Week 1

Unpacking the Parables
Mark 4:10-12, 33-34

Depending on who is doing the counting Jesus delivered between 35 and 46 parables as recorded in the gospels. Many of these appear in more that one gospel, but not necessarily in the same order and there may be some differences in the way they were recounted. The Old Testament too contains many parables to illustrate messages that are delivered through the prophets and others. But what is a parable? Basically it is a story drawn from ordinary life which is used to make or illustrate a point or moral issue. For example Jesus drew examples from fishing, farming and family relationships, all things that would be understood by those who heard him.

Besides parables Jesus used similes’, metaphors and allegories and literature also contains other devices like fables and allegories all of which are intended to explain what might be complex ideas. In this series we will focus on parables and how they apply to our lives today. Sometimes the social and historical context will obscure the meaning rather than make it clear, for example Jesus comments that a wise man would not build his house on sand, while in our country nearly everybody does! In another place he speaks about putting wine in a container made of a skin, while we use bottles. At other times we feel the need to make every point or part of the parable have meaning beyond what is obvious, there is usually only one point to be made and we can over complicate things. In fact the disciples didn’t always get it, in Matthew 15 we read, ‘But Peter said to him, “Explain the parable to us.” And he said, “Are you also still without understanding”’. Jesus, it appears, sometimes used parables to provoke questions and further discussion, so he deliberately made them unclear.

Jesus was a master communicator, he told stories and engaged in conversations, most of which contained ‘teaching moments’. He spoke the language of the people and followed the principle of keeping it simple, he didn’t try to impress with complex and technical words and always made sure those who needed to understand did. He drew from everyday life, but also on the culture and history of his hearers, he could speak with men and women, with lawyers and scholars and the same time communicate to uneducated farmers, fishermen and servants. Matthew only records five major sermons preached by Jesus and if you read them out aloud it would not take long! The most well known is the Sermon on the Mount which occupies chapters 5-7 of Matthews gospel. In his messages he provoked, challenged, taught and encouraged his hearers, he spoke on hillsides, from the back of a boat, among grave stones and in Synagogues and always he was attentive to the needs of his hearers.

In fact Jesus’ approach to communicating the good news of the kingdom is almost in every way different to how we experience it today. He communicated out of two dimensions, the vertical in which he heard from his father in heaven and cultivated his relationship with him; and the horizontal, the relationship between him and his hearers. He knew them, understood them and lived among them. He walked where they walked, ate where they ate, and experienced the same joys and trials they did. Jesus had something to say because he had a relationship with his father, and he had an audience to speak to because he had a relationship with them. It is only as we cultivate both of those relationships that we too are able to make the good news clear to those who will hear.

  1. What are ways you are most likely to hear the truth of the Bible?
  2. How important are stories in the way you learn?
  3. Jesus rarely stood up to preach, why do you think that was?


  1. Stay salty
    Matthew 5:13In today’s language to say someone is salty would mean that they are upset, angry, or bitter as result of being made fun of or embarrassed. It is also a characteristic of a person who feels out of place or is feeling attacked (from the Urban Dictionary). Of course this is not what Jesus had in mind when he described his hearers as being the salt of the earth who needed to retain their saltiness.The statement occurs during Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, though he expresses the same idea in both of Mark’s and Luke’s gospels later in his ministry. He starts with a metaphor, that is he says something about his hearers that isn’t literally true, but is or should be characteristic of them. In this case he says “you are the salt of the earth”, not that they should be or could be, but that they are. As Jewish hearers they were part of nation that was supposed to be an influence on all the other nations around them, just as salt was an a influence on things that it was applied to.
    The properties of salt were well understood by Jesus’ hearers. It had been used for flavoring and for preserving food for a very long time.  It was also used in tanning, dyeing and bleaching, and in producing pottery, and soap. In the Bible salt is mentioned 40 times, it is used in connection with making covenants, establishing friendships, adding flavour, as a preservative and as a means of exchange. It was also to be added to sacrifices, to purify and indicate a new beginning or fresh start. The main and most familiar use was to preserve and prevent decay. So Jesus was using something from every day life to make his point.Then Jesus makes a more specific application, he speaks of one aspect of the use of salt – to add flavour. Of all its uses this is the one we are probably most familiar with. We know (perhaps) that it is a preservative and can also be used to keep swimming pools clean, but mostly we put it in or one food to Improve the taste. But if salt has lost its taste, then what good is it? It’s not really salt anymore is it, just a collection of usually white crystals of no use to anyone. In places where temperatures get to freezing salt is often added to the ice on pathways to speed up the melting process, this is probably not what Jesus meant when he said that the only thing do with unsalty salt was to throw it out and trample on it.

    The absence of salt from  food makes it bland or tasteless, in the same way our presence in  a community should bring life and vitality. It should make a difference and this is the point Jesus is making. The people of Israel should make a positive difference to the community they were in. They used salt as a preservative, when applied to meat it kept corruption away, but if it had lost its effectiveness the meat would become rotten and if not thrown out would cause disease. They also used it to improve the flavour of the food they ate, and their presence in the wider community should improve it’s  ‘taste’ and quality. But what if they were not doing theses things, what if corruption continued to increase, where nobody would notice if they weren’t there? Then they may as well be tossed aside and trampled on.

    What Jesus said of the Jewish hearers is true of the church today. We are salt, but have we lost our saltiness? If corruption is advancing in our society is it because the salt has lost its flavour? Is the church in danger of being tossed aside and trampled on because it no longer improves its surrounding environment and cannot stop the spread of corruption?

  1. In what ways can the church be salt in your community?
  2. How can you be salty?
  3. Is the church in danger of completely losing its saltiness – what can be done to stop the decay?


  1. Keep Shining
    Matthew 5:14-16As Jesus continues his sermon he changes his metaphor, now he tells his audience that they are the light of the world. Once again he is speaking of the place Israel should occupy among the nations. Israel was to be a light that would attract those who were in darkness, and it should also illuminate the road so that people could see where they were going.Many years ago the City of Perth earned the nickname the City of light; in 1962 American astronaut John Glenn orbited the Earth in the Friendship 7 spacecraft. As he flew over Perth the residents turned on their lights and pointed torches to the sky to welcome him. Glenn remarked that the city was clearly visible from space and Perth became known worldwide as the ‘City of Light’. No amount of darkness could extinguish that light, even from space the city was visible. After a long journey at night the lights of a city are a welcoming sight and encourage weary travellers as they know that they have nearly reached the end of their journey. People are drawn towards light, Isaiah wrote about the future birth of the Messiah, that those who lived in darkness would see a great light, the gloom would disappear and hope would come (Isaiah 9). Jesus’ hearers were aware of Isaiah’s words and they understood that Israel as God’s chosen people were to be that light, to shine in the darkness and bring hope to the nations.Jesus then expands his metaphor to include a lamp that is used to bring light to a house. In those days oil lamps were used and they needed a good supply of oil, and to have a wick, or piece of cloth that was dipped in the oil at one end and lit at the other. The oil would be drawn up the wick and be kept alight until the oil ran out. But no matter how good the lamp was it would be no use if it was put under a pot or a bucket. If you wanted to get the best value from your lamp, it would be placed as high as you could get it, and then it could shed its light over a much greater area. Jesus is not suggesting that we or his hearers at the time should be physically higher than those around us, but that we should be conspicuous.

    As with the example of salt, Jesus does not say his hearers, or us, should be or could be the light, but they are the light. In Ephesians 5:8 Paul writes ‘at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light’ and in Philippians 2:15, ‘that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world’. Israel as a nation was not giving light to the world, it was not dispelling the darkness or providing hope to the nations and Jesus is reminding them that they have a  responsibility. In their case they were to do good works and then those that witnessed them would give glory to God, the Father.

    God calls us to do likewise, to do good works, serve the community,  to be compassionate and gracious, and do acts of charity and mercy. But more than that we need to be very careful how we walk. Our lives should be examples , without blemish and blameless! Of course none of us can be entirely without blemish, but it should be our ambition. As Paul points out, we live in the midst of a crooked, perverse and corrupt generation and we are to shine out in the midst of it, to offer hope and draw people to his light. As the nation of Israel was to be like a city on a hill, so too should the church. A city of light that offers hope to the lost and confused, and rest to weary.

  1. Do you think that you stand out as light in the community of which you are a part?
  2. Does the church offer hope and rest in a way that attracts people?
  3. Can your community see your church because of the light that it shines around it?


  1. How are your foundations?
    Matthew 7:24-27As Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount he gave a final illustration. He begins by speaking about two builders, but his story was really about the foundations they used for the houses they built. One of the builders made sure of his foundation, while the other cut corners and took risks.Both of the builders used an equal amount of effort, and there is no suggestion that one was more skilled than the other, or used better materials. However, one of the houses stood the test when the storms came while the other collapsed and got lost in the flood. In Jesus’ parable he makes the distinction between having a foundation that is built on rock, while the other is constructed on sand. In Western Australia most houses are built on the coastal plain or on the Darling Scarp to the east. In the case of the coastal plain, there is little rock and what there is limestone which is not ideal for foundations. In the early days of house building houses would be built on timber stumps dug into the ground, but now they are usually built on sand pads that are compacted to produce a firm foundation. A wise person builds on sand! It is too difficult and expensive to build on rock.So what did Jesus’ parable mean that applies to us? In the region around where Jesus was speaking the areas that were composed of sand were subject to flooding, usually dry river beds or wadis. In the summer they looked hard and made a good solid base for building, but when the rain came down from the hills it would flood these areas and wash away the sand and anything that stood on it. Luke when recording the same parable in Luke 6:47-49, points out that the wise man digs down in the sand until he finds bedrock and it is on this that he builds. Jesus is pointing out that no matter how much effort we put into living a good life, or even following religious practices, if we don’t have the right foundation, we will not be able to stand against the storms that inevitably come.

    The right foundation is not just hearing (or reading) God’s word, all of the builders did that. It was responding to them or doing as he said. There are many people who know what the bible says, but feel that they are able to choose which parts to accept and which to ignore. From the outside, on a good day both of the houses in Jesus parable may have looked the same, it is even possible that the one built on sand looked better. Money saved on the foundation could have been used to make the building more attractive, even add a room or two. They could have stood side by side with one drawing more attention than the other, but when the storms and wind came so did the test. Which one would withstand the onslaught? In 1996 eight climbers died on Mount Everest during the climb they encountered a raging blizzard; commenting on this tragedy Todd Burgess, a journalist wrote: “If not for the storm, the climbers may have gotten away with taking so many risks. But the storm exposed their weaknesses.”

    You can be a keen reader of the Bible, attend church regularly and pray, but unless your foundation is made from both hearing and obeying the things you read, it will let you down. Don’t cut corners, or take risks with God’s word, do what the architect says, establish a strong foundation so when the storm comes and beats against your house, you will not be shaken.

  1. How strong is your foundation?
  2. Before you keep God’s commands you need to know them, how well do you know his word?
  3. How do you decide which parts of God’s words you can ignore?


  1. Worn out clothes and old bottles
    Matthew 9:16-17; Luke 5:36–39As Jesus went on his way teaching and healing he met Matthew, a tax collector and he called him to become one of his followers. He stopped at Matthew’s house and had a meal with him and a number of his colleagues. Matthew was in a position that offended the Jews, as a tax collector he served the Roman government and many in his industry were corrupt, taking more taking more than they should, the idea that Jesus would enjoy the company of these men was difficult to accept. Whether this led to the question they then asked or whether they were challenging his credibility in another way is not certain, but Jesus was asked why it was that he and his disciples were eating and drinking, generally having a good time while John the Baptist and his followers insisted that they should fast.Jesus responded briefly by stating that it would be reasonable to fast in anticipation of the bridegroom arriving at the wedding, but when he turned up it was time to celebrate. By saying this he was claiming to be the bridegroom for whom they had been waiting. He then immediately told a parable with two separate subjects, In the first place he spoke about worn clothing. This may have been a reference to poor wedding guests needing to repair clothes for the celebration. Then he speaks about wine skins, again referring to the good new wine that would need to be prepared for the wedding feast.

    In both subjects, the clothing and the wine, there was an issue to be resolved. The clothing was torn and needed a patch, but the problem was that if a new piece of unshrunken cloth was fixed to the old garment it would shrink when it was washed. The new piece of material would pull away from the old and both the patch and the garment would be ruined. When new wine was produced a portion of it would be put in a container made of goat skin. The new wine had not finished fermenting and that would happen while it was in the goatskin. The problem was that the wine would expand, and the skin would expand to accommodate it. If an old skin was used it was not flexible and could not expand, instead the skin would burst and the wine would be lost.

    Jesus is describing what would happen if the new wine of the kingdom he was announcing was poured into old rigid containers. They would burst. Similarly the new kingdom was not a patch to be added to the old system and way of doing things, new material was needed to make a garment fit for the celebration. Over recent years many books have been written about the need for new wineskins to be made available for the new wine of the Holy Spirit. The argument is that the old structures are not flexible, they have become rigid and instead of adjusting to meet the needs of something that is new and fresh, they will break and become useless. There is no doubt sense in this suggestion, in the same way that trying to patch up something that is old and worn out is unsatisfactory.

    What is true for structures and organisations can also be true for us as individual believers. Hoping to make changes that are needed by simply putting a patch here or there will not work. Paul tells us that we are new creatures in Christ, the old has died and all things are new (2 Corinthians 5:17). God isn’t in the renovation business, he gives you a new life, not a fixed up old one. Life in the Kingdom of God demands a new set of values, beliefs and convictions, we don’t try to make the old better, we – or in fact Holy Spirit – replaces it. God will not fill the old wineskin of your life with the new wine of the Holy Spirit – he needs and provides something completely new.

  1. In what was is it possible for the church to try to put new wine into old wineskins?
  2. What does it mean to be a ‘new creature’ in Christ?
  3. Galatians 2:20; Galatians 5:24; Galatians 6:14 all speak about being crucified with Christ, what does that mean, and how does it happen?


  1. Responding to forgiveness
    Luke 7:35-50Jesus liked to share meals with people, he didn’t seem to mind who they were or how important they thought they might be, or even what others thought of them. On one occasion he was invited to the home of a Pharisee named Simon. Pharisees were a group within the Jewish community who were known for strictly observing the law, Mark writes in his gospel: ‘For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.’ (Mark 7:3-4). These Pharisees had been challenging Jesus and criticizing his words and his actions.

    As the guests sat down ready to eat a woman approached Jesus. We are not told who this woman is only that she had a reputation as a sinner and was not well thought of by Simon and probably the others gathered around the table. In those days meals were often held in an ‘open house’ and visitors would come and go, but it would be unusual for a woman like this to turn up knowing how she would be received. The custom in the Jewish home were people to lie down, or recline with their feet behind them while they leant on the table in front , so the woman stood behind Jesus, but at his feet. She immediately began to pour ointment on his feet and then wipe them with her tears and her hair. Simon was disgusted at this, not the behaviour of the woman but that Jesus would allow her to touch him. It surely put doubt over his claim to be a prophet.

