Saturday, 26 July 2014

Exeter Temple Bible Message notes
20th July 2014
Theme: Parables of the Kingdom: The Dragnet
Bible Reading: Matthew 13:47-52
As many of the followers of Jesus were depended upon fishing for their livelihood it is no wonder then that when Jesus wanted to teach them a lesson about the kingdom of God he used something they were very familiar with to do it.
1. A Net
In Bible days, there were 2 different kinds of nets used by fishermen. A casting net is small, bell shaped, and an individual could use it by himself. The other kind of net is a drag-net, and is much larger. A dragnet, even in Bible times could be up to a mile long.  The bottom of the net had weights with sinkers, and the top rope had cork floats which mean that it caught up fish which were hiding at the bottom of the lake.
-          the kingdom of God is here and at work already.
The common assumption in the times of Jesus was that there would be a day when everyone would be forced to submit to God’s rule. It was believed that it would happen quickly and wicked people would be surprised by it. Jesus taught that the reign of God often begins secretly. As with the illustration of the seed buried in the ground is mysteriously transformed underground until shoots begin to appear the parable of the net says a similar thing.  God is already at work like a net under the water gradually catching all kinds of fish. Already all kinds of people are being caught up in its values, its demands and its benefits.  
-          Jesus was reminding the disciples of their call to be fishers of men.
The kingdom had begun and they were called to take part in extending it; a dragnet doesn’t launch itself.  Dragnet fishing is a corporate activity and the casting requires an entire crew. 
2. The Catch
Another idea of the time was that only certain people could hope to be included as citizens of the kingdom. Samaritans or Romans and possible women would be excluded.  
This story infers that God wanted the entire sea of humanity in his kingdom.  Just as a dragnet sweeps up everything in its path so the kingdom embraces everyone. 
3. The Lake
The sea or a lake is home to fish leaving the sea in most cases means they will die.  From the point of view of a fish, being caught in a net is not desirable.  
However if it is supposed the lake is polluted or at a low level because of drought, fishermen who gather the fish to transfer them to a better and safer environment would be their saviour.     
The Bible often uses the imagery of the sea as symbolic of a place from which mankind needs to be saved, e.g. Noah, Jonah, the Exodus via the Red Sea, Peter, sinking in the waves, when he took his eyes off Jesus.
In the parable, the lake stands for the world and the fish, the people in it. When the Bible talks about the world, it means the earth that God created and which he loves so much that he was willing to save it but at other times it is referring a humanistic system of logic and thinking that is centred on selfishness and rebellion against God.  When people’s hearts and minds are caught up in that environment they are in grave danger. They need to be rescued and they need a new realm in which to live.  A net that comes along and lifts them out of that is great news.    
Modern dragnet fishing was banned by the UN in 2004 in light of scientists' warnings that bottom trawling has disrupted oceanic ecosystems. In the physical world that is bad news but if we think of the lake as being a evil system opposed to God’s rule then anything that disrupts it has to be a good thing.  We cannot over fish for the souls of men and women.
4. The Shore
It is the skipper of the boat who ultimately decides whether the net us full enough to go back to shore or whether to go on launching the nets again. He takes into account dangerous waters, the ability to locate the fish, the risk of nets being destroyed, the fatigue of the crew.
It is Jesus who decides when we stop launching the net that is the kingdom. So far he has not told us to go to shore. 
5. Sorting
v 48  “When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”
The parable takes an uncomfortable turn.
Fishermen do not keep the fish they have caught in the net forever.  There comes a time when the mixture of fish they have collected must be sorted out.  The mixed state of affairs where those in Christ live alongside those who do not will come to an end.  Eventually there will come a time of separation.
We are comfortable with a Jesus who says, “Let the children come to me,” but not when the story he tells indicates that there will come a day when like fish at the docks, we will be judged to be either to be wicked or righteous with the consequence that being declared wicked means an eternal conscious exclusion from all that is good. 
Jesus spoke more about hell than anyone else in the Bible. It is there in other NT passages too, e.g Hebrews 10:29 
The reason Jesus talks so much about hell is because he came to save us from it.  This parable far from being full of doom and gloom declares good news.
Jesus shows us that whilst we are still gathering in the kingdom we are to accept whoever comes our way.  We are not to discriminate along the way. We are not the ones to judge someone’s future destination now.   Our task is the keep casting the net until Jesus calls us home.  Even then it will not be for us to decide who is worthy of acceptance and who is not.
In the parable it is the fishermen who sort the fish but Jesus tells us that when it comes to judging people, it is not the role of other men and women but of angels. 
-          What does Jesus mean by good?
The word ‘good’ literally means “to have excellent qualities, pious, moral or unblemished.” This word means a great deal more than we typically think it does. It also means “fit for.” In other words only those who are “fit for” God’s kingdom will be able to enter it.
-          What awful deeds makes a person unfit for the kingdom?
We often assume that they are anything that is done differently to our opinion of acceptable behaviour.
Jesus demonstrated the measure of fitness for God’s kingdom on the cross and the way he dealt with the thief on the cross. The repentant thief could hardly have been accepted into paradise on the basis of his morality. It was his faith in Jesus that saved him.
If acceptance into the kingdom is on any other basis than faith then none of us will be accepted because none are without sin.
Romans 5:1 again in the message translation it says, “By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us, set us right with him, make us fit for him we have it altogether with God because of our Master Jesus Christ.”
The theme of the good news is that Jesus has rescued us from the judgment and wrath of God, and that rescue is available to anybody who looks to Christ, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done, what their race, what their gender, what prison yard they are on--or their crime.   Everyone is in the scope of the rescue plan- the net is big and wide.  But not every fish in the net will end up in the basket because they will not accept Jesus.
How should we respond to a parable like this?
Surely it should burden us to witness like there’s no tomorrow, for there may not be!

