Loudon's Leaf

Green stretching to blue

Peace is a Person

Peace is not found in the absence of hostility or difficult circumstances but in the presence of a particular person. “For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14; cf. Micah 5:5).

Kingdom Stories: An Intro the Parables of Jesus

It’s hard to resist a good story. If a story can capture your imagination, it can control your whole life. As Christians, we’re called to live out of the greatest story ever told—the story of King Jesus and his advancing kingdom. This class will be an exploration of the kingdom of God through the parables of Jesus. Every story creates a new world and this is precisely what we find happening in Jesus’ parables. By telling these stories, Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom, and thereby made a whole new reality available to us.

The Style and Spectrum of Jesus’ Teaching

We cannot fully appreciate the importance of parables until we realize that no less than one third of Jesus’ recorded teaching is given in the form of parables. To be sure, it should also be noted that the Evangelists record Jesus using a large variety of other forms of teaching as well. For example, Jesus routinely made use of hyperbole, pun, riddle, paradox, irony, question, poetry and other rhetorical devices when he was teaching. But, as Klyne Snodgrass puts it, “Parables were the means Jesus used most frequently to explain the kingdom of God and to show the character of God and the expectations that God has for humans.” [1]

Question: Why is it important to take Jesus’ style of teaching seriously? Is it possible to know what a text means without understanding how it means?

What Is a Parable?

At its most basic, a parable is an analogy, typically told in the form of a short story, which requires a response from the hearer.  Let’s break this definition down into three parts:

(1)   Parables are analogies. To say that parables are “analogies” is to say that they explicitly or implicitly draw one or more points of comparison between things. There is a range of complexity to be found in the kinds of comparisons that parables make, extending from simple similitudes, like the Parable of the Pearl, (Matthew 13:44) to longer and more complicated allegorical parables,[2] like the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20). But all of the parables are based on an analogy—which means that all parables are inherently artistic and imaginative forms of communication.

(2)  Parables are typically told in the form of short stories. The analogies or comparisons that parables draw between things are almost always developed by means of short stories. Once again, some are very simple, like the Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33) and some are more complex, like the Parable of the Tenants (Mark 12:1-12). But almost all of the analogies Jesus makes through his parables are developed in the form of short narratives which lends to their dramatic character.

(3)   Parables require a response from the hearer. Parables are a prophetic mode of communication, used by those who seek to dispel complacency and compel action. Accordingly parables appeal to the emotions and require a response from those who hear them. Will you return to your Heavenly Father (Luke 15:11-32)? Will you have pity or will you walk by (Luke 10:25-37)? Will you come to the banquet or snub the host’s hospitality (Luke 14:16-24)? Klyne Snodgrass notes: “Parables are not merely informative. Like prophets before him, Jesus told parables to prompt thinking and stimulate response in relation to God.”[3] Example: See 2 Samuel 12:1-7a.[4]

Parables are Kingdom Stories

The kingdom of God was the central message of Jesus’ preaching. Therefore, it is important always to remember that parables are essentially kingdom stories—stories which are told within the larger context and story of God’s kingdom purposes. Indeed, if context is the key to faithful interpretation then we must continually ask ourselves how the individual parables relate to Jesus’ overarching message about the kingdom. Many of the parables are explicitly tied to the kingdom. Several begin, for example, by saying “The kingdom of God is like…” this or that. But even the parables that are not as explicitly connected to the kingdom must be understood with the larger context of Jesus’ preaching about the reign of God.

Question: What are some dangers of failing to read parables in light of Jesus’ overarching message about the kingdom? How might the interpretation of Jesus’ parables suffer if they are torn from this larger context?

Other Characteristics of Jesus’ Parables

In order to get our bearings as we begin interpreting Jesus’ parables, it is helpful to note they have a variety of key characteristics. Grant Osborne has helpfully identified the following ten characteristics:[5]

  1. Earthiness: The parables are told with engaging detail taken from everyday life. Understanding these details is often crucial for proper interpretation. For example, you’ve got to know something about ancient agriculture to properly interpret the Parable of the Sower. Similarly, you’ve got to know some of the history between Jews and Samaritans to understand the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
  2. Conciseness: For the most part parables are short. This is part of their power and appeal as teaching tools.
  3. Major and minor points: This is has been a significantly debated point in history. But it is actually quite important. For example, the Parable of the Prodigal Son has a major point (God’s mercy for those who repent) but also includes sub points (such as the joyless jealousy of the older brother).
  4. Repetition: This is key to determining the main point of various parables.
  5. Conclusion: In many instances, Jesus used a terse statement to conclude a parable. For example, Luke 12:21 ends the Parable of the Rich Fool: “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
  6. Listener-relatedness: This goes back to what we said above about how parables require a response.
  7. Reversal of expectation: Parables are often shocking. They turn common expectations on their head. The “Good Samaritan” would have been considered an oxymoron when it was told for the first time.
  8. Kingdom-centered eschatology: The parables present the kingdom as already present in Jesus person and ministry but not yet fully realized in all its future glory.
  9. Kingdom ethics: The presence of the kingdom in Jesus’ person and ministry makes costly demands upon would-be disciples. The kingdom is like a priceless pearl that is worth any sacrifice to obtain.
  10. God and salvation: The parables depict God in a wonderful variety of ways that help to better understand him. Through the parables God is portrayed as a king, landowner, judge, father etc.

