Monday, January 31, 2011

Forbidden, Fallen, and Futile Fruit

Get your motor runnin’…head out on the highway.
Lookin’ for adventure…and what ever comes our way.
Yeah Darlin’ go make it happen…take the world in a love embrace.
Fire all of your guns at once and…explode into space!
Like a true nature’s child…we were born, born to be wild.
We can climb so high…I never wanna die.
Born to be wild…Born to be wild.


These lyrics to a popular song of the sixties and seventies are still rolling around in my head. Amazing what I used to allow in there! The song is called Born to Be Wild and the band was named Steppenwolf. The band took its name from a German novel of the same title about a man who struggled with his nature as a human being. The author had in mind the motif of the lone wolf who lived among the steppes, hence the name, Der Steppenwolf. The main character is portrayed in a crisis of identity where he was torn between his humanity, trying to understand his higher spiritual potential on the one hand, and his animalistic aggression and sense of homelessness on the other. Sounds like the human condition to me.
Seeing news images and hearing news reports on a daily basis remind me of a recurring question: What is wrong with humanity? Why do we think what we think, say what we say, and do what we do? Why is it that human beings often feel alone, even among their families and in the midst of a crowd? Why do we despair and barely exist in the hopelessness of our humanity? At times, humans are incredibly kind and merciful and yet can be arrogantly prideful in their accomplishments, savagely independent, disavowing the need for anything or anyone outside of themselves. When we observe human behavior, we learn that that humans can engage in unselfish acts of sacrifice one minute and be inhumanly cruel in the next, doing things animals will not naturally do. Humanity seems to be bearing the wrong fruit by their very nature. Born to be wild, so to speak. But the first humans were not born at all. And they were not wild, but lived under authority. They were made in the image and likeness of God.
Human creatures were created to worship. Last week we learned that human beings had a great need for the Person of God and His revelation. Their purpose to live in their perfectly created world in perfect companionship with their Perfect Creator was given to them through the word of God. God’s revelation was given to the creatures He uniquely created to receive it. They could not live forever in harmony with Him, with one another, and in this world without His counsel. They not only needed the Breath of Life…they needed the Word of God. Genesis 1 and 2 teaches us today that in order to become Fruit-Bearing Disciples in a Kingdom Culture we must gain a fresh understanding of who God is and learn to interpret life in the context of this truth: God is sovereign, He is good, and He is wise. Because of this truth, only He, and He alone, is worthy of worship. When we rightly worship Him we learn that we fulfill the purpose for which humans were created. To fill the earth with worshippers of the Living God is to bear good fruit. Real wisdom is the good fruit of true worship.
Let us hear once again the Word of the Lord from Genesis 3:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’”?
The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.
They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.”
And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”
The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.”
Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you will go, And dust you will eat all the days of your life; and I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.”
To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, in pain you will bring forth children; yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.
Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; and you will eat the plants of the field; by the sweat of your face you will eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living.
The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.
Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”-- therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:1-24)


Life and death was the reality that was set before the man in Genesis 2. What could Adam have known about the horrors of death? After all, nothing had ever died in the world he occupied. But he did know God. And the LORD God had provided everything the man needed in order to live. Food for his body and His revelation for his soul. All Adam needed to know came from the fact that God spoke to him. Everything depended upon man’s obedience to God’s wise counsel. The man needed no other knowledge than what God revealed. He must trust that God knows best and some things belong in the realm that belongs to God and God alone.
God outlined one prohibition that required faith in the Word of God. He must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Life was found in the goodness of good. To be fruitful was to learn to live as God intended, to learn to be good. Being good results from trusting and believing the word of a good God. In the day that this trust was not enough for Adam, in the day that he would seek knowledge outside of these limitations, this is the day that death would begin its process, the day that he would begin to bear bad fruit instead of good fruit. Death would come, not in the eating of the fruit, but in the disobedience of the Word of God. It is in this day of disobedience that the process begins the bearing of wrong fruit…doing the word of another rather than doing the Word of God. For in listening and bringing the will of another into the reality man begins to worship the wrong god. Only God bears good fruit.
Genesis 3 introduces the voice of another counselor. It is instructive to see that this creature has the capacity to communicate with the man. And the human creature is able to receive this communication and respond to it. The human being, the meaning maker is put to the test. Would the woman rightly interpret what she was hearing in light of what God had said? The key for humanity’s ability to bear good fruit is found in this event. The test is a contest of the human will in opposition to the will of God. Would the woman interpret her meaning and purpose to serve God from God’s revelation or would she do the will of another?
Forbidden fruit is found in the fruition of a human’s disobedient intention. In Genesis 3:1-7 lies the answer to the question What is wrong with humanity?. A right understanding of what happened here is crucial to understanding the nature of humanity and the nature of God. We cannot begin here and try to comprehend God. We must begin with the majesty and goodness of the Creator and understand from there. The span of time that humanity enjoyed perfect communion with the LORD God is unknown to us. But it didn’t take long for us to see how long it took to lose that privilege. Immediately they were aware of a new reality. Genesis 2:25 states that the man and his wife were naked and unashamed. And Genesis 3:7 finds them frantically trying to cover their condition as the eyes of both of them were opened. They had seen more than they ever needed to see. God comes to them conducting a “fruit inspection”.

I. FOUR QUESTIONS FROM GOD DEFINED HUMANITY’S CONDITION.

The first question is Where are you? The LORD God is not unaware of Adam’s location. He is not lacking in knowledge about his condition. The LORD knows exactly where he is. The question here is not only a question about physical location but also one of philosophical orientation. Adam is lost. God knows it. And man knows it. The question of Where are you? may be asked of us by someone in authority such as Where are you in the process of completing that latest job order? In other words, where are you in the process? Have you done what was asked of you? God is asking Adam, Where are you in the process of bearing fruit, in the process of worship? For God was inspecting the fruit-bearing process…and He was not pleased with its fruit.
The man and his wife had hidden themselves from the Creator among the creation. Here is the lost condition of humanity. To fear and flee the Presence of the LORD God among the created order and the things of this world systems. If we can get lost in the constant noise and commotion of creation disorder, then perhaps we do not have to think about God and where we are in relation to Him.
The second question is Who told you that you were naked? In Genesis 2:25, the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed. Now they were hiding in fear and covering their shameful condition. There is a world of difference between being naked and unashamed and being naked, and having no shame. The human condition has degenerated in our day to a condition of where those who display evil are doing it with delight. Wickedness is on display and celebrated. The question God is asking the man can be paraphrased to Who have you listened to about your condition? Implied here is the awareness that no one else truly knows the condition of man. Only God knows the truth of the human condition.
The third question is Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? God certainly knew what Adam had done. The question was one that Adam needed to answer. One clear meaning seems to be Will you take responsibility for your sin? Humanity was deliberately disobedient. Adam heard and heeded a voice other than God. There was no one else standing before God but him. And he needed to own the sin. Adam knew exactly what God had said. Their was no misunderstanding. God had given him instruction before sin could interfere in the reception. His answer is characteristically human. He assigns the blame. Deflects the question. Here is Adam’s problem that had resulted from his condition. Adam had listened to the voice of another. The voice of his wife had more influence in his life than the voice of God. He responded to her counsel and surrendered his will to his own emotion…his desire to please his wife. Remember when the woman was presented to Adam and he had a Wow moment. He had begun to think of her counsel as having more value than the word of God. He had begun to worship her. Emotion is a powerful influence and motivator of human behavior…to disobey God…before, during and after the fall.
The fourth question is What is this you have done? This question is directed to the woman. Her response is also characteristically human. She doesn’t directly answer the question.
The woman answers the question of what with a why. She says she was deceived. And she was right. The woman heard and heeded a voice other than God. Some commentators say that the serpent was not the dreadful snake in its original presentation to Eve. The word for serpent can also be translated shining one. What Eve was listening to was something that she would be attracted toward…pleasing to the eye. She was attracted to the fruit in the same way. She could not see clearly because she was hearing a distorted view of not only the LORD God’s command, but her condition. The bearer of bad fruit is a planter of bad seed…he had planted the “seed” of doubt in the mind. And the seed came to fruition. Humanity was intellectually deceived. What she knew about what God said guided her and the man for everything they would need to live. Rejecting the wisdom of God, she believed the wrong counsel. Believing the wrong counsel would deliver her to death.
Real wisdom is the good fruit of true worship. The woman had believed that there was some hidden wisdom that God was withholding from her. She and the man had believed that she could have the goodness of the garden without the goodness of God. This is the condition that humanity is born into. The fear of God, or worship of God, is the beginning of wisdom and the fool has said in his heart there is no God.

