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Posts Tagged ‘faithfulness’

From time to time I want to share with you stories about Christians who lived after the time of the Bible who can both teach us and encourage us to live more faithfully ourselves. And in each case I want to show how their lives embody specific aspects of faithfulness from the Scriptures.

The first one I shared with you was the story of the young woman, Perpetua, who lived in Carthage Africa in the early 200’s. Today we jump all the way to the early 1500’s and we are in Switerland. So this was around 500 years ago. This is the story of Felix Mantz (or Manz). We begin with his –

His life in Zurich

Zurich with the Limmat river in the foreground and the Grossmunster in the background

Zurich with the Limmat river in the foreground and the Grossmunster in the background

He was born here in 1498. He was the illegitimate child of a priest at the main church in Zurich, the Grossmunster. It was not uncommon at this time for priests to have concubines.

He was in his early 20’s when the Protestant reformation began to gain a foothold in Zurich. And he became very involved in it, working with the Protestant leaders and attending bible studies.

He had studied at the University of Paris and knew Latin and Greek, and he learned Hebrew at this time. He was on his way to being appointed as a scholar and teacher of Hebrew in what would become the University of Zurich.

A reform of the Protestant reformation?

But he, along with several others, became disillusioned with the Protestant leaders of Zurich. Although they talked about having a church based on the New Testament, they constantly allowed the city council to determine what, if anything, would change in the church of Zurich. The State, even though made up in part of unbelievers, was in charge of the church and its reformation.

The first public break between Mantz and these leaders came in October 1523 when the city council called for a debate about the Lord’s Supper, or when to change from a Catholic service to a Protestant one.

City council building

City council building

City council building in the 1500s

City council building in the 1500s

Mantz argued that when you know what is right based on the Bible, you need to act on it, not wait. The Protestant leaders deferred to the conservative city council and decided to wait to make a change.

Mantz and the others had been meeting together in their own bible study for a while, often in his mother’s home. They went ahead and began to observe a simple Lord’s supper among themselves.

The controversy came to focus next on infant baptism. The radicals asked, where is this in the Bible? The city council called for a debate on this topic which took place on January 10 and 17, 1525. Mantz was a spokesperson for the radical group.

Now, a State church needs infant baptism to bind together everyone in one faith in their territory. Mantz and the radicals were coming to see that the church should only be made up of people who choose the Christian faith for themselves. So these are very different ideas of what the church should be.

Anabaptist and Protestant leaders in the council building

Anabaptist and Protestant leaders in the council building

Street on which the first baptisms took place

Street on which the first baptisms took place

The radicals argued that there is a pattern in Scripture, which is that faith and repentance come before baptism. The disputation, of course, was given to the Protestant leaders by the council since they worked hand in hand. But this wasn’t all.

On January 18th, the council ordered all parents to have their children baptized within a week. (One of their group had just had a daughter four days before). And on January 21st – Mantz and the others were silenced, and their meetings banned.

That very evening the group of radicals gathered at Mantz’s mother’s house and received from each other believer’s baptism, thus starting a new Christian group.

Life as a persecuted evangelist

First Anabaptist church site

First Anabaptist church site

The next day the group fled to the village of Zollikon, just south of Zurich. And they began preaching and baptizing people. Mantz baptized a farmer named George Shad, who himself later went on to baptize 40 more people. Things really took off and people began to respond.

Also in Zollikon, Mantz baptized Hans Bruggbach. An account of this said that after a Bible study, Hans “stood up, wept and wailed what a great sinner he was and asked those present to pray for him.” After he confessed his faith, Mantz baptized him. Right after this another man, Jacob Hottinger stood up and asked to be baptized and Mantz baptized him. This became the first Anabaptist congregation.

An Anabaptist prison break

An Anabaptist prison break

Within a week the authorities cracked down. Mantz was arrested along with many others. He was put in prison on a diet of mush, water and bread until he had a change of heart. But he escaped from prison and went to other areas outside of Zurich to minister. He was arrested again in July and was in jail for 3 months. But then he was released and began to preach and baptize again.