The Power and Peril of Parables: Are you Ready to Respond?

John Frame has said, “If you get into the habit of taking the Word for granted, it will harden you rather than bless you. Since the Word is powerful, it never leaves you the same. It will leave you either better off or worse off.”[6] This is true of God’s Word in general, but it is perhaps particularly true when it comes to the parables.

The parables are powerful. By telling these stories, Jesus proclaimed the good news of God’s kingdom, and thereby made a whole new reality available to us. But the parables are also perilous. By refusing to respond to them we reject nothing less than the kingdom of God itself.  Thus, Jesus’ parables cannot be simply admired and appreciated. When we read them they have a strange way of reading and interpreting us! In the end, these kingdom stories will change us, either for better or for worse.


[1] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 2.

[2] An allegory is a series of related metaphors.

[3] Klyne Snodgrass, Stories with Intent, 9.

[4] If Nathan simply wanted to provide David with information then he surely could have found an easier way to do it!

[5] Grant Osborne, The Hermeneutical Spiral, 296-302.

[6] John Frame, Salvation Belongs to the Lord, 50.

Jesus and Homosexuality

“Jesus did not overturn any prohibitions against immoral sexual behavior in Leviticus or anywhere else in the Mosaic law. He did not regard sexual ethics as having diminished importance in relation to other demands of the kingdom… Clearly, he did not adopt more liberal positions on other matters of sexual ethics such as divorce and adultery. Instead, he was more demanding than the Torah, not less. He would have understood the tension between his affirmation of the model of male-female union in Genesis 1-2 and the alternative model presented by same-sex unions. Consequently, the idea that Jesus was, or might have been, personally neutral or even affirming of homosexual conduct is revisionist history at its worst.

The portrayal of Jesus as a first-century Palestinian Jew who was open to homosexual practice is simply ahistorical. All the evidence leads in the opposite direction. Why, then, did Jesus not make an explicit statement against homosexual conduct? The obvious answer is that Jesus did not encounter any openly homosexual people in his ministry and therefore had not need to call anyone to repentance for homosexual conduct. He also did not address other sexual issues such as incest or bestiality, but that hardly indicates a neutral or positive stance on such matters. What is clear from the evidence that the texts do offer is that the historical Jesus is no defender of homosexual behavior. To the contrary, Jesus both in what he says and what he fails to say, remains squarely on the side of those who reject homosexual practice. At the same time, the model of Jesus’ behavior toward sexually immoral people can be compared with the model of Jesus’ behavior toward those who routinely exploit others for economic gain. The church can and should recapture Jesus’ zeal for all the “lost” and “sick” of society, including those engaged in homosexual practice. Concretely, this means visiting their homes, eating with them, speaking and acting out of love rather than hate, communicating the good news about God’s rule, throwing a party when they repent and return home, and then reintegrating them fully into communities of faith.” – Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice 

Pilot Me

Josh Garrels’ music falls like lightening from a clear blue sky. It’s just that powerful and unpredictably charged with truth, goodness and beauty. Listen to it and it will leave you asking what just hit you and where that big bolt of who-knows-what came from. Does that sound too sensational? Maybe it is. But I don’t think so.

You Shall Not Destroy Its Trees

Long before there were environmentalists, there was the garden-planting God of Israel:

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“When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you?” – Deuteronomy 20:19

Two-kingdoms-in-one-ness?

What light does the duality of Christ’s two natures and the singularity of his person have to shed on the 2K vs. Neo-Calvinist debate over cultural engagement today? What does it mean, culturally speaking, for the church to be on mission “in Christ” who is both fully Creator and fully creature?

The Mysticism of Materialism

“Sex has become the religion of the most civilized portions of the earth. The orgasm has replaced the Cross as the focus of longing and the image of fulfillment… Sex is the mysticism of materialism. We are to die in the spirit to be reborn in the flesh, rather than the other way around.” – Malcolm Muggeridge

The Liturgy of Being

I love the repetition of Genesis 1 which reads like a liturgy of being itself, a grand “call and response” between the Creator and the cosmos.

“And God said… And it was so… And God said… And it was so…  And God said… And it was so… And God said… And it was so…” (Genesis 1:6, 7, 9, 11, 14, 15, 24, 29, 30)

Creation is a standing ovation to God’s speech. It bursts into being at God’s beck and call.

