A Heart that is Impervious

Matthew 13:15. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed: lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their hearts , and should be converted, and I should heal them.”

I looked at this verse in several different translations.  The words used for  waxed gross include, dull, calloused, hardened, and impervious. The Greek word is pachuno, which is to make fat, stupid, insensible, inattentive, dull, and callous.

The idea here is that the people slowly but inexorably became this way, little by little, until they were past normal, vigourous obedience to truth and righteousness.  They were not seeing, hearing or understanding with the heart; therefore, they could not  be converted and Jesus could not heal them.

Wow.  Think of that.

The illustration I found for this post is common throughout America. We are bored in church; we are inattentive, we sleep, we slouch, we look at our watches, we read the bulletin many times; and these days, I’m even seeing people with electronic devices that have a lot more on them than just a download of the Bible!

Is it the preacher’s fault? Well, maybe, sometimes.  But not always, and not even usually.  The Word of God itself speaks to the heart that has not grown callouses; it penetrates even the layers of fat that surround our hearts, and wakes us up with the convicting power that it wields.

I can’t think of a much more effective weapon that Satan has used to stifle Christianity in our country than the boring offering of religious platitudes that flows across pulpits all over this land. Contrary to some, I do not believe that the answer is in livelier music or more engaging programs.  Those things tend to follow fads, and fads always pass.

No, what we need is a return to the heartfelt, knowledgeable, convicting exposition of God’s Word!  Only the Word can penetrate our hard hearts.  It is the sword of truth that  pricks our hearts and brings us back to God.

Hebrews 4:12.

For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Government Efficiency

Yeah, right.  You’re either laughing or crying as you read that title.

I, on the other hand, am just plain mad!

So last year, I turned 65. Time to sign up for Medicare.  Went well, no problems.  Just Part A, don’t need anything else because Terry still had insurance from his job.

This year, at 66, we decided to sign me up for Social Security.  Also, Terry retired, so we signed up for Part B.  No problems.  A few weeks later, I got my red/white/blue Medicare card saying I now had A and B.  But when we contacted Tricare for our supplement to Medicare, we were told I didn’t exist. That took a lot of time and patience.

Later, Medicare told me I didn’t exist. “Then please tell me to WHOM you think you are speaking,” says I, in my best English teacher voice.

Then I got involved in some physical therapy that has been very helpful.  Nice lady in the office sent my claim to Medicare.  They sent it back saying I did NOT have Part B.

Okay, okay.  We can deal with this.  Pick up the phone, call the number on my card, go through the whole menu of options, finally get to talk to a real person who says, “Sorry, Ma’am, you’re not in our computer.  There’s nothing we can do.  You need to call Social Security, because that’s where you sign up for Medicare.” (By the way, I couldn’t get them to pronounce our last name correctly.  Computers are only as smart as their programmers.)

“Look,” says I, trying not to let sarcasm drip through the phone, “This is the THIRD TIME we’ve run into a problem and what I’m wondering is, why is there a lack of communication between SS and Medicare?”

“Ma’am, I don’t have the answer to that. “

Yuhuh.

So then I called the national SS number. “Hello. We’re here to serve you. However, all our representatives are helping other people at the moment. Please try again later. Goodbye.” Click.

And I’m sitting there looking at my phone in utter frustration. Really?  No “hold please”?  Just “Goodbye”?

All right, ok, I’ll call the local office where we applied.

One ringy-dingy. Two ringy-dingy. Three ringy-din—“Hello. The office is not open today. Office hours are. . . . . .yadayadayada. We look forward to serving you.”

Pssssshhhh.  Right.

In the meantime, my therapy place is beginning to look at me sideways.  They’re very nice. They’re very patient.

“It’s government efficiency,”  I tell them.

Seeing and Hearing

Matthew 13: 13-14. “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand: and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive.”

It’s a funny picture, but the idea behind it is pretty serious.  Sometimes I imagine that God is the younger woman, making every effort to clarify Himself so that His hearers will not only hear, but will “get it.”  We, however, are the older woman with the ear trumpet, struggling to hear the words but not really getting the message.

