$5 Fridays at Ligonier

Every Friday, Ligonier Ministries offers a selection of excellent resources from R.C. Sproul, Joel R. Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson and many other gifted Bible teachers for $5 each. These resources are fantastic gift to believers seeking to dig deeper in their faith. There are some fantastic deals this week, so check them out:


The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Dr. Steven J. Lawson (eBook download)

Looking to the past for outstanding Bible-based, Christ-centered, and life-changing preaching, Dr. Steven J. Lawson focuses on sixteenth-century Geneva, Switzerland. It was there that John Calvin ministered for decades as a faithful shepherd to a flock of believers.

Here is an intimate portrait of Calvin the preacher-the core beliefs that determined his preaching style, the steps he took to prepare to preach, and the techniques he used in handling the Word of God, interpreting it, and applying it to his congregation. In the pulpit ministry of the great Reformer, Dr. Lawson finds inspiration and guidance for today’s church and calls on modern pastors to follow the Reformer’s example of strong expository preaching.

“I heartily recommend this book by Steven Lawson as an impetus to the recovery of expository preaching. It is an especially good gift for pastors and seminary students.”
—R.C. Sproul

Handout Apologetics by Dr. John M. Gerstner (Audio & Video Download)

Christian apologetics is that which deals with answering any and all critics who oppose or question the revelation of God in Christ and the Bible. This study explores a whole host of doctrines important to the church and defends them all against common objections and misconceptions. Working through this series will challenge and equip you to defend the faith.

John H. Gerstner (1914–1996) was a Professor of Church History at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Knox Theological Seminary and an authority on the life and theology of Jonathan Edwards. He pastored several churches before accepting a professorship where he taught church history for over 30 years. He was also a visiting professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill., and author of many books and articles.

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism by Craig R. Brown (Paperback)

After a brief survey of the historical development of the theological school now known as Calvinism and a comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism, Brown turns to a consideration of five dilemmas that Arminians typically associate with Reformed doctrines. The author then attempts to demonstrate that these “problems” are largely misunderstandings of Calvinism.

Written in a winsome and engaging style, Brown’s work is an excellent primer on Calvinism and some of the critiques that have been leveled against it. As such, the book provides both apologetic help for Calvinists and answers for Arminians with honest questions.

“Craig Brown battles misunderstandings that have dogged Calvinism for long years. In so doing, he provides apologetic help for Calvinists stymied by the misinformed questions of their Arminian friends. And, of course, he kindles light for those who have never considered alternatives to the Arminian system.”
—From the forward by R.C. Sproul

Ligonier’s $5 Friday sale runs until 8 a.m. Eastern Time Saturday morning.


Note: This is not a paid post, however, I am part of Ligonier’s affiliate program. As such, I earn a small commission from purchases made through these links.

Every Member a Minister?

Challenging conversation between Michael Horton, Tim Keller and Matt Chandler about the idea of “every member being a minister,” and whether it truly reflects Scripture and the best interests of the church:

[tentblogger-vimeo 24832288]

What’s your take: Does the idea that “every member is a minister” or “every sheep is a shepherd” free us to serve and express our gifts or does it hinder us in our service to others?

HT: TGC

When Doctrine Isn’t Enough

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Revelation 2:4-5)

What we see in the church at Ephesus was how their desire for orthodoxy and the exclusion of error had created a climate of suspicion and mistrust in which brotherly love could no longer flourish. Their eager pursuit of truth had to some degree soured their affections one for another. It’s one thing not to “bear with those who are evil” (Rev. 2:2), but it’s another thing altogether when that intolerance carries over to your relationship with other Christ-loving Christians!

Our Lord does not leave the Ephesians and their problem without a solution. Note the three terse commands of verse 5. Before doing so, however, observe what he does not recommend: he does not suggest that they become theologically lax, tolerant of error, or indifferent toward truth! In other words, don’t try to cure one problem in a way that will create another.

