Fruitful Living

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable that is one of my favorites. I’ll paraphrase the main ideas here, but you should really take a minute to read it and mull it over. In the parable, a farmer is planting a field. As he is casting seeds, Jesus describes various fates as an allusion to how people respond to hearing about the good news of God’s kingdom. Some seeds are trampled or eaten. Others take root in shallow, rocky, or weedy soil and fail to produce a crop. Finally, some seeds fall into good soil and have a return of 30, 60, or 100 fold. And in the end, the only thing that really seems to matter is whether or not the seed bears its intended fruit.

As the people are left scratching their heads, Jesus explains the parable to his disciples. First, people are fruitful because they don’t really understand what’s going on. Second, people aren’t rooted enough to sustain growth over the time and to the degree that is necessary. Finally, the cares of the world choke out God’s word and prevent fruitfulness.

Understanding.

Character and Support.

Holy. (Set apart.)

I’d like to share a few thoughts on this parable from the perspective of a dad and a person who really loves to see God working in people’s lives. The truth is, if we’re going to become the men and women that God created us to be, we’re going to have to understand a few things about Jesus, about God’s kingdom, about how this whole thing comes together, and about what it all means for us. We’re also going to need to become a rooted people – we’re going to need to embrace the lifelong, tedious, painful, and extraordinary process of character formation as well the fellowship of others who can support, encourage, and strengthen us along the way. Finally, we’re going to have to be a different, holy people set apart from the world in our priorities, concerns, attitudes, habits, and behavior.

Because God is good and because he created us with unfathomable potential, we can expect that he’ll be working in us toward these ends as he shapes us throughout our lives into sons and daughters that are ready to inherit his kingdom and his reign over all creation. Our part is to submit to God’s work in us and to cooperate with him. In other words, invest yourself in understanding more about what God is up to in the Bible. Understand what was taking place in the big picture with Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Embrace character formation and tweak your lifestyle to cooperate with God and to continue growing. Embrace fellowship with people who will catalyze God’s work in you. And finally, learn to be a different kind of person than the rest of the world despite the pain and the cost along the way.

These are the big ideas of Matthew 13 that I’ve been contemplating over the past several days. In Part 2, I’ll unpack them a bit more from the perspective of a dad (and friend and pastor) and offer some thoughts as to a way forward in response.

 

Temples

Throughout the Bible, everyone and everything emerges from within the same story – God’s story. Every New Testament teaching about our new life in Jesus Christ overlaps and compliments the others. This is especially the case as we consider one of the New Testament’s most contextualized metaphors for Jesus’ followers:

“We are the temple of the living God.”
(2 Corinthians 6:16)

To appreciate the significance of this verse (and others like it), let’s trace this line of thought forward from its origin in Creation.

Creation. When God created, there was no temple. Creation was whole. There was no division between heavenly and earthly realms. Creation was God’s resting place. It was home. God was fully present to people and people fully present to God. People walked with God. They talked with God. They knew the sound of God approaching. God wasn’t present in special places; he was just present.

Israel. Part of the fallout of humanity’s rebellion was the veil that came to exist between the heavenly and earthly realms of Creation. Humanity was exiled from the presence of God.

As we know, God did not stand idly by with his creative intentions for humanity shattered. In short order, redemption was underway. God called Abraham and set his descendants apart from the nations as cooperative participants in the redemptive plan for all creation.

A major aspect of Israel’s uniqueness was that they were called to build and care for the Temple –- the one place on earth where the heavens and earth would remain intertwined…the place where God would dwell. The Temple was a testimony to the way things were supposed to be. It was filled with the imagery of creation as a reminder that God’s rightful dwelling place with humanity was not confined to the Temple.

Unfortunately, Israel fell to the same fate as humanity: rebellion and sin. After repeated calls for Israel to repent and return to God and his purposes for the nation, the presence of God departed the Temple. Shortly thereafter, the building itself was destroyed in the Babylonian invasion. Rebellion once again led to exile: God’s people were separated from their God-given dwelling place and from God’s presence.

