Immeasurably More

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31-32

Those listening to Jesus would have understood how small a mustard seed is. But they also would have understood that a mustard seed grows into a plant no larger than a small shrub. To say that what is usually a small shrub would not only become the largest of garden plants but then would become a tree that birds can perch in was quite an imaginary leap.

Those listening to Jesus who knew their Old Testament prophets would have heard in this parable an allusion to something God said through His prophet Ezekiel. Yes, Jesus was obviously saying that the Kingdom starts small and becomes much bigger than expected. But He was saying even more than that.

Listen to how God speaks about the kingdom of Assyria through the prophet Ezekiel.

Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon,
    with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest;
it towered on high, its top above the thick foliage.
The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall;
their streams flowed all around its base
and sent their channels to all the trees of the field.
So it towered higher than all the trees of the field;
its boughs increased and its branches grew long,
    spreading because of abundant waters.
All the birds of the sky nested in its boughs,
all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches;
all the great nations lived in its shade.
It was majestic in beauty, with its spreading boughs,
for its roots went down to abundant waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor could the junipers equal its boughs,
nor could the plane trees compare with its branches—
no tree in the garden of God could match its beauty.
I made it beautiful with abundant branches,
the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God.

Ezekiel 31:3-9

Jesus was saying that the Kingdom of God will start small but will become more powerful, more majestic, more beautiful than even the great kingdoms of the world (like Assyria).

The Kingdom of God will tower higher than all the kingdoms of the world. It will become like a great cedar of Lebanon. All the nations and peoples of the earth will rest under its shade. It will be majestic in its beauty. Nothing will rival it.

Zechariah 4:10 reminds us not to despise the day of small beginnings. Things in the Kingdom of God always start small. Yet, if we are faithful, the Kingdom will grow up around us in ways that are wildly unexpected. The Kingdom grows in ways that are beyond our imagination. This is how the apostle Paul put it when he wrote to the Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

God Is Not Your Enemy

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

This is one of the most important parables in all of the Gospel accounts. This is Jesus explaining how the Kingdom of God in the world interacts with the kingdom of darkness. More people need to spend time meditating on the truths of this parable, especially people who struggle with idea of why there is evil in the world.

One day God will end history and bring an end to evil in the world. One day all wrongs will be made right. One day God will intervene in the most dramatic of ways. There will one day be a harvest and a judgment, and no one will escape this reality.

But until then, we have to understand that the wheat and the weeds will both grow. The Kingdom of God will grow but so will the kingdom of darkness. The spread of the gospel, the bringing of justice, the power of God on display in the world will continue to increase. Yet, so will the ways the enemy sows his seeds of evil. Evil will also continue to increase. According to this parable of Jesus, God will one day remove evil from all of creation, but if He does so too early it does damage. Peter explains this phenomenon this way:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

God is not being slow as He waits for the final harvest. God is being patient. He wants more and more people to enter the Kingdom of God. The moment God removes evil from the world, history transitions into eternity. And once that happens, the doors shut on the wedding feast of the Kingdom (Luke 14:24) just as the doors of Noah’s ark shut before the rains came (Matthew 24:36-39). God is keeping those doors open as long as possible.

As we see the pain and suffering in the world, our reaction to the evil we witness should be the same as the farmer’s reaction to the weeds, “the enemy did this.” As Jesus later explains the parable to His disciples, He makes clear, “the enemy who sows them is the devil“(Matthew 13:39). God gets blamed for so many awful things because people don’t understand the truth of this parable. Satan is actively sowing seeds of evil and darkness into people and into the world. We have a real enemy and it’s not God.

As followers of Jesus, we should be encouraged that the Kingdom of God is growing and advancing. The Church will continue to prevail around the world. As Jesus said to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it“(Matthew 16:18).

And just as we are encouraged by this truth, we need to be vigilant about the reality that the enemy will continue to try to advance the kingdom of darkness everywhere he can. As Peter says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour“(1 Peter 5:8). We need to be alert and of sober mind, aware that we will run into growing weeds even as the wheat grows.

