June 8, 2003

In This Issue


After recording Jesus' parables of the sower, the light under a basket, the growing seed, and the mustard seed, Mark tells us: "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. (Mark 4:33-34).

Matthew's parallel account does not mention the parable of the light under a basket, but does record the parable of the wheat and tares, the leaven, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price and the dragnet in addition to the parables that he and Mark record in common. It should be noted that it was on this particular occasion and to this particular audience that "without a parable He did not speak to them." There were many times when Jesus spoke very plainly and without a parable. See John 11:14; 16:29, etc. We take note of this fact because Mark 4:34 is sometimes misapplied to teach that Jesus never used literal language, and that His teachings were always symbolic.

We note that Mark tells us Jesus spoke His parables to His disciples "as they were able to hear" or understand them. He did not try to teach lessons to them that they did not yet have the capacity to understand. He also explained His parables to them, lest they fail to understand the things of which they were capable.

Matthew's account records another reason He spoke in parables: "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: 'I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.'" (Matthew 13:34-35). The Old Testament passage Matthew quotes is Psalm 78:2.

When the apostles asked Jesus a reason why He frequently spoke in parables, His answer was twofold. His simple illustrations clarified matters for those who really wanted to understand His lessons and were willing to ask Him for further illumination. At the same time, the parables obscured the teachings of Jesus from His enemies who wanted to ensnare Him in His words and destroy Him. See Matthew 13:10-13. Jesus fully intended to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins, but there were many other things He must accomplish first, so He delayed His enemies understanding of His claims until the time had come to lay down His life.

--Clarence R. Johnson


The Westminster Confession of Faith (Presbyterian) states "God did freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass" (Ch. 3, sec. 1). "Whatsoever'' means "everything," thus the Presbyterian creed contends that everything that happens has been unchangeably ordained by God. The Bible does not teach this doctrine or its consequences.

If everything that happens is ordained by God, then it is impossible for men to violate God's will, for whatever man does, right or wrong, is God's will. Yet the Bible clearly teaches that many do not do the will of God (Matt. 7:21). 

If everything that happens is ordained by God, then God ordains the transgression of His own ordained laws. Thus God forbids men to do the very things He unchangeably ordains (thus requires) them to do. How could this be?

The point at issue is not whether God has ordained certain things, but whether He has unchangeably ordained everything. Did God give Adam a law, while at the same time ordaining that Adam would break that ordained law? And then drive Adam out of the Garden of Eden for doing the very thing God made him do? 

God once said, "Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown (Jonah 3:4), but when the people of Nineveh repented God changed His decree (vs. 10). That decree was ordained, but it was also changeable.

God told King Hezekiah, "Set your house in order; for you shall die, and not live" (2 Kings 20:1), but when Hezekiah prayed for life, God changed the decree and prolonged the king's life for 15 additional years (vs. 5-6). 

Jer. 18:7-10 declares that God's promises and warnings respecting various nations are conditioned upon the conduct of those nations. See Gen. 6:5-6, etc.

The truth is that in the Scriptures God had ordained what man ought to do, but God has left men free to choose whether they will observe His ordained laws. The person who chooses to obey will be blessed eternally. The person who rebels against God's ordained laws and disregards His ordinances will be eternally condemned. The sovereignty of God will be vindicated in the final judgment, from which there will be no appeal.

--Clarence R. Johnson


Luke 16:19-31, "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'

Let us note some things this lost soul learned in Hades:

1. He discovered that death is not the end of conscious existence, vs. 22-23. It had not been the end for Moses, (Man. 17: 1-9) or for Samuel (1 Sam. 2 Sam. 28:7-20), nor for Abraham, nor for Lazarus. It will not be the end for any of us. Death marks the end of life in this present realm, but only the beginning of life in the realm which is to come.

2. He discovered that Hades is not the grave, vs. 23-24. His body was in the grave (vs. 22) but the conscious part of him was still conscious in the realm beyond the grave.

3. He discovered that conscience survives death, vs. 25, 28. He was called upon to remember the opportunities and responsibilities he had neglected in this life.

4. He discovered that it was too late to seek mercy, vs. 24-25. There is no passage of Scripture correctly interpreted that will offer any hope of a second chance after death. Today is the day of mercy and opportunity, 2 Cor. 6:2.

5. He saw that earthly clout does not determine eternal destiny, vs. 22, 25. No amount of money, fame, "pull" or family connections is enough to set aside the righteous judgment of God. Being a direct descendant of Abraham was not enough. There is no substitute for faithful obedience to God, 1 Sam. 15:22; Luke 7:21.

6. He discovered why he was there. He had neglected to "hear" (believe and obey) the writings of Moses and the prophets, the Scriptures that were revealed to guide the people of his day in their service to God. Today, God speaks to us by His Son through the N. T. Scriptures (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 1:1-2; Gal. 1:11-12, etc). To make a modern application to the people of our own day we might suggest: "They have Christ and the apostles; let them hear them." 

The correctness of Abraham's assessment of the situation is evidenced by the fact that not too long after Jesus related this incident, One did rise from the dead, and sure enough, most people then, and now, have neglected to "hear Him."

--Clarence R. Johnson


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