As Jesus is the cornerstone upon which the Church is built, so are his teachings the unifying cornerstone of Christian doctrine.

7 Keys to the Parable of the Weeds

Jesus gave 7 keys to understanding the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13:37-39. They help us understand other parables. 1) Who really sows? “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.” 2) Where is God working? “The field is the world.” 3) Are we God’s children? “The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom.” 4) Who are Satan’s children? “The tares are the sons of the wicked one.” 5) Who is ultimately responsible for evil? “The enemy who sowed them is the devil.” 6) How long must we wait? “The harvest is the end of the age.” 7) Who harvests? “The reapers are the angels.”

Waiting Until Harvest

Do we get upset and angry with wrongdoing in the Church? Should we excommunicate all remorseless sinners until few are left in the church? Should we refuse to have communion with those who are corrupt and unresponsive to God? What if in so doing, we also offend family members and friends who are sincere Christians? In Matthew 13:30 Jesus said, “Let both grow together until the harvest.” Jesus does not ask us to tolerate evil but be patient because the responsibility is not ours but the angels’. The Church has always been a mixture of sinners and saints. We must be patient, praying for repentance and waiting until the harvest.

Evils in the Church

The Church does much good in the world, like schools, universities, medical care, music, arts, literature, science, human rights, opposing slavery, influencing laws, providing orphanages, care for the hungry and poor. Why is evil also in the Church? Why did Catholics exterminate Waldensians and murder tens of thousands during the Inquisition? Why did Catholics and Protestants murder Anabaptists? Why did Calvinists murder French priests? Why do Orthodox persecute Russian Protestants? Can we weed all corruption out of church? In Matthew 13:28-29 Jesus described evil to his disciples as weeds among the wheat. ‘Should we pull out the weeds?’ they asked. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘you’ll uproot the wheat if you do.”

What are Tares?

In Matthew 13:24-25 Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way.” The weed was probably darnel, called cockle and false wheat. It exists worldwide, looking similar to wheat until maturity. Wheat ears are heavy. It hangs down. Darnel ears are light. It stands tall. The wicked seem to prosper while the righteous suffer. Cockle has a deeper root. Removing it would pull out the wheat. A solution is to let both grow together until harvest and separate them then, when the righteous will shine.

Fail in Order to Succeed

An old axiom says that failure is the stepping stone to success. Are we afraid of failure? The road to success is paved with failures. Before the farmer in the Parable of the Sower had a successful crop he failed in three areas. We fail in these same areas. We allow the devil to snatch the word of God away from us. We allow the deceitfulness of wealth to choke out the word of God. We are shallow in faith and quit too easily. Paths can be plowed up, thorns can be uprooted and rocks can be pulverized into good productive soil. All our failures can be stepping stones to success.

Sow Indiscriminately

In the Parable of the Sower Jesus spoke of the kingdom of heaven being like an indiscriminate sower. This contradicts theories surrounding church growth of targeting certain statistically measurable demographics. There is no such target audience in this parable. The seed of the kingdom is sown with wild abandon. I like that. It’s more like spreading of the Gospel with faith instead of using man-made formulas. A well-known leader in the church growth movement once said that he could build a church a mile wide but only an inch deep, only a pastor can build depth. Jesus said something quite different. He said, “I will build My church” (Matthew 16:18).

Why Parables

In Matthew 13:10-18 Jesus revealed why He spoke in parables. It was because, “whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.” So, those who have no interest in learning to obeying God will not understand. Not everyone has ears that desire to hear, but those who have the desire can ask God for understanding. A parable is a story, an allegory that illustrates a moral or spiritual lesson. To those who really learn to understand, Jesus says, “blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.”

He Who Has Ears

In Matthew 13:9 is a familiar saying of Jesus, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” What does that mean? It means, Pay attention! It does not mean hearing outwardly only, but deep down inside. It means to comprehend. It means to put to use the parables Jesus taught. It is an invitation to think about the deeper, hidden meaning. Why did Jesus paint such familiar farming pictures? Are there morals to His stories? His parables require more than ordinary powers of superficial thought to understand. Jesus said this proverbial conclusion more than once, perhaps to indicate which of His teachings were of greatest importance. Do we hear?

