Thursday, 23 March 2017

Christian Joy

Why is joy important for a Christian?

We know a lot of verses in the Bible that commands us to rejoice or be happy or be joyful. Why is it that Bible put so much importance on Joy? Irrespective of your nature, your race, your state whether happiness or sadness, God commands us to be joyful. Why? The main reason is it that way because the reason for happiness or joy is not about ourselves or our circumstances. It's because of the goodness of God, that we need to be joyful or happy.

One reason the Bible is so relentless in insisting on our joy is because of the goodness of God. The imperative to joy in us is based on the indicative of good in him.

“You shall rejoice in all the good that the Lord your God has given to you” (Deuteronomy 26:11).

Joy in the heart of the creature corresponds to goodness bestowed by the Creator. Joy is the fitting response in the receiver to the goodness of the giver.

Eg: If you are close to a bright light or flame, your face will be lit. Joy also works in the same way, if you are close to God (in a personal relationship with God, also means you have received the ultimate goodness of God - salvation) then you must have joy. Have you ever thought about joy in this way? Joy in the creature corresponds to the amount of goodness of the creator.

Gospel and Joy
Luke 2:10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Isaiah 52:7 -  How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings the good news of happiness, who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Ps 13:5 But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation.

Ps 40:16 Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The LORD be magnified.


The best thing that God has given us is Jesus Christ, the news of that is the glad tidings of joy. The goodness of God (giving Jesus Christ) is the matter of great joy. Joy is definitely the mark of a true Christian.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

What did a first century christian church look like?

Colossians 1: 3-6: We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth,

In the verse above, we see apostle Paul and Timothy giving thanks to God about Colossian church because they have heard about their faith in Christ Jesus, love for all the saints and the hope laid up for them in heaven. He says that the faith, love and hope spring from the word of truth - gospel (v5). Further, he makes a statement that "as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth". Gospel, wherever it reached, and when people understood the grace of God it produced fruits. Gospel produces fruits wherever it is accepted. If the churches are gospel centered, those will be fruitful churches. We can see that this was indeed true about the first century churches.

Let's see couple of verses and first century letters (not from Bible) that proves the above fact. 

1) Hebrews 10:34 - For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 

The situation is that some of the church members had been imprisoned and the rest were faced with the moral dilemma of whether to go underground and save themselves, or whether to go visit the prisoners and risk losing life and possessions.Verse 34 describes what they did and why. They joyfully accepted the plundering of their property since they knew that they had a better and eternal possession. This is how the gospel changed their perspective about their earthly properties and moved them to compassionate actions. 


We do not know who wrote it. It came from the second century. It was, like the New Testament, originally written in Greek. In this brief excerpt we can see a magnificent description of Christian living in what was expected in the early church community.



They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.

3)  From the book The Rise of Christianity (written by sociologist Rodney Stark)

This is a book by the sociologist Rodney Stark, which examines the rise of Christianity, from a small movement in Galilee and Judea at the time of Jesus to the majority religion of the Roman Empire a few centuries later.

Stark argues that contrary to popular belief, Christianity was not a movement of the lower classes and the oppressed but instead of the upper and middle classes in the cities and of Hellenized Jews. Stark also discusses the exponential nature of the growth of religion.
Stark points to a number of advantages that Christianity had over paganism to explain its growth:
  • While others fled cities, Christians stayed in urban areas during plague, ministering and caring for the sick.
  • Christian populations grew faster because of the prohibition of birth control, abortion and infanticide. Since infanticide tended to affect female newborn more frequently, early Christians had a more even sex ratio and therefore a higher percentage of childbearing women than pagans.
  • To the same effect: Women were valued higher and allowed to participate in worship leading to a high rate of female converts.
  • In a time of two epidemics (165 and 251) which killed up to a third of the whole population of the Roman Empire each time, the Christian message of redemption through sacrifice offered a more satisfactory explanation of why bad things happen to innocent people. Further, the tighter social cohesion and mutual help made them able to better cope with the disasters, leaving them with less casualties than the general population. This would also be attractive to outsiders, who would want to convert. Lastly, the epidemics left many non-Christians with a reduced number of interpersonal bonds, making the forming of new one both necessary and easier.
  • Christians did not fight against their persecutors by open violence or guerrilla warfare but willingly went to their martyrdom while praying for their captors, which added credibility to their evangelism.
Stark's basic thesis is that, ultimately, Christianity triumphed over paganism because it improved the quality of life of its adherents at that time.



In the book, Stark writes: "To cities filled with homeless and the impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachments. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fires and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services."

This is what is called gospel centered christian living. The churches at those times were indeed gospel centered. 

 



  

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Parable of the prodigal son



May God’s name be glorified! Recently, I happened to hear Tim Keller's sermon on the parable of prodigal son and it greatly influenced me. I went through the parable bit more deeply and wrote my observations and thoughts.

Passage: Passage Luke 15:11-32

Context: Jesus says this parable as part of the series of parables. Jesus was doing his ministry. Lot of sinners, tax collectors got interested and they came near to Him to hear him. They were the people who found the ministry of Jesus useful. When Pharisees saw that Jesus was surrounded with sinners and tax collectors, they did not like it they said “This man receives sinners and eats with them”. They themselves were the king of sinners and they are saying, he receives sinners and eats with them. What they expected is a person like Jesus Christ, should gang with the Pharisees and scribes, He should join their club. Things were the opposite. Jesus knew their heart and he said to them 3 parables – Parable of the lost sheep, parable of the lost coin and parable of the prodigal son. After saying the each parable Jesus says a key statement in as a conclusion of the parable in v7 and v10. I find these verses as the key verse in understanding these 3 parables. We need to think of the parable of the prodigal son in this context. There is more joy in the heaven over the repentance of one sinner than the 99 just people who need no repentance.

