“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?
TWO of Jesus’ disciples were walking to a village about 11 kilometers (7 miles) from Jerusalem. They were grieving because Jesus had died and they did not yet know that he had been resurrected. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and walked with them. Then “starting with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.” (Luke 24:13-15, 27) They felt comforted and 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. When they found the apostles, they told them what had happened. As they were speaking, Jesus appeared to all of them. The apostles were very frightened and started to doubt whether this really was Jesus. The Bible explains how he strengthened them: “He opened up their minds fully to grasp the meaning of the Scriptures.”
3. Why may we feel discouraged in our service to Jehovah, but how can we stay happy?
3 Sometimes we may feel very sad, just as those disciples did. Even though we are busy serving Jehovah, we may feel discouraged if people do not respond to our preaching. (1 Corinthians 15:58) Or we may feel that our Bible students are not making enough progress. Some of them might even reject Jehovah. How can we keep our joy in our ministry? Something that will help us is to grasp fully the meaning of Jesus’ illustrations. We will now examine three of them 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 sower represents preachers of the Kingdom, and the seed represents the message they preach to people with good hearts. The sower does the normal things that everyone else does, “he sleeps at night and rises up by day.” The growth of the seed takes some time, from the day it is planted until the harvest. During this time, “the seeds sprout and grow tall.” This growth happens “on its own,” gradually and in stages. In a similar way, a person grows spiritually, or draws close to Jehovah, gradually and in stages. When he progresses to the point that he decides to serve God, he “bears fruit” by dedicating his life to Jehovah and getting baptized.
Jehovah makes the truth grow in the hearts of “rightly disposed” people
5. Why did Jesus tell the illustration of the sower who sleeps?
5 Why did Jesus tell this illustration? Jesus wants us to realize that Jehovah is the one who makes the truth grow in the hearts of “rightly disposed” people. (Acts 13:48; 1 Corinthians 3:7) We plant and water, but we cannot force or speed up the growth. Just like the man in the illustration, we do not know how the growth happens. As we live our lives, we may not even notice the growth of the Kingdom seed in someone else. In time, though, it may bear fruit, and then the new disciple works along with us in the harvest work.
6. What must we admit about a Bible student’s progress?
6 What can we learn from this illustration? First, we need to admit that we cannot control how fast a Bible student progresses in the truth. Even though we do all we can to help and support the student, we would never pressure him to get baptized. Rather, we humbly realize that only he himself can decide if he will dedicate his life to God. Jehovah accepts our dedication only if we really love him.
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 of this illustration will help us not to be discouraged if we do not at first see results from our teaching work. We need to be patient. (James 5:7, 8) If we have done our best to help the student but the truth does not grow in his heart, it does not mean that we are not good teachers. Jehovah allows the seed of truth to grow only in the heart of a humble person who is willing to make changes. (Matthew 13:23) So we should not judge the effectiveness of our ministry simply by the number of people who get baptized. After all, Jehovah does not measure the success of our ministry by how people respond to our teaching. Rather, he values our diligent efforts.
Jehovah does not measure the success of our ministry by how people respond to our teaching
8 Third, we cannot always see the changes that are taking place in a person’s heart. For example, a couple who were studying with a missionary told him that they wanted to become unbaptized publishers. He reminded them that they would first have to stop smoking. He was surprised when they told him that they had stopped several months before. They had realized that even if they smoked in secret, Jehovah could still see them and that he hates hypocrisy. So they decided that they would either smoke in front of the missionary or stop altogether. Even though the missionary had no idea of the huge change this couple had made, their growing love for Jehovah had helped them to make the right 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 said that preaching the Kingdom message is like letting a large dragnet down into the sea. Just as a dragnet catches large numbers of “fish of every kind,” our preaching work attracts millions of people of every kind. (Isaiah 60:5) The millions of people who come every year to our conventions and the Memorial prove this. Some of these people are like “fine” fish, and they become part of the Christian congregation. Others are like “unsuitable” fish, and Jehovah does not accept them.
