[re-truh greyd] (ret·ro·grad·ed, ret·ro·grad·ing.)
[re-truh greyd] (ret·ro·grad·ed, ret·ro·grad·ing.)
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.”
Matthew 13:31-33, ESV
These are perhaps the three most potent verses in the entire Bible. And whenever you find “potency” you will find a strong possibility of exponential growth. It may be a steady synergy, or an explosive fission. Either way, it’s going to grow!
Both the seed and the yeast have so much in common. They are two sides of the same proverbial coin. And they represent explosive growth. If they are unleashed, watch out! They are both “pep and power” and now set loose they will take off.
The seed is put in the ground and the yeast in the flour. And the farmer and the baker both do their initial work of planting or kneading, and then they just stand back, their work is pretty much done. They now just let “nature” take its course.
These parables Jesus taught here are small— but hardly less significant because of their brevity. These two can bury you with all they imply and mean. When we think clearly about yeast in your cupboard and that single seed in its package, we should see the “life” that resides in them, and the potential that waits.
I think much about the Church. At times, I admit I get frustrated with it. I get judgmental, and fearful that it won’t survive into the next century. I truly understand that I can be critical. At times my friends must deal with my “ugliness,” but still they put up with me. (They are true friends.)
The kingdom is growing, and advancing. I love the wonderful promise in Isaiah 9:6, (usually read at Christmas time only. A mistake.) But Isaiah 9:7 is also pretty amazing too,
“His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!”
Let it grow, let it grow!
“Ebedmelech from Ethiopia was an official at the palace, and he heard what they had done to me. So he went to speak with King Zedekiah, who was holding court at Benjamin Gate. 9Ebedmelech said, “Your Majesty, Jeremiah is a prophet, and those men were wrong to throw him into a well. And when Jerusalem runs out of food, Jeremiah will starve to death down there.” 10Zedekiah answered, “Take thirty of my soldiers and pull Jeremiah out before he dies.”
11Ebedmelech and the soldiers went to the palace and got some rags from the room under the treasury. He used ropes to lower them into the well. 12Then he said, “Put these rags under your arms so the ropes won’t hurt you.” After I did, 13the men pulled me out. And from then on, I was kept in the courtyard of the palace guards.”
Jeremiah 38:8-13, CEV
At the very last, there was just one remaining. A single man, Ebedmelech. He was a Ethiopian; made a eunuch by the will of the king. The situation in Jerusalem has gotten very difficult. In an action of revenge and reprisal, certain men intend to kill the prophet Jeremiah. They take a certain satisfaction in this, and Jeremiah is thrown into a very deep cistern. They intend for him to starve to death, which is a terrible way to die.
The king in these last pathetic days is being manipulated by the surviving leadership of the city. Zedekiah gives tacit approval for the destruction of Jeremiah. He just lets it happen without a good reason. The prophet is lowered in the muddy cistern. Without food, he will soon starve. In the minds of this evil mob, they have taken care of the any last vestiges of a godly ‘righteousness.’
But there is one, he is a wild card. And no man would have guessed it. Ebedmelech, the Ethiopian eunuch steps forward and decides to change history. Not only his ethnicity, but his state as a castrated man are definite issues. This mob never recognized him as someone who would intervene. He was a non-entity, a non-factor. He was black, and a eunuch, a nobody.
But Ebedmelech is intervening, in the face of terrible risk, he steps out boldly to make an intercession. He doesn’t appear to be intimidated, and makes a cry for the truth. He becomes an intense and strong advocate for the release of Jeremiah from the deep mud.
Ebedmelech is given the ‘green-light’ by king Zedekiah. Ebedmelech rounds up thirty men to assist him as he delivers the prophet. Ropes are brought out, and out comes Ebedmelech with a big armload of rags. They shout down to Jeremiah. The instructions are called down to him of what needs to take place for the extraction.
They are really an extra touch, not a necessity. The rags become essentially, a form of grace. They would pad the ropes, providing a degree of comfort as the prophet is pulled up out of the mud. Ebedmelech showed the heart of God in what he did. There was his desire to somehow make the prophet comfortable. In doing so he communicated a kindness and concern that was saturated with God’s own enveloping presence.
We are those on the so-called ‘margins.’ Ebedmelech has now become a carrier of God’s grace. Jeremiah could have been lifted up by just the ropes. It would’ve been more difficult, granted. But the rags sent down by Ebedmelech provided the prophet an extra gentleness. And I am certain it did not pass by without notice. Their mention in this Book of Jeremiah is significant, and shows Jeremiah’s deep appreciation of kindness.
We can gather up much from what has been written. We will sometimes find ourselves in parallel situations. But our kindness and concern can make the difference. Admittedly, they are quite insignificant–quite minor. Call it ‘icing on the cake.’ But when you show the kindness of our Father, you will infuse the situation with love, and grace.
Three hundred and twenty-nine words– these describe the life of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived. These 329 words reveal to us a God who forgives much, and loves easily; the Father loves far too much, way too easy— and far too extravagantly for human beings to understand. Perhaps we sort of expect that he will ‘appropriately’ punish his son— at least put him on probation at least. It only makes sense.
“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Many of us have lived in prodigality, some of us for a very long time. We have spent our inheritance like ‘drunken sailors’ and have nothing at all to show for it. The prodigal, completely destitute, takes the only work he can find. (Imagine a good Jewish boy feeding hogs.) He is so far gone that he starts inspecting the slop pails for something to eat.
Many of us will understand his despair. But there comes this crystalline moment of amazing clarity. The prodigal—filthy and impoverished, has a memory of the Father’s house. The servants there had far more than him. Sometimes in our captivity we instinctively want to go home, if only to be a slave.
The Father has dreamed of this moment. The parable says, “He saw him–felt compassion–ran out to him–embraced him–and kissed him.” In moments we see a swirl of servants who completely overwhelm an already overwhelmed son. I’ve read the Parable of the Prodigal Son a hundred times or more . It never loses its punch. I simply want to bring you for just a few moments back into its light. I expect that the Holy Spirit may have business with you.
We see that his father receives him with a tender gesture. His hands seem to suggest mothering and fathering at once; the left appears larger and more masculine, set on the son’s shoulder, while the right is softer and more receptive in gesture. His head is downy, almost like a newborn’s. Standing at the right is the prodigal son’s older brother, who crosses his hands in stoic judgment; we read in the parable that he objects to the father’s compassion for the sinful son.
Rembrandt had painted the Prodigal once before, when he was considerable younger. And it is a very good painting. The prodigal is happy and gay; there is absolutely no indication of the consequences of sin. He is charming young man at a happy party. But Rembrandt chooses at the end of his life to re-paint it to reflect reality. This is one of the last paintings he will do, and it is the Prodigal Son–destitute and repenting. I can only imagine; the years have taken a toll and he doesn’t really feel his first painting is enough. He wants to paint what is true. He is painting us.
Counting Crows, “Goodnight Elizabeth”
Hope is a powerful thing— nothing compares. It truly is the ‘anchor of the soul.’ Without it, life would be hopeless, and that is intolerable to a human being. We will implode without hope. The psalmist was well aware of this tendency; he speaks to himself about this. He ‘talks to himself’ which can seem a little weird to some.
“Why are you discouraged, my soul?
Why are you so restless?
Put your hope in God,
because I will still praise him.
He is my savior and my God.”
Psalm 42:11, GW
Day-to-day life can be arduous. Sometimes faith falters and hopelessness becomes a deadly option. For those of us with debilitating illnesses this can be significant hazard. Depression can severely hinder us. The writer of Psalm 42 understood this. Discouragement was a real issue for him. (And I daresay he is not alone in this.)
He states certitude to himself. He refuses to give in to the idea that failure is final. He will not allow himself to accept the finality of hopelessness. He will not surrender himself to this idea that ‘all is lost.’ The way he battles back is seen in an inner conversation with his soul. He speaks to himself concerning the great faithfulness of God to his situation. It is real, and not fluff. He operates in reality. But he can’t pretend that the feeling of despondency is imaginary, for it is far too real.
Having a hope will cement me in the goodness and mercy of God. It is the sterling-silver belief that He cares for me. The verse in 42:11 ties in with praise and worship. This is no minor thing. When we praise we break the bonds of hopelessness, in a way that our souls can know, and appreciate. It decisively disarms the depression, and fills the embattled soul with hope. Pain can be a powerful indicator of depression unchecked. But hope changes the manner of which we live.
“Every Christian who struggles with depression struggles to keep their hope clear. There is nothing wrong with the object of their hope – Jesus Christ is not defective in any way whatsoever. But the view from the struggling Christian’s heart of their objective hope could be obscured by disease and pain, the pressures of life, and by Satanic fiery darts shot against them… All discouragement and depression is related to the obscuring of our hope, and we need to get those clouds out of the way and fight like crazy to see clearly how precious Christ is.”
Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.
This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.
In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.
“I have already passed judgment on this man 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. 5 Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”
1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT
20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”
2 Timothy 2:20, NASB
Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.
There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)
21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”
2 Timothy 2:21
Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:
Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.
Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.
9 “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”
7 For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. 8 That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.”
The reality is that we are in a real fix. The grim news isn’t changed simply because we graduated from a ‘charm school’ or become Eagle Scouts. We are fundamentally flawed, our hearts throughly contaminated. Any good we try to do is a ‘freak of nature,’ and astronomically beyond our ability. The race of men has failed. (Maybe that’s why history keeps repeating itself.) Without the presence of God, we would destroy ourselves. And each other.
The word “hostile” is used. That sort of sums it all up, doesn’t it?
8 “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.”
Although we’re in active rebellion, “God so loved the world…” His love for us is called ‘agape,’ it is a word used in the New Testament, and it’s a love marked by consistency and selflessness. God loves without any conditions or merit on our part. Agape is love undeserved. The word is full of mercy, a concept very hard for us to grasp.
God’s love for us the way the universe is run. Love is what empowers Him to save us from our sins. It is the Lord’s love that draws us to Himself. Love is like a magnet that pulls us out of darkness into the light. His love for you is infinite.
“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!”
You can trust the Lord to be fully loving you right this minute. It is a full and constant love— there is scarcely a human parallel. The ‘prophets’ exhaust language seeking a metaphor to explain God’s love to a doubting and disobedient people. I imagine they are frustrated; they can’t explain what they’ve seen. They try, and end up explaining God’s love by type: marriage, and motherhood.
Over and over, these two metaphors are used extensively. And over and over you can see the love of God for people (flesh and blood, like you and I) for us. He loves us like a husband loves his straying wife. He loves us like a father loves his struggling child. We stray and struggle, and we will find no peace apart from His love. After all we are His, and we really can’t ‘work right” apart from His guiding presence.
They both bear us witness of a supreme love. He loves you right now— wrecked and ravaged by your sin. I don’t know where you are at this very moment, but I do know He loves you intensely. Sin may have destroyed you, but His love never, ever vacillates. God is passionate about you— He won’t let you go. But you must risk being loved.
“See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.”
1 John 3:1