Jesus. With Jesus, everything changed. Sin was forgiven. Exile ended. God returned. He became present with his people in a manner anyone could see and experience, but no one could have predicted.

Everything the Temple represented and every religious purpose it served was fulfilled in and through Jesus Christ.

Then, despite all Jesus accomplished, his first disciples watched him ascend back into the heavens a short while after his resurrection. God departed again. And the disciples were told to wait… (Luke 24:49)

Church. On the day of Pentecost, the unthinkable happened. Per Jesus’ instructions, his followers had gathered to wait and to pray. Then suddenly, in a scene reminiscent of 2 Chronicles 7 when the Spirit descended and filled Solomon’s Temple:

“There came a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit…”
(Acts 2:2-4a)

The Spirit of God returned as the people of Israel had long been hoping –- only not in the manner they anticipated. It was not to a rebuilt Temple that the Spirit returned. No longer would a single high priest enter God’s presence on one solitary day each year.

The Holy Spirit came and filled Jesus’ disciples! In and through Jesus Christ, the disciples became the new Temple/s:

  • the resting place of God
  • the place in Creation that is once again whole –- where God’s presence resides
  • the witness in the world of the way things are supposed to be and will one day be again fully

As Jesus’ disciples, we are the temples of God in the world today. We are the intersection of the heavens and the earth. We are the witnesses of the way things were always supposed to be and the way they will one day be again. We are foretastes of what it truly means to be human. The Holy Spirit has come to dwell within us to empower us for this very high calling (Acts 1:8). In response, let us learn to live and walk by the Spirit:

  • Living intentionally.
  • Remembering where our story began & anticipating where it’s going.
  • Pursuing ongoing apprenticeship unto Jesus.
  • Loving sacrificially.
  • Living an eternal kind of life here & now.
  • Establishing our allegiance in Jesus’ eternal kingdom.
  • Showing the rest of the world how to live well here & now…

WHEN JESUS IS KING.

(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)

Eternal life

Today, let’s take a look at Jesus’ references to “eternal life” through the gospel of John. (John 3:15-16 & 36; 4:36; 5:24; 6:47 & 54; 10:28; 11:25.) Notice Jesus’ consistent perspective throughout these verses:

Eternal life is a present reality.

Before turning our attention to why Jesus refers to eternal life as a present reality, let’s clarify a couple things before we go any further.

  1. The present reality of eternal life does not diminish its “eternal” nature. Eternal life simply begins much sooner than we sometimes imagine.
  2. The present reality of eternal life doesn’t imply that the way things are today will be the way that they’ll be forever. As 1 Corinthians 15, there is a forthcoming transformation. Life will be MUCH different when the kingdom is fully manifest. Death will be swallowed up by life. Mortality will give way to immortality.

In light of God’s story, the present reality of eternal life should make sense to us. And so it should be no surprise that this same perspective is consistent throughout Jesus’ teaching –- particularly in his parables.

Remember Jesus’ parable in Luke 19: The citizens and servants defined themselves in the kingdom BEFORE the King returned. Jesus taught his disciples that the trajectory of their lives based on their priorities and allegiance would naturally extend into his kingdom. In other words, their everyday lives were already eternally significant. The same is true for us today:

  • Eternal life is a natural extension of the lives we are now living. So Jesus refers to it as a present reality for those who have come to know him.
  • One day, the veil will be taken away, and we’ll see things more clearly, but we’ll still be us, and the reality in which we find ourselves will be the same that it’s always been.
  • Though his reign is not yet fully manifest, we are already living when Jesus is King. We’re already defining ourselves within his reign.
  • The more we come to know & serve Jesus and to live in fellowship with him, the more we’re living an eternal kind of life (John 17:3).

So again, what now?

Let’s live well. Let’s be faithful to Jesus in our relationships. In our finances. In our time management. In our allegiance. Let’s embrace Jesus as our Lord and King here & now. And then when the day comes and he returns to finalize his victory, we’ll find ourselves quite at home as we transition into his eternal kingdom.

(Excerpt from Reimagining Discipleship)