James J. Tissot, “The Sower” (1886-96)
James J. Tissot, "The Sower" (1886-96), gouache over graphite on gray wove paper, 9.75 x 5.4 inches, Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Jesus tells parables to train his disciples, to help them understand, to help them grasp what is very, very new to them. One area they need to understand is receptivity. Who will have ears to hear? What does real faith look like in contrast to pseudo-faith? Jesus Messiah was rejected by his own people.

"He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him." (John 1:11)

These parables we'll look at here examine various degrees of receptivity, as well what pushing into the Kingdom and knowing the Lord look like when they are authentic.

8.1 Receptivity to the Kingdom

8.2 Forcible Nature of Discipleship

8.3 The Priority of Discipleship

8.4 Counting the Cost of Discipleship

8.5 Ultimate Prize of the Kingdom

8.1 Receptivity to the Kingdom

Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23; Mark 4:3-9, 13-20; Luke 8:4-8, 11-15; §90, 93)

(Also known as the Parable of the Soils)

One of the most difficult experiences for disciples in any age is to see people begin the journey of following Jesus, only to fall back, and ultimately fall away. It can be deeply discouraging and make you doubt yourself and your ministry!

To teach his disciples about this, Jesus tells the Parable of the Sower. It could well be called the Parable of the Soils, since the quality of the soils is the distinguishing factor in the parable, not the sower or the seed sown. The parable is found in all three Synoptic Gospels; we'll follow Matthew's account, found in Matthew's "parables chapter." As we begin to examine it, we'll observe that this parable is a fairly involved allegory.

Carl Reuben Schmidt (California artist, 1885-1969), 'Jesus Teaching from a Boat,' oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches, in a private collection.
Carl Reuben Schmidt (California artist, 1885-1969), 'Jesus Teaching from a Boat,' oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches, in a private collection.

The setting is outdoors with a huge crowd of people.

"1b Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore." (Matthew 13:1-2)

In each Gospel, the size of the crowd is mentioned. As Jesus tells the parable, he knows that many of his hundreds of hearers this day will not be open or receptive, or will begin with enthusiasm only to fall away.

Seeds on the Path, Rocky Soil, Thorns, and Good Soil (Matthew 13:3-8)

The kind of sowing Jesus describes involves taking a handful of seed and scattering it evenly onto the field. Israelites were familiar with two grain crops -- barley in the areas with poorer soil and wheat in the better land.

"3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: 'A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.'" (Matthew 13:3-4)

The path is the narrow strip of hard-trampled dirt along which the farmer and his family walk through the field. Of course, the farmer doesn't deliberately sow seed on the hard-packed soil, but some of the seed falls there anyway. Because the soil of the path isn't broken up, the seed remains on the surface of the ground, "and the birds came and ate it up." Birds are opportunists.

"5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root." (Matthew 13:5-6)

Some seed falls on rocky places.1 These aren't surface rocks, but slabs of limestone just under the surface in certain parts of the field with an inch or two of soil over them. The limestone would hold the warmth of the sun throughout the night, and for a while, the new plants will spring up and grow vigorously -- until they run out of moisture. Then, when the heat comes, since the plants can't get a root down into deep soil, they quickly wither and die.

"Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants." (Matthew 13:7)

No farmer purposely scatters seed into thorns. But there may be thorn seed in the soil in certain spots. Thorns suck up the water, leaving little for the grain. They shade out the grain and the thorns make it impossible to harvest whatever seed heads may ripen.

"Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop -- a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matthew 13:8)

A ripening field of wheat is a wonder to behold -- "amber waves of grain." In a good year, a field might yield 100 grains of wheat for every grain that was sown -- a hundred-fold. That is the goal. That is the dream in the farmer's hopeful eyes as he sows the wheat. Sure, a few grains may fall on the path, some on the thin soil over a limestone shelf, and some in a thorny area. But most, he hopes, will grow up strong and flourish in the sun, producing an abundant harvest.

Why Jesus Taught in Parables (Matthew 13:9-17)

What is Jesus getting at? Good parables can both clarify and confuse. Jesus concludes the parable in a strong voice that carries to the hundreds listening from the shore:

"He who has ears, let him hear." (Matthew 13:9)

Jesus is challenging the hearers to understand what they are hearing, to be discontent until they probe and learn, until they apply and obey what they have heard. But he realizes that they do not all care to know and understand. Many are spiritually dull.

The scene changes as Jesus speaks to his own disciples later. What he says is hard to understand, especially for us today.

"10 The disciples came to him and asked, 'Why do you speak to the people in parables?'

11 He replied, 'The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. 12 Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.'" (Matthew 13:10-13)

In other words, not everyone is able to understand and grasp spiritual truth. They don't have "ears to hear." Some people are unreceptive.

Jesus explains that God had revealed this same truth to Isaiah. God had called Isaiah in an amazing vision of the heavenly throne room and had cleansed his lips with a coal from the holy altar. "Who will go?" God asks. Isaiah responds, "Here am I. Send me" (Isaiah 6:8).

Then God instructs Isaiah to preach to a people who have closed ears and calloused hearts, who ultimately will not heed Isaiah's message, but rather reject it. Yet, he is to speak to them anyway. Jesus quotes Isaiah 6:9-10 as the reason he speaks in parables.

"13 This is why I speak to them in parables:

  'Though seeing, they do not see;
  though hearing, they do not hear or understand.'

14 In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

  'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
  you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
  15 For this people's heart has become calloused;
  they hardly hear with their ears,
  and they have closed their eyes.
  Otherwise2 they might see with their eyes,
  hear with their ears,
  understand with their hearts
  and turn, and I would heal them.'" (Matthew 13:13-15)

It isn't that God doesn't want to heal them, he does. But because they have shut themselves off from God's message, they won't see, they won't hear, they won't understand, nor will they repent so they can be healed. Other translations help us catch the sense of verse 15:

"This people's heart has grown coarse, their ears dulled, they have shut their eyes tight to avoid using their eyes to see, their ears to hear, their heart to understand, changing their ways and being healed by me." (New Jerusalem Bible)

"They have stopped their ears and have closed their eyes. Otherwise, their eyes would see, their ears would hear, their minds would understand, and they would turn to me, says God, and I would heal them.'" (Good News Translation)

It is the old, old story of the Jews rejecting the prophets God sends to them.3 Even when the Messiah himself comes in the flesh, they will not, they refuse to hear. Note that Isaiah's prophecy here is quoted on three different occasions in the New Testament to explain why the Jews reject the message of Jesus!4

Please understand this! Jesus is saying to his disciples: Not everyone will hear. Not everyone will be receptive. Shortly, he will help them understand the Parable of the Soils that explains receptivity, but first he blesses them:

"16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it." (Matthew 13:16-17)

The Seed is the Word, the Message about the Kingdom (Matthew 13:18-19a)

Now Jesus begins the interpretation. This parable is about how people listen, how they hear "the message of the kingdom."5

"18 Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom...." (Matthew 13:18-19a)

"Word" (ESV, NRS, KJV), "message" (NIV) is logos, "a communication whereby the mind finds expression, word, chiefly oral."6 What is the message or word of the Kingdom? It is that

  • The Messiah has come and he is Jesus Christ the Lord.
  • That before him every knee will bow.
  • That Jesus reigns! He delivers! He rescues! He sets free!
  • That to welcome him you must humble yourself and repent of your sins.