    As Simon mumbled to himself, Jesus heard what he was saying and knew the intent of his heart and spoke to him in a parable. He painted the picture of two men who owed a debt to a money lender. One owed about twenty months’ worth of wages, while the other a much smaller amount, only two months’ worth. When neither of the men could repay the loan, the lender let them both off and cancelled their debt. Jesus then asked which of the two men would love the man more. Simon said that man with the bigger debt would probably love him more. Jesus told him that he had given the right answer and then went on to say that the customs of the time and law provided that he, Simon as a host should have welcomed Jesus into his home with respect by washing his feet, anointing his head with oil and offering a greeting. He had done none of these things. On the other hand the woman had done all of them and more. She had, at her own expense poured oil on his feet, a woman’s hair was very important to her and was seldom let loose and yet she used it to wipe Jesus dirty, smelly feet and she was close enough to him for tears to fall on those same feet.

    Jesus made clear the point he was making, though there is little doubt that Simon had already got the message. The one who knew what she had been forgiven, and it was a great deal, responded with gratitude and love, the other who didn’t think there was much that he had done wrong and probably didn’t need to be forgiven any way gave nothing in return. Jesus told the woman that her faith had saved her and that her sins had been forgiven, while he said nothing more to Simon.

    Both the woman and Simon stood in equal need before Jesus and yet they responded very differently. Simon was self righteous and looked with contempt on the woman expecting Jesus to push her away. While she had no thought for anyone else, she just wanted to express her gratitude to Jesus who didn’t judge her for what she had done but accepted her through mercy and love.

  1. Do you think that people who have committed ‘serious’ sins and been forgiven, love God more than those who have lived a good life?
  2. Are you aware of what Jesus has forgiven you for, and do you extend that same forgiveness to others?
  3. Do you welcome the broken and the sinful in the same way Jesus did?


  1. Who is my neighbour?
    Luke 10:25-37

    This Parable is probably one of the best known of all the stories Jesus told and it draws heavily on characters that are not usually found in our communities. Rather than try to explain the significance of each of the people in the story we will present it using individuals who may have similar characteristics today. It is impossible to find exactly corresponding figures but the parable will still make sense!

    Jesus gave this parable in response to a question from one of the teachers of the law who was trying to catch him out. He first asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life and when Jesus asked in return what was written in the law that he was an expert in. His answer was: ‘’ You shall 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 your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him that he was correct, so all he needed to do was keep those two commandments. The lawyer was still looking for an argument so he asked, ‘well who is my neighbour?’ The Jews accepted they should love fellow Jews but wanted to be excused from loving other classes of people, while still doing enough to have eternal life. So Jesus told him a parable.

    A man was travelling down the road on the outskirts of town, it was a fairly rough neighbourhood with a history of crime and violence, so he hurried along. However he got ambushed by a group of thugs who beat him up and took the expensive shoes he was wearing as well as his coat and valuables including his wallet and all of his money, card and identification. They left him bleeding on the side of the road. A little while later a pastor was driving down the same road and he saw something on the road, so he slowed down to see what it was. He saw the man covered in blood, but he was running late for church, and it was a tough and dangerous place to stop. “I will call in somewhere safer” he thought “and call the police”. Just then the local youth pastor came past on his motor bike, saw the man and thought, “probably had too  much to drink, he’ll be Ok when he is sober and it’s not my responsibility really. You can’t solve everybody’s problems” and he hurried on.

    As the man lay there in pain, suffering with the cold and his injuries he heard the rumble of another motor bike and into view came a bike rider, but this time the rider was dressed in black with his face obscured and wearing all the patches of an outlaw bikie group. The bike and its rider passed him but slowed down and turned around pulling to a stop next to the injured man. The rider got off his bike and approached the injured man and in colourful language asked what he was doing lying on the pavement. Now not only hurting but scared the victim tried to mumble about what had happened but was clearly struggling,  The rider knelt down beside him and gently raised him up, he took off his own scarf and wrapped it around the man’s wounds, gave him his leather jacket and gave him some of the drink he had stowed on his bike – it was alcohol but it was for medicinal purposes! As the man’s strength started to return the bikie assisted him over to his bike and helped him on the back, with his arms rapped around the rider they headed off down the road. At the first motel he saw he stopped and booked a room with his own credit card, he stayed with the man for the day arranging for food to be sent and the bills to be paid on his credit card. Then he rang the police and explained what had happened and what he had done and went on his way, not waiting for thanks.

    Jesus asked, which of these passers’ by showed by their actions that they were a neighbour? The lawyer answered, ‘’The one who showed mercy” and Jesus replied, “Then you go and do the same thing”.

  1. In what ways are we able to prove that we are a good neighbour?
  2. How often do we let our own prejudices stand in the way of showing mercy?
  3. Do we often get so busy doing good things that we don’t see the suffering around us?



Week 2

  1. A Great return
    Mark 4:1-12The parable of the Sower is well known to many of us and we can find meaning for a lot of the elements of the story. There is the sower, the seed he carries, the soil, the rocks, thorns even the birds. But the main subject of the story is the ground and the harvest it produces.The seed in the parable stands for the word of God, and the sower is Jesus or could be anyone who spreads the word. The seed that falls on the side of the road refers to those who hear the word and do not understand or accept it while the seed that falls on the rocks are those who do understand it and accept it joyfully, but when life gets hard, they fall away. Seed that falls among thorns refers to those who hear and understand the word but the temptations and interests of their old life choke it out, and while they hang on to their new found beliefs they don’t mature. The seed that falls on good soil are those who receive the word and understand it and grow to maturity, bearing a lot of fruit.Any farmer wants his or her seed to bear fruit or provide a harvest, a lot of effort and cost is involved in sowing this seed, and the farmer would want a return on her investment We can apply this parable to how we use the resources God gives to us, making sure that we use them wisely and not wastefully, but this parable is speaking specifically to those who hear the word of God and act upon it, growing to maturity and producing fruit.Everything the sower did was measured by whether there was a harvest, did it justify the time and effort he had put in? He could reasonably expect that good seed sowed in receptive soil would produce fruit. If it didn’t and everything else, such as the provision of rain was supplied then he could conclude that the soil was no good and he had to sow the seed in better soil. He may be initially encouraged by shoots sprouting and maybe even a few struggling to hold on to life and because of that he might increase his efforts, add fertilizer and more water, but they don’t survive and he is left with no return on his investment.The farmer had to decide when it was time to move to a different paddock, to cut her losses and move to more fertile land. This can be an illustration of the way we commit to activities and programs that simply have not produced a result. We keep on doing the same thing, trying harder, spending more money but with the same result. The message of the parable includes the message that we should make sure we plant our seed in good soil if we want to have a harvest. Of course there is another part to the story, if we want to grow in our relationship with God and so bear fruit ourselves, then we must prepare the soil of our heart.Before a crop is planted the soil must be prepared. The rocks and rubble must be removed, the soil must have the right nutrients and then sufficient water to encourage growth. When the shoots appear, the weeds must be kept away so they don’t choke out the tender new growth and compete for the goodness in the soil. The rocks of false beliefs and expectations need to be removed from your heart, the boulders and rubble of unforgiveness, bitterness and bad habits must be ruthlessly removed. Your heart must be fed by the Holy Spirit, through his word and worship and then they will receive the early and the latter rain of his grace. Fellowship with godly people will help keep the weeds out and provide the right growing environment so that you can expect to see a harvest and bear much fruit!
  1. Do you see hardness, rocks or weeds in the soil of your heart?
  2. What does a hundredfold increase look like to you?
  3. Are there any projects you keep pouring time and effort into that never produce much fruit?


  1. A Late night visitor
    Luke 11:5-13If you have had a long day and have finally managed to get the family settled, the house in order and everything prepared for the next day it is time to drop into bed and get some well earned sleep. The last thing you want is to be woken by someone banging on your door asking for some food. Yet this is the illustration Jesus chose to teach his disciples about prayer!The unwelcome visitor was a friend of the man inside and he was prepared to test this friendship by waking him from his sleep. A friend of the visitor had just turned up from a long journey and he had nothing to give him to eat. The Jewish Virtual Library states regarding hospitality that: ‘When one knows of strangers who are hungry or need a place to relax, it becomes a legal obligation.’ This man was not a stranger, but a friend and he probably felt he was under an even stronger obligation. The previously sleeping man however was not and he told him to go away and leave him alone.The man persisted however and eventually his friend got up and gave him what he wanted. This is a parable about prayer and some see in it a suggestion that God is unwilling to give the requests of those who ask of him but will eventually do so if they pester him enough. This is not what the story is saying. The word translated ‘persistence’ in some versions of the bible is also translated as ‘boldness’ or ‘without shame’. The idea is that the man making the request was less concerned about what his friend thought of him than he was in having his request met. He wasn’t too embarrassed to break social conventions or be accused of being inconsiderate in order to get bread for his guest; he would even risk alienating his friend. The type of prayer that moves the heart of God is that which is motivated to meet the needs of others even at the possible cost of the one doing the praying.This man had confidence to go and ask for bread because he had a relationship with the other person, he was his friend. Because of his friendship he asked for three loaves, but because of his boldness he was granted much more –as much as he needed. The prayer was offered with humility, and depended on the favour of his friend and because he was prepared to persist even when it might seem he was being unreasonable, the friend answered his need. Jesus adds that everyone who asks receives; if you seek you will find and if you knock then the door will be opened to you. It is not just the friend who has the guarantee of a request being granted, but everyone who asks receives. There is no sense that the prayer that is answered is asked half heartedly, the one who asks, knocks and seeks persistently will be answered.We ask with the humility of a beggar, knowing that it is only God that can grant our request, there is nowhere else we can got to have our needs met. But we seek with the respectfulness of a servant. This is not something we casually turn to at the end of the day, but the careful diligent seeking after what we seek. Just as the widow diligently sought the lost coin, sweeping the floor, moving the furniture, lifting the mat, so too must we diligently seek after the things we ask of God. We knock with the confidence of a person who knocks at the door of a friend’s house, even if it is at midnight and who keeps on knocking until he gets an answer!
  1. Do you hesitate in asking something from God because you believe he might think you are being presumptuous?
  2. How hard do you seek an answer to your prayers?
  3. Are you prepared to let your reputation suffer so that you can help someone in need?


  1. Snakes and Scorpions
    Luke 11:11-13As Jesus expands his parable he adds something which is almost an allegory, or a comparison between two similar things to help illustrate a point, but while there is a point of similarity there is also significant difference. He is continuing his teaching on prayer but now moves from what has motivated the one praying to the reason why the prayer will be answered. Have you wondered why God would answer your prayers, or whether the answer he gives might be undesirable? It seems that this may have been a concern for the disciples and may have discouraged them from praying.Jesus draws his analogy from our family relationships, he asks that If we can trust our earthly fathers, who are less than perfect, to give us the things we ask for, then how much more can we expect God to give to us the things that will edify and build us up? If we were to ask our father for a fish, which was a common food, would he instead give us something that is equally common, but dangerous? To reinforce the point he adds that if an egg was asked for would a scorpion be given instead? Obviously, there are those circumstances in life when a biological father may behave badly, but it is extremely rare that even a bad father would deliberately endanger the life of his child in this way. Why then would we expect our heavenly father who is perfect and righteous and loves us unconditionally to give us something that is harmful? God can be trusted to respond to our prayers so that we receive what is good and beneficial. Psalm 37:4 says, ‘Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.’ This is God’s promise to you.God’s desire is not only to meet our needs but to do much more. In fact, Jesus tells us in these verses that if we ask God, then He will give the Holy Spirit in response to our requests, much more than we even ask. We don’t need to nag God, as if we are asking him do something he doesn’t want to, in fact the Holy Spirit is a promised gift to all those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus. God is just waiting to send him to us – all he needs is an invitation. Pentecost had not yet come for the disciples that were listening to Jesus, the idea of the Holy Spirit living with them and in them every day was not something they had any experience of. The Holy Spirit came and dwelt among the people and from time to time he empowered or enabled individuals to complete certain tasks, but what we call an ‘indwelling presence’ was unknown. Jesus was pointing to the future but also to the reality that God would not withhold the Holy Spirit from the people of Israel if they would only ask. At Pentecost the Holy Spirit was promised to all those who believe, and none of those who come to him with a sincere heart will be turned away, all will receive the promise of the Holy Spirit. If you have asked him to be the Lord of your life, believing that he is the Son of God and risen from the dead, then you have received the promise of the Holy Spirit.God is much more willing to give than we are to receive, and this extends beyond the time that we are adopted into his family. He promises that as he lives within you that he will guide you, comfort you, empower you and cause you to bear the fruits of love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is as we daily allow him to fill and control our lives that we experience these things, and so taking the promise of Jesus, if we ask for the Holy Spirit, he doesn’t need to be convinced.
  1. Do you sometimes think that if you ask God for direction in your life that he will ask you to do something that you won’t want to do?
  2. Do you know that the Holy Spirit is God’s promise to you?
  3. Do you think that sometimes you need more of the Holy Spirit, what should you do?


  1. It’s a mystery
    Mark 4:26-29This parable is not only brief, it is only found in Mark’s gospel and it is not obvious what Jesus is saying. There are a number of different explanations given for the parable, some attach it to the parable of the sower which is recorded just prior to this in Mark’s gospel, others insist it is not but should be tied to the next one about the mustard seed. As is often the case there are attempts to find a meaning behind every element of the story and identify one of the characters as God. What adds to the confusion is that Jesus says ““This is what the kingdom of God is like.” (NIV) and then seems to say something quite different.At first it appears that the farmer who is sowing the seed could be identified with God, but then Jesus says the farmer doesn’t know how the seed grows and that couldn’t mean God who knows everything. So the farmer may be any person who sows seed, but what is the seed? Jesus uses the illustration of seed often and it is found elsewhere in scripture as well, Psalm 125:5,6 says: ‘Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy,     bringing his sheaves with him.’ It is used for sowing the good news of Jesus into other people’s lives, for planting the word of God in our own minds and for sowing financially and prayerfully into God’s kingdom.In every case seed is sown in expectation of a plant growing and producing fruit and so one of the ways this parable could be understood is that God’s people would sow the seed of God’s kingdom by their words and actions expecting the Kingdom to come quickly. Jesus is pointing out that God’s kingdom will not come in a rush but slowly and progressively. The seed must be sown, but how it grows is a mystery, it will take time and in the meanwhile the person sowing goes about their normal life waiting for growth to occur, he will see the signs but he can’t make it happen or hurry it up.

    Another perspective is the seed of the word of God that we sow into our hearts and minds. We don’t know how but some of it takes root and just seems to sit there, but over time with the influence of the Holy Spirit, prayer, worship and fellowship it starts to grow. We don’t just sit and wait, but we carry on life allowing God to bring to maturity the seed that has been planted. At the right tome it blossoms and begins to bear fruit as our lives show the transformation that is characteristic of the kingdom of God.

