The Road Soil

And he spake to them many things in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went forth to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the birds came and devoured them…Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side” (Matthew 13:3-4, 18-19).

The Parable of the Sower is perhaps the parable par excellence— it introduces Jesus’ parables in Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8. It has all of the elements of a parable– a realistic setting, familiar to the hearers, an understandable event, and all of it with a spiritual meaning. It is profound in its simplicity.

We are informed that the seed is the Word of God, the word of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:18, Luke 8:11). The sower is the one who proclaims the message. While some have errantly taught that the sower is to seek out and find just the “good soil,” Jesus never suggests that this is the case. The sower goes out and sows the seed– how the “seed” is received is dependent on the hearer and the type of “soil” he or she proves to be.

This is evident from the first type of soil– the “road soil.” In the physical realm, no sower worth his salt would knowingly and intentionally cast precious seed upon roads. While most roads in the ancient world were not paved, they would be very hard surfaces, packed down by the constant movement of people, animals, carts, and the like. Seeds could not penetrate such a hard surface; therefore, it would be most likely blown off the road by wind or rain or, as Jesus presents, eaten by birds (Matthew 13:4).

So it goes with those who hear the Word of God but do not understand it (Matthew 13:18) and/or of whom Satan takes away that word, lest they should be saved (Mark 4:15, Luke 8:12). Their hearts are as the road soil– too hard for the word of Christ to penetrate and grow.

Some might protest here. How is it “fair” if Satan is the one who comes and takes away the word from such people? We must remember that just as God does not coerce or compel anyone, neither can Satan force anyone to do anything. He is the tempter, and he does tempt (cf. 1 Peter 5:8), but if people are unwilling, he can do nothing (James 4:7). Therefore, the reason that Satan can take the Word from their hearts is that they have no problem with him doing so– they themselves have rejected the Word of God and the message of Christ and His Kingdom. Thus Jesus categorizes all those who do not believe in Him and in His Father.

It is interesting to note that disbelief in God must always be rationalized in a way that disbelief in other concepts does not. People must justify to themselves and to those around them why they do not believe in God. In reality, their arguments tend to be rather weak, and end up boiling down to certain principles. For some, it is embracing something that God has deemed sinful. For others, it is reconciling the existence of a good Creator God with the pervasive evil in our world. Many have been puffed up with pride and have no desire to subject themselves to a Higher Power. And, for a tragically high number of people, it comes down to nothing more than a lack of consideration and reflection– they have not cared enough about their spiritual lives to consider whether there is a God or not and whether He should be obeyed.

People in these conditions remain hardened toward God. They have always existed, exist now, and will always exist. Jesus expected it, and through this parable tells us to expect it, also. Many such people will not show much concern; others, however, will be rather antagonistic toward the faith and those who practice and promote it. This is why all those who desire to serve the Lord will experience persecution (Acts 14:22, 2 Timothy 3:12). Furthermore, when believers attempt to promote the Gospel with such people, they feel the pain concerning which they were afraid– rejection and hostility.

This is not a reason to quit “sowing the seed” or to get distressed. Believers must remember that it is not their job to judge the soil– it is given to them to sow and water the seed, and God will give whatever increase will come (1 Corinthians 3:5-8). There will be “road soil” out there, but there will also be “good soil.” How tragic it would be if potential “good soil” goes without seed because sowers were distressed because of all the seed cast upon the “road”!

From beginning to end there have been people who have rejected God (Romans 1:18-32). Thankfully, some such people have awakened before it was too late and changed their ways. Nevertheless, many will not, and we should not be overly distressed at their rejection of the Word; we must still promote that Word among all men. Let us spread the Word of God throughout the world as God has commanded!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Ask to Receive

And [Jesus] said unto them, “Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him;’ and he from within shall answer and say, ‘Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee?’
I say unto you, though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:5-13).

The Lord’s Prayer (cf. Luke 11:1-4) is a wonderful model prayer, and we remain amazed at how much could be said with so few words. Yet we should not think that Jesus’ instruction about prayer ends with the conclusion of the prayer. There is much more to learn about prayer than just that for which we should pray!

