Kingdom Plants

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

Mark 4:26-29 (NIV)

A characteristic of a great story teller is being able to connect with people using imagery with which the receiver can relate. If a reader or listener is unable to connect elements of the story to their own life or experiences they are familiar with, they will become bored and disinterested in the story being told. A much repeated piece of advice to speakers, writers, and communicators is “know your audience.” By following this advice, the one sharing a message can personalize the message which leads to a more effective deliverance.

Jesus was a tremendous story teller. The Gospels contain evidence of this fact in the many recounts of stories which Jesus used to communicate all types of concepts and life lessons. Today we read one of Jesus’s stories. His audience was very familiar with the growth cycle and processes of plants. Jesus is providing images to explain the essence of the kingdom of God. The image of seed being scattered on the ground and becoming a mature plant creates the sense of mystery regarding growth within the kingdom. Jesus also tells the listener that a time will come when the plants will be harvested because they have reached full maturity. The listener understands that there will be a growth of the individuals in the kingdom and a time will come when a gathering will take place.

This story which Jesus uses to explain God’s kingdom provides imagery which allows us to see ourselves in the kingdom. We are the plants which begin as seeds. Our growth in the kingdom is not of our own doing but solely reliant upon God. There is mystery in how God causes this to happen. We grow up and mature within the kingdom. Then we await our gathering up by the Lord once we have fully matured.

Imagine

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

king of kings and lord of lords.

Revelation 19:11-16 (NIV)

Thunderstorms have always intrigued me. Throughout my childhood I accumulated many memories of thunderstorms rolling through our small, Midwestern farm community. We had an empty lot next to our house where Dad would often stand and watch the storm until it started raining too much. I was always glad when I could sneak away from Mom long enough to join Dad in the empty lot. If we had to retreat to the house, we would stand in the living room so we could watch through the large picture window. Today I still enjoy thunderstorms but one of our dogs is petrified of them so I spend my time comforting him. Thunderstorms display such power and strength.

The passage which we read today cornes from an often misunderstood and misused book of the Bible. The book is a recounting of a vision or dream. Imagery from this vision is intended to communicate thoughts and ideas regarding God, Christ, angels, and people. The verses lifted to us here contain a vision of Christ in heaven. We see Christ as royalty. The image is one of power, strength, and authority. This is communicated by describing Christ as a royal, military figure because in the experiences of the writer, such a figure had those attributes.

Reading this passage today has caused me to reflect upon what image I may see when I encounter Christ. I can only imagine. What about you?

Reflect on that question as you watch this video and listen to the song.

Jesus Knocking

A famous picture painted by Warner Sallman is entitled, Christ at Heart’s Door. Sallman completed this painting in 1942. Many churches and some homes can be found with this painting hanging within them. There is much symbolism found within the painting. Take a moment to study the image here. Then respond to the following questions:

  1. What do you notice missing? Why may it not be there?
  2. What shape can be found created with the light and architecture?
  3. Why are there blooms on some of the stems and some have no blooms?
  4. What is noticeable about Jesus’s hand? Does that communicate anything to you? 
  5. Why might Sallman have chosen to include the plants which he did?
  6. What change would you make to the painting in view of Jesus’s heritage?
  7. The imagery in this picture is to communicate a message. How would you articulate the message?

Kingdom Seed

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Mark 4:30-34 (NIV)

Have you seen one of those cartoons in which a character takes a small snowball and sends it down a snow-covered hill? As the snowball moves down the hill, it gathers snow and momentum, enlarging in size. Usually the enlarged snowball picks up other characters and items along the way. The scene often ends with the huge snowball smashing into something at the bottom of the hill which sends the accumulated characters and debris flying through the air. The increase in size, momentum, and accumulation is the image which I place before you today.

Our passage from the Gospel according to Mark presents a scene in which Jesus is teaching one of the crowds. Here Jesus is providing imagery in an attempt to help the people understand what the Kingdom of God is like. A mustard seed is the object Jesus brings to their minds. He points out that it is one of the smallest seeds in creation. Once the seed is planted and grows, it becomes a plant large enough for birds to rest in for shade from the heat.

When we consider this imagery in relation to God’s Kingdom, we can imagine the planting of a small seed in the lives of individuals. After planting, the seed grows and becomes stronger. Momentum builds in the growing process. The size increases as it gathers from around it. Eventually it becomes a haven and a place of rest for others. 

This imagery places each of us in three distinct roles within God’s Kingdom. First, we are the ones who receive the starting Kingdom seed. The seed is planted in our lives where we nurture it and encourage it to grow. Second, we become the planters of the seed. We bring it into the lives of others and introduce them to our Lord’s Kingdom. Third, as the Kingdom expands and enlarges, we become like the birds and find shelter from the heat of life within the Kingdom. The momentum of God’s Kingdom increases in our world.

Imagery

John,

To the seven churches in the province of Asia:

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits[a] before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”[b]
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”[c]
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet, 11 which said: “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.”

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man,[d] dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

19 “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later. 20 The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels[e] of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.

Revelation 1:4-20 (NIV)

The city in which I currently live is the home of some amazing art museums. I have enjoyed going to two of them so far, one containing American art and the other one containing art from world renown artists including Monet and Picasso. I enjoy viewing the work, imaging what the artist is trying to communicate, and reading the information on the card next to the piece. Imagery is an amazing way to communicate a message. I struggle with abstract art because it is difficult for me to find the message in the imagery. 

Our passage today comes from a book of the Bible which can be confusing to some readers. The writing here is filled with imagery because it comes from a vision. The intent is to communicate a message, a telling of a story. Today we read about the very beginning of the vision, John, the one who is having the vision, finds himself in the heavenly throne room of God. He hears praises being sung, declarations of the wholeness of God made, and sees seven golden lampstands. Among these lampstands is a human whose description seems to indicate he is Jesus. John is told to write down all that he sees and hears so it may be shared with the churches. At the sight of the man, John falls to the ground because he realizes he is in a holy place before the Lord. The Lord touches John’s shoulder with the hand containing seven stars and tells him to not be afraid. Continuing, he explains the stars are the angels of the churches and the lampstands are the churches. The imagery here is magnificent. The use of the number seven in the Bible is meant to represent perfection and wholeness. Having the Lord stand among the lampstands communicates that the Lord is among the churches. The lampstands remind us that the role of the churches is to bring light to the world. The stars provide the reminder that there are messengers from God in the churches. As a whole, we are given a set of messages through the imagery of John’s vision.

Receiving a message through imagery is great but more important is what we do with that message. When an artist uses imagery to communicate a message, the intention may be to remind us of the beauty of creation, or it may be to make us aware of the plight of certain people, or it may be to prompt us to remember an historical event. If this message is received by us and we are moved to action or better educated, then the imagery works. In the words of this section of Revelation, we are reminded to be lights to the world, that the Lord is in our midst, and to listen to the messengers of God.

What are you going to do with this?

Going To Hell

One of the most important realizations which I came to after spending some years studying the Bible is that the Bible is written with a lot of imagery. This is understandable for various reasons. First, the accounts which we find in the Bible today came to us from an oral tradition. Second, the telling of these experiences and stories happened when there was no such thing as a printing press, motion pictures, televisions, or computers. Third, as humans, we try to relate events, experiences, and complex thoughts to something which helps us to make sense of whatever we are discussing. Together, these lend themselves to the use of imagery. The speakers and eventually, the authors of the Bible relied heavily on imagery. This is an important fact when people of the 21st century attempt to interpret Scripture. (For more thoughts about interpreting Scripture, see my post Word by Word.) It is also important when dealing with this post’s subject matter.

Last week I wrote a post regarding my understanding of heaven. (See Is This Heaven.) I thought that it made sense to follow up that post with one on my understanding of hell. Much of what I communicated in last week’s post applies to hell as well. I do not believe hell is a physical location. Hell is not the place of eternal punishment. There is no being in a red suit with a forked tail holding a trident or pitchfork. There are no boiling pots of hot lava with stone walkways running through them. There are no endless torments designed specifically for the person who is supposed to be sent to hell. All these are images which have been created over time based on someone’s interpretation of Scripture (often the book of Revelation) or through horror stories passed down through generations.

My understanding of hell and any Scripture which may lend itself to the concept of hell is that this is truly a human construct. The details of hell and evil lie within the human spiritual and psychological components. Let me try to unpack that a little for you. For me, hell is living without God. The only way that this reality could ever be (if it truly could ever be) is because a person has totally rejected the existence of a supreme spiritual being. God is the English name given to the supreme spiritual being which Christians, Jews, and Muslims acknowledge but is not the sole name humans give to this being. Therefore, I am not saying that using a different name for the supreme spiritual being other than God is the qualifier here but instead that a person rejects that there even is such a being.

It is also important to note here that I do not believe that God (which is the name I will use throughout this post since I am a Christian) EVER rejects ANY human. Why this is important is because it means the action is taken by a human and not God. This also means that God never leaves the person but that the person lives as if God does not exist. For me, living as if God never exists would be hell.

I think it is also important to deal with the misconception that God created a location labeled hell as a place for eternal punishment. Again, imagery used in the Bible has led to this interpretation. But when you truly study the passages containing such imagery (example: Matthew 13), you see that the issue being addressed is a person or persons who have chosen to reject God. The imagery is to help people understand what the life experience would be like if a person chooses to deny God’s existence and design for life.

In summary, my understanding of hell is that it is not a place but more a description of a person’s possible spiritual and psychological state. A state which we have been fully released from by the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection if we will accept the new status which God has given freely to each of us.