Every once in a while there comes along an opportunity that is so fabulous that it is too good to pass up. However, such opportunities often require us to give up all our other options and put all our eggs in one basket. In Matthew 13:44-46, Jesus told two very short parables about the kingdom of heaven. In each parable, a man seized a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, giving up everything for the sake of gaining very much more.
It is easy to miss something right in front of us when we are looking for something else. Many people missed Jesus, because they were looking for a different kind of kingdom than the one Jesus came to establish. Specifically, they were expecting immediate judgment on sinners, but Jesus surprised everyone by associating with sinners and then dying for them. Following the Parable of the Sower are three other parables in Matthew 13:24-43. Together they emphasize that judgment is coming, but not yet. First the Kingdom of God must fill the whole earth.
In our summer sermon series on some of Jesus’ parables, we start with The Parable of the Sower (or Soils) in Mark 4:1-20. This one is especially helpful, because it includes Jesus’ explanation of the purpose of parables. It also includes his interpretation of the parable but with some key elements missing. As it turns out, Jesus pointed to the secret that will unlock all the parables for us, but only if we have ears to hear.
If you have ever asked what God wants you to do, the whole letter of James will help answer your question. The final section, James 5:13-20, tells us what to do in four specific situations. In three of the four situations, the activity is the same: to pray. In the fourth, we have the opportunity to do for others what Christ has done for us: to rescue the wandering.
A depressingly common theme that runs through human history is the oppression of the poor by the rich. In the first century, Christians were often on the side of the poor and oppressed. Certainly the readers of James’ letter were in that category. In James 5:1-12, we find warnings about the dangers of wealth and encouragement when we find ourselves unjustly treated. We can respond well, because something is about to happen in history to put all things right!
Since James is the likely the oldest writing of the New Testament, it appears from James 4:1-17 that church conflicts have been around almost as long as the Christian church has existed. Instead of treating fights as a normal part of church life, this text exposes their causes and provides the solution. Some of the words are blunt, but they are necessary to drive us to God’s grace, which is greater than all our sin.
One of the most controversial sections of James is James 2:14-26, because some verses sounds very different from what we find in Paul’s teaching. However, it contains a very straightforward message. James simply insisted that the faith that saves us is a faith that produces good works. In contrast, a faith that does nothing, does nothing!
Western society has recently become sensitive to discrimination based on race, nationality, sex, age, appearance, etc. However, discrimination is not new. In fact, James 2:1-13 focuses on the contradiction between having faith in Jesus and treating other people with partiality based on their status. It turns out that the antidote for such partiality is God’s mercy.
If someone hears a message but does not act upon it, sometimes we say that “it went in one ear and out the other.” In James 1:19-27, God calls us not only to hear his word but to incorporate it into our lives. Only by doing the word can Christians demonstrate that we truly heard it and really believe it. (We thank Dr. Tim Sansbury of Knox Theological Seminary for this excellent sermon.)