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The Parable of the Talents September 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 25:14-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a man who goes on a long trip; before his departure, he delivers his goods to his servants. In particular:

  • one servant receives a bag of coins weighing five talents
  • another servant receives a bag of coins weighing two talents
  • a third servant receives a bag of coins weighing one talent.

This apportionment corresponds to their respective abilities.

The first two servants instantly engage in business and turn a profit; each of them actually doubles the amount that they have received.

Yet the third servant buries his bag of coins.

Their master eventually returns and compares accounts with them. The first two servants bring the profit that they have turned. He declares that they are excellent; thus, he will grant them more opportunities to turn a profit.

Yet the third servant attacks him, declaring that he is unforgiving and that he takes things from others. This servant assumes that if he had engaged in business and:

  • lost money, then his master would have punished him
  • made a profit, then his master would have taken it from him.

Thus, he chose to bury the amount that he had received.

His master declares that he is wicked and lazy; thus, he commands that this servant’s bag of coins be transferred to the first servant.

Similarly, God will grant those who bear spiritual fruit more opportunities to bear spiritual fruit. In contrast, those who do not bear spiritual fruit will not receive any additional opportunities to bear spiritual fruit. Moreover, He will cast them into hell.

Thoughts: In this passage, the first two servants are able to double the amount that they originally received from their master. This spurred me to consider the following hypothesis: significant profits are usually associated with significant risks. If this hypothesis is correct, then I believe that it relates to our walk with God. In particular, God may call us to take a particular risk, e.g. by placing ourselves in an uncomfortable position. In these cases, we may appear to fail – but perhaps we can bear more fruit when we are in a state of discomfort. As believers, we should consider how God may be calling us to take a particular risk; if so, how can we hold fast to Him, trusting that He will be glorified when we respond in obedience?

“Talents” play a central role in this passage, and Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Anything whereby we may glorify God is a “talent.” Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible – all, all are talents.

Ryle has an interesting viewpoint; he proffers a non-standard definition of “talents” (my understanding is that “talents” are usually defined as being equivalent to spiritual gifts, but I could be wrong on this point). If Ryle’s definition is correct, then as believers, we should ponder our advantages while discarding any notion of comparing ourselves with other believers in this regard. Given the advantages that are inherent to our circumstances, how can we leverage them to bear spiritual fruit? We must ask God to open our eyes on a daily basis, viewing our circumstances from His perspective.

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Signs of the End of the Age September 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 24:1-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus and His disciples depart from the temple. Although His disciples are still in awe of the temple, He asserts that it will be devastated.

They respond by asking Him when:

  • the temple will be devastated
  • He will fully reveal Himself as the Messiah
  • will be the final end of the age of man.

He responds by warning them to keep their eyes open so that they would not be deceived. While there will be:

  • many false Messiahs who will deceive others
  • constant wars and rumors of wars
  • famines and earthquakes throughout the world

these events only mark the beginning of the final end of the age of man.

Later, true believers will be arrested, afflicted and even murdered – since they identify with Him. False teachers will deceive false believers, and false believers will betray true believers. Yet true believers will be saved after enduring these trials, and the Gospel message will be proclaimed throughout the world.

Now when they see that which is abhorrent to God that causes devastation in the temple – as referenced in Daniel 11:31 – they should flee. Those who are on their housetops should not attempt to retrieve their belongings, while those who are in their fields should not attempt to retrieve their outer cloaks. Moreover, pregnant women will be ripped open, and infants will be smashed to pieces. They should pray that their escape would not be hindered by the weather or by Sabbath-day laws, as they are witnessing the worst period in world history. He notes that if that period were not immediately curtailed, then no one would be saved – yet God will immediately terminate it so that those whom He has chosen will be saved.

He then asserts that some will try to deceive them by claiming that the Messiah has fully revealed Himself. Yet when the Messiah fully reveals Himself, that event will be public and glorious.

At that point, the entire universe will disintegrate – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 13:10. They will see Him in heaven. While all unbelievers will mourn this event, His angels will gather all believers throughout the world and bring them into His kingdom.

He concludes with the following lesson: just as when a fig tree puts forth its leaves, it is time for summer, so when they see all these things, it is time for them to be brought into His kingdom.

Thoughts: In verse 4, Jesus warns His disciples to not be deceived regarding the timing of His Second Coming. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Irvingism and Mormonism have been only too successfully used as arguments for rejecting the whole doctrine of the second coming of Christ. Let us watch and be on our guard.