God Bless you


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Parables of the Kingdom: The Seed

Exeter Temple Corps
Bible message notes:    Sunday 13th July 2014
Bible Reading:            Mark 4:26-32
Once upon a time there was a king.  This king wanted more than anything to rule.  This was not because he was power crazed but because he was really sure of his ability to create the best environment for people to live in peace, experience joy and grow in goodness, the world has ever seen.
But the land that he set out to rule was not made up of hills and valley, mountains and streams but the land was and is the hearts and minds of ordinary people everywhere. 
What people notice as soon as they surrender the land, which is their heart to this king is that their lives change for the better.  Their lives start to grow beautiful things, which the king then encouraged them to share with everyone else. 
The King of course is Jesus and the Kingdom is called the kingdom of God.  Jesus told a story to help his disciples understand how people who become part of the kingdom can have their lives transformed.
1. A Seed contains hope      
Jesus’ picture of a man scattering seed on the ground is a picture of a picture of a person with hopes and dreams.  He didn’t go out in the fields, to sow seed in the in the way they did in those days because he liked walking or fresh air.  He had a dream that one day the seed would become corn, the corn be made into bread and his family would have enough to eat.
Jesus says that this man s like the person who is trying to share how Jesus becoming king of our lives is good news. 
There are many people who are longing for something that will change their lives so that they can grow good things in their lives.  
Some feel that they are just like that sower. As people who have already become part of the Jesus’ kingdom they have the hope that other people will let Jesus be king of their lives too.  They believe that the more people let Jesus rule, the more righteousness, peace and joy will grow.  The Bible says that when Jesus comes to rule it is like a harvest.   Like the man in Jesus story they are people with a hope and a dream, not just for themselves but for others and for the glory of the King they serve.
Others feel that they are more like the ground the man is trying to plant seed in.  They have a heart that longs to be productive rather than a waste.  They have placed their hope in many things before that have come to nothing.  They are hoping for something that will work.  It is a step of faith to open up their minds to the possibility that this message of Jesus if planted in them could be the beginning of new life.
2. A Mystery  
Jesus says, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the seed produces corn.”
There is an element of mystery involved surrounding the growth of any living thing.  It is still true despite all our expertise in growing things, there is a point where human beings have to just let nature act on its own.  They just have to stand back and watch what happens.
A doctor knows this as well as the farmer.   Sometimes the healing power of the human body like the seed, seems to “work by itself.” 
There is a part that we can play in bringing the reign of Jesus to more and more of God’s earth but we cannot do it without him.  We think it all depends on us and when we think we have blown it big time we will be surprised again and again that here and there in the most surprising places people are turning to Christ and letting him into their lives.
This story of Jesus shows us that there is a balance between being passive and being pressured.  In the parable the man did something. He scattered seed. The parable does not begin “and a farmer went to sleep and when he woke up he was totally gobsmacked to see that a field of corn had grown up overnight. Jesus calls us to be active in planting seeds of hope into the lives of people and he calls us to do it with intelligence and to make the best use of the resources we have.  Jesus has chosen to use us in the spreading of his kingdom but we need to remember that there are some things in the process that we cannot do.  Consequently we should rely more on prayer than technique. Since God is the one who brings transformation and new life we should spend more time asking God to change hearts and less time trying to find a gimmick that will persuade a person to change.
For those who are at the stage in their life where they are thinking about where they are with faith  it sometimes seems so simple and sometimes they sense they are just on the point of grasping it when they begin to wonder if they are any further on at all.  They need tob e assured that it does not all depend up them working it all out.  We cannot always see what is happening within us but deep below the surface God is at work. 
3. A Miracle 
When we sow seeds in hope, and co-operate in the mysterious work of God in the lives of people there are many miracles.
The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when it is planted, it grows and become the largest of all garden plants with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)
The mustard seed Jesus referred to mustn’t be confused with the mustard cress seed. In Israel the mustard plant can grow as high as 12 feet, though the seed is extremely small. 
The way in which the tiny mustard seed grew into an enormous tree made Jesus think that even though his rule of the hearts and lives of people began with just a small team of 12 men, it could grow and grow.
And that is what happened. A few, mostly uneducated men spread the message of Jesus’  kingdom throughout the entire known world within two hundred years.  People of the most different races, languages and cultures surrendered to the reign and rule of God in their lives and found a home in the kingdom in the same way that birds find shelter in the branches of a tree.
Today 33% of the world’s 6 billion people consider themselves Christians and 100,000 people will have become Christians today.   Even though this is true the mustard plant still hasn’t grown to full maturity.
It is often in the small things that the King is working the most powerfully. And individuals, we cannot imagine what the King has planned for our lives.  It is far greater than we imagine.  When we have  welcomed a seed of truth to enter our hearts there may be  perhaps there signs of the new thing Jesus is doing in us but we should not be  impatient because we don’t see great things yet.  They will come if we don’t give up, or turn away, if we continue to co-operate with the King.

God has invited us to be a part of His plan to change the world. He has called us to take part in receiving His love and then sharing it with those around us. He has great things ready for all of us and great plans to glorify His name through us as we learn and as we grow.
But all of that potential will remain simply potential unless we make a choice to follow God. Following God’s path isn’t easy but it is worth it.  

God bless you