The messenger may be Jesus, or the apostles, or modern-day disciples. But the power is in the message, the Word. The writer of Hebrews says,

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)

The Apostle Paul, who sowed the Word for most of his adult life, testifies about it:

"I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile." (Romans 1:16)

It is immaterial who sows the seed -- a bird, Johnny Appleseed, Jesus, Billy Graham, a Sunday school teacher, a parent, a friend. The power is in the seed itself. The seed alone has the power to grow, the power of life. Sowers are to sow -- regularly, faithfully, whether it is inconvenient or not (2 Timothy 4:2; 2:15).

Hard-Packed Hearts (Matthew 13:19)

"When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand7 it, the evil one comes and snatches away8 what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path." (Matthew 13:19)

On the hard-packed path between fields the seed never sinks into the soil. The devil, represented here by birds, gobbles up the seed before it can have any effect. These are the unreceptive unbelievers who hear, but have closed minds. The words just bounce off them.

I'm going to step outside the parable for a moment to say that soil quality can change -- and sometimes change very rapidly. This isn't Jesus' point, and he doesn't even mention it in this connection. But think of what one plow furrow would do to the receptivity of the hard-packed "path." Life's troubles and problems often have the effect of running a plow through our carefully constructed lives and demolishing the values we once held to be true. Your friends may be utterly closed now. Accept that. But be alert to the circumstances that God may bring into their lives that will make them receptive to the Word.

Rocky Hearts (Matthew 13:20-21)

"The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away." (Matthew 13:20-21)

Though Jesus doesn't say so directly, I think the rock represents people who have surface enthusiasm, but a hard heart. These people can be sorry for their sins and pray the "sinner's prayer." But, in fact, they haven't really internalized King Jesus' teachings and restructured their lives around him.

You could say that they have sorrow over their sins, but lack real repentance (metanoia, "a change of mind"). Deep wrenching sobs may be embarrassing, but tears often represent the destruction of an old value system and the foundations of a new one being laid in the heart. The heart is rent. (The English word "rend" means "to remove from place by violence, to wrest, to tear.") I'm not saying that weeping is necessary to salvation, only that true repentance is necessary to the process. Where this doesn't happen, we have the kind of people whom Jesus describes here, with surface growth, but who fall away in time of testing.

"Trouble"9 or "persecution"10 for the faith show their faith to be what it is -- surface only. When the "heat" is on, these surface believers wither.

Q32. (Matthew 13:20-21) Why, according to the Parable of the Sower, why do some people fall away so quickly? What is their problem?

Thorn-choked Hearts (Matthew 13:22)

"The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful." (Matthew 13:22)

Each of the Synoptic Gospels gives slightly different causes for unfruitfulness here. When you compare the various accounts you see the following four causes of unfruitfulness:

  1. Worries of this life (Matthew, Mark, Luke)
  2. Deceitfulness of wealth (Matthew, Mark), riches (Luke)
  3. Desires for other things (Mark)
  4. Pleasures (Luke)

Each of these can "choke" the growing plant of faith. The word is sympnigō "to check the growth or well-being of something by pressure, choke"11 from pnigō, "to stifle, choke, strangle, suffocate."12

1. Worries, Cares (Matthew, Mark, Luke). At the top of the list are "worries" (NIV), "cares" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), merimna, "anxiety, worry, care."13 Worry is the opposite of trust -- and trust is the root idea of faith. All of us have anxieties; Jesus certainly did. But it is how we handle them that decides whether they choke out spiritual life or cause it to flourish. Being consumed with life's worries may be choking your spiritual life. Worry competes with faith for your time and your very life-force. It strangles your relationship with God and the growth of the Word in your life. Determine now to call on him continually to help you, and then trust that he will keep his promises. Cultivate an attitude of trust.

2. Deceitfulness of wealth (Matthew, Mark), riches (Luke). Second on the list is "riches" or "wealth," that is, "the abundance of many earthly goods, wealth."14 Especially dangerous is the "deceitfulness" or "lure"15 of wealth (Matthew, Mark).

Riches aren't evil in themselves. It is the "love of money"16 that is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10a). Riches aren't evil in themselves, but "eagerness17 to be rich" can cause people to wander from the faith (1 Timothy 6:10b). Riches aren't evil, but Mammon18 can become a very real competitor to serving God himself (Matthew 6:24). The problem is that riches touch the covetousness or greed deep within fallen man and often take a powerful hold. Money can deceive us, and when it does it can keep fruit from ripening on your seedheads so there is no crop for the harvest. (For parables on this see Lesson 10.2).

3. Desire for Other Things (Mark). Desire19 for things not ours is the root of the Tenth Commandment, "You shall not covet" (Exodus 20:17). We see and hear advertisements day by day that make us desire things we don't need. Add to that a corrupt heart, and it is easy to choke off the growth of the Word in us.

4. Pleasures (Luke). Finally, we come to "pleasures" (Luke 8:14), Greek hēdonē, 20 from which we get our word "hedonism." Everybody wants to be happy. But sometimes our pursuit of happiness can be twisted into an all-out pursuit of pleasure. Our society has turned "duty" into a negative, and "self-indulgence" into a positive. Our songs croon, "How can it be so wrong, when it feels so right?"21 Too often we have replaced righteousness and honor and self-sacrifice with a pursuit of pleasure, of recreation, that can choke the growth of Jesus' Word in us and keep us from maturing and producing usable fruit. Weekend sports and recreation has displaced church-going in many a family.

Were They Really Christians?