    Yet another way of looking at is to think of seed as investment into God’s kingdom. Paul writes: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8). God expects that his people will give financially to extend the kingdom of God. In the Old Testament there was a system of giving that was required by the law starting with the first ten percent of crops, livestock or income from business. In the New Testament there is no longer a law, but many will see the Old Testament requirement as a good example to follow. Whatever amount is given, God expects it be given as a sacrifice and offering, both as worship and to support those who serve in different ways.

    God’s promise is not that if you give more that you will be blessed more or somehow become prosperous because you give, but that God will nurture the seed you sow, as you go on with life as usual. As he nurtures and blesses the plant it will come to maturity and produce much fruit that will advance the kingdom of God.

  1. What sort of seed are you sowing into your life and community?
  2. How do you sow seed into your own life?
  3. How can you sow seed into the lives of non believers?


  1. A Rich fool
    Luke 12:13-21While Jesus was teaching the crowds someone called out to him to intervene in an inheritance between him and his brother. Jesus responded by effectively saying ‘why ask me? It’s not my business’. There is good advice here for all of us not to get entangled in things that are not our concern, Jesus was always happy to speak about the kingdom and the word of God, but this was a family matter and not his concern. How often do we feel the need to offer advice or an opinion on things that are better left to others? However Jesus did use the request as an opportunity to say that life is more important than how much you possess; how often are relationships broken or damaged in arguments over family estates and who gets what?Jesus went on to give another parable, one that is quite well known on the subject of money and wealth. He tells the story of a very successful and wealthy farmer. This man had such a bumper crop that all of his storage barns were full and he needed still more space. What would he do for next years harvest, it was probably going to be even bigger. So the man decided to demolish his barns and build bigger ones which he would no doubt fill up. When he had done that he would have enough to stop working, to sit back and eat and drink and live a life of leisure. In our day perhaps he would invest his money to get a good return with the intention of taking early retirement and maybe buy a caravan and travel around the country. There was no thought in this man’s mind of using some of his excess to support those in need, maybe give to a charity of some kind. He just wanted to put his feet up and do nothing.

    The man had everything sorted out, he would keep growing his farm, make more money and live a life of luxury. Why not?  He had had worked hard, he was good at what he did and he made smart decisions, now was the time to reap the benefit. The response given to the farmer by God reveals the problem with his plan. He had spent his life building his fortune and making himself comfortable but had given no consideration to what God expected of him. What the farmer didn’t know was that his life would soon be over and he would not get to enjoy his wealth as he thought he would. Someone else would get the use of all he had and meanwhile he would stand before God empty handed.

    Jesus was not speaking against working hard and enjoying the benefits of success and he was not criticizing the wealthy. He is not condemning efficient the use of labour or good harvests but he is condemning the practice of trusting in wealth and making it the priority issue in life, rather than acknowledging God and extending mercy and justice to the poor and needy. Maybe he had in mind the words of Deuteronomy 8 and particularly verses 18,19: ‘you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.’

    Many times Jesus spoke about the dangers of wealth and the need to seek his kingdom and eternal riches rather than material possessions and status and yet we live in a society where our value is often measured by our bank balance and possessions. Even when we give career advice to our children it is often based on how much they might be able to earn rather than whether it will allow them to serve the need and bring glory to God. What’s your plan for the future?

  1. If you were asked about money, ‘how much is enough?’ how would you answer?
  2. What factors determine the career or vocation you choose for yourself and recommend to your children?
  3. What do you think of Proverb 21:13?


  1. Dressed for Action
    Luke 12:35-40Jesus had been talking to his disciples and others who were listening about the kingdom of God. He was encouraging them to get their priorities right and be prepared for when it came. He remarked that they should build up treasure in heaven because where their treasure was, that is where their hearts, their chief desire and interests would also be. It is true that those things we invest significantly in are the ones we value and which occupy our thinking. If something costs us nothing we often have less regard for it. Jesus was saying in effect that if the hearers knew they had great treasure waiting for them in heaven, they would be keen to get there!

    Having focused their attention Jesus now tells his hearers to get ready for action as if something was going to happen soon. Earlier he had said that the kingdom of God would come gradually like a seed taking root and growing, but now he says that it will be sudden and they had better be ready. The illustration he uses is that of the servants of a man attending a wedding, in those days a wedding was a major event, a feast that could take several days and no one really knew when it would be over. The servants needed to be alert because their master could be knocking at the door at any time. The house had better be clean, everything in order and the servants ready to attend to their master’s needs. In other translations the idea of being dressed for action is written as ‘girding their loins’, language that may be unfamiliar today. In Jesus’ day Jews wore a loose robe over their clothing, it was held close to the body by a girdle or belt to stop it flapping about and interfering with their activities. The loins refers to the waist or hips and so the robe was held tightly to leave the wearer free to move about. Peter may have recalled these words of Jesus when he wrote “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, (girding the loins of your mind)  and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13).

    Paul uses the idea of being dressed ready for action in Ephesians 6 when he speaks about putting on the whole armour of God. He stresses that when properly dressed the believer can stand their ground, once they had done everything and were prepared they could stand (verse 13). Paul speaks of an evil day that is coming, looking forward to a time of persecution that the church would face, in that time they could stand firm. But in the meantime there was a spiritual battle in which every believer would be engaged, it may not show itself in a physical way, but it takes place in the heavenly places. This same armour would protect the believer and enable each one to stand firm, ready to celebrate the victory of the Prince of Peace and King of Kings. As Paul stresses in Romans 8, we do not emerge from this battle as battered and broken victims but as those that are more than conquerors!

    The analogy that Jesus uses of the thief that would break in when the master was away is not suggesting the Jesus is like that thief, hoping to catch the servants unprepared, but his return may catch people unaware and so we like them need to be ready. The master expects to find his servants, dressed and ready for whatever he asks them to do. Everything that should have been done has been done, the house is clean and prepared ready for his return.

  1. If Jesus were to return today, would you be ready and dressed for action?
  2. Are you aware of the articles of clothing that Paul encourages us to put on and are you properly dressed?
  3. Do you sometimes feel like a battered and beaten victim more than a conqueror?


  1. Just one more chance
    Luke 13:6-9

    Jesus had been teaching a lot about the need to be prepared for the coming of the kingdom, challenging his hearers to start following God’s commands and acting like the people they were called to be. The Jewish nation was chosen by God to be his people but also to be an example to the other nations of how to live the way God wanted them to. They were to show that they justified God’s choice of them by their behaviour and in so doing would be considered righteous. Throughout the nation’s history they continually disobeyed God, rebelled against him and failed to produce the fruit. Matthew relates that later in his ministry Jesus warned the people: ‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’ (Matthew 21:43). In this next parable Jesus makes clear that bearing fruit was essential to possessing the kingdom of God.

    There was a man who owned a vineyard and within it he had planted a fig tree. It doesn’t seem that this was his main crop but he had decided to put a tree among the vines to give him some figs. He didn’t work in the vineyard himself but employed a worker to look after the vineyard and make sure that it was productive. Each year the owner would visit the vineyard and every time he would go and check out the fig tree to see what fruit it had yielded. For three years he expected a crop and each time he was disappointed. The man had no criticism of his steward or worker but he was extremely unhappy with the tree, ‘Cut it down’ he said, ‘it is just wasting space, your time and my money’. The steward asked the owner for one more year, he would break up the soil to help the water get to the roots, add some manure, probably prune it back a bit and see whether that would make a difference. If it didn’t produce fruit, then he agreed with his master, it should be cut down.

    Jesus’ parable was aimed at the Jewish nation, He had planted them in the midst of other nations and he expected them to produce not just fruit, but good fruit. It is when we see the fruit on a tree that we can be sure what type of tree it is. I have difficulty telling citrus trees apart, they all look the same to me, until they produce fruit. Once the fruit is there, I will know whether it is an orange or a lemon, or something else. Like the tree we are known by the fruit we bear, and the nation of Israel was expected to bear fruit that revealed that they were the people of God. But they did not. God sent to them, leaders and prophets to do what was necessary for them to grow to maturity and be fruitful, but continually they did not respond. Jesus suggests in the parable that they may have one last chance, and if once again they failed, they would be cast aside.

    Like the fig tree and the nation of Israel, God intends that we as individual believers and the church bear fruit. It is by bearing fruit that we demonstrate what we are. A church that does not bear fruit runs the risk of being left aside, Jesus points this out strongly in the letters to the churches in the Book of Revelation. Our suburbs and regions are littered with church buildings that were once thriving communities of faith but now are empty or have been turned into cafes’ or houses. Trees are good to look at and they can provide shade, but God intends that they produce fruit. This is true also of us as believers, Jesus said in John 15:8, ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples’. The evidence of our faith is that we bear fruit. We may live in the orchard, but if we don’t bear fruit we don’t belong there.

  1. What fruit should the church produce?
  2. What can the farmer do to help it bear fruit?
  3. What type of fruit should you be producing, can see your faith by the fruit you bear?



Week 3

  1. While we were sleeping
    Matthew 13:24-30Jesus was fond of parables about farming and sowing seed, not all of them appear in every gospel account, and some writers put them at different times in Jesus’ ministry. John doesn’t include parables at all, and Matthew, Mark and Luke each write from a different perspective so the emphasis may change depending on the writer. The parable of the wheat and the weeds only occurs in the gospel of Matthew.The theme of the kingdom and the need to be ready for it when it comes, is a consistent thread in each of the gospels. Keeping alert and bearing fruit have been stressed and so too the need to sow seed in good soil and expect a return to come. In other parables about sowing there has been one person sowing the seed, in this parable there are two. No explanation is given why, but an enemy of the farmer was looking for an opportunity to ruin his harvest. His plan was to sow weeds in the field of wheat, so that it would either be ruined or a lot of time and energy would have to be spent repairing the damage. We are not told what this enemy would hope to gain, or whether he was just being malicious.The enemy saw his opportunity when the servants of the farmer were sleeping. Perhaps they should have set a guard or taken turns to watch over the field. Maybe there was no indication that anyone would want to ruin the crop, so they just finished work and went to sleep as usual. Unfortunately for the servants and the farmer his enemy sneaked in and sowed what were probably darnel seeds among the crop of wheat. Darnel was a common weed in Israel, it looked and grew like wheat but did not produce grain. Worse still, because it looked a lot like wheat it was easy to confuse the two crops while they were growing and the roots of the plants would entangle each other below ground. This meant there was danger of pulling the wheat out along with the darnel, so when the servants suggested that they try to do that, the master told them not to because of the risk to the wheat crop. When harvest came the reapers would be able to tell the difference and destroy the weeds.The disciples were confused by the parable and asked Jesus to explain it, which he did in verses 36-43. He identifies each of the characters, apart from the servants and explained the parable to the disciples. He is speaking of the nation of Israel as being the wheat field which had been planted by God, but Satan had planted unbelievers and rebels among them, hoping to spoil the harvest. As we apply this to today we can understand the wheat field to be God’s people, the church, that is growing in order to be ready at the time of the harvest, which is the return of Jesus as King. Sadly within the field, or the church as we understand it, there are those who look just like believers, act like them, sing the same songs  and join in all the usual activities, but they are not true believers. The time will come when their true nature will be revealed even though it may have been hidden before, that is the time when Jesus will say: “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. 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?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me.” (Matthew 7:21-23).Jesus was warning the disciples that he would separate the true disciples from those who were not, they did not need to concern themselves with pulling out the weeds, he would attend to it.
  1. How can we identify the ‘weeds’ in the people of God?
  2. How should we respond to them?
  3. Jesus is probably not speaking about false teachers here who should be obvious – how do we treat them?


  1. From little things…
    Matthew 13:31-32In between the parable of the wheat and the weeds and Jesus explanation of it are two others, both very short and the first once again dealing with seeds. It is usually referred to as the parable of the mustard seed. This parable can be confusing because on the surface of it seems that two of the things Jesus states are actually incorrect!Once again Jesus is describing what the kingdom of heaven is like, and this time he compares it to a mustard seed, in fact Matthew says it is just the grain of a mustard seed. A man, presumably a farmer, though he may not have been has taken a mustard seed and planted it in his field. Luke says that he sowed it in his garden, while Mark writes that it was on the ground, those differences may not be important although they may change the place where the shrub eventually grows from the world in general to a specific place. In each case he sows the seed, as a farmer would, that would usually mean just thrown onto the soil, and there would be a handful of seed, not just one.It is important to remember that Jesus isn’t trying to record an event that actually happened and carefully and scientifically describe the process. This is a story intended to make and illustrate a point, and it isn’t about agricultural methods in the first century. The Jews forbade planting mustard seed in gardens because they were an invasive herb that quickly competed and took over the good soil, but for some reason this farmer decided to plant a seed. We should note that there were two different types of mustard seed, one was the black mustard which grew into a tree, but the other more common plant grew into a shrub. Jesus states that the mustard seed was the smallest of seeds, which is not true and would be known not to be true by his hearers. There was however  a saying popular at the time though, that when something was insignificant it was as small as a mustard seed. The common mustard seed also did not grow into a tree, but was a shrub which while quite large didn’t have the branches necessary to support nesting birds.Jesus is making the point that out of something insignificant the unexpected would grow, but what was it? In earlier parables Jesus identified the birds of the air as being servants of Satan which came to steal the good seed, and it would be reasonable to see them the same way here. Some believe the aim of the parable is to show that what would begin as a small, almost insignificant movement in Jerusalem would grow into the church which has expanded to every part of the world. That could easily be the point Jesus is making, however it could also point to counterfeits that grow up in competition with the true church and become a haven for the birds that seek to take away the good seed.

    In the context of other parables it appears that Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God is unpredictable. It is grows in unexpected ways and in places where it would not usually be found, but it will influence everything around it. Unfortunately it will also attract those who are antagonistic toward God and who have a desire to do damage to his purposes. In the world now, God’s kingdom is growing quickly in places like Iran, Nepal and China where it is not expected to grow, or even exist. It looks different and adapts to its environment and in some ways its growth is uncontrollable, but its influence is irresistible. However there will be those who do not belong but will seek refuge within it and those that care for the kingdom must be on guard against them.

  1. In what ways do we try to control the way the kingdom grows?
  2. What do we do about birds who try to make nests in the trees of the kingdom?
  3. When the church has grown, has it been in an orderly way like an orchard, or wild and unpredictable?


