Parables of the Kingdom
Parables of the Kingdom
If you have Bible, and I hope you do. Let me invite you to open with me to Matthew 13. I am so excited about our time in the Word in this morning. The chapter we’re about to read, for many people, is confusing and perplexing…in such a way that people walk away and think, “OK, I’m not sure why all of that was important.” But it contains so many keys to understanding our life and the place where we find ourselves in history. So…what I want to do is a little bit different than previous weeks where we have gone step-by-step through a passage, reading a little and then talking about it, and then reading some more…today I want to read the whole passage, and then step back and say together, “What did that mean, and why is it important?
So, hopefully you have Matthew 13:1, which begins the third major teaching section from Jesus in the book of Matthew. We had the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, and then we had Jesus’ speech, or summons, to His disciples in Matthew 10, and now we have this teaching section in Matthew 13. So, not a lot of action here like we’ve seen the last few weeks…instead, just teaching. And this is what Jesus says in Matthew 13:1-52…
“That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:
“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people's heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.
“Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
OK…in order to understand this text, let’s step into the context. In Matthew 3, John the Baptist announced, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand…and the King is coming…and He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, with a winnowing fork in His hand.” And then He baptized Jesus—the anointed Messiah…here to usher in the kingdom of God! That was in Chapter 3. But now, here in Chapter 13, 10 chapters later, very little substantive change has happened. Sure…Jesus has healed people and taught people, but most people were keeping a safe distance from Him. Religious people, in particular, were standing up against Him. In the chapter before this, they began plotting to kill Him. At the end of this chapter, we’ll see that His own neighbors were ready to disown Him.
So there were a lot of people very confused about whether Jesus was really the Messiah. John the Baptist was confused (Chapter 11), the crowds were confused (Chapter 12), and even the disciples were a little confused because things were just not shaping up the way everybody thought. Everybody thought that all of Israel would flock to the Messiah, rally around the Messiah, but only a few people were truly rallying around Jesus. And it certainly didn’t look like He was ushering in a whole new kingdom.
So you had people wondering what was going on, and as the crowds gathered around him—to the point where he had to get into a boat and go out into the water in order to see all of them—He started to speak to them. And when He did, He decided to tell them some stories about farmers and seeds and weeds and bread and pearls and homeowners. Ha! What was the point of all this?
Imagine me getting a huge crowd together today in Birmingham and saying, “You know…there’s all kinds of places to get BBQ in Birmingham.” You’ve got Johnny Ray’s, and their ribs are juicy. You’ve got Full Moon, and their pork is tasty. You’ve got Jim N’ Nicks, and their biscuits are cheesy. You’ve got Dreamland, and their bread is saucy. He who has ears, let him hear. What is that about? What does all this mean? And what do these words—that were confusing crowds 2000 years ago—mean to our lives 2000 years later? Oh, this is what I want you to see! Now, we need to start by asking four questions.
What is a parable?
Number one, what is a parable? A parable is a practical story, often framed as a simile (a little English class here—a simile is a comparison using the word “like” or “as”), that illustrates spiritual truth. So we’ve got all kinds of parables in the Gospels, and some of them are famous…the parable of the prodigal son, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the lost sheep, and so on.So they’re stories that draw a comparison in order to illustrate a spiritual truth.
How do we understand parables?
Second question, then how do we understand parables? And this question’s important because, throughout the history of the church, different parables have been interpreted (and misinterpreted) in different ways. Some people have taken parables and found all kinds of meanings in every single detail of a parable. For example, some people have taken the parable of the Good Samaritan and said, “Well, the man that was beaten is a sinner; the priest stands for the Law and the Levite stands for the sacrifices; Jesus is the Samaritan who pays the bill; the inn is the church where believers are cared for; the two silver coins are baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and the innkeeper is the apostle Paul. The problem is…Jesus (or the Bible) never tells us that that’s what that parable means.
So how do we understand parables? How do we keep from abusing or misinterpreting or misunderstanding these stories that Jesus tells? Well, here’s practical, pastoral advice as you read parables – three things…Listen from the hearer’s perspective, look for the main point, and then let the truth change your perception. Think about each of those.
Listen from the hearer’s perspective – we’ve got to put ourselves in the shoes of people who first heard parables in order to understand what they were hearing. Jesus obviously uses pictures and stories that are far more familiar to First Century Jews than Twenty-First Century Americans. So we’ve got to get into their shoes…
What would they hear? What would stick out to them? How would they respond at different points in the story? What kind of emotions would rise up when they hear the word “Samaritan”?
A few months ago, I was sharing the parable of the lost sheep with Bedouins in the middle of the North African desert, sitting by a fire surrounded by sheep, and to hear their discussion about the way they understood that story opened my eyes in a whole new way to how Jesus’ hearers would have understood that story.