10. Why did Jesus tell the illustration about the dragnet?
10 Why did Jesus tell this illustration? The separating of fish in the illustration does not refer to the final judgment during the great tribulation. Rather, it explains something that happens during the last days of this system. Jesus showed that not everyone who likes the Kingdom message will want to become Jehovah’s servant. Many who have come to our meetings or studied the Bible with us are not willing to dedicate their life to Jehovah. (1 Kings 18:21) Others have even stopped coming to the meetings. Some young people have been raised by Christian parents but have not really learned to love Jehovah themselves. Jesus emphasized that each one of us needs to make a personal decision. If we make the right decision, Jehovah will see us as “precious,” or “desirable.”
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 will help us not to be overly sad or disappointed if a Bible student or one of our children does not want to serve Jehovah. We may have done everything we could to train him. A person does not automatically become Jehovah’s friend just because he agreed to study the Bible or was raised in the truth. If he is not willing to accept Jehovah’s authority, he cannot be one of God’s servants.
12 Does this mean that those who have left the truth will never be allowed to return to the congregation? Or does it mean that there is no hope for someone who has not yet dedicated his life to Jehovah? No, the opportunity is still there to become Jehovah’s friend before the start of the great tribulation. Jehovah calls out to them: “Return to me, and I will return to you.” (Malachi 3:7) This is emphasized in Jesus’ illustration 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 the illustration represents our loving heavenly Father, Jehovah. The son who wastes his precious inheritance represents people who leave the Christian congregation. They become part of Satan’s world, which is like “a distant country,” far away from Jehovah. (Ephesians 4:18; Colossians 1:21) Later, some of these people realize they have made a serious mistake and decide to come back to Jehovah. This requires effort, but because they are humble and genuinely sorry for what they did, Jehovah forgives them and eagerly welcomes them back.
Jehovah really wants those who have left him to return
14. Why did Jesus tell the illustration of the prodigal son?
14 Why did Jesus tell this illustration? Jesus showed that Jehovah really wants those who have left Him to return. The father in the illustration never stopped hoping that his son would return. When he saw his son coming from “a long way off,” he ran to meet him. The father wanted his son to know that he was welcome. The illustration should motivate those who have left the truth to return to Jehovah right away. Their relationship with him might be very weak, they may feel embarrassed, and it could seem too difficult to come back, but it is worth the effort! When they return, Jehovah, Jesus, and the angels will rejoice.
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 must imitate Jehovah’s example of love. When someone returns to the congregation, we should not be “overly righteous” and refuse to welcome him back. This would harm our own friendship with Jehovah. (Ecclesiastes 7:16) Another lesson we can learn from this is to view someone who has left the congregation as “a lost sheep,” one who might come back. (Psalm 119:176) And if we meet a person who has left the congregation, will we do what we can to help him return? Will we let the elders know right away so that they can help? We will if we really understand and apply the lesson from Jesus’ illustration.
“Being part of Jehovah’s organization is priceless!”
16 Those who return are grateful for Jehovah’s mercy and the love and support of the congregation. A brother who was disfellowshipped for 25 years says: “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 returned to the congregation after five years says: “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 lessons have we learned from these three illustrations? (b) What are we determined to do?
17 What lessons have we learned from these three illustrations? First, we have to understand that we cannot control how fast a Bible student progresses in the truth. We leave that with Jehovah. Second, it is unrealistic to expect that all those who associate and study with us will want to serve Jehovah. Finally, even though some may leave Jehovah, let us never give up hope that they will return. When they do return, let us welcome them back in a way that reflects Jehovah’s love.
18 May each one of us continue to seek knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. As you read Jesus’ illustrations, ask yourself: ‘What does this illustration mean? Why was it recorded in the Bible? How can I apply its lessons? What do I learn here about Jehovah and Jesus?’ When we do this, we show that we are grasping the meaning of Jesus’ words.