That’s sad, because really, the message isn’t that complicated. Didn’t you ever say to your child, for instance, “Junior, clean up your room.”  He says “ok” and continues doing whatever he was doing before you spoke.

Was your message clear?  Did he hear it?  Did he understand that you didn’t mean sometime before he turns 21?  Based on the knowledge they already had, my kids learned that when I gave such a directive, it meant “DO IT NOW!”  But they knew that only from previous experience and knowledge.  I had to actually say “do it now” before they realized I wasn’t speaking in the future prophetic tense  🙂

God has given us all the knowledge we need in order to understand His parables. Our problem is that we’re just not listening, and we want to make everything fit into our concept of the here and now.

So, in this passage, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah, chapter 6:9-10: “And He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”

Isaiah then asked God how long this condition would last.  God responds in 6:11: “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without man, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.”

These words were spoken during the vision Isaiah had of the Lord Jehovah sitting upon a throne. This is judgment pronounced on Israel for rejecting Jesus, Messiah; it is the promise that the gospel, the good seed, will be given to the Gentile nations.

Gain and Loss

Matthew 13:12. “For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance:but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”

The disciples had heard and followed Jesus.  They were receiving more new knowledge all the time as they continued to listen to Him teach and preach.

Israel, however, had rejected Jesus as Messiah, and it wouldn’t be long until even their holy city, Jerusalem, and their nation would be taken from them.

This truth applies at a different level as well. True believers composing the church have knowledge of and communion with Christ; these things will increase in abundance when He comes again. At the same time, an apostate Christendom which has not even a modicum of the truth will lose everything it now boasts to have.

Apostate is an interesting word.  Here is the etymology of the word, from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=apostate:

mid-14c., “one who forsakes his religion or faith,” from Old French apostate (Modern French apostat) and directly from Late Latin apostata, from Greek apostasia “defection, desertion, rebellion,” from apostenai “to defect,” literally “to stand off,” fromapo- “away from” (see apo-) + stenai “to stand.” Used in non-religious situations (politics, etc.) from mid-14c.

Literally, an apostate is one who stands away from something; in this context, he stand away from, or against God Himself.  There is some discussion about the possible one-time salvation of those who are apostate.  I do not believe they were ever truly saved.  They may have named the name of Christ, but that is typical of Christendom. There are many who name Christ without knowing in the least Who He really is.

Can an apostate be saved?  Only if he is no longer apostate!  The only unforgiveable sin is to deny Who Jesus is. No one who goes to death’s door denying Christ can be saved from his eternal doom.

This is serious business.  We need to make sure we’re not following those who are guilty of apostasy.  Anyone or anything that is held higher than our Lord, Jesus Christ, is an idol. To worship such is to be apostate.

Given and Not Given

Matthew 13:11. “He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”

If you will go back and read verse 10, you will see that  the disciples had come to Jesus to ask Him why He spoke to the people in parables.  His answer takes several verses, which we’re going to examine carefully.

What I’m about to list for you comes from my Dake’s Study Bible:  Seven reasons for using parables.

1. To reveal truth in interesting form and create more interest (v. 10-11, 16)

2. Make known new truths to interested hearers (v. 11-12, 16-17)

3. Make known mysteries by comparison with things already known (v. 11)

4.  Conceal truth from disinterested hearers and rebels at heart (v. 11-5)

5. Add truth to those who love it and want more of it (v. 12)

6.  Take truth away from those who hate and do not want it (v. 12)7.

7.  To fulfill prophecy (v.14-17, 35)

The mysteries:  A mystery is a secret previously hidden but now made clear so that no mystery remains for anyone who will accept the truth as revealed (v 19; 2 Cor. 4:3-4)

Kingdom of heaven: At present, this is the realm of profession, for tares and wheat and good and bad are now mixed together in the same kingdom.  At the end of this age, the two classes will be separated. The professors will be sent to hell and the possessors of the kingdom will continue in its literal aspect forever (v. 40-43; 49-50: 25:31-46; Rev. 20: Zech. 14)

There is so much depth in one short verse of scripture. The words of Jesus held more meaning than the disciples could process all at once, so Jesus continued His explanation  from verse 12-17.