The Pharisees and scribes had a wrong understanding about God. They thought God would side with the just people, or God would be happy to be with the good guys. But Jesus is redefining their concept about God, and telling them what creates joy in the heaven is the repentance of a sinner than the just people who don’t need any repentance. This is the context in brief.

Let’s come to the parable, it’s a beautiful story. Let’s read it Luke 15:11-32. It’s a story about a Father and his two sons. We have heard that we can relate to the God like a son to the father. But even in that relationship also we can go wrong. Lets see that in this parable. The two sons represent two ways of relating to the Father. Two wrong ways.


Redefining the relationship with God

 

The lost younger son - Self discovery way

This is the first half of the story. Let’s look at the first way of relating to the Father – that is the way of the younger son.

In this story, we see the younger son asking for his possessions from his Father. Possessions were given to the children normally after the death of the Father. The decision to divide the properties and writing the will is normally taken by the Father when he is almost nearing the death. But here we see the son is asking for his portions. Asking for the possessions when the Father is alive is just wishing him dead

The crux of his request is, Father, I want your stuffs, I want your money, I want the status, I want the wealth but I don't want you. I don’t want to live with you as your son, but I want to get out of your control and live in my own way. Or I don’t want you to control my life or I don’t want you to involve in my life but I need your possessions. This is one way of relating to the Father, loving the Father’s stuffs and Father’s possessions rather than loving the Father or loving the blessings of the Father rather than the Father. When they get what they are looking for they will end the relationship and live as they like. That’s what the younger son did, He asked for the stuffs of the Father and once he got it, he started his way to live his own way.

The story progresses the younger son, get away from his Father and goes to a different country and squanders everything. The one who decided to find happiness and pleasure fails miserably. He thought he can find happiness and joy he gets the freedom to live in His own way. He thought he can find happiness and joy if he is out of the control of the father. This is a kind of liberal thinking that people has. There are people among believers itself of this kind. They wanted to break free from the father. They wanted to break free from God but need the possessions of God. They will find it a big struggle to lead a Christian life.
These kind of people are not atheists but want Gods stuffs and live their own way. It's too difficult for them to live under the control the father. That's the reason this prodigal squanders everything when he is independent, he spends in his own way, he went to the prostitutes to get pleasure and happiness. The fundamental idea behind philosophy is that if we do whatever we wish we can find happiness, but there is a flaw in this philosophy, this view is based on the assumption that you can control everything if you have money and independent. It's based on the assumption that you have the power to control things. But things are not in your control. God controls everything. See what happened, famine happened, things went out of control for the son. He was ruined. The way of life which he thought would give him pleasure and happiness has become his ultimate pain and sorrow now.

The lost elder son - The religious way

The second half of the story is about the elder son, who also loved his Father's possessions or wanted to get control of the Father’s stuff by living a good life. This is another way in which people relate to the Father – the ones who wanted to control God or to get control of his blessings through their obedience and service. When they don’t get that their true image will come out, they will be angry at God, they cannot accept the works of God, cannot accept others also. That’s what exactly happens with the elder son.

He is on the way back home and he finds there is a party going on at house. He gets to know from the servant that his younger brother had returned and his father is celebrating and giving a feast by killing a fattened calf. The elder brother couldn't accept it. He couldn't accept the actions of the Father (v29) – he is keeping himself away from the party; he could not accept his younger brother who had returned (v30). “This son of yours”. He is angry at his Father; he expresses his anger by not attending the party which His father is throwing.

What do you think is the reason for his anger? The reason for his anger is the obedience and the service he has done to the Father. That’s what he says, he says v29 “Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; yet you never gave me a young goat that I might make merry with my friends”. He is extremely angry. He is not even addressing his Father as Father but says “Look you”. Then he says, I deserved lot more from you because of my obedience and my service to you all these years. He dint like Father spending money for the celebration of his younger brother.

The younger brother already took his possessions, now the rest of the portion belongs to the elder son. All these are going to come to the elder son after the death of the Father. He is asking “How dare you give the wealth?” I also have a say in this. That’s the attitude of the elder brother. His primary love is the stuffs of the Father rather than the Father, his way to attain it was by living a morally good life. While his younger brother decided to live in his own way. But that good life that he lived is now preventing him from accepting the return of his lost brother and Father's decisions.

This is a danger that can happen to us too those if we are relating to the Father in this way. We really need to examine the real reason why we are obedient to him and serving him. Is it to get hold of the possessions and wealth of the Father? Is it to control the Father with our good works?

This is what has happened to the Pharisees, they related to the Father in this way. They thought the sinners, tax collectors does not deserve anything and they deserve much more because of the moral conformities.


Redefining God



As we said in the beginning, Jesus was surrounded by 2 groups of people – the sinners, tax collectors and Pharisees, religious people in the second group.

The Pharisees or religious, were having a wrong concept about God. They thought of God as someone who loves only the just people and hates the sinners.

The sinners might have thought that God cannot accept sinners like them. God won’t forgive them.

But here we see Jesus addressing both the groups and correct their understanding about God by comparing him with a Father of this parable.

Let’s reaction of the Father towards his younger son, he is standing before the son who just wanted him to be dead. The father has all right of his possessions and he can drive the boy out of the house but he is not doing that. Understand the heart of the Father, he is enduring the most painful thing that human can endure. His own son, whom he loved so much and cared so much and brought him up. The Father is getting to know that his son loved his possessions more than him - Rejected love. If we were in that situation, we would have done to overcome this. But this is his love towards the people who breaks the Father’s heart by demanding the Father’s possession and not him.