While I am (somewhat) familiar with Mormonism, I had never heard about Irvingism before I read that quote, spurring me to learn about Edward Irving. Based on my brief investigation, it appears that Edward Irving was simply another preacher who attempted to predict the Second Coming of Christ. Perhaps repeated failures to predict the timing of that event should spur believers to resist the temptation to “control God” by making such predictions. By not fixating on particular times and dates, we place His Second Coming into the hands of the Father, trusting that He will exercise His sovereignty on some future date.

Here, Jesus presents a list of catastrophic events that will occur before His Second Coming. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

One main subject of this part of our Lord’s prophecy is the taking of Jerusalem by the Romans. That great event took place about forty years after the words we have now read were spoken. A full account of it is to be found in the writings of the historian Josephus.

On a related note, I read through several transcripts of sermons by John MacArthur on this passage; in one of those sermons, he asserts:

Now, some people have tried to say that this is a sermon about the destruction of Jerusalem, that this whole sermon was fulfilled in 70 A.D. when the temple was destroyed. For many reasons that is impossible, as we’ve tried to point out in our previous message.

It is apparent that there is no single interpretation of this passage, and I am not prepared to resolve that debate. Given that the pastor at my previous church emphasized the significance of authorial intent in reading Scripture, I would posit that Matthew’s original audience would have understood Jesus’ prophecies in light of the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. I would also posit that they would have had no concept of a future desolation that would last for seven years. That being said, I could be wrong on both of these points; thus, I anticipate learning the correct interpretation of this passage in the next life (or even in this life).

In verse 34, Jesus notes that “this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Third, these verses teach us that until Christ returns the Jews will remain a separate people…The continued existence of the Jews as a distinct nation is undeniably a great miracle: it is one of those evidences of the truth of the Bible which the unbeliever can never overthrow…The Jewish nation stands before the world a crushing answer to unbelief, and a living book of evidence that the Bible is true.

While the meaning of “this generation” is also debatable, Ryle’s thoughts remind me of Paul’s assertion in Romans 11:25-32 concerning the ultimate salvation of the Jews. If Ryle’s interpretation of “this generation” is correct, then it is all the more remarkable at this point in world history that the Jews continue to exist “as a distinct nation” – since Ryle could not have anticipated the Holocaust. Indeed, I wonder if God is actually displaying His sovereign plan in continuing to preserve the Jews as “a separate people”; if so, when will He restore them to His favor and enable them to acknowledge the identity of His Son, Jesus Christ? That is an event that should spur all believers to rejoice in His abundant grace.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven June 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:1-9.

Summary: In this passage, the disciples ask Jesus who will be greater than all the rest in the kingdom of God. He responds by asserting that if they want to enter the kingdom of God, they must adopt a childlike attitude – lowering themselves and completely depending on Him.

Moreover, by treating their (childlike) brethren with kindness and love, they treat Him with kindness and love.

In contrast, if they cause their (childlike) brethren to sin, then they would be better off dying the worst kind of death. Consequently, they should take drastic measures to guard against that possibility.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the centrality of humility in one’s walk with God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The surest mark of true conversion is humility. If we have really received the Holy Spirit, we will show it by a meek and childlike spirit. Like children, we shall think humbly about our own strength and wisdom, and be very dependent on our Father in heaven. Like children, we shall not seek great things in this world; but having food and clothing and a Father’s love, we shall be content.

Reading through this passage caused me to consider the fact that when a believer serves in their church, they often receive compliments from other believers; examples include:

  • applauding the worship team after they perform a special song during the offertory
  • thanking a Sunday School teacher after their class
  • thanking a pastor after their sermon.

This raises the following questions:

  • if we complement our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our compliments?
  • considering the third above-mentioned example, should we modify our compliment by saying, “I enjoyed your sermon since I sensed that God was speaking to us through you?”
  • if we receive complements from our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our response to them?
  • again, considering the third above-mentioned example, should a pastor respond by saying, “Praise God, who has chosen me as a conduit of His blessings to my congregation?”

As believers, we want to ensure that God receives all glory and praise – instead of hoarding any plaudits for ourselves. That being said, I wonder if my ideas would induce stilted conversations between believers…

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl April 22, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:44-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells two parables. He states that His kingdom can be represented by:

  • buried treasure; a man who works in a field comes across that treasure, liquidates his possessions and purchases that field
  • a fine pearl; a wholesale merchant comes across that pearl, liquidates his possessions and purchases it.