Fruit-Filled Christianity

In Matthew 13:8, 23 what happens in good soil that causes the seed of the word of the kingdom to grow so well? After describing superficial, shallow and worry-filled lives, Jesus described fruit-filled Christianity. What is the difference? One difference is understanding. The Greek implies being “put together” as in the God-given ability to synthesize the word of the kingdom into a whole picture. The Holy Spirit helps us to put spiritual ideas together producing a fruit-filled Christianity. John the Baptist understood this when he chided the Pharisees about repentance. As a genuine change of heart is seen by its fruits, so does authentic Christianity produce a fruit-filled life.

Anxious & Deceived Christianity

In Matthew 13:7, 22 what happens in the thorns that causes the word of the kingdom to be choked? How do anxiety and wealth suffocate us? Why do we receive the word, and circumstances soon strangle it? Like thorns, worldly cares and affluence suck the life out of us. We are enticed to waste time and effort on worthless materialism. Worldly success becomes all-consuming. Then, important things suffer, like family life and the word of God. The result is that our lives become spiritually dead. On such a treadmill, we have less time to even think about the word of the kingdom. How do we escape our prisons to freedom?

Shallow Christianity

In Matthew 13:5-6, and 20 what happens on rocky soil that causes the seed of  the word of the kingdom to die so quickly? The seed that fell on the rocks did take root, but it was shallow. It had no deep root and died when hard times came. Shallow Christianity focuses on good times and materialism, but not deep spiritual things. For example, health and wealth are a focus of shallow Christianity. Suffering and persecution are rarely or never preached in such circles. The Bible teaches: blessed are those who suffer and are persecuted for righteousness. Shallow Christianity cannot handle the truth and avoids it. But deep-rooted Christianity lives on.

Superficial Christianity

In Matthew 13:4 and 19 the message of the kingdom is snatched away by birds. What happens? If we are careless with the message of the kingdom, it can be taken away. When the word of the kingdom comes, we should take time to understand it, because it is easily lost. We may even call ourselves Christian, but is it only a label, superficial, just on the surface? Is it only an outward show and not a deep Christian life? There is no substitute for the word of the kingdom as a lamp to guide our path (Psalm 119:105-112). Do we take time to understand the word of the kingdom?

A Promise of Rest

Rest for our souls is a topic in Matthew 11 and Hebrews 3 & 4. The Sabbath day and the Promised Land are pictures of eternal rest. “There remains therefore a rest [literally ‘a Sabbath rest’] for the people of God.” (Hebrews 4:9) Though we find rest for our souls now, there still remains an eternal rest. “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11) We are invited to rest from the burden of sin, our anxieties, the distress of unsatisfied desires, from deep sorrows after a death, and to make every diligence to enter eternal rest.

My Burden is Light

A problem that the church has faced down through the ages is the temptation to add to Jesus’ easy burden, the heavy burden of man-made practices, weights, cumbersome rituals, Pharisaic rules, and unbearable religious demands that neither Jesus nor His Apostles taught. Jesus contrasted His light burden with the heavy burden that religious leaders in His day who taught the Scriptures imposed (Matthew 23:1-12). In the hands of hypocrites who love power, church can become a human-created burden. Those who teach the Bible must beware not to add to the light load that Jesus gave. In Matthew 11:30 Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Rest for our Souls

In Matthew 11:28-29 Jesus offers a rest that no one else can give, that no letter-of-the-law Sabbath day observance can give. Our need of rest is twofold, to “all you who labor and are heavy laden.” Labor becomes like a treadmill when we add the burden of sorrow that sin produces. Jesus’ promise of rest is also twofold, “I will give you rest” and “you will find rest for your souls.” These precious blessings are offered to all of us, the rest in coming to Christ, the rest of a quiet conscience, the rest of friendship with God, the rest of forgiveness, rest from fears, and rest for our souls.

I Will Give You Rest

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) Our Sabbath rest is in Jesus and eternity (Hebrews 4). No Christian keeps the letter of the law as Deuteronomy, which expounds the Ten Commandments,1 demands. Some want to keep the law in the letter and the spirit, but the letter kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). The only option left is keeping the law in spirit. The New Testament teaches us how. Our true rest is in Him, circumcision is in the heart (Romans 2:29), and love fulfills the whole law (Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:14).