And later when the younger son was aware of his mistakes and later thought of coming back we can see how this Father receives him. The Father saw him from afar. Father was always looking eagerly for the return of his lost son. That's why he runs to him. The father at those times was not supposed to run. The brother used to run but the father never he was supposed to maintain some dignity. But here we see the father whom the son disowned is running towards him breaking the social and cultural barriers to reach his son.  Even before the son repents, the father kissed him, hugged him even when he was in his filthy dress. The father didn't wait for him to take a bath and change the dress.  This initiating love of the Father made the son truly repent of his sins. The sons say his plans to come back to the family. But before he finish off his plans of paying him back the Father says to put the best robe, ring and shoes. Putting the ring is the sign of authority, putting the ring on him is the sign of acceptance. His Father dint want his son to earn his way back to home, but unconditionally accepted him, kissed him, treated him like the son without remembering his past actions. This is our father in heaven. This is the way in which he had accepted us. He He didn't want us to earn our way back to home back to home. He just accepted us as we are. This is radically different view compared to other religions. This is radically different from the picture of the God which other religions portray. He didn't want us to earn our way back to home. This is the picture of God that Jesus is giving to the sinners and tax collectors.

Father’s reaction towards elder son:  We have seen that the elder son is equally lost as his younger one because of his self-righteousness. Father knew the elder son also wanted his possessions more than him. He is publicly insulting the Father by keeping himself away from the party which his Father planned. Even still the initiating love of the Father reaches out to his elder son. The elder son didn’t treat the father with respect. He didn’t even address him as Father. Even still, the father is calling him "my son". This is the words of the Father to those who are obeying and serving him not because of love but to get control of his Father’s possessions- “All I have is yours”.. This is how Jesus is showing the picture of God to those religious groups. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of this fact that we are heirs of that heavenly inheritance. And remind ourselves to obey him and serve him not to control his possessions but because of love.


Redefining sin


The first act of the youngest son we can see it as sin - squandering the wealth, living with the prostitutes. That's the traditional definition of sin. We don't have problem with that. Then his repentance makes sense. Because that’s the way he should come back to the Father by repenting of his sins. He has lot of things in the list to repent for wasting the wealth, living with prostitutes etc.

But look at the second son, he has nothing in the list to repent for unlike the younger son. The younger son produced a big list to repent for but the elder son has an empty list. What a situation! He has only the list of the things which he has done – the list of obedience, the list of service. Nothing to repent for - totally lost. The father is not denying anything. This is something which we hear often when we share with the catholics, I don’t see anything in our life to repent for. We are good people, we don’t need to repent about anything. This is the state of the elder brother. They have nothing to repent for. They don’t need a saviour because their works are their own saviours. Sometimes we have to repent for the good works that we are doing just because the motive behind the good works are wrong. Trusting in the good works is also a sin which needs repentance but sadly we don’t see any repentance from the elder son. That’s why Jesus saying in the key verse v7, 10 – Heaven rejoices at the repentance of 1 sinner than the 99 just people who don’t need repentance.

Lastly and quickly, what’s the application?

 

We should be motivated by the price that was paid to bring us home. In this parable, the elder brother was extremely angry when a part of his possession was taken by the Father to celebrate the return of the younger son. If he was a true elder brother, he would have understood the heart of the Father. He would have understood that the Father is longing for the return of his lost son. Then he would have gone by himself looking for him city after cities to bring back his lost young son even if it would cost some of his possessions. But sadly he was not the true elder brother. But we had a true elder brother Jesus Christ he paid the price to bring us back home. Jesus Christ knowing the heart of the Father, knowing the father’s deep love for his lost sons, came voluntarily to bring us back to the Father.

Today we are playing the role of that elder brother.  What do we feel in our heart towards our lost younger brothers? Can we see the heart of our father? Can we feel the pain of our Father towards his lost children? Or are we like the lost elder brother filling up our list with the list of obedience and service and looking down with contempt on the sinners and tax collectors of today’s society.  Being the elder brother let us reach our lost younger brothers. And heaven will rejoice when his lost ones come back to Him. May God help us. 

Kingdom of Heaven: The inestimable worth of it [Matt 13:44-46]


Is there anything that comes to your mind, that to get that, you will sell everything that you have? What if, there is something that you sell everything to get that and when you get that you become the richest guy in the world, and it will make up for everything that you sacrificed -A treasure. That is the only thing, for which you will sell off everything that you have happily and after possessing that you will become the richest guy. Possessing that treasure, you will have in-expressible joy, you will enjoy all the benefits of that treasure, your life will be drastically different from the former way.

Bible talks about one such treasure for which you will sell whatever you have – it’s the kingdom of heaven. Matt 13:44-46. Today we will try to understand the inestimable worth of being part of the kingdom of God through the parable of hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great value.

Short and simple parable but profound meaning. Palestine – place to treasures because of the constant wars and absence of lockers. Pearl hunting: Diving into the sea on a single breath to find a precious treasure. Hidden treasure, pearl of great price - Kingdom of heaven

These parables talk about the inestimable worth/value of the kingdom of God. As we have discussed in the previous parables, entrance into the kingdom of God happens by hearing and accepting the gospel. So we can substitute the kingdom of God by the word salvation or being saved which we use more. Which means that salvation or getting saved is the most precious thing happened in your life, it is like you have got a hidden treasure of great value. Knowing Christ, being part of the program of God, being a child of God is the treasure that we possess; we got the deal of a life time and beyond. Earthly treasures are valid only for your life on earth, but this treasure has much more value, this secures your life after death also. Aren’t we the luckiest people of earth?

Today from these two parables, we will see 3 things about the kingdom of God.
  • Finding the treasure
  • Acquiring this treasure- Making it our own
  • Effect on us: Living to the fullest potential

Finding the treasure

Hidden treasure: If we carefully read these two parables we see that this treasure is hidden. Not all people find this treasure. People have eyes but do not see it, they have ears but do not hear this. It's hidden from the intellectuals and the wise of the earth.

