“He opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”
1, 2. How did Jesus strengthen his disciples on the day of his resurrection?
IT WAS still the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Two of the disciples were walking to a village about seven miles (11.2 km) from Jerusalem. Not knowing that Jesus had been resurrected, they were heavyhearted because of recent events. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and started walking with them. He was able to comfort these disciples. How? “Starting with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:13-15, 27) At that, their hearts started to burn within them because he was “fully opening up,” or “clearly explaining,” the Scriptures to them.
2 That same evening, these two disciples returned to Jerusalem. Finding the apostles, they related their experience to them. As they were speaking, Jesus appeared to all of them. However, his apostles were terrified. Doubts came up in their hearts. How did Jesus strengthen them? We are told: “He opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”
3. What challenges may we face, and what can help us to gain a balanced view of our ministry?
3 Just like those disciples, we may at times be heavyhearted. Perhaps we are busy in the work of the Lord, but we are discouraged because we do not see results. (1 Cor. 15:58) Or it may seem that those with whom we are studying are making little progress. Others we are helping may even turn their backs on Jehovah. What can we do to gain a balanced view of our ministry? One thing that can help us is that we grasp fully the meaning of Jesus’ illustrations recorded in the Holy Scriptures. Let us consider three of those illustrations and see what lessons we can learn.
THE SOWER WHO SLEEPS
4. What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration about the sower who sleeps?
4 Read Mark 4:26-29. What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration about the sower who sleeps? The man in the illustration represents individual Kingdom proclaimers. The seed is the Kingdom message that is preached to honesthearted ones. As in a normal routine of life, the sower “sleeps at night and rises up by day.” The growing process takes place over a period of time, from the initial planting to the final harvesting. During that period “the seeds sprout and grow tall.” This growth takes place “on its own,” gradually and in stages. In a similar way, spiritual growth occurs gradually and in stages. When an individual progresses to the point that he is motivated to serve God, he bears fruit in the sense that he dedicates his life to Jehovah and gets baptized.
5. Why did Jesus tell the illustration of the sower who sleeps?
5 Why did Jesus tell this illustration? Jesus helps us to realize that Jehovah is the one who makes the truth grow in the hearts of “rightly disposed” ones. (Acts 13:48; 1 Cor. 3:7) We plant and water, but we do not control the growth. We cannot force it or speed it up. Just like the man in the illustration, we do not know how the growth takes place. It often goes unnoticed by us as we go about our normal, daily activities. In time, though, the Kingdom seed may bear fruit. The new disciple then joins us in the harvest work, and we benefit from his assistance.
6. What should we acknowledge with regard to spiritual growth?
6 What can we learn from this illustration? First of all, we have to admit that we have no control over the spiritual growth of a Bible student. Modesty on our part will help us to avoid the temptation to pressure or force a student to get baptized. We do all we can to assist and support the person, but we humbly admit that ultimately the decision to make a dedication belongs to that person. Dedication is something that must spring from a willing heart motivated by love for God. Anything less would not be acceptable to Jehovah.
7, 8. (a) What other lessons do we learn from Jesus’ illustration of the sower who sleeps? Give an example. (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
7 Second, understanding the lesson behind this illustration will help us not to be discouraged if we do not at first see results from our work. We need to be patient. (Jas. 5:7, 8) Even though the seed does not bear fruit, if we have done our best to help the student, we realize that this outcome is not a sign of unfaithfulness on our part. Jehovah allows the seed of truth to flourish only in a humble heart that is willing to make changes. (Matt. 13:23) So we should not judge the effectiveness of our ministry merely by the results. In Jehovah’s eyes the success of our ministry is not determined by the response of those whom we teach. Rather, he treasures our faithful efforts regardless of the results.
8 Third, we do not always discern the changes that are taking place within a person. For example, a couple with whom a missionary had been studying approached him, asking to become unbaptized publishers. He reminded the couple that in order to qualify, they would have to stop smoking. Much to his surprise, they told him that they had quit several months before. Why did they quit? They had come to realize that Jehovah could see them smoking and that he hates hypocrisy. So their hearts motivated them to make a decision
9. What is the meaning of the illustration about the dragnet?
9 Read Matthew 13:47-50. What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration about the dragnet? Jesus likened the preaching of the Kingdom message to all mankind to the lowering of a large dragnet into the sea. Just as such a net indiscriminately catches large numbers of “fish of every kind,” our preaching work attracts millions of people of all kinds. (Isa. 60:5) The large number of individuals who attend our conventions and the Memorial each year is evidence of this fact. Some of these symbolic fish are “fine” and are gathered into the Christian congregation. Others, though, are found to be “unsuitable”; not all those gathered prove to be acceptable to Jehovah.
10. Why did Jesus tell the illustration about the dragnet?
10 Why did Jesus tell this illustration? The symbolic separating of fish does not refer to the final judgment during the great tribulation. Rather, it highlights what would happen during the last days of this wicked system. Jesus showed that not all those attracted to the truth will take a stand for Jehovah. Many have associated with us at our meetings. Others have been willing to study the Bible with us but are not willing to make a commitment. (1 Ki. 18:21) Still others are no longer associating with the Christian congregation. Some youths have been raised by Christian parents and yet have not developed a love for Jehovah’s standards. No matter what the situation, Jesus emphasized that everyone needs to make a personal decision. Those who do are viewed by him as “the precious,” or “desirable,” things “of all the nations.”
11, 12. (a) How can we benefit from the illustration of the dragnet? (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
11 How can we benefit from the illustration of the dragnet? Understanding the lesson of this illustration helps us to avoid being overly distraught or disappointed if a Bible student or one of our children does not make the truth his own. This may happen despite all our best efforts. Agreeing to have a Bible study or being raised around the truth does not automatically mean that a person will develop a strong personal relationship with Jehovah. Those unwilling to submit to Jehovah’s rulership will eventually be separated from God’s people.
12 Does this mean that those who have left the truth will never be allowed to return to the congregation? Or if someone fails to dedicate his life to Jehovah, will he be forever classified as someone “unsuitable”? No. There is still a window of opportunity for such ones before the outbreak of the great tribulation. It is as if Jehovah calls out to them: “Return to me, and I will return to you.” (Mal. 3:7) This fact is emphasized by another illustration given by Jesus, that of the prodigal son.
THE PRODIGAL SON
13. What is the meaning of the illustration of the prodigal son?
13 What is the meaning of Jesus’ illustration of the prodigal son? The compassionate father in this illustration pictures our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah. The son who asks for his inheritance and then squanders it represents those who have strayed from the congregation. By leaving, it is as if they travel to “a distant country,” Satan’s world, which is alienated from Jehovah. (Eph. 4:18; Col. 1:21) Some later come to their senses, however, and make the challenging journey back to Jehovah’s organization. These humble, repentant ones are eagerly welcomed back by our forgiving Father.
14. Why did Jesus tell the illustration of the prodigal son?
14 Why did Jesus tell this illustration? In a very appealing way, Jesus illustrated that Jehovah wants straying ones to return to Him. The father in the illustration never stopped hoping that his son would return. When he caught sight of his son returning, even though “he was still a long way off,” the father acted quickly to welcome him back. What a strong incentive for those who have left the truth to return to Jehovah without delay! They may be spiritually exhausted, and the way back may seem to be embarrassing and difficult. But it is worth the effort
15, 16. (a) What lessons do we learn from Jesus’ illustration of the prodigal son? Give some examples. (b) What does this teach us about Jehovah and Jesus?
15 How can we benefit from the illustration of the prodigal son? We should imitate Jehovah’s example. Never would we want to be so “overly righteous” that we refuse to welcome repentant sinners back. This would result only in spiritual “ruin.” (Eccl. 7:16) We can learn another lesson from this. Someone who leaves the congregation should be viewed as “a lost sheep,” not a lost cause. (Ps. 119:176) If we meet a person who has strayed from the congregation, will we offer loving and practical help to assist him to return? Will we promptly inform the elders so that they can offer appropriate help? We will if we wisely apply the lesson we learn from Jesus’ illustration of the prodigal son.
16 Note how some modern-day prodigals have expressed their appreciation for Jehovah’s mercy and the love and support of the congregation. A brother who was disfellowshipped for 25 years states: “My joy since my reinstatement has continued to increase as I have received ‘seasons of refreshing’ from Jehovah. (Acts 3:19) Everyone is so supportive and loving! I have a wonderful spiritual family now.” A young sister who strayed from Jehovah and was away for five years said of her return: “I can’t describe to you how it felt to see the love Jesus talked about expressed toward me so clearly. Being part of Jehovah’s organization is priceless!”
17, 18. (a) What practical lessons have we learned from the three illustrations we have considered? (b) What should be our resolve?
17 What practical lessons have we learned from these three illustrations? First, we have to acknowledge that we have no control over spiritual growth. That belongs to Jehovah. Second, we cannot realistically expect that all those who associate with us and study with us will take a stand for the truth. Finally, even though some may leave the truth and turn their backs on Jehovah, let us never give up hope that they will return. And if they do return, let us welcome them in a way that reflects Jehovah’s viewpoint.
18 May each of us continue to seek knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. As we read Jesus’ illustrations, ask what they mean, why they were recorded in the Bible, how we can apply the lessons, and what we thus can learn about Jehovah and Jesus. Doing so will show that we are, in fact, grasping the meaning of Jesus’ words.