1 1st Deuteronomy 6-11; 2nd Deuteronomy 12; 3rd Deuteronomy 13:1-14:21; 4th Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17; 5th Deuteronomy 16:18-18:22; 6th Deuteronomy 19-21; 7th Deuteronomy 22:1-23:14; 8th Deuteronomy 23:15-24:7; 9th Deuteronomy 24:8-16; 10th Deuteronomy 24:17-26:15. Source: Hill, Andrew E. & Walton, John H. A Survey of the Old Testament. Zondervan Publishing House. 1991. 58.

Hidden Things

Why can national leaders not understand how to lead nations to God? Why can the most highly educated and greatest minds on our planet not bring about peace? Why do the wealthy and powerful of the world not understand that their greed and selfishness destroys their own families and the world? There is an answer in knowing God. In Matthew 11:25-27 Jesus prayed that, “You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.” Who alone can reveal the most important secrets of all? “Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.”

Three Insignificant Towns

Why in Matthew 11:20-24 did Jesus denounce three small towns in Galilee? Were they like Sodom and Gomorrah, or Las Vegas and Amsterdam? They were not major sin cities with prostitution, debauchery or even child sacrifice. Jesus said that such cities, “would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” That’s the problem! While we focus on morality or social justice, Jesus pointed out a far worse problem, unwillingness to repent. What does Jesus say about sin cities? He said, “it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” Why? It’s not where we start, but where we end up that counts.

Eating and Drinking

Matthew 11:16-19 contains an allegory of children in a public square arguing while playing make-believe funerals and weddings. “We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.” In the Church we sometimes argue over such things. Some Christian music sounds like a funeral dirge and some sounds festive like a wedding. Are we too often like the children in the marketplace? Is God interested in petty arguments? Do we childishly criticize legitimate choices like John the Baptist “neither eating nor drinking” versus Jesus “eating and drinking?” The children of true, heavenly wisdom approve the conduct of both as justified.

Matthew 10:40-42 Summary

In Matthew 10:40-42 Jesus gave four points on hospitality. 1) Receive us, receive Jesus. We represent Christ wherever we go. Do we receive other believers as we would treat Christ? 2) Receive a prophet. The prophet speaks God’s word publicly. Salvation is a gift but those who have done more will be rewarded with more. 3) Receive a righteous person. In the New Testament righteousness is by faith. Do we welcome those who have faith in Christ? 4) Give little ones a friendly reception. How do we treat new converts? When others welcome us are we gracious guests? Our neighbors need the Gospel. If they welcome us, they welcome Jesus.

Little Ones

In Matthew 10:42 Jesus said, “whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward.” Who is a little one? Is it left open to interpretation? Certainly new Christians are little ones in the faith, but also humble Christians can be little ones in their own eyes. A cup of cold water might be considered the minimum hospitality. Do we welcome “little” disciples as we might define them? What about disciples who are unrighteous and have not grown? If so, Jesus promises that we will surely be rewarded.

Prophets & Righteous People

In Matthew 10:41 Jesus said, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward.” A prophet “is someone inspired by God to foretell or tell-forth (forthtell) the Word of God.” Jesus further said, “he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” One preaches God’s word and the other acts upon God’s word. Bengel’s Gnomon [1] says, “A prophet is one who speaks, a righteous man one who acts, in the name of God, and is distinguished for his remarkable righteousness.” Welcome a preacher or righteous person, receive the same reward in heaven.
[1] Johann Albrecht Bengel. Gnomon Novi Testamenti, or Exegetical Annotations on the New Testament. 1742.

Receiving the Father

Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Seventh Day churches, some Baptists, some Calvinists and others all claim to be the one true church. How should we treat people of other denominations? Would God call it a sin to exclude those who receive Jesus from sharing in a common communion? What would Jesus say about this? In Matthew 10:40 He said, “he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me.” Why would we not receive anyone who receives Jesus and our heavenly Father? If we receive those who receive Jesus, we receive our Father in heaven. Can we receive each other as fellow believers of the important things and not divide over lesser issues?