What it does and doesn’t mean to prove something

“Two prove something does not mean “to convince.” That is simple  manipulation and sophistry. To prove something does not mean “to objectively establish something as true beyond a shadow of a doubt.” That isn’t possible for us. To prove something is “to obligate belief.” The goal is to reveal something as true, and to do so in a way that resonates with secondary witnesses of the consciences of your audience. They can turn away from it if they like (as they often did from Christ and His apostles), but they have seen, and they have been obligated. Once truth has been glimpsed, the conscience has been bound.” – N.D. Wilson and Douglas Wilson, The Rhetoric Companion 

The Story of Divine Generosity

It’s hard to resist a good story. If a story can capture your imagination, it can control your whole life. As Christians, we’re called to live out of the greatest story ever told—the story of divine generosity. It’s a vast and sprawling ancient narrative that is, nevertheless, not over yet. Here’s how it goes:

From all eternity God not only has existed, but he has lived in perfect fullness, joy and delight. At some point the eternal God then did the unfathomable: He created everything out of nothing—as a gift. Whether one thinks of the sand or the stars, the trees or the people, God needs nothing, for, “he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:25).

As the Creator, God is the King and owner of all things. God himself is the artist of this diverse, beautiful, and dynamic world, so this world should reflect the brilliance and contentment of its Creator. But we have rejected God’s love and his lordship. And this has resulted in death and disaster. We have turned from the One to whom we belong. The claim that “The earth is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1) has come under attack. It has been compromised and contested in as much as God’s earthly kingdom has been plundered and usurped. Rejecting God’s great generosity and his rule over their lives, Adam and Eve risked and lost everything when they reached out to take the one thing withheld for their good. As a result of this rebellion the great song of creation turned into a deafening moan. This rejection of God’s kingship caused a rupture in the entire cosmos, for, if you could hear it, even the rocks and the trees began to cry out against this fissure between the Creator and his creation.

What could be done?

God could have decided simply to crush his creation as a frustrated potter crushes a newly formed jar that is disappointing, choosing to start over from scratch. But he took another way. God chose to reclaim all by giving all away.

The Creator of all things, including humanity, comes. He comes himself, entering the chaos, the brokenness, the poverty, and the shame. He comes quietly, humbly, truly. And when he comes, he does the scandalous, for God becomes a human being. And in the end this man—Jesus, the promised Messiah and King—suffers, dies, rises, and ascends. In this we learn what is called the “gospel,” the good news of God. Invested by God with all power and authority for the revelation of his rule, Jesus inaugurated the kingdom of God in what he laid down at the cross. “[T]he Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Jesus’ message of the kingdom is, therefore, the proclamation that God’s reign has come through the gift of God himself.

Thus, the God who created a good and perfect world, but whose world turned from him, has brought restoration through gift. The Father loved the world and gave the Son, and the Father and the Son pour out the gift of the Spirit into the hearts of humanity, bringing about praise, hope, and new creation. Those united to the Son by the Spirit then find their lives caught up with the glorious gift of God’s coming Kingdom.

This is the story of God’s generosity. This is the drama that drives us to give.

And the story continues—it’s this drama in which we live, with each of us having a part to play. The good news is not only that God has made us to be recipients of his grace but also participants in the movement of his divine generosity. Therefore, even as we anticipate what God promised to do in the future we see and participate in His Kingdom work in the present.

In Christ we discover again the gift of belonging to God. Living in God’s gifts we are free to give ourselves. Those captured by this story enjoy the inexhaustible grace of God. The people who understand and live in this forgiveness and freedom find themselves also forgiving others and giving themselves, their resources, all they have for the sake of making known again the great King and his advancing kingdom. Those with this hope store up their treasures in heaven as they look forward to a better country—to a city with foundations that cannot be shaken. In the present, we discover the blessing of walking with the poor, associating with the lowly, weeping with those who weep and rejoicing with those who rejoice. We celebrate together the gifts of the rich man and his fortune and the widow with her mite. This is a God who brings life out of death, hope out of despair, strength out of weakness. The paradoxes of God also mark his people. Those who lose experience victory, those who give find true wealth. And so the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ now come to reshape this new life of faith, hope, and love—a life that is best lived not in isolation but as a community. By placing the practice of giving within this larger drama of redemption, we are not only challenged to “give more,” but we are encouraged to step into the powerful movement of God’s great gifts to the world.

——————

This adaptation of God So Loved, He Gave (Zondervan, 2010) was originally written for the Global Generosity Movement.

See it in the Spices

Nicodemus’ story begins in darkness but ends in light.

The evangelist John notes that Nicodemus first came to Jesus “by night” (John 3:2), which is a provocative detail in John’s Gospel where the evangelist repeatedly contrasts good and evil by way of light and darkness. But Nicodemus will appear again at the end of John’s Gospel in a very different light as he comes bearing seventy five pounds of spices for Jesus’ burial.

“Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen clothes with the spices.” (John 19:39-40)

Here, Nicodemus serves as an example of someone who “got it.” The first man ever to hear the message of John 3:16, the most famous verse in the Bible, eventually understood and was transformed by the gospel. We can see it in Nicodemus’ sacrifice. We can see it in the spices. Nicodemus was able to give like this because he came to believe in Jesus, and from his fullness had received “grace upon grace.”

Gospel Definitions

Here’s a great list compiled by Trevin Wax. 

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