Friday, March 10, 2017

Parable: Like a Net

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field, a mustard seed, like yeast worked into the dough, like hidden treasure, and like a merchant who was seeking a fine pearl and found it.

We live in the kingdom here and now even though evil and sin surround us.  It is meant to grow within us and around us.  To the one who is wise, it is so valuable that someone would give up everything to obtain it.

When most people hear the word, kingdom, they want something that they can find on a map with boundaries or borders.  Jesus gives us a kingdom of perspectives and character and ways that are not of this world.                                                                                                    
This is quite an interesting kingdom and Jesus makes it all the more interesting by saying the Kingdom of Heaven is like a net.  This is not just an ordinary net, but something similar to what we would call a seine today.  It would be dragged through the water until it reached the shore, collecting fish from the bottom to the top of the area swept by the net.

The fish would be dumped onto the shore and then be sorted.  Good fish in the basket.  Bad fish thrown away to be burned in the fire.  I guess nobody had any cats at home that might have eaten the bad fish.  If we were to get allegorical, we would be the fish; but we are not going to do that.  It’s bad enough to be compared to sheep, but I think I would rather be represented by a sheep than a fish.

It doesn’t matter if you are a good fish or bad fish, you still get caught.  You either end up in a basket or in the fire.  Except in modern fishing stories about the one who got away, things never come out well for the fish.  Here it’s scorched or in a basket on its way to a sushi bar.

Heaven is not a fishy smelling basket and hell is not discarded fish on its way to the fire to gnash its teeth.  A fish gnashing teeth—now there’s an image for you Sunday morning.  The analogy in the parable is first to the net.  The Kingdom of Heaven is like a net that was put to its intended use and did its job—it caught all kinds of fish.

The Kingdom of Heaven described here is the kingdom at the end of the age.  Much like the wheat and the weeds that will grow together; the good fish and bad fish will live together and be collected at the same time and then be separated.

It is about the end of the age.  The kingdom that we can enter now will transition into one where sin and evil are no longer in play.  There is not much more than the basket for the good fish in this parable so we should not extend the analogy too much here, at least as far as trying to figure out what heaven looks like.

And we can’t really glean too much about the outcome of those who have been separated from the good fish other than their outcome is not desirable at all.  Separated is bad.  

Burned in the blazing furnace is worse.  Weeping and gnashing of teeth means that even if you could fake being a stoic all through this life when reality hits home and you are facing eternal separation from God, nobody can fake it at that point.  There are not going to be any stoics in hell.  They will fall apart and cry and cry out when they realize they rejected the truth.

In the parable of the wheat and the weeds, angels did the harvesting.  Here Jesus has men casting a dragnet but we see that angels are the ones who ultimately separate the wicked from the righteous.  It is good that we understand that God has the logistics of the end of the age covered.

We could just sit back and be glad we have this glimpse of the end of the age, but we need to consider the thing to which Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is like a net.  It is cast and dragged and it collects fish.

This net is the gospel and we are the fishermen.  While we don’t judge believers, or condemn them as a bad fish; we are part of the instrument by which men will be separated.

God desires that none perish and he has sent men and women—followers of Jesus—into the world with the gospel.  God’s desire is for all to come to salvation through the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, but Jesus gives us this parable and perhaps some insight into the fact that God’s desire for salvation for all may not be fully realized.

He longs for it.  He has sent us into the world to spread the simple means of knowing life and life eternal in Jesus Christ; but some may still not respond or just outright reject God’s love.  God is love and he will never stop loving us but some just won’t respond.

We could use this parable like parents use Santa Claus about mid-November.  He’s watching.  You had better be good or you will have to live with that old X-Box for another year.  That doesn’t work in May, June, or July.  Kids know that Santa sleeps through the summer and it’s not really what the parable is about either.  It’s not a you had better be good or else lesson.

It is a reminder that God will judge his creation and the only thing that will put us and keep us in his favor is the blood of Jesus.  There will be a sorting, a separation, and God will judge.

We could just wait until that time to get serious about being a disciple.  It is the blood of Jesus and our profession of faith that brings us to salvation.  It is not our good works.  What’s the hurry about getting into this discipleship stuff. 

Park me on the back pew, encase me in glass, and don’t break it until Jesus comes back to have his angels put me in the basket with the good fish.

So, do we just say, “That’s cool and thanks for the look at the end times; I’ll be on the lookout,” and move on to the next parable?  We could, but we should consider that Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a net.  There is more to the parable, but we are the ones who cast this net.  We are truly fishers of men.

The angels will do the separating for God at the end but we cast the net.  We take the gospel into the world.  The part of this parable that applies to the followers of Jesus in the here and now is the casting of the net.  That part is underway and it continues.

While the parable is offered in the context of the end times, our mission from now until then is spreading the good news of life in Jesus Christ.  The casting of the net should change the outcome, the catch, the harvest.  We are blessed to be a part of God’s plan.  He has included us.  We are his disciples and we have our assignments.  His yoke is easy and his burden is light but we do have our parts.

Part of God’s good plans for us includes the casting of this net.  His plans for good includes us sharing these wonderful words of life as a disciple living in his kingdom.

The casting of the net is God’s love manifested in and through us.  We cannot be content just to be a good fish in a basket if we are to live in the Kingdom of Heaven now.

We need to understand, as we did in the parable of the sower, that our net gathers all kinds of fish.  The sorting is not done now while the net is in the water.  That part comes later and that is not really our part.  In the parable, the fishermen separate the fish, but Jesus makes it clear that when we are talking about people, judging is not our job.

Like the sower who scattered seed everywhere, we do not discriminate which fish we collect in our net.  We cast a broad net.  Our eyes do not yet fully see as God’s eyes do.  We get better with each step of discipleship, but we are not quite there yet.    In fact, many Christians suffer from the Blindness of the Pharisees.

God’s love for his creation and his desire to have it reconciled to him is evident in the blood of Jesus given for us at Calvary.  But we as disciple of Jesus are to reach the ends of the earth with this gospel of life, life abundant, and life eternal.  We are to cast this net everywhere.  Sorting comes later and is not our job.

So I ask, are we equipped and ready to take this gospel to the world?  Are we prepared?

Some people believe that they are ready moments after being saved, knowing very little about what it means to be a disciple.  Others have studied the Bible for years or decades and still don’t think that they are ready to witness and share Jesus with others.

There is an interesting piece of conversation at the end of this parable in Matthew’s gospel.  Jesus asked his followers if they understood all of these things.  The disciples, having finally received a parable about fishing, replied in the affirmative.

Yes!  We got one!  I’m sure that some of the disciples thought it might be time for Jesus to turn a big vat of water into wine and celebrate.  They got one that Jesus didn’t have to explain.

But Jesus is still teaching.  The person who has seriously studied God’s word and has become a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a house who has treasure old and new.  In the margins of your Bible next to verse 52, write Saul of Tarsus, and contemplate these words and this man sometime this week.

They apply to more than Saul who we know better as Paul, but he epitomized these words more than anyone that I can think of; perhaps, with the exception of many who hear and read this message.

How much have we studied?  How many commentaries have we read?  How many devotions have we gone through over the years?

There is potential energy in the understanding of God’s world but to realize kinetic energy, we must put those words into practice.  We truly follow Jesus.  We live as his disciple.  And if we have studied the word of God and have chosen to follow Jesus, we are thoroughly equipped to cast that net.

In fact, we are purposed to cast that net.  We have treasures old and new.  So many of you are so well prepared to cast this net.

If you are ready to share the gospel but don’t feel equipped, partner with someone to share the gospel while you engage in serious study.  It’s easier if you are already studied up, but don’t put off sharing the gospel even if you are just learning what it means to follow Jesus.

The net in this parable is not a one-man rig.  This is a big net and it takes many fishermen to cast and recover this net.  It takes many disciples.

These parables of Jesus were meant to impact those who heard them.  They were not just a preview of coming attractions.  They should evoke responses of discipleship in us as well.
As we continue to work our way through the parables, whenever we come upon one that is about the Kingdom of Heaven, ask the question:  What part of this parable provides direction to disciples.  There are many parts of the parables that seem to be informational but much of what we receive should provide instruction and direction to us.

If God’s desire is that none perish and the means to salvation is by faith in JesusChrist, should our motivation to share the good news not be overwhelming?

If we know that God’s desire will not be met—in our terms we would call this heartache—when one single person is lost, would we not be compelled to take this wonderful news of life in Jesus Christ with us wherever we go and talk with whomever we meet?

We are to cast a wide net.  We are to collect all sorts of fish. We do not discriminate by saying, “I’m not casting my net over there.  There’s nothing but bad fish.”

Many a church has been started and grown where self-righteous Christians have declared people unworthy to receive the gospel.  Many lives have been changed by the work of a few with eyes to see as God sees instead of living in the comfort that comes with the Blindness of the Pharisees.

We are to cast a wide net.  We are to take the gospel to all.  God’s grace is for all and as we cast our nets time and time again, we must do so with the divine heart of our heavenly Father who longs for all to come to him.  We must not grow weary of casting this net.  As you consider this parable of Jesus, take the words of Paul to help put it into action.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

We are sent as disciples who live in this Kingdom of Heaven into the world to bring good news!

We are called out of the world to be set apart from the world to be sent back into the world to be God’s love and share his good news from now until the end of the age.

We are to cast this net that is the gospel of love that we know in Jesus Christ from now until the end of the age.


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