The Kingdom of Heaven

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 27, 2014, Pentecost VII

Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

From the Book of Genesis:
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing?

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus said to His disciples: “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

The thirteenth chapter of Matthew records the events of a crisis day in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He knew that the growing opposition of the religious leaders would lead to His crucifixion. This fact He had to explain to His disciples. But their logical question would be, “What will happen to the kingdom about which we have been preaching?” That question is answered in this series of parables. So, He first explained the truth concerning the kingdom, and then later explained to them the facts about the Cross.

In this series of parables, Jesus explained the course of the Gospel in the world. If Israel had received Him as King, the blessings would have flowed out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But the nation rejected Him, and God had to institute a new program on earth. During this present age, “the kingdom of heaven” is a mixture of true and false, good and bad, as pictured in these parables. It is “Christendom,” professing allegiance to the King, and yet containing much that is contrary to the principles of the King.

The seven parables describe for us the spiritual course of “the kingdom of heaven” in this present age. The first two were covered in the last two Sunday sermons: The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.
The first parable in our Gospel reading today states: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in this field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

The mustard plant of Palestine was very different from the mustard plant which we know in this country. In the East, the mustard seed symbolizes something small and insignificant. It produces a large plant, but not a “tree” in the strictest sense. However, the plant is large enough for birds to sit in the branches.

Since Jesus did not explain this parable, we must use what He did explain in the other parables to find its meaning. The birds in the Parable of the Sower represented Satan (Matt. 13:19). Passages like Daniel 4:11-12 and Ezekiel 17:23 indicate that a tree is a symbol of a world power. These facts suggest that the parable teaches an abnormal growth of the kingdom of heaven, one that makes it possible for Satan to work in it. Certainly “Christendom” has become a worldwide power with a complex organization of many branches. What started in a humble manner today boasts of material possessions and political influences. The New Testament warns us of a growing decline in the ministry of the Gospel as the end of the age draws near.

The second parable states: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

The mustard seed illustrates the false outward expansion of the kingdom, while the leaven illustrates the inward development of false doctrine and false living. Throughout the Bible, leaven is a symbol of evil. It had to be removed from the Jewish homes during Passover (Ex. 12:15-19; 13:7). It was excluded from sacrifices (Ex. 34:35), with the exception of the loaves used at the Feast of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-21). But there the loaves symbolized Jews and Gentiles in the church, and there is sin in the church.

The kingdom of heaven began with the sowing of the Word of God in the hearts of men. Much of the seed did not bear fruit; but some was fruitful. Satan opposed the work of God by sowing counterfeit Christians, by encouraging a false growth, and by introducing false doctrine. It would seem that Satan is winning, at least in New England. But the test is at the end of the age, not during the age.

The next parable in our Gospel reading states: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

At the close of this age, God will have three groups of people: the Jews (the hidden treasure), the church (the pearl of great price), and the saved Gentile nations who will enter into the kingdom (the dragnet).

Once again, we need to look to the Old Testament to help us understand the symbolism in this parable. The treasure is the nation of Israel (Ex. 19:5; Ps. 135:4). That nation was placed in the world to bring glory to God, but it failed. It became a nation hidden, a treasure not being invested to produce dividends for God. Jesus Christ gave His all to purchase the whole world in order to save the nation (John 11:51). On the cross, Jesus died for the whole world; but in a special way. He died for Israel (Isa. 53:8). The nation suffered judgment and seeming destruction, but in God’s sight it is “hidden” and will be revealed again in glory.

There is, then, a future for Israel. Politically, the nation was reborn on May 14, 1948. But the nation is far from what it ought to be spiritually. God sees Israel as His treasure, and one day He will establish her in His glorious kingdom.

The next parable is known as the pearl of great price. It reads, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

The pearl represents the church. The Bible makes a distinction between Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Cor. 10:32). Today, the church, the body of Christ, is composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11ff). Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity – it cannot be carved like a diamond or emerald. The church is a unity (Eph. 4:4-6), even though the professing church on earth is divided. Like a pearl, the church is the product of suffering. Christ died for the church (Eph. 5:25) and His suffering on the cross made possible her birth.