II. ONE TIMELESS TRUTH CONTINUES TO DEFINE MAN’S DILEMMA.

When a human being believes the wrong counsel, they will bear the wrong fruit.
Humans bear the fruit of fallen humanity. It is our natural condition. And we continue along this path always influenced by the voices of many counselors. Let’s ask ourselves the question: Who told us about our condition? Is it the person who influenced our early lives by telling us we would never amount to anything or that we could have anything we wanted because we were so special? Is it our own mind and emotion that speaks to us and conditions us to respond to life according to what we think we know? Is it the latest trend in society or the Hollywood fa├žade that shaping our culture.
Who’s telling us about life? How much does the humanist know about humanity if there is no voice of God informing the discussion? Are we better off in our generation where many are seeking counsel from secular psychology about the human condition? I once spoke to a lady who had a rebellious daughter and had sought counseling for the problem. The problem was that the counselor did not see the problem. She instructed the mother to sit quietly while the child openly expressed herself and all of her pent up emotions to her mother. So for more than a half hour, the teenager screamed obscenities and spewed her hatred for her mother while her mother was instructed to silently endure that. After all, in the counselor’s view, the mother was responsible for the rebellion. I asked the lady, who professed to be a Christian, how does this counsel lined up with the word of God. What do the cultural voices apart from being a part of the Kingdom Culture know about authority ordained by the word of God? What do these cultural voices know of eternity? John MacArthur’s got it right when he says that the word psychology literally means knowledge of the soul. What do psychologists know about the soul? What do they really know about humanity? Or God, the Maker and Lover of our souls?
What information are we processing to make meaning out of life? When we surrender our will to act upon good, but godless, desires, we must ask ourselves is anything truly good for us without the informative counsel of the word of God, who is truly good? No one is good except God alone. The words Jesus tells the rich young ruler in Luke 18 is useful today. He was responding to the man calling Him Good Teacher. In effect, Jesus is saying you can only call Me good when you call Me God. When the man went away grieved it was symbolic of people who reject the counsel of the Word of God. They live out the result of gaining the wisdom of God, benefiting from the goodness of God, without obedience to His counsel and surrender to His word. In our day we are counseled to trust our heart, listen to it and follow it. I would commend to you that if Adam couldn’t trust his heart before the fall, we can guarantee that we cannot trust our hearts after the fall. Today we have many who are worshipping a higher power or the god of their own understanding and do not know Jesus as God. They have not the counsel of God without heeding the Word of Jesus…the Word of God. Though they worship, they worship wrongly. And bear much, much worthless fruit.

III. ONE TIMELY ACT OF GOD DECLARES GOD’S FINAL ANSWER TO MAN’S FUTILITY TO BEAR GOOD FRUIT.

Only God knows the truth of the human condition. Fig leaves cannot conceal the heart condition. This foolish attempt to hide the human condition from God and each other demonstrates the futility of false worship. Doing the will of another other than God is sin. And sin must be covered to have access to God.

The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them.

God provides a merciful sacrifice for mankind. The garments of skin to cover their shame would come at great cost. The life of something innocent tells us of God’s great provision for the problem. God is willing for something to die so these creatures can live. The sacrifice is God’s merciful solution to man’s shameful reality. Death would be their domain. That was the word of God. They begin to realize the awful implications of the fruit of sin. Death is coming. And it will touch everything that had been given to them by God. They could have immediately died…but God had mercy on them.
God gives us a promise based on His provision.

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.

God promises the Victorious Man. God promises Himself.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.

Man is no match for the serpent’s craftiness. But God Himself is the source of true wisdom…it is not a fair contest. God is not a beast of the field. He is the LORD God Almighty…Sovereign, Good and Wise. His wisdom is superior to the serpent’s craftiness.

We come today to our So What moment. What does this message mean? Why do we, looking backwards in time to this ancient story, fail to learn the lessons that the first humans learned? Why do we live the same way, fruitlessly worshipping as many idols as we can conceive? What is wrong with humanity? Some thoughts to think:

Interpreting, or making meaning out of life is never morally neutral…it always has an agenda. We make choices based on our interpretations. The choice is a choice of who or what we will worship. The problem is sin…a worship disorder…we bear bad fruit.
Humanity’s children are not born children of God but children of Fallen Humanity. Genesis 4 introduces us to the children of Adam and Eve…children of the fall. Both come before the LORD in a worship experience. God accepts Abel’s offering of worship. But for Cain and his offering, it had no value to God. Why? Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the ground…and Genesis 3 tells us that …Cursed is the ground because of you…Cain brought a worship offering to God that was of the curse…the curse of sin. He brought God an offering of a heart that had the wrong motivation. He would not listen to the word of the LORD and after murdering his brother, wandered aimlessly in this world, worshipping uselessly, bearing bad fruit…Without hearing God’s counsel, we are destined to bear the fruit of Cain. We are born with a will under bondage. We serve sin…worship worthlessly…and bear futile fruit. We will choose to worship meaningfully or uselessly. Consider the most meaningful worship experience in all of humanity’s experience. The ultimate worship experience, the one that God is most pleased about is on the Cross of Christ.
On the cross is where God offered the final sacrifice…Someone innocent died so the guilty could live. He was naked and wore our shame…so our sin…our shame… would be covered forever. The Victorious Man, the Last Adam, has come. God has provided for Himself the Sacrifice.

God wants to cover you today…set you free to worship Him rightly.
God sets us free from the influence of all other voices to hear His word.
God sets us free to surrender our will to His will
God has told you today that you are naked…you are the sinner. That is the problem.
Christ is the solution...Worship Him...bear good fruit.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Two Blind Men

But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land. (Matthew 9:31)

Two blind men followed Jesus. This is an interesting statement. What did they want? What did they need? How did they follow Him? They must have been super sensitive to His movement, His presence, His ministry,and His words. In the progression of the narrative events, they follow a line of people who came to Jesus with the radical belief, or faith, that Jesus was able to help them in their condition. A grieving synagogue official and a hemorrhaging woman knew that He was their only hope. Both of these people were in incredibly hopeless conditions and received by faith that which only God can give, that which only He is able to grant. Then we read that two blind men followed Jesus. They knew who He was. And they knew He could give them what they needed. Persistently they came to Jesus, right up into the house that Jesus had entered. They wanted something. And they needed something more than they wanted. When we read through this encounter, we read that their eyes were opened. But before we take this miracle for granted, after all...what would a blind man want more than his sight, let's stop and look at what it was the blind men asked of Jesus. We assume it was to give them sight. But that is not what they say. They say, Have mercy on us, Son of David! Jesus is the One that did the asking, Do you believe that I am able to do this? Their answer predicates the outcome. Be it done to you according to your faith Jesus declares, as He touches their eyes and their eyes are opened.
We make assumptions that Jesus is talking about healing their blindness. But could it be that He is talking to them about granting them mercy? The deeper meaning may just be that the LORD God in the Person of Jesus the Christ is able to show mercy to men whose eyes were closed to this reality. This is the news about Him that was spread throughout the land. The miracle that far surpasses raising the dead, healing affliction, and opening the eyes of the blind. It is good news that is still relevant to us in the miraculous reality of God's relationship with man. God, who is able to show mercy, is willing to do it. And He is now among us. May the news about Him be spread throughout our land from people like us...whose eyes were once blind to God's mercy...but now we can see. Our eyes can be opened to God's mercy if we are following Jesus close enough to hear His word.
Son of David, have mercy on us!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bearing Fruit From The Beginning