I am often asked the question concerning the rocky soil and thorny believers: "Were they really Christians?" That's hard to answer -- and Jesus doesn't answer it here. He only describes people who seem believe for a while and receive the word with joy when they hear it. To first appearances, these people seem to be Christians, but they don't persevere in faith, they "fall away." They could be (1) counterfeit, (2) weak, or (3) apostate Christians -- and we may never know which.22

Is your life choked by worry, love of money, or hedonism? You must seek Jesus with all your heart, or you may end up self-deceived.

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)

My wife and I have a few pear trees in what was once a commercial fruit orchard. Most years, these trees will still bear a few pears, but they have to compete with other things that have grown up around it and the fruit never ripens properly. The fruit is hard and bitter, not soft, succulent, and sweet like a ripe pear. No farmer in his right mind would try to sell that kind of fruit or feed it to his family. It is worthless.

Q33. (Matthew 13:22) How do "thorns" prevent the Word of God from maturing in our lives? What is the difference between a genuine "disciple," follower or learner of Rabbi Jesus, and a person who holds a Christian belief system? What can you do to clear your life of the thorns that prevent Christ's work from maturing in you?

Receptive Hearts (Matthew 13:23)

But now we come to the fourth type of soil -- "good soil.

"But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown." (Matthew 13:23)

"Good soil," represents hearers who possess "a noble and good heart" (Luke 8:15) and understand the word.

The final characteristic of good soil and a good heart is a harvestable crop. I say harvestable, because sometimes a crop is so sparse it isn't worth the time to harvest and process. The farmer just turns it under to fertilize the next year's crop. But a good heart produces fruit -- lots of fruit.

What does fruit indicate? (1) The development of a godly character, the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). (2) The result or fruitfulness of our spiritual gifts, the tools that God gives Christians to help build up the Church, the body of Christ. If God has given you the gift of teaching, then what is the fruit of teaching? People who learn under your ministry. A teacher who has class after class of knowledgeable pupils is considered successful, fruitful. If your gift is pastoring or shepherding, then the fruit will be a well-cared-for flock. If it is administration, the fruit is a well-set-up, well-run organization of people all working toward the same goal. You get the idea.

Sometimes people think that fruit means "souls" we have won to Christ. Certainly, new believers are the natural result of witnessing and sharing the Good News. All Christians are called to do that. But some, those with a special gift of evangelism, will have many "souls" as a result of their ministry, because that is their particular spiritual gift. We don't have to be someone we are not, but we are to seek God for what he calls us to do, and then seek to be fruitful and effective in that to which he calls us.

Not all who begin in Jesus' Kingdom are good soil for sustained growth. Until we understand this, we are ripe for disillusionment. And when we are disillusioned, we quit sowing the seed. We become worthless as laborers in the fields. When we do understand it, we concentrate our efforts on the good soil.

Jesus' point here was not to root out the thorns and weeds in your life (though that is a good thing), but rather to be aware that rocky soil and weeds in your hearers will prevent fruitfulness. Don't be surprised or taken aback at this. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the unfruitful, as well as the somewhat fruitful and very fruitful.

Saying: Pearls before Swine (Matthew 7:6, §37)

The Parable of the Sower (Lesson 8.1) is about the receptivity. In the Sermon on the Mount we find a short saying or proverb that may be relevant here:

"Do not give dogs what is sacred;23 do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces." (Matthew 7:6)

Dogs in Jesus' day weren't thought of as pets, but unclean scavengers. Of course, pigs were considered unclean animals and forbidden for Jews to eat. Both wild dogs and hungry pigs can be dangerous. Pearls (as we'll see in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price, Lesson 8.5), were highly valued in ancient times, used by the wealthy for necklaces and other ornaments. Thus, the word "pearl" came to be a figure of speech for something of supreme worth.24

So, in this short proverb, Jesus is saying, don't entrust something precious to people who cannot or will not appreciate it -- who, in another figure, don't have "ears to hear." To do so can be dangerous.

8.2 Forcible Nature of Discipleship

We've looked at those who are spiritually dull. Now we see what spiritual openness looks like in contrast by means of Jesus' Parable of the Narrow Door.

Parable of the Narrow Door (Luke 13:23-27, §165)

Jesus tells two parables that seem on the surface to be similar -- the Parable of the Narrow and Wide Gates (Lesson 3.2) and the Parable of the Narrow Door. They both teach that only a few will be saved and that the entrance is narrow. But they are different parables, and you'll see in a moment why I've separated them.

  Parable of Narrow and Wide Gates
Matthew 7:13-14 (Lesson 3.2)
Parable of Narrow Door
Luke 13:23-27 (Lesson 8.2)
Portal "Gate" (pulē) literally of gates of cities25

"Door" (thura), door to a house26
Destination Roads, Ways House

Let's see the unique message that Jesus' Parable of the Narrow Door has for disciples. The context is Jesus teaching in the towns and villages along his way to Jerusalem. In one town someone asks him a question:

Question: "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" (Luke 13:23)

The question is about the number of people who will be saved; Jesus' response acknowledges that, indeed, many people won't make it, but his answer is more about the type of people who will be saved.

Answer: "'Make every effort to enter27 through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to." (Luke 13:24)

Jesus' answer to the question introduces the image of a narrow door to the Kingdom that many people are urgently trying to get in at once. The door seems jammed with people, so not everyone that wants to can get in.

Push, Shove, and Elbow Your Way Inside (Luke 13:24a)

The parable includes a command to the listeners:

"Make every effort to enter through the narrow door...." (Luke 13:24a)

"Entering" the Kingdom is a frequent concept in Jesus' teaching,28 and seems the goal here. Jesus uses this parable to exhort his disciples. "Make every effort" (NIV), "strive" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the verb agōnizomai (from the same root as our word "agony"), a word from the realm of athletics, "engage in a contest" at the games, then more generally, "to fight, struggle." The word is used of wrestling in prayer (Colossians 4:12) and "fighting the good fight" (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7). Danker translates the phrase in our verse, "strain every nerve to enter."29

This parable teaches us not to be passive about the Kingdom. Nor are we to be gentlemanly or ladylike and let others go in ahead of us. Rather, we are to struggle, maybe even push and shove to get in while we can. Elsewhere, Jesus talks about the urgency needed:

"The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing30 his way into it." (Luke 16:16; cf. Matthew 11:12)

Why can't they get in? Is the way barred? No. We know from Jesus' other teachings that entry into the Kingdom of God requires repentance and change. Many, many want the goal -- the inheritance of the Kingdom, a place in heaven -- so long as it costs them nothing, especially their allegiance and obedience. And so they try to enter, but do not succeed when they learn the cost. Prime example: the Rich Young Ruler.

Closing the Door (Luke 13:25-27)

Now Jesus seems to take the simple parable and extends it to teach an additional truth. The main parable is struggling to get in a narrow door, the number will be few. The extension to the parable is about the master of the house closing the door and shutting some people out.

Finally the host "gets up and closes the door..." (Luke 13:24). Apparently, the host is seated or reclining at the banquet table, but it is time to begin and he deliberately gets up and shuts the door. No more guests can enter. Now is time for the banquet to begin.

"25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.'

But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'

26 Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.'

27 But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'" (Luke 13:25-27)

Members of the crowd are claiming a relationship. Notice that we've moved beyond the "owner of the house" to Jesus himself teaching in the streets and anonymous crowds changing to "you" (verse 26), his immediate hearers. The parable is getting personal!

We see the same idea in the Sermon on the Mount, though not in a parable there.

"21 Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:21-23)

Notice that in the Matthew passage, the outsiders claim to have given prophecies and performed miracles and exorcisms in Jesus' name, but they are still outside. Since they don't do the will of the Father, they aren't true disciples. They go through the motions of what disciples do, but they aren't surrendered to God in their hearts.

You see the same kind of dismissal in the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Lesson 5.2). There, the girls who didn't bring enough oil arrive at the wedding celebration too late.

"10b And the door was shut. 11 Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!' 12 But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'" (Matthew 25:10b-12)

Scary words: "I don't know you!" We must strive to enter the door of salvation, to follow Jesus closely, and to be prepared to follow him even though his coming might be delayed. Profession of faith is one thing. As James says, "Even the demons believe -- and shudder" (James 2:19). But the actions that follow faith indicate true faith.

Back to our Parable of the Narrow Door. The householder dismisses the crowd outside as "evildoers."31 It isn't just they haven't been able to crowd into the house, but there is some moral lack in their lives that has prevented them from entering a house that represents the Kingdom of God.

The parable morphs again in verses 28-30, where inside the house with the closed door there is a feast going on that appears to be the long-awaited eschatological banquet. (For more on this see Appendix 5. The Great Messianic Banquet.)

Q34. (Luke 13:23-27) Beyond the message that few will be saved, what is the unique message of the Parable of the Narrow Door? Why must would-be disciples be aggressive in order to enter the Kingdom? What happens if we don't aggressively seek God? Why do you think Jesus told this parable to his disciples?

8.3 The Priority of Discipleship

The Parable of the Narrow Door (Lesson 8.2) suggests that becoming a disciple isn't something that happens easily, that you just ease into the Kingdom. No, there is a kind of forceful entry. You need to really want it! Jesus teaches asking, seeking, knocking. It is active, not passive.

Now in three analogies we see how Jesus seems off-putting to people who too casually ask to be his followers. These analogies occur in Matthew when "Jesus saw a crowd around him." Popularity and crowds don't necessarily indicate sincere discipleship. Jesus needs to do some sorting of applicants.

I once asked Waldron Scott, a popular leader in the Navigators, how he determined with whom to invest his life with one-on-one discipleship? In predictable Navigators' style, he said he gave young men several verses to memorize and asked them to come back to see him when they had memorized them all. The few that did, he said, might be good candidates to spend time with. In these three analogies that appear one after another in Luke, Jesus seems to be setting up barriers to discourage those who aren't serious.

Analogy of Foxholes and Nests (Matthew 18:19-20, §49; Luke 9:57-58, §138)

The first parable in Matthew begins with a person identified as a scribe or teacher of the law -- a Bible expert from Jerusalem who has been impressed with his teaching. Luke just refers to him as "a man."

"57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, I will follow you wherever you go.' 58 Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'" (Luke 9:57-58)

Even birds and animals have homes, Jesus is saying. If you follow me on my itinerant mission, you will have no home. I call you to be a sojourner. The reality of significant hardship might discourage some "fair-weather Christians."

Analogy of the Dead Burying the Dead (Matthew 18:21-22, §49; Luke 9:59-60, §138)

Matthew identifies the next seeker as already being a "disciple" or follower. In Luke he is "another man."

"59 He said to another man, 'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' 60 Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'" (Luke 9:59-60)

If the man's father has actually just died, the man would be home making arrangements for the burial. Rather, the man is saying. I have responsibilities to my father as long as he lives. I'm not free to follow you right now, but after my father dies, then I'll follow you right away.

Jesus' answer seems harsh:

"Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:60)

He's saying, let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead. But you, since you are spiritually alive, you should be preaching the gospel while there is still time to do so. There is an urgency! This parable immediately precedes the sending out of the Seventy to preach two by two.

Later, Jesus tells his disciples,

"If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:26)

Following Jesus comes even before family responsibilities. Jesus must be number one, not number two after family.

Analogy of Looking Back from the Plow (Luke 9:61-62, §138)

This incident is found only in Luke, the third of three such analogies given one after another in Luke's Gospel.

"61 Still another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.' 62 Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'" (Luke 9:61-62)

Jesus responds to the excuse of family again with a sense of priority and urgency. In light of the immediate mission ahead in the very next chapter -- the sending out of the Seventy to the villages (Luke 10) -- for this man to go home will mean that he will miss out, though his request seems reasonable enough.

I sometimes hear people in their twenties say something like, "When I'm young I want to be free to enjoy myself. Later on, then maybe I'll settle down." I believe in Jesus, but I'm not ready to get too serious about it right now. When I get older, I will. What an insult to Jesus!

"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)

When you plow -- with a mule or a diesel tractor -- never ever try to plow while looking over your shoulder. If you do, your rows are crooked and your field is difficult to plant and harvest. Rather, plowmen fix their eyes on a point at the far end of the field and move steadily toward it, not veering to the right side or to the left.

To "put your hand to the plow," means to begin the task of plowing. Jesus isn't saying you can't glance back momentarily. But he is saying you can't continue to look back once you've begun to plow. If you do, you're not "fit for service" (NIV), "fit" (ESV, NRSV, KJV)32 for Jesus' Kingdom.

Q35. (Luke 9:57-62) What do these three analogies tell us about Jesus' requirements for his disciples? Why is Jesus so urgent? What was he seeking to teach would-be disciples about their priorities?

8.4 Counting the Cost of Discipleship

Next, we examine several analogies and parables that teach us to calculate whether we really have enough desire to become a disciple. Luke tells us, "Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said...." (Luke 14:25). It is time for Jesus to ask his multitude of "fans" for real commitment. The Parables of the Tower-Builder and the Warring King are found only in Luke in the context of "hating" his family, that is, putting allegiance to Jesus as their number one priority (Luke 14:26-27). The Parable of the Tower-Builder immediately follows the Parable of Taking Up One's Cross (Luke 14:25-27), which we'll consider shortly.

Parable of the Tower-Builder (Luke 14:28-30, §171)

(Also known as the Parable of the Tower)

"28 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? 29 For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,
30 saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'" (Luke 14:28-30)

Jesus' example is from the realm of construction. He describes a tower, pyrgos, "a tall structure used as a lookout" (or possibly a tower-shaped building, farm building)."33 Before beginning something of this magnitude, he says, you must first carefully calculate the cost.34

Down the street from the house where I lived as a boy, a lot was cleared, the foundation poured, and the rough framing for a home partly completed. Then one day, the workmen abruptly left. The unfinished house stood like this for many years, a monument to poor planning, to running out of money, to not counting the cost ahead of time.

Jesus is saying: If you don't have the wherewithal or willingness to see it through, don't even attempt the journey. Discipleship is a decision that demands the utmost seriousness and commitment. Be very, very sure you want to follow Jesus as his disciple.

Parable of the Warring King (Luke 14:31-32, §171)

(Also known as the Parable of the King Going to War)

Jesus' second parable in this context is from the field of military endeavor.

"31 Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace." (Luke 14:31-32)

Israel has always been located on a highway between major powers. Egypt is to the south. To the north are Syria, Assyria, Babylon, Greece, and Rome. Palestine has seen the marching of great armies and has its share of bloody battlefields. Many times, Israel's kings were required to decide if they could win a battle, and, if they determined that they were outnumbered, surrender to the stronger commander, rather than face slaughter in war. Bravado doesn't count. Careful consideration of our ability to follow through does.

Oh, there were exceptions, such as Gideon and his band of 300. But Jesus is talking about the normal situations that face kings and nations, businesses and families. Can we afford this? Can we pay this bill on time? If not, what can we do to stave off bankruptcy?

Everything (Luke 14:33)

Jesus ends this pair of parables with the conclusion:

"In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:33)

"Give up" (NIV, NRSV), "renounce" (ESV), "forsake" (KJV) is apotassō, literally, "separate yourself from, "here, "to renounce interest in something, renounce, give up."35 Green sees this attitude as basic.

"The distinctive property of disciples is the abandonment with which they put aside all competing securities in order that they might refashion their lives and identity according to the norms of the kingdom of God."36

We see this attitude personified in some famous disciples: fishermen leaving their nets (Luke 5:11), a tax collector walking away from a lucrative business (Luke 5:27-28), Zacchaeus giving half his fortune to the poor (Luke 19:8). And, famously, the Rich Young Ruler refusing to renounce all he had and walking away from Jesus (Luke 18:22).

Discipleship will take everything you have and more. Discipleship will figure in every future decision of your life. The will of God will be first in your priority from now on. If you don't have the ability or willingness to give following Jesus your all, then don't begin.

What is there that keeps you from following fully? What must you commit to Christ's cause so that you don't come up short and are recaptured by it? Money kept the Rich Young Ruler's from following. What has a hold on your heart?

Q36. (Luke 14:25-32) Are Jesus' demands of his disciples too uncompromising? Are we too compromising with the world's demands? What do you need to completely surrender so Jesus has all of you?

Parable of Taking Up One's Cross (Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24; §123; and Matthew 10:37-39, §62; Luke 14:25-27, §171)

Now we turn to a cryptic, and often misunderstood, parable that is central to true discipleship, Jesus' Parable of Taking Up One's Cross. We know it is central because Jesus shares it in at least two different contexts in the Synoptic Gospels.

  1. Jesus' revelation of his crucifixion at Caesarea Philippi, and
  2. Two parables on counting the cost of discipleship (that we just looked at above)

Jesus also alludes to it in John's Gospel.37 Let's dig deeper.

Context 1. Jesus' Revelation of His Crucifixion at Caesarea Philippi

We see this saying immediately after Jesus' first declaration to his disciples at Caesarea Philippi that he would be killed and raised from the dead, Peter responds by saying, "That will never happen to you." Jesus corrects him very sharply (Matthew 16:22-23). Then Jesus gives a vitally important saying that is almost a riddle, found in all three Synoptic Gospels. We'll follow Luke's version. The parable of bearing one's cross is in verse 23; the explanation of the parable is in verse 24.

"23 If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (Luke 9:23-24)

The context is clearly the danger of losing one's life, for Jesus has just told the disciples he would be killed. We know this saying is vital, because it applies to anyone who "would come after me," that is, anyone who would follow him as an adherent or disciple.38

Taking Up One's Cross

The key to understanding this passage is to discern the meaning of the metaphor, "to take up one's cross." Our culture uses the idea of "my cross to bear" in the sense of one's burden39 or destiny. One of the dictionary definitions of the English noun "cross" is "an affliction that tries one's virtue, steadfastness, or patience."40 But that is not what Jesus is teaching here!

Jesus is speaking literally, of a wooden cross, a common instrument of torture and execution in his culture. Jesus isn't talking about a mere burden or trial or difficulty. He is talking about death.

Here is the crux of the parable: Just as a condemned man would carry the cross-beam of his cross to the place of crucifixion according to Roman custom, so each of Jesus' disciples must daily be willing to die. Prepared to die, if necessary. The reason is this: when a disciple has accepted death, then no man can control him with fear; he belongs fully to Jesus, come what may.

What does all this mean? Let's look at it piece by piece in Luke's version

"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

1. Denying oneself. The Greek word is arneomai, originally, "refuse, disdain," here "to refuse to pay any attention to, disregard, renounce," here, "act in a wholly selfless way."41 Discipleship means deliberately choosing to follow another person's way rather than choosing your own way.

2. Picking up the cross. The verb airō means basically, "to lift up, take up, pick up." Here, it means, "to lift up and move from one place to another, take/carry (along)."42 Picking up one's cross here suggests a voluntary action of accepting the sentence of death and all that means, and carrying it with one.

3. Picking it up daily. Luke's version of the saying adds the word daily, every day,43 implied in Matthew and Mark. Like putting on our clothes for the day, we pick up our willingness to go to death for Jesus.

4. Following Jesus. The verb is the characteristic word for following someone as a disciple.44

Context 2. Allegiance to Jesus Must Come before Family Obligations

The saying is found in a second context, where Jesus demands that his disciples place allegiance to himself over family obligations. It is a hard saying.

Matthew gives it among Jesus' instructions prior to the sending out of the Twelve.

"37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:37-39)

Luke includes this saying at a time when large crowds are following Jesus, just prior to his Parables of the Tower-Builder and the Warring King that we just considered above. Luke's version is striking because he speaks in hyperbole and uses the word "hate"45 in place of "love more than."

26 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters -- yes, even his own life -- he cannot be my disciple. 27 And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.'" (Luke 14:26-27)

You must "hate" your family, he says, even your own life, if you want to be my disciple. The commitment is so great that it even overrides the ties of family, which in Middle Eastern culture were predominant.

The Apostle Paul understood well what this meant and lived it out day by day until the final day he was beheaded by the Roman emperor. In three classic passages he expresses this concept in different ways:

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Galatians 2:20a)

"For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." (Colossians 3:3)

"I die every day." (1 Corinthians 15:31)

It is said of missionaries of the nineteenth century, embarking on missions overseas, that they often packed their belongings in a coffin instead of a trunk so they would have something to be buried in. They never expected to return.

The Paradox of Saving and Losing One's Life

Jesus concludes this saying with a paradox. We find this saying in four different contexts -- so it must have been something Jesus said to his disciples again and again. "Survive at all costs," is the flawed philosophy of our world. Losing your life for Christ is the philosophy of a disciple.

1. Caesarea Philippi

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it." (Matthew 16:25 = Mark 8:35 = Luke 9:24)

2. Instructions for Sending Out the Twelve

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." (Matthew 10:39)

3. End Time Teaching

"For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." (Luke 17:33)

4. Jesus' Teaching about His Time to Be Crucified

"The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." (John 12:25)

Martyrdom of St. Polycarp

Raymond Charles Péré (1854-1929), 'Martyrdom of St. Polycarp,' Fresco, Church of St. Polycarp, Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey)
Raymond Charles Péré (1854-1929), 'Martyrdom of St. Polycarp,' Fresco, Church of St. Polycarp, Smyrna (modern day Izmir, Turkey)

I can picture in my mind the frail Polycarp (69-155 AD), white-haired Bishop of Smyrna, as he stands before the Roman proconsul about 155 AD in a stadium full of Romans chanting, "Away with the atheists!" (Christians were called "atheists" because they did not believe in the traditional Roman gods.) Polycarp is so old that that in his youth Polycarp had been a disciple of the Apostle John himself.46 But soldiers haul him roughly into the arena full of the shouting populace.

"When the magistrate pressed him, and said, 'Swear, and I will release you; revile Christ,'
Polycarp said, 'Eighty-six years have I been serving him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?'"47

Refusing to recant, he is bound to a stake and burned before the eyes of the multitude, after uttering a final prayer:

"...Wherefore I praise you also for everything; I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal high priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom, with him, in the Holy Spirit, be glory unto you, both now and for the ages to come, Amen."

"Carrying one's cross" doesn't mean carrying one's own burdens. Rather it is an image of Roman execution by crucifixion, where the condemned man carried his cross to the place of execution. Unless you stand willing to die for me every day, Jesus is saying, you can't be my disciple.

Q37. (Luke 9:23-24, etc.) What does it mean to take up your cross daily? What does this have to do with "losing your life for me." What are the consequences in one's Christian walk if a disciple wants to take this step of commitment? How does this contrast with trying to save one's life?

8.5 Ultimate Prize of the Kingdom

Half-way through Matthew 13 you find a pair of parables that underscore the great value of obtaining the Kingdom. Each begins with the phrase, "The kingdom of heaven is like...." This is how it is in the Kingdom!

Parable of the Hidden Treasure (Matthew 13:44, §101)

Sir John Everett Millais, “The Hidden Treasure” (1860, watercolor on paper, 5.3x4.2 inches, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Aberdeen, Scotland
Sir John Everett Millais, "The Hidden Treasure" (1860, watercolor on paper, 5.3x4.2 inches, Aberdeen Art Gallery, Aberdeen, Scotland

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure48 hidden49 in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." (Matthew 13:44)

In our day, we can store treasure in the bank or in a safe deposit box. But in Jesus' day, burying treasure was an extremely common way of safeguarding it. In fact, according to rabbinical law, burying a treasure was the most secure way of protecting it.50 One's treasure might be stolen by thieves or plundered by foreign invading armies. But if it were hidden skillfully, rarely would it be detected.

But people often died in such invasions or passed on without disclosing the location of their treasure-trove to a relative. In that case, a hoard of coins or jewels buried in a pottery jar might be discovered that would make its finder rich. Today, people dream of getting rich by winning the lottery, but ancient literature is full of stories of people finding buried treasure and becoming fabulously wealthy.

In Jesus' story, a man found the treasure in a rural field.51 Perhaps he was employed as a laborer and his plow hit the container. Or perhaps erosion had uncovered a portion of the treasure. We don't know.

When the man finds the treasure, he is overcome with joy. He doesn't take the treasure immediately, but reburies it to hide and protect it, and then sells everything he has to purchase the land52 to make his discovery of the fortune both reasonable and legal. It is quite possible that the original owner of the treasure had died decades or centuries before. Then he sells everything he has and buys the field.

Some have questioned the ethics of the man's purchase without disclosing the treasure, but ethics wasn't Jesus' point.53 There are two keys to understanding this parable:

  1. "In his joy" and
  2. "Sold all he had."

In the parable, the man is overcome with joy is in his good fortune of finding a huge treasure hoard that will make him rich for life. Anything he spends to gain legal right to that treasure is worth it, since its value is so exceedingly greater. The emphasis here is on the importance of parting with everything we have and own in order to obtain something inestimably greater. This is not a parable about buying salvation, but of the incredible value of salvation that far surpasses any amount a poor man might be able to scrape together to try to acquire it.

Parable of the Pearl of Great Price (Matthew 13:45-46, §101)

Harold Copping (British illustrator, 1863-1932), 'The Merchant Finds the Pearl of Great Price.'
Harold Copping (British illustrator, 1863-1932), 'The Merchant Finds the Pearl of Great Price.'

While the subject of the Parable of the Hidden Treasure is a poor man, the subject of the next parable is a wealthy man.

"45 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:45-46)

He is called a "merchant," a wholesale dealer in contrast to a retailer.54 He specializes in searching for55 and acquiring fine56 pearls to sell to retailers. He is doubtless wealthy, used to spending and receiving large sums of money.

Pearls were highly valued in ancient times. This was before the time of cultured pearls, so pearls were not plentiful. They were regarded as precious stones in antiquity, taken by divers from the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the Indian Ocean. Pearls were used for necklaces and other ornaments, and could be extremely costly, so the word "pearl" came to be a figure of speech for something of supreme worth.57 Ancient literature tells of pearls worth millions of dollars. Caesar presented Brutus' mother with a pearl worth 6 million sesterces (hundreds of thousands of dollars). Cleopatra is said to have possessed a pearl worth 100 million sesterces.58

Thus, when the pearl merchant in Jesus' parable finds one "pearl of great price" (KJV), "great value" (NIV, NRSV, ESV),59 he liquidates all his assets down to the last penny -- "sold everything he had" -- and then rushes back to buy the wonderful pearl that has enchanted him.

Jesus' point in the Parable of the Pearl of Great Price is similar to the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. When you find such a valuable pearl, it is worth selling everything you own to obtain it, whether to admire, as some contend,60 or to sell for a much greater profit. When you find the ultimate pearl, you spare nothing to make it your own.

The Kingdom of God is like this. Those who understand its value give everything they have to obtain it. There is a wonder, a desire, an urgency. This isn't passive, but an active entering in. The cost of discipleship is high, but the rewards are unimaginably great!

Q38. (Matthew 13:44-46). If you were to objectively assess your life, career, family, values, and possessions, is there anything more important, anything of greater value to you than your relationship with Jesus? How would you objectively prove to a friend that Jesus is first in your life?

Jesus' Parables for Disciples, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available in paperback, PDF, and Kindle formats

Jesus told many parables to help his disciples understand that following him was to be their highest priority. He compares entering the Kingdom to squeezing through a narrow door, not looking back from the plow, making sure you have what it takes to see it through, taking up your cross, and obtaining the greatest treasure of all. Follow him with all your heart, my friend.


Father, as I consider Jesus' demands on me as a disciple, I am shocked and humbled. He wants my all. He demands to be first. He calls me to push everything aside to be part of his Kingdom. Forgive me for my passivity and self-satisfaction. Resharpen the blade of my discipleship, I pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.


References and Abbreviations

[1] "Rocky places" is petrōdēs, "pertaining to rocky area with little topsoil, rocky, stony" (BDAG 810).

[2] In Matthew the word translated "otherwise" (NIV, NASB), "lest" (ESV, KJV), "so that" (NRSV) is not in the Greek text. Verse 15b reads literally, "not to see with their eyes and hear with their ears...."

[3] Zechariah 7:11; Jeremiah 5:21, 23; Ezekiel 12:2.

[4] Matthew 13:13-15 = Mark 4:12 = Luke 8:10; John 12:40; Acts 29:27.

[5] Luke explains, "The seed is the word of God" (Luke 8:11). Mark tells us, "The farmer sows the word" (Mark 4:14).

[6] Logos, BDAG 599, 1a.

[7] "Understand" is suniēmi, "to have an intelligent grasp of something that challenges one's thinking or practice, understand, comprehend" (BDAG 972.) Originally, to set or bring together,' here "to set or join in the mind." "To understand" (Thayer 605).

[8] "Snatch away" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "catch away" (KJV) is arpazō, "to grab or seize suddenly so as to remove or gain control, snatch/take away forcefully" (BDAG 134, 2a).

[9] "Trouble" (NIV, NRSV), "tribulation" (ESV, KJV) is thlipsis, literally, "pressing, pressure," here used in the metaphorical sense, "trouble that inflicts distress, oppression, affliction, tribulation" (BGAD 457, 1).

[10] "Persecution" is diōgmos, "a program or process designed to harass and oppress someone, persecution" (BDAG 253).

[11] Sympnigo, BGAD 959, 1. This is a compound word, with the Greek preposition syn-, "together, i.e., several ... things united or all in one" (Thayer 599, II, 2). Pnigō is a very strong, evocative word, and seems to be heightened by the preposition in its compound form in our passage. Whereas one thorn weed might choke the wheat or barley, all the thorn plants together (Greek syn-) "choke utterly" (Thayer 597). In Classical Greek, the word is used to describe a number of rather gruesome and violent incidents, as you might imagine.

[12] Hans Bietenhard, "pnigō ktl.," TDNT 6:455-458.

[13] Merimna, BDAG 632.

[14] Ploutos, BDAG 832.

[15] "Deceitfulness" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "lure" (NRSV) is the noun apatē, "deception, deceitfulness," then "pleasure, pleasantness" that involves one in sin (BDAG 59, meanings 1 and 2).

[16] Philarguria, "love of money, avarice, miserliness" (BDAG 1056).

[17] Oregō, literally, 'stretch oneself, reach out one's hand,' here figuratively, "to seek to accomplish a specific goal, aspire to, strive for, desire" (BDAG 721).

[18] Mamōnas, "property, wealth" (BDAG 614).

[19] "Desire" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "lust" (KJV) is epithumia, "a great desire for something, desire, longing, craving." The word can also include "a desire for something forbidden or simply inordinate, craving, lust," which could encompass a wide range of vices, including sexual desires (BDAG 372, 1a).

[20] Hēdonē, "state or condition of experiencing pleasure for any reason, pleasure, delight, enjoyment, pleasantness" (BDAG 434, 1).

[21] "How Can It Be Wrong (When It Feels So Right)," words by Norro Wilson, sung by Barbara Mandrell and David Houston (1972, Sony Music Entertainment).

[22] For more on this, see my "Brief Look at TULIP Calvinism," an appendix to my Grace: Favor for the Undeserving (JesusWalk Publications, 2022), www.jesuswalk.com/grace/tulip-calvinism.htm

[23] "Sacred" (NIV), "holy" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is hagios. The adjective means, "pertaining to being dedicated or consecrated to the service of God." Here as a noun, it means the holy thing itself, such as meat from a sacrifice offered to God to be eaten only by the priests (BDAG 10, 2aα).

[24] Frederick Hauck, margaritēs, TDNT 472-473; BDAG 626.

[25] "Gate" is pylē, "gate, door," literally of gates of cities (BDAG 897, b).

[26] "Narrow gate" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "strait gate" (KJV) Narrow door" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "strait gate" (KJV) is two words: thyra, "door, a passage for entering a structure, entrance, doorway, gate" (BDAG 462), probably the door to a house or courtyard. "Narrow" or "strait" is stenos, in reference to dimension, "narrow." In Greek literature it is used of gates, doors, prison cells, and pathways (BDAG 942-943). The related verb stenochōreō means "to crowd, cramp, confine, restrict" (BDAG 942).

[27] "To enter" is eiserchomai, twice in verse 24, "to move into a space, enter" (BDAG 293, 1aγ).

[28] Matthew 5:20; 7:21; 11:12; 18:8-9; 19:17, 24; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; 10:15, 23ff; Luke 16:16; 18:17, 25; John 3:5.

[29] Agōnizomai, BDAG 17, 2b.

[30] "Forces/is forcing/by force" (ESV, NIV, NRSV), "presseth" (KJV) is the present middle indicative of, "to inflict violence on, dominate, constrain," then "to gain an objective by force, use force" (BDAG 175, 2).

[31] "Evildoers" (NIV, NRSV), "workers of evil" (ESV), "workers of iniquity" (KJV) is two words: ergatēs, "worker, laborer, doer" BDAG 390, 2); and adikia, "the quality of injustice, unrighteousness, wickedness, injustice" (BDAG 20, 2).

[32] Euthetos, originally, "well-placed," then in reference to that which is well suited for something, "fit, suitable, usable, convenient" (BDAG 405)

[33] Pyrgos, BDAG 899, meanings 1 and 2.

[34] "Estimate the cost" (NIV, NRSV), "count the cost" (ESV, KJV) is two words: psēphizō, "calculate a total, count (up), calculate, reckon" (BDAG 1098, 1); and dapanē, "cost, expense" (BDAG 212).

[35] "Give up" (NIV, NRSV), "renounce" (ESV), "forsaketh" (KJV) is apotassō (Thayer 69, 1; BDAG 123, 2).

[36] Green, Luke, p. 567. I.G. Herr, "Salt," ISBE 4:286-287.

[37] John 12:25 Lesson 6.2).

[38] "Come after," the common verb erchomai, "come." Used with an improper preposition opisō, "after." With the verb erchomai, it means, "come after someone, follow someone" (at the same time in the transferred sense, "be an adherent/follower") (opisō, BGAD 716, 2a).

[39] For example, "It's Not My Cross to Bear," by Gregg Allman, copyright ©1969, 1974.

[40] Merriam Webster, p. 276.

[41] Arneomai, BDAG 132, 4.

[42] Airō, BDAG 28, 2a.

[43] kath hēmeran, literally "daily, every day." The preposition kata is used distributively of time, "every" (BDAG 512, 2c).

[44] Akoloutheō, BDAG 36, 3.

[45] "Hate" is miseō, "hate". Danker notes, depending on the context, this verb ranges in meaning from 'disfavor' to 'detest.' The English term 'hate' generally suggests affective connotations that do not always do justice especially to some Semitic shame-honor oriented use of μiseō = śānēʾ (e.g., Deuteronomy 21:15, 16) in the sense, 'hold in disfavor, be disinclined to, have relatively little regard for,' here 'to be disinclined to, disfavor, disregard' in contrast to preferential treatment (BDAG 652, 2).

[46] Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, Fragments of the Lost Writings of Irenaeus, II.

[47] Eusebius, Church History 4, 15, 20.

[48] "Treasure" is thēsauros (from which we get our English word "thesaurus"). It means, "that which is stored up, treasure" (BDAG 456, 2).

[49] "Hidden" is kryptō (from which we get our word, "cryptography"), which means, "to keep something from being divulged or discovered, conceal, hide," of something put in a specific place (BDAG 573, 2).

[50] Jeremias (Parables, p. 61, fn. 51) notes that according to rabbinical law, anyone who buried a pledge or deposit immediately upon receipt of it, was free from liability if it went missing (b.B.M. 42a).

[51] Agros, "field, land, countryside," here, "land put under cultivation, arable land, field" (BDAG 15, 3).

[52] Agorazō, "to acquire things or services in exchange for money, buy, purchase," both in verse 44 and verse 46 (BDAG 14).

[53] According to rabbinical law, it might have been possible to claim legal ownership of personal property that had been found on another's land, but if he had been on the land as an agent or employee of another (say a farm hand), his legal right might have been clouded. Morris (Matthew, p. 359, fn. 105) cites B. Bat 86a. France (Matthew, p. 540-541, fn. 11) cites J.D.M. Derrett, Law, 1-16, for an explanation and defense of the finder's action according to both Roman and Jewish law. Edersheim (Life and Times, 2:595) asserts that the finder's action "was, at least, in entire accordance with Jewish law," citing B. Meta 25 a, b. Jeremias (Parables, p. 99, fn. 33) notes that his action was "formally legitimate, as he first bought the field," and cites Midr. Cant. 4:12; Mek. Ex on 14:5; and Kidd 1.5, that movable effects are included in the purchase of property.

[54] "Merchant" is the noun emporos, "'one who boards a ship as passenger', then, especially one who travels by ship for business reasons, merchant." Here it "denotes a wholesale dealer in contrast to kapēlos, retailer" (BDAG 325).

[55] "Looking for" (NIV), "in search of" (NRSV), "seeking" (KJV) is zēteō, "try to find something, seek, look for" in order to find, here in the special sense, "seek to buy" (BDAG 428, 1b). In "seek first his kingdom and his righteousness..." (Matthew 6:33), it has the meaning, "desire to possess something" (BDAG 428, 3a).

[56] "Fine" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "goodly" (KJV) is kalos, "pertaining to meeting the high standards or expectations of appearance, kind or quality." Here, "good, useful" ... "fine pearls" (BDAG 504, 2a).

[57] Frederick Hauck, margaritēs, TDNT 472-473.

[58] Jeremias (Parables, p. 199, fn. 36 and 37) cites Suetonius, De vita Caesarum, 50, and Plinius, Nist. nat., IX, 119ff.

[59] Polytimos, "pertaining to being very high on a monetary scale, very precious, valuable" (BDAG 850). Used regarding precious ointment (Matthew 26:27) and of "faith which is more precious than gold" (1 Peter 1:7).

[60] Morris (Matthew, p. 360) and France (Matthew, p. 541) suggest that he didn't purchase the pearl to resell, but only to gaze at and admire, thus impoverishing himself. But that interpretation seems to exaggerate the reason why a pearl wholesaler would give anything to purchase this pearl.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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