Two ways of finding this hidden treasure: Jesus used two parables for a reason. These two parables describe two ways of finding this treasure. People get into Christianity, or people find Christ in two ways. They find it accidently or they find it as a result of their search for the truth.

Finding the treasure accidentally: Look at the first parable, there the person is not hunting for the treasure. He is not expecting to find the treasure. He may be in the normal walk of life. He may be working on someone else field, he may be plowing there. But then he accidently finds this treasure. He hides it there because it’s not his field. He then gathers all the money by selling his possessions then comes and buys the field and possesses the treasure. This kind of finding the treasure, relates to some of our stories. We were in our traditional churches thinking we are already in his kingdom. We were in the normal walk of our lives, doing the routine things and going forward not primarily searching for this but through some people or through some ways we came to find this treasure. That’s how the God works, even for those who are not actively searching for it, God puts it there before us to find it.

This was the story of apostle Paul. He was not looking for finding the kingdom of God. He was already thinking he is in the kingdom of God, he was carrying out his normal duties of persecuting Christians but on his way he struck by God and he finds this treasure.  This was the story of the Samaritan woman. She was living her normal life, as she did everyday she came to the well to take water. But you know the story she went back home after finding the living water. This is one way of finding this treasure.

This was the story of CH Spurgeon. He was a person who used to go to church but not really because he knew the truth. One day on his way to his church and there was a snowstorm. Because of that he had to stop going to the actual church and had to enter into a small Methodist church nearby. It was small church of 12-15 people. He was hesitant to enter into the church because he had heard, Methodist used to sing very loudly that caused headache. But still he entered the church.  Because of the snowstorm, the actual preacher could not come to the church so some other person he was a tailor or shoemaker, he was asked to preach. He went on to the pulpit and started preaching. His text was “Look unto me and be ye saved; all the ends of the earth (Is 45:22). Since he was not prepared, he had nothing to say, he simply said “Look.. everybody can look, you don’t need to be educated to look, without moving your feet or finger you can look, Look unto me”. He preached like this Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!" He was totally unprepared to preach and for 10 minutes he was only preaching about looking, he was almost at the end of his sermon. He saw young Spurgeon sitting there.  Looking at him, the preacher said like this, even though he had not seen him before. "Young man, you look very miserable. And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved." Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, "Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!" This was what spurgeon said about his reaction. I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought . . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, "Look!" what a charming word it seemed to me. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun;
Glory to God for his ways. 


Searching for the treasure: Now let’s come to the second parable. Here we see a pearl merchant. Paul hunting was a job at those days. They are actually in search of the precious pearls. Somehow he found this pearl of great price, on their search for the normal pearls. These merchant, he had got some pearls on his search but had not found the actual pearl.  On finding this pearl of great price, he sold all other pearls that he had to possess this great pearl.

These represents some people who are genuinely searching for the truth, about life, about purpose of life etc. They are not satisfied with what they have but they are searching to find out the actual meaning and purpose of life or to find out the true God. On their pursuit they find this treasure. Again it’s God who reveals it to them. But they were on the genuine search to find the truth. On their search for truth, they will find this absolute truth (that Jesus is the truth), on searching for true life they will find Jesus is life; the eternal life.
We may be people brought up in actual believer family. We have seen our parents having this treasure, we have heard them talking about this. But we never realised the worth of this treasure. But as spirit reveals and may be after a search we find out this is that pearl that I am searching for.


Acquiring this treasure

In both these categories, whether you find the treasure by accident or whether you find it on your search, both of these people takes some extra ordinary steps to acquire or possess this treasure. This treasure is of extreme value. That the one who finds it on the field goes back and sells all his possessions, to buy this field containing the treasure. The other person the merchant, sells all his other pearls to acquire this particular pearl of great price. Pearl - may be today's diamond ( Cullinan diamond -620 gram - 2600 crore Indian rupees, Kohinoor priceless). That's the worth.

Yes dear brothers and sisters, this kingdom of God, the kingdom where we are in, the salvation of we enjoy, this Jesus that we possess is of inestimable worth, so precious, its worth selling all our possessions and all what we have to get this one. Losing everything to get this one is not stupidity. Because this will make you richer than anything else, this will make up for everything that you lost to gain it. Its worth more than everything. It’s a deal of eternity.

Why this gospel is so precious? Why is it worth selling all that you have?
Everyone in this work is searching for happiness. They resort to different ways to be happy. Pubs, drinking, bars, girl friends, friends, drugs and what not. Temporary joy. The joy that fadeth away. No thing other than gospel gives the true joy. Nothing other than gospel gives us everlasting joy.

How can I be right before God? Rom 1:17 - Gospel is the revelation of Gods righteousness. The standing that we get before God (righteousness) that we get through Jesus. The feeling of being the child of this creator is worth more than all our possessions that we can sell everything to trade this. Yes this gospel can solve the problems which no others or religions can solve.

Gospel is the solution for your acceptance. Have you thought why the youths are ready to do anything for acceptance among their friends and in colleges? Some people start smoking, change their looks, start drinking,  change their behaviors to get accepted among their friends. Why do they do that? Because they have only seen acceptance based on works, your merits or your looks. They have not yet seen a loving Father who will accept not based on your works or looks, but because of His son.

Some people get so depressed, they find themselves of no value, they think their life has no significance and purpose and end their life because they have not yet seen the loving Father who send his own precious son to die for you. They have not yet seen a Father who had put such a tremendous value for your life which is the blood of his son.

Some people have lot of insecurity, what if I lose my job, what if I lose my health, what if I don’t have this degree ( this is what I am going through now), what about my children's future? Again we have not fully understood our loving Father who has promised I will take care of you, I will turn everything into good whatever happens in your life.

Those who are looking for the truth, will find absolute truth, those who look for a gracious one will find him who is full of truth and grace.