On a Sunday that has been designated as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday we are confronted with the following reality. This week in Philadelphia, a doctor was charged with the murder of one woman and seven babies in his medical practice known as the Women’s Medical Society. In the cases before the court, it is believed that the doctor induced labor and killed the live-born babies, severing their spines with scissors. The doctor did not seem to understand the charges as they were read at the arraignment on Thursday, stating that he understood one charge...that a woman had died as his patient, but he didn’t understand the other seven. And he’s not the only one trying to understand. I was asked by a child this week why would anyone want to kill seven babies? This child had heard the story too. My answer was a basic one. This was evil in action. Why did this doctor kill seven babies? He was acting on his evil desires.
This child does not understand the concept of what goes on in an abortion clinic. She doesn’t even know the meaning of an abortion. The Women’s Medical Society is an abortion clinic that the doctor has been operating there for four decades. In the City of Brotherly Love. But it is not a far away reality. We have several abortion clinics located in Raleigh, with names like A Preferred Women’s Health and A Woman’s Choice. When I heard this news report from the Associated Press this week, my first thought was if I am hearing about this on the news, then why is he only being charged with the murder of seven babies? It is bound to be much, much worse than that. The grand jury stated that “in order to constitute murder, the act must involve a baby who was born alive.” In other words, our laws do not see life as something sacred and ordained by God unless a child is born. This is my great dilemma. When this child discovers what an abortion really is, how then do I explain why we as a culture allow abortion to exist? The prosecutors said that uncounted hundreds of babies died there…so who’s counting? God is. Not everything legal is moral. Our lawmakers and cultural interpreters of man’s law have determined that a person is not a person unless that person is born. What would our judges, lawyers, lawmakers, and social justice engineers done with Adam and Eve? What most of them do now. Deemed them as irrelevant. And that is the case for most of our culture today. But let’s take a look into the God’s Word and see what Bearing Fruit From The Beginning is really all about. Hear now the Word of the LORD from Genesis 1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was
formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.
Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a third day.
Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years; and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also. God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.” God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind:
cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so. God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.


Up to this point, as we read the text, we can hear the order and rhythm to Creation. The last thing created on the sixth day of creation is man. We begin to perceive that there is a marked difference between how God deals with man, how He relates to them, in contrast to all the rest of the living creatures. The rhythm is broken. But not the order. Creation’s story is building to a crescendo. Man is unique in all of creation. There is greatness alluded to here. He has a greater potential in life but also has a greater need so that he may live that life achieving the purpose for which he was made.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the
surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.


I. GOD CREATED MAN TO RECEIVE HIS REVELATION.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

Man is unique among creation in that he was not created “after its kind”. These creatures of the late sixth day were created in God’s image and God’s likeness. Something was radically different in their pattern. It wasn’t going to be human beings made with a cookie cutter concept. Humans are unique within the species…even identical twins are not really identical. What makes the human unique is the pattern…made in the image of God. Freely confessing that I don’t fully understand all that this entails, I believe it does mean that humanity was created to communicate with God. The first communication is one of reception. Humans were created to receive the revelation of God. If God ever talks animals, we can be sure that they never talk back to God. At least we never hear of it. The image of God at least means that we were created to hear the Word of God.
Man was created to hear the God’s word so he could live effectively in God’s world. All living creatures have an instinctive mode of living. You don’t have to teach them how to eat, how to avoid danger and what their purpose is. But man, though uniquely created to hear from God is amazingly helpless and dependent. They did not know about God’s world and their peculiar place and purpose in it until God told them. They were created utterly dependent. Without God’s revelation they would not survive and certainly not accomplish the purpose for which they were created.
Man’s unique status among the created order is because he was spiritually connected to God. His knowledge about what to do in the world came from his constant revelation from God. Day by day we are told that man enjoyed communion with God. Man needed God because there was a dependency upon being connected with Him. And this was not a spiritual defect…it is the way that he was created. God did not create woman because man was needy. God was there to supply every need. God created male and female to accomplish His purpose. Human beings had a need for God when they were uniquely and perfectly connected to Him.

II. GOD EMPOWERED MAN TO INTERPRET HIS WORD AND APPLY IT IN THE WORLD.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

Human beings are unique in creation because they are “meaning makers.” Dogs and cats don’t make meaning out of their life circumstance or how another animal reacts to their presence. They just do what dogs and cats do. They don’t ponder the meaning of the universe or their place in it. They just exist. But humanity is different. We are interpreters because the LORD God has given us the ability and the capacity to think and process information. We make meaning out of our world and make decisions according to our interpretation.
Human beings were to make meaning of the world according to God’s word. By the time humanity was created, the rest of the world was already manifested. It was here when the man began to process it, when he began to make meaning. One thing that resonated to him was he did not make this world. And it did not make itself. The same Maker that Adam knew made it all.
Because humans were created to be interpreters, this explains human behavior. Thinking always involves interpreting. People think and act according to their interpretations. Before the fall of man, man’s thinking always centered on the information that God supplied him about the world in which he lived. As the man began to spend more time with God, no doubt the dependency would grow until it was bringing him to a level of where he could trust God, no matter what. This is often missed by me when I study this chapter. Adam did not have the capacity to mistrust or disbelieve…for that is sin. Adam was learning that his behavior was motivated in large part by what he was thinking about God. As a man thinks rightly, he will act rightly. Or at least he can.

III. GOD ENABLED MAN TO BEAR THE FRUIT OF GODLY WORSHIP.

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Man was created so that everything in their lives drew meaning from the Person, Presence, and Purpose of God. This is the essence of true worship. It sets humanity apart from the rest of the created order. All humans are created to worship. So in this prefall state of humanity, no other worship was existent. There was only the worship of the One True God. And man worshipped God no matter what man was doing. This is the way it was in the beginning. The fruit bearing human was created to be a worshipper. He had a destiny and a legacy.
To bear fruit and multiply is to understand that worship is foundational to the process. This passage is not just about biological reproduction. It is about the “filling of the earth” with Godly worshipers. What would human beings need to do that? They would need God’s revelation and the ability to properly interpret the meaning. They not only would need His word…they would need His help to rightly interpret His word. They would need a passion to absolutely believe Him and radically live their lives in total dependence upon His counsel.
We are separated by a great distance, historically and spiritually, from Genesis 1. We are not living in a perfect world. On this side of the fall, we are often frustrated with expecting perfection in an imperfect reality. So what is the relevance of this passage for us as Kingdom Culture Disciples? Why is it important for us to know about the beginning of the fruit bearing process in relation to our human ancestors? Here’s our So What statement for today:
Adam and Eve were perfect people in perfect communion with God but could not figure out the meaning of life on their own without the Word of God explaining who they were and how they were to live. They needed help, before the fall, not because they were sinners, but because they were human.
How much more should we, tarnished by the stain of sin, be utterly dependent upon God for our very existence?

God is not some option that we choose to try…He is our Maker…of fruit bearing disciples…we can worship Him…and we will not bear fruit unless we do…

This Bible is not just a book…it is our life…the very word of God…

…It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD
THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A God Who Is Good

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11)

Common sense tells us that if a son asks his father for a loaf or a fish it is because they are hungry. What good father would give the child a stone or a snake? Only a father who was sadistic or does not care for His children. It is interesting that Jesus says our Heavenly Father gives to His children...good things...when they ask Him. This asking is significant. Do people who are not the children of God, and there are many who are not born of the Spirit of God, receive good things from God? Do they even think about Him to ask? The Bible teaches us that God's goodness falls on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. The difference is that the unrighteous do not recognize the source. They do not have a Father in Heaven and they don't know what to do with the goodness of God. They are like dogs handling holy things and pigs with pearls. They don't know that God is good. How much more should the children of God value good gifts from a good God? God's good gifts is ours for the asking...not the taking. God is good. A God who is good is the one and only God. And since there is only one God, aren't we glad that He is good! A God who is good is the one and only God. Let's live like we believe that.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reason To Sing

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; Enlighten my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, "I have overcome him," and my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken.
But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:1-6)