Not every situation in your life is from God.

Have you been blaming God for something He’s not responsible for?

Swept Clean or Free?

“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Matthew 12:43-45

Sometimes I find myself in conversations about ministering to those who are demonized. When I talk about the fact that I’ve cast demons out of a bunch of people, the initial reaction is usually disbelief. After they realize that I am serious and that I have story after story that I can share with them about this reality, disbelief changes to curiosity. While casting out demons fits with everything we see in the Gospels, the book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, it can be difficult for our minds to comprehend because of western rationalism and materialism.

Occasionally, the question is asked, “Have you ever cast a demon out of a believer? Someone who is a follower of Jesus?” My answer is always, “I’ve only cast demons out of believers. I would be hesitant to cast a demon out of someone who isn’t a follower of Jesus unless they become one soon afterward.” This is usually fairly shocking to the person who asked the question.

In most people’s mind, the image they have of a demonized person is of someone like the Gerasene demoniac who was fully possessed, chained hand and foot, and living in caves. Or the image they have is like something they’ve seen in a horror movie. But what they don’t understand is that there is a continuum of demonization that moves from simple attachment, to internal occupation, to stronghold, to oppression. And if they don’t have the Holy Spirit, it can become possession.

The danger of casting demons out of a person without the Holy Spirit is what we learn from Jesus in the Matthew 12 passage above. When talking about the demonic, Jesus compares our life to a house. One might be able to cast the demon out of one of the rooms of that person’s house, but if Someone stronger doesn’t move into that room, the demon will just come back with his friends. The condition of the person will be worse than before. Just putting the house in order and sweeping it clean (what we see many people do in counseling) isn’t enough. Our lives will simply become a more orderly place for more demons to occupy and oppress.

One time a pagan woman came to Jesus to ask Him to cast a demon out of her daughter. Initially, Jesus denies her request because she is a Gentile. Jesus goes on to describe the ministry of deliverance–casting out demons–as “the children’s bread“(Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27). In other words, the ministry of casting out demons was always meant as a gift for the people of God.

Casting out demons is a cleansing tool meant to be used mostly in the discipleship process of becoming more like Jesus in holiness and purity. Occasionally, it can also be used in evangelism when combined with the message of salvation. But deliverance ministry was always meant to be for the people of God.

Christians should feel no more ashamed of needing deliverance than a sick person should feel ashamed of going to the doctor. In the earliest traditions of the Church, in the first few hundred years, a person received deliverance prayer immediately after they were baptized. The normal process was: 1) surrender one’s life to Jesus, 2) get baptized in water, 3) invite the Holy Spirit to baptize and fill the new believer, and 4)cast out any demons that are there. Most of the church has lost these last two steps. Based on the ineffectiveness and brokenness of the Church today, I believe we need to recapture #3 and #4 as a normal process for the new believer.

Is there an area of your life you struggle to gain victory? A chronic sin? An addiction or compulsion? Self destructive thoughts or behaviors? A temptation that feels impossible to resist? If so, there’s a good change you need deliverance ministry. God’s gift to His people is deliverance ministry. Never be ashamed to take Jesus up on His offer of true freedom!

The Power of Words

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit…For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Matthew 12:33-37

Our language reveals our heart. If we continue to lie, there is deception in our hearts. If we continue to speak words that are harsh and condemning, there is anger (and maybe rage and hate) in our hearts. If we continue to push people away with our words, there is rejection in our hearts (because we always feel rejected regardless if that is the truth or not). We will have to give an account of every empty word that we’ve spoken. We will have no defense except the blood of Jesus.

There are many people whose words that they speak are ruining their life. Words have the power to bring life or death to the people around us. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit“(Proverbs 18:21). Matthew 12 mentions fruit as well. We will eat the fruit of our own words. If our words bring life, we will experienced life all around us. If our words criticize, cut people down, judge, mock, condemn, and punish then we will experience death all around us. That will be the fruit we eat!