A pearl grows gradually, and the church grows gradually as the Spirit convicts and converts sinners. No one can see the making of the pearl, for it is hidden in the shell of the oyster under the waters. No one can see the growth of His church in the world. The church is among the nations today, and one day will be revealed in its beauty.

So, in spite of Satan’s subtle working in this world, Christ is forming His church. He sold all that He had to purchase His church, and nothing Satan can do will cause Him to fail. There is but one true church, a pearl of great price, though there are many local churches. Not everyone who is a member of a local church belongs to the one church, the body of Christ. It is only through repentance and faith in Christ that we become a part of His church.

The next parable in this series states: “the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”

The preaching of the Gospel in the world does not convert the world. It is like a huge dragnet that gathers all kinds of fish, some good and some bad. The professing church today has in it both true and false believers; good and bad.
Remember last week’s parable about the wheat and tares. At the end of the age, God will separate the true believers from the false and the good from the bad. When Jesus Christ returns to earth, to fight the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11ff), He will separate believers and unbelievers already on the earth. These are living people who are not a part of the church (which was already in heaven) or Israel. These Gentiles will be dealt with in righteousness: the saved will enter into the kingdom, but the unsaved will be cast into the furnace of fire.

When Jesus had completed this series of parables, He asked His disciples if they understood them, and they confidently replied, “Yes, Lord.” Understanding involves responsibility. To explain this, the Lord added a final parable (Matt. 13:51-52) to remind them of their responsibilities.

Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

The scribes began as a noble group under the leadership of Ezra. Their purpose was to preserve the Law, study it, and apply its truths to daily life. Over the years, their noble cause degenerated into a routine task of preserving traditions and man-made interpretations, and adding burdens to the lives of the people (Luke 11:46-52). They were so wrapped up in the past that they ignored the present! Instead of sharing living truth from God’s Word, they merchandised dead doctrines and “embalmed” traditions that could not help the people.

As believers, we do not search after truth, because we have truth in God’s Son (John 14:6) and God’s Word (John 17:17). We are taught by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) who is truth (1 John 5:6). We search into truth that we might discover more truth. We are scribes – students – who sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words (like Mary, sister of Martha). One joy of the Christian life is the privilege of learning God’s truth from God’s Word. But we must not stop there.

The scribe emphasizes learning, but the disciple emphasizes living. Disciples are doers of the Word (James 1:22ff), and they learn by doing.

It is difficult to keep our lives balanced. We often emphasize learning at the expense of living. Or, we may get so busy serving God that we do not take time to listen to His Word. Every scribe must be a disciple, and every disciple must be a scribe.

The scribes preserved the Law but did not invest it in the lives of the people. The treasure of the Law was encrusted by man’s traditions. The seed was not planted so it could bear fruit. The “spiritual gold and silver” was not put to work so it could produce dividends. As Christians we should be conservative but not preservative.

The steward guards the treasure, but he also dispenses it as it is needed. He dispenses both the old and the new. New principles and insights are based on old truths. The new cannot contradict the old because the old comes out of the new (Lev. 26:10).
The new without the old is mere novelty and will not last. But the old does no good unless it is given new applications in life today. We need both.

The Lord over and over again is showing us what the kingdom of heaven is like and those who will attain it. Imagine what could happen in people’s lives if they first sought the kingdom of God. Imagine what would happen in marriages, workplaces, and people’s lives, if they first sought the kingdom of God. Oh yes, it’ll start small (like the mustard seed) as we’ve learned, but grow into something magnificent and it’ll impact others.

He gives us victory and more victory! We need not fear life or death, things present or things to come, because Jesus Christ loves us and gives us the victory. This is not a promise with conditions attached. This security in Christ is an established fact, and we claim it for ourselves because we are in love! Believe it – and rejoice in it!