Those verses will keep us busy for some time!

Pure and Sincere

Our Sunday school class this morning was from II Peter 3.  I’m still thinking about those two words, pure and sincere. 

In verse 1, Peter says that he desires to stir up their pure minds. The word pure here means revealed by sunlight.  There is great power in sunlight, not the least of them being to reveal flaws or impurities. We talked about this idea for a couple of minutes, and then the teacher brought up the word sincere. It comes from the Latin sine, meaning without; and ceres, or wax, 

This was in a day when everyone made or purchased pottery vessels for numerous household purposes.  If a potter were upright, he would not sell a pottery vessel that had cracks.  However, if he were dishonest and looking only for gain, he would notice cracks in his vessel and fill them with wax.  Then the glazing and coloring of the vessel would go ahead, and the person who bought that pot without carefully examining it would take home a flawed vessel. 

How would the purchaser examine the pot?  By holding it up to the sunlight.  Even through glazing and coloring, even after the pot had been fired in the kiln, sunlight would reveal impurities in the pot.  The pot was not sincere; it was not without wax. 

Many years ago, Patsy Claremont wrote a wonderful book called God Uses Cracked Pots.  I loved the book when I first read it.  I think I still have it somewhere in my stash 🙂  The idea was that we are all vessels with cracks. Perhaps we’ve tried to disguise those cracks, but when we are held up to the light of the Son, our impurities are easily revealed.  I’m so thankful that God uses this cracked pot,  and I look forward to the day when He touches this vessel and heals all the broken places. He won’t have to use wax to make me pure.  

What a day that will be!

Porn: What’s the Problem?

Really, what’s so bad about pornography?  I mean, it doesn’t really hurt anyone, and it’s just a bunch of narrow-minded people who are judging everyone else  because they think it’s a “sin.”  It’s no one else’s business what I do in the privacy of my own home!

Let’s take the “victimless crime” idea first, the idea that it doesn’t really hurt anyone.  There’s so much to be said about the other things that it could take more than one post, so this is my starting point.

Victimless?  Really?  What about the women and men who are photographed, filmed, debased, and used as a money-making commodity? Aside from possible abuse, what do you think it does to their minds, hearts and souls?

Well, but they do this voluntarily!  No one is forcing them–it’s their choice!

Really?  What about the children?

What about women who are controlled by pimps and drug dealers; by people who beat them, rape them, and sometimes kill them when they are no longer useful?  Do you really have your head buried in the sand so deeply that you are unaware of the human sex traffic activity that exists in virtually every population center in this country?  Please, do some research.  Find out some things:

1. Not everyone involved in the porn industry is there of his own free will.

2. There is no such thing as a victimless crime.

3   Kids who run away from home are often victimized by porn hustlers who are always looking for fresh meat. Sometimes they are kidnapped and drugged, forced against their will to participate in pornographic shoots.

4.  Women are rarely in this industry because they want to be.  See #3.  Yes, there are those who sell their bodies willingly.  I’ll never understand that, but I will guarantee you that there has been some sort of sexual/physical abuse in the history of those who agree without coercion to allow their bodies to be used in this way.

5.  Don’t be deceived.  If  you are looking at porn, you are a victim of the porn industry.  If you keep it up, you’ll be spending money on it before long.  Here are some of the immediate effects of participation in porn:

It creates an unrealistic expectation of sex and sexuality.

It creates a terrible view of and attitude toward women.

It adversely affects your relationship with your spouse.  You are hiding what you are doing, and if you masturbate while watching porn, you have less and less interest in your spouse. You are stealing what rightfully belongs to your spouse and using it in a completely selfish manner.

It creates physical problems because you are probably doing  porn late at night, losing sleep and creating a sleep-deprivation cycle that will eventually make you sick.

It creates a spiritual problem because, as you become more involved in porn, it becomes an idol for you. It is what  you worship. It is what you think about all the time until you can get your next “fix.” It becomes a priority for you.  It is idolatry.