Once again he was arrested and brought to Zurich. As a prisoner at this time he took part in one final debate, November 6-8 in the Grossmunster. Almost a thousand people came.

Debate in the Grossmunster

Debate in the Grossmunster

After this he was sentenced to life in prison, and isolated from outsiders. In the Spring the council decreed the death penalty for anyone who baptized outside of the State church. In March (1526) he escaped through a window that was left open in the prison tower.

For the next nine months he was constantly on the run. He held secret meetings with believers in fields and forests. He taught them the Scriptures, baptized and celebrated a simple Lord’s supper.

His death

His final arrest was in December of 1526. He was sentenced to death by Zurich authorities. He was killed January 5, 1527 in the Limmat river at the age of 29.

Zurich in the 1500s

Zurich in the 1500s

He was taken from the Wellenberg tower situated in the Limmat river (above – the bottom right corner) by boat, to the east bank by the fish market near the city council building. Here his sentence was read. Then he was taken past the council building to the slaughterhouse where he was put into a boat and taken out to a fisherman’s hut (above – the bottom left corner). As he made his way he praised God that he was about to die for the truth. A great crowd watched. And his mother encouraged him to stay true.

The martyrdom of Felix Mantz

The martyrdom of Felix Mantz

They bound his hands over his knees with a rod to keep him immobile. His final words were, “Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my Spirit.” Then they  pulled him off the platform and he drowned at 3:00 in the afternoon.

Area of the Limmat river where he was drowned

Area of the Limmat river where he was drowned

Finally, here are –

Several characteristics of faithfulness

– that stand out to me in Mantz’s life:

1. He worked to fulfill the great commission. Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

He had an exemplary ministry of disciple making, baptizing and teaching throughout the area of Zurich. And this is a challenge to us. He did this when there were great obstacles to fulfilling the great commission of Jesus:

  • at this time everyone thought that everyone in Europe was already Christian.
  • he was being told that he was a heretic for simply following the New Testament.
  • it was against the law of the land.

The challenge is this – in our situation where none of these obstacles exist, why aren’t we more active in fulfilling the great commission?

2. He was not afraid of persecutors. Jesus said in Matthew 10:28, “do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.” And he was fearless. He was constantly breaking the law in order to spread the word. And even when he knew near the end, that if he were caught he would die, he kept going.

This is a challenge to us – he carried out his ministry under constant threat of arrest and death. But the worst we have to fear is that we will be ridiculed and dishonored. Yet we often allow this fear to stop us.

3. He gave up his earthly life. Jesus said in John 12:25, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

  • He hated his earthly life in comparison to his love for Jesus when he was killed for his faith as a young man. He could have recanted. He could have sought a way out and changed course.
  • And he hated his earthly life in comparison to his love for Jesus when he gave up comfort and status to become an evangelist on the run. He could have taken a wife and had kids and been honored as a professor and outstanding member of the Zurich community. He could have enjoyed all the comforts and privileges that Zurich has to offer in that day.But he lost his life, he gave all this up for faithfulness to God, and for a life in the world to come.

This is a challenge to us. What have we given up for Jesus? Even short of physical death, what have we hated of our life in this world; what have given up to serve Jesus? We should not think that if there were suddenly persecution in our context and our lives were on the line that we would out of the blue give up our physical lives for Jesus if we have not already been giving up our lives in service and sacrifice for Jesus more generally. If we are not taking up our cross and dying every day, we will not be prepared to literally give up our lives.

Mantz had already given everything up. He had sacrificed all for Jesus. That is why he could be joyful even as his physical death approached.

William Higgins

(I am indebted to John Allen Moore’s Anabaptist Portraits)

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We are looking at Jesus’ parable of the sower this morning. I want us to focus on the central theme of the parable by asking the question, ‘What kind of dirt are you?’

I will be using Mark’s version in chapter 4, but will be bringing in Matthew 13 and Luke 8 as well. We will look at both the parable itself in vs. 2-9 and the interpretation of the parable given by Jesus in vs. 14-20.

Some basics 

The seed is “the word” (v. 14). In Matthew 13:19 it is the “word of the kingdom,” so we’re talking here about the gospel that Jesus proclaimed.