These parables highlight the priceless value of His kingdom.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it compels us to consider the value of the kingdom of God in our lives. While believers generally agree that Jesus does not command us to promptly liquidate our possessions for the sake of His kingdom, we know that He does command us to value His kingdom above all earthly things. In particular, He does command us to place our possessions at His disposal so that He can use them as He sees fit. Now we often respond to this command with alacrity regarding some of our possessions (e.g. tithing, volunteering, donating in the wake of a natural disaster), but we may struggle to place other possessions at His disposal (e.g. car, laptop, office chair). How can we place all of our possessions at His disposal? We need wisdom and strength from Him, as our inclination to short-term thinking causes us to cherish them.

The Parable of the Weeds Explained April 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:36-43.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus explicates the Parable of the Weeds. In particular, He states that the:

  • sower represents Him
  • good seed represent the children of His kingdom
  • field represents the world
  • weeds represent the children of the devil.

He also states that the children of His kingdom must not judge the children of the devil before the Second Coming – as that is God’s prerogative. Indeed, at that time, He will:

  • place all of the children of the devil in eternal hell
  • enable the children of His kingdom to dwell with Him.

Thoughts: The Parable of the Weeds and Jesus’ explication of it in this passage are actually on separate pages in my Bible. When I read that parable, I assumed that Jesus had not explicated it to His disciples; thus, I pondered it for quite some time. I leveraged my understanding of similar parables to grasp the gist of it, yet two points baffled me:

  • it was evident that the weeds represented unbelievers, yet I wondered: were these unbelievers in the visible church, or unbelievers in general?
  • did the act of weeding represent an attempt to purge the visible church of unbelievers, or an attempt to proclaim God’s judgment on unbelievers in general before the Second Coming?

The summary that I have provided above is drawn from John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage. Yet Ryle offers some contrasting thoughts on these two points:

The visible church is pictured as a mixed body: it is a vast “field” in which “wheat” and “weeds” grow side by side (verses 24-26). We must expect to find believers and unbelievers, converted and unconverted, “the sons of the kingdom” and “the sons of the evil one” (verses 38-39), all mingled together in every congregation of baptized people.

Thus, I am unsure as to the correct interpretation of these two points. I hope to meet Ryle in the next life and hear his response to the thoughts expressed by MacArthur in his sermon.

The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast April 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:31-35.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells two parables. He states that His kingdom can be represented by:

  • a mustard seed; while it is the smallest of all edible seeds, it can grow to a height of fifteen feet. Similarly, while His kingdom is small at its inception, it will be very large at His Second Coming, sheltering and protecting many nations.
  • yeast; a piece of sour, fermented dough spreads throughout a large batch of dough, causing it to rise and improving its taste. Similarly, His kingdom spreads throughout the world and improves it.

He reiterates that those who reject Him will become more perplexed regarding His kingdom – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Psalm 78:2.

Thoughts: As believers, we can draw strength from this passage as we help advance God’s kingdom in this world. Though our efforts often appear insignificant, this passage reminds us that God is working through us to achieve His purposes. Each of us can:

  • nurture “the mustard seed” as it grows to a great height
  • cause “the large batch of dough” to rise and become more flavorful.

Thus, we must continue to serve faithfully, trusting that He will utilize our gifts and abilities to bear good fruit in His timing.

The Parable of the Weeds April 13, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:24-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells another parable about a man who sows good seed in his field. Yet his enemy arrives at night and oversows his field with bastard wheat. His servants are taken aback upon their discovery of the bastard wheat, and they ask him if they should uproot it. He notes that good wheat might also be uprooted in the process. Instead, it would be better for them to wait for the harvest, when his reapers will:

  • burn the bastard wheat
  • gather the good wheat to his barn.

Thoughts: Jesus explicates this parable in Matthew 13:36-43, so I will defer my thoughts on this passage until the corresponding blog post.

Jesus Questioned About Fasting February 25, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:14-17.

Summary: In this passage, the disciples of John the Baptist ask Jesus why He and His disciples do not practice their external rituals, including fasting. Jesus responds by asserting that since He has come to forgive sins, they should rejoice – instead of fasting. He reinforces the distinction between external rituals and the kingdom of God by noting that it is futile to:

  • sew a new patch of cloth into an old robe – as the old robe will shrink in the wash
  • pour new wine into an old wineskin – as the old wineskin will burst as the new wine ferments.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus uses cloth and wine to highlight the contrast between empty rituals and genuine worship of God. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

He goes on to show, by two parables, that young beginners in the school of Christianity must be dealt with gently. They must be taught what they are able to bear: they must not be expected to receive everything at once. To neglect this rule would be as unwise as to “pour new wine into old wineskins” (verse 17), or to sew “a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment” (verse 16).