Those who fear about death  and the uncertainties of life will find eternal life, a life beyond death.
This makes the gospel and Jesus so worth and a priceless treasure. Gospel is not just the ABCs of Christian life but the A-Z which you apply in life all time and solves your problems. This is the reason why these people who finds the treasure sells everything to possess it. I know some of you who are sitting before me, have left their parents, left the inheritance that they should have acquired from parents, they have said no to their relatives and went on to acquire this priceless treasure. Some of us did not have to go to that extent but we have decided to have Jesus than the acceptance of our friends, than the worldly ways of our college friends or colleagues. That should be our response towards gospel.

Romans 14:17 – For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  Yes dear brothers, this gospel is our righteousness it made God to accept us, it gave us standing before God, it is the in expressible joy, it is the peace that surpasses all understanding no matter what situation you are going through and calms our soul.

Sometimes we don’t remember the value or worth of this kingdom we are in because forget about it. We hear the gospel to get saved and then forget about it and go on. But this gospel is the solution, we need to hear it everyday.

“Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law,) but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me : to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.” – Martin Luther. Yes gospel is not just for getting saved it should be beaten up into our heads continually.

Joyfully sell: All these people in the parable, with what attitude they sold their possessions? V44: With Joy he goes and sells of everything. He is not regretting his decision of selling all his possessions. Because he knows the treasure that he is going to possess is so valuable it can make up for all you have sold. Imagine if you get a treasure which will keep you rich no matter how lavishly you live, you will happily sell everything to gain this. That’s how it is with this kingdom. We can leave everything happily, whatever our possessions are, our traditions, our group of friends, our comforts to gain this treasure.

Paul's response to gospel in Phil 3:7-8- He sold his old Jewish culture, position of tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, self-righteousness for the excellencies and knowledge of Christ. He considered it all waste when compared to the excellence and knowledge of Christ. Weighing scale illustration.

While entering into this kingdom, while accepting the gospel, we surrender all our possessions, whatever we have and we happily acquire this treasure of knowing Christ and being his Son. This is the transaction happening when we accept Christ as our saviour. Joyfully surrendering what we have to him and receiving him.

Dear brothers and sisters, what I was trying to explain is the tremendous worth and value of the kingdom we are in, the tremendous worth of the gospel we have accepted, no matter how you find it, whether by accident or by searching for it. Its worth selling or surrendering all our possessions and trade it with the pearl of great price.

Effect on us: 

Knowing the worth of the treasure will help us to live up the full potential: Why this message about knowing the worth or greatness of living in this kingdom? Listen very carefully, Imagine, you got a treasure  but you don’t know how worth it is, how rich you will become, but you don’t realize the worth of it and living like an ordinary man, living like a poor man, that’s a tragic thing that can happen. People will call you a fool. You can only live up to the full potential of your life, only if you know the worth the treasure that you are possessing. Similarly, we should not be living like fools who don’t realize or forget the worth of what we are possessing. But remember, realize continually the worth of what we are having live up to the full potential of a Christian. You can unleash the full potentials of Christian life only if you realize the worth of Christ that you are possessing. As Luther said, beat the gospel into your heads continually, live up to the full potential. May God bless.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Kingdom of heaven : Parable of the mustard seed, Parable of leaven


We have seen that kingdom of God is already established in the world. Luke 17:21, Pharisees asked when God’s kingdom comes and Jesus replies it is there in your midst. The complete establishment of the kingdom will be at the second coming of Jesus Christ. 

We also saw that Jesus explained about the kingdom of God through parables. Each parable is talking about some aspects of the kingdom of God. 

1st Parable: Parable of the sower: It talks how the kingdom of God is established in the world and how people can be part of that kingdom eternally. 

2nd Parable: Parable of the wheat and weeds: This parable talks about how evil enters into this kingdom of God, when and how God will separate the weeds from the wheat. 

Today we will look into the 3rd and 4th parable about the kingdom of heaven from Matthew chapter 13. They are parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven. 

These two parables which we are discussing today are very short parables compared to the other ones and unlike other ones we don’t see any explanation from Jesus Christ about these parables. He might have explained it to the disciples but we don't see their explanation in any of the 4 gospels. Because of that we see so many different explanations of these parables by different commentators. Anyway, let’s read the parables.

From these two parables, I would like to share three things
o   Nature of the beginning of the kingdom of God
o   Nature of the growth of the kingdom of God
o   How the kingdom attains this extra ordinary growth?

1.     Nature of the beginning of the kingdom of God (Parable of the mustard seed v31)


It all started with a tiny mustard seed. The mustard seed is known for its small size. It was a common usage at that time - "As small as mustard seed", "faith like a grain of mustard seed". 

The kingdom of God which is seen today had a very small beginning. It started with a man called Jesus Christ born in a small town, brought up in a small town, not known till the age of 30, not learnt under any well known scholars or philosophers and finally died a shameful death on the cross.

When the Pharisees and high priests finally sealed the tomb they thought it is the end but it was only the beginning. 
Then came the apostles and his early disciples. Not the elite class of the society. But rather common men, fishermen, not learned and well educated a few people, handful of them. They were people who were afraid, people who had disbelief, they were weak. The Christian faith started with them. Humanly speaking, a very small beginning. 

When someone is building a kingdom, they will chose the best men and delegate the responsibilities. Nobody will chose people who are weak, people who uneducated for helping them in building the kingdom. Do you think Alexander the great will appoint weak, uneducated and untrained people as his commanders and chiefs? They will all take the best men, best warriors, geniuses to aid them. But here look at beginning of the kingdom of God, with weak people - people who were least of all. Not too much in numbers. 

God's way of choosing the team: It’s a unique way of selection throughout the Bible. From the Old Testament, Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, the Minor Prophets, selection of apostles. If you observe God's way of selection we see it’s unique. Instead of selecting the best people, he selects the weak and the foolish and makes them strong. The weak Joseph became strong; Moses became strong, look at David. He selects the weak vessels, moulds them into stronger vessels. If he selects the strong, he makes sure that he will breaks it, makes it humble and remold it to strong. Eg: Paul.

