Day 279 (Oct. 6): Disciples ask about pyramids and other things, Jesus explains scattering seed parable, why Jesus teaches with parables, parable of the lamp, winter weeds parable, parables of mustard seed and yeast, parable of hidden treasure and pearl, fishing net parable, Jesus calms the storm

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Matthew 13:10-23

Luke 8:9-18

Mark 4:21-29

Matthew 13:24-30

Mark 4:30-34

Matthew 13:31-52

Mark 4:35-41

Matthew 8:23-27

Luke 8:22-25

Questions & Observations

Q. (Matthew 13:10-23): I’m guessing that the Israelites hearts are hardened and disbelieving because they have been taught that way by many, many generations.  Their ancestors heard all the prophecies and chose to ignore them, a sentiment which would have been carried down from generation to generation.

A. The image of a stiff-necked people who ignore God appears to still be an apt one.  It is worth noting, however, that many of the common Jews of this day (especially the poor and needy) eagerly accepted the message Jesus proclaimed.  It was the leadership and the wealthy (notably the priesthood that was in cahoots with Rome) that rejected what Jesus came to do.

Q. (Matthew 13:16-17): What is it that they have been seeing and hearing?  The prophecies?  The Messiah?

A. Jesus is talking about Himself here, and the arrival of the Kingdom of God with His presence.  As we have noted, Jesus is proclaiming that the Prophets have spoken of Him, and so He is declaring that these men would surely have been envious of the disciples, who have the privilege of seeing their own words come true.

Q. (Luke 8:17-18, Mark 24-25): What?  Actually, after reading the second one, I had an epiphany.  Understanding means listening or being in tune to the Holy Spirit.  If you listen with your heart and not your ears, you will receive messages from the Holy Spirit.  How is that?

A. Sounds pretty good.  I would only add that those who were truly listening to Jesus were the ones who had faith in Him.  As with the message of salvation, faith is the foundation of hearing God’s word.

Q. (Mark 4:26-29): The Kingdom of God refers to the nation of believers?  I get from this scripture that once the seed (Word) is planted, it grows in ways unexpected and unexplained.

A. I’m not sure I would use the word nation, but you have the idea.  The Kingdom of God — something Jesus will continue to discuss is the place where God is rightly recognized as King and Lord.  This is the central idea: if we do the will of the King (Jesus — God in human form), we are subjects of God’s Kingdom.

Q. (Matthew 13:24-30): This one is easy: the wheat (believers) are good, the weeds (non-believers) will be burned.

A. I would call that close, but be careful about making assumptions that Jesus does not make in this story.  Jesus does NOT say that only believers are the good wheat, or that non-believers are evil, just that there is good and evil, and it is impossible to separate them properly at this time.

This parable is actually an incredibly profound insight into part of the problem of evil (called the theodicy problem from the Greek words for “god” and “justice”).  The central question of theodicy is this: if God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good, then how can evil exist?  This parable provides part of the answer to two different aspects of this difficult theology.  First, the parable tells us that there is another force at work in the world: the evil one or “enemy” in the story.  So even the presence of a good God does NOT negate the existence of other powers.  The other question theodicy wrestles with is why does God not deal with evil as it happens?  Why does God allow injustice and evil (the Holocaust, the killing fields, etc.) and not do anything about it.  This parable answers this as well: God WILL achieve justice, but in the current age, the roots of “good” and “evil” are so intertwined that they cannot be separated without harm to the “good” roots.  So why does God not intervene RIGHT NOW?  Because He understands that there will be justice in the age to come, and though it might not make sense to us at the moment, God understands that there is too much at risk now to fully intervene against evil.  You can see why I find this parable to be so insightful and fascinating.

Q. (Mark 4:35-41): Just wondering.  Is it actually a sin to worry, to not hand over your burdens to Jesus?

A. Worry ultimately has its origin in a lack of trust in God.  Now that doesn’t mean we NEVER worry, but as we grow to more and more intuned with the will of God, I believe that the things we worry about will change and decrease.  Don’t forget Jesus’ reminder in Matthew 6:27: worrying does not add a single moment to our lives.  So how does it help?