We are free from judgment because Christ died for us and we have His righteousness. We are free from defeat because Christ lives in us by His Spirit and we shall share His life. We are free from discouragement because Christ is coming for us and we shall share His glory. We are free from fear because Christ intercedes for us and we cannot be separated from His love.

No condemnation! No obligation! No frustration! No separation!
Only eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven!

Let us pray:

O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

Time to Weed the Garden

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 20, 2014, Pentecost VI

Genesis 28:10-19a, Psalm 139:1-12, Romans 8:12-25, Matthew 13:24-30

From the Book of Genesis:
And Jacob said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; an d not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
And his disciples came to him saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Last week, I asked the question: How does your garden grow? It was about the Parable of the Sower, which begins with the preaching of the Word, the planting of the seed in the hearts of people. The seed is God’s Word; the various soils represent different kinds of hearts; and the varied results show the different responses to the Word of God.

Well, in today’s Gospel reading we once again return to the garden. And whether it’s a flower garden or a vegetable garden, we need to deal with weeds. So we have a farmer who plants a wheat field. He uses good seed and plants the crop expecting a good harvest. However, while he and his servants slept, his enemy entered his field and planted tares among the wheat. What are tares? Basically, they are weeds that go by the name “Bearded Darnel.” In the early stages of its development, it looks exactly like wheat. It is only when the plant has matured and the kernels have form in the head of the genuine wheat plant that the two plants can be distinguished one from the other.
The bottom line is this: The wheat has fruit in its head, while the head of the tares is filled with little black seeds. So, the field looks good, the farmer is getting excited about harvesting a bumper crop. However, as the harvest grew nearer, it became apparent that tares were among the wheat. The servants wanted to pull up the tare, but the master told them to leave them and wait until harvest. The master knew that if the tares are pulled up, that much of the wheat will be uprooted along with them. So, the wheat and the tare were allowed to grow together until the harvest, and then the reapers would come in and gather the tares first and bind them together to be burned. Then the wheat will be gathered and placed in his barns.

Jesus explained this parable to His disciples. The sower is Christ. The good seed is the Gospel of grace. The one who sowed tares is the devil. The wheat are those who are saved. The tares are those who are unsaved, but have the appearance of salvation. The tares are those in the church who look saved, act saved, sound saved, but who are in truth deceived about their salvation. The tares are those who expect to go to heaven when they die, but will, in fact, go to hell!

Satan opposes the kingdom of God by trying to snatch the Word from our hearts (Matt. 13:4). But when that fails, he has other ways of attacking God’s work. In this parable, Satan is primarily an imitator: He plants false Christians, he encourages a false growth, and he introduces false doctrine.

Satan cannot uproot the plants, which are true Christians, so he plants counterfeit Christians in their midst. In this parable, the good seed is not the Word of God. It represents people converted through trusting the Word. The field is not human hearts; the field is the world. Christ is sowing true believers in various places that they might bear fruit (John 12:23-26). But, wherever Christ sows a true Christian, Satan comes and sows a counterfeit.

We must also stay awake to make sure that Satan’s ministers do not get into the true fellowship and do damage (2 Peter 2; 1 John 4:1-6). This is probably what has happened in many of our churches in New England. It is when God’s people go to sleep that Satan works. Our task is not to pull up the false, but to plant the true. We are not detectives but evangelists! We must oppose Satan and expose his lies. But we must also sow the Word of God and bear fruit in the place where He has planted us.

The Apostle Paul commanded the Corinthians in 2 Cor. 13:5, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” and do what the Apostle Peter told his readers to do in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brethren, be the more zealous to confirm your call and election, for if ye do this you will never fall.”

Some of you may think that it is the people who are not here today, that should hear this message, which may be true, but I don’t want any of you to go through life being deceived about your salvation and ending up in hell! I want you to be sure that you are saved by the grace of God!
Are you wheat? Or, are you tares? You may think that all of us here today are saved! We don’t need to hear this sermon. The truth is, only God knows for sure that you are saved, because He knows your heart. Think about this, there are over 200 million Americans who claim to be church members. If they are all saved, why is there so much crime, abortion, drugs, sexual immorality in our society? The truth of the matter is that people often think that they are wheat when they are in fact tares.

