All posts by Dwight Gingrich

A Heart that Bears Fruit for God (2 of 4)

This is the second part of the sermon I shared yesterday at Followers of Jesus Church Atlanta. Here is my outline for the blog version of the sermon:

Part 1: What Is “Fruit”?
Part 2: Two Kinds of Hearers
Part 3: Isaiah 6 and Hardness of Heart
Part 4: Four Kinds of Hearers and One Goal


TWO KINDS OF HEARERS

Now let’s read our entire text. (Read Matthew 13:1-23.)

I found only two commands in this entire passage. Both are commands to “hear”:

“He who has ears, let him hear… Hear then the parable of the sower.” (Matt. 13:9, 18) —Jesus to the crowds; Jesus to his disciples

The first command (v. 9) is presented in third person: “He who has ears, let him hear,” not “You have ears, so listen up!” The effect of this third person construction is to add emphasis, requiring each listener to ask, “Is he talking to me? Am I ‘he who has ears’? Am I hearing what Jesus wants me to hear?”[1]

This construction also implies that some listeners might not “have ears.” Jesus, therefore, is dividing his audience into two groups: Those who prove they have ears by using them, and those who might as well not have ears, because they aren’t hearing what he is saying.

The second command (v. 18) is in second person: “[You] hear then the parable…” Here there is only one audience: Jesus’ close disciples.

The verses between these two commands are about the same topic: The two kinds of hearers in Jesus’ audience. Let’s examine verses 10-17 more closely.

10 “Then the disciples came and said to him, ‘Why do you speak to them in parables?’

This chapter is the first time the word “parable” appears in Matthew. Jesus had already used short word pictures that could be classed as parables. This chapter, however, is full of parables, some of them extended. Something new is happening in Jesus’ teaching. The disciples are curious. So they come to him, perhaps over “lunch break” or at some other pause in his teaching, for a private explanation.

11 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.

Here are the two kinds of hearers: “You” and “them”—the disciples and the crowds. In Mark Jesus says “you” and “those outside” (Mark 4:11)—insiders and outsiders.

The first difference Jesus notes between the two groups is that one group has been given something that the other has not. “It has been given” is what Bible scholars call a “divine passive”; it is a statement written in the passive voice rather than the active voice (“it has been given” rather than “[so-and-so] gave it”). The implication is that God is the “someone” who did the giving. This statement, then, emphasizes God’s sovereignty.

What God gave to one group and not the other was the opportunity or ability “to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.” Here we see our theme of “understanding” (hearts that understand and bear fruit). Jesus is saying that God gave his disciples the ability to understand his teachings about the kingdom, but God had not given the crowds that same ability. Why would he do this?

12 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 verse explains why God gave something to the disciples but not to the crowds.[2] The disciples have something that the crowds don’t have. Because the disciples already have this something, they will be given more by God. Because the crowds don’t have this something, they will lose even what they do have. What was this “something”?

If we scan chapters 8 through 12 (between the Sermon on the Mount and our text), we see that one thing the disciples had was simply a willingness to be Jesus’ disciples, giving up home and braving opposition to follow him. In Matthew 11:25 Jesus prays, “I thank you, Father… that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” The disciples, at this point, had only very basic understanding of the kingdom of heaven. But they understood that Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom were worth hearing. They were willing to be Jesus’ “little children” and learn from him.

The crowds, in contrast, and especially their leaders, were refusing to receive Jesus and thus were refusing God himself (Matt. 10:40). They said John the Baptist had a demon and that Jesus was a glutton and a drunkard (Matt. 11:18-19). Their refusal to repent led Jesus to compare them to Tyre and Sidon, to Sodom, and to Nineveh (Matt. 11:20-24; 12:39-41). Their leaders were already conspiring to kill Jesus (Matt. 12:14) and were accusing him of being in league with Satan (Matt. 12:24). And, in passages that form bookends to chapter 13, we see that even Jesus’ own family was failing to do the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven (Matt. 12:46-50; cf. Mark 3:21, where they say Jesus is “out of his mind”) and even his hometown of Nazareth took offense at him rather than believing him (Matt. 13:53-58).

What the disciples already have, then, seems to be the willingness to receive Jesus for whoever he may prove to be, unlike the majority of the crowds who have rejected him. Because the disciples already have welcoming hearts toward Jesus and his kingdom message, God will grant them deeper knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven. “The Jewish people,” in contrast, “have rejected knowledge of Jesus, so ‘even what they have,’” including their identity as “being God’s kingdom people, will be ‘taken away’ by God” (Matt. 21:43).[3]

13 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.