Receiving the Son

Sometimes we may be reluctant to allow others to bless us with a gift. Some people have even gotten angry when others give to them. We need to allow others the blessing of blessing us without rejecting their love. In Matthew 10:40 the disciples were taught this by Jesus, when He said, “He who receives you receives Me.” What that means is, when people receive Christians, they are in effect receiving Christ Himself. A compliment is a kind of gift. When someone pays us a compliment bragging is wrong, but so it rejecting it. Simply say, thank you. We need to learn to be thankful receivers as well as givers.

Like New and Old Treasures

In Matthew 13:51-52 Jesus spoke of those who convert from an Old Testament faith to the kingdom of heaven as being “like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.” We have treasures from both Old and New Testaments. We have treasures from both old and new music styles. It requires some maturity and education for a church to sing old and new songs in worship. Grandchildren honor grandparents’ music choices and grandparents know it is biblical to “sing a new song” (Psalm 33:3; Psalm 40:3; Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98:1; Psalm 144:9; Psalm 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9).

Like a Drag Net

In Matthew 13:47-50 Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind.” Like a dragnet, the kingdom also picks up people indiscriminately. Trawlers then separate from the catch the useful fish and throw “the bad away.” At the final judgment “angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire.” Many moderns don’t like to hear about hell, but the Bible does not shy away from it. Angels will only confirm what we have already chosen. Don’t choose to neglect salvation. “There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Like a Costly Pearl

In Matthew 13:45-46 Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls.” Since ancient times pearls have been highly sought after and prized. They are formed by the hand of God. The buried treasure was found by accident. The pearl was found by an individual who was looking. He too recognized the life-changing magnitude of his discovery, “when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” He responded with an absolute commitment to the kingdom of heaven. What is the most prized thing in our lives? Is anything else worth more than the kingdom of heaven?

Like Buried Treasure

In Matthew 13:44 we read, “the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.” Buried treasure is not just fiction but a historic reality and a business. Treasure hunters include archaeologists and marine salvage operators. Two separate half billion dollar fortunes were recovered in 1985 and 2007. Yet, the most valuable treasure of all is the kingdom of heaven and few are finding it today. The kingdom of God is in this world but hidden. Most people are not like the man who “for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Are we yet ready to sacrifice everything for heaven?

Like Yeast

In Matthew 13:33 Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven” (yeast). What about yeast helps us understand the kingdom of heaven? The woman used, three measures, about 27 kilograms (60 pounds). That is far more bread than one family needs, “a woman took and hid [it] in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.” Could this refer to the three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant? Is it Christianity or idolatry which creates human traditions and doctrines contradicting the teachings of Jesus? Only Jesus has the authority to define the kingdom of heaven, and He defines it as much larger than our narrow views.

The Shunammite Woman

Background to the Gospel lesson in Matthew 10:40-42 is a wonderful story of hospitality (2 Kings 4:8-17). Shunem (Sulam) still exists today near Nazareth. A wealthy woman there invited the prophet Elisha to eat with her and her husband. Her home became a regular stopping place as Elisha passed by. Her hospitality was so rare and great that she and her husband went to considerable trouble and expense building a spare room for him to rest on his journeys. Asking his assistant Gehazi what he could do to repay the woman’s kindness, he learned that she was childless. The prophet said she would bear a child. God rewards hospitality.

Repay No Evil

How ought we react to hatred? Romans 12:17-21 says, “Repay no one evil for evil.” How are we to live among those who hate us? “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” What about revenge? “Beloved, do not avenge yourselves.” We are to give place for the wrath of God. Vengeance is not ours, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. What do we do with enemies? Proverbs 25:21-22 says, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink… heap coals of fire on his head.” We are to “overcome evil with good.”

The Cost of Discipleship

Is Matthew 10:38-39 too strong for us? Sugar-coated sermons are for baby Christians. Jesus said, he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.” We are at war against corruption and greed. Are we willing to be different, giving instead of taking, dying to selfishness, admitting that we cannot solve even our own problems, that only God can save us? Are we willing to sacrifice for others or are we too selfish to make a better world? Do we believe what Jesus said, He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it?”