As we learn in Mark 1:15 Jesus preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Jesus is saying that with his coming, all the promises and purposes of God are coming to completion for the salvation of the world and of all who will receive the word with repentance and faith. [In Luke it is “the word of God.” This may simply refer to the gospel as from God, or it may refer to reading all of Scripture in light of the coming of Jesus and the kingdom.]

This seed/gospel can produce this life/salvation in our lives. As it says in Luke 8:12 the purpose of sowing the seed is that people may “believe and be saved” (also v. 13) So there is no salvation without the gospel and the life it gives. We are just dirt in the imagery of this parable. But we do have to receive and hold onto the word through faith and repentance.

In this life, salvation is pictured as the seed growing in us. And at the resurrection it is pictured as the seed bearing fruit on the day of harvest, a common image for the final day.

The point of the parable is that not everyone who hears the word, receives it and holds onto it until the final day. And it’s not because there is something wrong with the seed or the sower that some don’t receive it. The only difference in each case is the dirt, or the people who hear it. Some dirt is receptive and some is not. 

So this parable teaches us how to be the right kind of dirt – that can receive and hold onto the gospel so that we have life and salvation both now and into eternity.

If you will pardon the pun, let’s dig deeper into this by looking at-

Three wrong kinds of dirt

These may characterize different people throughout the course of their lives, or it may characterize each of us at different times in our lives. In either case these are three obstacles to receiving and holding onto the life and salvation that the gospel brings.

1. The dirt along the path. From the parable we learn that the seed lands on a walking path next to, or through a field. As the phrase “trampled underfoot” in Luke 8:5 indicates, there is a lot of walking here. So the soil is packed down and hard. The seed can’t get into the dirt. It lays on top of the ground, gets walked on and the birds eventually eat it.

From the interpretation Jesus gives, we learn that these are people whose hearts (Matthew 13: 19; Luke 8:12) are hardened to the gospel. They aren’t interested in God. They might be religious, but they aren’t open to hearing God’s word concerning the kingdom.

Because their hearts are hard, the seed of the gospel can’t penetrate. As Matthew says, they don’t understand the word (Matthew 13:19; 23). It gains no entrance into their minds and hearts. The result is that Satan takes away the seed, so that they “may not believe and be saved” (Luke 8:12).

So here there is no germination. There is no belief and thus no salvation.

2. The rocky dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is too shallow (“it did not have much soil” – v. 5). The idea seems to be some dirt laying on top of a large rock in the ground. (Luke has “on the rock” – 8:6). The seed can germinate quickly because it doesn’t have a lot of dirt to break through. But it can’t sustain itself because the soil is not deep enough for roots. (Luke has “it had no moisture” 8:6 that is, from a lack of roots.)  When the sun comes out it withers away.

From the interpretation we learn that these are people who “immediately receive the word with joy” – 4:16. As Luke puts it “they believe” the gospel – 8:13.

But there’s a problem. They have “no root in themselves” (Mark 4:17). The gospel doesn’t penetrate deep into their lives; it doesn’t become deeply rooted in the heart. And so when testing and persecution come they fall away from their faith. As Luke puts it, “they believe for a while, and in a time of testing fall away” – 8:13.

So here there is genuine faith and there is germination and life, but only for a time.

3. The thorny dirt. From the parable we learn that this soil is productive because the seed grows. But there are other seeds/plants in the soil that grow to choke out the good seed so that there is no fruit.

From the interpretation we learn that these people believe and grow for a time, but other concerns and pursuits “enter in” (4:19) to their lives. These are “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things.” These are the thorns.

The result is that these worldly concerns choke the new life of the gospel in their lives and no fruit is produced. 

So here there is real faith, there is germination and life, but the life is cut short so that there is no ultimate salvation at the time of harvest.

Notice the progression here, from no germination, to a sprout that quickly dies, to a growing plant that eventually withers away. Only the last soil actually bears fruit.