Another way to understand this truth is that our critical and harsh words not only bring death to the people around us (and subsequently becomes the bad fruit that we eat) but there is also a boomerang effect to our words. The measure we use will be used against us.

If our measurement tool is full of forgiveness, grace and love, that is the tool that will measure our own life. The enemy will have no place to attack us. But if our measurement tool is full of judgement, anger, resentment, criticism, and perfectionism then that is also the tool that will measure our own life. The enemy will launch attack after attack on our life because we’ve given him a standard of measurement that leaves us completely open to attack. Our life could never hold up to the standard to which we hold others.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Luke 6:37-38

Your words were meant to bring life to the people around you. Your words were meant to bring life to you! “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt...”(Colossians 4:6). We need to examine our heart to see what is coming out of it in the form of words. If toxic words are coming out, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to clean out the deep places of our wounded heart. We need to take off the old self, put it to death, and put on the new self which is being renewed day by day to look more like Jesus.

You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3:7-10

Take inventory of your words and it will reveal the condition and contents of your heart.

What kind of words have you been speaking lately? Have they brought life or death? Have you felt their boomerang effect?

Bringing Justice through to Victory

Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. He warned them not to tell others about him. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
    the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
    and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or cry out;
    no one will hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
    and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
In his name the nations will put their hope.”[Isaiah 42:1-4]

Matthew 12:15-21

The reason Jesus withdrew from that place is because the Pharisees were plotting to kill Him. Jesus’s response to their plan to kill Him is to move to a different region and heal every single person who came to Him. It doesn’t say that He healed some. It doesn’t say that He healed those with enough faith. It doesn’t say that He healed the righteous. No, He healed “all who were ill.”

When we pray for the sick, we have to own the fact that Jesus healed every person who came to Him. In other words, we have to own the fact that if Jesus were standing there with the person we’re praying for, they’d be healed. But it’s not Jesus standing there, it’s us. It’s Christ in us the hope of glory. The problem is never on God’s end of the equation.

And notice that Jesus healing everyone was a fulfillment of prophecy about the Messiah from Isaiah 42:1-4. When Jesus healed, it was Him bringing the justice of God into that situation. He wouldn’t turn people away who needed healing. A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out. Instead, He would bring justice through to victory.

Bringing justice through to victory is language that is often used to describe a military battle. An invading army has come into the Promised Land. An evil foreign king has invaded the Temple. And the job of the Messiah, not unlike King David, was to bring the justice of God into the battle and see it through to victory. This is the imagery scripture gives us for when Jesus heals the sick.

In other words, God sees sickness and disease as an injustice. Sin, the brokenness of the world, and the enemy all can cause the body to malfunction in ways that it was never intended. To bring justice is to make things right that have gone wrong. When Jesus heals, He makes right whatever has gone wrong in the body. He ushers in the Kingdom of God into the body. And in the Kingdom of God, there is no sickness. Your Kingdom come (into this body), Your will be done, on earth (in this body) as it is in heaven (where there is no sickness).

When Jesus brings the justice of God to invade the injustice of sickness, He brings it through to victory. He doesn’t allow the invading armies of illness and disease to stay in the body. He releases the Kingdom of God in its fullness into the body until victory has been won.

This is the example that we are to follow. Jesus is the standard of what the Christian life should look like. The Holy Spirit moves us from glory to glory so that we look ever more like Christ. Part of that means seeing more and more healing as our lives look more and more like Jesus. We learn how to cooperate with the Father and the Spirit, releasing the Kingdom into every body we pray for. We learn how to cooperate with bringing God’s justice to invade the injustice of sickness, until we can bring it through to victory.

We do all of this so that the nations will put their hope and trust in the name of Jesus!

To Do Good On The Sabbath

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus,they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

Matthew 12:9-14

They asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. While this question seems strange to us, we have to understand it in context. One of the main ways to honor and worship God was to follow His law, especially on the Sabbath. To break Sabbath law was to dishonor God and make a mockery of His commands.

Jesus was trying to help them see the heart behind the law. The heart of the law was to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The law was meant to help the Jews love God and love people. If the law was then used to prevent them from loving people, Jesus was saying that it was being misused.