When you read the psalmist's questions to the LORD it can be pretty depressing. Who among us have not prayed this way? Human beings can feel pretty lonely most of the time. Especially when we think that God has left us alone. The psalmist appears to lose hope as he spirals downward and melts away in defeat. But then we have the last verse.
I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me.
It seems that our most heartfelt expressions are expressed in our singing...either in mournful lamentations or exuberant exultations or somewhere in between. The question that comes to mind is Why is the Psalmist singing?
Sometimes we don't feel like singing. We can't find much to sing about. Some of us are more equipped to sing than others and some of us don't think we have that ability. But it seems that the Psalmist is not so concerned with whether he feels like it or whether he is gifted to sing. He sings. We don't know if the song is a sad one or a joyful one. He just sings. After all of the how longs...he sings. He sings because of some other motivation. He has learned a valuable lesson that I need to learn more about. It's more important Who he's singing to than what he's singing about, or whether he feels like singing or if he thinks he's able.
He sings despite his fears of abandonment, seasons of sorrow, or intense isolation. Alone...this gnawing sensation is common to humanity's condition. It plagues our lives and is the result of being spiritually severed from the goodness of God. Humans instinctively "feel" alone, afraid, and abandoned. This is why we trust in ourselves and the promises of many impotent idolatries. The Psalmist sings...even though he seems defeated, there is God. The LORD. He sings because he trusts in a trustworthy God, despite his emptiness and incompleteness.
Why does the Psalmist sing? BECAUSE HE CAN! God has saved him from a solitary life sentence. God has dealt with him bountifully...giving him far more than he needs to survive. He has given him salvation.
Who are you singing to lately? What are you singing about?
Sing to the LORD...because you can.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I'm Just Saying

And opening His mouth, He began to teach them saying,...(Matthew 5:2)

Much fruitful sermon material has been gleaned from the treasures of the Sermon on the Mount...the Greatest Sermon Ever. I would start here. With the astounding introduction. We may miss it if we rush too quickly into the things Jesus said. Think first about Who it is that is saying them. Jesus...the Great I Am...the Word of God...saying. Why don't the people of the world, the great multitudes receive the sayings of Jesus as more than the words of a good moral teacher? Because they do not know Him as the Great I Am. When Jesus speaks...God speaks. This sermon begins with no attention getting sound bites, no surveying of the felt needs of His hearers, no entertaining visual imagery. Jesus...just saying...is it still enough for us today?
As you read Chapters 5, 6, & 7 there is much that Jesus is teaching. But at the end of the sermon He tells a story about two men building their houses. One was wise and the other was foolish. The wise man built his house on a rock and the house stood firm when the storms came. The foolish man built his house upon the sand. And the house could not endure and ended in disaster. Jesus likens the wise and foolish men to people who hear His words and do them and those who hear His words and does not do them, respectively. So the end of the sermon brings us back to why we need to value the Word of God and pay attention to the introduction to the passage. Jesus is saying... So what are we doing? ...I'm just saying.

Harvest of a Fruitful Heart

How do wormholes get into apples? This was a question that was on my mind after I recently consumed most of a Granny Smith apple. As I carefully examined the remaining portion of this juicy fruit, I lost almost all my sense of joyful pleasure that I had gained up to that point. As I saw the wormhole, I quietly wondered (as I chewed less enthusiastically) what happened to that worm… Had I eaten it already or was he still in there somewhere? And if I had eaten it, would it do any damage to my insides? I had suddenly lost my appetite for the apple and began to do a little research. It seems that most of the time, when someone sees a wormhole, the worm has already left the apple. The egg larva that became the worm had tunneled its way out of the fruit some time ago. The worm had not traveled from the outside in, but from the inside out! And he had been there since the time of the seed germination, long before the apple was ever an apple.
This example of the challenges of growing fruit in our culture is analogous to understanding more about Becoming Fruit-Bearing Disciples in a Kingdom Culture. This is our theme in which we are currently engaged and today we look into the Harvest of a Fruitful Heart. Looking into the Word of God can be much more beneficial for us than some agricultural journal since we understand that the fruit-bearing is referring to fruit of an eternal nature. Chapter 7 of the Gospel of Mark is our text for today so let us now hear the Word of the Lord:

The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless they cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”
And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”
He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND YOUR MOTHER’; and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER, IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.”
After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”
When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned
Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding
also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot
defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?”
(Thus He declared all foods clean.)
And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles
the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.”
And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your
daughter.” And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.
Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva; and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He said to him, “Ephphatha!” that is, “Be opened!” And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly. And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it. They were utterly astonished, saying, “He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”


The Lord is giving private instruction to His disciples as to the heart of man’s problem in His relationship with God in verses 14 through 23. The central teaching is that heart of man’s problem is the problem with the heart. As Jesus, the Word of God engages humanity, the Gospel writer gives us insight in how the heart problem is beyond help on a human level. Let’s look at two examples that the text reveals.

I. RELIGIOUS HYPOCRITES SPEND MORE TIME LOOKING OUTWARDLY THAN INWARDLY.

The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”

The value of a judgment depends upon who is doing the judging. These religious people asked the Lord a question. But they weren’t seeking an answer. They were making an accusation and judged these men guilty of breaching a serious tradition. They had eaten with unwashed hands. The judgment was even more condemning than it first appears. These men are called Your disciples. The disciples’ behavior was called into question and the implication is that the teaching was flawed because their Teacher was flawed…the disciples just hadn’t been taught right was their judgment. The words of their Teacher were inadequate and insufficient. Then Jesus gives His judgment.
Hypocrites are more concerned with appearances than with reality. Humans will instinctively look at the perceived sin of others rather than look at their own reality. This is a spiritual anomaly that humanity never grows out of or recovers from. Jesus calls the religious practitioners hypocrites. Our understanding of this word is often defined as someone who pretends to have admirable principles and doesn’t do what they say or practice what they preach. The word actually has a much deeper meaning. The hypocrite is a fraud…a charlatan…a pretender. The Biblical language means an actor…a player on a stage. These Pharisees and scribes were judged by Jesus as people who were playing to an audience…people playing a role to be seen by men and measured by their outward appearance. Jesus had identified the inward reality. It was a heart problem.

THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR
AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS
DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you
hold to the tradition of men.


Traditional truth is grounded in the revealed Word of the Living God, not in the man-centered teaching of dying men. This tradition of the elders was never commanded by God but was practiced by people who chose to “wash their hands” of any contact with common people in the market place, or pagan people who were not the covenant people of God. They had extended this teaching to include the washing of eating utensils as well. Now God does not have a problem with sanitary procedures. And He does not have a problem with traditional teaching. In fact, even today, we must endeavor to hold fast to the Apostolic tradition, handed down through the generations from the earliest Christ-followers. But any made-made additions or man-centered standards of righteousness is substandard to the clear meaning of what God has said. Traditionalism is a hindrance to true worship.
True worship grows out of a true heart’s desire to be obedient to God’s word. False worship, futile worship, is traditionalism…teaching as doctrine the precepts of men. It is possible as religious people that we can hold the Word of God in our hands and it is far from our hearts. The ugly reality of this kind of person is that they measure their holiness by looking at the outward appearance of others rather than the inward reality of their condition. They spend their times listening to the voice of men rather than the voice of God. They say the right things and live the wrong way. They are ignorant of the immense distance of how far they are from the Lord. They think they’re right with God. They are foolish in their thinking. They really don’t know what they think they know.

II. TORMENTED OUTCASTS KNOW THAT THEIR DESPERATE CONDITION IS MUCH DEEPER THAN IT OUTWARDLY APPEARS.

But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit
immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of the
Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.


