Metaphor? It is not a town or a person. I'll not strain your memory about high school English. You use a metaphor when you want to teach that one thing is similar or the same as something else. What are we talking about here? Parables. Stories. Jesus was a story teller, and His stories were intended to teach us truths about God and about life. In a book I recently read about the brain, it asserted that our brains are lazy. If we already have figured out one thing, when something similar, but more complex comes along, we are likely to consider them the same and use the same solution. No need to struggle with the complexity in the new problem. Would God appeal to lazy brains? Let's plunge into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn about why Jesus told stories!
In 2006, a gunman walked into an Amish school. The teacher ran for help, and 13-year old Marian Fisher realized help would not arrive before the gunman started shooting. To buy time for the other students, this young girl told the gunman, “shoot me first.” This young girl was prepared to make a sacrifice that a few older men on the Titanic shied away from. She made a great sacrifice as Jesus said,
Image © Pacific Press from GoodSalt.com
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Yes, she did make that sacrifice, as the gunman obliged her request and shot and killed her first. I can’t imagine! You would think the young girl’s willingness to sacrifice herself would have broken what little heart the gunman had left.
As great as this sacrifice was, it was not the ultimate sacrifice. Her sacrifice is a metaphor of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made, when He died the second death for us on the cross. Marian Fisher, the true men on the Titanic, John Huss and many other martyrs throughout history have died valiant deaths, but none have tasted the death that Jesus died. They died with the hope of eternal life. For a while, from Gethsemane to the cross, Jesus was not able to imagine Himself living beyond the grave.
Satan with his fierce temptations wrung the heart of Jesus. The Saviour could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice. He feared that sin was so offensive to God that Their separation was to be eternal. Christ felt the anguish which the sinner will feel when mercy shall no longer plead for the guilty race. It was the sense of sin, bringing the Father’s wrath upon Him as man’s substitute, that made the cup He drank so bitter, and broke the heart of the Son of God. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, page 753
Jesus used metaphors. So do we. They help us to illustrate our points in ways people can relate to. When we use metaphors and illustrations from everyday life, we show how practical Christianity is, and how it does not hide us in a monastery, but rather changes our behavior in everyday life. Jesus did not call Peter to stop fishing, but He changed the way Peter fished. His illustrations about the lost sheep may have changed the way some shepherds cared for their flocks.
I love golf and like to use golf illustrations and create metaphors so that other golfers can better understand the gospel. Occasionally I meet someone who has no hobbies or special interests, and this greatly limits their sphere of influence and their ability to connect with others. Golfing has broadened my sphere of influence as I have met many people on the golf course that I never would have met any other way. The game gives me practical illustrations of the Christian life so that I can relate the gospel to my friends on the golf course.
Still, as helpful as parables, metaphors and illustrations are, they still come short of the real thing. Jesus used metaphors, not as an end, but as an invitation to contemplate the reality of His love and sacrifice.
I remember as a boy being told a story about a mother who had scarred hands. One day her daughter asked her why her hands were so ugly. The mother explained that when the girl was just a baby, their home caught fire, and the mother burned her hands saving her. The daughter decided those are beautiful hands. The story ends with the comparison to Jesus’ hands being scarred when He died for us. Nice metaphor but it falls short! Jesus did not just get His hands scarred when He saved us. He felt abandoned by His Father when He cried out,
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Matthew 27:46
John the Baptist realized that metaphors fell short when He exclaimed,
Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29
Hundreds of years before, a young boy climbing a mountain with his father, said something similar.
Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? Genesis 22:7
What he was beholding was a metaphor. His father, Abraham referred to reality beyond the metaphor when he replied,
My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: Genesis 22:8
God not only provided a lamb for the sacrifice. He provided Himself to be that sacrifice!
In last quarter’s Sabbath School lessons, we talked about how only Jesus could be the sacrifice to atone for sin. Of course He had to be a perfect sacrifice without blemish, but beyond that the purpose of the cross is to heal us from sin. To do this, God had to restore our faith in His love. Satan had been spreading terrible lies about God, from the Garden of Eden to the halls of the Pharisees and Sadducees, trying to make God look stern, uncaring, and unloving. The cross heals our rebellion and lack of faith in God’s love, as God symbolically cries out from the cross, “Would you believe I love you if I die for you?”
