Fragrant Offering 

​Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”__ Ephesians 5:1,2


What does it mean to be imitators of God?

We are called to live for God and to be imitators of Him (Eph. 5:1), just as children follow after the patterns seen in their parents. Here are some of the patterns that a godly lifestyle would include, patterns that we should be embracing:

(1) Living in love, which means giving of ourselves sacrificially for the benefit of others, just as Christ has done for us (Eph.5:2).

(2) Forsaking selfish pursuits such as self-seeking immorality and ruthless greed (Eph.5:3, 5).

(3) Replacing filthy talk, flippant chatter, and unkind jesting with communication rooted in thanksgiving to God and affirmation of others (Eph.5:4, 20).

(4) Exercising discernment about what we are told so as not to be susceptible to trickery from others (Eph.5:6–7, 15).

(5) Bowing out from situations where evil is the agenda (Eph.5:11–12).

(6) Managing our time well (Eph.5:16).

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Empty People

photo-1436915947297-3a94186c8133“Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.” John 2.1-1.

Signs are important. They give us directions. They tell us what is ahead. They warn us about how fast to go. They alert us to construction zones. They give information about places to eat and where to refuel. They give us all kinds of instructions and information.

Signs are even color coordinated. And come in different shapes and sizes. White rectangular signs give information. Yellow signs give warnings. Red octagon shaped signs mean stop. Green signs direct us to institutions and tourist attractions. There is a sign on the street that tells people this is a church. Businesses and restaurants have a sign. That sign displays their trademark, their brand. What they are known for.

And there are the signs that point us to God. “Jesus said to the servants “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.” John 2.1-11. When the wedding wine ran out. Jesus turned ordinary water into the best wine.

Jesus can take our filthy life. He can take your sinful, rotten flesh, soiled soul, and with a miracle of his touch. With just a whisper of His word. With just a light of his presence. He can make us new, born again, pure, and holy.

Jesus and Andrew, Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and probably John and James had been invited to this wedding in Cana of Galilee.

We know that wedding ceremonies today can be creative and extravagant but excluding all the work that goes on behind the scene
in preparation, the guests arrive and the service lasts a few minutes, followed by cutting the cake and opening gifts and some festivities that may last into the evening or later into the night.

But a wedding in Jesus’ day was much longer. Weddings of that time lasted a week or more. With guest arriving days in advance and they just keep arriving until the host believes that everyone is accounted for. The master of ceremonies make sure everything is ready. Perhaps it was on Joseph’s Mary’s husbands side of the family we don’t know. Mary the mother and parent of Jesus may have been either family or friends with either the bride or groom. In any case Mary comes to Jesus with the some very embarrassing news.The groom and his family were near disgrace because the wedding wine has run out. And more guests are still arriving. But the wedding wine has run out. This would be a major disaster! It could even be a reason to cancel the betrothal and call the whole wedding off. Mary comes to Jesus and believes that He can help solve the problem. The wine jars are empty. Jesus you have to do something. And Jesus appears to be a bit harsh in his response to his mother. “Woman, what does that have to do with me?”

But really Jesus wasn’t being disrespectful. But clearly he is not being especially kind nor sweet in his response. Jesus is somewhat redefining that relationship with his mother. Mary has raised him. Mary has nurtured him. Mary has done a good job being his mother. But now there is a sharp difference in their relationship. He is putting some distance between him a child and her as a mother. He is beginning His public ministry. He is starting a journey that will end on Calvary’s cross.

Where we must make a decision to respond to Jesus in saving faith. Or walk away. Again believe in a miracle or depart is the theme for this blog today. To embrace Him as a personal Savior and Lord. So the relationship between Jesus and us has changed. Just as the empty Jars are filled with water and turned to wine.
Empty people. Empty people. Empty people. Must become filled with Jesus.

There were six water pots of stone brought and set in front of Jesus…
Stone jars like the ones used in the Jewish ritual of purification. And Jesus said to the servants,
“Fill the jars with water.” When the jars had been filled to the brim. Dip some out and take it to the master of ceremonies. Take it to the chief steward. Take it to the person who is in charge.

And so they did as he instructed. When the master of ceremonies tasted the water that was now wine.
Not knowing where it had come from, (though of course, the servants knew.)

