A Hundredfold Return
A Hundredfold Return
He was brought up on one of the roughest estates in Manchester. His father was an alcoholic. He left school at fifteen. He ran away from home. He lived on the streets. He joined a gang. He got involved in crime and ended up in prison. When he came out, he joined the army. He went through two divorces.
In 1994, he walked into our church and did Alpha. He encountered Jesus and was filled with the Holy Spirit. He started visiting prisoners. He joined the HTB staff team to head up the work in prisons. He started an organisation to care for ex-offenders. He set up a homeless project. He started a course to help those with addictions and courses to help those struggling with depression and debt.
Under his leadership, Alpha for Prisons has spread through the prisons in the UK and seventy-six countries around the world. Thousands have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Hundreds of men and women have been placed in churches through the ministry of Caring for Ex-Offenders.
Paul Cowley, author of Thief, Prisoner, Soldier, Priest, is an example of someone who was the good soil on which the seed fell. He has a noble and good heart. He heard the word, retained it and by persevering has produced a crop hundreds of times more than was sown (Luke 8:8,15). He encountered Jesus as his Saviour, Sower and Shepherd.
Personal SaviourPsalm 38:13-22
David, in the midst of all his troubles, suffering and persecution, turns to the Lord as his personal Saviour: ‘my saviour’ (v.22). You may or may not be facing the extreme difficulties David faced, but you can still follow this pattern today:
Cry out for help: ‘I wait for you, O Lord; you will answer, O Lord my God. For I said, “Do not let them gloat or exalt themselves over me when my foot slips”’ (vv.15–16).
Confess your sin: ‘I’m ready to tell my story of failure, I’m no longer smug in my sin’ (v.18, MSG).
‘For in you, O Lord, do I hope’ (v.15, AMP). Trust God to save you: ‘O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour’ (vv.21–22).
Lord, I ask you for your help to ACT today. Forgive my sin. O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour.
Great SowerLuke 8:1-18
A great deal of Jesus’ ministry was about sowing seeds. Jesus went about ‘proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God’ (v.1) wherever he went. Our ministry today is often about simply sowing seeds.
Sometimes this involves travelling (v.1) to sow seed (for example, on a mission trip). At other times, Jesus gathered people together and then sowed seeds: ‘A large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town’ (v.4). I am excited about the Leadership Conference, which takes place each year at the beginning of May. This year we are unable to meet in person as usual, but even as we meet for the LC21 online event on 4–5 May, people will gather, ‘from town after town’, around Jesus. It’s not too late for you to join us. https://www.leadershipconference.org.uk
Jesus did not do all of this sowing on his own. He had a team, at the heart of which were twelve men and ‘also some women’ (v.2). Women played a very important role in Jesus’ ministry. Among other things, they helped ‘to support’ the team ‘out of their own means’ (v.3).
Jesus then describes what they are all doing in terms of the parable of the sower. They, like us, are all sowing the seed of the word of God (v.11). Don’t be disappointed if not everyone responds equally:
Some won’t believe: ‘The seeds on the road are those who hear the Word, but no sooner do they hear it than the Devil snatches it from them so they won’t believe and be saved’ (v.12, MSG).
I have never met a strong person with an easy past. Faith is tested. ‘Trouble’ in life is almost inevitable. Some seem to respond very enthusiastically, but it does not last. They have ‘no root’. They ‘hear with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm doesn’t go very deep. It’s only another fad, and the moment there’s trouble it’s gone’ (v.13, MSG).
Others seem to be very responsive but later they drop out due to ‘the thorns of life’: ‘anxieties’, ‘cares’, ‘riches’, and ‘pleasures’ (v.14, AMP). ‘These are the ones who hear, but then the seed is crowded out and nothing comes of it as they go about their lives worrying about tomorrow, making money, and having fun’ (v.14, MSG).
The first three categories lead to great disappointment and sadness. However, Jesus says some will be responsive and ‘steadily bring forth fruit with patience’ (v.15, AMP). Or as The Message puts it: ‘These are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there’s a harvest’ (v.15, MSG). Earlier, he had said that this crop might reap ‘a hundred times more than was sown’ (v.8).
I often say that running is the most disappointing thing I have ever been involved in. It is disappointing when people respond negatively or drop out. But as we read the words of Jesus we should not be surprised by this.
On the other hand, Alpha has also been the most exciting thing I have ever been involved in. Those who do respond wholeheartedly to the seed that has been sown, like Paul Cowley, have a huge impact – a hundred times what was sown. We see this time and again in the lives of those who come to know Jesus – they are filled with the Holy Spirit, go out and tell their friends, and make a great impact on society.
These words of Jesus are not just about other people. It is about you and me, every time we hear the word of God – for example when we are reading the Bible or listening to a talk. Be careful how you listen to the word of God. In one sense the whole of your life is a response to the word of God. The more responsive you are, the more you will be given (v.18).
Lord, thank you for the power of your word to change lives. Help me not to be discouraged by the disappointments but to keep on sowing the seed. Thank you for the great joy there is when we see seed take root in a person’s life and produce a crop a hundred times what was sown.
Chief ShepherdNumbers 27:12-29:11
As Moses comes to the end of his life he sees the desperate need that God’s people have for a leader. He prays to the Lord: ‘May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so that the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd’ (27:16–17).
God heard Moses’ prayer and appointed Joshua as his successor. God said of Joshua, ‘The Spirit is in him!’ (v.18, MSG). Hands were laid on him, he was commissioned, he was given authority, and he became a shepherd of God’s people. ‘Shepherd’ was a common term for kings and rulers at the time.
Moses’ concern for the Lord’s people foreshadows Jesus’ concern for his people. When Jesus saw crowds of people in his ministry, ‘he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36).
This image of the Christian leader as a shepherd is picked up in a number of places in the New Testament. Peter writes, ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care... not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock’ (1 Peter 5:2–3). Jesus is the ‘Chief Shepherd’ (v.4).
Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I know my sheep’ (John 10:11–14). He says that one day there will be ‘one flock and one shepherd’ (v.16). The writer of Hebrews describes Jesus as ‘that great Shepherd of the sheep’ (Hebrews 13:20).
The rest of the passage in Numbers, with its regulations for eating and drinking, religious festivals and the Sabbath, again points us ultimately to Jesus (Numbers 28–29). St Paul writes, ‘These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’ (Colossians 2:17). Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, the Great Sower and the Saviour of the world.
Lord, I worship you today as the Chief Shepherd, the Great Sower and the Saviour of the world. May I, in turn, be a good shepherd, sow the seed of your word and produce a hundredfold return.
I am particularly intrigued by the women who travelled with Jesus and supported his ministry ‘out of their own means’ (v.3b). They included Susanna, Joanna and Mary Magdalene. They had been healed or delivered from evil spirits. Joanna’s husband, Chuza, ran Herod’s household. Joanna supporting Jesus and Chuza working for Herod must have meant that there were some interesting conversations in their home!
Then there was Mary Magdalene. She was singled out by Jesus and entrusted with this astounding news. Jesus picked a woman with a terrible past to be entrusted with this most important news in the whole of history.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.