On a spiritual level, the “seed” is that thing that we have placed our faith in. For the genuine believer, the “seed” is the Gospel of Jesus Christ; trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. The tares, on the other hand, may be trusting in any number of emotional, spiritual or physical experiences for their salvation. It all comes down to where you have placed your faith. Who do you trust in for your salvation?

Why do you attend a church? Is it because the service makes you feel good? Is the service about love: love thy neighbor, love thy family and maybe love God, through His Son Jesus Christ? And how much time is spent on Jesus Christ and how much time is spent on emotions and relationships? Is the fellowship at the coffee hour more important to you than worshiping and praising God? Who do you love more, God or someone or something else?

What we need to understand is that salvation only comes to a heart that has been convicted of sin and after genuine repentance has taken place. The question that must be answered today is this: “Where is your faith?” On what do you base your hope of Heaven on? It must be in the Gospel, that is, in the death and resurrection of Christ’s atoning work at Calvary, or your faith is in vain!

Are you able to tell the wheat and the tares apart? They grow alongside each other and it’s only when they mature that we can tell them apart.

A lost person can certainly understand the Bible. They can memorize it and know the Bible stories. They can join in the activities of the church. Tares can sing in the church choir, serve as Deacons and Sunday school teachers, and they can attend prayer meetings. They can even stand in the pulpit and preach the Word of God. But just because they have all the appearances of wheat, does not mean they are real. There’s an expression: If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. Right? Not necessarily. The main difference between wheat and tares is that tares cannot produce fruit; lasting fruit. Tares will lack the things that make the genuine believer special. They will lack the fruit of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). You may have all the external appearances of being a Christian, but don’t let what you look like and the things that you do, be the basis of your assurance. Be sure your faith is in Jesus Christ and in Him alone!

Only God can truly tell the wheat from the tares. Judging between the real and the false is God’s job and it must remain that way! All we see is the outward appearance, but God is able to look upon the heart.
We read in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

Eventually the day of harvest arrived. The reapers were sent into the field to gather the tares first, and then the wheat. How could they tell the difference? It is easy at this stage, because as the wheat matures, the head becomes filled with kernels and the weight of the kernels causes the stalk of the wheat plant to bend toward the ground. The seeds in the head of the tare are light. This allows the tare to stand tall. The picture here is plain and clear. As a genuine believer grows in the Lord he tends to become more humble before the presence of God. The tare, on the other hand, will stand in his pride and go to hell clinging tightly to his false beliefs and foolishness. When the harvest time came, both the wheat and tare were both gathered, but they received vastly different ends.

Here’s what Jesus says: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matt. 13:40-43).

When this life has run its course, there are only two possible destinations for the human soul. Every person who lives and dies as a tare will find themselves cast into the fires of Hell, to be eternally separated from the presence of God (2 Thes. 1:8-9).

Jesus is giving us a solemn warning here about what lies ahead for those who are not his people. Harvest time is coming, at the end of the world, when time itself shall cease, and the judgment of all is at hand. Just as you wouldn’t want any weeds spoiling your gardens or window boxes, so there is no room in God’s kingdom for those who are evildoers. Sin and sinners would be out of place in that atmosphere of perfect holiness.

None of us are righteous by our own efforts. All of us deserve the fire of hell for our sins. But the good news is that Jesus endured our punishment; He died the death we deserved, and as we trust in Him, we have that great exchange – He takes away our sin, and gives us His righteousness. We are found to be His, to be that good seed – and so no longer face punishment, but paradise.