So, then, here’s his counsel. First, “remember . . . from where you have fallen” (v. 5a). Here their love is pictured as a height from which they had descended. To remember is to reflect and meditate on the peak of brotherly affection they once enjoyed. Recall the former fervor and let the memory of its joys and satisfaction stir you again to mutual devotion. Second, “repent” (v. 5b). Simply put, stop . . . then start. Stop the coldhearted disregard for one another—and for Jesus—and start cultivating that affection you formerly had. Third, “do.” In particular, do “the works you did at first” (cf. Heb. 6:10).

How important is it that the Ephesians strive by God’s grace to cultivate and sustain a passionate affection for both Christ and Christian? I’ll let Jesus answer that question. If you don’t repent, he solemnly warns, “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:5).

What this means is that failure to comply will lead to the imminent termination of their influence or public witness (cf. 11:3–7, 10; see also Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16) as a body of believers. The “coming” of Jesus in verse 5 is not the second advent at the end of history but a “coming” in preliminary judgment and discipline of this church (cf. 2:16); the second advent, however, is probably in view in 2:25 and 3:11. It may even be that Jesus is threatening the end of this congregation’s historical existence. I trust that such is enough to convince us all how important “love” is in the body of Christ!

Doctrinal precision is absolutely necessary. But it isn’t enough. May God grant us grace to love others with no less fervor than we love the truth.

 Adapted from Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, Kindle Edition

Their Love Revealed in Their Intolerance

“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. . . . you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.—Rev. 2:2,6

Does love have its limits? Are there places it won’t go, people it won’t embrace, ideas it won’t endorse? Or is true love indiscriminate, universal, and all-inclusive? These questions are clearly and decisively answered in our Lord’s words to the church in ancient Ephesus. And his perspective is anything but politically correct!

Jesus had already commended the Ephesians for their hard work and perseverance. He now turns his attention to their orthodoxy. Far from being blinded by love, they had 20/20 discernment. They hated evil—period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Whatever form evil took, whether ethical or theological, they stood resolute in their opposition. No compromise. No cutting of corners. Their love was revealed in their intolerance. Unsanctified mercy had no place in the church at Ephesus. . . . This was their most stellar achievement. No heretical concept could ever raise its ugly head in Ephesus without being decapitated by the swift stroke of biblical truth.

The Ephesian believers [were not] so naïve as to believe that Christian charity can tolerate such false teaching. Note also the contrast: they “bear” trials and tribulations for Christ’s sake (v. 3), but they cannot “bear” the company of these evil men (vv. 2, 6). They endure persecution but not perversion.

There are many lessons here, but one in particular stands out: Jesus hates moral and theological compromise. Any appeal to grace to justify sin is repugnant to our Lord. Any attempt to rationalize immorality by citing the “liberty” we have in Christ is abhorrent to him and must be to us. True Christian love is never expressed by the tolerance of wickedness, whether it be a matter of what one believes or how one behaves.

Much is being said today about the extent of the church’s engagement with culture. To what degree should we be involved? How narrowly should we draw the boundary lines for what is permissible, on the one hand, and what is off limits, on the other? There are no easy answers, but of one thing I’m sure. If “cultural relevancy” threatens in any way or degree to undermine your single-minded, wholehearted devotion to Christ, end it. To the extent that being “in” the world drains you of the necessary strength to resist its temp tations or diminishes the purity of your relationship with Christ, turn and walk away.

Don’t expect me or anyone else to identify on your behalf those activities or ideas or events or persons from which or from whom you should withdraw. If they are not explicitly noted in Scripture, or cannot be deduced by good and necessary reason, to legislate for others what is and is not permissible would be legalism. I can only make that decision for myself.

May God grant us the discernment to identify the “Nicolaitans” of our day and the moral conviction and love to be intolerant of their destructive doctrines.

Adapted from Sam Storms, To the One Who Conquers: 50 Daily Meditations on the Seven Letters of Revelation 2-3, Kindle Edition

Learning From the “Queen of the South”

Solomon meets the Queen of Sheba, on the Paradise Door of the Florence Baptistry. Photo by Richard Fabi

Today’s post is Matt Ford, pastor of Fountain of Life Fellowship, in Fountain Valley, California. Matt is a contributor to the Gospel for OC blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @matthewbford.