1 Co 1:27-29: God chose the foolish things that nobody can glory in God’s presence.

It’s a very comforting thought to us that we can be used by God. God can efficiently use us. We just need to be available for him to use. 

2.     Nature of the growth of the kingdom (Parable of the mustard seed v32)

We were seeing the nature of the beginning, the small and the tiny seed. It began with the weak people. Now let’s look at the nature of the growth. 

The parable says the tiny mustard seed grew and became a tree greater than the other garden plants. 
What do we see about the nature of growth of the mustard plant? It was not a kind of growth according to the proportions of the size of the seed. It was not a kind of growth expected out of it. It grew and became larger than other garden plants. 

As I mentioned, this is a parable prophetic in nature. At the time of writing, the kingdom was small, few handful of people and the Jesus says that it will become bigger than all the others. Today look at Christianity, it has indeed become greater than all others. 30 % of the world today is Christians and second is Islam with 23 %. I am including all the people who profess to be Christians. The present kingdom of God includes all people who profess to be Christians both true and the false ones. We get this idea from the previous parable. Devil has come and added the false ones along with the wheat and only at the end of times, good ones and bad ones will be separated. Also there is one parable which coming next, which says the current kingdom of God, includes the good fishes and bad fishes and at the end of ages, he will separate good and bad. 
So thinking from that point of view, the kingdom of God has become greater than all other religious systems from a very small beginning.
Unfavorable conditions for growth: Another thing which we can find about the nature of the growth is that it grew under very unfavorable circumstances. When you plant a seed, it also requires favorable circumstances to grow. But we see the growth of Christianity, under very bad conditions, right from the birth, even now its suffering and getting persecuted. 

Nobody thought Christian faith will survive 100 years, Romans tried to destroy Christianity, Nero in whose time, Peter and Paul were killed, thought Christianity will end with that. But Christianity didn't perish under persecutions and it thrived under persecutions. 

Rest for other external elements (V32): Not only that it has grown, but grown to an extent to give protection and shelter for the birds, those which are external. What does this mean? People who are not part of the kingdom are also enjoying the shelter and blessings of God’s kingdom?  Today from where the most of the children are getting educated from? Christian schools. The college which was started to train pastors is now known as Harvard University (from where Mark Zuckerburg and Bill Gates are from). The college once started to teach theology and mathematics is now known as Cambridge university (Issac Newton and Stephen Hawkings(atheist)). Many people enjoy the benefits of many of the modern day inventions. Christian scientists like Issac Newton, Micheal Faraday and Thomas Alva Edison are behind them. Today, where most of the patients are treated? Christian Hospitals. It’s the Christian gospel which changed the uncivilized, barbarians in Africa to normal people through David Livingstone. The society, who is not part of this kingdom, is also enjoying the benefits of this kingdom. They are the birds which found shelter in that mustard tree. When you look at God’s kingdom today you see this prophetic parable literally fulfilled.

3.     How did it have such a kind of growth?

  We have seen the nature of the beginning of God’s kingdom and the nature of the growth of God’s kingdom. We may wonder, how did it grow in such an extra ordinary manner?
The answer to this question lies in the name of the kingdom. It’s called the kingdom of God.

·         It is God’s kingdom and he is the builder and the architect
·         God is building his kingdom not apart from us but through us (involving us)

God is the builder and architect: Firstly, it is God's kingdom and he is building it. God is the architect and the builder and he is using us to build His kingdom. All credits goes to Him because he is the architect. Just like the wonderful buildings, Taj Mahal, Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt. When you see those buildings, nobody credits or glorifies the laborers who put the individual stones and lay it in the position which architect tells. While building he will not know why I am keeping the stone in this manner, only after building he will know, this is the reason why I was asked to build like this. And in the end, you will all glorify the architect behind it for the beauty. Similarly God is the architect of his kingdom, we are his workers. Being his laborers, we cannot build according to our design but need to adhere to the master design and plan by God. That's why we see certain building instructions from the architect that nobody builds with perishable things like gold or silver. Clear instructions not to touch the foundations again etc. That’s the reason why this kingdom still exists.

Even in unfavorable circumstances, the architect makes sure that construction still goes on. The only reason for the extra-ordinary growth of this kingdom even though the workers are very weak is because of God. Even though we need to do our work, its God who makes things grow.

Mt 16:18 – I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail
1 Co 3:6 –Paul planted, Apollos watered but its God who makes things grow

It is God who directs which part needs more attention, it is he who decides which area to be built first, it is God who directs the workers where to lay the stones. 

We see Holy Spirit leading Philip to the Eunuch, leading Paul to Cornelius. Even now, we go to places for missions based on the leading of the Holy Spirit.

God is building his kingdom through us (How are we to act in this kingdom): The beauty of it is that He is building through us and not apart from us. So that we can be part of the program of God. It does not matter whether you are weak or capable; we just need to be available.

Firstly, I talked about the aspect of God, now about our role in building his kingdom. I will explain it through the next parable.

Parable of the leaven

This has to be thought along with the previous parable. This parable describes how the kingdom of God grows and influences the entire world. This parable explains how the kingdom of God attains this growth. This parable says how the kingdom of God grows is similar to a process called fermentation.

Leaven (Yeast): It is the small mustard seed or the small and weak people of the kingdom of God.
Flour: Represents the world. 
Process happening: The little yeast is fermenting the entire flour.