So we need to listen from the hearers’ perspective, then look for the main point. There’s usually one main point in any parable…at most, there’s two, maybe three…but usually just one main point, even when different objects in the story mean different things (like the parable of the sower that we’ll talk about in a minute).
So listen from the hearers’ perspective, look for the main point, and then let the truth change your perception. The whole point of parables is to challenge the way people think about something…to use kind of a backdoor route—through story—to challenge someone’s perspective. And that’s exactly what Jesus is doing here.
Why do we have parables?
Now, all of that leads to the question…why do we have parables? Why not just give the main point instead of telling a story? And this is exactly the question that the disciples ask Jesus…and He answers them. Verse 10 – “Why do you speak in parables?” Verse 11 – “And He answered them…” And the answer He gives points to two purposes for parables, and He says the purpose of parables is different based upon two different kinds of audiences. Which is clear even in the way this chapter is structured, because these first four parables are told to the crowds, and the last four parables are told only to the disciples (and His explanations are given only to the disciples) – so you’ve got two purposes based on two audiences.
The first purpose, He says, for parables, is that…Jesus was revealing truth to those [here’s the first audience] who were believing the mysterious. So for the disciples, it was given them to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven…some translations say the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. Now that word “mystery” or “secret” refers to something that was hidden in the Old Testament and now made known in the New Testament.
So it was no secret that God was going to send the Messiah to usher in a kingdom; what was a secret/mystery was what kind of Messiah that would be, and how that Messiah would conquer…not through political struggle or physical force, but through selfless love and sacrificial death on a cross…and all sorts of other mysteries that come with that. And so for those who were believing this, who were trusting that Jesus is indeed the promised King, the parables were helping them understand what kind of King He is and what kind of kingdom He is ushering in. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom…to the one who has, more will be given…”
Verse 16 – “Blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Oh… This was evidence of God’s mercy. You see God’s grace all over this passage – “To you it has been given…” – given by who? Given by God! To you it has been given by God, more will be given by God! Why did the disciples understand and believe while so many others didn’t? It was purely the mercy of God.
We’ve talked about this before…why do you see forgiveness in the cross when so many other people in the world see foolishness in the cross? Is it because you are better, smarter, more humble, more religious? No…it is only because God is merciful!
In opening our eyes to see…and opening our ears to hear…this is the mercy of God.
On top of the fact that God has put us in a time where we have the full revelation of His Word in Jesus Christ…something Old Testament saints only could have longed for, we have. And to whom it has been given, more will be given, and more, and more. This is evidence of God’s mercy.
But what about those who were rejecting Christ, who were refusing to see Him as the Messiah? The parables have a different purpose for them. Jesus was concealing truth from those who were denying the obvious. In spite of miracle after miracle, teaching after teaching, the crowds and religious leaders were still not believing in Jesus as the Christ, and He said, “To them it has not been given” to understand these stories.
Verse 13 – “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” Then He quotes from Isaiah where right after His commissioning in Isaiah 6, God told Isaiah that as a prophet, he would preach, but the people would not listen. Their hearts were dull, and their ears were shut, and their eyes were closed. Jesus says… They see the miracles outwardly, but they refuse to see what those miracles say about Me. They hear what I say to them about being the Lord of the Sabbath, but they don’t understand the ramifications of what they’re hearing. Thus when I tell them these stories, they will not understand.
This was evidence of God’s judgment.
And their refusal to understand was evidence of God’s judgment. For even though they had the person of Christ and the words of Christ right in front of them, they were rebelling against Him. They had ears to hear, but they didn’t hear. They had eyes to see, but they didn’t see. And the fact that they couldn’t understand these parables was a demonstration of God’s judgment upon their rebellion. So you have two different purposes for parables depending on the audience. Jesus is revealing truth to those were believing the mysterious, and He is concealing truth from those who were denying the obvious.
What is the kingdom of heaven?
Now all of these parables in Matthew 13 are about the kingdom of heaven, which begs the fourth question…What is the kingdom of heaven? And there’s so much we could talk about here, because this is a subject that spans all of Scripture, and we’ve talked about it many times before, but to boil it down briefly, the kingdom of heaven (which, by the way, is virtually synonymous with the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Christ) is…The redemptive rule or reign of God in Christ. And every word there is important.The fundamental word is “rule” or “reign,” because when we talk about the kingdom, we are talking about the authority and sovereignty of God as King.
Now I put “redemptive” before that because…well…God has authority and sovereignty over everything in all the universe. So in that sense, you could say that the kingdom of heaven is everything in the world…because God has rule and reign over everything in the world. And Scripture obviously teaches that, but that’s not the primary way that this phrase – “kingdom of heaven” – is used…instead, this phrase is used to describe how God is asserting His authority in the redemption of sinners through Christ…through the promised Messiah.
