the real God, or we reject him.

Even John the Baptist had this challenge. He had a picture in his mind of the kind of messiah Jesus would be. In Matthew 3:12, we can see the picture John had in his mind. John says, “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” But during his lifetime, the only fork Jesus seemed to have in his hand was a feasting fork. No wonder John was confused. John had the right picture of the Messiah, but the wrong timing. In Matthew 25 we can see that one day he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. John the Baptist wanted that day to be today. But it was not the right timing. So he struggled to understand Jesus’ ministry, and this is why he sent messengers to ask Jesus.

But notice that John the Baptist did not reject Jesus. He doubted, but he brought his doubts to God. As long as our doubts take us to God, not away from God, he is honored, and he does not rebuke us.

But when our picture of God causes us to doubt the true God, or when our human wisdom leads us away from God, we can expect hell, not acceptance of our excuses for why these things happened.

So what did Jesus tell John? What is Jesus telling us? You can see the answer in Matthew 11:6: “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” In other words, blessed is the one who accepts God in the way God wants to reveal himself, whenever God wants to reveal himself. Hebrews 1:2 tells us how God wants to reveal himself: by his son. In fact, according to Jesus in today’s reading, the Son is the only one who can reveal the Father, and the Father is the only one who can reveal the Son.

Do you know who struggles to accept that? The wise.

Do you know who accepts that without struggle? Babes.

Let us be humble to accept God the way he wants to reveal himself—by his Son—when he wants to reveal himself—which (as the writer of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 3:7) is today. Respond as humbly and as receptively as a babe as you hear his voice saying to you by means of the Holy Spirit,

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

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