Do I need to go on?  Anyone who will stop and think about this stuff in a logical, and biblical, manner will have to acknowledge that it is, indeed, sinful.

Ephesians 5:11.

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.

Don’t participate in the barren works that are done under cover of darkness, and that are offered by the evil one who is the lord of darkness.  Instead, avoid those behaviors and speak against them  (paraphrase by me).

Ephesiansd 5:12.

For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.

This verse doesn’t mean you shouldn’t name the sin and speak against it.  It does mean that you shouldn’t be talking about such evil in ordinary conversation, with prurient interest.

More next week.  If you are a believer, and you are caught up in porn, please get back into the Word of God; pray that God will strengthen you to relinquish the sin; get some accountability in your life to help you resist the temptation.

Why?

Matthew 13:10. And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?”

Why do you think the disciples asked Jesus this question?  Had they not heard Him teach in parables before?

Well, no.  They hadn’t.  This was something new, and they wondered about it; so they did the sensible thing and asked Him.  They got an answer that we’ll be looking at more carefully next week, because it’s very important and, like much in the gospel of Matthew, has been misinterpreted and mistaught.

What Jesus had taught before, to the people and their leaders, had been said in simple words that carried no hidden meanings. Now, He was speaking something that almost seemed like a riddle, and they didn’t get it.  If they, the disciples, were having a hard time understanding His teachings, then surely the people who followed Him from place to place were equally as confused.

Jesus’ answer was quite solemn, because it announced the judgment upon Israel.

Next week, we’ll see what He had to say.

The Sower and the Seed: Good Ground

Matthew 13:8-9. “But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

During my high school years, we lived in a little southern Minnesota farm town. In August and up through the end of October, in a really good year, there would be fields ripe for the harvest. Corn and wheat, when they are ripe, have a wonderful aroma. There’s a richness to the air, and a sense of well-being that comes when you see the bailers, combines, and tractors out there bringing in the harvest. After months of plowing, planting, fertilizing and cultivating, the farmers’ work is  ripe and ready to be brought in to the barns and silos or taken to the grain mills. Harvest is a wonderful time.

The good ground is fruitful because it has been prepared.  The ground is broken up, the stones and thorns are removed, and the soil is worked   in preparation for the sowing of the seed. The good ground is the heart that receives the seed with understanding, and bears fruit that multiplies by many times the amount of seed that was sown.  This receptive heart, the good ground, is prepared by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Let those who hear and understand these words of Jesus go about the work in the field, which is the world.

The Sower and the Seed: Thorny Ground

Matthew 13: 7. “And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them.”

It’s a funny thing about thorns, or weeds.  They tend to take on the characteristics of the good plants among which they grow, but eventually they will choke out the good plants and leave nothing but weeds for the harvest. 

I used to do some serious gardening.  I’d plant early crops, like peas and lettuce, then wait eagerly for the first tiny shoots to appear.  At that point, it wasn’t possible to tell which little green plants were weeds and which were peas.  But in a little while, not really very long, the difference would become more obvious. As the peas began to flourish, the imitation was much easier to see, and I’d pull them out without pity.

Have you ever grown tomatoes? If you have, you know about suckers.  These are stems that grow along the main vine, looking exactly like the real thing,  until  you begin to realize that they’re not going to produce any fruit; all they do is drain the life away from the tomatoes. Suckers.  There’s only one remedy. Whack!

Weeds that grow up among carrots look just like the ferny carrot tops when the plants are young. Only a discering eye can tell the difference. When you’re sure, then you pull them and throw them on the compost heap. They’re worthless, and they’ll crowd out the sweet carrots.

The weeds are the lies Satan presents to us; they are the worries and cares of life that, if we aren’t vigilant, will overgrow and kill the good plants, and there will be no fruit. In Christianity, the thorns are the beliefs and practices that turn us from the truth and choke out the good seed. They would include the teaching, for instance, that one must earn his salvation through good works.  Stop to think about that for just a moment.

If it were possible for us to earn heaven through our good works, then Jesus Christ did not need to die.  It is a lie.  It chokes out the good seed, and leaves nothing useful in the field.