I must admit that Ryle’s interpretation of these two verses is somewhat odd. Most of the commentaries on this passage that I have read indicate that Jesus is contrasting the formalism of the Pharisees with heartfelt worship that is fueled by the Gospel message. These two methods of worshiping God are incompatible, just as new cloth and new wine are incompatible with old robes and old wineskins, respectively. Thus, I hope to meet Ryle in the next life and query him on this point. How did he arrive at his interpretation of this passage? What is the correct interpretation of this passage?

The Cost of Following Jesus February 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, a scribe declares his commitment to Jesus. Yet Jesus knows that he is actually unwilling to deny himself; thus, He asserts that those who are genuinely committed to Him are willing to deny themselves.

Another man declares his commitment to Jesus; before acting on this commitment, he wants to fulfill his obligation to his (living) father. Yet Jesus knows that his request undermines his declaration; thus, He asserts that those who are genuinely committed to Him are willing to place the kingdom of God above personal attachments.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to ponder the challenges of committing to Jesus at a given watershed moment. In particular, since we cannot predict the future, committing to Jesus at that point entails trusting in Him regardless of future circumstances. One potentially encouraging thought is that if we can conceive of at least one potential benefit of committing to Him at that point, that benefit should outweigh the potential calamities that stem from that decision. For example, assume that He is calling you to share the Gospel message with an unreached community. God can assuredly work through you to convert at least one member of that community; that truth should outweigh the risk of their rejection of your efforts.

Yet we cannot discount the following possibility: what if our commitment to Jesus at that point does not yield any benefits? What if that decision only results in calamities? Perhaps it would be instructive to reflect on the conversion of the Waodani tribe, which was depicted in The End of the Spear. We see that in that case, those five missionaries perished without observing the conversion of the Waodani. Can we commit to Jesus at a given watershed moment if we will not necessarily observe the fruits of our labor during our lifetime? I certainly struggle with this question, and I need His grace to respond to Him with obedience.

The Beatitudes November 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus stands on the side of a mountain and begins to teach His disciples. He states that those who exhibit the following traits are actually “lucky bums”:

  • they are conscious of the fact that they lack the ability to enter the kingdom of heaven
  • they passionately lament their sins
  • they entrust themselves to God – who judges justly
  • they long to be in a right relationship with God
  • they show compassion for those in need
  • they are sincere and honest in their motives
  • they actively pursue peace
  • they are persecuted as a natural consequence of longing to be in a right relationship with God.

This stems from the fact that God will reward them abundantly.

Thoughts: This is one of the most famous Bible passages, and so I eagerly anticipated my stroll through it. I should note that at my church, our pastors recently preached through the Beatitudes. My high-level viewpoint on this passage is that it displays the contrast between short-term thinking and long-term thinking. Here, Jesus asserts that those who follow Him will naturally incur short-term losses; for example, they will be persecuted for their faith. Yet He also asserts that long-term gains will naturally follow these short-term losses. Long-term thinking is unnatural for believers, as our sinful nature drives our short-term mindset; thus, we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit – on a daily basis – in order to maintain our long-term focus on God.

In verses 10-12, Jesus asserts that those who are persecuted – for longing to be in a right relationship with Him – are actually “lucky bums.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

He means those who are laughed at, mocked, despised and badly treated because they endeavor to live as true Christians. Blessed are all such! They drink of the same cup which their Master drank. They are now confessing him before men, and he will confess them before His Father and the angels on the last day.

My impression is that in this age of relativism, nonbelievers – especially the conflict-averse – readily ignore Christianity. They often make no comment on a believer’s outward acts of faith, e.g. praying before a meal or describing a church activity when asked about their weekend. Now if a nonbeliever feels uncomfortable in those situations, they may respond with some combination of anger, sarcasm, etc. As believers, we should ponder the following questions:

  • How can we tell when we have mistreated an unbeliever?
  • How can we tactfully display our faith so that if nonbelievers oppose us, our consciences are clear before God?

These are difficult questions, and we need guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to navigate the choppy waters of this age of relativism.