Some people are acutely aware of their separation from God. This woman was a Gentile, or a Greek, as some translations include. More specifically she was a descendant of the Canaanites, those who were sentenced to a judgment of death and destruction by the Lord in the time of Joshua’s conquest. These people bore the fruit of the seeds of idolatry and it was easy for all to see. They were to be separated from God’s covenant people. The deeper condition was that their sin separated them from the life of God. Such is the case from all idolaters. Here was a woman who did not have to be reminded of this separation. She lived in the region of Tyre and Sidon. A dark and foreboding region of human existence. She was born there. And she knew her condition and the condition of her daughter was dreadfully worse than it appeared. No one need remind her of how much of an outcast she was. And the demonic manifestation in the life of her daughter was more than she could bear. The gods of her land would not help the woman out of this condition…they remained silent…idols cannot speak. But she had heard of Jesus… She heard about the absolute power in His word.
It is far better to persevere with God in our desperate condition than to assume we do not need the Word of God as the People of God. The problem with God’s people is the thought that we “own” the word of God…to do with as we please rather than understand what this woman understood. The desire to really be delivered from our condition is often tested by God Himself. When God’s word owns us…it is only then that we can learn knowing Him requires acknowledging our helplessness and our unworthiness. Being real with God. This mother knew that her own depravity and the demon tormenting her daughter was beyond her ability to change. Jesus tests the woman’s resolve. And she passes the test. She says that a crumb from the Master’s table as the children are being fed is more than she ever deserves and all that she ever will desire. Matthew’s Gospel adds these words of Jesus,your faith is great; be it done to you as you wish…(Matthew 15:28)
Faith comes by hearing…and hearing by the Word of God. She had heard about Jesus. She had heard the Word of God and surrendered her sorry life to Him. And her faith in God was miraculously manifested. When a human being acts upon the Word of God, accepts it as authoritative, and acts upon their desire to be delivered from their desperate and depraved condition, God’s Word can set them free. Not free to live any way they would like…but free to worship Him and enjoy the Living God forever. When the People of God yawn at the Word of Yahweh, and think that it is not so much for them as it is for pagan people, their lives will only be the best that men can make it. And this is the lesson. Human beings will bear fruit from the core of their being. They will bear fruit according to what they listen to, to the counsel they give credence to, according to the values and principles they live by. It is fruitful for us to know that every human life will bear fruit. But the kind of fruit a human life will produce is either natural or supernatural. Bearing godly fruit is a partnership between the Spirit of
God and the obedience of men. Men can bear bad fruit all by themselves.

III. FRUIT-BEARING DISCIPLES BENEFIT GREATLY FROM UNDERSTANDING THE NATURE OF THE HARVEST.

“Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever
goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and is eliminated?”


God’s questions to man are much more instructional than man’s questions to
God.
Jesus uses a physiological analogy to teach a theological lesson. The men following Jesus, His disciples, at their core, are still men. The word also gives us a clue about what Jesus is getting at. The people called by God are supposed to be different. They are supposed to be gaining an understanding of the nature of the fruit that they are expected to bear. Disciples of Jesus are expected to bear the fruit of God, not of man. Human beings have a root problem. The root affects the fruit. And in their natural state, the fruit they produce comes from within…from the core of their humanity…from the depths of the depraved human heart.
If you’ve ever eaten a Vidalia onion, you know there is a difference between it and every other kind of onion. The taste is distinctively sweet. And every onion that is advertised as Vidalia is not necessarily so. The difference in the taste is attributed to the difference in soil conditions in which the plant bears fruit. The Vidalia onion is one that is grown in a specific geographical region in the state of Georgia, involving several counties. The proclamation of where a true Vidalia onion is produced is even mandated by the Georgia state legislature. And the kind of fruit produced in a human being is proclaimed by the King of Kings.
The heart we have determines the nature of the fruit. It’s not about the hands we wash, or the vessels we clean, or the food that we eat. The naturally ugly fruit of the human heart is revealed to the disciples in graphic terms. The outward behavior of a human being is on display before a watching world. Disciples do well to understand the nature of man. We are not born basically good. Our evil deeds is not the product of a life of deprivation where we were raised wrong. Our evil deeds are not the product of the socially or economically disadvantaged where we were raised poor or have low self esteem. Although this is the bogus teaching of some in the culture today, the plain truth is
revealed to disciples of Jesus in terms that a child of God can easily understand.

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.

Disciples of Jesus benefit greatly from understanding the nature of their
natural-born hearts.
Everything these hearts will ever produce is described as by Jesus as defiled before a holy God. There is no hope of holiness to grow in the natural-born human heart. It must be changed into a supernatural one. Regeneration is necessary. New life. We must be born again. Only the power of God found in the Word of God is able to change the sinful heart condition. Only God is able to change the heart so that it can bear any other kind of fruit other than fruit that is rotten at the core.

IV. A FRUIT-BEARING HARVEST GROWS FROM THE INSIDE OUT AND NOT THE OUTSIDE IN.

An illustration is helpful here from Paul Tripp, author of Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand:

Let’s say I have an apple tree in my backyard. Each year its apples are dry, wrinkled, brown and pulpy. After several seasons my wife says, “It doesn't make any sense to have this huge tree and never be able to eat any apples. Can’t you do something?”
One day my wife looks out the window to see me in the yard, carrying branch cutters, an industrial grade staple gun, a ladder and two bushels of apples. I climb the ladder, cut off all the pulpy apples, and staple shiny, red apples onto every branch of the tree. From a distance our tree looks like it is full of a beautiful harvest. But if you were my wife, what would you thinking of me at this moment?
If a tree produces bad apples year after year, there is something drastically wrong with its system, down to its very roots. I won’t solve the problem by stapling new apples onto the branches. They also will rot because they are not attached to a life-giving root system. And next spring, I will have the same problem again. I will not see a new crop of healthy apples because my solution has not gone to the heart of the problem. If the tree’s roots remain unchanged, it will never produce good apples.
The point is that, in personal ministry, much of what we do to produce growth and change in ourselves and others is little more than “fruit stapling.” It attempts to exchange apples for apples without examining the heart, the root behind the behavior. This is the very thing for which Christ criticized the Pharisees. Change that ignores the heart will seldom transform the life. For a while, it may seem like the real thing, but it will prove temporary and cosmetic.


All fruit, evil or good, grows from the inside out, from the condition of our heart. So if no good fruit has its origin in the human heart, is there any possibility that the heart can be changed to produce godly fruit? Are we without hope?

V. HELPLESS HUMANITY HAS HOPE IN THE ONE WHO DOES ALL THINGS WELL.

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

Hope awakens in a human being when we are able hear the Word of God. The religious hypocrites would not hear. The desperate outcast wanted to hear. And now the Lord encounters someone who had ears…but could not hear. He was utterly helpless. He could not even ask for help. He could not speak…because He could not hear.

They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty…

Herbert Lockyer writes about this event in All the Miracles of the Bible:

What a picture is here presented of the sinner’s moral and spiritual condition as the fruit of the Fall! God lost man’s ear in the garden and since that fatal day he will listen to anyone else rather than God…The tongue of the unsaved person is as estranged from God as his ear. Even the most cultured and educated sinner betrays an impediment in his speech as soon as spiritual truths are introduced.

In other words, deaf men cannot speak well, if they can speak at all. And dead men cannot talk to God, even if they are most eloquent in their oratorical skills. Dead men don’t talk to God and dead men cannot hear God until they are made alive by Christ, the Word of God.
Jesus does some specific things here that are instructive for us. He took the deaf man aside from the multitude. Lockyer writes:

It is only in the hush of God’s presence that we learn of our sin and guilt and of our deep need of sovereign grace.

Jesus touches the man…the Word of God touching the entry point of a human life. He spits…a crude but intimate and effective way to transfer the DNA of the Word of God into a man. He looked up to Heaven as sign language to a man who could not hear where the source of His healing was located. He sighed…He groaned, emotionally connecting with flawed humanity miraculously healed by the awesome power of God. Then He spoke…and the man heard…and spoke plainly.
There is one more encounter that the Lord has with humanity. It is with His disciples then and disciples here and now…Jesus does all things well. We will only speak plainly about the things of God when we hear the word of God. The heart of man will keep us deaf to the Word of God…until Jesus takes us aside…in a private moment, even now to consider…Do I really understand that my heart is wicked…and the only hope for its change is by the touch of the Word of God at the entry point of my life?

Summing up the So-What of today’s message can be found by answering the following questions:

Do I really know what kind of fruit my heart is producing?
When I recognize the fruit as evil fruit, do I really want it to be different?
If I do desire godly fruit, will I surrender all of my life…my heart…to the Word of God?