So then let’s look at –

How we can be good dirt

In contrast to the hardened dirt along the path, we need to receive the word into our lives. All the soils hear the word. But the word must be “accepted” (4:20) into our hearts and lives. The receiving here refers to accepting it in faith (Luke 8:12). It has to do with “understanding it (Matthew 13:23). Letting it penetrate into our minds and hearts. Luke says we have to “hold it fast in an honest and good heart” (Luke 8:15).

In contrast to the shallow soil, we need to let the word go deep into us. The word has to have roots within us. We can’t just receive it and that’s it. We have to nurture it; cultivate it. We need to learn it, study it, meditate on it. Then we can endure in times of testing because the word has gone deep within. It is well rooted and grounded in us.

In contrast to the thorny dirt, we need to weed our lives. The word may well be in us and growing, but if we allow other seeds in they will grow and choke out the word.

We must beware of “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (4:19). Luke has it this way, “the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (8:14). If these enter in they will take over and kill our life with God.

Jesus is talking about getting caught up in maintaining our earthly lives with all the business and going in all directions at once that this involves. He is talking about seeking security and comfort in getting more and more wealth. And he is talking about pursuing the pleasures of this life – the good things of life, entertainment, leisure. All these things come in and distract and overwhelm us so that our commitment is no longer solely focused on the Gospel and the Christian life.

We need to get these weeds out of our hearts, or whatever life and transformation we have will not last to bear fruit on the final day.

Let me end by asking –

What kind of dirt are you?

  •  Is your heart open and responsive to receive God’s word?
  • Do you let God’s word go deep into your life so that is firmly rooted by learning it; by studying it?
  • Are you putting the kingdom of God above all of this life’s activities and concerns and pleasures?

As Jesus says at the end of parable, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” – v. 9. We must listen to what he is saying! Be the dirt that receives and holds onto the word and the life it brings at all costs. Is there anything more important? And then you will bear fruit – “thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

William Higgins

 

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We come today to the final part of the Sermon on the Plain. This is Jesus’ conclusion to his own sermon.

But before we jump into this, let’s step back for a minute and take a big picture look at how the sermon is put together. (Additional outline handout)

  • As we saw last week, the second section on loving enemies corresponds to the third section on correcting others. They have a common theme – mercy, and a common structure, with v. 36 in the middle holding them together.
  • Today I would highlight that the first section on blessings and woes corresponds to the fourth section, our focus. They have a similar structure and they share a common theme. Both are about a comparison between faithful and unfaithful disciples.

As you look at the way this sermon is put together, notice the X shape of it. This is a common way of thinking and writing in the ancient world. It’s called a chiastic literary structure. The name comes from the Greek letter Chi which is in the shape of an “x.”

Next, still in big picture mode, let’s look at a summary of the teaching of the sermon thus far:

  • In the first section on blessings and woes we learned that we are to be faithful despite the consequences. Even if it makes us poor, hungry, sorrowful and causes us to be slandered.
  • In the second section on enemies, we learned that we are to love our enemies and return good for evil.
  • In the third section on correcting others, we learned that when we see sin in someone’s life, we are to act with mercy, not judgment or condemnation, so that we can help them get rid of their sin.

In his conclusion then, which is our focus, Jesus uses this teaching as a test – ‘How do you compare?’ ‘Are you faithful?’ I can look at my life and compare it to these three things and see, ‘Am I heading toward faithfulness or am I heading toward unfaithfulness as a disciple?’

So this last section is Jesus’ call to faithfulness for each one of us. In this he challenges us to test two things in our lives.

Test #1: Our words

Do our words line up with Jesus’ teaching here?

vs. 43-45 – “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Let me point out two things here.

1. The principle of the inner and the outer. This teaches us that what’s in your heart, the treasure, what’s stored up in it, the abundance – that’s what comes out. Jesus says, “Each tree is known by its own fruit” – v. 44.

So you can see what is in a person’s heart by how they act. (Now someone can put on a show for a while, but eventually the truth comes out.) There is an unbreakable connection between the inner life of a person and the outer life of a person. The inner is the source of the outer and the outer is a window into the otherwise hidden recesses of the inner.

  • So you can’t say, ‘I am living a life of sin, but this doesn’t really reflect what’s in my heart. And God just cares about my heart. I like Jesus. I have faith so it’s OK.’
  • Or to put it another way – you can’t say, ‘I’m a Christian in my heart of hearts. People just can’t see it. The outward stuff just isn’t that important.’

According to Jesus, a good tree produces good fruit.

2. The focus here in on our words. Jesus pulls vs. 43-45 together by saying “For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” So in this case, it is our words that reveal what is in our heart.

Are we a good tree or a bad tree? The test is are our words in agreement with what Jesus has taught in this sermon. More specifically, do we affirm and teach that we are to:

  • be faithful despite the consequences?
  • love our enemies?
  • give mercy to those who fail and sin?

If we do this shows that we are a good tree. We have stored up Jesus’ teaching in our hearts. And so we have a good treasure, which overflows in words that are shaped by Jesus’ teaching. In other words, we show that we are faithful disciples in this area.

Now this same test can be applied to others who come to us and teach. Do their words affirm and teach all that Jesus says in this sermon? When you hear someone preach or teach, or on the TV or the radio – test their words and see.

Test #2: Our actions

Do our actions line up with Jesus’ teaching here? Do we obey Jesus’ teaching?

Now, let me back up a minute. In each of the sections of the Sermon on the Plain so far there has been a word about how to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s look at this briefly:

  • Section one: If we suffer for our faithfulness to Jesus we will be lifted up and blessed in the kingdom of God and not cursed.
  • Section two: If we love our enemies we are “sons” and thus inheritors of the Father’s kingdom; not sinners who have no reward.
  • Section three: If we give mercy to those who fail, we will receive mercy and not judgment or condemnation on the last day.

There is a focus on entering the future kingdom of God in each of these.

Well, in calling us to faithfulness at the end of his message, here in vs. 46-49, Jesus draws this all together and makes the point that our actions based on this sermon as a whole will determine our eternal fate.

We begin with –

v.46 – “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?”

Jesus’ question is rooted in a contradiction. To call Jesus ‘Lord’ means you are to submit and obey. As Jesus says in 6:40, disciples are supposed to learn from and obey their teachers. But some who call Jesus ‘Lord’ do not submit and obey. This was true in Jesus’ day and it remains true today.

And it just doesn’t make any sense! We say one thing and do another. We indicate that we will listen to Jesus and obey him, but we listen to and obey other voices – while we ignore Jesus.

In vs. 47-49 Jesus gives the parable of the two builders. This compares those who call Jesus Lord and obey him, and those who just call Jesus Lord and don’t obey him. It gives us a picture of the final judgment. And it’s a warning to us.

vs. 47-49 – “Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.”

One house was well built. The builder worked hard and dug deep to lay his foundation on something solid. The second house was not well built. It had no foundation.

Then a storm comes with lots of rain and deep waters. Storms and floods often picture God’s judgment in Scripture (Psalm 18:11-14; Habakkuk 3:3-15; Zephaniah 1:15/ Genesis 6-9; Isaiah 28:2, 17; Ezekiel 13:10-16).

After the rivers were swollen with rain the flood “broke against” both houses.

  • The first house survives the storm. Because it had been well built it “could not be shaken.” It was built on solid rock.
  • The second house, however, immediately falls and “great was the ruin of that house.”

The point is that disciples who only call Jesus Lord, but do not obey him, will be washed away in the storm of the final judgment. This is the second house.   Only disciples who act on Jesus’ words, who obey him, will survive the storm of the final day. This is the first house.

The test, then, is do we obey Jesus’ words? The phrase “my words” refers back to the sermon Jesus has just delivered. We obey his words by living out his teaching here. So –

  • Are you faithful despite the consequences?
  • Do you love your enemies?
  • Do you give mercy to those who fail?

If we live out this teaching, then we show ourselves to be faithful disciples.  Since we have dug deep and built on the foundation of Jesus’ teaching, we will not be shaken.

————

To sum it up, Jesus calls us to faithfulness in two ways. Do our words line up with his teaching here? And – Do our actions line up with his teaching here? We need to test ourselves in these ways so that we can grow more and more in our faithfulness to our Lord.

William Higgins

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