Day 278 (Oct 5): Women included in Jesus’s group, religious leaders accuse Jesus of being obsessed, Jesus tells importance of Jonah, Jesustrue family of believers, scattering seed parable, Jesus explains seed parable

Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives.  The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version.  At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture.  To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.

Luke 8:1-3

Mark 3:20-30

Matthew 12:22-45

Mark 3:31-35

Matthew 12:46-50

Luke 8:19-21

Mark 4:1-9

Matthew 13:1-9

Luke 8:4-8

Mark 4:10-20

Questions & Observations

Q. (Luke 8:1-3): I just wondered why women joining Jesus is important?  Maybe they prepared meals?  I like the fact that it is mentioned, letting us know now that Jesus valued everyone and everyone can serve Him.

A. This question cracks me up.  Luke is doing two things here, neither of which has to do with cooking: 1) he, as the writer of the outsider’s Gospel, is pointing out that women were a part of Jesus’ inner circle — something mentioned much less in the other Gospels — and 2) he is telling us that these women were the ones providing for the needs of Jesus’ little band.  There were His patronesses — a bit more important than being the cook, isn’t it?

Q. (Mark 3:27): Why does Satan (evil) fall to Jesus (good)?  I would just say that the goodness happens to be stronger than evil.

A. That’s sort of a complicated question, but here’s my take.  When we think about good and evil, we tend to think of them as two sides of the same coin, in a “yin and yang” kind of way.  They are eternal opposites.  But, as C.S. Lewis talks about in Mere Christianity, this picture is not reality.  The Bible points to the idea that the cosmic struggle between good and evil is a civil war, rather than one of eternal opposite powers.  Satan/Lucifer is a created being, and therefore, he is by definition a “lesser” being then God.  Satan led a rebellion against God, and was cast out for it (this will come up again in the NT).  What Satan represents in the Bible is corrupted goodness, not eternal evil.

This can be applied to our lives as well: when we think of evil, people like Mao, Hitler, and Stalin, for example, we find that as much as we despise these men, the goals that they sought after were not inherently evil in the abstract sense.  These men desired power, control, wealth, etc.  None of those things are evil in and of themselves, in fact they are often thought of as good things.  But what we see the evil in is the WAY in which these good things are pursued.  If you have to kill millions of people — as all three of these men did — to get your power, then you are evil.  As Lewis roughly puts it, you can be good just for the sake of goodness, you CANNOT be evil just for the sake of badness.  No one is evil just to be evil: they desire things that one can abstractly call good.  Being good is virtuous in and of itself; evil is ALWAYS a good desire that has been corrupted.  I hope that idea makes sense.  So in that regard, that’s my take on why good wins against evil, because the “good” is the real and true thing.  The “evil” is a hollow, corrupted shell.

Q. (Mark 3:28, Matthew 12:31-32): So, no one who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will go to heaven?   What if they have a change of heart?  If you hear someone do this, you should just walk away and not try to tell them about God?  You shouldn’t give them any “pearls”?  And, in Matthew 12:31-32, the scripture says that blaspheming Jesus IS a forgivable sin.  Why the difference between Jesus and the Spirit?

A.  This is not as complicated as you are making it out to be: there’s a semi-simple explanation.  There is an underlying assumption in Christian theology that it is the Holy Spirit that works to restore the heart and mind and desires of each and every human being, even those who are not Christians.  So in that sense, it is the Spirit that allows us to understand the forgiveness of our sins.  But if we declare that the Spirit is NOT the source of these good things (which is blasphemy), it is not so much that these words are SO unforgiveable, but rather that we are cutting ourselves off FROM THE SOURCE of forgiveness.  We have turned away from the One who helps to change our hearts, including those changes of hearts you mentioned in your question.  So it is not that Jesus is saying that speaking these words somehow puts you beyond God’s reach and you’re out of luck, what He is saying is that if you repeatedly deny the power of the Spirit (by, for example, accusing the Spirit of being a demon as the Pharisees are doing here- that’s the connection), you reach a point where without a radical change in your heart, you have PUT YOURSELF out of God’s reach.