“Listen to Me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Planting the Seed of a Fruit-Bearing Life

Last year by backyard garden became a backyard jungle. The rows of tomatoes, squash, beans, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, okra, watermelon, and cucumbers were planted so close together it became a real chore to gather the crop and keep it cultivated and weeded that I finally just surrendered to its growth. And grow it did. The garden continued to bear fruit and it’s shameful for me to remember that a lot of it was wasted. Some things continued to grow even after I pulled up the plants…their fruit had fallen to the ground and died…and we all know what can happen there! I should have been a better gardener. But I learned some valuable lessons that I resolve to apply this year. Here are some principles worth remembering:
Every good garden needs a good gardener…
Every plant that bears fruit is living out its purpose…
And fruit-bearing plants continue to bear fruit even after they die!
When it comes to growing things, experience can be a good teacher, but the Lord Jesus is the Ultimate Teacher. Mark 4 is a familiar passage in the Word of God. Here we find that Jesus is teaching a masterful lesson to the multitudes. In the passage we can find at least two guiding principles of planting that can inform our lives as fruit-bearing disciples:
1. The right seed planted in the wrong soil bears no fruit until the nature of the soil is changed.
2. The right seed planted in the wrong place is better than no seed planted at all.
Let’s all begin to focus our minds on our text this morning and ask that God manifest His presence among us as we learn more about becoming fruit-bearing disciples in a Kingdom Culture. Hear now the Word of the Lord:

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land.
And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.”
And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Mark 4:1-9)


After we hear this story, perhaps you are pondering the same question that His followers had in that day. What does this story mean? And why is He telling it to us? The mystery and miracle of growth in the natural realm is indicative of what takes place in the spiritual realm as well. Our growth as godly people can be just as mysterious and miraculous. I often wonder why people do not read, reflect upon, and study the Word of God more. Then it becomes apparent to me when it becomes more personal. Can one of the reasons I don’t engage the Word of God more because it brings me to self-examination?
Jesus said…He who has ears to hear, let him hear… What happens when people hear the Word of God determines whether they will ever become fruit-bearing disciples in the Kingdom of God. The followers of Jesus in the day He told this story had similar struggles…let’s listen:

As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables.
And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.”
And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:10-20)


It is instructive for a follower of Jesus to ask about the meaning of what Jesus is saying. We learn much by seeking answers when we questions about the Word of God. But we can learn more by focusing on answering questions that the Word of God asks of us. This passage brings many questions to us today and all through ages, as long as there have been Christ-followers and fruit-bearing disciples. It examines us. It brings us to question ourselves and where we are in the process of spiritual growth and becoming fruit-bearing followers of Jesus. Consider the question that Jesus presents: How will you understand all the parables without understanding this parable?
Understanding of this parable unlocks the mysterious and magnificent story of God. It’s about a kingdom…growing because of seed being planted…something growing because of seed bearing fruit…Behold, the sower went out to sow…

I. THE SOWER SOWS THE WORD.

The Planter is a Planner. He plants according to His plan. The Word of God is The Seed of the Kingdom. It is the Gospel, the Good News in Christ Jesus. When Jesus explains the parable, it is evident to His hearers that He is not talking about life in a farming culture. A King is planting the seed of His kingdom. His Word is sown in the world. And the Planter has a plan for kingdom growth. He is sowing His word. This is His purpose and His plan. When Jesus told this story, centuries of salvation history had converged on this moment in time. To His followers, His students, they were living out the working out of the plan of God, the will of God revealed through the Word of God.
The phrase the Word of God came or the Word of the Lord came is repeated over 150 times in the Bible. The Word of the Lord came to Abram as God revealed Himself as a shield to His people before Abram’s seed was ever realized in Isaac, before God’s people ever was the nation of Israel. The Word of the Lord came to men like Samuel and kings like Solomon. The Word of God came to prophets like Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, and Haggai, just to mention a few. The Word of the Lord came to unnamed prophets and men of God through the ages and it continues to come in our age and this is how I know: …in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. (Luke 3:2)
John proclaimed the gospel of God to the people of God and the message was clear. Repent…for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…It is the same message that I preach to you today…two thousand years after Jesus declared…Behold the sower went out to sow. This is the Word of God. This is the Will of God. It is not some irrelevant teaching or only some cute story. It is the very heartbeat of a Kingdom Culture Disciple. The message is still the same. Repent, turn from your way to God’s way…surrender your will to God’s will…die to self and live for God. God is about growing His people.
The Sower is a Grower. As the parable is explained, Jesus says that His followers…a more accurate term today than Christians I might add…have been granted a great privilege…they can understand the word of God, they can understand this mystery because God will help them understand. The understanding has been given to them by God. This moment in this place there will be those who hear the Word of God. But as the story unfolds, we can learn that everyone who hears the word of God will not bear fruit. They will not grow in godliness. They will not become more Christlike. They will only become more like men. And men without the word of God wither away and die. The Lord gives us some reasons that His Word does not grow in the heart of humans. And it is not because it hasn’t been sown.

II. THE WORD WILL NOT GROW WHEN THE WORD IS STOLEN.

This one hears the word and immediately it is stolen. Who is this thief? Jesus says it is Satan and Satan is doing what his nature does. He steals. He comes to kill, steal, and destroy. We may ask the question, What in the world is the devil doing there??? When the Sower sows the word in the world we can understand that this fallen world is his domain…to plunder…to pillage…to ransack. God is steadily growing His kingdom in a hostile environment.
Satan has a long history of stealing the word of God planted in man’s surroundings.In the Garden of Eden, the Word of God was sown in the creature that was created in God’s image. Man is the only creature created with the desire and capacity to worship. God’s desire was that man be content and satisfied with Him and live in obedience to His word. But Satan had access to the Garden…and man had access to the Word. The Word of God had created the perfect place for man to exist. But it required that man live according to the Will of God rather than the will of man. Which would it be? The will of man apart from the will of God never results the glory of God and the benefit of man. The will of man divorced from the will of God keeps the man spiritually separated from God and His word. A key to understanding here is the word immediately. Satan is there and able to immediately respond because he has access there. He is still influential in this person’s life.
The one who hears the word and it never captures him or changes him has not forsaken his ungodly influences. God’s word calls man toward something and away from something. Toward holiness and away from sin. Many of God’s people never realize that God’s word is not changing them…they think they’re OK with God but know little about His word. But others around them easily recognize the disconnect. For those who hear the word of God and are still keeping the things of their sinful life close by, here’s a word from the Lord:
The devil is still in your garden.

III. THE WORD WILL NOT GROW WHEN THE ROOT DOESN’T GROW.

This one hears the word…and the heart doesn’t have room for the root. When a seed is planted, the growth begins in the root. The root grows into the ground as the plant grows outward toward the light. Here the teaching is given that joy comes immediately in a person at the realization that something has radically changed in their condition. I see in this the joy that comes in the salvation experience. If you have been born again think back to the joy that you immediately knew when the Holy Spirit confirmed to you that your sin was forgiven and you could in fact live forever with God. This emotional experience is real at the time of conversion. Sometimes we are quite overwhelmed. But there is more to salvation than just the realization that we are set free from hell and the righteous judgment of a holy God.
For growth to come we must grow from the inside out…the Word at work. The root must grow deep in the life of the disciple. But often the Word is neglected. And the trials of life kick in. Without the foundation being built, without the root of God’s word working deeper in our hearts, we are unstable when the trials of life bear down, when we are persecuted because of the Word and the Word is neglected in our lives. God allows testing to come because He is testing the faith of the one who says they believe, or trust, God’s word. This one does not become a fruit-bearing disciple. Not because he hasn’t heard the Word…but because of what happens after he does.
The one who hears the Word and falls away from the testing of the Word has not trusted God in his trial. The heart is still hardened towards God. It has not been broken before Him. There is no room for the root to grow there because of rocky ground. The hard shell around a hard heart is an inherently human condition. If you remember the joy of your salvation, but there is no godward fruit coming out of your heart, here is a word from the Lord.
Bedrock still surrounds your heart.