Ever since Adam, the sinful life has been full of excuses (Gen. 3.12). Sadly, my own still echo with regularity. Recently I came across one sentence from Jesus that rather exploded my status quo and pushed me to more integrity in searching myself and more passion in seeking the Lord. Surprisingly, I need to learn from the “queen of the South.”

The Matthew 12 conversation between Jesus and the religious leaders is not friendly. The leaders are consistently accusing Jesus, conspiring against Jesus, condemning Jesus, and testing Jesus. They certainly do not appreciate Jesus, will not sincerely seek Jesus, and have not the slightest desire to worship Jesus. Towards the end of the back-and-forth, Jesus responds by dropping a bomb of a sentence that would’ve devastated His original hearers and will give us pause as well if we will listen.

Matthew 12.42 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.

To help our understanding of this sentence let’s consider it in four parts: 1) the judgment, 2) the witnesses, 3) the example, and 4) the value.

1) Jesus promises a judgment day.

Just think about it for a moment. There will be a judgment. The judgment will include a judge who will weigh our lives in His balance according to His standards. Oh, how that should effect and determine our lives now.

2) The judgment day will include witnesses.

According to Jesus, the judgment will include witnesses. And here’s something incredible – the witnesses will come from across the very ages to testify towards a just judgment. The “queen of the South” is the queen of Sheba from 1 Kings 10; she lived centuries before “this generation” with whom Jesus is dealing. And yet Jesus insists that, on that day of judgment, she will testify against them towards a just verdict. [Read more...]

$5 Fridays at Ligonier

Every Friday, Ligonier Ministries offers a selection of excellent resources from R.C. Sproul, Joel R. Beeke, Sinclair Ferguson and many other gifted Bible teachers for $5 each. These resources are fantastic gift to believers seeking to dig deeper in their faith.

Here are a few items from this week’s selection that I found particularly interesting:


Christians Get Depressed Too by Dr. David Murray (Paperback)

Many Christians mistakenly believe that true Christians don’t get depressed, and this misconception heaps additional pain and guilt onto Christians who are suffering from mental and emotional distress. Author David P. Murray comes to the defense of depressed Christians, asserting that Christians do get depressed! He explains why and how Christians should study depression, what depression is, and the approaches caregivers, pastors, and churches can take to help those who are suffering from it. With clarity and wise biblical insight, Dr. Murray offers help and hope to those suffering from depression, the family members and friends who care for them, and pastors ministering to these wounded members of their flock.

The Hard Sayings of the Prophets by R.C. Sproul (CD)

What did Ezekiel mean by saying that his message of woes was like honey and sweetness to him? Why did Amos pronounce woe to those in his day who desired the Day of the Lord? Did Isaiah say that God actually creates evil? Dr. Sproul answers these and other questions by interpreting the passages in light of their contexts and the whole counsel of God.

This series can help Christians work through the hard sayings of the prophets, finding in their words not confusion but timeless principles from which we may benefit today.

The Christian Lover by Dr. Michael Haykin (Hardcover)

Marriage is under siege in our time, and Christian unions are not going unscathed. Dr. Michael A. G. Haykin believes that love letters written by Christian husbands and wives of the past can help strengthen the ties that bind believing spouses today. In this anthology, he brings together letters from one or both parties in twelve significant relationships from church history. The contents range from courtship communications to proposals of marriage to final words before dying, but most have to do with the ups and downs of married life. In the end, The Christian Lover is a celebration of marriage, an intimate window into the thoughts of men and women who were deeply in love with both God and one another.

Recovering the Beauty of the Arts by R.C. Sproul (Audio & Video Download)

The beauty of the arts seems to be a thing of the past. All throughout history, Christians have understood the importance of art and aesthetics, but their significance has been lost.

In Recovering the Beauty of the Arts, Dr. Sproul explores different art forms and the positions they should hold in the Christian life and community. Dr. Sproul says that there are three dimensions of the Christian life that the Scriptures are concerned about: “the good, the true, and the beautiful. We tend to have cut off the third from the other two.” In discussing things like music, literature, images, and drama, Dr. Sproul shows the beauty and prestige that the arts hold to God and how the church needs to recover them.