Q. (Matthew 12:23): My husband is studying Matthew in Bible Study Fellowship.  He had the question about Jesus being a descendant of David.  He was having a little trouble with Joseph’s line.  I think Mary’s is established in one of the gospels that we have read.  I read somewhere on the Internet that Joseph was a descendant of David, but since Jesus was born from the Holy Spirit, Joseph was a more adoptive role.  And, because He is not biologically related to Joseph, that would allow Jesus to not be under the curse of Solomon (http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_exactly_is_Solomon%27s_curse).

A. Interesting article.  I addressed this in the genealogy section (basically word for word, he he) of our reading on Day 267 (Sept 24th).  Perhaps you didn’t make it that far into my answers? (J/K)

Q. (Matthew 12:33-37): I assume Jesus is talking about the Pharisees here.  Let’s discuss again what the Pharisees were doing that was so bad.  They were teaching God’s law.  That seems pretty obedient.  And, now there is a new law.  I could understand how they would get hung up on the way things have been for hundreds of years.

A. The Pharisees were legalists, and as many Christians (my wife included — she grew up in a very rigid house and church community) can tell you, legalism KILLS love for God.  These leaders knew the Bible — OT of course — inside and out, and literally had studied it since their birth, but they failed to properly apply what they read with compassion and love.  That is the major breaking point between Jesus and these leaders: the burden that they gave was a legalistic “heavy” burden, Jesus gave a burden that was light and founded in love and grace.  Legalism knows nothing of grace — by definition, it can’t.

Q. (Matthew 12:38-40): It’s awesome how he brings Jonah from long ago back in to the picture.  Do we know what Jesus is talking about when He says He’ll be “in the heart of the earth”?

A. Yes, the grave.  Jesus was literally dead from the end of Good Friday until Sunday morning: three days in the earth.

Q. (Matthew 12:43): Jesus is casting out a lot of evil spirits.   Where do they come from?  What are they?  What causes them to enter a body?  Do they still exist today?
A. Demons are fallen angels, like Satan, who appear to have the ability to enter into people and control them — we will see more violent versions soon.  As to whether it still happens and why, I don’t have an answer for either.  Sorry, there’s too much speculation, and the Bible does not seem to think it is important enough to tell us.

Q. (Mark 3:31-25): To me this interaction is a bit strange.  If my mom and siblings came calling on me, I think I would come out quickly because they must be concerned about me.  Instead, Jesus turns it into a teaching tool to say we are all God’s children and should love one another, as we have a common cares, beliefs, motivations and goals.  I’m not sure why this sounds a bit awkward.  It’s almost as if our family ties don’t matter.

A. It appears that at this stage of His ministry, Jesus’ family thought He was insane, and were basically coming to get Him to avoid further embarrassment from their peers.  But Jesus is clear about His mission, and He will not be deterred by His family when His task is not yet done.  Jesus will have more to say about family ties, so let’s revisit this when He does.

Q. (Mark 4:1-9): Any idea why Jesus is often by a lake?

A. Sure, that’s where the people were.

Q. (Mark 4:11-12): Several questions here: 1) What “secret?” 2) How does teaching through parables make the scripture true and how does it help others understand?  3) Can you explain the lines in v. 12?

A. In Mark’s Gospel (this is a unique feature), the secret appears to be the coming of the Messiah in the midst of the people of Israel.  Jesus is not yet ready to fully identify Himself as Messiah in this way, because He will be misunderstood.  Please note, literally the only person who He has explicitly told that He is the Messiah is the woman at the well back in John 4.  So the “secret” is something of a way of presenting a humble Messiah who is hiding in plain sight, and only those who have faith in Him can see it.

As to the parables themselves, they are Jesus’ way of bringing to light the truths of the Bible in ways that people can understand at multiple levels.  Again, only those on the “inside” (for now) understand.  In comparing His ministry and use of parables to that of Isaiah (whom He quotes from), Jesus is saying that He desires to expose the hardheartedness of many of the leaders of this day, just as was Isaiah’s call centuries ago.

Q. (Mark 4:20): The “harvest” here is referring to believers produced?

A. You got it.