In answer to the grumblings of some religious leaders, Jesus told three parables in Luke 15 about lost and found items: a sheep, a coin, and a son. All of them emphasize the joy of God over bringing one lost person back to himself. The third parable is open-ended, forcing each of us to consider if we are going enter into God’s joyful feast or remain outside.
While attending a meal with religious leaders in Luke 14:1-24, Jesus broke with social norms and caused multiple disruptions. His goal was not to offend but to instruct, first about the use of the Sabbath day and then about the kingdom of God, which he compared to a great banquet. At the end of the parable, the invitation is still going out, so let’s enter while there is room.
One of the most familiar of Jesus’ parables is the Good Samaritan, found only in Luke 10:25-37. Jesus told the parable in a conversation with an expert in the law about how to have eternal life. While the parable’s story line is simple and memorable, it includes twists that turn the whole conversation on its head. Jesus opened the way to eternal life, although it wasn’t quite the way that the expert in the law or anyone else expected.
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.