Family Opposition

Jesus explained that faith sometimes divides families. He warned his first students in Matthew 10:34-37 that they would have enemies right within their own families. Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Family opposition is part of the journey. It was in faith that God allowed our first parents to choose an opposing way of life, and it is in faith that we allow dearly beloved family members to choose a way of life that conflicts with everything we stand for. If we follow Jesus, family conflict with those who do not is inevitable.

Openly Confess Christ

In Matthew 10:32-33 Jesus encourages us that, “whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” Fear robs us of life’s fullness. Bullies are basically cowards. Often times they will run from bold people who refuse to be terrorized. Even in the worst case scenario, where we are threatened with our lives for shouting Christ for all to hear, the most anyone can do is take our physical lives but not our eternity with God. Jesus wants us to acknowledge Him openly before others. Let’s not be the Christian who hides their faith. Let’s openly admit our faith in Christ before others.

Do not Fear Martyrdom

If we should ever have to pay the ultimate price for our faith, Jesus encourages us in Matthew 10:28-31, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Some people hate Christians. Jesus reassured his first students that even murderous persecutors could not touch their souls. So, where is God when Christians are persecuted and murdered? Jesus comforted us by saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Preach on the Housetops

In Matthew 10:27 Jesus explained what He meant when He said not to fear those who insult us for our faith. Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear in the ear, preach on the housetops.” In some parts of the world Christians are severely persecuted. Even in free countries Christians can be threatened by politics, harassed by a corrupt boss or criticized by others for their beliefs. Even church leaders can coerce people into violating their conscience. Jesus told his first disciples to do just the opposite of what bullies want, by shouting their faith from the rooftops for all to hear.

Do not Fear Insults

In Matthew 10:26 Jesus had spoken of Christians being slandered like He was. He was called Beelzebul (meaning lord of dung). Have we been bullied into silence? Jesus encouraged us, “Therefore do not fear them.” When people insult us are we tempted to take matters into our own hands and get revenge? What about anonymous deeds done in the dark? Let’s remember, “do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35) Let’s also remember, “there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.”

Insults as Compliments

In Matthew 10:24-25, Jesus coached his first students, saying If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub [more accurately Beelzebul], how much more will they call those of his household!” Have we ever been insulted for our faith? Do we let disrespect make us angry? Jesus said that for the Christian an insult can actually be a compliment. Next time that we are insulted, let’s analyze why. Was it because we are a Christian? Hateful put-downs can be a litmus test of genuine Christianity in our lives. If so, take the slander as a wonderful compliment. Receive such verbal abuse as unwitting praise. Use it to be encouraged.

Who is Lost?

Who is lost in our community? Just look around. Who does not go to church? Who has an unkempt lawn and no friends? Who has loads of money but no true friends? Who is an addict? Who is depressed and suicidal? Who is a foreigner far from home and feeling abandoned and unwanted? Who believes that life is all about the materialistic gods of this world? Who has ruined their lives and their family because of sexual immorality? Who drives through town like they have murder on their hearts? Who is deceived into thinking that theft is an appropriate way to live? The lost are everywhere and they are our assignment.

Mission Trip

Unlike the Great Commission, the disciples’ short-term missionary trip in Matthew 10:5-8 was only “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We read in Romans 1:16, “the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Some commentators suggest, they were not yet spiritually mature enough to look beyond their national borders. How were “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” lost? Were they not being led “in the paths of righteousness” (Psalm 23)? Was it because “Their [national and religious] shepherds have led them astray” (Jeremiah 50:6)? Had they “gone astray like a lost sheep” (Psalm 119:176)? Have our modern day shepherds been misleading us?

Twelve Disciples

Why were there 12 disciples? Does it remind us of the 12 Patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 gates through which we may enter New Jerusalem in Revelation 21. He called them apostles. Apostle means an envoy or “one who is sent.” In Matthew 10:1-4, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.” By doing so, Jesus gave them a little of the power that He revealed during His earthly ministry. As the 12 Patriarchs were the Fathers of Israel, so these men were to be the Fathers of the Church.