Small yeast can leaven the entire dough: As we have seen in the beginning of the kingdom of God. It’s the small amount of yeast which is influencing the complete flour. The small number of true Christians in the kingdom of God will influence the entire world. Yeast is a small microscopic organism. You can’t see it from outside. But that small organism grows by itself and works through the entire dough and leavens the entire flour. When yeast works, it reproduces and grows and works through the dough and leaven it. It is this bulk growth of this organism called yeast which leavens the flour. It’s a chain process. One person after hearing gospel he believes gets transformed. This new believer shares gospel with another person, it works in him, he gets transformed and he in turn shares with another and so on. This is a chain reaction and goes on till the whole amount is leavened. 

Daniel 2:35 Habakkuk 2:14 : Don’t know when it will be fulfilled but hints the comprehensive transformation.

Agents of change: In the process of fermentation, the change is happening within the yeast. One microorganism doubles into two and then so on. Similarly a person who has accepted the gospel changes within. The gospel of grace transforms his heart and external actions flows from him.

The nature of yeast is to grow and to change whatever it contacts. When we accept Christ, His grace grows in our hearts and changes us from the inside out. As the gospel transforms lives, it exerts a pervasive influence in the world at large. As we “reflect the Lord's glory, [we] are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

4.     Conclusion

So we were discussing a new aspect of the kingdom of God regarding how it begins, and the nature of its growth (from the parable of the mustard seed), how this kingdom will exhibit the extra ordinary growth (from the parable of the leaven). The most important truth of this is that God is building his kingdom through weaker elements like us. It does not matter how weak you are, how small you begin. It is God who is going to complete the good works in us. God being the architect of this kingdom is building his kingdom not apart from us but through us. Every believer have unique place in his kingdom and to contribute to the growth of the kingdom. Are we like the leavening agents in this world? Transformed from within first and being the agents of change to whatever we touch? Are we being available for our Builder to finish his construction? Dear brothers and sisters, the whole world, is in front of us, lot of potential and opportunities. Or do we want to limit our Christian faith to these four walls. We are God’s hands and feet. Let me conclude with a poem by a Catholic nun (Teresa).

Christ has no body no but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassionately on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours…

This is my question to you and me. Are we available to labor for his kingdom? Are we the hands and feet and the eyes of Jesus?


May God help us. 

Kingdom of Heaven: Wheat and Tares

Continuation of "Kingdom of God : Entrance..."

Why studying about the kingdom of God is important? Because we are living in the kingdom of God now. It clearly talks how God is working in this time period where we live. He will mediate his kingdom through believers. It represents the church age now. I am definitely sure that many of us have questions about this time? Don’t you?

a)Why so many people are rejecting the gospel? b) Why people don’t understand when I share gospel with them? c) He was a very enthusiastic believer now he is showing no interest. What happened to him? d) Why is this brother not involving in church activities more?

These are not answer-less questions but Jesus is giving answer to all of them from the first parable. He who has ear, let him hear. A) Only ¼ accept gospel and ¾ reject B) The seed in roadside C) Seed on a rocky surface D) Seed is in a thorny surface.

Questions do not end there. Why is there so much evil in this world? Why God is not removing the evil ones? Why we have to live with this evil people? When will God end this? Oh this person is causing split in the church, why is it so? He was a good believer, how did he backslide and became a sinner like this?

The answers to these questions we can find in the second parable. The parable of the wheat and tares. Mt 13:24-30: The parable.  Mt 13:36-43: Explanation of the parable.

Explanation
The field – The world where gospel is shared.
Sower – Son of man.
Enemy – Devil who planted weeds.
Good seeds – Sons of the kingdom.
Weeds – Sons of the evil one.
Harvest – End of the age.
Harvesters – Angels

The parable is about the things that are happening in one person’s field.

Understanding 1: Where kingdom established and our role being part of this kingdom?

The kingdom of God has already commenced. From where do we find it?(v12:28). Jesus casting out demons with the spirit is the proof that the kingdom of God has already come. This is what is happening now, not future events but the present age.  
V13:37,38 – This talks about the who is sowing the seed, where he is sowing the seed and his intention of sowing the seed.
Where? V38 – He is sowing the seeds in the field. What is the field representing? Field is representing the world. Who is the owner of the field? Son of Man. The world is his field. He is sowing seeds in his field. Jesus is still the owner of the field not the devil. Devil is intruding into his field.
The kingdom of heaven is established in this world. It’s not something which is going to start in heaven, or it is not something which will be established in a secluded place away from the world and its influences. Entire world is his field and he is sowing the good seeds in this world. God has spread out the seeds throughout the world. Don’t interpret it as church. The seeds need to grow in the midst of all influences and it should become the wheat. He doesn’t want us to live a secluded life.
1 Peter 5:10: To be matured by the troubles of the world, to make us strong in this world.
John 16:33: Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
James also says it is to mature us.  That’s why we are planted in this world.
Why? What’s our role being part of the kingdom? (v38)
We are planted here in the world by the Son of Man. We are the children of the kingdom. We are his subject. He is sowing the good seeds in the field with the intention to cultivate wheat in the entire field. He is planting seeds with a purpose. Its not that we fell here somehow. But we are planted here. That the seed should get into the soil. It should not perish there but it should sprout, grow up to become wheat. That’s the intention and purpose of the owner to cultivate wheat in his field. He wants the field to be filled with the wheat.
Growth of every believer is compared to that of a seed. Seed is not supposed to be remain as a seed. It grows from the state of a seed with time. It reaches some amount of growth by time. It does not stay as it is. From seed, first the roots come, these roots will anchor the seed and get the nutrients from the soil. Then it produces stem and start growing upwards, it produces leaves, again grows upwards and after sometime it produces fruit (wheat in this case) and then the harvest comes. He has planted us here so that we fill field and not letting the weeds to grow and fill the field.
Application: How is our growth? Are we remaining in the seed state? Do we exhibit growth with time? Did the roots go down and anchored us? Did the stem come up? Is it producing leaves? Is it producing fruit? Are we influencing the weeds?

