The Parable of the Mountain Laurel

The Parable of the Mountain Laurel

James R. Aist

As you may know, in the Bible, a parable is a story that uses well-known, common, everyday events or experiences to illustrate a spiritual truth or teaching. This parable took a couple of years to develop and several more years for me to discover. After I moved to Knoxville in 2004, I had new landscaping shrubbery planted in a straight row along the front of our house. Among the new shrubs were three Mountain Laurels, a species that is common in East Tennessee, both wild and domestic. At first, these new shrubs appeared healthy and vigorous, producing abundant growth with leaves of a deep green color and a few white, flowering wands. But, within a few years, things began to change for the worse.

These shrubs began to die off one at at time, one or two branches at a time. In each case, I would prune off the dead branches in hopes that the infection would not spread to the remaining branches, but, alas and alack, it always did. Once the first shrub was dead, I removed it in hopes that the infection would not spread to the adjacent shrub, but it did. This cycle was repeated until all that was left of the original three shrubs was one branch of the last shrub. This branch was healthy and green, but I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly develop into a fully and properly formed ornamental shrub, even if it were to remain healthy. Just when I was about to remove the last remnant of the three shrubs and start all over again, I decided to just let it stand until this last branch began to die, and then remove it. I was not going to be the instrument of demise of this last shrub while there was still life in it.

As time went by, I kept noticing that the last branch was remaining healthy and green. Soon, new, healthy branches began to grow from the good branch. It was then that I realized that this good branch had, somehow, escaped infection. As the years went by, more and more healthy green branches were added each year, until now, I have a large, healthy and beautiful Mountain Laurel growing in front of my house (see photo, above)! Had I given up on that last shrub while it had just that one healthy branch left, its potential would not have been realized.

So, what is the spiritual lesson in this parable of the Mountain Laurel? I believe it is that we should never give up on anyone who may seem to be beyond hope. I believe that this lesson applies not only to the salvation of the soul, but also to the healing and restoration of one who is seemingly lying at death’s door. In either case, it’s not over until God says its over, so let’s not give up on them too soon!

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE.)

The Parable Of The Sower…Revisited

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The Parable Of The Sower…Revisited

James R. Aist

“No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” – Jesus (John 6:44)

There’s an interesting and important aspect to the Parable of the Sower that is usually overlooked; namely, how did the “good ground” become good ground, whereas the other three “grounds” did not? To examine this question effectively and accurately, let’s reproduce it and its explanation here, and then unpack it, so to speak: “A sower went out to sow his seed. As he sowed, some fell along the path and was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on a rock. And as soon as it sprang up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture. Yet some fell among thorns. And the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. And other seed fell on good ground and sprang up and yielded a hundred times the amount sown. When He had said these things, He cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”(Luke 8:4-8); “Now the parable means this: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are those who hear. Then comes the devil, who takes away the word from their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. Those on the rock are the ones who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root, for they believe for a while, then in the time of temptation fall away. That which fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with the cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed on the good ground are those who, having heard the word, keep it in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8: 11-15).

Here are some key passages from these verses that I want us to focus on for a moment. First, the seed represents the word of God. Second, the different kinds of ground represent different kinds of people who hear the word of God. Third, the seed on the good ground are those who, having heard the word, keep it in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience.  And fourth, at the end of the parable, Jesus cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (vs. 8). What in the world is that about? Why would Jesus punctuate this parable with such a seemingly peculiar command? Well, I believe that the key to understanding how the “good ground” became good ground is embedded in this outcry. Let me explain.

In an earlier article (click HERE), I pointed out that Jesus knew that, in any given audience, there would be some to whom God had not given “ears to hear” and that they would not be able to accept (receive) His teaching. One of the best examples of this is found in John 6:51-66, where many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him, because of His teaching on the requirement of His followers to eat His flesh and drink His blood. And in Mark 8:17-18, Jesus seemed surprised, because it appeared that God may not have given His very disciples “ears to hear” the meaning of this parable. So, despite knowing that some in His audiences had not been given “ears to hear”, Jesus proclaimed His teaching anyway, for the sake of those to whom the Father had given ears to hear. And that’s why He said, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear”: His target audience was specifically those to whom the Father had given “ears to hear.” In modern parlance, we might refer to them as having been given a “teachable spirit.” Now, Jesus also said that “No one can come to Me unless the Father who has sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:44). So, let’s pull this all together and see if it tells us how the “good ground” became good ground.

All of those whom God will save are drawn, somehow, to Jesus by the Father. And, Jesus will raise all of them up on the last day. Only those to whom God has given “ears to hear” will, having heard the word, keep it in an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience. That is what sets the good ground apart from the other three grounds: God has given them “ears to hear” the good news in an effectual manner. That’s why Jesus cried out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” at the end of this parable (vs. 8)! Their positive response to the good news is the final step in the process of the Father drawing them to Jesus. And what is the end result of this process? More born-again Christians, that’s what. And this is all to the glory of God the Father, who drew them all to Jesus!

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet… Revisited

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The Parable of the Wedding Banquet… Revisited

James R. Aist

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

As I read through Matthew’s account of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14), I find that a natural reading of it tells me that this is an historically sweeping parable that represents the Kingdom of God from Old Testament times (Part 1), through the times of the early Christian church (Part 2), and right up to the time of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:5-9)(Part 3). Now you may already have a different take on this parable, but if you will humor me for a few moments, I will illustrate why I have come to this conclusion. To do this, I will reproduce (in bold lettering) this parable as it occurs in Matthew’s Gospel, and insert (in parentheses, with italics) my understanding below each portion as it comes up.

Part 1 – Old Testament times

Jesus spoke to them again by parables, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding , but they would not come. 

(As I see it, this is a largely parallel scenario to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, where, here, Jesus represents the son. The servants represent the Old Testament prophets, who were sent to call to the wedding ceremony those who were already invited: that is, God’s chosen people, the Jews, to whom the Gospel message was first given (Acts 13:45-46); hence, “those who were already invited.” But, they refused to come.)

“Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited: See, I have prepared my supper. My oxen and fattened calves are killed, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

(In this passage, its like God is saying to the Jews, “I have done all that is necessary for you to come in and enjoy the wedding banquet with me. I have already promised you a Messiah who will come to save you from your sins, so come now and rejoice with Me.”

But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his business; the rest took his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. When the king heard about it, he was angry. He sent in his army and destroyed those murderers and burned up their city.

(The Jews mistreated and even killed the prophets of God. For this offense, Jesus prophecies that God will send in an army to destroy and burn their Holy City, Jerusalem, which prophecy was fulfilled by the Roman army in 70 AD. Many scoffed and mocked the invitation, while others were too busy with worldly matters to take heed. But, sadly, the Jews failed again to come to the Wedding Banquet.)

Part 2 – Early Christian Church

Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the streets, and invite to the wedding banquet as many as you find.’ 10 So those servants went out into the streets and gathered together as many as they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

(After delivering the Good News to the Jews first, and being largely rebuffed, God sent Christian evangelists out to deliver the Good News to the Gentiles. All were invited to the banquet, whether righteous believers or unrighteous nonbelievers. And they packed out the wedding venue!)

Part 3 – Marriage Supper of the Lamb

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man who was not wearing wedding garments. He said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without wedding garments?’ And he was speechless.

(All the righteous in attendance were clothed in “wedding garments.” At the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, the believers will wear white garments, which will be representative of their righteous deeds (Revelation 19:8). By extension, then, only the ones in white garments at the Wedding Banquet were qualified to be there. But one person there had on regular street clothes. He was not a believer, and he had no clue why he managed to get past the guards and into the banquet hall. He probably didn’t even know that he was not really supposed to be there. Perhaps he was a “churchgoer” who had not been “born again” (click HERE).

Then the king told the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

(Because this man had never accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, he was bound and cast out of the banquet hall and into the Lake of Fire, the Second Death (Revelation 20:14) as his just recompense for the sins he had committed (Romans 6:23). Remember that Jesus said, Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonderful works in Your name?’ But then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from Me, you who practice evil.’ (Matthew 7:22-23).

For many are called, but few are chosen.

(A great multitude, of both Jews and Gentiles, has been able to hear and respond to the Gospel invitation, but only those whom God has chosen for salvation have accepted it. These alone, the ones that Jesus “knew”, will be allowed to participate in the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. To more fully appreciate the biblical foundation for my understanding of this verse, click HERE.)

And, here’s the Good News for you: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:19). It would be awesome to have you enjoy the Marriage Supper of the Lamb with us!

(To read more of my articles with biblical themes, click HERE)

The Parable of the Prodigal Sheep

The Parable of the Prodigal Sheep

James R. Aist

Perhaps when you read the title of this article you thought to yourself, “Doesn’t he mean the lost sheep?” After all, that’s the way the later-added, extra-biblical headings refer to this parable. And, in my experience, this parable is commonly used to refer to God pursuing unbelievers until they have been drawn all the way to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, God does exactly that (John 6:44), but is that what this particular parable is really about? Let’s take a closer look, and find out.

Jesus said, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go in search for the one which went astray? And if he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine which never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12-14).

Notice that the scene opens with the man actually owning 100 sheep. If he has them, then he owns them; these sheep belong to this man. Moreover, if this man did not already own these sheep, then none of them could actually go astray, because the man would have no rightful claim to them in the first place. So, right away, we can see that this is a parable about, not a wild sheep belonging to no one, but a prodigal sheep belonging to the man.

Having this perspective, then, let’s proceed to what I believe to be the correct spiritual meaning of this parable: It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones whom the Father has given Me (John 10:29) should perish. Jesus is the man in the parable. Now we can see that the parable of the lost sheep is really about the Father pursuing a backslider that He has already saved until he is brought back into the lifestyle and fellowship of the saints who are following Jesus. And, that is exactly why He will raise all of them up on the Last Day (John 6:39), not just the ones who didn’t backslide!

Now, if you will indulge me for a few moments more, I want to make a point of comparison. If you will take a look at the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-28, you will see that it begins in a fashion similar to the parable of the lost sheep: “A man had two sons.” They were his sons throughout the parable, and when the prodigal son returned to his father, he was reinstated, not adopted, into his father’s household. Although these two parables differ in detail, there are many parallels. Perhaps now you can better understand why I chose to say “prodigal sheep” in the title of this article.

(To read more of my articles with a biblical theme, click HERE)