No angel could atone for our sin of unbelief and rebellion. If God had sent an angel to die for us, it wouldn’t heal our doubts about His love. If He had said, “Would you believe I love you if I sent someone else to die for you?” that would not be love. That would just be throwing one of His created beings under the bus! The only way that God could cure our rebellion and sin of unbelief in His love, is if He died for us Himself! Saying I love you enough to die for you, means a lot more than saying I love you enough to send an angel to die for you. This is the sacrifice that heals our rebellious natures and makes us want to be Christ’s disciples, when we see that He loves us enough to die for His own creation. See John 1:1-3.
Metaphors and illustrations are great in leading us to the cross, but nothing will heal our hearts and minds like beholding the real thing—the cross itself.
It would be well for us to spend a thoughtful hour each day in contemplation of the life of Christ. We should take it point by point, and let the imagination grasp each scene, especially the closing ones. As we thus dwell upon His great sacrifice for us, our confidence in Him will be more constant, our love will be quickened, and we shall be more deeply imbued with His spirit. If we would be saved at last, we must learn the lesson of penitence and humiliation at the foot of the cross. –Ellen White, Desire of Ages, Page 83.
Discipling through Metaphor
Commentary for the January 11, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:3-9, NIV
When I was in elementary school I developed an interest in reading. During one summer break my mother took me to the public library in our small town and enrolled me in the summer reading program. As a child, I was overwhelmed by all the books. While the library was rather small compared to what even a moderate size city might offer, with all the choices available, I had no idea where to begin. The helpful librarian, who had an idea what boys my age might like, led me to the science fiction section. There I discovered Isaac Asimov and spent the summer traveling with his hero, David “Lucky” Starr, as he visited the moons of Jupiter, fought pirates in the asteroid belt, and explored the rings of Saturn.
Those of us in the reading program were given rocket ships made out of colored construction paper to post on the cork bulletin board in the library, and as we read books over the summer, the librarian would give us gold stars to affix to the rockets. I became so deeply addicted to reading thanks to the exciting stories, that my rocket had enough stars to look like it was indeed traveling the space lanes. I have loved reading ever since. Over the years, my tastes have changed, and I read more history, theology, and philosophy now than fiction, but those early fictional heroes taught me important lessons about what it meant to be heroic.
I learned that heroes stand for the right, not because everyone else does, but because it is the right thing to do. I learned that when you are down, don’t give up, because things can swiftly turn around. I also learned that true friends are heroes as well, and you can count on them when the going gets rough. Perhaps one of the most important lessons was that those heroic friends can come from almost anywhere. You cannot identify them by looks, wealth, charm or education. They may be flawed. They may make mistakes, even serious ones. But when you are in need, and they stand in the gap for you, none of that matters.
Perhaps it was these early morality plays acted out on the leaves of books by Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, and others that created the foundation for my later appreciation for the stories of Jesus. The first biblical story I remember hearing as a child was told to several of us children in Sunday school at a local Baptist church. It was about a paralytic’s friends ripping up the roof of a house so they could lower their friend down through the rafters to Jesus.[i] I thought, “How crazy is that?” I wondered about the reaction of the home owner to the destruction of his property. But then I heard the Sunday school teacher saying that Jesus healed the paralyzed fellow, and he was able to walk out on his own two feet. Maybe the home owner was so excited to see the healing that he no longer cared about the roof.[ii]
On another Sunday, I heard about how doing kindnesses to our enemies would heap coals of fire on their heads.[iii] I immediately thought of a certain bully in school running around trying to put out the fire in his hair. While I have since learned that some bullies don’t care and will only be enabled by those acts of kindness, I have come to terms with that and understand that treating people with respect and kindness should be done for its own sake, and not to make people feel guilty. In any event, any ultimate Karma is best left up to God to dispense. It continues to amaze me how many feel that even with limited knowledge about someone or something, they can feel comfortable passing judgment on who is deserving of the burning coals of justice and who is not.
As time went on, and I heard more and more about Jesus and the things He said and did, I began to see that He lived a heroic life. I also saw that the heroism of His life was echoed repeatedly throughout the Bible by the lives of others, like Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon. I felt drawn to this biblical heroism and my heart was becoming fertile ground for a personal encounter with Jesus. This happened when I was a teenager and attending a weekly meeting of the youth group of the local Nazarene church. The adult leader was impressed during the closing prayer to ask for those who wished to know Jesus better to raise their hand. I did so and was then taken into the den in the house where we were meeting and led to give my heart to Jesus.
Something happened when I was on my knees in that room that evening. A voracious appetite for understanding the Bible was born. I began reading the Bible with an intensity that must have astonished others. And with that reading, questions began coming to my mind. As I raised questions about what I was reading in the Sunday school, the teachers did not have answers, so I began to look elsewhere. I enrolled in a Bible Study correspondence course from the Worldwide Church of God. However, after only a dozen or so lessons, I discovered what they said the Bible said and what I could see it was saying did not match up, so I abandoned that effort.
Sometime later, I discovered another correspondence course and sent an enrollment card to Box 55, Los Angeles, California. Some may instantly recognize that address. I have never forgotten it as it was a watershed moment in my life when I enrolled in studies with The Voice of Prophecy. Ultimately, because of the questions my continuing studies raised, I was driven from the church I was attending as they did not wish to deal with them, and I eventually found my way to the Seventh-day Adventist church where I continue to attend to this day, several decades later. While I still ask hard questions and some are uncomfortable with that, no one has yet driven me from fellowship and I appreciate that open and supportive environment for continued study and growth.
My hunger for Bible Study has never abated. It led me to majors in Theology and Biblical Languages from Walla Walla University, and along the way, it changed my life and continues to change it to this very day. As a result of those studies, I continue to explore the many tidal pools and estuaries of what I am discovering is an infinite theological ocean filled with wonders and dotted with islands containing buried treasures.
When I first began this lifetime journey, I understood the Bible and God only in the simplistic sense of those early science fiction hero stories, where right was right and wrong was wrong and morality was entirely black and white. However, I have come to understand that God is so infinitely transcendent that I will probably never be able to see those questions of right and wrong entirely as He sees them. I simply do not have the vantage point He has. This leads me to want to repent in sack cloth and ashes for the judging I have done of others, believing that I was an agent of God for such judgment, a God that I have never fully understood, yet acted as though I did.
Through all of this, I have discovered a deep truth that continually astonishes me. When I was young and read of Lucky Starr’s space adventures, I would sometimes read them again. However, once I knew how the story went, they lost their magic and to this day I continue to find it difficult to read fictional works more than once for that reason. But the Bible is different. I have long ago lost count of how many times I have read it through. Every time I finish, I begin again. Surprisingly, each time I read it through, it is like a new book. Subtle nuances of the verses peer out at me from hidden alcoves I had not seen before, and when I see these subtleties, my heart is thrilled with wonder at why I did not see them before.
This is the glory of the parables of Jesus, as well. On the surface they are simple stories grounded in the common business of everyday life. Yet, it is possible to plumb these stories to great depths and never exhaust the fathoms of those waters. While there is something there to guide us in simplicity, there is also much to intrigue the most advanced intellect. No matter where we are on our voyage of discovery, there are always new seas to sail and new ports to explore.
[i] Mark 2:1-12
[ii] Ibid., Vs. 12
[iii] Proverbs 25:21-22
"Discipling Through Metaphor"
January 11, 2014
Texts: 2 Samuel 12:1-7; Isaiah 28:24-28; Matthew 7:24-27; 13:1-30; Luke 20:9-19
The Day of Judgment has come to a Pennsylvania woman who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for conspiring to kill a Swedish cartoonist. Colleen LaRose, who called herself "Jihad Jane" told the judge she was obsessed with participating in a Muslim holy war.
The fifty-year-old woman became caught up in jihad when she met a Muslim man on vacation in Amsterdam. One attorney described her as lonely and vulnerable. When she connected with an "online handler" in Pakistan to participate in "killing a foe of Islam" she was flattered.
Federal investigators say she participated in a 2009 conspiracy to target artist Lars Vilks, a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog. Muslim extremists in Iraq had offered a $100,000 reward for anyone who killed Mr. Vilks, who was never attacked.1
While Judge Tucker has no doubts that Ms. LaRose, who was stalking Mr. Vilks online, would have killed him if she had the opportunity, Mr. Vilks himself thinks her sentence is a little harsh. He has been threatened by others and has around-the-clock protection. "This is a person who has been through a lot of difficulties in her life and needs mental care more than anything else," he said. Ms. LaRose grew up in an extremely abusive home where there was rape, incest, hunger, and alcoholism. She told the court, "I don't want to be into jihad no more."
Our Sabbath school lesson this week looks at stories Jesus told that give us a window on discipleship. Christ spoke of two sons who were asked to work in their father's vineyard (Matthew 21:28-32). He illustrated the kingdom of heaven through the story of a great supper (Luke 14:16-24). Jesus explained His rejection by religious leaders through a story about wicked vinedressers. Stories can powerfully teach spiritual truths about being a disciple.
What biblical messages do we see in today's news? What themes do we find in stories like the one about "Jihad Jane" that show God's wish that we become disciples? Perhaps these: There is a great war between good and evil in our world; an enemy seeks to lure us into destructive practices; we are all vulnerable and come from broken backgrounds; there is a law and a judgment day coming; and there is also grace. Like Mr. Vilks, the Lord Jesus (who we have attacked) wants to extend compassion on all who turn to God and say, "I don't want to be into sin no more."
Seven miles had never appeared as long as they did that day. Just a few days before, the two friends had expected that their journey home would be joyful and full of good memories. But instead of recounting tales of fellowship and feasts, they were downcast and sad. Unexpected tragedy had replaced all celebration. Now their futures, once full of hope, had become overshadowed with uncertainty and doubt.
As they walk together that fateful day, they are joined by a Stranger who notes their tearful eyes and sad expressions. After inquiring about the reason for their sadness, giving them an opportunity to express their inward thoughts, Jesus takes all of the very things that have troubled them and through the Scriptures begins to show how they are reasons for celebration and not sadness.
The biblical writer Luke continues with the story of how, after they sat down to eat, “their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.” Luke 24:31
It’s what these two amazed disciples said next that forms the basis of this week’s lesson. “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32
Our topic this week, Discipling through Metaphor, reminds us that when using metaphors/parables such as The Sower, The Pearl, The Wedding Garment and many others, Jesus was always aiming for the heart of his listeners and turning their attention to the Scriptures.
“Jesus sought an avenue to every heart. By using a variety of illustrations, He not only presented truth in its different phases, but appealed to the different hearers. Their interest was aroused by figures drawn from the surroundings of their daily life. None who listened to the Saviour could feel that they were neglected or forgotten. The humblest, the most sinful, heard in His teaching a voice that spoke to them in sympathy and tenderness.” Ellen White, Christ’s Object Lessons, p 21
Imagine the spellbound audience as Jesus recounts the story of the Good Samaritan. Picture the father’s deep love and affection as Jesus tells of the returning Prodigal Son. Hear the call to accountability as He tells the story of those that received 5, 2 and 1 talents. Grasp the warning of His message about the results of building a spiritual house on sand instead of solid rock.
The Scriptures driven home by the power of the Holy Ghost have penetrated the hardest of hearts and calmed the deepest fears. Prompted by divine influences that stir the deepest emotions, the greatest impact for change occurs. And there is no greater result of change than the conversion of the soul—being born again.
Many of us are going through life weighed down with the cares of this world. Tears of sadness and expressions of hurt are on many faces. Life has not worked out as planned and the bright dreams of yesterday have been swallowed up by the clouds of today. On our journey home a breakthrough is needed. Many are crying out for someone to walk with them along the way so that they too can have the testimony of those two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
This task has been given to you and me to do the works of Christ; to reach the hearts of women and men, boys and girls. Jesus has even assured our success by promising the unthinkable, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” John 14:12
Whether by story/ metaphor/ parable recounted from the Bible or drawn from everyday life, the aim should be the same—reaching the hearts of our fellow men. I pray that we all are in tune with heaven so that through us hearts will be stirred and lives will be changed. Let it also be said by those who come in contact with us, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”
Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:
What does “reaching the heart” mean to you?
What, if any, is the difference between reaching the heart vs. reaching the intellect?
Isn’t it true that as long as we tell others the “truth” we should not be overly concerned with how it’s conveyed? After all, isn’t it the Holy Spirit’s job to give impact to whatever we say, however we say it?
Explain your answer, yes or no.
List three or more reasons Jesus used parables for much of His teaching.
List six or more lessons about effective ministry we can learn from the answers to the above questions. (Include some do’s and don’ts).
We close this week with the prophetic words of Isaiah that were fulfilled by Jesus and will be the testimony of His disciples:
“The Lord God has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God has opened My ear; And I was not rebellious, nor did I turn away.” Isaiah 50:4, 5
00. Introduction. This week's lesson may tweak your creative instincts searching for the connection between the topic for each day and the material presented. The first gap opens with Monday's lesson, "Architectural Wisdom" which includes a brief paragraph about construction but nothing on architecture. Tuesday's lesson, "Agricultural Analogies" hits the target with parables Jesus shared on the reception of the word by different types of soils, and the parable of the wheat and the tares. On Wednesday, the title, "The Revolutionary's War," is misleading until you notice the apostrophe. It's not about the Revolutionary War, but the war of Jesus the Revolutionary. The last titled lesson, "Christ's Creative Legacy" talks about the way Jesus used stories in His ministry as evidence of His creativity. Now let's look at these one by one.
01. Metaphor. In college we used to say that a metaphor is something someone said but didn't mean. "Oh," we say after confronting one. "You meant that as a metaphor." "All the world's a stage," Shakespeare said a few hundred years ago in one of the most famous of all metaphors. What is the difference between a parable and a metaphor? Why did Jesus speak in parables? Would we humans be able to understand fundamental principles of God's kingdom such as sin, salvation, justification, and others without the parables Jesus told?
02. Nathan's Parable is one of the most effective parables ever told. What is the message Nathan needs to deliver to David? How does the story he invents probably save his life and yet deliver the message? Review the parable of Isaiah 28. Do you ever consider the planting and growth of crops as an illustration of God's care for us? Study the dialog between God and His people regarding the wine bottles. What lesson do you think is embedded in this illustration?
03. Architectural Wisdom. Monday's lesson is not so much about architecture as about building a house on the rock--or on the sand. Still, as the plans were made, dimensions were determined, didn't the builders believe they'd designed wonderful houses? That's architecture. What tools of planning and design does God use when reaching out to us sinners and inviting us to turn to Him? What does it cost for you and me to accept ownership of an eternal home designed by the Master Architect? Do you think we'll consider our hardships and suffering here on earth when we enter our eternal home with our Master and Savior, Jesus?
04. Agricultural Analogies. Imagine Jesus looking out over the fields and seeing evidence of His power on earth. Instead of relishing His own great wisdom and power in providing these agricultural miracles, what does Jesus see? How does He bring the lessons of the seeds and their ability to grow and blossom home to His listeners? Consider this sentence from the lesson: "Disciples cannot surrender their judgment (discernment) to other professed believers because these believers may be weeds not wheat." How does that statement relate to how we should share our insights in Sabbath School and family settings? Should we consider what fellow believers speak but hold back full surrender of our judgment until we have opportunity to study them and pray for insights?
05. The Revolutionary's War. In what sense was Jesus a Revolutionary? What was His primary tool in challenging the teachings and example of religious leaders who had strayed from their fundamental purpose? Did these leaders consider Jesus to be a Revolutionary? Do you and I have a similar revolutionary role to play today? What do we need to do with all the blessings we enjoy today? Have you ever tricked yourself into thinking you were fortunate not to have anything to spur you to action but could sit back and just enjoy life? Jesus challenged accepted religious beliefs. Should we?
06. Christ's Creative Legacy. Did Paul tell stories to get people's attention? If not, what methods did he use? What stories or parables do we receive from such early Christian leaders as James? Peter? John? Do the real-life stories of the apostles cling to our memories and help us understand their love of Jesus? How much imagery and metaphorical language were involved in the delivery of the scenes of the book of Revelation? How can we use the gift of metaphors, parables, and stories in our personal testimony of the love of God for all of us?
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