Jesus uses a very real world example. If you had a friend come up to you at a most inconvenient hour and request something from you, would you not give him what he needs not inherently out of friendship but just because of the sheer impudence of the act? This is compared to our petitions before God– even if we think that we are taxing or greatly inconveniencing God, we may still ask, and God will be willing to grant what we need.

Jesus tells us that we must ask if we wish to receive, seek in order to find, knock in order to have the door opened. His emphasis is on initiative. God stands ready, willing, and able to bless us beyond our imagination (cf. Ephesians 3:20-21). The only ones who are in the way, really, are us. We often do not receive because we do not really ask– not because we never pray, or that we never make requests to God, but we can become afraid of asking for too much or going beyond what we believe possible. We often do not seek because we find it difficult to have sufficient trust in God. We will seek the short route or path and perhaps find something small; we often feel too daunted to seek on the long, arduous, and difficult path, and thus never really find what we desire. The door will open if we only gain the courage to go up and knock upon it.

What Jesus is categorically not telling us is that whatever we ask from God, no matter how carnal or selfish, we will receive it. This is an utter perversion of the Gospel that should not be named among saints; James makes it clear that people who ask to spend upon their passions will not receive it (James 5:3). Jesus’ referent is that which is spiritual and leads to growth in God’s Kingdom, not a nice new car or a million dollars that you would probably end up using to wander off into sin anyway.

The reason for this confidence is centered in God’s kindness and goodness for us, a kindness and goodness we often question. It is easy to look at God like so many do– a bitter old tyrant of a curmudgeon always looking for a way to condemn us. This is not the way of the Father at all!

Jesus provides us with two startling mental images. If your child asks for a fish, would you give him a serpent? Or if they needed an egg, would you give them a scorpion? Of course not. The very idea is perverse and shameful. And that is precisely the point. Even sinful people (like we all have been and unfortunately too often still are, Titus 3:3, 1 John 1:8) will provide benefits and good things to their children. If sinful people are that way, will not the Heavenly Father, who is infinitely more good, give the Holy Spirit and the blessings that come from His revelation and knowledge, to those who ask?

In Matthew’s rendition of similar lines (Matthew 7:7-11), God is willing to give good things, and there is no contradiction here, for the Holy Spirit is good (cf. Romans 8:1-11).

These statements of Jesus are designed to give us confidence in regards to our petitions before God. We need not be afraid of a thundering tyrant of a god for whom our requests will never be good enough. Instead, we are to approach God, take the initiative, live by faith, and be willing to step out and ask for the big things, seek the challenging path, and have the courage to knock the door so as to receive the blessings. We do not have to fear– God is infinitely more good than we are, and just as we want to do good for our own children, so God stands ready, willing, able, and desirous of giving His children all things (cf. Romans 8:32).

All those spiritual blessings, therefore, are there for the taking– if we only ask. Do we have the faith and confidence to do so?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Pharisee and the Publican

And he spake also this parable unto certain who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and set all others at nought:
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, ‘God, be thou merciful to me a sinner.’
I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

There is a lot of danger in believing that one is “righteous.” Jesus spent much of His time in His ministry exhorting people to repent and to serve God but yet never to trust in their own righteousness (cf. Matthew 4:23). Jesus provides such a contrast with the Pharisee and the publican, or tax collector, in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisee, in this parable, stands and “prays with himself.” There is no real petition to God in his comments– instead, it is a self-congratulatory note devoid of any compassion or mercy. It exudes arrogance and judgmentalism. All he can do is boast in the little he does accomplish and that he is not like others. The Pharisee represents the extreme example of the self-righteous, sanctimonious, self-assured, superficial religious person. Unfortunately, both the church and society have never lacked such persons.

While the example is extreme it is not without merit. The Pharisees to whom the man born blind testifies dare to declare to him that he was “born in sins,” and then ask if he teaches them (John 9:34). Such a question is only asked of people who believe, in some way or another, that they are above sin, or that their “righteousness” is unquestionable. Tragically, they are self-deceived, and will receive the due reward for their deception (cf. Galatians 6:1-4, Matthew 7:21-23).

Then we have the publican, or tax-collector, in the eyes of society the “chiefest of sinners.” They are Jews collaborating with the pagan oppressing power, quite often extorting the people and committing injustice upon injustice. Yet, in this instance, such a man is aware of his utter sinfulness. He is too ashamed to even raise his eyes to God, imploring God to have mercy upon him. He confesses that he is a sinner. And so we have the ultimate contrast with the self-righteous Pharisee: the thoroughly repentant tax collector, chiefest of sinners.

The conclusion to the matter, evident perhaps to us, is astounding in its scope. The “good person,” the “righteous” Pharisee goes home without justification. Instead, the publican, chiefest of sinners, despised by all, goes home justified. This is because God is not swayed by appearances. The exterior of righteousness and sanctimony is never sufficient. Even in the old covenant it was necessary to walk humbly before God, utterly dependent on Him, having nothing in which to glory according to the flesh (cf. Micah 6:8)!

It is easy for us to read this story and believe ourselves to be the “publican,” willing to admit our sin and to change our ways, and thus we should be (James 4:10, 1 John 1:9). We must examine ourselves, however, because there are times in which we play the role of the Pharisee– we get puffed up by our knowledge, our attempt to live the Christian life, or our supposed maturity beyond our brethren and others (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1, Hebrews 5:14, 1 Peter 1:15-16). We get into the mode where we feel superior to others and almost smug in our relationship with God. We must banish these impulses and attitudes from within us!

We have all come across street “preachers” proudly berating audiences and making a mockery of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, and they may remind us of this passage. It is lamentable that the message of our most merciful and compassionate Lord gets thrown around so casually by the arrogant and sanctimonious. But let us keep in mind that it is easy for ourselves to fall into the same trap, in thought if not in word and deed (Galatians 6:2-4). We must always remember that at one point we all resembled the publican, and we must make it our goal to repent and to serve God in His Kingdom while keeping in mind the way we were, what God needed to do in order to secure our redemption, and therefore our need to relate to our fellow man and point him also to the salvation that comes in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:3-8). This is a tall order indeed, but let us remember that those who humble themselves are the ones who will receive the final exaltation, and seek holiness while maintaining the heart of the publican in Luke 18!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Beam and the Mote

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how canst thou say to thy brother, ‘Brother, let me cast out the mote that is in thine eye,’ when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye” (Luke 6:41-42).

For those who do not think that Jesus has a sense of humor, we provide exhibit A: beams and motes, or, as in other versions, logs and specks. A man with a log/beam in his eye, trying to take a speck/mote out of the eye of his brother. That is a very funny picture indeed!

But why does Jesus present this image? It is not just to get a quick laugh– it is a very pointed example. We all can see how ridiculous it is for a man with a big stick of wood in his eye to try to take a small speck out of his brother’s eye– but are we willing to see how ridiculous we often look on the basis of the meaning of this picture?

The context is a guide to meaning. The declaration to “judge not” is made in Luke 6:37-38, and the image of the blind leading the blind and how they will fall into a pit follows (Luke 6:39). After the image, Jesus speaks of how trees are known for their fruit, the good and the bad, and how good people bring forth good and evil people bring forth evil (Luke 6:43-45).

Beams and motes, therefore, have to do with judgment and goodness or evil. We are all a lot better at discovering the sins and deficiencies of others than we are of our own. That does not mean that we do not have deficiencies– far from it (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8)! It is just a lot more difficult to come to grips with that uncomfortable truth. It is always easier to see ourselves as better than we really are– either by conveniently “forgetting” how they look, like the “natural man” of James 1:22-25, or focusing on their intentions and aspirations and not their actual conduct. That is why people walk around with beams in their eyes– and they are generally blissfully attempting to forget about it.

The mote in our brother’s eye represents his sin or deficiency in a given situation. There is a difficulty there– Jesus does not deny this. The mote needs to be removed (Galatians 6:1)!

This can be done in one of two ways. Most people keep the beam in their own eye and attempt to remove the mote in their brother’s eye. You can imagine how well that goes! The brother tends to be offended and the one with the beam does not understand why they are so unwilling to come to grips with their sin! The whole time the brother just sees the big old beam in the eye– the unrepentant hypocrisy– and they are easily turned off or turned away.

But Jesus intends for people to follow a different path. We all have those beams, and we all, when appropriate, need to help our brethren with their motes. But we need to first take the beam out of our own eye– recognize our deficiencies, prove our own work, remain humble servants of the Lord– and then we can look more carefully to help our brother with his difficulties. When he realizes that we do not feel that we are better than him, that we are fellow servants of God trying to obtain the Kingdom, and are willing to admit when we are wrong, our attempt to assist him will go much better.

The action itself– removing the mote– is not different. The difference is within us– we either are willing to recognize our failings or we are not. When we refuse to recognize our failures, we deceive ourselves, and it is easier for us to treat other people contemptuously. That is precisely why we must recognize our failures, even though it is very uncomfortable– it forces us into humility, perceiving that we are really no better than anyone else, and that will allow us to show compassion and mercy to others– which is exactly the point!

It is a silly picture– someone with a log in their eye trying to take the speck out of his brother’s eye. And yet how many of us try to do the same by pointing out the failures of others while attempting to cover up or hide our own? Let us not look foolish– instead, let us recognize our failings, maintain humility, and help others in love and with compassion– and show good fruit!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Mustard Seed (1)

And he said, “How shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or in what parable shall we set it forth? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when it is sown upon the earth, though it be less than all the seeds that are upon the earth, yet when it is sown, groweth up, and becometh greater than all the herbs, and putteth out great branches; so that the birds of the heaven can lodge under the shadow thereof” (Mark 4:30-32).

Many of Jesus’ teachings regarding His Kingdom were set forth in parables. This is understandable, for it is difficult for humans to wrap their heads around the realities of a spiritual Kingdom while living on the earth. We understand things best when they are compared with things we know and understand.

The Jews of first century Palestine would understand the mustard seed and the mustard plant. The mustard seed was incredibly small, about three millimeters in diameter. Nevertheless, when the mustard seed was planted and the plant grown, it far exceeds the size of other herbs, looking like a shrub or a small tree, large enough for birds in which to lodge. The mustard plant, therefore, is a story of growth explosion from a small beginning.

Jesus found the example of the mustard seed and plant quite useful and applied its lesson in different ways. In Mark 4:30-32, the mustard seed and plant represent God’s Kingdom. Its beginnings would seem rather insignificant: Jesus of Nazareth went about doing good and proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in the relative backwater of Galilee and Judea in the days of Tiberius Caesar (cf. Mark 1:15, Acts 10:38). Around Him gathered a small following of devoted disciples of whom He selected twelve to be His special representatives (Mark 3:14-19). Neither Jesus nor His representatives seemed very significant– He an unlearned son of a carpenter from Nazareth, His followers mostly Galileans, many of whom were relatively ignorant fishermen (cf. Mark 6:3, John 7:15, Mark 1:16-20, Acts 4:13). This Jesus went to Jerusalem in triumph and yet was soon executed by the Romans (Mark 11:1-10, 14:1-15:47). All of this did not seem to be that earth-shattering.

Yet, on the third day, this Jesus was raised by the power of God from the dead, and He instructed His followers in all things concerning Himself (Mark 16:1-20, Luke 24:1-53). After He ascended to His Father, His representatives, the Twelve Apostles, received power from the Holy Spirit and began proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom in power to all the Jews (cf. Acts 2:1-36).

At first there was the One (Luke 17:20-21). Then there were 120 or so (Acts 1:15). After the first lesson there were over 3,000 (Acts 2:41). Soon after it would be 5,000 more (Acts 4:4). The message would then spread from Jerusalem throughout Samaria and Galilee (Acts 1:8, 8:4), and then throughout the Mediterranean world, and ultimately into all the world (Acts 1:8, Colossians 1:6). The Kingdom is proclaimed to this day, almost 1,980 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth!

Thus the Kingdom is like a mustard seed: it started extremely small but expanded out into all the world, and its message and those who proclaim it are a refuge for those who despair. Let us be part of that Kingdom and promote that Kingdom in our lives!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Soils

“Hear then ye the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the evil one, and snatcheth away that which hath been sown in his heart. This is he that was sown by the way side. And he that was sown upon the rocky places, this is he that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but endureth for a while; and when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway he stumbleth. And he that was sown among the thorns, this is he that heareth the word; and the care of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. And he that was sown upon the good ground, this is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; who verily beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

The Parable of the Sower is one of Jesus’ most famous parables. Its meaning resonates for us today.

The sower is the preacher of the Gospel of Christ– the message of His life, death, resurrection, and Kingdom (cf. Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 15:3-5). The seed is that message. The focus of the parable, however, is on the different types of soils.

The “road soil” is quite hard, and the Word finds no room to take ground within it. Such are the unbelievers who choose to stay that way. They do not understand– or do not want to understand– Jesus’ message of humility, service, and turning from sin. The Evil One keeps them in his grip (cf. John 8:44-47).

So go the unbelievers. The next three types of soil feature believers and their fruit.

The “rocky soil” are those who hear the Word, believe and obey it, and start well. The Word is not deeply founded, however, and whenever difficulty arises– persecution for the Name, economic distress, physical suffering, or some other calamity– they turn away from their faith. It may take days, months, or even years for this difficulty to come, but when it does, the shallowness of that believer’s faith is made evident. Their faith is tested– and it fails.

The “thorny soil” also hear the Word and believe it and obey it. They recognize that Jesus is the Christ and know that they should devote themselves to spiritual things. But they have busy lives. They may be devoting themselves to some idol– money, fame, recreation, or some other pleasure. They may be so devoted to the needs of their physical family, friends, and the like that they do not make the time for spiritual matters. Since the Kingdom is not made a priority, their faith weakens and dies. Misplaced and misguided priorities lead to the end of their faith.

The “good soil” are those who hear the Word, believe it, obey it, and make spiritual things their first priority. Difficulties and temptations come, and their faith is tried, but they persevere and grow (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:3-9). They have plenty of obligations in the world, but they realize that their obedience to Christ is first and foremost and can be accomplished within their other obligations (cf. Ephesians 5:22-6:9). According to their gifts and service, they produce fruit: some thirtyfold, others sixtyfold, some one hundredfold. As humble servants, they praise God for all that He accomplishes, and participate joyfully in their specific role (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-28). Those producing a hundredfold do not look down upon the those with sixtyfold or thirtyfold, and the latter are not jealous of the former.

Let the one who has ears hear. We can see these responses to the Word in action in our own lives and the lives of those around us. We may seem to be “good” soil but turn out to be “rocky” soil. The thorns of the world are always around us. On the other hand, possibly “rocky” soil may turn and become “good” soil. In the end, let us be the good soil, producing for the Lord, with God giving the increase (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-7)!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Two Sons

“But what think ye? A man had two sons; and he came to the first, and said, ‘Son, go work to-day in the vineyard.’ And he answered and said, ‘I will not:’ but afterward he repented himself, and went. And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir:’ and went not. Which of the two did the will of his father?”
They say, “The first.”
Jesus saith unto them, “Verily I say unto you, that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed him not; but the publicans and the harlots believed him: and ye, when ye saw it, did not even repent yourselves afterward, that ye might believe him” (Matthew 21:28-32).

Jesus’ parable of the two sons is a rather uncomfortable parable. We find ourselves reflected in at least one of the sons.

The first son begins as the rebellious one. He dares to refuse to do the will of his father, but then realizes his mistake, and turns and does what his father desires. We can see that this son does, eventually, do the will of his father, as it is said in Matthew 21:31.

The first son demonstrates the importance of repentance and the hope that exists for those who have rebelled against God. He is very much like the “prodigal son” in Luke 15:11-32. At some point, each and every one of us refused the call of our Father and went our own way (Romans 3:23), but thanks to His love and grace, we can be reconciled back to God in Christ (Titus 3:3-7). And then we must get to work, just as the first son did (Titus 3:8)!

Yet it is the second son that is the focus of this parable. In context, it is a condemnation of the religious authorities who certainly professed belief in God and yet rejected John His prophet and Jesus His Son (Matthew 21:23-27, 21:33-46). They were willing, as the second son, to tell the Father “yes,” and yet they did not do what He told them to do!

Jesus’ conclusion is sharp and biting, just as it was intended. The people whom everyone recognized were great sinners were going to enter the Kingdom before the “holiest” and most respected religious authorities! Tax collectors and prostitutes were willing to humble themselves, listen to John and Jesus, and change their ways (cf. Luke 7:36-50, 19:1-9). The religious authorities refused!

It is better that we find ourselves to be like the first son. God is more concerned with our action than our profession– it does not do us any good to claim that we are followers of Jesus if we are not actually doing what Jesus says to do (Matthew 7:21-23, James 1:22-25)! We must never allow ourselves to become like the religious authorities and become self-righteous, for repentant sinners always get further than self-righteous hypocrites before God (Matthew 9:11-13, Luke 18:10-14)!

In the end, we cannot tell God “yes” and yet do nothing. If we tell God “yes,” that we believe in Him and that He is our Lord, and yet we do not preach the Gospel to our fellow man (Romans 1:16), or we do not show him mercy and kindness in his time of need (Galatians 6:10), or we do not encourage fellow Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25), or we do not show love and compassion as His Son did (Colossians 3:12-14), what do you think will happen to us (Matthew 7:21-23)? How can we expect to receive God’s blessings if we do not do what He tells us to do?

Who are we? Are we the first son who once refused God but have learned better and now do His will? Or are we as the second son, always willing to say yes, but in the end do nothing? Let us be as the first son, do the will of the Father, and be saved!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Older Brother

“Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called to him one of the servants, and inquired what these things might be.
And he said unto him, ‘Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.’
But he was angry, and would not go in: and his father came out, and entreated him.
But he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years do I serve thee, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine; and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: but when this thy son came, who hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou killedst for him the fatted calf.’
And he said unto him, ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that is mine is thine. But it was meet to make merry and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found’ (Luke 15:25-32).

The “Parable of the Prodigal Son,” which we have discussed previously, is one of Jesus’ most well-known and beloved parables. Yet, in context, a good argument can be made that the parable is less about the prodigal son and more about another character: the older brother.

The older brother stands in contrast with the prodigal. He did not take his share of the inheritance and live riotously. He has been faithful and dependable throughout. In contrast to his brother, he has followed the will of his father.

But this does not mean that he has an excellent character. When his brother returns, his heart is not filled with joy. He, instead, is resentful. He cannot believe the largess of his father toward his brother. He feels deprived, and it stings him a bit.

This parable is one of three which Jesus spoke against the Pharisees and scribes who murmured against Him regarding His eating with sinners (Luke 15:1-2). Jesus is first and foremost attempting to show these opponents how God feels about “sinners” in these three parables; yet, here at the end of the third parable, we have a figure that represents these Pharisees and scribes in the older brother. Sure, they may have not done the things that the sinners have done. But that does not make them right!

The older brother is focused on himself despite his service to his father. He cannot stand his father’s reaction to his brother because it injures his cause. He can only think about how he has been “deprived” despite the “honor” shown to his terribly sinful brother. There is no mercy or compassion in his heart.

The older brother– and the Pharisees and scribes he represents– are to serve as warnings for those who believe and strive to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ. It is easy to develop the “older brother syndrome” when one works hard in the Lord’s vineyard and hears of the repentance of a sinner. We might have been working quite diligently toward serving God while such a one has been living a dissolute life, and now we hear that we both will share the same reward? It is easy to wonder: where is the honor for us?

Such thinking is not of God; it comes from the self. According to God, there is joy whenever anyone turns from their sin. God’s love and compassion can come to all of us, and we should be showing that love and compassion to others. In the end, it is not about us; it is about God our Father. If He rejoices when a prodigal returns, we should also. If He would show mercy toward terrible sinners, who are we to judge or condemn?

The Pharisees and scribes found themselves far from the Kingdom because of their lack of love and compassion toward their fellow man. Let us not be like them or share their fate!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Prodigal Son

And he said, “A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father,
‘Father, give me the portion of thy substance that falleth to me.’
And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called your son: make me as one of thy hired servants.”‘
And he arose, and came to his father. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him, and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son.’
But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: and bring the fatted calf, and kill it, and let us eat, and make merry: for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’
And they began to be merry (Luke 15:11-24).