Bountiful Harvest

In Matthew 9:37-38 Jesus used a familiar metaphor for the Great Commission of a harvest, using that now famous line, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” A bumper crop and a scarcity of field workers is familiar to farmers. Jesus encourages us to pray the Lord would “send out laborers into His harvest.” The sense is rather forceful in this context, meaning “to drive out” workers into the fields, or to “thrust out, force them out, as from urgent necessity.”1 Jesus calls us to a compelling mission. Perhaps one of the major problems of the Church is that we don’t see this as so important.
1Vincent's Word Studies. Marvin Richardson Vincent. 1886

Shepherdless Sheep

In Matthew 9:35-36 Jesus saw a crowd and was “moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” One common word for a church leader is pastor, meaning a shepherd. In Old Testament Israel, the ideal national leader was pictured as a shepherd who feeds and cares for his sheep. When shepherds do not feed and care for the sheep, they become ἐσκυλμένοι καὶ ἐρριμμένοι (Nestle Greek), “harassed and helpless” (NIV), “distressed and dispirited” (NASB), “weary and scattered” (NKJV). Jesus saw people burdened by their shepherds with vain traditions and doctrines, weighed down in ignorance, neglected and scattered abroad without care and attention.

NIV Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
NASB New American Standard Bible (NASB) Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

NKJV Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

What Unites Christians

Is there common ground that unites all Christians worldwide? The logia, the sayings of Christ are the thing upon which Christians agree. Christians are divided over many lesser issues, doctrines and human traditions. Yet, Jesus commanded that his disciples teach what? He charged them with teaching what he taught them. That is what unites us. Whether we are Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, we believe in what Christ taught. So, Jesus seems to be teaching us a priority in the Bible, the words He taught those disciples. When we focus on what Jesus taught, other issues seem to fade into the background. We actually find common ground that wonderfully unites us all.

Teach What

In Matthew 28:20 Jesus gave His disciples the educational curriculum that He expected them to teach. True Christians have always followed this advice down through the ages. Jesus said they should be, “teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” Some try to extend this to the Old Testament and church traditions. Those things have some relevance, but the main thing is the main thing. Jesus specifically said that I have taught YOU. All healthy mainstream churches preach the whole Bible, but their focus is on the Gospels, where most of Jesus’ teachings are located. Healthy preaching covers the Bible and includes a Gospel lesson every week.

The Trinity in 60 Seconds

God is one. Matthew 28:19 says that Father, Son and Holy Spirit have one “name.” Jesus prayed to the Father. God is not three Gods but one, indivisible and yet three persons. Jesus calls God’s angels His, judges the world, is the resurrection, the life, is the Word which was God, and is Lord meaning God in the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit is a person. He makes decisions, teaches, guides, makes the things of Jesus known, convicts the world of sin, can be grieved, blasphemed, possesses a rational mind, can be lied to, resisted and we can have fellowship with Him. God is three and one — a mystery.

Baptize How

Does baptism mean only immersion? In the Bible it can mean wash (Mark 7:4; Luke 11:38; Acts 22:16), Israel passing through the Red Sea (1 Corinthians 10:1-4), and Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion (Mark 10:38). When Jesus and the Ethiopian eunuch were baptized, they came up out of, or up away from the water. That could be ankle-deep water and coming up a bank. This does not prove immersion (Matthew 3:16, Mark 1:10 & Acts 8:38-39). Was the baptism of fire pictured in tongues of fire on the head (Acts 2)? The mode is not as important as the act of baptism (Acts 2:38).

Baptize Who

In Matthew 28:19 we learn that Jesus expected His disciples to make disciples and be “baptizing them.” Discipleship includes baptism. Baptism does not finish instruction. It begins it. On three separate occasions in the New Testament whole households were baptized (1 Corinthians 1:16; Acts 11:13-14; Acts 16:15, 31, 33). Logic would dictate that at least one of those households contained children. As a child was circumcised in the Old Testament so may they be baptized in the New Testament (Colossians 2:11-12). As entire families of ancient Israel were baptized into Moses in the Red Sea, so children may be baptized today (1 Corinthians 10:1-4).