Now Jesus answers the disciples’ question, and now he places responsibility fully upon the crowds who have rejected him. Commentator Grant Osborne explains:

“The obduracy [hardness, stubborn resistance] that the people of Israel have shown in chs. 11-12 is the reason Jesus is speaking to the crowds in parables… Jesus responds to Israel’s rejection by using parables to confirm and anchor that rejection… The parables are ‘stones of stumbling deliberately placed in Israel’s path, much like what Isaiah was instructed to do in Isaiah 6.’”[4]

The Jewish crowds have persistently shown that they are not willing to listen to Jesus, so God will not give them the understanding that would lead to repentance and good fruit. The parables, then, are specially designed to convey truth to those who are receptive and hide it from those who are not. “All things have been handed over to me by my Father,” Jesus had already declared, “and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27). Jesus refuses to “give dogs what is holy” or “throw [his] pearls before pigs” (Matt. 7:6). Instead, he decides to hide his teaching in metaphorical language that forces his listeners to puzzle over what he meant (and, incidentally, makes it harder for his opponents to incriminate him for what he said).[5]

This brings us to Jesus’ quotation of Isaiah 6, which we will examine in the next post.


Your responses are welcome in the comments below!


[1] Schuyler Signor, “The Third Person Imperative in the Greek New Testament,” M.A. Thesis presented to the faculty of Abilene Christian University, April 1999. http://kingstonnychurchofchrist.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/THE_THIRD_PERSON_IMPERATIVE_IN_THE_GREEK_NEW_TESTAMENT.31201317.pdf  Accessed June 28, 2018. (pp. 2, 22, 23)

[2] “The “for” () that introduces the verse makes it the reason for God’s grace-gift (divine passive “will be given” []) only to the insiders.” Osborne, Grant R.. Matthew (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 9457-9458). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[3] Osborne, Grant R.. Matthew (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 9467-9468). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[4] Osborne, Grant R.. Matthew (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament series Book 1) (Kindle Locations 9473-9474, 9484-9485, 9490-9491). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. Osborne quotes Witherington (Matthew, 264) in the final line.

[5] Sometimes even Jesus’ enemies understood the basic thrust of his parables, however: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them” (Matt. 21:45).


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A Heart that Bears Fruit for God (1 of 4)

Today it was my turn to preach here at Followers of Jesus Church Atlanta. For a text, I chose the passage that I was reading this week as I work my way through Matthew’s Gospel in Greek. As a bonus, it is a passage that includes a quotation from the OT. I often try to include an OT reading and a NT reading in our gatherings, and I often like to chose passages where the NT quotes the OT.  Regular exposure to such passages is one good way to improve our own ability to interpret Scripture.

For something different, I decided to write out my sermon in full in advance. I didn’t end up simply reading it through, but it did work well both as preparation and as notes while I preached. Plus, now I can share it here! Here is our outline:

Part 1: What Is “Fruit”?
Part 2: Two Kinds of Hearers
Part 3: Isaiah 6 and Hardness of Heart
Part 4: Four Kinds of Hearers and One Goal


Today I want to talk to you about a heart that bears fruit for God. Our text is Matthew 13:1-23. You may turn there now. This is the famous Parable of the Sower, perhaps better titled the Parable of the Soils. Our key verse today is the last verse of our passage, verse 23. I’ll read it now:

“As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

This verse is the conclusion of Jesus’ explanation of his parable. In this explanation Jesus clarifies that the “seed” is “the word of the kingdom” and the various soils are different kinds of people who respond differently to the gospel message. But in this last verse there is one term from his farming imagery that Jesus does not explain. What is it?

WHAT IS “FRUIT”?

The term is “fruit,” and we will begin our study today with this term. What do you think it means? I remember, when I was a young adult, looking at passages like this and the one in John 15 and thinking that Jesus was talking about evangelism, as if bearing fruit referred to spiritual reproduction. Now I think this is possibly included, but much too narrow of a focus.

This likely reason why Jesus never interpreted this term here because this fruit imagery was well known to his Jewish audience. Fruit imagery appears multiple times even just within Matthew’s Gospel, and the meaning soon becomes clear:

“Bear fruit in keeping with repentance… Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt. 3:8, 10) —John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees

  • Good fruit is the result of repentance
  • Good fruit is essential to avoid judgment

“Beware of false prophets… 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. 21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:15-23)

  • Fruit can be good or bad, depending on the “tree”
  • Good fruit = doing “the will of my Father who is in heaven” (not merely doing mighty works or being a prophet)

“…Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matt. 12:32-35) —Jesus to Pharisees, who had just said he cast out demons by power of Satan

  • Fruit comes from the heart; fruit change requires heart change
  • Fruit includes our speech

“And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.” (Matt. 21:19) —Jesus cursing fig tree in his final week

  • The Jewish nation failed to produce good fruit, so would be judged

“’When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit…’ [But they killed his son.] They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’… Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.” (Matt. 21:34, 41, 43) —Jesus telling the parable of the tenants who refused to give their master fruit from his vineyard

  • Failing to produce fruit is connected to rejecting (killing) God’s Son
  • The Jewish leadership failed to give God the fruit he required, so they would lose leadership of God’s kingdom

Fruit, then, is our whole outward way of life, including our actions and our speech. Fruit can be good or evil, for it springs from good or evil hearts. Good fruit comes from a good heart that has experienced repentance and welcomed Jesus as God’s Son and as King. Only truly doing God’s will counts as good fruit—hypocritical mighty works in his name don’t count. Those who produce bad fruit will ultimately be removed from God’s kingdom and destroyed.

A heart that bears fruit for God, then, is a heart that does the will of God, a heart that gives God what is rightfully his and what pleases him in every aspect of life.

Who bears such fruit? Who has such a heart? Back to our key verse: “This is the one who hears the word and understands it.” Only the heart that understands the word of the kingdom can do the will of God.

For the rest of our time, then, we will consider what it means to have a heart that understands. We will consider two kinds of hearers, four kinds of hearers, and one goal.


Your responses are welcome in the comments below!


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Why Did Jesus Command His Disciples to Buy Swords? – Intro Draft

I have been working on an essay. Here is a draft of the introduction.

What do you think? Shall I finish the essay? Do you have any suggestions about how it should unfold that won’t entirely derail me? Any encouragement for a slow writer? 🙂

You may share your feedback in the comments below. Thank you!

Here is a PDF of the entire introduction draft: Why did Jesus Command his Disciples to Buy Swords – Intro Draft

Here is a link to download it: Why did Jesus Command his Disciples to Buy Swords – Intro Draft

And here is a part of what you can read in the PDFs above:


Why did Jesus Command his Disciples to Buy Swords?

On the night when he was betrayed, our Lord in his kindness said many things that troubled and confused his unprepared disciples. Of all his words from that night, few still confuse his disciples today more than this statement: “Let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36  ESV).[1] An online survey using Google reveals how much this statement still cuts Christians into opposing interpretive camps today. Among current scholarly commentators there is less diversity of opinion, but still not a clear consensus interpretation of what Jesus meant.

This essay will consider two primary interpretive questions: (1) Was Jesus teaching his disciples to use swords in human combat? (2) What is the relationship between Jesus’ sword command and his subsequent quotation of the prophecy in Isaiah 53:12 that he would be “numbered with the transgressors” (Luke 22:37)? These two questions are not the only important questions raised by Jesus’ sword command. When combined as variables on a two-dimensional graph, however, they offer four interpretive quadrants or positions (see Table 1), and these four positions represent the most important interpretive options held today by both popular readers and biblical scholars:

  1. Self-defense: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords so they would use them, to defend themselves from enemies.
  2. Among transgressors: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords so they would use them, so the prophecy would be fulfilled that he would be “numbered with the transgressors.”
  3. Appearance of transgressors: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords so the prophecy would be fulfilled that he would be “numbered with the transgressors,” but he didn’t want them to actually use them.
  4. Metaphor for dangerous times: Jesus told his disciples to buy swords but didn’t want them to actually buy or use them; he was speaking figuratively about dangerous times to come.

What interpretation will this essay defend? Before I gave this verse much thought, my assumptions were probably most in line with interpretive option…

[1] The English Standard Version (ESV) will be used in this essay unless otherwise noted. Note: The Greek syntax behind this statement is somewhat difficult to parse, as technical commentaries usually discuss. But no matter how the syntax is understood, the resulting instruction is the same: The disciples are urged to buy swords.

 


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