People look everywhere to find excitement and meaning to life. For some reason they expect God to be dull and boring and lifeless. But just as Jesus made the best wine. Jesus makes the best so life in Him is better than life on our own. Why wait until everything else runs out before trying God? Do not run on empty. Why not try being filled with Jesus today?

Empty people. Empty people. Empty people. Must become filled with Jesus.

The Cultivated Mind

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Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop that increased 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.” Mark 4:8.
"But the ones sown on good ground are those who hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop: 30, 60, and 100 times what was sown.” Mark 4:20.

Some of the seed fell onto good ground. This was ground that had been worked and prepared. It had been plowed and tilled and it was ready to receive the seed when it came. The seed germinated within the heart of the soil and the plant began to grow. When the plant reached maturity, it began to produce fruit that brought honor and gain to the farmer.

This is a picture of the heart that has been plowed deeply by the Word of God, and tilled by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, John 16:7-11. It is a picture of a heart that has been worked over and prepared by the grace of God.

When the seed of the Gospel enters this kind of heart, it germinates, grows up and bears fruit to the glory of God. This heart alone pictures that kind of life that can truly call itself saved! Why do I say that? This is the only soil that produced fruit!

The only difference between these types of soil was fruit. On the hard soil, the seed never penetrated the hard ground and was carried away. On the other three soils, the seed penetrated and disappeared, but only that which fell on the good soil produced fruit! The only obstacle to salvation is unbelief, but anyone who is willing to accept Jesus on His terms is good soil!

This soil represents the only soil among the four that pictures a saved heart. You see, when Jesus enters a life through the Gospel message, He will make His presence known beyond all doubt. He will cause the new believer to begin to bear fruit for the glory of God. If you will notice in verse 20, some of the seed produced more fruit that others. The amount of fruit in your life is also a work of God’s grace as He uses you for His glory. But, every child of God produces fruit in his or her life! If a person lacks spiritual fruit, that person is simply not saved!

So, what kind of fruit does good soil produce?

Good works – Col. 1:10

Holiness and righteousness –Rom. 6:22; Phil. 1:11

Genuine spirituality – Gal. 5:22-23

A burden for souls – Rom. 1:13

Praise and thanksgiving – Heb. 13:15

Sharing material goods – Rom. 15:27-28

In verse 10 Jesus says, “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” That is both a challenge and a warning!

The Lord is challenging you to look at your heart today. Examine your profession of faith and be sure you called on Jesus to save you because you were convicted of your sins, and because He was calling you to come to Him. That is the only way you can be saved, John 6:44.

Examine your life today and see whether or not your life is producing spiritual fruit to the glory of God. If you are not saved, you need to come to Jesus today and settle that matter forever. Got any fruit?

This parable is also a warning. The Lord is letting you know that you are responsible for what you hear. He has shown you that you need to know your own heart. He has shown you that the soil of your life will be judged by the fruit it bears. Got any fruit?

Are you in a personal, faith relationship with Jesus Christ today? Are you saved? Would you like to be saved? If you will come to Jesus, in simple faith, and ask Him, He will save your soul? Got any fruit?

Are you producing the kind of fruit you would like to see? Are you producing the kind of fruit that is pleasing to the Lord? If you are saved and there are needs in your life, you need to come to the Lord today too. He will help you with the needs you have in your life. Got any fruit?

The Cluttered Mind

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Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce a crop. Mark 4:6.
Others are sown among thorns; these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the seduction of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. Mark 4:18-19.

This soil looks like it is ready to be sown, but underneath the surface are the living roots and seeds of thorns and weeds. The soil has been tilled and the thorns have been cut down, but their roots are alive and well, just under the surface. When the seed falls here, it springs to life quickly and gives every indication that a good harvest will follow. When the seed springs to life, so do the thorns and weeds that were already there and they soon choke out the tender plant. The young tender plant withers and dies without producing any fruit at all.         
       
This is a picture of a person who tries to have the benefit of the Gospel while still clinging to the old life of sin. Without a conscious break from the old life of sin this person does not have a chance of being saved. The seed of the Gospel cannot survive to produce fruit in a heart filled with other things. The seed will have the ground or sin will have the ground, but it cannot be shared! Jesus said it was the cares of the world, the quest for earthly riches, and the lust for the things of this world that spelled disaster for this kind of soil. This kind of person begins well, but soon fades away, having their profession choked out by sin and the world.
       