The genuine believer can look forward to going to Heaven to be gathered into the Lord’s House in Heaven (John 14:1-3). The question is, which will it be for you? It all depends on whether you are a tare or you are wheat. Friend, please examine yourself carefully this morning. Do not allow yourself to be deceived right into hell. Put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and receive the gift of salvation and eternal life. Be the wheat that is used for His bread; His body which is broken for you, for the remission of sins. May you be part of His abundant harvest and bear much fruit.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Amen. †

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 13, 2014, Pentecost V

Genesis 25:19-34, Psalm 119:105-112, Romans 8:1-11, Matthew 13:1-9

From the Book of Genesis:
So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“A sower went out to sow…Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

Many of you have gardens or had a garden at some time. And all of us – whether we’re gardeners with a green thumb, or just simply couch potatoes whose thumb never gets off the remote control – all of us probably know something about planting seeds. We know that not all the seeds which are planted into the ground end up as full-grown plants. Some of the seeds which are planted don’t make it along the way, for a variety of reasons. But even so, we know that the seeds we plant will, in many cases, produce plants and yield a crop of fruit or vegetables. The seeds sown will achieve the purpose for which we plant them, in spite of the many other challenges or failures that may occur.

That in essence is the message of our Gospel reading today. It is the story of the seed sown into the soil, and the different results that happen. This story is known as “The Parable of the Sower.” In this parable, Jesus is talking about the Word of God that is preached, and how that same Word will, in some cases, be taken away or dies, and in other cases, take root and grow and produce an abundant crop.
This chapter of Matthew records the events of a crisis day in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He knew that the growing opposition of the religious leaders would lead to His crucifixion. This fact He had to explain to His disciples. But their logical question would be, “What will happen to the kingdom about which we have been preaching?” That question is answered in a series of parables. The word parable means “to cast alongside.” It is a story, or comparison, that is put alongside something else to help make the lesson clear. But these are not ordinary parables; Jesus called them “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11). In the New Testament, a “mystery” is a spiritual truth understood only by divine revelation. It is a “sacred secret” known only to those “on the inside” who learn from the Lord and obey Him.

The Parable of the Sower begins with the preaching of the Word, the planting of the seed in the hearts of people. When we say, “Let me plant this thought in your mind,” we express the idea of this parable. The seed is God’s Word; the various soils represent different kinds of hearts; and the varied results show the different responses to the Word of God.

Why compare God’s Word to seed? It is because the Word is “living and powerful” (Heb. 4:12). Unlike the words of men, the Word of God has life in it; and that life can be imparted to those who will believe. The truth of God must take root in the heart, be cultivated, and permitted to bear fruit. It is shocking to realize that three fourths of the seed did not bear fruit. Jesus did not describe an age of great harvest, but one in which the Word would be rejected. He was not impressed with the ‘great multitudes” that followed Him, for He knew that most of the people would not receive His Word within and bear fruit.

Jesus came into the world to put life into the seed. Without Jesus, there is no seed, no Gospel to plant. The good news is that Jesus comes into the world to be our Savior. He lived a perfect life. He had God’s approval and righteousness, something we lack. The Son of God came in the flesh and lived the holy life of love that God intended for His human creation. That’s the good news, but there’s more.

What could be done about the justice God demanded, that those who sin shall die? We all sin and deserve to die. Death separates us from God and puts us under His judgment. The penalty had to be paid, but the good news is that Jesus paid it for us. He suffered and died on the cross, under God’s judgment. Jesus was the sacrifice for our sin – the substitute for sinners.

The good news doesn’t stop there. God said, “Yes!” Sin has been atoned for – death has been defeated. Because of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, we have forgiveness of sins. In Him, we have the victory of life. Jesus is our way – preparer, to lead us into the kingdom of heaven. If we follow Him, we enter. Without Him, we are lost.

So, that’s the good news! It is life-giving. It puts you into contact with the author and source of life, Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. By faith in Him, trusting in Him, we receive what He has to give – the gifts of life and fruitfulness and eternal life.
At first, Jesus proclaimed the good news through His own mouth, as He went about preaching and teaching. And then He did it through His apostles. It was still Jesus preaching; He just used those men to get the Word out. The same is true today. Jesus is still preaching today. Only He does it through the preachers He sends. Their mouth; His Word. “He who hears you, hears me,” Jesus tells His preachers. The other side is true too: “He who rejects you, rejects me.”

