Joy in Heaven

To turn my attention away from the messed up kingdoms of this world, I have been trying to focus on the glorious kingdom of God. The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast illustrate that the kingdom of God will grow exponentially from a very small beginning. The Parable of the Growing Seed shows that God is actively working behind the scenes to grow his kingdom. What is the message of the Parables of the Hidden Treasure and of the Pearl Merchant?

The pair of parables seem to share a similar theme: the kingdom of heaven is so valuable, the person who finds it will give up everything in this world to keep it. If you see yourself as the man finding a treasure in a field or as the merchant finding a precious pearl, this is a logical conclusion.

Parable of the Hidden Treasure. The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Parable of the Pearl Merchant. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-45

When I searched for commentary on parables about the kingdom of God, I found a series of sermons on the Bible Tools website. Richard T. Ritenbaugh points out that when Jesus used the word “man” in a parable, the man was usually Jesus. In explaining his parables, Jesus said (Matthew 13:37-38), “The One who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world…”

Jesus, the Son of Man, found a treasure in the world and when he found it, he hid it again, then sold everything he had and bought it. In light of John 3:16, this interpretation makes much more sense to me. The truth is, even if I sold everything I have, I could never afford to purchase my salvation. It was Jesus who gave up everything he had to buy the treasure he found. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Who or what is the treasure? For the meaning of the word “treasure,” Ritenbaugh turned to the Old Testament. In Exodus 19:5, God said: “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession.” Psalm 135:4 says, “For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession.” In the book of Malachi, God’s treasure was the faithful remnant who feared him and honored his name.

Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name. “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him.

Malachi 3:16-17

In the New Testament, Peter referred to people who have been called into God’s wonderful light as God’s special possession. We have been adopted into his family. We are the treasure in the field, so precious that God sent his only Son to save us.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

1 Peter 2:9-10

The parable of the hidden treasure says that when the man found the hidden treasure, he hid it again. I never thought about what it means to be hidden in this context. Those chosen by God were hidden in the world. And when Jesus found them, he hid them again?

Ritenbaugh explains his theory about what it means to be hidden in the world. Those who are chosen by God were hidden in the world because before we believed, we were just like everyone else. We looked and acted just like everyone else. How did Jesus hide us once he made us his treasure? He sent us right back into the world. After we are redeemed, we are still hidden in the world, but in a different way.

To explain the concept of being in the world but set apart, Ritenbaugh pointed to the prayer of Jesus in John 17. Jesus said that his disciples are in this world but they are not of us world, just as he is not of this world.

Our Lord and Savior, finding the treasure of His elect in the world, conceals and protects them against all the depredations of the enemy. Remember, we’re hidden. That’s the protection part. And with His own life’s blood, He redeemed us with joy. That’s the lesson of this parable.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh

The pair of parables remind me of the Story of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-31). When the younger son ran off and squandered everything on wild living, he came back to his father to humbly ask for forgiveness. Instead of being angry and treating him as he deserved, the father treated him like a treasured possession. He celebrated. He was joyful!

Each of the parables about the kingdom of God conveys a powerful message and each message generates an emotional response in me. Hope. Faith. Joy. The parable of the hidden treasure brings me joy because it shows how precious we are to God. There is joy in heaven when those who were lost are found. Jesus is overjoyed whenever he finds a treasured person in this broken, messed up world. We are valuable to him, like precious pearls.

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Return of the Prodigal Son, by Rembrandt. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22353933

Chains He Shall Break

This Christmas season, I found myself feeling so discouraged about the state of human hearts, mine included, I knew I needed to stop and reflect on my reasons for hope. On Christmas Eve, I went to church and sang carols, then came home and looked up the lyrics to one my favorites: “O Holy Night.” Not only does this song have an interesting history, the lyrics give me much food for reflection.

  1. Long lay the world. These words remind me that the world waited for the Messiah for a long, long time. It was hundreds of years between Old Testament prophesies and the birth of Jesus. Now the world groans waiting for Jesus to return. Sometimes I get impatient waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled and have to remind myself that God’s timing is not mine. With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some understand slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)
  2. In sin and error pining. The world is enslaved by sin and longs to be set free. The lonely soul pines for the presence of God. Many people don’t know what they’re missing, they just know something is missing. The world chases money and success and attention and adulation, but in the end, finds an emptiness that this world cannot fill,
  3. He appeared and the soul felt its worth. All who have been saved know that there is no gift more precious than knowing that despite your sinfulness and failings, Jesus loves you. When Jesus appears in your life, the soul feels its worth as a precious child of God, one worth dying for.
  4. A thrill of hope. One of my friends doesn’t like it when people of faith use the word hope. I think she equates hope with wanting something to happen or wanting something to be true. But I see hope as the expectation of something good. Hope is trusting that God’s promises will be fulfilled. The thrill of hope is being uplifted by God’s promises, by the expectation of good things to come.
  5. The weary soul rejoices. The soul becomes weary from its struggles, with too many burdens to carry on its own. Jesus brings comfort, peace, and rest, in all our trials born to be our friend. Which reminds me of another old song, What a Friend We Have in Jesus (James Scriven, 1855). When we are sad, weak and heavy-laden, we can rejoice because he shares our sorrows.
  6. Truly he taught us to love one another. His law is love and his gospel is peace. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he said love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.
  7. Chains shall he break for the slave is our brother. And in His name all oppression shall cease.O Holy Night‘ was brought to America by John Sullivan Dwight, who especially loved this verse because he was an abolitionist. The song was written in the 1840’s by a French poet, Placide Cappeau. A Jewish composer, Adolphe Adam, wrote the music. The song quickly became popular in France but the French Catholic church didn’t approve of Cappeau and denounced the song as not being in the spirit of religion.

Fall on your knees. Oh hear the angel voices. Oh night divine, oh night when Christ was born.

A good song has the power to move me emotionally. O Holy Night reminds me to not get so caught up in the worries of this world that I fail to see that God’s light is brightly shining just as it was long ago. It reminds me to be patient with God. He’s doing amazing things in the lives of ordinary people – stories that don’t get the big enticing headlines I see on my news feed. It reminds me that Jesus is on the side of the oppressed. It reminds me that the Good News is still the Good News. The words give rest to my weary soul and fill me with the thrill of hope once again. Yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

† † † † † † †

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees

Oh hear the angel voices

Oh night divine

Oh night when Christ was born

Oh night divine

Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming

Here come the wise men from Orient land

The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger

In all our trials born to be our friend

Truly He taught us to love one another

His law is love and His gospel is peace

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother

And in His name all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us praise His holy name

Can There Be Joy in the Darkness?

This is the time of year when I am normally filled with the joy of the Christmas season. To be honest, I don’t feel much joy this year. My faith is as strong as it has ever been. But it feels like greed is winning. It feels like corruption is winning. It feels like dishonesty is winning. The wolf doesn’t even pretend to wear sheep’s clothing and yet he’s managed to lead believers astray. At a time when I should be celebrating my savior’s birth, I feel overwhelmed with sadness for my country.

One day last week, I prayed that God would reveal my sins to me and by the end of the day, I had an answer. The answer was this: you’re losing your joy. I know this is true but how do I find it again? If I shut myself off from hearing bad news, if I close my eyes to the darkness, I risk becoming numb to the suffering of others. The only thing I can do is draw closer to the Light, to the source of my joy and my hope for humanity.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Jesus, you said: blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. I mourn the loss of decency. I mourn the lack of truth. I mourn the death of righteousness. Injustice grieves me. The lack of mercy for refugees and the poor grieves me. My heart breaks for the things that break yours.

Lord, how do I mourn all that has been lost and still hang on to the joy of my salvation?

Lord, comfort me and restore my joy.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Jesus, no matter how dark things seem, you are still the Light of the world.

The world and its desires will pass away, but your love endures forever.

Your word lives in me. I live by your truth.

This it the truth you gave me: we should love one another.

This is how I know what love is: you laid down your life for us.

Lord, comfort me and restore my hope.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and our staff, they comfort me.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy Unsinkable

I am a stoic person, not showing a lot of emotion or excitement. I usually keep my emotions to myself. When I do openly express how I feel, I second guess myself or feel self-conscious. Should I have been that upset? Did I look silly when I got so excited? Inside, I experience joy and sorrow and everything in between, but normally maintain an even keel – not too happy, not too sad. When I feel those deeper emotions, something always brings me back to even – a state of contentment and acceptance. How is it that I can be in the depths of despair one week and back to normal the next?

A few weeks ago, I was so shell-shocked by the results of the presidential election that it felt like someone I love had died. I lost trust in my fellow-man, even in the people I should have so much in common with – fellow Christians. I mourned for those who have much to fear from the president-elect because of his intolerance – immigrants, Muslims, people of color. I lost something precious – hope in my country’s future. I lost confidence that the moral arc of the universe, though long, bends towards justice. It’s clearly bending the wrong way now.

I still mourn. My world is becoming meaner and more divided before my eyes. I still can’t bear to watch the yellow-haired braggart on television. Everything about him repulses me. I still can’t stomach political news. But I will guard my heart against bitterness. That means shutting out the ugliness that I can do nothing about and focusing on what I can do – act justly, love mercy, and see to it that no one misses out on the grace of God.

In my innermost being, I am still joyful. My joy in the Lord is unsinkable. No matter what happens, the Lord is my rock and refuge. He walks with me through hardship and adversity. He comforts me when I mourn. I remain in Jesus and his love remains in me, just has he promised. Jesus is still the light of the world. Those who follow him will never walk in darkness (John 8:12). No matter what happens, my Father’s glory and love will be magnified.

You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

We are  now in the season of joy, a time when people are more generous and kind. I sing Joy to the World and Tidings of Comfort and Joy. No matter who resides in the White House, God rules the world with truth and grace. Come Lord Jesus, come!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Now to the Lord sing praises,
All you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood
Each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas
All other doth deface.
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy