Friday, July 29, 2016

e-Sword 11 Is Now Available!

I have been a long time user of e-Sword (alongside BibleWorks) and cannot recommend it highly enough. It is a free Bible study software program that rivals many that you would have to pay for and is better that most. This program also makes basic word studies a breeze and has been of great use to those in my congregation to whom I have recommended it. In fact, they often tell me that they love the layout and how user-friendly the program is. There is not a very steep learning curve with this program, so most anyone can catch on to it quickly. But with its recent update to version 11, an already great program has gotten even better. For those interested, here is the rest of the list of updates in the latest version:
Sword modules are now HTML-based! This change will allow many new and unique resources to be created for e-Sword. Don't worry, e-Sword will still work with the older RTF-based modules as well. Most of the resources have been updated to this new format, so you may want to download the updated versions of these modules, especially the non-English Bibles as they now contain the actual Unicode characters which makes for better search results. The new module format has also introduced a new Lexicon module type.
There is a new Pericope feature which places section headings throughout the Bible. This feature can be turned on/off by selecting "Options, Display Pericope" from the e-Sword menu.
The Copy Verses feature has been expanded with an option to include the Lexicon definition for Strong's numbers in any Bible with them.
There is a new Morphology popup tooltip for any Bibles that include these grammatical parts of speech codes.
The new Reference Book modules now adapt to the user-defined font settings as the other module types do.
Although a number of modules have been developed for purchase by eStudySource, the list of free modules grows daily. There are quite a few free modules already offered at the e-Sword downloads page, such as John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible, Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, the Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament, or A.T. Robertson's Word Pictures in the New Testament. This list has grown steadily over the years. There is also a growing list of free modules available at, about which I have previously posted here.

In case you are interested in how I am currently using the program, here is a screenshot of the passage I am studying as I plan to teach through 1 and 2 Thessalonians in the near future:

Click on the screenshot in order to enlarge it, and you can see that I have purchased a few modules but also that I have many modules that I have downloaded for free from The commentary module I have selected in the commentary pane on the right side of the picture is the NICNT module, the commentary is by Gordon Fee.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Parable of the Budding Fig Tree (Mark 13:28-31 Teaching Outline)

Introduction: As our Lord Jesus prepared to ascend to the Father, His disciples still did not fully understand all that He had taught them concerning the kingdom of God, so they asked Him, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6b). Jesus’ reply was one which we should all take to heart whenever we seek to understand the future fulfillment of His kingdom promises:
NKJ Acts 1:7-8 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
Of course, Jesus had promised them at an earlier time that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). Yet, as we have seen, before His ascension Jesus made it clear that the things the Holy Spirit would bring to remembrance and teach them would not include the “times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority.”
In fact, Jesus had stressed the same idea when He taught the disciples about His second coming in the passage before us. After prophesying about His return and the events that would precede it, Jesus taught the Parable of the Budding Fig Tree. Then, right after the teaching and application of the parable, He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (vs. 32). This is an issue we will consider more next week. For now I will just say that it is one of the reasons why I am not going to spend time this morning trying to understand all the specific details of the prophecy leading up to the teaching of the parable.
Although we will try to get a good basic understanding of what our Lord Jesus was saying, our focus will only be on seeking an understanding sufficient for the task of properly understanding the parable itself and Jesus’ intended application of it. With this in mind, we shall examine 1) the context of the parable, 2) the communication of the parable, and 3) the application of the parable.
I. Context of the Parable
As I have already indicated, the Parable of the Budding Fig Tree follows immediately after a significant section of future prophecy given by our Lord Jesus. This teaching was given in response to a question asked by the disciples after Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple and the surrounding buildings:
NKJ Mark 13:1-4 “Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!’ 2 And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.’ 3 Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, 4 ‘Tell us, when will these things [ταῦτα, taũta] be? And what will be the sign when all these things [ταῦτα … πάντα, taũtapánta] will be fulfilled?’”
In the first part of His answer, Jesus speaks about the destruction of the temple, which focuses primarily on the future destruction of Jerusalem, which we now know took place in their lifetimes. We see this in verses 5-23:
NKJ Mark 13:5-23 And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. 6 For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and will deceive many. 7 But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. 8 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These [ταῦτα, taũta] are the beginnings of sorrows. 9 But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations. 11 But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. 12 Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. 13 And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. 14 So when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet [Dan. 9:27], standing where it ought not” (let the reader understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. 15 Let him who is on the housetop not go down into the house, nor enter to take anything out of his house. 16 And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes. 17 But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! 18 And pray that your flight may not be in winter. 19 For in those days there will be tribulation [θλῖψις, thlípsis], such as has not been since the beginning of the creation which God created until this time, nor ever shall be. 20 And unless the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake, whom He chose, He shortened the days. 21 Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'Look, He is there!' do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. 23 But take heed; see, I have told you all things [πάντα, pánta, recall vs. 4] beforehand.”
In the second part of His answer, Jesus focuses on His second coming and the cosmic events which will accompany His return. We see this in verses 24-27:
NKJ Mark 13:24-27 But [ἀλλά, allá] in those days, after [cf. Matt. 24:29, “immediately after,” but the emphasis here is more pecisely on the tribulation that would occur within that generation] that tribulation [θλῖψις, thlípsis], the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars of heaven will fall, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then He will send His angels, and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest part of earth to the farthest part of heaven.
Thus Jesus has taught about a time of terrible tribulation that would come upon Jerusalem, and He has indicated that sometime after this terrible tribulation period, He will return, and there will be amazing cosmic signs which will accompany His return. It is this teaching about the future which leads to His communication of the Parable of the Budding Fig Tree, to which we will now turn our attention.
II. The Communication of the Parable
We see the communication of this parable in verse 28:
NKJ Mark 13:28 Now learn this parable [παραβολή, parabolē, ESV = lesson] from the fig tree: When its branch has already become tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.
 As the Translator’s Handbook on the Gospel of Mark explains, “in the springtime the sap, rising through the limbs, makes tender the branch which has been stiff and dry through the winter, causing the leaves to sprout” (p. 417).
This is something that was common knowledge in first century Palestine, where there were so many fig trees. So, the parable is actually very simple, isn’t it? It is a basic analogy from nature that is used to make a point. Just as one may easily tell that summer is near when he sees the fig tree begin to sprout leaves, even so the believers living in Jerusalem could know that its destruction was near when they saw the signs Jesus had described. Jesus made this point even more clearly when He Himself applied the parable to His hearers.
III. The Application of the Parable
We see Jesus' application of the parable beginning in verse 29: 
NKJ Mark 13:29 So you also, when you see these things [ταῦτα, taũta] happening, know that it [as in the KJV and NIV; ESV and NASB = he/He] is [Pres. Act. Ind. 3S > εἰμί, eimí], near – at the doors [or gates]! [Note: There is no pronoun in the Greek text in the clause it is near; the pronoun is implied in the verb and must be supplied. In this case it could be either a masculine or a neuter pronoun.] 
Some of you may have a slightly different translation of this verse. For example, the ESV translates the verse this way:
ESV Mark 13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. [Italics mine.]
This translation understands Jesus as referring to the fact that, when they see these things, they may know that He Himself is near, whereas the New King James Version understands Jesus as referring to the nearness of the destruction of Jerusalem that He has also just foretold. The Greek text can actually be understood either way, depending on how one understands the context. For example, to what do the words “these things” refer? Well, here is where our brief rehearsal of the preceding context will prove fruitful, for Jesus is referring back to what He had said in His earlier prophecy, where his disciples had used the phrase these things in their question about the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Remember, for example, that, after Jesus said that “Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down” (vs. 2), His disciples had asked, “when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” (vs. 4, italics mine). Thus Jesus uses the same language here that the disciples had used in asking about the destruction of the temple.
I think William Lane makes an excellent point when he observes regarding these things referred to in verse 29 and all these things referred to in verse 30 that, “They cannot have reference to the cosmic dissolution described in verses 24-25 since these are phenomena which accompany the parousia [second coming of Christ], not preliminary events which point to it. These things in verse 29 refers to the entire discourse from verses 5-23, with special reference to verses 14-23” (NICNT, e-Sword).
The ESV Study Bible also favors this interpretation when it states in the notes corresponding to this passage that “‘These things’ probably refers not to the events of 13:24-27 (for they are the end) but the events of vv. 5-23” (BibleWorks). So, although the ESV translation understands the clause as properly being translated He is near, the notes in the ESV Study Bible apparently disagree and understand the clause as better rendered it is near.
So, when Jesus speaks of these things, He is referring to the first part of His answer in the preceding context rather than to the second part. That this is the best way to understand what Jesus is talking about is reinforced by what He says next.
NKJ Mark 13:30 Assuredly, I say to you, this generation [ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη, hē geneà haútē] will by no means pass away till all these things [πάντα ταῦτα, pánta taũta] take place.
Again we see that Jesus uses language that hearkens back to the questions His disciples had asked about the destruction of the temple – which turns out to be about the destruction of Jerusalem as well – when He speaks of “all these things.” But here Jesus makes it clear that these things will happen within the lifetimes of the people to whom He is speaking. He specifically says that “this generation” will not pass away until these things take place. This means that we were right to understand the words these things as a reference not to Jesus’ second coming which had just been prophesied by Him, and which has yet to take place, but rather as a reference to the coming destruction of Jerusalem which had also just been prophesied by Him, and which we know did take place within the lifetime of that generation, because it happened in AD 70.
Now, some people take Jesus not to be referring to the generation alive in the first century but to a future generation yet to be born, but that is not the most obvious reading of the text. In addition, the interpretation I have offered reflects the way Jesus had referred to that generation on several earlier occasions. For example:
NKJ Mark 8:11-12 Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. 12 But He sighed deeply in His spirit, and said, “Why does this generation [ἡ γενεὰ αὕτη, hē geneà haútē] seek a sign? Assuredly, I say to you, no sign shall be given to this generation [τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ, tē geneã haútē].”
NKJ Mark 8:31-38 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke this word openly. And Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 33 But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, “Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.” 34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. 36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? 37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation [τῇ γενεᾷ ταύτῃ τῇ μοιχαλίδι καὶ ἁμαρτωλω, tē geneã haútē moichalídi kai hamartōl], of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
NKJ Mark. 9:17-19 Then one of the crowd answered and said, “Teacher, I brought You my son, who has a mute spirit. 18 And wherever it seizes him, it throws him down; he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth, and becomes rigid. So I spoke to Your disciples, that they should cast it out, but they could not.” 19 He answered him and said, “O faithless generation [γενεὰ ἄπιστος, geneà ápistos], how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him to Me.”
Now, it may be that the tribulation that took place in AD 70 in association with the destruction of Jerusalem was only a foreshadowing of yet another future period of tribulation that will precede the second coming of Christ. This is my own view on the matter. In fact, I think a dual fulfillment, with one in the near future and one in the distant future immediately preceding the return of our Lord Jesus, is the best way to explain the complexities and difficulties in understanding these prophecies and the parallel accounts in Mathew 24 and Luke 21. But that is an issue for another time. For now I will just say that I don’t see how there there can be any doubt that, when Jesus said “this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place,” He intended a near future fulfillment in the lifetimes of those who heard His teaching.
So, Jesus was warning them that all they once knew as most important in their lives as Jews under the Old Covenant would soon be passing away. But what was really most important would never pass away, as He went on to make clear.
NKJ Mark 13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.
This would have been a very startling statement to anyone who had not already accepted Jesus as the divine Son of God, for in it Jesus claims for His own words what can only be said of the words of God Himself. In fact, the statement reflects Old Testament language about the Word of God. As Isaiah said, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isa. 40:8).
The reason that God’s Word stands forever is, of course, because God Himself endures forever, as the Psalmist says:
NKJ Psalm 102:24-27 I said, “O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days; Your years are throughout all generations. 25 Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 They will perish, but You will endure; yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. 27 But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.”
As William Lane put it, “While heaven and earth will be cataclysmically destroyed, Jesus’ word is established forever. This claim of high dignity for Jesus’ words implies a christological affirmation: what is said of God in the OT may be equally affirmed of Jesus and his word” (NICNT, e-Sword)
Jesus’ statement here is therefore just one more way in which He assumed His own deity and equality with God the Father in His teaching. In this case, however, He stresses this fact so that we may be confident that His words will indeed come to pass. We can be sure that, no matter what terrible things happen in our lives, or no matter how many changes we see taking place all around us, the word of our Lord is a sure foundation upon which to build our lives.
Conclusion: So, what are the primary lessons our Lord Jesus wants us to take away from His teaching and application of this parable? I would suggest at least three.
First, we can trust that the future is firmly in the hands of our sovereign Lord. Nothing will take Him by surprise. Even the terrible tribulations and sorrows of this life serve His greater purpose. As the Apostle Paul taught us, “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). We should not fret, then, as we see things disintegrating all around us and as we watch the judgment of God upon our culture.
Second, since our Lord knows the future, and nothing takes Him by surprise, He is able to warn us about things to come so that we may be prepared to face them. Despite the fact that we cannot know the “times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7), we can know certain signs of the times that will help us to be prepared for the terrible things to come, and we can become well acquainted with His ways so that we can understand how He often works in the world and therefore not be surprised or hindered in our faith. As the Apostle Peter said:
NKJ 1 Peter 4:12-13 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
Third, we can rely upon the Word of our sovereign Lord as the sure foundation for our lives and our future hope. As our Lord Jesus said in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders:
NKJ Matthew 7:24-27 Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.
This leaves each of us with a decision to make. Will we trust in our Lord Jesus and His Word, or will we try to build our lives on the shifting sands of the world and its lies?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Parable of the Growing Seed (Mark 4:26-29 Teaching Outline)

Note: The Parable of the Growing Seed is found only in the Gospel of Mark, and Mark indicates that it was told in the context of two other well known parables, the Parable of the Sower, which precedes it earlier in the context, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed, which immediately follows it. It is important, then, to read verses 1-34 in order to get the proper context in our minds, without which we not be able to correctly understand why Jesus told the parable.
Introduction: In a well-known passage, the LORD spoke through the Prophet Isaiah about the power and effectiveness of His word to accomplish His intended purposes:
NKJ Isaiah 55:6-11 Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. 10 For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 11 so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
Today we shall see that Jesus’ Parable of the Growing Seed presupposes this very thing, that the Word of God always accomplishes His purposes, for in this parable Jesus shows us that the Word of God causes the growth of the kingdom of God until He returns. I think you will see what I mean as we examine the parable under two headings: 1) the context of the parable, and 2) the communication of the parable. Along the way, we will also see how the teaching of the parable applies to us.
I. The Context of the Parable
The preceding context of this parable features the Parable of the Sower that Jesus told to the crowds who gathered to hear His teaching (vss. 1-9). This is followed by Jesus’ explanation of the parable to His disciples (vss. 10-20), after which He used the analogy of a lampstand to introduce a warning to be careful how one hears His teaching (vss. 21-25). This context preceding the Parable of the Growing Seed has led many commentators to assume that it was intended by Jesus to compliment the Parable of the Sower. For example, John MacArthur has written that, “Only Mark records this parable which complements the parable of the sower by explaining in more depth the results of spiritual growth accomplished in good soil” (MacArthur Bible Commentary, e-Sword).
This point of view is also often supported by observing the similarities between this parable and the Parable of the Sower. For example, in both parables there is the metaphor of sowing seed in the ground, and in both parables the seed that is sown must be seen as the Word of God or the preaching of the Gospel, since this is the way Jesus has taught that the kingdom of God advances in this world. In fact, He explicitly stated in His explanation of the Parable of the Sower that “The sower sows the word” (vs. 14). It is easy to see, then, why so many commentators arrive at the conclusion reached by MacArthur.
However, although I agree that we must see the seed that is sown as the Word of God, I think that it is best to see the Parable of the Growing Seed as being paired with the Parable of the Mustard seed in the context immediately following it rather than preceding it. I think this for several reasons.
First, although following the Parable of the Sower in the context, the Parable of the Growing Seed does not follow directly after it. Not only is there an explanation of the Parable of the Sower in the intervening context, but there is additional teaching about the care one must take in listening to Jesus’ teaching.
Second, in the context immediately following this parable, after relating the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Mark says, “And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples” (vss. 33-34). This means that, after telling us that Jesus spoke privately to His disciples and explained the Parable of the Sower (vss. 10-20), He has again started to give more of Jesus’ public teaching in parables. This would include at least the Parable of the Growing Seed and the Parable of the Mustard Seed immediately following it. The parable is not, then, given simply to compliment the Parable of the Sower in order to explain “in more depth the results of spiritual growth accomplished in good soil” (MacArthur Bible Commentary, e-Sword), for Jesus is no longer explaining the Parable of the Sower to His disciples at this point.
Third, although Jesus made it clear in His explanation of the Parable of the Sower that He was describing reactions to His own current teaching ministry, as we shall see in our examination of the Parable of the Growing Seed, Jesus changes His focus to the growth of the kingdom until the future harvest that will occur at His return. This leads us to our second major heading.
II. The Communication of the Parable
We see this in verses 26-27.
NKJ Mark 4:26-27 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how [ὡς οὐκ οἶδεν αὐτός, how he does not know, with the emphasis on ὡς (how) at the beginning of the clause].”
Here Jesus describes the advancement of the kingdom of God by means of the analogy of a farmer sowing seed. The seed represents the preaching of the Word, which Jesus has already identified as the means by which the kingdom is advanced in this world (vs. 14).
When Jesus observes that, after sowing the seed, the farmer will then “sleep by night and rise by day,” He indicates that he goes about his daily routine while the seed sprouts and grows. This fact, combined with Jesus statement that “he himself does not know how” it grows, emphasizes the fact that the farmer does not cause the seed to grow. It happens in a manner that he himself neither causes nor understands. In this way Jesus was helping His disciples to see that, although the kingdom had not come as they had expected it to come, it was nevertheless present and growing, despite their failure to fully understand how this was happening.
Application: The application to us should be fairly obvious. As we continue to sow the seed of the Word, the kingdom of God is growing in a manner that we do not cause and that we cannot fully comprehend. It is a mystery to us, and we cannot explain it, a fact that reminds of Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus:
NKJ John 3:3-8 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
The way in which the Spirit works in growing the kingdom of God as individual people are born again so that they may see and enter the kingdom is a mystery to us. It is not something that we ourselves can truly understand, let alone bring about. This latter point is emphasized again in what Jesus says next.
NKJ Mark 4:28 For the earth yields crops by itself [Adj. αὐτόματος, emphatic first position in Greek text]: first the blade, then [εἶτα] the head, after that [εἶτα, then] the full grain in the head.
The word translated with the phrase by itself is actually placed in an emphatic position at the beginning of the sentence in the Greek text. We could thus translate the clause this way: “For by itself the earth yields crops ...” The word translated by itself is autómatos, which refers to something that happens without a visible cause (BAGD #1287, BibleWorks). It is used only one other time in the New Testament. It is found in Luke’s account of Peter’s miraculous release from prison:
NKJ Acts 12:5-10 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord [Adj. αὐτόματος, by itself]; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
Thus we must understand Jesus’ use of the word autómatos in the Parable of the Growing Seed as a means of emphasizing not only that the human sower does not cause the growth but that the growth happens by the working of God. So, when Jesus says that the seed grows “by itself,” and thus indicates that it does not grow by means of human agency, He does not mean that no one causes it. We must understand that God causes the growth. After all, He is talking about the growth of the kingdom of God.
Application: The application to us is again fairly obvious, for, although we continue to sow the seed of the Word as we await our Lord’s return, we must understand that the success and growth of the seed, and therefore of the kingdom of God in this world, does not ultimately depend upon us. We may not even always perceive its growth initially. The Apostle Paul later made a similar point, using similar metaphorical language, when he sought to correct the Corinthian church for having given too much credit to those who preached the Word to them:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.
This is a lesson we must remember as we sow the seed of the kingdom, sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost and dying world. We must realize that true growth comes from God Himself and not from our efforts, despite His using our efforts in the sowing of the seed. We are simply His ministers through whom He works in this world.
As we look again at verse 28, we see that Jesus further describes the growth of the kingdom by analogy when He says “first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.” With these words His intention seems to be to emphasize that there is an appointed order for growth, an order which cannot be altered or evaded. In other words, God has His own plan for the growth of the kingdom, and He grows it in accordance with his plan. As Klyne Snodgrass has observed:
Jesus’ ministry has inaugurated a sequence of action leading to the fullness of God’s kingdom just as surely as sowing sets in play a spontaneous process leading to harvest. Even if hidden (cf. 4:22) and unrecognized, the kingdom is present and will be fully revealed in God’s time. The point is not merely that the kingdom is coming, for most Jews would assume that. The parable asserts that the kingdom process is already under way with Jesus’ teaching and activity and that the glorious revelation of the kingdom has its beginning in, and is directly tied to, what he is doing. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 189)
Application: This means that, as we sow the seed of the Word through which our Lord advances His kingdom, we must never think that we can intervene to cause growth ourselves if we mistakenly think that things are not progressing as we would like them to progress. God has chosen the seed, and He has ordained a process of growth that is in His own power. We must be faithful to play our part as His agents in this world, but we must never think that we ourselves can do what He alone can accomplish, or that we could ever have a better plan for growth than His own plan. Thus we must be patient as we trust in Him, as the Apostle James also reminds us, again using similar imagery:
NKJ James 5:7-8 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
We must be content to be faithful to do what God has required of us and to trust that He will accomplish His own purposes as we await our Lord’s return. And this leads us to the last part of the parable.
NKJ Mark 4:29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.
Here Jesus’ focus is on the ultimate purpose for which the seed has been planted, which is the “harvest” to come. When Jesus says that the sower “puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come,” He is actually using language that comes from a prophecy in the Book of Joel:
NKJ Joel 3:11-14 Assemble and come, all you nations, and gather together all around. Cause Your mighty ones to go down there, O LORD. 12 “Let the nations be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. 13 Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe. Come, go down; For the winepress is full, the vats overflow-- for their wickedness is great.” 14 Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.
This is a prophecy that refers to events yet future to us, events which accompany the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, a fact that is made clear by the way the same passage from Joel is alluded to later in the Book of Revelation:
NKJ Revelation 14:14-19 Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat one like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle. 15 And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.” 16 So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped. 17 Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. 18 And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” 19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.
The prophecy of Joel thus ultimately refers to the judgment of God that will come upon the wicked at the coming harvest. However, Jesus alludes to this passage in a context in which He anticipates the salvation of many people in light of the coming judgment of God. The Parable of the Growing Seed is thus about the growth of the kingdom of God until Jesus returns, during which time we must patiently sow the seed of the Word in anticipation of a harvest. The parable refers to an intervening time between the first and second coming of Jesus as the Messiah. Such a time was unexpected by the Jews in Jesus’ day.
Application: This is one of the mysteries of the kingdom of God which Jesus intended that we should know about. We thus carry out the Great Commission (cf. Matt. 28:18-20) with the knowledge that a future judgment is coming and that we have the privilege of being used by God to help lead people to salvation in the meantime.
Conclusion: As we conclude our study of the parable, I think Klyne Snodgrass is again helpful when he summarizes the teaching of the parable thusly:
While people go about their daily routines, the kingdom is present and at work, and God’s harvest with his judgment will certainly follow. Humans do not bring in the kingdom; they are servants of the kingdom, not its cause. The parable illustrates the proper attitudes toward the kingdom and its eschatological harvest: patience – it will come when God’s time is ripe, confidence despite appearances because God is the one at work, and comfort knowing that all is in God’s hands. (Stories With Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus, p. 190)
As we were earlier reminded from the Book of Isaiah, God says, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). And He has ordained that proclamation of His Word is the means by which He will advance His kingdom in this world.
NKJ Romans 10:8-17 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our report?” 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
God has chosen the proclamation of the Word as the means by which he will bring about the growth of His kingdom, and we must not despise such means, even if the world regards it as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18-31). We must not think that we can bring about the growth of the kingdom through other means such as the telling of humorous stories or the entertainment of worldly people. Instead, we must know the Word of God and faithfully proclaim it to a lost and dying world if we want to be used by God to advance His kingdom in this world. And we must be patient as we wait for Him to work in His own time, confident that He will work as he has promised, and comforted by the fact that He is sovereign over the work.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Check Out Voice in the Wilderness Radio

I just wanted to let our readers know about an internet radio station I have discovered called Voice in the Wilderness Radio. Here is the description from their main page:
Voice in the Wilderness Radio – 24/7 streaming audio of faithful preachers from unsuspecting places and quality original programing.Instead of downloading content on your device, just tune in to VWR and listen to some of the most powerful, faithful preachers and true voices in the wilderness, along with better-known preachers like John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, Voddie Baucham and others, with a very selective array of programing like the Polemics Report, the Bible Thumping Wingnut, Red Grace Media and Generations Radio.
In addition, on their Beliefs page, they assert the following criteria governing their selection of preaching they will stream:
All broadcasters, pastors, preachers, and program hosts subscribe to:
1. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
2. The Danver’s Statement on Biblical Manhood or Womanhood
3. A Reformed Confession of Faith
In addition, the pastors or preachers highlighted on this network subscribe specifically to:
A historic confession of faith in keeping with Reformed and Baptistic beliefs, including the 1st or 2nd London Baptist Confession, the New Hampshire Baptist Confession, the Abstract of Principles, the Baptist Faith and Message (1925) or a personal confession of faith in keeping with the spirit and doctrinal standards of these confessions.
Their motto is "Faithful theology. Faithful preaching. Faithful radio." I hope you will check out their website.

Monday, July 11, 2016

2016 "What is a Reformed Baptist?" Poll Update

Six months ago we began a poll on the blog. If you identify yourself as a Reformed Baptist and you haven't already taken part in the poll, please check out the "What is a Reformed Baptist?" Poll on the right sidebar on this page (the red box with white type). The intention is to run the poll for one year with an interest in how the Reformed Baptist community might answer this question. I have given four options for answers that I think basically sum up the various groups or individuals that I have found to be using the term. Here are the four possible answers:
To regard oneself as a Reformed Baptist, one must ...

1) adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology.

2) adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology and to Covenant Theology.

3) adhere substantially to the Baptist Confession of 1689 (e.g. modify regarding Impassibility).

4) adhere strictly to the Baptist Confession of 1689.
For those interested, here are the results thus far:
14% say that one must adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.

25% say that one must adhere at a minimum to a Calvinistic soteriology and to Covenant Theology in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.

41% say that one must adhere substantially to the Baptist Confession of 1689 (e.g. modify regarding Impassibility) in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.

19% say that one must adhere strictly to the Baptist Confession of 1689 in order to be regarded a Reformed Baptist.
Again, if you haven't yet taken part in the poll, please do so. You may read more about the poll here in order to understand better why it is phrased as it is.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

Soon There Will Be Four Books in the Baptist Reprints Series

In earlier posts (e.g. here) I announced the availability of the first two books in the new Baptist Reprints series by Free Grace Press. forthcoming title will include 10 Influential Sermons of Charles Spurgeon and Reprobation Asserted by John Bunyan. I will be sure to let our readers know when they are available. If you have ideas for reprints you would like to see made available for the Reformed Baptist community, please leave a comment to let Jeff know.