Ligonier’s $5 Friday sale runs until 8 a.m. Eastern Time Saturday morning.


Note: This is not a paid post, however, I am part of Ligonier’s affiliate program. As such, I earn a small commission from purchases made through these links.

Biblical Authority in an Age of Uncertainty

“What, then, is the Bible about?” asks someone. Surely there can be no hesitation about answering that question; the Bible, in its essence, is the grand story of redemption. It is the history of what God has done about men and women as the result of their sin, and everything else that we find in the Bible is, in reality, incidental to that. The Bible is concerned with presenting to us the message of redemption by God and from God, in a way that we can understand and see and believe.

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible (Kindle Edition)

Where Is Jesus In The Old Testament?

And taking the twelve, he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise.” But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said. (Luke 18:31-34)

In the above video, Mark Driscoll does a really good job introducing six general categories explaining what Jesus meant when He said in numerous places like Luke 18:31-34 about how the Scriptures testify to Him (the full message has his full explanation).

1. Christophanies. These are the appearances of Jesus in the Old Testament before His incarnation. In these Jesus frequently appears as “The Angel of the Lord” (which is different than “AN angel of the Lord”). Passages to study include: Judges 2:1-5; Joshua 5:13-15; Isa. 6:1-13.

2. Types. Old Testament representative figures and institutions that foreshadowed Jesus. These include the tabernacle, the sacrificial system (now you’ve got a reason to go read Leviticus!), the prophets, priests and kings (esp. David & Solomon). Key prophetic ministries to study are Elijah and Elisha.

3. Analogous service. These are people who do things that ultimately Jesus does perfectly and completely. TIm Keller & Sinclair Ferguson do a brilliant job explaining these here.

4. Events that prophesy the coming of Jesus.This would include the Exodus—particularly the Passover—where the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt. The entire book of Exodus gives us a glimpse of what Christ came to do. As the people crossed the Red Sea, they were crossing from death to life. Death awaiting them at the hands of Pharaoh’s army to life in the land God had promised. In Christ, we cross from death in our sins to eternal life with Him.

5. Titles that refer to Jesus. These are titles for God in the Old Testament that refer to Jesus. Redeemer, Savior, Lord of Glory, Husband/Bridegroom, Light, Rock, Shepherd and Son of Man are among those titles.

6. Old Testament prophecies about Jesus. Different from category 4 which are events that point to Him, these are prophecies about Jesus directly. These include Isa. 7:14-15, 52:13-53:12; Psalm 110; Deut. 18:14-22 among others.

I hope having a sense of these broad categories will help you to see Jesus as you read the Old Testament.

Can God Be Thwarted?

Last week as I was reading through Esther, I had to stop and chew on a couple verses:

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14)

Most of the time when reading these verses, it’s really easy to focus on the second half of the verse. “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Given that the book’s major doctrinal theme is God’s providence, we are right to do so. God indeed had placed her in the position she was in to do this exact thing—to help rescue the Jewish people.

Yet, there’s something really important that I had to pay attention to this time. It’s the first half of that verse: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place…”

Sometimes when difficulties come up—marital problems, trouble at work, issues at church, whatever it is—it’s really easy to get tunnel vision. To be so focused on the problem that you can’t move, breath or even think. And what do we do when those situations come up?

I can’t speak for you, but I know I tend to fixate on problems and look for a way to fix them, to make things work the way they should. In other words, I waste a lot of energy that could be better spent on other things because I’m putting my confidence in the wrong thing. Usually my own abilities.

But what does Mordecai do in the face of certain doom?

He puts his confidence in the providence of God. He’s not saying to Esther, “If you don’t speak to the king, we’re all going to die!”

No, he says, “Deliverance will come, whether you speak or not.”

Sometimes we need the reminder that when it comes right down to it, God will not be thwarted.

His plans will not be hindered by anything.

In Mordecai’s time, God had a definite plan that He was working out through the Jewish people. He had promised that the Messiah would come, the one who would fulfill the promise of Genesis 3:14-15 and crush the head of the serpent under his heel. God was going to redeem for Himself a people from among all the nations and nothing would stop Him.