  1. Something hidden
    Matthew 13:33This is another parable that although it is very short has produced debate over its meaning. Jesus introduces it by saying that he will tell his hearers what the kingdom of heaven is like and then he compares it with a cake that a women is making and into which secretly, and perhaps sneakily she puts some leaven.There are three elements to the parable: the leaven, the woman and the cake she baked. One interpretation of the parable is that the kingdom of God is like something that sits within society almost unnoticeable but it grows over time until it influences everything around it. This picture could apply to those churches that exist in intolerant societies and quietly go about worshiping God until they grow to be a major influence. Often they act in secret, knowing that they will be revealed in God’s time. This perspective relies on the words of Jesus that the kingdom of heaven is like the leaven that is put in the cake mix. This was a popular view toward the end of the last century, especially in America where prominent preachers were pressing the view that there would be revival in the church just before the return of Jesus.There is a problem with this interpretation however. The first is that the term ‘leaven’ is almost exclusively used in a negative, even evil sense. It represents corruption and was banished from the temple and acts of worship. Prior to the exodus from Egypt it needed to be eliminated from households and at the Passover only unleavened bread could be eaten. In the New Testament, it is used five times, three time by Jesus in relation to first the Pharisees, then the Sadducees and then Herod, and then twice by Paul when speaking to the church at Corinth and then Galatia. Each time it meant that something was corrupting the kingdom of God. The Pharisees were accused of being phony, pretending to be something they were not, Jesus speaks of the leaven of the Pharisees in Luke 12:1. In Matthew 16:6-12 Jesus warned the disciples to beware of the leaven (yeast) of the Sadducees which was to rely on the intellect and try and explain away the miraculous acts of God. The leaven of Herod was the temptation to accept the values of the world instead of the kingdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 5 Paul wrote about a case of sexual immorality in the church and warned that tolerance of that would bring corruption to the whole church. Finally when  he wrote to the Galatian Christians he warned them about forcing believers to rely on obedience to the law instead of depending on faith alone for salvation. Letting one little example of that would soon affect the whole body.

    It seems probable that Jesus  and later Paul was warning that the witness and effectiveness of the church could be spoiled by just a little of any of these instances of what were called leaven. The woman may simply be used as a character because it was natural for women to be making bread in preparation for a meal. Throughout history commentators have tried to identify her with particular women or even nations, she is however a woman making cakes. Three measures of meal is a common theme in Jewish thought and  relates to a shared meal, or meal of hospitality. Jesus’ Jewish hearers would be immediately drawn to the example of Abraham who, when visited by three strangers in Genesis 18 directed Sarah to prepare three measures of meal and bake it into cakes. The feast of Passover is also called the Feast of unleavened bread, or feast of Matzot. Three cakes or matza were (and still are) baked to represent: “the bread of affliction,” “the bread of faith,” and “the bread of healing”. The focus on this meal was hospitality and belonging. To introduce leaven into the bread would defile the meal and those that shared in it. Leaven may be introduced sneakily by false teachers and those seeking influence, unless it is eradicated it will spoil the whole cake!

  1. Do you see any examples of leaven being allowed into the church cake mix?
  2. How can you guard against it?
  3. What do you do if the whole cake (or at least that piece that you are part of) becomes spoiled?


  1. It’s what you value
    Matthew 13:44-46After hearing some of the parables Jesus used, the disciples could have been excused for scratching their heads as they walked away wondering ‘what did he mean by that?’ Indeed they were prompted to ask him on more than one occasion to explain himself. At other times the meaning seems very clear even if it was a little uncomfortable. The next two parables are short and straight forward and both have the same emphasis. As with others Jesus introduces them with the statement that they are illustrations of what the Kingdom is like.The first of the two parables involves a man who has discovered a secret treasure buried in a field. Whether he had been looking for it or came across by accident it is not said and is not important. Neither does Jesus venture into the ethical question of what the man should have done with the treasure. Should he try to track down the person who hid it there, report it to the authorities or take some other action? It is not that Jesus isn’t concerned about ethics, it is just not the point of his parable.

    The man leaves the treasure where it is, probably covers it up hoping no one will find it and then quickly goes to find the owner of the field. He makes an offer to buy the field and then when it is accepted he sells everything he has so that he has enough money to pay for it. The treasure he had discovered was more valuable than anything he had and he was prepared to give up everything so that he could have it. The point is clear, the kingdom of God is more valuable than anything you have or own and if you want it, then you must be prepared to give up everything.

    The second parable is similar, this time a businessman who earned his living by buying and selling pearls discovered one that was better than anything he had ever seen. He had to have it. He had looked everywhere for the best pearl and now he had found it he could not let it go. He knew it would cost him all he had, but to him it was beyond price. So he did what he needed to do, sold everything to raise the money required and then bought this magnificent pearl. Once again Jesus doesn’t get bogged down in discussion about what the merchant would do with the pearl, would he sell it at a profit, or just keep it on display, or even hide it away somewhere safe? These questions were not relevant to the point of the parable. To get the pearl everything had to be sacrificed, it cost him all he had and he gladly paid the price.

    If you want the kingdom of God, it will cost you everything. If you put a higher value on any other possession or ambition, it is not for you. Jesus said that we should seek first the Kingdom of heaven before considering other needs and wants. It is to be our first priority in time, money and affections. Possessing the kingdom of heaven is more valuable than your job, your house, car or even your health and your family or reputation. Nick Vukich, a man born without arms or legs who spends his time travelling the world telling people the good news about the kingdom wrote this: “God, if you give me arms and legs, awesome! If you don’t, awesome! Because you are everything I need.” He has discovered a treasure beyond price and will not give anything in exchange for what he has. He knows what is the most valuable passion he has, what you value is what is the first consideration in the decisions you make.

  1. What do you value?
  2. Is there anything you would not give up if God asked you to?
  3. What does inheriting the kingdom of God mean to you (what are you prepared to pay to get it)?


  1. Caught in the net
    Matthew 13:47-50

Jesus continues teaching about the kingdom of God but his metaphor moves from farming to fishing. Like a good teacher does Jesus reinforces the points he is making in different ways rather than quickly moving from one subject to another. There would have been fisherman in his audience and they may have switched off when Jesus talked about planting seeds and looking after fruit trees, but now he was talking about something they knew about and where interested in, fish. He had their attention.


There were a number of different ways that fish were caught in those days. Like today they may be caught from the shore or the side of a boat with a line and a hook. At one time Peter was told to go and catch a fish because in its mouth he would find money to pay his tax debt. This is the method he would have used. Then there was the cast net up, to eight metres in diameter. The fisherman would throw this over a shoal of fish in shallow water, the weighted edges of the net would sink trapping the fish inside which the fisherman would gather up. The type of net used in this parable was different , it was called a seine net form the Greek sagēnē and is usually translated as a dragnet. These nets were up to 400 metres in length and had weights attached to the bottom and floats at the top. They would usually be attached to the shore between two teams standing some distance apart, each holding a rope attached to either end of the net. Together the two teams  would draw the net toward the shore catching everything in its path.

As the net got the shore the fish would be sorted into those that could be eaten or sold and those of no value. The Jewish law prevented the sale or eating of any fish that was unclean which meant it did not have both scales and fins. Shark, shellfish and catfish among others were bad and would be rejected. The fisherman knew what they were looking for, they didn’t set out to catch just the good fish, they caught everything and then separated them out. Jesus uses this parable to speak of his kingdom.

All are invited to enter his kingdom but a time will come when a distinction will be made between those that are good and others who have no right to be there. The task of sorting the good from the bad will assigned to the angels according to Jesus, like the fishermen they know what they will be looking for. The word used to describe those that the angels consider good is ‘righteous’, it is from the same root word as ‘just’ which we understand to mean innocent or without guilt. Righteousness is only possible by faith in Jesus Christ and belief in his resurrection from the dead, it is only those that will be permitted to remain in the Kingdom. When the fisherman had identified the ‘bad’ or unclean fish they would usually burn them on the beach and not return them to the water. If they kept throwing the bad ones back and removing the good ones, eventually the lake would be overstocked with bad fish and eventually the good would not be able to reproduce or survive. Jesus extends this metaphor to the work of the angels when they throw those that are evil into the fiery furnace.

This parable is similar to that of the wheat and the weeds. All are invited to come to Christ and some will come and join the church and participate in its activities, but sadly some of them will not have a genuine faith in Jesus. They and true believers will live together but when Christ returns he will decide between them, not on the basis of the their good works or moral behaviour but only on the basis of whether they have accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ, believing in who he is and by faith in his death and resurrection which has paid the debt of their sin.

  1. On what basis do you think you have the right to the Kingdom of God?
  2. Do you believe that God will judge between those who believe in him and those who do not?
  3. What do you think happens to those that reject him?


  1. Old and New
    Matthew 13:51-52

    Not everyone agrees that thee two verses are a parable, but we will add them to our list  because Jesus is using the example of a common aspect of social life to make or illustrate his point. He begins by asking his disciples if they understood “All these things” and remarkably they said yes! There is a saying that goes “You don’t know what you don’t know” and this was no doubt true of the disciples. There are times when we think we know all we need to about something until somebody reveals something we didn’t know and it is then we realise that our knowledge is not complete. I admit that the more I read and study the bible the more I find out that I don’t know as much as I thought I did, and I am sure that would have been the disciples experience also.

    Jesus took the answer the disciples gave at face value, he didn’t express surprise or question their understanding but went on to apply his message. He refers to scribes, but he distinguishes them from those scribes who had consistently tried to ruin his reputation and ministry. Scribes were experts in the law and in teaching and those that questioned Jesus would argue about points of law or try to trip him up with the traditions of the Jews. When Jesus speaks of the scribes in this parable he notes that they have been trained for the kingdom of heaven. These were scribes or teachers who accepted the teachings of Jesus and became his disciples. Later in Matthews’s gospel Jesus says: “Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town.” (Matthew 23:34) These are the scribes Jesus is referring to.

    Jesus identifies these scribes as being like the master of a house, the one who was in charge of all that happened within it, directed his servants and other workers and managed all of the affairs and activities. These scribes would have authority in the kingdom and they would exercise it by using the treasure they had at their disposal. This treasure would contain both those things that were old but also some that were new. As the scribes were teachers of the word of God is reasonable to believe that the treasure they had to care for and use was God’s word. He is not suggesting that the Law was old while Jesus’ own teaching was new, because the gospel has its roots in the creation story and the law is fulfilled in the coming again of Christ. The phrase ‘what is old and new’ was a common Jewish phrase meaning an abundance or great amount, Jesus was indicating that all of what they had learned was important, nothing should be left out.

    Jesus had applied the law in a new way, he explained its true purpose and meaning, and he did it in  manner that was revolutionary. In this sense it was new, but the teachings of Moses and the prophets all point toward the coming of the Messiah and the incoming Kingdom of God. The Scribes were to be diligent in teaching all these things, there is a tendency among teachers and preachers to seek new meanings, something novel that no one has seen before. Those who teach are reminded to bring out from what has been entrusted to them all things, old and new and as Paul wrote to Timothy to retain that standard of sound words and guard through the Holy Spirit treasure which has been entrusted to you. (2 Timothy 1:13,14). James warned those who aspire to teach, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” The disciples that Jesus was speaking to would be the teachers in the kingdom they were being charged with the responsibility to use all of the treasure they had been given.

  1. Do you find that you focus on one part of the scripture more than others, or do you consider it all to be equally important?
  2. If Jesus asked you ‘do you understand these things?’ How would you answer.
  3. Is the word of God a treasure that you guard diligently?


  1. The one that went missing
    Matthew 18:12-14

    This parable is recorded by both Matthew and Luke but the context in which they are placed is different. Matthew places it while Jesus is telling his hearers that they needed to be humble themselves, even to the level of children, if they wanted to enter the kingdom. Not only that but they had better make sure they did nothing to hinder children, or anybody else from coming to him. Luke on the other hand places the parable as Jesus was responding to criticism about how he spent time with outcasts and tax collectors. Luke 15:4-7)

    Jesus asks the question: “If one of your sheep had gone missing, wouldn’t you leave the 99 others to go and find it?” the question appear a little differently in Luke’s account and it raises the possibility of two different answers. Looked at one way it would be reasonable to suggest that no one would leave 99 sheep to fend for themselves to look for just one. That’s only one per cent loss, a reasonable cost to business. If the sheep were just units of production then that would be the expected way to think, on the other hand if they were valued and known to the shepherd he would have a different attitude. There is nothing in the parable to suggest that the 99 sheep that were left were in danger or at any risk. Matthew says they were on the mountains and Luke that they were in open country, but there may have been under shepherds to watch over them or other shepherds nearby. If it was day time they could probably be left to graze for a few hours without much concern.

    Shepherds in Jesus’s day were often fairly rough individuals from the poorer part of society and may even indulge in a little sheep stealing themselves, but those who worked alongside each other probably also looked out for one another. But the idea of a hardened shepherd looking after the sheep belonging to an absent owner, tenderly going to look for one that was missing would probably bring a smile to the faces of the listeners. Luke even adds that the shepherd picked up the sheep and laid it across his shoulders, I can only imagine he is thinking of a young lamb, because a full size sheep, at least in this country, can weigh between 45 an 100kgs! Jesus may be emphasizing the unlikelihood of this happening, much easier for the shepherd to tell the owner that it had been taken by an animal or fallen off a cliff.

    Jesus is challenging the culture of the day, he is pointing out that the good shepherd would do exactly as he says but not what others might expect. He may have been bringing to mind God’s words through Ezekiel when he condemned the shepherds (the leaders of the people) for the way they treated their sheep (the people of Israel). He said they should have fed them, strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured and brought back the lost but instead they treated them harshly and used unnecessary force. (Ezekiel 34:3-6). He then declares: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” (Verse 11). Jesus is saying that every individual is important to God and he seeks them out when they are lost. No one is insignificant, he doesn’t see crowds he sees men and women, boys and girls and everyone matters. The 99 were safe and secure, they weren’t abandoned but one had got lost, or lagged behind or was injured. That sheep needed to be found and brought back to the flock were it would be safe and protected. The good shepherd would not rest until his sheep was found.

  1. How easy is to concentrate on those that belong than the one or two who have fallen away?
  2. In what ways can the shepherds of the Old Testament be similar to pastors of today.
  3. Not all sheep are in the sheepfold, some are still outside, what does that mean and which of them should be the priority?