So the Sower comes sowing the seed, preaching the Word. The Word is preached; the seed is sown. Where it lands, though, and what happens to it then, that is where the story takes some twists and turns.

Some seed lands along the path, the hardened-down path, where the seed just lays on the surface, making it easy pickings for the birds. The seed doesn’t last long there; the birds gobble it up. And so we need to realize that there is an enemy at work in the field, doing whatever he can to take the word away from us. The old bird is the devil, the enemy of our souls. And he is also an enemy of the church. He will try to stir up trouble in the church, to get us distracted with other things, so the word will not sink in – it will just lay there on the surface, never sinking in, down in our hearts, and the birds will swipe it away from us. See that your heart is not so hardened that the word just lays on the surface. Cleanse yourself of anger and bitterness.

Then there’s the seed that falls on the rocky soil. This is talking about the reception of the word. Here the word is planted, and because the soil is thin and rocky, it springs up faster. You see, the rock just beneath the surface causes the thin soil to heat up quicker and thus the plant grows faster – at first, but it doesn’t last. Because of the rock, the roots can’t get established, and before too long, the plant dies.

How often that is seen in the church! When people come in the church, with no grounding in the word, they may be enthusiastic for a little while – they may be active and eager for a short time, but then they are gone. No staying power. Church for them may have been a passing fad or maybe they were coming for the wrong reasons. Some become involved in a church because their child is in Sunday school; and when the child grows up, they stop coming.

In the next soil, the word is sown and a plant comes up. But that’s not the only thing that comes up. Thorns and weeds grow up around the plant and choke out its life. The thorns are the worries and distractions of this life. Some people lose the word because they put a higher priority on other things. The time they should be setting aside to hear God’s word being preached – they feel they can’t spare that time, they would rather be spending their time on other things – recreation, pleasure, family outings – anything but the hearing God’s word. And so the Word gets pushed aside. But the truth is, man does not live by bread alone, or recreation or pleasure. Rather, man lives – truly lives – only by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. God’s word is the only priority that will make any difference for eternity. There is nothing more important.

Now after three soil failures, we finally come to the success story. But notice it wasn’t the seed, it wasn’t the word that failed. No, the same word is sown in all these places. The same word that one person ignores or refuses to hear – that same word will take root in another person and produce a great harvest. And that is what God will do for you, my friends. His will is that you will hear this Word of God being preached, and that it will sink down in you, take root, spring up and grow, and produce fruit, good fruit. The good news of Christ will do that for you. It’s nothing in you; the life is all in the seed.

Fruit is the test of true salvation (Matt. 7:16). This would include holiness (Rom. 6:22), Christian character (Gal. 5:22-23), good works (Col. 1:10), winning others to Christ (Rom. 1:13), sharing what we have (Rom. 15:25-28), and praising God (Heb. 13:15). If a plant is to bear fruit, it must be rooted in soil and exposed to sunshine.

In this parable, the sun represents persecution that comes because of the Word. Persecution helps believers grow. But the sunshine will kill a plant with no roots. This explains why some “believers” do not last; their faith was weak, their understanding was meager, and their decision was not sincere. It is possible to “believe” and yet not be saved (John 2:23-25). Unless there is fruit in the life, there is not saving faith in the heart.

But take care how you hear that word. See that nothing will take away or kill off or squeeze out that word in your life. Don’t give up, in spite of the obstacles. God will clear those impediments away. Jesus had defeated the devil, that old buzzard who would swipe away the word. God will clear away the rock just below the surface of your heart; he’ll remove that rockiness – and sometimes he has to blast it away – through the preaching of the gospel which leads you to repentance. And don’t get caught up in the worries and distractions of this life. God is your heavenly Father. He will take care of you, just as He cares for the lilies of the field. Trust in Him and not in yourself.

How does your garden grow? God will do everything that is needed for the word to grow in your life, so that you will be a healthy plant, bearing the fruits of faith. He sends his sower to keep on preaching the word to you. Jesus feeds you with all the nutrients you need, with the rich food of His heavenly feast. He waters the plant, to refresh it and give it life, with the ever-flowing waters of Holy Baptism. God takes care of his garden. He will cause you to grow. It is important that we hear God’s Word, because “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). This is happening right now, today. The Sower is busy sowing His seed, the good news of new life in Christ. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 13:9). “Take heed what you hear!” (Mark 4:24), and “Take heed how you hear!” (Luke 8:18). May your garden bear much fruit and a bountiful harvest!

Let us pray: O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
Amen. †

Come, Take, Learn

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
July 6, 2014, Pentecost IV – Independence Day Sunday

Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:10-17, Romans 7:15-25a, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

From the Song of Solomon:
The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.

From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.

And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
“Come to me, all 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.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

There were a group of children, boys and girls, playing in the backyard of their home. They began to argue with each other to the point where they finally had annoyed their parents. The parents came out and said to the children, “stop fighting.” The children looked really surprised. One of the children said, “But we weren’t fighting, we were playing.” The parents looked at each other in surprise and said to the children, “well it sure sounded like you were arguing.” The children said, “oh no, we were playing church.”

Now why would a group of children think that playing church would mean that people would be arguing with each other? I am sure we can all think back over the years and recall some issue or issues that caused arguing and fighting in the church. We are dealing with some important issues ourselves: Whether we should sell the building and whether we should stay open or close. These are very emotional issues for everyone. I think we can all understand why there are times when conflict happens in a church, especially if we look at the larger world.

Is our time, any different from the time that Jesus lived and walked among us? Jesus says to the crowd, “But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another. ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating or drinking, and they say, ‘he has a demon’; the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is indicated by her deeds.”

All of the evidence had been presented. John the Baptist had introduced the King to the nation. Jesus had revealed His person, principles, and power. It was now up to the leaders of the nation to make their decision. Instead of receiving their King, they began to rebel against Him.

Bickering, taunting one another, nothing suits these children, they cannot play together happily. And so it has been generation after generation. It is important to realize that by the 11th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus has preached to the multitudes, he has instructed his disciples and sent them out to do their missionary work. But Jesus has tasted the bitter cup of rejection and unwelcome. After sending out his disciples, he himself went out on a mission to the cities teaching and proclaiming his message by healing the sick, raising the dead, and bringing good news to the poor. And they closed their hearts and minds to him.

Why did the religious leaders rebel against John and Jesus? It was because the religious leaders were intellectually and spiritually proud and would not become little babes in humility and honesty. There is a vast difference between the spoiled children of the parable and the submissive children of this statement of praise.

In today’s Scripture passage the real point of the parable about the children is that no one can agree on who God is. They see John the Baptist as a loser, he doesn’t eat or drink normally, and he dresses in a camel hair shirt and eats only locusts and honey, he behaves like a madman or worse an animal, as if he has a demon inside of him. Surely he cannot be the one who has been promised.

And that other one, the one called the Son of Man, that Jesus character, he eats and drinks like a glutton and a drunkard. He hangs out with all the wrong people, like tax collectors, not the good people, like us. Surely he is not the promised one. Perhaps what these people want is for the dour John to dance, and, Jesus, the preacher of joy, to mourn.

Nothing satisfies this generation, and just like children who cannot respond positively to any suggestion, they end up playing nothing. In this parable Jesus is addressing those who wait on the sidelines to critique the newest disciple or prophet who has come to town. The response to John, to Jesus, and to the early Christians by “this generation” is a response of passive critics, bystanders, and dilettantes who sit and call to one another about the shortcomings of those whom God has sent to serve, while they await the Messiah that they have in mind.