Not a proud government official. Not a king. Not the devil.

Nothing.

So let us take comfort. If nothing could stop the coming of the Messiah, don’t think that He can be stopped from bringing his plans to completion. Whatever frustrations we face, take heart and put your confidence in the providence of God.

Who is the Master?

As I was working on a paper for my Ligonier Academy program, I had to stop and consider this passage from Peter Jensen’s book, The Revelation of God:

In the end, the Bible is the most reasonable of all books, for it conforms with reality. It is our culture that is irrational, our minds that are darkened. Just as the gospel commends itself to us by making sense of our experience, so too does the Bible. It insists on bringing moral judgment to bear on our existence, and revealing the truth about the human heart. It brings before us a standard of morality and godliness that would absolutely transform the world were we to live in accordance with its precepts. It provides a pattern of the relationship between the sexes that endorses the difference while affirming the equality. It majors on forgiveness of the wounded conscience. It gives hope for the future. Undoubtedly it cuts across many of the ideas held most dear in the culture. It is all the more important, therefore, that Christians should not capitulate to the contemporary mores. It is the difference of Christianity that will make the biggest impact, and, if indeed the Bible is the word of God, we may be sure tha tit will prove to be centred on ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor. 1:24).

In short, human reason in all its variety is a most useful servant of the gospel. But where reason or tradition becomes the masters of the gospel, dictating how the word of God may come to us, it serves only that evil from which God aims to free us.

Peter Jensen, The Revelation of God, pp. 177-178

As I’ve read this over and over again, I keep coming back to one thing:

At the heart of all the controversies around the Bible and its reliability seems to be one issue—control.

When it comes studying to the Bible, who is in control?

If God has revealed Himself through the Bible, then we are obliged to obey. Yet, because it seems foolish to us naturally, we seek to ignore it. We rebel against because we want control.

But the Bible refuses to obey us.

It keeps pointing out the foolishness of our minds, the irrationality of our thinking. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Scriptures and free us from our bondage to our desire for human autonomy and allow us to understand and obey what can often seem so paradoxical.

Thinking about this has made me consider how I read and apply Scripture with great care. Am I doing so, hoping to control it or be brought under its control?

I’m praying it’s the latter.

The Power of The Resurrection

The grotto of Gethsemane, where it is believed that Jesus was arrested following Judas' betrayal. Photo by Gary Hardman

For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:8b-11)

Good Friday looms and I can’t get Phil 3:8b-11 out of my mind. When Paul writes of having lost everything—absolutely everything—for the sake of Christ, he’s not playing around. He went from, by his own account, being a star on the rise among the Pharisees to one of the most hated men among the Jews of his time. Everywhere he went, he faced dramatic opposition, and was even stoned and left for dead (then he got back up and was preaching the next day—see Acts 14:19-20).

Paul went from persecuting Christians to planting churches. The Church’s greatest opponent became her strongest advocate.

What was it that motivated his single-minded pursuit of the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ? The power of the resurrection.

Paul wanted to know Christ and the power of the resurrection—which meant that he had to share in his suffering. Suffering that, if the resurrection weren’t real, would have been unbearable.

If the resurrection didn’t happen, what reason would Paul have had to turn his back on his promising career among the Pharisees?

If the resurrection didn’t happen, what reason would he have had to say, “I consider it all rubbish?”

If the resurrection didn’t happen, what reason would he have had to say, “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain?”

What reason would he have had to endure beatings, starvation, imprisonment, character assassination and ship wrecks?

Nothing.

No reason.

Sometimes people wonder if a literal resurrection actually matters. Would we lose anything if Jesus was raised spiritually or just in the hearts of his followers, some ask. Paul’s testimony and Paul’s contention in the book of Philippians answers that with a resounding “Yes!”

If there were no real, physical resurrection from the dead, Paul would not have been able to endure any of this. No one would.

Without the resurrection, we lose everything. And all we have left is rubbish.

Mike Bullmore: God’s Great Heart of Love Toward His Own #TGC11

Mike Bullmore is the founding pastor of CrossWay Community Church in Bristol, WI. Mike served for 15 years as an associate professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, as well as chairman of the Practical Theology Department at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.