Week 4

  1. Mercy and Justice
    Matthew 18:21-35Much of Jesus’s teaching on the kingdom of God was about how the values of those who wanted to inherit it had to be different from what the law demanded. He had been teaching about forgiveness and how to respond when someone had caused an offence and Peter came with a question.In Jewish custom to forgive someone three times demonstrated a really generous spirit but Peter thought he could do better. He asked Jesus if seven times would be enough. This was far more than the law or tradition required and Peter may have thought that he was being really kind or merciful, but Jesus had a different standard. “No,” he said “not seven times but seventy seven times”, some translations say that Jesus’s words were seventy time seven or 490 because of some uncertainty in the original language. The point is that the number is irrelevant, he means that Peter is to forgive as often as he needs to, whatever it takes. He is probably reversing the statement by Lamech in Genesis 4:24 that he would exact revenge seventy seven times. Forgiveness is not limited to a specific number of offences, but is always available. He goes on the illustrate his point with a parable.Many of the features of the story border on the ridiculous and are intended to emphasise the extent of mercy demanded by God for those who wish to live in his kingdom. The first character is identified as a king, and in the culture of the day this was a man which huge resources at his disposal and unlimited power. There may be some comparisons with rulers of oil rich nations or others were the divine right of kings is still observed, but is beyond the experience of people in the majority of nations. This king had a number of servants and he decided it was time for them to repay loans they had been given. One of those had an impossible debt, it was 10,000 talents, in the language of the Bible 10,000 is the highest number and a gold talent was the greatest unit of money. A single talent, if it was gold was the equivalent of 20 years pay for an average worker – 10,000 talents would be 200,000 years of wages! Clearly Jesus was presenting an impossible example. The debtor was a servant, there was no way he could accumulate such a debt and it was certainly impossible for him to repay. The King however insisted and ruled that the servant and his family, together with all of his possessions be sold to recover the debt.The servant begged for mercy and promised to do the impossible, repay the debt. The king knew that what he had demanded was impossible, it was just and fair but could never be carried through, in an act of extravagant and undeserved mercy he forgave the debt. The servant left the king in obvious relief, but as he went on his way he met a fellow servant who owed him the equivalent of about 20 weeks wages, still a significant amount but nothing by comparison to what the first servant had owed. Instead of extending the same mercy, he assaulted his co-worker and threw him in gaol where he was to stay until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw what happened they immediately went and reported  to the king who was justifiably furious.The king had the servant he had forgiven arrested and pronounced judgment on him. He would now pay his debt, an impossible task, and until he did he would remain in gaol. He expected that his debtor would show the same mercy as he had done and now he had withdrawn his forgiveness from him. Jesus was telling Peter and the others that were listening that they needed to show the same mercy toward those that had offended them. God the king has forgiven a debt that could never be repaid, and the mercy he has shown to those who have come to him he expects them to show those that have cause offence. God expects the same from you and me, if we expect to receive mercy from him then we cannot withhold forgiveness from those that offended us.
  1. Do you find it hard to forgive people for the doing the same thing over and over?
  2. What was the basis for the King’s forgiveness?
  3. Do we need to wait for an apology before we offer or give forgiveness?


  1. A fair day’s pay
    Matthew 20:1-16This next parable of Jesus when he describes what the Kingdom of Heaven is like seems unfair. During harvest time land owners would need to employ extra labourers to work in their vineyards. Those men who did not have regular work that lasted throughout the year would go to the marketplace where they would wait for someone to employ them. There was no social security, employment services or government agency to help, whatever the owner decided to pay was the rate they would receive. In times when there was a surplus of labour, just like now, that could be quite a small amount. But they had no bargaining power and were at the mercy of the employer. Many people who move to other regions and countries to find work today, find themselves in similar situations.The key character in this parable is the owner of a vineyard and he went to the marketplace at the beginning of the work day, this was usually 6 a.m. He found some men waiting for work and having selected some he offered them the usual daily rate and sent them to his vineyard. Three hours later he again went to the marketplace because he needed more workers, this time he didn’t name the wages he would offer but told the workers he would do the right thing and sent them to the vineyard as well. He did this again at 12:00 and at 3 pm. Finally he went to the market at 5pm, one hour before work was finished for the day and found there were still some labourers standing there. He asked them why they were there and they answered that it was because no one had hired them. There is no suggestion that these men did not want to work, in fact they had stayed in the sun all day hoping that someone would offer them work. The owner told them to go to his vineyard as well, no mention is made about what they would be paid.When the day was over the owner told his foreman to call all the workers together and pay them their wages. Jewish law required that labourers were to be paid at the end of the day (Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:15) and so they all came expecting to receive what they had earned. Those that worked all day knew what they had been promised, but the others probably assumed they would get a lesser amount according to the hours that they worked. This seems reasonable and normal, we would expect the same today, that casual workers like these would either be paid by hour or by piece-rate meaning that the more work they produce, the greater the payment received.When the foreman gave out the wages, they all received the same. Those that had been there all day where angry, it was not fair that they had worked out in the sun all day and only got the same as those who turned up with an hour to go, and they complained to the owner. He replied that he had given them what they had agreed and if he chose to be generous to the others it was his right to do so. Why should they be jealous because others had been given what they didn’t really deserve?There are some obvious lessons that Jesus is teaching here. Perhaps the first is that God doesn’t measure the worth or value of a person based on their productive ability. This is a revolutionary concept and contradicts nearly every economic practice. God saw each person as equal and gave them the same reward, he didn’t withhold from those who were not given the same opportunities as those who had been there all day. In the same way those that come in to the kingdom of God early in life will receive what God promises, and those who come at the very end, or somewhere in between will receive the same. The reward is not based on the work they do but on who they are, children of God. Each of the labourers responded to the invitation of the owner of the Vineyard, if they had not done as he had told them then there would be no reward, but having responded, believing in the promise that was made they shared in the owners generosity and mercy.
  1. Do you think the Vineyard owner was fair?
  2. How would you feel if you had been there working, all day?
  3. Do you ever assess people on the basis of what they can achieve or earn?


  1. Come on up
    Luke 14:7-11Jesus, along with a number of guests were invited to dinner at a religious leader’s house one sabbath. He may have been invited because he was good company or because they wanted to learn from him but some of them at least were keen to see if he broke any customs and give an excuse to become offended. While the guests were closely watching him, Jesus was taking notice of the behaviour of the fellow guests.What Jesus noticed was that the guests competed for the seats closest to the hosts, where the most important people sat, so he decided to tell them a parable. Using the familiar event of a wedding he challenged those who were listening to him. At a wedding it is usual for the main table to have seats reserved for the wedding party and then the most important people would be seated nearby and other guests would be placed according to their status or how close they were to the bride and groom. To get a seat near the top table was a place of honour but also communicated to everyone else how important that person was.Jesus pointed out that there was danger in this approach because if someone took a seat reserved for another person he would probably be told to move. The guest whose seat had been taken would complain to the host and both of them would come and tell the one out of place to move. By this time all the other seats may have been taken and he would be pushed right down the back. While this was happening the other guests would have been watching, maybe laughing to themselves and secretly happy that this person was being humiliated. He had tried to show off and pretended to have more status than he did and ended up disgraced and banished to the place were the least important people gathered.Rather than try to claim an honour the man didn’t deserve, Jesus said he, and the guests in the room with him who had been doing the same thing, should have gone and sat at the back of the room. The hosts would notice and reward his humility by inviting him further toward the top table. By doing this he would be honoured in front of everybody and the other guests would wonder how he managed to be so important.

    Jesus is saying that there is no place for arrogance or pride in the kingdom of heaven. God will elevate those that humble themselves, but also bring the boasters and social climbers back to the ground. He is not speaking against success or achievement, as Paul later wrote to the Christians in Rome: ‘Pay to all what is owed to them…respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.’ (Romans 13:7). There is a tendency to try and bring down those who are successful, unfortunately it is often easier to bring them down than it is to improve oneself. Jesus is not advocating that, but he is speaking against assuming that because of success or by occupying a position of influence one person is more valuable than another. God offers to all people whatever their social position, financial status or political influence the right to in inherit the kingdom of heaven. We have that right, not because of any merit of our own, but because God freely and mercifully offers grace to each one of us equally. One day when Jesus is seated at the marriage feast of the lamb you and I will hear the words of the Spirit and the bride saying “Come”! And together we will enter the joy of the wedding as brothers and sisters, children of the King.

  1. How important is status to you?
  2. Do you ever hope that you will be honoured more than other people?
  3. How hard is it to sit ‘down then back’ and not be noticed?


  1. I cannot come
    Luke 14:15-24As Jesus finished his parable one of the guests who was sharing the table with him commented that anybody who ate together in the kingdom of God would be blessed. This caused Jesus to begin another parable, once again focusing on a meal, but not just any meal but a great banquet. This is the type of event that would have taken months to prepare, just as a wedding reception would be today.The guest list was prepared and invitations made ready well in advance. There was no email, telephones or mail service and messages were hand delivered, so the host sent his servants to deliver the invitations allowing plenty of time for the guests to make arrangements to prepare themselves and have transport provided. When the time approached for the big event, the servants were sent again to tell the guests that everything was ready and that now they were expected for the banquet. It was a big event, all the right people were invited and everything was planned to the last detail. It was the social event of the year and the host was looking forward with great anticipation.Then the excuses started coming in. “Sorry I can’t come, I have bought a field and need to check it out”; “I would love to be there but I have just bought some oxen and haven’t seen them yet. Sorry, maybe next time”; “Hey, I know it will be a great event, but you know how it is, I just got married and my wife is not keen”. The host had invested a lot of time, energy and money into this, he had given plenty of notice and only invited those he really wanted, and now they have come up with a bunch of lame excuses. Who buys a field without checking it out first, why would you buy oxen if you don’t know they can do what you need them to do and how about the story about the wife? They have had months to organize these things, now all of a sudden they are too busy! He was furious.

    The master told his servants to go and find people to invite, the poorest and the most needy, all those who would normally be rejected and overlooked. They would find them in the streets and the lanes where the beggars where and they were to bring them. The servants did as they were told but there was still room, so the master told them to go further, outside the city and if necessary force people to come – he wanted the house filled. He was sending a message to his ‘guests’; they were no longer welcome, they would never be invited again. They were his first choice and they insulted him by rejecting his invitation. Now the feast would be shared by those nobody invited, the despised and the rejected – even foreigners.

    The message Jesus was giving was clear. The people of Israel had been invited to come to the kingdom, they had been given plenty of time to be ready and God had sent his messengers to prepare them. But now it was time and they didn’t want to come, they rejected the invitation. So God has instructed his messengers to go to those who were not invited, including those outside of Israel, they would be welcomed into the kingdom. There are many who have received their invitation to come and have had plenty of opportunity to prepare and be ready, but there are other things that are more important. There is a holiday planned, or a degree to finish. They are building a house or planning a wedding, they have their eyes on a new puppy or computer and it would be really inconvenient to leave those things just because Jesus has invited them to share a meal with him.

    You have been invited to the marriage feast of the lamb, are you ready to go or is their a field you really need to see?

  1. Have you received your invitation? Have you sent your RSVP?
  2. What things would keep you from attending God’s banquet?
  3. If God instructed you to go and get people for his feast how would you do it?


  1. Counting the cost
    Luke 14:28-33Jesus didn’t try to draw a crowd by saying what they wanted to hear. In fact it seems that he went out of his way to discourage them from following him. Luke writes that large crowds were following him, some no doubt wanted to see more miracles, others to hear his teaching which was different from what they heard from the Rabbi’s and religious leaders. Of course there were those who were convinced by what Jesus was saying and were enthusiastically looking forward to the Kingdom of God. Jesus decided it was time to thin out the crowd and so he began to speak in parables once again. Jesus’ approach was very different from what we see today, the effectiveness of a preacher and a church is often seen by the numbers of people that turn up. Great efforts will be made to provide entertaining messages, comfortable seating and the right type of music, good coffee doesn’t hurt either. Programs will be organised for almost every facet of life and every generation and there is always an eye on the church down the road in case they have something we don’t and draw away some of the church family.This was not how Jesus worked. He told the crowd that if they wanted to follow him then they had to give up everything that may hinder them, even their families. Many people today would rather not meet with the church than risk upsetting their children by missing an outing or sporting event, or an employer by refusing an extra shift. Work, holidays and hobbies have become more important than worship. Jesus said the crowd that, if that is what they thought then they would never be disciples.

    The first parable he offers it about a man who wants to build a tower. The tower could have been to watch over his sheep, or to stand out from others in some way. It was usual to build  a tower and Jesus may have been drawing from the efforts of Pilate to build an aqueduct nearby which failed when he ran out of money. In any event a tower was a significant project which needed to be planned in advance and resourced properly. The builder wouldn’t just make a start without being confident he could finish. If he had to walk away from a half finished tower he would have attracted the criticism and scorn of the people round about. Instead of having a tribute to himself he would be humiliated. The builder need to make sure he had enough to finish the job before he began.

    Jesus then presents the example of a king who is about to go to war with a rival. We are not told whether it was the king’s initiative or that he was being attacked, though it seems it is the rival king who is the aggressor. It seems that the king of the parable knew that he was badly outnumbered and he needed to decide whether he could win against a superior army or get the best deal he could before the battle started. He would be foolish to go to war if he knew he had no chance of winning and would suffer a great loss. Jesus was not discussing the tactics of war, he was making a point. The people of Israel know that many times in their history God delivered them when they were badly outnumbered, so the idea of a tactical surrender was not the point of the parable.

    Jesus’ point was simple. If anyone wanted to be his disciple than they needed to first work out whether they could finish what thy started. Discipleship was costly, elsewhere he had told them “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). Nothing has changed, only those who are prepared to surrender everything to Jesus are fit to be his disciples. The kingdom is free to all those who receive it, but only those who make it their first priority can do that.

  1. Have you counted the cost of being a disciple?
  2. Can you finish what you have started?
  3. What are the things that might tempt you away from following Jesus?


  1. A Desperate search
    Luke 15:8-10The story that Jesus told about a woman who had lost a coin has an obvious emphasis but there is a little debate about the details! We are told that this woman has lost one of ten coins that she owned and she was desperate to find it. We are not told what type of coin it was and how much it was worth but it was valuable enough for her to spare no effort in finding it.

    One opinion is that it was a drachma, worth about one day’s pay, so without knowing the woman’s circumstances that would be a significant amount. There is no comment about her being a widow so it is reasonable to assume she was married. It could be suggested that Jesus uses the example of a woman searching the house because this was something his female hearers could relate to. He had spoken about fishing and farming and building, all the usual work of the men of the day, the women though looked after the house, this was their domain and they could understand what Jesus was describing.

    There is an alternative view about the coin. The custom in Jewish and Arabic cultures was for a woman who was engaged or married, to wear a headdress called a semedi. This contained 10 silver coins which might not have been worth much, but had a great deal of sentimental value. It was a symbol of all she had to contribute to the marriage and Jewish custom prevented it from being taken from her, even to pay a debt. A woman who lost one of her coins could be suspected by her husband of misusing it and he may even use that as a reason for divorce. This woman was anxious and worried, she had to find that coin.

    The woman did three things; she lit the lamp, she swept the floor and then she diligently searched for the coin. Most of the houses of poorer people did not have windows and so lighting the lamp was essential. I find that when I am looking for something, even when it is a light, extra light is always helpful (especially as I get older!). Straw was often spread on the floors of the houses to soften the hardened clay and something as small as a coin could easily get lost amongst the straw. So the woman swept it clean being careful to watch out in case she swept it up with the straw. She looked diligently, probably moving the furniture and anything that was likely to be a hiding place. She was going to keep looking for this coin until she found it, she would not, could not give up.

    Finally success! The coin was found and the woman raced to her neighbours to tell them, the panic was over, what was lost had been found! Unless you have lost something of similar sentimental value it hard to feel the emotion of this woman, perhaps if an engagement ring has been lost, or a child has gone missing then it is possible to understand. But Jesus compares this to how the angels in heaven feel when every one person is ‘found’ by Jesus and commits their life to him. Just as the shepherd searched until he found the lost sheep, and the woman searched until she found the lost coin, so too Jesus searches for those who are willing to be found by him.

    The shepherd tenderly looked for the sheep, the woman diligently searched for the coin. God searches for the lost with compassion and he does not give up. You are more valuable to him than a sheep or a coin  and he gave everything, even the life of his son to find you. Now that he has found you, you can trust him because he is able to keep you safe and secure until he sends his son to take you to his heavenly kingdom.