Understanding 2: Attack on this kingdom

Jesus is establishing the kingdom of heaven in this world and the devil has intruded into his field and put his sons (sons of evil one) to disrupt the establishment of kingdom of heaven. The tactics that the enemy is using to destroy the kingdom is by preventing its members from growing finally it leads to death.
How does the weeds impact the wheat? When weeds are their in the field they also compete for the nutrients from the soil, sunlight, moisture and space. These weeds will outgrow the wheat and finally the wheat plants are choked and finally it is destroyed. That’s how weeds impact the growth of wheat.
That’s how kingdom of heaven will be affected. If the sons of the evil one are there in the midst they will outgrow us, they will prevent us from getting the nutrients and essentials and finally choke us. These sons of evil one can use the social media like facebook, whatsapp, entertainment industry. They are smart enough they can create interesting groups and keep us engaged and we spent time in those things. We will not get the essential nutrients from the Bible, we fail to spent time in prayer. That’s how these sons of evil one can choke us to death. That’s how his kingdom will suffer.
The next major question is how can you identify these weeds? They can be identified by their activities. Their activities are mentioned in the v41. The angels will weed out his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. These are the ones who do evil and causes sin or influence others to sin. If you open your eyes and look around you can easily find those evil ones. Look to your classrooms, to your offices and you will see these kinds of weeds.
If we are living our Christian life without this knowledge that there are sons of the evil ones around you then you are going to be in great trouble. One of the biggest mistakes that today’s Christian youth or adults makes is that they tend to believe their secular friends and classmates than the Christian friends or leaders. Not only youth but every believer who have stronger bonding with the unbelieving friends than with Christian friends. If you does not realize the fact that devil has planted weeds in this world with the purpose to influence the sons of the kingdom, then you are going to be in a big trouble. Never seek counsels or advises about anything from your unbelieving friends or classmates because they are the sons of evil one.
We see there are only two categories in this field either sons of kingdom or sons of the evil one. If you are not in the first group then you are in the second group. No in between group, its true that there is relative evil. One is more evil and other is less. But they are all children of disobedience. This we can see in other parts. Either vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath. Eph 2:2- You are working under devil.

He plant these weeds amoung the wheat(v25). It means that Devil plants the evil one amongst us. Devil will always love to plant the weeds close to where good seeds are. So sons of the evil one will be planted near to the sons of the kingdom. That’s the church. He can plant these evil ones in the church also.

This kind of situation has happened ever since the beginning of the kingdom in the first century churches.
Corinthian church weeds: People with immorality
Roman church weeds: People who supports law based living rather than grace.
Galatians church weeds: Judaizers, works more important than salvation.
Colossian church weeds: Gnostic people, mysterious knowledge more important than Christ
Thessalonians church weeds: Idle people who want to eat without working.

Understanding 3: Motivation and the appointed harvest (v28, 29)

We may think why can’t God immediately pluck those weeds, or is God not aware of the situation? But the parable says, that the owner of the field is aware that the enemy is doing and even his servants are ready to clean out those weeds but the owner of the field fixes and appointed time of harvest. We also often wonder why God is not destroying them? This is the question that many unbelievers ask. Where is God and what is God doing? Why don’t you wipe out the unbelieving world?
The owner of the field or Christ purposefully delays the harvest to an appointed time for the good of the sons of the kingdom or wheat. In the initial stages it is little difficult to identify the weeds from the wheat. After it grows to some stage and produce leaves then only we can clearly identify between the wheat and weeds. Here we see (v27,28) when it just sprouted and formed heads, the servants are asking to pluck out the weeds. But the owner reply – Hold on – (v29,30), while plucking out you may pull out the wheat also, because both may look similar now. Wait till harvest then you can collect the weeds first. Because at the time of harvest, both will be grown and formed the leaves now it will be clearly distinguishable. Then we will separate. God is giving time, He is being patient by not destroying anything which looks like a weed in the early stages. This is an age of grace and actions are taken at the time of harvest.
He knows that if you pluck out the tares whenever it comes up there are chances that the wheat also may come up with that. It can happen some point in our lives we get tangled with this tares, and after some time we realize that this is not good and get separated from that. At somepoint in our Christian life or growth we will not be clearly distinguishable, but will be exhibiting the characteristics of weed itself.  If God decided to pluck those tares early, the sons of the kingdom who were tangled up with the wheat at that time, will also get destroyed that’s why we see God giving time for everyone. He appoints a time for harvest. Only then he will come and separate between wheat and tares. It’s a warning for us to change. Be clearly separated from the weeds.
Our lifestyle, our words and deeds is it exhibiting the characteristics of weed or wheat?
Our motivation and our destiny: All these toils and struggle is not going to be wasted. (v30) At the harvest, the weeds will be first collected and burned and the wheat to his barn. Explanation of that comes in (V42,43). Sons of the evil one are punished in the hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Fire is the word used everywhere in Bible for hell. Dying by fire is one of the most terrible thing that can happen. That’s how it is going to be in hell.
Sons of kingdom the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Jesus says wait, hold on, live together now, be patient with the evil ones, after the harvest the glory will come. You will shine like stars in his kingdom. Still the kingdom of Father is continuing and we will be there in the kingdom. That will be the final consummation of the kingdom. Till that point of time, the kingdom will be mixed with the evil ones. And we have to live among them.

Application of this parable


The application of the parable can be seen in v43. He, who has ears, let him hear. That’s the application. Listen and understand this truth, understand this reality of the kingdom of heaven and live. Are you a weed in the kingdom? Then you are going to be plucked out and burnt in the furnace of fire. Are you a wheat? Then you are asked to co-exist in the world. You are asked to be separated from the weeds, You are asked to grow like a seed and become its final form that’s wheat. You are asked to patient till the time of harvest and not judging others before that. May God help us to understand this reality of the kingdom of heaven and live. 

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