Dr. Bullmore addressed the conference from Zephaniah 3:9-20.

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

 

My notes follow:


[Dr. Bullmore opens reading from the beginning of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress]

I can imagine someone reading that and saying, “clearly the problem with that man is that book. What he needs to do is put it down and stop reading it… Just put that book down and pick up something else… there are magazines about celebrities and romance novels and… Christian, why would you keep reading that book unless it’s really true and all that other stuff was designed to keep you trapped in a make-believe world?”

Well, the book Christian is reading is, of course, the Bible. And this book, Zephaniah, could well be the book Christian was reading, because this book is a miniature version of [the Bible]. All the prophets are like this.

The Old Testament is pregnant with the gospel. Through progressive revelation, while the gospel is initially obscured, it becomes increasingly clear as you continue to read. The gospel is in utero, if you will, but all the parts are there.

What Zephaniah tells us is that God has provided salvation, and not just as an escape from God’s judgment, but as entrance into God’s joy. Zephaniah offers three steps: [Read more...]

Conrad Mbewe: The Righteous Branch #TGC11

Conrad Mbewe is the pastor of Kabwata Reformed Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, Africa. He is widely regarded as the African Spurgeon. KBC is presently overseeing the establishment of ten new Reformed churches in Zambia and Botswana. Conrad is the editor of Reformation Zambia magazine and writes three columns in two weekly national newspapers. His most recent contribution to a book is found in Dear Timothy—Letters on Pastoral Ministry, published by Founders Press. He is also the principal of the Reformed Baptist Preachers College in Zambia.

Mbewe expounded on Jeremiah 23:1-8.

The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:

 

My notes are below:


As I meditated on this passage, the subject of leadership was burned afresh in my own heart. Clearly this is the issue that arises in this passage that we have just read. And again and again in the Bible we find, as the leaders go, so go the people of Israel. You see the people hardening their hearts and going their own way.

Often you find phrases like “the king led the people into great sin”… And in Malachi, we find God chastising the priests, saying “It is you who have led my people to desecrate my temple…” And the converse is also true, where repentance first comes to the king and then the people.

What Jeremiah deals with here is the need for consistent, godly and fruitful leadership that ultimately brings glory to God… Oh that God may help us see how we should deal with our lives, so that we might be the means by which God blesses His people. [Read more...]

Speaking Mysteriously of Mysteries

One of the common features of Jesus’ teaching ministry was his use of parables, stories that illustrated spiritual and moral lessons. One of the things that’s particularly worth noting is the “why” of His use of parables.

Today, in some circles, it’s very fashionable to speak and write in very ambiguous terms. To “embrace the mystery” of Christianity and leave things kind of… mysterious.

But is that the point of teaching? Was that what Jesus was doing when He taught in parables?

Take a look at Matthew 13:10-17 for a second:

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

In the beginning of this passage, Jesus’ disciples asked that very question. They said to Jesus, “why do you speak to them [the crowds who came to see Jesus] in parables?”

They wanted to know: Why did He not speak plainly to the crowds? Why was He so mysterious?

And Jesus answered. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

So here’s what He says: Jesus tells them, “I speak in parables because the truth of the kingdom of heaven is not theirs to know. They think they see the truth of My kingdom, but they don’t. They think they understand, but they can’t. If they did, they might turn and repent.”

His parables had a two-fold effect:

  1. They hardened the hearts of some who heard
  2. They caused others to seek out Jesus to ask Him what He meant

The interesting thing is that when people came to Him and asked Him to explain, as the disciples did, He was happy to oblige. Indeed, every time they asked by His disciples what He meant, He patiently explained. Jesus was never mysterious for the sake of being mysterious. He didn’t speak in riddles and vagaries to create a mystique. As I wrote last week, God is not a beat poet.

Jesus’ parables were not meant to be a stumbling block for His disciples; all things were revealed to them by Him. Similarly, the role of the Christian teacher is to patiently explain all that has been revealed with gentleness and humility. If we are going to follow Jesus’ example in teaching, we ought to be careful to not embrace mystery for the sake of being mysterious.