  1. Do you feel that you are valuable to God?
  2. If you know someone who has become lost, how diligently will you search for them?
  3. When Jesus spoke about prayer, he said we should seek and then we would find. How diligently do you seek the things you pray for?


  1. The lost son
    Luke 15:11-32

    Luke records three parables of Jesus together in chapter 15 of his gospel, the first is about a lost sheep, the second, a lost coin and then a lost son. This third parable is one of the longest that Jesus told and it contains three main characters, a father and two sons. In our Bibles there will often be a heading describing this as the parable of the prodigal son. ‘Prodigal’ is word that is not used much in common English and it means to be irresponsible, or extravagant especially when handling money. The central character in the other two parables are the shepherd who had lost his sheep and the woman who had lost the coin, in this story it is the father who had lost his son. It is more about him than either of his sons.

    Of the two sons, one is presented as being irresponsible, living for the moment and lacking in self control. He cares only for himself and whatever pleasure he can find each day. The other son is hardworking, obedient but joyless. He is determined to do what is right and deny himself anything that would interfere with his work and ambition.

    The younger son, the one who was irresponsible couldn’t wait to leave home so he convinced his father to give him the share of the property that would eventually be his. He quickly converted that to cash and went travelling. True to his nature he was reckless and before long had spent all of his money and was homeless. To make matters worse there was a famine and work was scarce, he eventually did find employment feeding pigs, but no one cared, and he was left to fend for himself. To Jesus’ audience this was appalling, pigs were unclean and no Jew could eat them or have anything to do with them. The son had reached the lowest state he could.

    One day he woke up to himself and decided to go home and throw himself on his father’s mercy. Even if he could work as a servant it had to be better than living among pigs. As he got close to home his father saw him. He didn’t wait for his son but ran to meet him and threw his arms around him. When the son started his prepared speech his father cut him off and called out to his servants: “My son’s come home! Organise a  party, no expense to be spared we must celebrate, he was lost, but now he has been found!” The servants did as they were told and the party started, but somehow it seems no one remembered to tell the older brother who was working in the fields.

    As the elder son came home from work, no doubt tired and ready to rest at the end of a long day, he heard the sounds of singing and dancing. “What’s going on?” he asked his servant, “Your brother has come back and your father has thrown a party to celebrate.” The servant replied. The older son was furious and refused to go in. He wasn’t happy his brother had come back, he had run out on the family leaving him to do all the work and now he was back. He had obviously heard stories about his brother’s behaviour and while some of the allegations he made are not supported or confirmed he knew that half of the inheritance was gone. His father came to him and tried to convince to come in a celebrate, but he complained bitterly about the injustice he felt. His father did not give up though and tried to encourage him that he loved him no less and in fact he was glad that he had always been there and could be trusted to always remain. He had not lost his inheritance and in fact everything the father had was his.

    There are many themes to this story but the key is the love of a father toward his sons. He did not love either more than the other and while his younger son left him, he waited anxiously and expectantly for his return. While he was away he drew comfort from his older son who had always been there for him. While any comparison of God with a human character is flawed, Jesus is describing the love God has as a father that is relentless and unconditional. Even when his children stray, he waits with open arms for their return not to condemn or criticize but to welcome and embrace. If you have strayed from God, it is time to come home.

  1. Do you identify more with the older or the younger son?
  2. The younger son ‘came to his senses’ or woke up to himself, have you ever had that experience?
  3. Was the Father being fair to his older son?



Week 5

  1. Smart business or dodgy deals?
    Luke 16:1-13This is one of, if not the most difficult and confusing of Jesus’ parables. All of the characters are dishonest and the point Jesus is making seems to be very strange! The confusion is exaggerated by being given to the same audience that had just heard the parables of the lost sheep, coin and irresponsible son which were all about God’s love for those who had become lost. The parable of the irresponsible or prodigal son begins with a rich man and so too does this, but from there they go in very different directions.The parable begins with the rich man confronting his manager about his poor and probably dishonest performance. He had been reported by some unnamed accusers and the rich man wasted no time in uttering the dreaded phrase: “You’re fired!” He told the manager to prepare his accounts and clear his desk, he was finished. The manager realized he was in trouble, he was a proud man and wasn’t keen on the idea of labouring and begging wasn’t an option, so what could he do. He knew that he needed friends that could look after him, so before he left he called in his boss’s customers who owed him money and made deals with them. Each of them cut a significant amount off their bill, probably in exchange for some future benefit they could give to the manager. The owner of the business didn’t know and it doesn’t seem that the manager received any actual cash or produce, but the owner was going to be cheated.Inevitably the owner found out what his manager had done  and instead of calling hm a cheat or a thief he congratulated him on his smart business practice! According to the owner the manager had been shrewd, not dishonest. We might have expected Jesus to at this point condemn dishonest behaviour, but he doesn’t, instead he says that non believers are smarter than believers when it to comes the way they use their money! Writing in the Theology of Work project, Ian Jackson says that the point of this parable is: ‘The key to security about the things we need is not anxious earning and saving, but trustworthy service and spending. If God can trust us to spend our money to meet the needs of others, then the money we ourselves need will also be provided.’As Jesus applies the parable he makes no comment on the actions of its characters, the rich man who recognized and applauded dodgy business, the manager who defrauded his boss for a future benefit or the customers who willingly participated in the scheme. He was pointing out they each had used ‘unrighteous wealth’ to provide for their future. As he explains further the way we handle this wealth is an indicator of how we would expect to use real wealth if it was given to us. Elsewhere he had spoken of building treasure in heaven rather than a big balance here on earth, and the way to do to that was not to serve or become a slave to money; instead, use your wealth to serve Christ and gain friends in eternity. John Piper writes: ‘’This is Jesus’s way of saying, “You need help with your joblessness in eternity. I’m telling you how to have a house, a place to live, with joy and satisfaction in fellowship with God’s people forever. That’s the way to use your money. Use your money to secure that.” That’s the first clue — eternal.”The Pharisees who were listening in ridiculed Jesus, because they were lovers of money (verse 14). The idea that using wealth to improve the lives of others instead of enjoying the benefits it could bring such as bigger houses, more servants, social status and prestige was to them absurd. Jesus in this parable as he has done elsewhere elevates the value of relationships above that of financial success.
  1. What do you think of the managers actions?
  2. In what ways is it possible to become a slave to money?
  3. How can you build up treasure in heaven?


  1. The Rich man and the one who God helped
    Luke 16:19-31After Jesus had spoken the parable about the dishonest manager the pharisees who had been listening ridiculed him for his comments about money. Jesus then proceeded to offer another parable, one which has created controversy and difficulties mainly from assumptions that Jesus is either relating a factual account of what life after death is like, or by trying to analyze ever aspect of the story. As with other parables this is not intended to be literally understood even though in this case, and only in this parable are two of the characters named.Jesus begins as he had with other parables: “There was a rich man”, this should immediately alert his hearers that he is going to continue his warning against the use of money. Some translations of the Bible give this man the name Dives, but that is simply a Latin word for ‘rich’ and we are not given his name. We do know about his desire to impress others and his extravagant lifestyle. Every day he didn’t just eat, but he feasted, and he wore the most expensive of clothes – purple and fine linen. We also know he had a callous disregard for the poor. A man who is named, Lazarus was a poor man who lay at the rich man’s gate. His name means ‘God has helped’ and yet here he was lying in  a pitiful state gazing longingly at the food scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. The custom of the day wasn’t to use knives and forks when eating but to pick up food with the hands and then wipe them on crusts of bread which would be thrown to the floor. The wild dogs that roamed the streets were quick to grab those morsels of food which Lazarus longed to have for himself. The dogs provided a service to Lazarus though, they licked the open sores that he had and probably gave him some relief.In time both men died and Jesus relates that Lazarus was taken to Abraham’s side where he was welcomed, the rich man though was sent to Hades, a place of torment. In his agony he looked up and saw Lazarus resting next to Abraham and begged Abraham to have mercy on him and send some water to relieve his pain. Abraham refused, he told the rich man that through his life he hand enjoyed only good things while Lazarus had continually suffered. Now their fortunes had been reversed. In any event there was a great gulf between them and it was impossible for any on Abraham’s side to get across. “At least send him to my brothers and warn them” said the rich man, Abraham replied that they had been sent the prophets and Moses they could listen to them and if they wouldn’t then even if someone came back from the dead they wouldn’t be convinced.While the picture Jesus presents is not meant to be a literal description of life after death there are some things we learn from it. The obvious point Jesus was making was that evidence of being a citizen of the kingdom was reflected in the way people treated the poor. Secondly that there would be a Judgment after death and there was no second chance after that. There are no excuses for those who have heard God’s word and not responded to it. Besides that, both Lazarus and the rich man were conscious of their future destiny once they had passed from this life Jesus and indicated they were recognisable and even kept the name they had on earth. Nowhere in the Bible is it taught that people in Heaven and Hell can communicate with each other or that there is a place called ‘Abraham’s bosom or side’. Jesus is using a story to make a point, the point being that evidence of true faith is to live according the teachings of God’s word, and care for the poor was central to that. God expects that the blessings that we receive will be shared with those who are less fortunate, in doing so we will demonstrate that we are true children of our heavenly father.
  1. How do you react to this story?
  2. When Jesus raised the ‘other’ Lazarus from the dead the pharisees and chief Priests plotted to have Jesus put to death, how does this confirm this parable? (John 11).
  3. In what ways do we demonstrate our care for the poor?


  1. Keep on keeping on
    Luke 18:1-8To understands the purpose of this parable it is necessary to see it in the context of the previous chapter of Luke’s gospel. In Chapter 17:20 the pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come and Jesus went on to tell them it would be like the days of Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were warned not be like Lot’s wife who was so reluctant to leave her old world that she looked back and perished. “don’t be like  her, and others like her,” Jesus said , “but pray and never give up”. He then presented the parable about the widow desperately seeking justice from a corrupt judge.Widows figure often in Luke’s gospel: The first is Anna (2:37), a prophet, who spreads the good news of Jesus’ birth; In Chapter 4:25-26 he identifies the widow of Zarephath who fed Elijah in a famine and who returned her dead son to life; and the raising of the only son of the widow of Nain by Jesus (7:12). In Chapter 21:3 the poor widow gave more than all the other wealthy givers because she gave all she had, and Jesus condemns the scribes who “devour widows’ houses” (20:47). The widow represents the poor and the oppressed, she was vulnerable and had no one to act on her behalf. The judge however by holding a position of power and leadership was obligated to work justly, especially on behalf of the poor and weak.We know little about the widow except that she was involved in a dispute that the judge could resolve. She may have been poor and vulnerable, but she was courageous and persistent and she was going to keep confronting the judge until she wore him down. We know two things about the judge, he did not fear God and he did not respect man or women. It is obviously not possible to identify this dishonest judge with God. He is not representative of God, though he may have been representative of a culture that practiced systematic oppression of the most vulnerable, and the widow may represent the people of God or the church who persist in confronting that culture until it is changed.If the judge feared God, he would care for the poor woman and do whatever he could to relieve her distress. If he respected or regarded her he would have discovered the basis of her complaint and acted sympathetically toward her. This man did neither and was only motivated to act by being worn down by the widow. Jesus is not suggesting that if we nag God he will eventually give in and give us what we want, the teaching on Luke 11:1-13 is that God will give us what he wants to give and the focus is these three things: the Holy Spirit, justice, and the kingdom. In Luke 11:13 Jesus insists that God the Father is far more willing to give the Holy Spirit than we are to ask for him, he does not need to be nagged but he does wait to be asked.The story represents a contrast between an unjust judge who had to harassed util he did what he should have done, and a merciful God who will do justly because it is in his nature to do so. He will bring justice when he returns and there will be no delay. In the meantime keep praying, it is the protection we have against falling into the error of Lot’s wife. Don’t give up, it is difficult to stay faithful when life is hard and Jesus seems to be delaying a long time. Jesus explained why he have this parable ‘pray always and don’t lose heart’!
  1. This parable is about being ready for the return of Jesus – do you agree with that statement?
  2. Do you often pray that God will keep you faithful while you are waiting for him?
  3. How much of you prayer is focused on the Holy Spirit, justice and his kingdom?


  1. Actions speak louder than words
    Matthew 21:28-32The message behind the parable in these verses seems quite straightforward and that brings a temptation to try to discover some hidden meaning. The chief priests and the elders were questioning Jesus’ authority and what right he had to do the things he had been doing and as he often did, he responded with parables. These two parables don’t seem to address the accusations of the religious leaders but instead focus on what is necessary to inherit the kingdom of heaven.In the first of the parables he introduces a father and two sons. The father wanted his sons to work in the vineyard that he owned and so he approached his first son and told him to go and do some work. The son simply refused and no comment is made about the father’s reaction. Instead, he went to the second son and told him to do the same. He immediately agreed and said he would go and do as he was asked but didn’t do it. Meanwhile the first son had a change of heart and went and did as he was asked.Jesus asked the question, “which one did the will of the father”, the answer is obvious, the one who actually went and worked in the vineyard, even though he said he wouldn’t. Jesus used this example to show that those who had refused to obey the law but later come to accept Jesus teaching would enter the kingdom of heaven; while those who pretended to follow the law but actually did not, would miss out. And by this he was referring to the religious leaders and their followers. The evidence of faith is action and not words, it is not enough to know the law and be able to teach and recite it, they actually needed to obey it. Even though they had seen the change in those who had responded to the teaching of John the Baptist, they had still refused to repent of their own sin.There is another aspect to this story and that has to do with the response of the first son. By refusing to obey his father, which probably happened publicly, the son would bring shame on him, while the second son, by saying he would do as asked, would honour his father. In the Jewish culture dishonouring a person’s father could be considered a greater sin than disobeying him. Timothy Tennant writes: ‘The first son may have eventually obeyed the father, but the father lost face. The second son may have not obeyed the father, but he protected the father’s public honour’. This would have been a complication for the religious leaders. They knew that the second son had not obeyed, but by appearing to do so he gave the appearance that he had, while the first son had disgraced his father publicly and that was surely the greater sin. Jesus was careful with his question, he didn’t talk about the magnitude of the offence, but only whether the son had obeyed.

    Jesus had been criticized for welcoming tax collectors and prostitutes because of their great sins, and he does not deny that. But they had repented and now obeyed God’s commandment. They would be given the kingdom before the self righteous priests and elders who all knew what to say, but didn’t do as God had said. Jesus calls us to do the will of the Father, it doesn’t matter that we have failed in the past, been disobedient and even disrespectful, he calls us to repent (which means to change one’s mind or direction) and he guarantees his forgiveness and all that it provides. No amount of religious service and knowledge will achieve that unless it is accompanied by obedience to him.

  1. Have you ever said ‘no’ to God and then changed your mind?
  2. Alternatively, have you said ‘yes’ and then not done as you said?
  3. Do you rate some sins as more serious than others? On what basis?