IV. THE WORD WILL NOT GROW WHEN IT IS OVERGROWN.

This one hears the Word and the world outgrows the Word. No one ever says, I think I need some weeds in my garden and I need to go plant some. Why is it that this kind of growth needs no help to grow? No one has to plant the thorns and thistles in a garden. They just naturally grow there. My personal philosophy is that the Kingdom of God, when realized in all its fullness and glory, will be a place that roses will not have thorns. But this is the way of our fallen world. In the judgment upon Adam’s sin, the ground would begin to grow thorns and thistles instead of good fruit. The curse of sin brought the curse of thorns. Here Jesus uses an excellent metaphor as a reminder of where we are…and the times in which we live.
The distractions of our times helps strangle the life out of a fruit bearing disciple.It is a mistake to assume that it has ever been easy to follow Christ. Without the distractions of our age, one may think that it was not as hard to bear Kingdom fruit. But disciples of all ages have learned that time is the constant and consistent thing shared with all humanity, no matter what the cultural experience. The worries of the world is rightly interpreted the cares or concerns of the age. God’s Word growing in the lives of His people is constantly opposed by the world’s systems. There is a world order, despite the chaos. And chaos is the order. The devil is opposed to God’s Kingdom in every age.
The one who hears the word and realizes that the word no longer informs and instructs his life is living the reality that he is a slave to the world’s operating system. I don’t have to tell you what robs you of meaningful time with the Word of God. You already know. The fast-paced, sound bite, image driven Word from the Lord is fashionable but not fruitful. Time with the Lord is never wasted. It will always bear fruit. I commend to you that a drive by devotional thought for the day is not sufficient for our age. The deceitfulness of riches and the desires for created things are no substitute for right worship with the Lord. The implication is that this one who hears the word used to bear fruit. The Lord says the seed planted within them became unfruitful. Maybe that’s you today. There was a time when you saw God bringing the fruit of His word to bear in your life in a powerful way and you long to get back to that time in your life, but you seem to be trapped in the hustle and bustle of a world that is busted. If this is you, here is a word from the Lord:
The thorny curse still holds your life captive.

V. THE WORD WILL BEAR FRUIT WHEN IT IS ACCEPTED.

Hearing the Word and Accepting the Word is much more defined than our common terminology of Accepting Jesus. It is much deeper than a mere intellectual assent that the story of God’s redemption through the death of Christ on the cross to atone for the sin of humanity. To understand what it took to change the nature of man, to change the way we hear and understand His word is to understand that Christ on the cross is the central event in all of human history. To accept the word…means to acknowledge the word of God as the will of God and do it. It means to recognize that this universe is ordered to operate as God determines and that the Word of God has authority in our life to effect change. It means to follow Christ into the Kingdom of God in an attitude of reverent worship and gratitude that our life has been totally transformed and we can now become sowers of this seed as well. Everywhere we are, we are to bear fruit.
The sower sows the word received. The liberating principle in being a fruit-bearing disciple is that the fruit of godliness bears fruit in me when I begin to sow the seed of the gospel of God. And the freedom comes when I learn that I don’t have to make up the story…I just need to let the story grow out of me…I can sow the Word I have received.
I spend far too much of my time analyzing the hearts of humans who need to hear the gospel. I cannot know this. God does. And He commissions me to be a sower. And He calls you to hear and accept this word today. You are to go and bear fruit…You are to be the good soil. And good soil brings about much fruit. Much fruit glorifies God.
Good soil receives the seed and grows…what changes the condition? What can we humanly do to change our lives, our heart condition, into one that can be seen as good soil, fertile soil, fruit-bearing soil? Nothing. Only the authoritative power found in the transformative word of God. A major theme in the Gospel of Mark seems to be that Jesus has the Authority of God manifested in His life because He is God. So I pondered upon why the writer of Mark placed this parable here in the arrangement. Could it be that bearing the fruit of God in the life of disciples involves something more than just praying the sinner’s prayer or occasionally attending a church service? Could it be that the writer of Mark wanted us to see plainly what Jesus was talking about Chapter 3:34-35?
And looking about on those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold, My mother and My Brothers. For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” We are joined to God by the will of God and the word of God growing in us.
Look at the example of a fruit-bearing disciple given to us in the story of Legion in Chapter 5. I would not have targeted Legion as one of the Good Soil people. He certainly was influenced by the devil and had a hardened heart toward God. I probably wouldn’t have spent much time sowing the word into his life. But this story tells us that Jesus purposely went there. And what happened there demonstrated the authority of the Word of God in the spiritual realm. In the eternal realm, the Word of God matters much. I love how the story ends…or does it? Legion’s life is still bearing fruit. We read that this demon-possessed man was radically transformed…clothed and not naked, no longer deranged but in his right mind, no longer uncontrollable but sitting down. That made an eternal impact in God’s kingdom to the disciples of Jesus. But this is what bore the most fruit when the Lord commissioned Legion:
Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you. (Mark 5:20) Hear Legion’s response: And he went away mad began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone marveled. (Mark 5:21)
Legion became a sower…Behold the sower went out to sow.

It is the will of God for Disciples of Jesus to become sowers of the gospel, living by the Word of God, and bear much fruit. Kingdom Growth begins with the Word of God growing from the inside out.
Is God’s Word growing in you today? Sow the seed that has been sown in you.

Monday, January 10, 2011

So Are the Ways of Our Lives

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:6)

The way of the righteous and the way of the wicked are two starkly different ways. Two radically different directions that result in two sharply contrasted destinations. The way of the wicked leads somewhere that is ultimately nowhere...devastation and destruction. The psalmist uses the word perish, which is a very descriptive term. A person may die instantly and never know that they are dying. But to perish is to be aware of one's very life ebbing away. The wicked way, or the life, of the wicked will perish. To perish gives the sense of starvation or withering away. To perish is to die by deprivation. Something that is vitally needed is cut off. A wicked man with wicked ways will perish. He will not survive. The extreme contrast between the wicked and the righteous is laid out for us in the psalm...the wicked man perishes...the righteous man flourishes. This is the meaning of being blessed. Not just getting by and surviving, but thriving. The blessed man is the result from living the way of the righteous...being connected to the source of righteousness...God Himself. The psalmist says the blessed man is like a fruitful tree planted by streams of water. What is the difference between these two ways?
The Word of God. The blessed man loves it...the wicked man hates it. The blessed man engages the Word. He hears it, meditates upon it, studies it, applies it and it shows up in his manner of life. His life is not influenced by the counsel or the company of wicked men and their wicked ways. The LORD looks at the ways of a man and blesses the way of the righteous. The blessed life bears fruit. The wicked are deprived of the blessing of the Living God. The ways of the wicked will perish.
The question before us today is do we delight in the Word of God? Do we read it, study it, do it, live it? Or do we ignore it, deeming it to be irrelevant to our modern way of thinking, depriving ourselves of the blessing of God? These two ways result in the difference between living or dying...thriving or perishing. God's Word is life to the perishing...if a man will turn to it from the wicked way.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Death In The Fruit-Bearing Life

Some folks can see Jesus and some folks can’t. At least that’s the message I get after reading an Internet article entitled “Jesus Sightings in 2010: Year Ends in a Piece of Candy.” People claimed to see miraculous images of what they perceive to be the face of Jesus in a piece of candy, in a bleached out spot on an old sock, and the pattern of paint peeling away on a door to an Australian pub, just to mention a few. Then there was a cluster of vines growing upward and on the cross piece of a utility pole somewhere in Louisiana. The vines reminded some people of Jesus hanging on a cross. So the utility company thought it best to remove the vines lest some folks get fried trying to “touch” Jesus. I guess their take was that there is real danger for folks that want to see Jesus.
Some people wanted to see Jesus when He walked this earth. Some didn’t. To His own nation He came, the Promised People of God, and most did not want to see Him and rejected the premise and prophecies that He was the Messiah. They could not see because they would not see. But some things could not be ignored. Chapter 11 of John’s Gospel records that Jesus performed the seventh “sign” or “attesting miracle” when He called a man named Lazarus to life who had been dead for four days. When the one “who had died came forth,” it was such a powerful display of the authoritative word of Jesus that some people wanted nothing more but to see Him, and Lazarus as well. And some wanted nothing more but to see them both dead! Especially Jesus…who the Pharisees complained about that “the world has gone after Him.” (John 12:19).
Our text today describes a turning point in the Gospel of John and in the ultimate mission of Christ on the world stage as some people came with a desire to see Jesus. As we unfold the Word of God together today let’s seek the Lord’s wisdom as we attempt to find answers to the following questions:

How far does a person have to go to see Someone whose word held the power of life over death?
And what can keep people from seeing Him once they know where to look?


Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.
And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”
(John 12:20-26)

I. SOME GREEKS DESIRED TO SEE JESUS.

Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the
feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”


Who were these “Greeks”? A few possibilities exist. They could have been Greek-speaking Jews from one of the surrounding cities, pagan unbelievers, or they could have been Gentile proselytes to Judaism. I believe that the context points us to the latter. People whom God is drawing to a greater revelation of the truth. I don’t think they were unbelievers because they would not be among the worshippers at the feast. They might be at the feast but they wouldn’t be worshipping God. But in the temple environment, where this occasion could have occurred, there were places where God-fearers went to worship, but could go no further. One of these places was the court of the Gentiles. The identity of these Greeks are crucial to understand what the Pharisees were saying in the last passage. The world has gone after Him. Then some Greeks seek Jesus.

This passage is significant because Jesus is broadening His mission beyond the cultural boundaries of Judaism to the Gentile world. When Abraham was commissioned to be the beginning of God’s people blessing the nations, God moved the hearts of other nations to seek Him. Some people were drawn toward the kingdom of God…they came to worship, drawn to this kingdom culture experience, but something was not yet quite complete…until the coming of Jesus. People on the periphery of kingdom culture often desire to see Jesus. These Greeks not only wanted to see Jesus…they needed an intervention…an introduction. They needed someone to help them see Jesus, someone who knew Jesus. Someone who was like them. We are told they came to Philip. Philip of Bethsaida was from a Greek city. This encounter is significant because Philip did not identify these Greeks as one of his evangelistic target groups, but the Sovereign Lord brought the Greeks to seek Jesus. And He brought them to Philip. What Philip did next is instructive to us in the disciple making process. He involved another disciple. He went and told Andrew.

II. SOME DISCIPLES CAME AND TOLD JESUS.

Philip came and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip came and told Jesus.

Disciple making is community-based in its concept. Imagine the conversation between Philip and Andrew. “Andrew, some Greeks want to see Jesus. What should we do?” “I don’t know Philip…they’re not Jewish, you know. We’d better go tell Jesus. He’ll know what to do.” What these two disciples did is a model for us today. When someone wants to see Jesus…when someone is drawn to the things of God… we should be talking to the Lord about them. Not depending on some method of evangelistic outreach or a rehearsed presentation, but dependent on the direction of God…let’s go and talk to Jesus about them.

Disciples with discernment, wise disciples, are ones who are not only talking to men about God, but talking to God about men. They can be used greatly by God to bear fruit when they are available in the world to hear those in the world seeking to see Jesus. People need the Lord. People need the Word of God. They need to see God’s word alive and well, growing in the hearts of disciples of Christ. These two disciples were wise…they talked to Jesus about it. Then they heard what Jesus had to say.

III. JESUS SPOKE OF HIS TIMELY APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH AND ITS PROPHETIC SIGNIFICANCE IN ETERNITY.

And Jesus answered them, saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Jesus spoke in response to the announcement from the disciples. We aren’t told in the text He ever talked to the Greeks. I suppose He could have went out to include them in the conversation. But I tend to think He was speaking primarily to His disciples. The first thing He said to them is crucial to understanding the text.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… Jesus did not come to draw a crowd, though He did…He did not come to be popular, though He was. He came to save His people from their sin…He came to die. Here we see the focus in John’s gospel hone in on the cross. Up to this point in the life of Jesus, we hear Him saying that His hour had not yet come…now the hour had come not because of some Greeks seeking to see Him, but the purpose for which He came was coming into view. Death on a cross was not a popular church building strategy for these early disciples. They needed to understand that God brings spiritual life in spiritual disciples by understanding the central message of following Christ…the glory of God is not found in drawing a crowd…it is found by Jesus dying on a cross. Greeks came to see Jesus…His hour had come.

The glory of God is found in the cross of Christ. It is where the mercy of God and the judgment of God collide. Jesus referred to Himself here as the Son of Man. It is a popular title that He used in the Gospels when speaking of Himself. It is because it signifies the prophetic symbolism of His humanity under the burden of judgment. I believe He used it here to instruct His disciples that they must first have a firm grip of salvation’s implications. The Son of Man…the God-Man…will die so Humanity can live. Without this death, then Humanity is still under the sentence of God’s righteous and holy judgment upon sin. Humanity is dead without God. And disciples of all ages must understand that before we can introduce anyone to Christ, we must have been introduced to Him ourselves. We must see ourselves in our sin, lost without hope in our own humanity, in need for a Savior. Christ went to the cross because of sin…our sin…everyone’s sin. Jesus taught this short parable introducing His world-changing strategy by telling them about a grain of wheat.

IV. PRINCIPLES OF PLANTING ILLUSTRATE THAT THE FRUIT-BEARING PROCESS REQUIRES DEATH TO PRODUCE LIFE.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

In my hand I hold several grains of wheat. I can observe that they are the fruit that is produced by the wheat plant. Mark 4:26 and following takes us through this process. The blade grows first, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. The mature grain, the seed, is reproduced by the seed…Here is where it all begins. A single grain of wheat. By itself…it’s hard…closed off in its shell it abides alone. It’s all it will ever be. And even if you put it together with other grains of wheat, stored and isolated in a safe place, all of the grains will only decompose and rot away. They will not reproduce. But I can take one grain…and do what Jesus says…let it fall into the ground and die…Something mysterious will happen…the world would call it magical…God calls it supernatural…

…But if it dies, it bears much fruit. Here is kingdom growth and the fruit bearing principle at work…Death produces life…Jesus died on the cross so that man could live…He came that we might have life, abundant, eternal life…His death is offered so that our death will not lead to death, but will lead to life eternal. And the death that He speaks of is of the pattern of His own death…where He told the Father, yet not My will, but Thine be done. When Christ surrendered His human will to the will of God, the process of the irrevocable planting of eternal life in a human being was set in motion. The fruit bearing process in Disciples of Jesus begins when they no longer love their lives but desire to lose it to bear the
eternal fruit of the Life of Christ within them.

Where does that begin? Growing up in a church family? Following Christ because your grandmother says you should? Praying the Sinner’s Prayer? Being baptized without knowing why, participating in the Lord’s Supper without remembering Christ and the cross? Bearing fruit begins when we die to our self-centered desires. These desires no longer rule our lives…the will of God rules. The will of God will ultimately and always rule.

V. THE POINT OF BEGINNING FOR FRUIT-BEARING FOLLOWERS IS AT THE CROSS OF CHRIST.

He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

Philip and Andrew learned when you follow Jesus, you must be where He is. Disciples cannot follow Jesus unless they are servants. How do we follow Jesus? Show the world the cross. We cannot have the Resurrection Life of Christ and bypass the cross. The message of Christ is the message of the cross. Judgment and mercy. Has your sin been judged at the cross? This is where we begin. It is where we must continually return. Jesus said the cross is for our daily lives.

Fruit bearing disciples are productive disciples when the fruit of godliness begins to grow in them. Jesus, the Word of God, is to be our Master. We are to be servants of the Word, serving the Word to the World. Greeks wish to see Jesus. The fruit of godliness, the Word of God will grow from the inside out…we are to bear about in our body the dying of Jesus. We must follow the Word of God, follow Jesus to the Cross before we can follow Him anywhere. Knowing the Passion of Christ gives us a passion to make Him known. It is always the cross…our destination…our point of beginning…

We must know the Word of God to know what is in the Mind of Christ. We cannot serve God and self simultaneously. We cannot do God’s will unless we have surrendered our will. What does this mean? What is our So What of today’s message?

I must die here... We must die here. Our agendas, our meaningless traditions, our customs without the cross must be put away. I must learn to serve here and lose my life…I cannot cling to my earthly desires and do the will of the King of the Kingdom of God. We must surrender the will to the Word. The will to be me…to be you…surrendered so we can be like Christ.

How far does a person have to go to see Someone whose word held the power of life over death? All the way to the cross. Can we be found at the Cross of Christ for the Greeks who come to see Jesus? Or will we be found looking at ourselves…

And what can keep people from seeing Him once they know where to look? That which hides the glory of God…usually things of this world…our things…our lives.

Sir…we wish to see Jesus…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies…