Parable of the Owner of a Vineyard – Matthew 21:33-44
The one who casts himself with faith in Jesus Christ, will escape the judgment and will be received into the kingdom.
Parable of the Wedding Banquet – Matthew 22:1-14
Only those who hear the invitation and then prepare themselves, will have a part in Messiah’s kingdom.
Parable of the Fig Tree – Matthew 24:32-34
The signs of Christ return in Matthew 24, were given to Israel and are applicable to that nation.
MacArthur Park in Los Angeles is just west of downtown and looks like many other urban parks with grass, flat bike trails, and a large man-made lake featuring a water fountain in the center that shoots a stream of water into the air much like a fire hose. The park is a few city blocks square and sits in a busy section of town that sees a good deal of foot traffic.
On this day, like most days in Los Angeles, the sun was shining and the weather was near perfect. But there was something different about MacArthur Park on this day. Not far into one of the pathways that meander through the park was a white tent canopy with a sign that read, “Jesus is the Way – Answers to Your Questions About Jesus.” Sitting at a table under the canopy waiting patiently for a passerby to seek his advice, was Josh. He had a comfortable portable canvas chair, the kind you might take to your kid’s soccer game. On the other side of the table were two plastic patio chairs that Josh picked up at Home Depot.
It wasn’t long before a trendy dressed young woman caught sight of the Jesus tent. Her immediate expression was one of confusion. She stared at the tent for a moment and then turned her attention to Josh. Josh saw her looking over his way but didn’t pay much attention since a lot of people had been looking at him on this particular morning. As the woman gazed at Josh, it was clear her mind was churning. She had issues. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to deal with those issues on this day. She wasn’t sure Josh was the person she wanted to deal with.
The sun had only recently moved over the tops of the skyscrapers of downtown and the light in the park was shifting from shadow to bright light. As the sunlight drifted across the young woman’s face, something sparked in her mind. Her thought process had reached a conclusion. Unnoticed to Josh, she marched over to the table where he was sitting and immediately launched into a highlight reel of her issues with Jesus.
“Okay, I’ve been hearing this all my life. Jesus is the only way to God. What about the Muslims and the Jews and the Hindus and the Buddhists?” she demanded.
Josh didn’t really see her approaching and jumped a little when he first heard her talking. When she finished her question, she put one hand on her hip and waited. Josh smiled and extended his hand.
“I’m Josh,” he said waiting for a handshake.
The young woman softened a little and offered Josh a polite handshake. “Hi, Josh, I’m Katie,” she said.
“You came out swinging right away,” Josh said.
“I didn’t mean to assault you,” Katie explained. “I am interested in your answer,” she said.
“Sit with me. Let’s talk,” Josh requested.
Katie took a seat in one of the green plastic patio chairs and rested both her arms on the table across from Josh. She was ready for answers.
“Jesus is not the only way to God,” Josh began.
“Your sign says Jesus is the way. The way to what then?”
Josh leaned forward in his chair slightly and placed his hands on the table where his Bible was resting in front of him.
“Jesus is not the only way to God, because God is with us right now. Jesus is the only way to eternal existence with God,” Josh explained.
“Then Muslims can’t have an eternal existence with God?” Katie asked, with only a hint of hostility in her voice.
“Yes they can,” Josh replied. “Jesus provided that path for everyone on the earth.”
“So if a Muslim man says the sinner’s prayer, he can get into heaven?” Katie challenged.
“You know about the sinner’s prayer?”
“Plenty of people have tried to pound me on the head with their Bible,” Katie complained.
“If only that worked, this would all be so much easier,” Josh joked.
Katie liked Josh’s joke and this moment of light-hearted connection gave Josh a chance to remember why he came to MacArthur Park on this day. He came for people like Katie. Josh didn’t consider himself to be a street preacher or a theologian of any kind. He only considered himself to be a true believer who should be able to answer any question anyone had about his faith in Jesus Christ. Much of the reason Josh came to MacArthur Park was to test himself. Helping someone like Katie would be up to Jesus, but Josh was making himself available to allow the Lord to work through him if he so desired.
Katie didn’t let up. “That’s another question I have,” she said. “Why isn’t it easy? If God is so great, why has he made it so hard to understand what we’re supposed to do?”
“Great question,” Josh announced. “And it connects to your other question about the sinner’s prayer. We’re not supposed to do anything. Jesus did it all for us when he died on the cross as payment for our sins. If we put our faith in him, the work is done. There is no prayer we have to recite, no set of rules we need to follow, no list of actions we have to accomplish to achieve salvation. We simply need to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and follow him.”
Katie listened carefully to Josh and discovered a loophole in his thinking. “First you said we’re not supposed to do anything and then you said we’re supposed to follow Jesus,” she stated.
Josh acknowledged the confusion with a nod of his head and slowed down to try and paint a more vivid picture. “Salvation through Jesus Christ opens the door to heaven,” Josh offered. “You only have to believe to receive that free gift. That’s your path to heaven – your ticket to an eternal existence with God. Once you’ve made that leap of faith, it will naturally occur to you to follow the teachings of Jesus.”
Katie held that thought in her mind for a moment before responding. “Love your neighbor?” she asked for clarification.
“First love God with all your heart, mind, and strength. Then love your neighbor as yourself,” Josh said.
“So that’s a rule you have to follow,” Katie suggested.
“No,” Josh said. “That’s your connection to God. The more you focus on God and love for those around you, the more you will experience the power of God’s love in your life. You’ve felt that power yourself whenever you did something nice for someone.”
Katie gave some honest consideration to Josh’s thought. “Maybe,” she said. “It feels good to help other people, but I don’t know that means I’m some way connected to God.”
Katie was proving to be a challenge for Josh. He loved it. He was starting to feel like Katie was sent by God to be the ultimate test of his faith. He took a moment to gather his thoughts and take a new approach that might help Katie see the light.
“You asked why it isn’t easy to understand. There is an overall simplistic element that is very easy to understand,” Josh suggested.
“And that is…” Katie asked.
“Our existence here on this earth is part of a battle between good and evil. God is good. Satan is evil. When we act out of love, we are on the side of good. When we act out of selfish desire, we are on the side of evil.”
“Selfish desire can feel just as good as helping other people,” Katie said.
“Yes it can,” Josh admitted.
“So how do I know when I’m feeling good because I’m connecting with God or when I’m feeling good because I’m connecting with Satan?”
“You know because God provided you with a conscious that knows the difference between good and evil,” Josh said.
Katie was not immediately willing to concede Josh’s point. “I don’t know if that’s true or not. I do some really stupid stuff sometimes and then wonder later why I did that.”
“When you aren’t focused on God, the evil forces of this world can easily manipulate you,” Josh offered.
At this point, Katie had come a long way since she sat down with Josh. She was now more open to ideas rather than sealed shut with objections. The conversation that started out somewhat hostile was now more like two friends sharing ideas with mutual respect.
“You’re making some sense to me Josh, but I’m still troubled by why God would establish such a bizarre system,” Katie confided.
“I prefer to think of it as complex rather than bizarre.”
“Complex? You’re just putting a happy face on bizarre.”
“In a lot of ways, we’re just playing a mental game when we bounce around these concepts,” Josh said. “But everything changes once you put your faith in God and trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as payment for your sins – as salvation from death. Once you begin to follow Jesus on your path to eternal existence with God, everything changes.”
“What changes?” Katie demanded to know.
“Your eyes are opened to a deeper understanding and your mind is able to rest in the knowledge that God is fully in control. The need to completely comprehend all the details falls away,” Josh offered.
“It sounds like you’ve been brainwashed,” Katie said.
Josh smiled at Katie’s response. “I can see why you might think that,” he said. “But I know for a fact that I have not been brainwashed. With the same certainty you know you’re sitting in that chair, I know I am connected to God through Jesus Christ. I’m not basing that knowledge on some Bible teacher or even my own personal study of the Bible – I’ve come to that level of certainty on the basis of experiencing God in my life.”
“You don’t mean you talk to God?”
“No, I mean I experience God every day in my life. By following the teachings of Jesus, I have found the way.”
Katie sat back in her chair and smiled at Josh. “Jesus is the way?” she asked softly.
“Yes he is!” Josh stated emphatically.
Katie wasn’t convinced. She wasn’t ready for the sinner’s prayer. Josh, on the other hand, was satisfied he had articulated his faith in the way God expected. Josh, at this point firmly believed Katie had been sent by God for his benefit. Only time would tell if the experience would ever truly benefit Katie.