  1. The trusting landlord
    Matthew 21:33-34Vineyards were a common theme for the parables of Jesus, this was no doubt because it was a common source of occupation and income in Israel and those that listened to him would have been familiar with the benefits that came from them, but also the risks and work involved in getting a good crop. There was another reason as well though, Israel was compared to a vineyard in the Old Testament and Isaiah 5 may have been in Jesus’ mind as he started this parable.Jesus gives more detail as he begins his story than usual. He introduces the main character as the master of the house who was an absentee landlord. It was common for wealthy people to own land and rent it out to others to use for farming or other agricultural purposes. The owner would expect as part of his arrangement to gain a share in the profits from what the land produced. He built a wall around his property and even went to the expense of building a watchtower and put in  a wine press. Then he went off to another country and expected to be able to sit back and wait for the profits.When the time came he sent his servants to pick up the fruit he was owed, but the tenants were not interested. They had become squatters and decided that the produce was all theirs, so they beat and killed the servants. The owner, a little surprisingly sent more servants with the same task, and they got the same treatment! Remembering that this a parable and not a historical account of a real event, the unwise owner thought that if he sent his son, then the tenants would recognize their responsibility, respect the son and do the right thing. Tragically he got the opposite of what he expected, the tenants saw their chance, if they killed the son they could claim the property as their own! So they dragged him out and killed him.

    Jesus asked ‘what do you think the owner would do now?’ and the religious leaders gave the anticipated response. ‘He will go himself, probably take some armed men with him, and kill those tenants!’ Always with an eye to profit they added, ‘and then he will find other tenants who will pay him what he is owed’. The death of the son is passed over and the vineyard assumes primary importance. The story of course was a reference to the kingdom, the master is God and the tenants the people of Israel. God expected Israel to tend his kingdom so that it would produce abundant fruit. When he sent prophets and righteous leaders they were badly treated and many were put to death. He didn’t give up though and repeatedly sent others to speak to the tenants on his behalf, and they too were treated badly. Now he had sent his son, but they had rejected him. As we know not longer after this parable was given, Jesus, the son was taken out and killed.

    The vineyard would be handed over to others who would produce fruit on behalf of the owner, but those that had rejected the son, and therefore the one who sent him would be delivered for appropriate punishment. The message of the parable was obvious to the Jews who were listening, they knew Jesus was speaking about them and they were furious. If it was not for the crowds that were there they would have immediately arrested Jesus and arranged for his execution, but they were afraid of the crowd so they had to put that off until another time.

    The message was clear to the Jews, but it has implications for us as well. We, the church are the ‘other tenants’ to whom the vineyard is entrusted. God expects us to tend it well and produce fruit that will please him. A theme running through many of Jesus parables is that when a field, a vine or a tree fails to produce fruit God will remove it, or the tenants, or hand it over to others to manage.

  1. How does the church manage the vineyard that God has entrusted to it?
  2. Does God still send people to warn the church when it is not acting as it should?
  3. What is the fruit the God will expect to see in its season?


  1. The Wedding of the Year
    Matthew 21:2-14This parable has some obvious similarities with that in Luke’s gospel when he records a feast to which many were invited but who made excuses at the last minute. Despite the similarities there are significant differences between that story and this. It is the king that is throwing the party in this instance and it is to celebrate the wedding of his son. There are obvious allusions to the coming to kingdom which we are told in Revelation is the marriage feast of the lamb (Revelation 19). For the Jews of Jesus’ day they knew of the Old Testament references to a banquet both as a celebration of marriage (Isaiah 62:5, Hosea 2:16-20) and as confirmation of the covenant (Isaiah 25:6-10) and the reference to those passages would have been obvious to them.The King had invited his chosen guests but when he sent the servants to tell them it was time to come they refused. The feast Jesus referred to was like what we imagine a Royal Wedding to be like today. There have been images in all the media about some of those events in recent times, to receive an invitation was an almost unimaginable honour, to refuse it was an insult. This was not a get together at someone’s house, it was an event planned to the last detail at which no expenses was spared. The banquet would continue for days, only the very privileged were invited and they were expected to say ‘’yes’’.

    The king however tried to persuade the guests who refused, he sent other servants and explained how good the menu was going to be, and that a lot of effort had been made so that it would be an event to remember. Some of the guests just weren’t interested, they were too busy or just didn’t care, others reacted strongly and assaulted the servants and then killed them. There is most probably a deeper issue involved to produce such a violent response to a wedding invitation. Perhaps they were rebelling against the king or did not respect him or accept his authority, but whatever the reason the king was angry.

    Armed troops were sent to execute those that killed his servants while their homes and those of all that refused the invitation were destroyed. Then the king sent his servants out of the city and invited any they met to the wedding feast. They were to ask all of them, not just those of good reputation, but whoever they found. The servants did as they were instructed and soon the wedding hall was full. The king made his entrance and as he walked around the hall welcoming his new guests he saw someone who hadn’t bothered to get dressed for the occasion. It was expected that each guest would wear the robe provided and this one didn’t, “How did you get in?” the king asked, to which the guest had no answer. The king ordered that he be thrown out, he did not have the evidence of being invited and he was not welcome there.

    The characters of the story are clear, the King is God who has invited guests to the wedding of his son. The son is Jesus and the first guests were the chosen people of Israel who had refused to come. The second guests are those who have responded to the invitation to come by faith, to the son. The servant who first went are the prophets and leaders of Israel, while the second group of servants are the disciples of Jesus. The bride is the church. The guest who was thrown out, was invited along with all others, both good and bad. He wasn’t excluded because he was not good enough, but because he was not properly dressed. All of those who will attend the marriage of the lamb will be wearing a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10, Revelation 19:6-8 Zechariah 3:4). This is given to the believer when they confess their belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus and confess him as Lord. All are invited to the wedding feast of the son, whether they have lived a good life or not, but before they can gain a seat at the table they must have put on the robe of righteousness to show that they have been cleansed from everything that would separate them from God.

  1. Do you have a robe of righteousness?
  2. Do you know when it was you received it?
  3. If you received an invitation to the royal wedding of God’s son, would you be ready to go?


  1. Consider the fig tree
    Matthew 24:32-35Fig trees were prominent in Jewish thought and the teachings of Jesus. In the Old Testament they are used sometimes to represent Israel, Jesus speaks of them in regard to the need to bear fruit, and to illustrate his kingdom. In Israel ‘The fig tree sheds its leaves in winter, at the end of which, even before the tree is covered with leaves, the paggim (“green figs,” Song 2:13) begin to develop in the form of small fruits, which are really tiny flowers covered with a soft skin, and which continue to grow during the summer months’ (Jewish Virtual Library). When the tree began to sprout leaves summer was coming.

    Jesus had been responding to the disciple’s questions about the timing of the second coming and in the middle of his explanation he drew their attention to the fig tree. The events that he had described in verses 4-25 were just like the leaves of the tree, they were evidence of something about to happen, in this case his return. He then makes the statement that has caused serious debate and concern ever since! ‘Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.’ What did he mean by ‘this generation’. Immediately prior to the discussion initiated by the disciples Jesus had predicted the destruction of the temple and many have identified Jesus’ prediction with that event which took place in 70AD. There are alternative views, however.

    Jesus was speaking to a Jewish audience and thoughts of the temple were central to their thinking ad so ‘this generation’ would refer to those that would be alive to see that happen. The word ‘generation’ may not refer to a specific period of time however. We use the terms ‘younger’ or ‘older’ generations to refer to a set of characteristics that define particular groups, the generation to come may be a future group of people as do ‘past generations’ refer to those that have gone before. So when Jesus says ‘this generation’ he may be referring to the generation that existed when the things he described began. Another view is that it relates to Israel as the chosen nation that will cease when Jesus returns. There are scholars who hold all of these views and it is easy to fall into the trap of getting caught up in debate so that we miss the point of what Jesus is saying.

    Jesus says in verse 36 that no one knows the timing of his coming, not even him. Only the father knows and he has not revealed it to anyone. There are signs that indicate that his return is getting close and that is the sign of the fig tree. These signs are listed in the earlier verses of the chapter and many of them are present in the world today, but not all of them. Many of them have been present at earlier times in world history as well, but not all of them. Our understanding of these things is complicated by our own views or beliefs about the return of Jesus. Some believe there will be a rapture when the church is removed from the world and escapes the great tribulation to come; others believe it will come half way through the tribulation; others at it’s end; and still others that there won’t be one at all, Christ will return visibly to begin the final acts that proceed the establishment of the new heavens and new earth without warning.

    “Heaven and earth will pass away” says Jesus “but my word will never pass away”. The world we call home is temporary, his kingdom is eternal. As we review those signs that Jesus says will precede his return it seems obvious that it won’t be long before his return, and his instructions are to ‘be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’ He doesn’t invite us to debate the times and manner of hos return but to be his witnesses until he comes, always being ready with an answer for the hope that we have within us (1 Peter 3:15).

  1. Have you ever read the list of things that are signs to the return of Jesus?
  2. How can be you sure that you are ready for when he returns?
  3. Many of the signs Jesus mentioned have been and are present in the world – how can we best display the hope that we have when we encounter them?



Week 6

  1. Seeing as God sees
    Luke 18:9-14There were a number of people listening to Jesus who had a very strong opinion of themselves. They saw themselves as the spiritual elite, the chosen ones who God preferred because of the way they acted. And while it is true that God does expect his followers to keep his commandments and demonstrate a godly lifestyle, these people were arrogant and congratulated themselves on how good they were. At the same time they didn’t just look down on those who didn’t live up to their standard, they despised them.The self righteous elite made a point of not only obeying every rule, they made a point of making sure everyone knew. They were the ones who attended every prayer meeting, calculated their offering to the last cent and made sure that they were seen putting it into the offering container. Some of them even went so far that they changed their money into the smallest coins possible so as they poured it into the funnel provided it would rattle all the way down. They would fast at least twice a week and draw this to the attention of those who were less righteous than they. Not content with this spiritual superiority they made claims the others were guilty of all sorts of offences including extortion, corruption and adultery – some were even tax collectors! How glad they were that they were not like that.Surely God was blessed to be approached by such spiritual giants, he had to listen didn’t he?  They had earned the right to have an audience with God and now he was bound to answer their prayers. God of course had a different opinion. He is not impressed by the spiritual CV of the self righteous, but he did listen to the tax collector. This man admitted he had not lived as he should, he hadn’t kept all the commandments and in fact calls himself a sinner. He was so aware of his shortcomings he couldn’t even bring himself to look up toward heaven, he was ashamed. The tax collector didn’t try to minimize his failings or justify his weakness, he just begged for mercy.
    While most believers fall well short of the attitude and behaviour of the pharisee, there can still be examples of people who assume that because they maintain spiritual disciplines like praying, reading the bible, attending church and giving, that God is somehow obligated to listen more than if they were struggling with life and temptation. We not do these things to earn God’s favour but because we want to demonstrate our gratitude and love to him. The bible encourages us and equips in our daily struggles and attending places of worship with other believers feeds our souls. Giving of course, is simply an expression of thanks and an investment in making the good news available to others. While we have been forgiven from the penalty of sin and we can rightly consider ourselves righteous, it is not because of what we have done, but because of what Jesus has done for us.God gives us entry into his kingdom, because we come like the taxpayer in absolute humility, knowing that there is nothing we can do to justify God receiving us, all we can do is cry out “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Once we sincerely do that, God in his mercy forgives our sin and declares us justified. On the other hand the self righteous person who stands before God giving all the reasons why he has earned the right to enter the kingdom will be turned away. We come as a sinner seeking mercy and he receives us as a saint set apart for his kingdom.
  1. Do you ever think that if you pray harder or more often or give more that God is more likely to listen to you?
  2. The taxpayer came as a sinner but was received as a saint, what does that mean for you?
  3. Are spiritual disciplines worthwhile?


  1. Why Parables?
    Mark 4:10-12, 33-34Why did Jesus speak in parables and not just say what he meant? As he communicated with people from a range of backgrounds and levels of understanding Jesus used examples from daily living to either illustrate or explain a particular point he was trying to make. Often it was in response to a question he had been asked and may contain a rebuke that was softened by being contained within a story or illustration. At other times the rebuke was reinforced as his hearers identified with the characters in the story. Unlike other ways of communicating, the parables of Jesus focused on people, some who did well and others who did not, at times the main character is God while at other times he is absent from the story. Some parables seem intended to provoke discussion or at least further reflection by the hearers. They are not always straightforward and because of that many people try to find explanations for every point of the story forgetting t is a story and not a record of a historical event. Almost always they challenged the culture of the day, elevating the lowly and humbling the proud and self righteous. They made the comfortable uneasy and brought comfort to the hurting.Jesus and other writers of the bible use many other means of illustration or explanation including allegories, metaphors, symbols and even fables. They too leave room for speculation and debate. The key to parables is that they seem like stories of real events with real characters that those that hear them can identify with. Jesus spoke about catching fish, cleaning houses, planting gardens, losing money, building houses, repairing clothes, picking fruit, being robbed and dealing with wayward children besides many other aspects of everyday life; everyone could identify with these stories. The characters in the parables made mistakes, some were good while others were not, they were religious or had little interest in God, they were wealthy or poor, married and single, children and parents; no one was excluded.Every parable had a point that each of his hearers could relate to, it may not always be the same for everyone though. In the story of the irresponsible (or prodigal) son, one person may identify with the father, another with the younger son or even the older son; Jesus had a message for each in that story. As he spoke about sowing seed in different type of ground, a hearer may recognize that his or her heart had become hard and unresponsive, or that the attractions of the word were choking out the work of God, or even that temptation had stolen away the seed that had been planted. Others may feel that like the sower they had not been wise in how they planted their seed.When we try to explain an idea or concept to someone we too may look for a parable or illustration. For example we may compare our life journey to a long distance trip taken by car. We will want to identify our destination, and then whether we have a vehicle capable of making the trip. We will break that trip down into short sections which include a goal or destination to achieve based on our ability and available resources and so on. The story could be long and detailed or short and to the point but it is intended to explain the need to know where we want to go, what we need to do in order to get there and whether we have the resources or capacity to finish the trip. We could use the parable to explain our journey of faith, or a course of study we want to undertake, or even that holiday we are hoping for. The story is not what matters, it is the purpose of the story to explain or make clear a concept that needs to be understood.It is important to recognize that not every point of Jesus’ parables need to be explained, they exist to illustrate the point that he is making and lead the hearer of reader to ask what God is saying to them through the story.
  1. Do you have a favourite parable? What is it?
  2. Why is this your favourite?
  3. Do you sometimes get stuck trying to understand all the details and miss the point?