The Father reveals Himself to the Son, and the Son reveals Himself and the Father to those who are willing to come to the Son in faith. These verses indicate both the sovereignty of the Father and the responsibility of the sinner. There are three commands summarized in this invitation:

The first one is “Come.” The Pharisees all said, you must do this or that according to the Law. They tried to make the people follow Moses and the traditions. But true salvation is found only in a Person, Jesus Christ, to come to Him means to trust Him. This invitation is open to those who are exhausted and burdened down. That is exactly how the people felt under the yoke of legalism – the Law of Moses (Matt. 23:4; Acts 15:10).

The character of the Law is described in four words: holy, just, good, and spiritual. That the Law is holy and just, nobody can deny, because it came from the holy God who is perfectly just in all that He says and does. The Law is good. It reveals God’s holiness to us and helps us to see our need for a Saviour. The Law is spiritual, and deals with the inner man, the spiritual part of man, as well as with the outer actions.

The old nature , knows no law and the new nature needs no law. Legalism makes a believer wretched because it grieves the new nature and aggravates the old nature! The legalist becomes a Pharisee whose outward actions are acceptable, but whose inward attitudes are despicable.

The second command is “Take.” This is a deeper experience. When we come to Christ by faith, He gives us rest. When we take His yoke and learn, we find rest, that deeper rest of surrender and obedience. The first is “peace with God” (Rom. 5:1); the second is “the peace of God” (Phil. 4:6-8). To “take a yoke” in that day meant to become a disciple. When we submit to Christ, we are yoked to Him. The “easy” means “well-fitting”; He has just the yoke that is tailor-made for our lives and needs. The burden of doing His will is not a heavy one (1 John 5:3).

The third command is “Learn.” The first two commands represented a crisis as we come and yield to Christ; but this step is into a process. As we learn more about Him, we find a deeper peace, because we trust Him more. Life is simplified and unified around the person of Christ. This invitation is for “all” – not just the people of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6).

This parable of the children in the marketplace nails every generation that has claimed to know who and what God is and what God ought to be like. We need to recognize our own voices and the voices of our world in these childish arguments. The people in the marketplace were more concerned with how Jesus lives His life, then the wisdom and the words that He preaches.

The Christian life of discipleship, of which we are all a part, bears no resemblance to the role of the bystander. Those who claim from the sidelines to know God or how His messengers ought to act, miss our God who comes to us, not as we want, but as we need.

Jesus begins to pray, saying, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants: yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

Sometimes we make things more complicated than they are. Instead of just accepting, like “infants” the great gifts of God, we spend our time trying to figure things out.

Thus, God’s self revelation is totally in God’s hand. Then how can we ever know God? What Jesus prayer says, underlines for us that God’s love is first for His Son and the Son in turn knows the Father and it is through the Son that God is revealed to us. So where does this leave us?

At the heart of revelation, of knowing God is not knowledge that has to do with certainty but a knowledge that has to do with a total relationship of trust and discipleship. So why do we come to church? We come in faith seeking to feel God’s presence in our lives. We come with our questions trying to understand the message of Jesus and to incorporate that message into our lives. We come knowing that by seeking God rather than defining God we have emptied ourselves of our preconceptions and our judgments, so that we may be filled with God’s grace.

We open ourselves to knowing that nothing escapes God’s purposes. For Jesus has sent us this invitation. “Come to me, all 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” (Matt. 11:28-30).

There are many burdens in this world, but one of the saddest, “in this generation,” is the burden of being right in order to be wise – especially when it comes to God and God’s will. The wisdom that can save us from standing on the sidelines is through the message of Jesus Christ. If we follow, we enter into a life of participation, a discipleship, whose burden is easy and yoke is light, because it has already been borne for us – in all rightness and righteousness – by Jesus. This friend of tax collectors and sinners frees us from the burden of being right or righteous, frees us from the sidelines or the casual associations, and grants us the rest needed for all, who by grace, would put their complete trust in him and follow.

Come to His Sacred Table prepared for you. Take and eat of His broken body and shed blood. And Learn from His Holy Word; that through His sacrifice on the cross; His death, resurrection and ascension; He has paid the price in full for all who believe, to have eternal life, in His heavenly kingdom.

Let us pray: O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth; put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. †