Make

In Matthew 28:19 the disciples were told to “make.” Christianity is not an insular religion, but one of action and we are commissioned to “make disciples of all nations.” Disciples are pupils, scholars, trained, instructed. The word nations means more than national boundaries alone would imply. It includes the idea of different races and peoples of different customs. By use of the word all, it means that nobody is left out. We may not have opportunity to personally cross cultural lines with the Gospel, but we can pray for those who do. In a world that needs the Gospel, God challenges us to a level of thought beyond worldly nationalism.

Go

In Matthew 28:19 the first verb in the Great Commission is to go. This is not the Great Suggestion, but a commission. It would be easier just to stay at home and not go. It would be more convenient not to make that phone call or be involved in a difficult world, but we are not given that option. Our job is the saving of souls. Every Christian has this same commission, to go, make disciples of all nations, baptize them, and teach them all that we have learned from Christ.  These four specific verbs to go, make, baptize and teach are the responsibility of every Christian, not just pastors.

The Holy Spirit Flows

When Jesus said that out of our hearts would flow living water, John 7:39 says, this He spoke concerning the Spirit.” As the Holy Spirit flows like rivers of living water from within, a very important spiritual gift is evident. The Holy Spirit gives many gifts to believers, and first in 1 Corinthians 12 is wisdom. Proverbs 18:4 speaks of the mouth being deep waters and a very important gift of the Holy Spirit is emphasized, The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook.” It is in wisdom that the Gospel must be preached and in wisdom that Christians will gently lead their non-Christian neighbors to salvation in the Lord.

Living Water in the OT

Jesus’ words that “out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” comes from the Old Testament. Psalm 1 says that those who delight in God’s law are like trees planted by rivers of water. Ezekiel 47:1-12 describes water flowing from the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem and making the desert to the south productive. The Apostles often used allegorical interpretations of the Old Testament. Allegory helps us understand the Holy Spirit flowing from heavenly Jerusalem into and out of Christians as a blessing to others around them. Does the Holy Spirit flow from us to others? Do we love our neighbors and thereby quench their spiritual thirst?

Rivers of Living Water

In John 7:38 Jesus said, He who believes in Me... out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” A rule of desert survival is not to drink stagnant water, but to look for a source of running water, sometimes called “living water.” To drink from the living water that Jesus gives, only requires belief in Jesus. The Holy Spirit flows from God to us and and we are satisfied. Christianity is not a selfish religion practiced in isolation from others. What we have received from God ought not to stay within us, but should flow out of us like living water, rather than staying still and becoming stagnant.

Come to Me and Drink

In John 7:37 Jesus stood on the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles and announced, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” The Feast of Tabernacles, is an autumn festival (Leviticus 23:33-36) commemorated since the Exodus with small booths made from leafy boughs. In Jesus’ day the High Priest went from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam and filled a container with water. He re-entered the Temple through the Water Gate. Along with a wine offering, he poured the water onto the base of the altar. The water symbolized the Holy Spirit poured out upon people as it flowed down the Temple steps into the outer courts.

If Anyone Thirsts

In John 7:37 Jesus said, “If anyone thirsts...” The benefits of water far outweigh artificial and addictive sugar-laden drinks. The benefits of true religion far outweigh counterfeits. According to WebMD, water keeps us slimmer, boosts energy and lowers stress due to dehydration, builds muscle tone and prevents cramps, reduces wrinkles from the inside, aids regularity and reduces kidney stones. It truly satisfies. In a parched land, thirst was well-known. God promised Israel living water (Proverbs 18:4; Isaiah 58:11), like water for a thirsty land (Isaiah 44:3), water without price (Isaiah 55:1), a powerful symbol of life. As water truly satisfies physically, belief in Jesus satisfies forever.

Divine Community

In John 17:9-10 Jesus prayed, “for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” Ellicott’s Commentary calls this “absolute community.” The Cambridge Bible describes this as explaining “the perfect union between the Father and the Son.” Paying them and us the greatest compliment, Jesus says, I am glorified in them.” In verse 11 Jesus prayed, Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one.Was this request a total failure, or are Christians really united in God’s name, if not in worldly circumstances? Are we already one in essentials? Could unity in God’s name be called mature Christianity?