Were they really saved? How do we know? There is no fruit of salvation in their life! When Jesus comes in to a life, He causes the redeemed person to make a clean, clear break with the old life of sin. I will say it again, we like to look at people who have made a profession and who are back out in sin and say they are “backslidden and out of God’s will” or “carnal”.  More likely, they have just never been saved to begin with!

Preachers have fed a generation “easy believism” and have failed to tell lost people that a holy God demands repentance, along with faith, before a lost soul can be saved. If you have made a profession and there has been no change in your life, then you need to repent and call on Christ for salvation.

The Confused Mind

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“Other seed fell on rocky ground where it didn’t have much soil, and it sprang up right away, since it didn’t have deep soil. When the sun came up, it was scorched, and since it didn’t have a root, it withered.”
Mark 4:5-6.

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, immediately they receive it with joy. But they have no root in themselves; they are short-lived. When pressure or persecution comes because of the word, they immediately stumble.”
Mark 4:16-17.

Stony places are common in Palestine. Often there will be an outcropping of limestone rock covered by a thin layer of topsoil. This soil looks like it is ready to be sown. This ground looks good and productive and seed cast here will germinate and quickly spring up into a promising plant. But, because there is no depth of soil, as soon as the sun beats down on the tender plant, it withers and dies without producing any fruit.

This kind of soil speaks of the mind that makes an emotional response to the presentation of the Gospel. This is seen in the words “receive it with gladness”.

• Perhaps this person heard the Gospel and said, “That is just what I need! I might as well give Jesus a try.”

• Perhaps they came to an altar and prayed because a friend did.

• Maybe they tried to use Jesus as a “spare tire” in a moment of crisis. They ran to Him in their trouble and abandoned Him when the trouble passed.

• Perhaps they were in an emotional service and they got “caught up” in the moment and made a profession. This happens a lot in revivals and youth meetings.

• Perhaps they heard a shallow presentation of the Gospel that presents the benefits of salvation but does not share the costs. This person knows nothing about repentance, dying to self, and turning away from the old life.

• Maybe they got in one of those services where the preacher has people bow their heads and repeat a prayer after him and raise their hands if they were saved.

Many millions have been inoculated against the Gospel by some flimsy Gospel presentation and by a false profession of faith. Whatever happened, they made a profession, they are excited, they are active, and they are accepted as the real deal. But because they have no depth to their profession, they fall away when the persecutions and tribulations associated with knowing Jesus arise.
       
They begin to have problems with simple matters like church attendance, prayer and reading the Bible. They have a difficult time making a genuine, lasting break with their sins. They shrink away from the radical claims of Christ and the cross, Matthew 16:24. They become offended when they are mocked, ridiculed, laughed at or persecuted for their profession of faith. These are the people who make a profession, often running well for a time, and then wind up right back in the world. In the end, they are further away from God than they were before they made their profession.
       
Were they really saved? How do we know for sure? There is no fruit of salvation in their life! By the way, when a profession of salvation is real, it will last! We often call these types of people “backsliders” or “carnal Christians.” In my opinion, they have never been saved. If the Lord saves your soul, He will change your life, 2 Corinthians 5:17.

When God changes a life, He does it forever. What He does in you will last. You may fall, but you will not stay away from His house, His presence, His throne, His Word, His people and you will not be able to stay out of His will.

The Closed Mind

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“As he sowed, this occurred: Some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.” Mark 4:4.

“These are the ones along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them.” Mark 4:15

Today and the next three blogs, we are going to consider the “Parable Of The Soils”. This parable was told to the multitudes in public and explained to the disciples in private. In explaining this parable, Jesus tells us what each element of the parable means.

Everyone who heard this parable could immediately relate to what Jesus was teaching. They had all seen a farmer walk into his field and begin to sow seed into that field. They had all seen the crops spring up and begin to grow. Jesus used this common scene to teach a deep spiritual truth.

He tells us that the “sower” is one who sows the “word of God”. It might be the Spirit of God, a preacher, a teacher, a missionary, a Gospel song, a Gospel tract, a one on one witness, etc. or YOU.

The “seed” is the Gospel of grace. It is the good news that Jesus came into this world, died for sinners, rose again from the dead and offers full and free salvation to everyone who will receive Him into their heart and life. In this parable, some of the “seed” produces fruit and some does not. The problem does not lie in the “seed”. All the seed was good “seed”. Each kernel held the potential to produce fruit. The problem was not the “seed”; the problem was the “soil”.

The “soil” represents the heart or the mind of the person who hears the Gospel of grace. Everyone who hears the Gospel hears it in a different way. Some revile it, some reject it and some receive it. It is the “soil” that is the primary emphasis of this parable.

I want to examine this parable. I want to point out the kind of minds (Closed: 4:4-Today; Confused: 4:5-6- 4/13; Cluttered: 4:7- 4/15; Cultivated: 4:8- 4/17) that hear the Gospel and how each responds to it. As we move through these verses, I would like for you to examine yourself. You will encounter your own mind in these verses as we think together about The Parable Of The Soils.

Mark 4:4,15  THE CLOSED MIND – The “way side” refers to the narrow footpaths that ran beside and through the fields. These were the roads of the day and the soil on them had become as hard as concrete from the feet of the travelers and animals that had walked upon them. When the seed fell on the footpath, it could not penetrate the soil and it remained there in the open, only to be devoured by the fowls of the air.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Matt. 13:19, we are told that this speaks of the person who hears the Gospel, but who doesn’t “understand it”. That is, they cannot make the connection between the claims of the Gospel and their own life. They cannot see how the Gospel could possibly hold any value for them or their life.

Maybe they are steeped in sin and refuse to believe. Maybe they are calloused and cold toward the things of God and refuse to hear. Maybe they have hardened their hearts for years against the call of the Gospel and like a path trampled underfoot for centuries, they have become hard hearted!

Whatever their need, they are hard hearted and the seed of the Gospel cannot penetrate the soil of their mind. They hear the Gospel and dismiss it as foolishness, 1 Cor. 1:18. When the seed is sown, the devil and his minions come “immediately” to snatch away the Gospel seed. Satan does this by distracting and diverting the mind. He causes them to forget what they have heard by focusing their thoughts on earthly matters. (Ill. His tools and tactics – Lunch, the race, the game, the distractions in the service, etc.) This causes the person to become even more hardened against God. This person has a heart that is not prepared for a work of grace leading to salvation.

The “seed” was good, but the “soil” was unprepared to receive it. The “seed” could not penetrate the “soil”. The “seed” could not germinate. There could be no life. There could be no fruit. This is a picture of a lost mind.

The Strong Man

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In a moment, I am going to type a word. I want you to think of a person known to you. Okay, are you ready? The word is “captive.” Do you have a person in your mind? A person all bound up and in captivity or in prison?

This summer the world’s finest athletes will assemble to participate in the ultimate competition: the Olympics. All of the abilities of the athlete are put to the test. Only the best and the bravest athlete will go home with the prize. On a worldwide scale, the Olympics is the ultimate strong man competition.

There is a strong man contest found in the gospel of Mark 3:22-27. Take a moment and read it.

In the middle ages, the flickering lights of marsh gas were, to many people, fairies or goblins; fireflies were the souls of unbaptized dead infants. Many thought sorcerers and ghosts manipulated human lives. Astrology was used to explain things. For example, the University of Paris concluded that the bubonic plague of 1340s-50s was due to the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars.

Long before the middle ages, in the small corner of the world called Palestine, Emissaries from the Great Sanhedrin had come to determine if Capernaum, (Jesus’ hometown on His ministry), was indeed a “seduced city” under the influence of a magician. This group of investigators sought to uncover whether or not speculation about this Jesus of Nazareth was true. Reports went out that Jesus could perform incredible miracles. But it was also reported that He taught things contrary to the law and scribal tradition. The emissaries arrive in Capernaum and come face to face with their sorcerer. “You are possessed by Beelzebub and you cast out demons by the ruler of demons” is the accusation against Jesus. Their accusation lingers in the air: Jesus is possessed by Beelzebub.

Who could imagine? Who could ever think that even Jesus himself was being accused of such a thing? We should not be too surprised since he prophesied of such things. He even prophesied that we too would experience such things. But if we too are to experience such things, I wonder when is the last time you were accused of being of Beelzebub? What enemy has seen your work for Christ and brought accusation.

RESPONDING TO THE ACCUSATION (23-26). Since we too will experience such things. The question is, How would we personally respond  if someone were to accuse you of something awful? What would you do? Facing arrest as an Anabaptist, Dirck Willems fled for his life across a frozen lake. When his pursuer broke through the ice, Willems gave up his chance to escape by turning to save his persecutor. He was then captured, imprisoned and burned at the stake in 1569. Sometimes the temptation for us is to seek revenge or to refuse the responsibility of forgiveness. Some may say, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget.” Another way of saying, “I will not forgive.” So what happened. How did Jesus respond? What did Jesus do? Did he strike back at the accusers? Did he spray them with fire from heaven? Well not exactly. Jesus responded to their attacks with three statements.

First, Jesus asked them, “How can Satan drive out Satan?”

Secondly, “How can a Kingdom divided against itself stand?”

Thirdly, “How can a house divided against itself stand?”

What do those statement mean? How do they apply to the scribes accusation against Jesus? One of the big stories in the mid-nineties that you may recall being on all the TV news broadcasts was the concern for a dying species of owl in the Northwest called the Spotted Owl. The concern was that the logging being done in the area was actually destroying the species. But according to a Newsweek article published in November of 1996, research showed that the owl’s greatest enemy was not coming from the loggers but somewhere else. For the past fifteen years, the barred owl has migrated westward rapidly. Barred owls, which used to live exclusively east of the Mississippi, compete for the same food as spotted owls but are more aggressive and adaptable. The great enemy of the spotted owl did not in fact come from without–i.e. the logging industry–but was actually from within–a similar species competing for the same area.

What is Jesus saying here? What is he talking about kingdoms and houses? Why can’t Satan drive himself out, or a kingdom be divided, or a house be divided? The answer–if a kingdom or a house is divided, or if owls are competing for the same area, then there is not without but their enemy is within. The unity of the organization has been compromised and eventually the entire thing will fall. It will be, in the words of Jesus, “terminated” or “finished.” The unity of the structure must be maintained. If Satan has turned upon himself, then he must be finished. But he is not finished and therefore the scribes are simply wrong. Their accusation is absurd.

REVERSING THE ACCUSATION WITH PARABLE (27). But the question remains: if Jesus is not of Beelzebub, then who is he? Where does his power come from if not from magical arts? How does he drive out demons if not by the ruler of demons? Jesus in one verse attempts to answer that entire question. This is the story of Mr. Strong. Mr. Strong lived in a palatial manor. He lived in a palace. In this palace were great treasures he had plundered from his enemies. He held them in this impenetrable fortress. People from miles around would love to have stolen his treasures, but they could not, for he was Mr. Strong. No one was as strong as him, and therefore his treasure remained. One day a knock came at the door of his mansion. He opened the door and a strange mysterious figure emerged. Walking through the manor this individual saw all his treasures. But realizing that Mr. Strong was mighty, he knew the only way to take his plunder was to first bind him. So he did. He bound up Mr. Strong, and walked away with all the booty, the treasure, of his fortress.

What does this strange parable that Jesus told mean? Who is Mr. Strong and what about this strange visitor? And what does this have to do with the accusation made against Jesus about being possessed by Beelzebub?

With the text the details of the parable become obvious. So what is it? Who is Mr. Strong? Who is the mysterious man? What are these treasures he steals? Why does he bind him up? Well lets start with the mysterious visitor. Who was he? The mysterious visitor is none other than Jesus. Who is the strong man? He is none other than Satan. Jesus then binds the strong man, and he is able to plunder his palace. But what are these treasures? They are in fact people. They are captives. People held captive under the power of Satan, and Jesus is their deliverer. Only a stronger man could defeat Mr. Strong. Jesus is in fact Mr. Strongest. He is the man who enters the strong man’s house and sets free the captives of Satan. Jesus is the winner of the ultimate strong man contest. But what does that have to do with the accusation about Beelzebub? Well obviously if Jesus is the man who goes into Satan’s palace and binds him up and defeats him, then it is impossible for Jesus to also be possessed by him. Therefore Jesus proves that he is not possessed by Beelzebub and he does not do miracles by the ruler of demons.

Alright now I want you to remember the face of the person you associated with captivity or prison. Now, I want you to imagine, that you are that face. Do you have it? Here is the bad news: there is no way for you to get out of that bondage or captivity. Here is the good news: Jesus is the strongest man who comes in and sets the captive free.