  1. The search for a king
    Judges 9:7-15Gideon had won an outstanding victory for the people of Israel and they called on him to be their king. At that time Israel had no king and were ruled by judges, God was, or should have been, their king, but the people wanted to be like the other nations and have a man to rule over them. Gideon refused and told them that neither he nor his son would be their ruler. When Gideon died however the people went back to their old ways and one of Gideon’s sons, Abimelech decided that he should be king. The problem was that Gideon had 70 other sons from his many wives and all of them were higher in line than Abimilech who was born to a concubine or mistress. Abimilech conspired with the men of Shechem, his mother’s home town to murder all of the rival’s who stood in his way, and hired an army of thugs who went to the family home and attacked the sons, killing all of them except Jotham, the youngest, who escaped. The way was now clear for Abimilech to became king and with the support of the men of Shechem he assumed that role.Jotham then delivered what many consider the first parable of the Bible, although strictly it is not a parable because it doesn’t involve human characters but talking trees, which means it is a fable. It is also a prophecy that within a short time was fulfilled. Jotham tells the story of the trees who one day decided that they wanted a king to reign over them. The first they called on was the Olive tree, which produced the most valuable crop in the land. Olive oil was used in lamps to provide light and in the tabernacle worship, it was important in preparation of food and in the presentation of sacrifices. The Olive tree said no, it would not give up what it was created and chosen for just to sway over the other trees.The trees then went to the fig tree and made the same request. It too refused, its calling to provide sweetness and health was far more important than swaying about in the breeze. Then the trees went to the vine, which isn’t even a tree – but they were desperate, they really wanted a king! “No” said the vine, “I bring happiness to both men and God, why would I want to leave that and sway over trees – even if I could!” Now the trees were really desperate, so they went to a thorn bush, which was only useful for lighting fires and its thorns caused pain to those that got entangled with them. “Yes, I will do it” said the bramble, “but there are conditions. You need to come and take shelter in my shade, and if you don’t then I will destroy not just you, but even the biggest trees in the forest, the Cedar, with fire”.Having delivered his fable Jotham interpreted it for the men of Shechem. If they had been sincere and acted with integrity and loyalty then they and their king, Abimilech should go and enjoy a fruitful life. But if they hadn’t then fire from the bramble would consume them. Jotham then ran off to escape Abimilech, but within a short time the Shechemites rebelled against Abimilech and he responded by burning their city to the ground, but he was killed in the conflict.

    God had told Israel not to appoint a king, but they insisted on having their way. The Parable suggests that when godly leaders were not available they took whatever was even though they knew their choice could not deliver what was promised. They chose a leader that would dominate and pursue personal glory and fame. The three trees that refused to rule valued their God given call above the opportunity for greater image and success. They didn’t need personal glory, they were satisfied knowing that they were doing what God prepared for them to do. The people ignored God’s directions, that he would be their king and insisted in appointing someone in his place. The three fruit trees represent godly leaders who knew that the position was not theirs to take, but the bramble was desperate for power and grasped it as soon as it was offered.

  1. What does this parable/fable tell us about appointing leaders?
  2. Is it possible to live with God as king instead of political leaders?
  3. How can we be sure that those who lead are God’s choice?


  1. The poor man’s lamb
    2 Samuel 12:1-4Chapter 11 of 2 Samuel records the sordid tale of King David taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a close companion into his own bedroom and having sex with her. Uriah was away fighting battles on behalf of the king at the time and David had seen Bathsheba while she was bathing and decided that he needed to have her. It is not clear whether Bathsheba was a willing partner or whether because of David’s unlimited power she was compelled to agree to have sex with him, but whatever the case she became pregnant. David first of all tried to pretend that Uriah was the father but when that didn’t work he arranged to have him killed in battle and once a period of grieving was over he took Bathsheba as his own wife.Nathan was a prophet who counselled the king and God sent him with a message to David. He told him a story or parable about two men, one very rich and other very poor. One day a visitor called on the rich man, there is nothing to indicate that the visitor was important, he is not named and there appears to be nothing significant about him. Apart from his arrival causing what came later he is not a major part of the story. The custom of the Israelites was to offer hospitality to any traveller that requested it and so the rich man knew he should prepare a meal.The rich man had both sheep and cattle he could select from to provide the meal but he wasn’t willing to do that, instead he decided to take a lamb from the poor man. This wasn’t just any lamb, it was a pet that the man had bought and had brought it up and it lived in the house and grew up alongside his own children. The man was very attached to his lamb allowing it to lie in his lap while he gave it milk to drink from his own cup. There is no mention of the man having a wife and may be that this little lamb had become the object of the man’s affections, Nathan said that the lamb had become like a daughter to the poor man, he had nothing else, the lamb was part of his family. The rich man was not interested in the poor man’s feelings, he took the lamb from him, killed it and prepared it to be cooked and eaten. In using the word ‘took’ Nathan is using the same language that was applied to David ‘taking’ Bathsheba.

    When David heard this story he was furious, he assumed it to be true and declared that the rich man deserved to die and at the very least have to pay compensation to the poor man of 400% of the value of the lamb. In saying he deserved to die, he may also have been pronouncing a sentence of death on the rich man. Nathan immediately responded by telling David that the story was about him, he was the rich man and he had taken from Uriah the one thing that was his, and then killed him to cover his crime. God had abundantly blessed David, he had everything he could have wanted and he would have given him even more if he wanted; but David took what was not his and belonged to another. He showed no pity or compassion for Uriah or Bathsheba and committed both murder and adultery both of which were crimes punishable by death.

    The point of the parable was to make David recognize and confess his sin to God, which he ultimately did. Nathan told him that God had forgiven him but there would be consequences he would need to accept. There would always be conflict and bloodshed in his own household and the child that Bathsheba was carrying would die, the Bible records that both of these pronouncements were carried out.

  1. In the parable the offence was the taking of the lamb, no reference is made to the murder of Uriah. Why do you think that is?
  2. The rich man took the lamb just as David had taken Bathsheba, in what ways are the acts similar?
  3. David’s sin was forgiven, Bathsheba had other children including the next king of Israel, but there were consequences to the sin. In what ways may God forgive our sin and still expect us to accept the consequences of it?


  1. God’s Vineyard
    Isaiah 5:1-7What begins as a love song of Isaiah directed toward God, quickly becomes a parable concerning the people of Israel. It is not until verse 7 that the characters of the parable are identified, and like the parable of Nathan that he delivered to King David, the intention is to draw the listeners into the story so that they condemn themselves without realizing it. At its beginning Isaiah seems to be speaking to a close friend, which, while it was true of his relationship with God, it doesn’t immediately indicate that God was the intended audience.As Isaiah addresses his friend, he talks about a vineyard that he, his friend, had planted with extra care. Quite a bit of detail is provided: It was situated on a very fertile hill, and cleared of any stones or rubble that would interfere with the planting of vines, then it was cultivated to break up the soil; Once the ground was ready the best vines that could be found were planted. In the middle of the vineyard his friend built a watchtower to warn of any approaching threat and then dug out a cistern to act as a wine press. When the time came for harvest he went looking for grapes, but instead of the choice fruit he expected he found wild or rotten fruit. The word that is translated ‘wild’ can be read as ‘stinking’ or ‘rotten’ or just ‘bad’. After this description of the vineyard and all the care that the owner had taken in making it ready to produce fruit, God in the person of the owner takes up the narrative.

    “What more could I do?” he asks, he came looking for good grapes but found only rotten, useless fruit. There ws no option, the vineyard would be ploughed over, the fence torn down and the watchtower demolished. No more time and resources would be wasted on this piece of ground, it would become a wasteland, overrun by thorns and bramble. Those that were listening to the parable would be nodding their heads in  agreement. What the owner suggested was the obvious thing to do, why spend more money on land that wouldn’t produce? Best to tear it down and start again, pull up the useless vines and burn them.

    Having given the owners decision Isaiah once again takes up the story and explains its meaning. The vineyard is Israel and Judah, they were his chosen people and were planted on the land he had promised. He had cared for them, protected and watched over them, but when he came looking for good fruit as evidence that they were his people he didn’t find it. Instead he found the opposite; where he should have found justice there was bloodshed and oppression instead, there was an outcry by the oppressed people because of the lack of righteousness. The wealthy had done well, but at the cost of the poor. In verses 8-24 God identifies the bad fruit by using the word ‘woe’, it occurs 6 times. The first two bad fruit relate to greed and luxurious and pleasure seeking lifestyle, while the next four relate to moral and spiritual failure.

    God was going to hold his people to account. They were expected to produce good fruit by acting justly and righteously but instead had done the opposite by oppressing the poor and the needy and the result was rotten, stinking fruit. In Galatians 5 the apostle Paul contrasts the fruit of an ungodly life with the fruit of the Holy Spirit that is produced in the believer. God will hold us to account for the fruit we produce as well. In this parable the vineyard was destroyed – it was not the end for Israel but God’s punishment was a step in their redemption and through them the redemption of the world through them. God disciplines those he loves and sometimes that discipline is uncomfortable and even painful, but it never the end. Discipline is intended  to restore a broken relationship with a Father who loves us, not as punishment.

  1. What is the difference between discipline and punishment?
  2. God often examines people according to how they treat the poor and the oppressed, how do you think he would assess you in those areas?
  3. If God were to assess the church on what it actually does to relive the burden of the oppressed, how do you think it would score?


  1. The tale of two eagles and a vine
    Ezekiel 17:1-15This parable is difficult to understand without some understanding of the history that leads up to it. Ezekiel presents what he calls a riddle and a parable and using figurative language he describes some events that have taken place and others that are yet to come. The origin of the story lies in successive invasions of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

    The first time Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah it looted the treasure from the temple and took captive talented and capable young men, including Daniel and returned to Babylon. He returned a few years later and took some more prisoners including the prophet Ezekiel and king Jehoiachin, in Jehoiachin’s place Zedekiah was appointed as a puppet king in Jerusalem, after he promised before God to faithfully serve Babylon. A third invasion was to take place but this had not occurred when Ezekiel wrote his parable.

    The Parable presents the story of two eagles and a vineyard for which they competed. The first Eagle represents Babylon a rich and powerful nation which had broken off the king and leaders of Jerusalem as twigs from the top of the Cedar tree, and taken them into captivity. The seed of the land were the Jews remaining in Jerusalem now under the protection of Babylon through its puppet king. Under the care of Babylon the seed sprouted and became a vine and grew to significant stature, but another eagle appeared on the horizon.

    This second eagle was also big and a powerful nation and the vine turned its attention towards it hoping that it would rescue her from Babylon. The second eagle represents Egypt and Jehoiachin broke his word to Nebuchadnezzar and entered an alliance with it. The king thought that he would regain his prestige and authority through Egypt and turned against Babylon. At this point Ezekiel poses his riddle or question, ‘what will happen? Surely the first eagle will reject the vine it had cared for, cut it off at the root so that it withers and dies.’

    Ezekiel explains his parable in the next verses and clearly identifies Israel with the vine and tells them that they will suffer the consequences of breaking their covenant, not only with Babylon but with God as well. This was fulfilled a few years later when Babylon invaded Jerusalem for the third time and after a devastating siege that lasted more than a year, the Temple was destroyed, the city walls were torn down, and Jerusalem was burned.  Most of the surviving Jews were taken as captives to Babylon. All was not lost for Israel though.

    While Israel had broken its promise to Babylon, its real failure was that they had abandoned their trust in God. He had promised to protect and deliver them but they decided that they had a better idea and turned toward Egypt. The problems with Babylon were only the result of Israel breaking her relationship with God. In the last few verses of chapter 17 God reveals that he has not forgotten Israel and he will still deliver and restore her. He has taken a sprig from the cedar that he will plant and care for so that it grows to prominence and provides shelter and protection to all those who come to it. The dried up tree (or vine) will be restored. ultimately the security and fruitfulness of Israel will come, not from either of the two great eagles—human empires which are flawed and temporary—but from God himself. When God decides to intervene, then the whole world (All the trees of the field) will know.

    Israel, when faced with trial and tribulation turned to political powers to rescue them. They failed to realise that they were in that mess because they had turned their back on God and no human organisation could deliver them. We too when faced with turbulent and oppressive governments and regimes need to turn to God rather than political power or action for deliverance.

  1. At what stage should we engage in political or social activism?
  2. What needs to accompany prayer when we seek deliverance?
  3. The king of Israel broke his promise to Babylon and to God – how seriously should we take the promises we make?


  1. The Boiling Pot
    Ezekiel 24:1-14

    The third invasion of Jerusalem by Babylon had begun, and God came to tell Ezekiel, he was to write down the exact date so there could be no mistake that God was behind this event. Numerous times Israel had been warned and given the opportunity to change their ways and so avert the tragedy that was predicted to happen, but every time they rejected the opportunity and carried on their rebellious actions toward God. The date of the commencement of the siege by Babylon is the same as is given in 2 Kings 25:1; and Jeremiah 52:4 and In later times the day was kept as a fast, Zechariah 8:19.

    Ezekiel was instructed to recite a parable to Israel concerning this invasion. He was to describe a pot, made of copper that was filled with water. Once that was done the people were to fill it with the best pieces of meat they could find to make a stew. They were also to find the best of the flock and throw that in as well. While it is not said, if the whole lamb was thrown in along with all of its entrails and blood it would make the stew unclean and unfit to eat. What should have become a delicious meal was now useless, only good to be thrown out for the dogs to eat. Now the pot was full, it was put on a hot fire and left until everything was thoroughly boiled.

    Now God declares judgment on the people of the city. They were represented by the choice meat but it was mixed with corrosion and defilement. The meat could no longer be separated from the corruption around it, the people were told to pull out the pieces piece by piece but indiscriminately, all of it was ruined, none of it could be recovered. The empty pot, which represented Jerusalem, was left on the coals until it had melted and no longer of use. The people of Jerusalem just like the pot and its contents had become so defiled that they were no longer fit to be God’s chosen vessel.

    Only the Lord God could cleanse them. He had given them multiple chances to turn to Him, but they had ignored every opportunity. So He let them have their way; the choices they made are what destroyed them as Nebuchadnezzar came and destroyed Jerusalem. There would be a time when Israel would be restored and the temple  rebuilt, but for many years the people would be in captivity. In verse verse 13, God pronounces: ‘Because of the indecency of your uncleanness I tried to cleanse you, but you would not be purified from your filthiness. You will not be pure again until My wrath against you has subsided.’

    While this was a parable and prophesy written to Israel more than 2500 years ago, it could apply today. Throughout the bible God warns that in the days before his return people would turn from him and indulge in ungodly acts and even distort the teaching of his words. He has given his people the opportunity to repent and be restored, and unless they do they and the nations they have become will face the prospect of being taken captive until he returns as the King of glory. Ezekiel was writing to a nation which accepted that God was their sovereign while we live in a political state. There are no Christian nations, but we are called to be citizens of his kingdom and live by the values of the Kingdom. The church in its human institutions is in danger of becoming so influenced and corrupted by the world that it become indistinguishable from it, like the meat in the pot. It is now at real risk of being powerless to bring the change that is needed to turn the hearts and minds of the people to the God who demands their worship.

  1. Do you think the metaphor of the pot can apply to the church, or the nation?
  2. In what ways has the church been so influenced by the world it is indistinguishable from it (remembering that the church is the people like you and me, not the building)?
  3. Do you think God will one day stop giving nations the opportunity to deal with sin?