He was a young man who was likely raised well and had a comfortable living. When he comes of age, it is time for him to get up and have a good time; he obtains his share of the inheritance, and goes off. He has a great time “living it up” in the world. That is, until the difficult days came.

The money ran out. A famine happened. Desperate times called for desperate measures. This Jew now stoops to the level of feeding unclean swine, yearning to be fed with the food he provides for them. In the Jewish mind, there was no further to fall.

He finally comes to his senses. Even if he humiliates himself and degrades himself before his father, and becomes a servant, he will at least have food. Humiliation with bread is better than pride with starvation! So off he goes, back to the house of his father. His father sees the change of heart in his son, and is willing to receive him back as a son!

This, the parable of the prodigal son, resonates with many people. In some sense or another, we have all played the part of the prodigal. We all have taken our share of the inheritance of our Father– the blessings of this world– and used them to satisfy our own desires and lusts, regardless of what God said. Things may seem great for awhile, perhaps even for many years. Blessings abound.

But then the difficult days come. Perhaps the money runs out, the spouse leaves us, a loved one dies, or some other disaster. Maybe our habits finally catch up with us. What are we going to do?

We could remain in our pride, refusing to admit error. We could stubbornly hold on to the ways that got us to where we are. But how well has that gone for us?

Perhaps we know that we should humble ourselves and return to our Father, but we fear that He will be harsh and cruel with us. We ought not to fear: God makes it clear that He will pardon us and redeem us (Romans 8:1-17).

We would do well to be like the prodigal son in this story: come to our senses, humble ourselves, and return to our heavenly Father as a servant, so that we can be adopted as sons (Romans 8:14-17). Humiliation with eternal life is far better than pride with eternal condemnation, no?

We all, at some point, are the prodigal son. Will we remain in our uncleanness, and never bother to consider our fate? Will we have that moment when we come to our senses and realize what we have done? And if we do, will we be willing to humble ourselves and turn to God? God stands willing to receive you again and forgive– but only if you will come!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Fertilizer

And he spake this parable; “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came seeking fruit thereon, and found none.
And he said unto the vinedresser, ‘Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why doth it also cumber the ground?’
And he answering saith unto him, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit thenceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down'” (Luke 13:6-9).

Agriculture provided plenty of fodder for Jesus when it came to His parables.  Jesus perceived that there were many parallels between how plants develop and grow and how His Kingdom would develop and grow, and people readily understood matters of agriculture.  Here we have one such parable– one that you may not hear about as often as the others.

We expect fruit trees to produce fruit.  Yet we ought not expect excellent fruit to come immediately after such a tree is planted; according to the Law, the Israelites were to consider the fruit of a tree during its first three years as “uncircumcised,” the fourth year devoted to the LORD, and afterward the fruit could be eaten (Leviticus 19:23-25).

The master, therefore, comes to see the fig tree after its three years, and it has not produced any fruit.  Without fruit, the tree has no value, and ought to be cut down in his eyes.

Yet notice what the vinedresser tells him.  He confesses that the tree has not been productive, yet before any permanent decision is made, he makes a request to have one more year to “dung” it– provide fertilizer– and then see if the plant will produce its fruit.  If so, well and good.  If not, it can be cut down.

Parables generally have application to Christ’s Kingdom, and this one is no exception.  There is much to be gained here!

When people come to belief in Christ, it takes time for the proper fruit to be manifest (Galatians 5:22-24, Hebrews 5:14).  It takes time to grow in the faith.  Therefore, we should not expect mature “fruit” from immature “trees.”

Yet fruit is still expected.  What happens when there is no “fruit”– no indication that there is any growth in a young believer?  Should they be immediately cast out?

Absolutely not– we must apply the “spiritual dung,” that is, proper encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25).  Sometimes growth does not take place because the proper nutrients are not present, and when nutrients are provided, the growth will come.

This is why it is so important for believers to encourage one another, building up the Body (1 Corinthians 12:12-28).  Yet it is not limited to believers.  Do we know people who are struggling to get through life, and who do not seem to be getting very far?  Consider how to encourage them.  Are there people in despair?  Seek to encourage them.

Encouragement is the fertilizer of life.  Use it bountifully among others, and see how much fruit can be borne!

Ethan R. Longhenry