It would be like us asking the question, “Is it okay to totally disrupt a Sunday morning worship service if it means someone would get the help and healing they need?” Would it be okay if someone needed healing and the whole service stopped for that one person so people could pray for them? Would we be willing to cancel the sermon and cancel the rest of the worship songs?

You can hear people’s push back already, “But the worship songs and the sermon are how we honor and glorify God in that moment! Should we cancel that just for one person?” This is the tension that was going in the synagogue that day. Should the law be trampled on just for this one man?

Also notice that Jesus tells the man to stretch out his hand, but Jesus never indicates which hand. The man had two hands. One could easily be stretched out. That was his healthy hand. The other would not stretch out even if the man tried to force it. That was his shriveled hand. So if you were in that condition, and someone asked you to stretch out your hand, the most natural thing in the world would be to stretch out the good hand.

But what we witness is an incredible risk on the part of the man with the shriveled hand. What we witness here is this man step out and take a leap of faith. He could have tried to stretch out his shriveled hand and nothing happen. He was risking breaking Sabbath law for the chance at experiencing the impossible. This was a radical act of faith!

Jesus honors the man’s faith and the man’s willingness to take a risk. As the shriveled hand is being extended it is healed. The man watches his own hand transform right before his own eyes. It didn’t take weeks or months. In just a moment with Jesus, everything was healed. Surely this is cause for the whole synagogue to celebrate! Right!?!

Nope. The Pharisees couldn’t see the miracle and celebrate. Their hardened hearts of unbelief wouldn’t allow it. They could only see Jesus breaking Sabbath law and encouraging others to do so. They could only see disruption in a synagogue service. They could only see their authority and power leaking away in the presence of Jesus.

I have seen this mindset up close and personal. I’ve seen people healed in a worship service only to field complaint after complaint about how we shouldn’t have prayed for healing in a worship service. I’ve heard warning after warning about how new people will be offended and visitors won’t understand what’s happening and so we shouldn’t pray for healing in a worship service. All of this after seeing people miraculously healed because we prayed for healing in a worship service. Sometimes a religious spirit and a spirit of unbelief can cause people to not see the forest for the trees.

Miracles make people uncomfortable. Pursuing the supernatural movement of the Holy Spirit can make people uncomfortable. Change makes people uncomfortable. The feeling of not having absolute control over a situation makes people feel uncomfortable. But if we are going to let Jesus be Jesus in our churches, if we are going to let the Holy Spirit be the Holy Spirit in our churches, we’ll need to find ways to allow room “to do good on the Sabbath.”

How would you react to Jesus doing the miraculous in your church on a Sunday?

Learn from Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus’s yoke of teaching was not a heavy burden. To take on Jesus’s yoke–his way of living in the Kingdom–is not about laboring to perform for God. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. We get to come to Jesus, off-load our shame, guilt and sin, and receive from Him peace, joy, comfort and love. It’s an incredible exchange that we have available to us every day because of the price Jesus paid on the cross.

Many of us have read this passage a number of times and found encouragement and comfort from it. Life in Christ was never meant to be wearisome. If the burden of following Jesus starts to get too heavy, it means we are carrying too much. It means it’s time to take a trip to the cross where we can lay our burdens at Jesus’s feet and allow Him to carry them for us. When we spend time with Jesus we can find rest for the deepest part of our being–our souls.

One thing that is important to notice is that Jesus doesn’t say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn about me…” No, He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Jesus is alive! Jesus rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father. When we read scripture, we don’t just learn about Jesus. We learn from Jesus.

Learning about Jesus is an important first step, but learning about Him is confined to what Jesus did in the past. Learning from Jesus is about imitating Him with our life today. Learning from Jesus is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us now. It is about hearing from Jesus about our lives today. We will never find rest for our souls if we are only learning about Jesus. Rest for our souls comes when we learn from Jesus.

When we allow Jesus to teach us and guide us today, in the present moment, when we learn from Jesus, we’ll find that He will lead us beside quiet waters as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23