So think about examples here… Matthew 6:9-10, “When you pray, say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come…” What does that mean? That means, “God, assert your redemptive rule and reign across the earth in Christ!”
Or Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the kingdom and His righteousness.” What does that mean? That means, “Don’t worry about this or that…seek and submit to the redemptive rule and reign of God in every facet of your life, and all these things will be given to you.” Or Mark 10:15, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” What does that mean? It means, “Like a child, you receive and embrace the rule or reign of God through Christ in your life.” So when we realize this is the overall definition of the kingdom of heaven, we understand why what Jesus is teaching here is so important.
Because there is a sense in which (and we talked about this all the way back in Matthew 1, when we started this series) – there is a sense in which the kingdom of heaven is…A present reality: The King is here, and His kingdom is advancing. That’s what we’re reading about in Matthew. God’s rule and reign over disease and disasters and death is being asserted redemptively through Christ. So there is a very real sense in which the kingdom of heaven is at hand; it is present.
But there’s also a sense in which the kingdom of heaven is still a future realization: The King is coming back, and His kingdom will [one day] be complete. And that’s one of the main purposes for these parables. Jesus is talking about how the kingdom of heaven – the redemptive rule/reign of God in Christ – is breaking in now, but it will not be complete, His kingdom will not be consummated, until later…when Jesus returns. And this is huge…it was huge for those disciples, and it is huge for us in this room. Remember when Jesus had died on the cross and risen from the grave, and these disciples asked him in Acts 1, “OK, now are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” And Jesus said, “The Father has fixed that time. What I’m going to do now is give you my Spirit, and you will be My witnesses to the ends of the earth.” And then He left, and the angel said, “He’s going to come back.” And the rest of the New Testament involves these disciples, in a very real sense, advancing the kingdom of heaven…proclaiming the redemptive rule and reign of God in Christ all over the world.
And that is exactly what we are doing in Birmingham, AL, on Sunday, March 11, 2012. 2000 years later, we are extolling God in Christ as King, and we are giving our lives proclaiming the redemptive rule and reign of God in Christ all over this city and all over the nations. God is advancing His kingdom, and one day His kingdom will be complete…God will fully and finally assert His redemptive rule and reign over all things in Christ – a new heaven and a new earth, where the old will be gone (sin and suffering will be gone), and the new will have come. So we live between the times. Knowing that the kingdom of heaven is a present reality for us…God is showing His redemptive rule and reign in Christ over our lives, and over the church. But we also know that the kingdom of heaven is a future realization…And one day Jesus is coming back, and His kingdom will be consummated. So see your life…see our lives…we’re living between the times…and based on that, now…understand these…
So here they are…and the way Matthew organizes them in this chapter is masterful, because there’s a clear structure, and a clear overlap to how they relate to one another, and we’ll look at them accordingly.
The parable of the sower…
First, the parable of the sower. Which it’s really not the parable of the sower as much as it is the parable of the soil because that’s the key variable in the story. The sower and the seed never change…The sower is the Son of Man and the seed is the message of salvation. So Jesus is clearly the sower, either directly proclaiming the message as He is here, or indirectly proclaiming His message through His disciples…and that message is salvation – the good news of the kingdom – that God will save and redeem sinners through Christ.
So the sower is the Son of Man and the seed is the message of salvation, and…the soil is the human heart. Now catch this…remember in context why this story is so important. Because Jesus is going around teaching and preaching the good news of the kingdom, yet so many people are either rebelling against what He is saying or casually, even flippantly, responding to Him, and the disciples are probably wondering, “What is going on here?” And Jesus is telling them in this parable…the problem is not with the seed…and it’s not with the sower…the problem is with the soil. And He points to four different kinds of soil, four different human hearts, so to speak.
The first is the hard heart. Those who hear the message of the kingdom but reject it, and thus the devil comes and snatches the good news of the kingdom away.
Then there’s the superficial heart. That initially receives the message and responds to the message, but there’s no root for that develops…in such a way that when pressure and persecution come…this person falls away. You can’t help but to think about easy believism that was rampant in the First Century and is rampant in the Twenty-First Century – just pray this prayer, and you will be saved…Yes! But then a year or two or three or more later, it is clear that that heart never truly received the message of the kingdom…and submitted to the rule and reign of God in Christ.
I think about George Whitfield who used to preach to massive crowds of thousands, and people would ask him how many people were saved, and he would say, “We’ll see in a few years.” It’s not because they would earn their salvation, but it would take time to show the true nature of salvation. A very different approach than the numbers that are touted so boldly today…we had this many saved, and this many decisions… Be very careful in light of Jesus’ clear teaching on the superficial heart.
Third, there’s the divided heart. The heart that hears the Word, but there is no room for it because the cares and wealth of this world are too consuming. Oh, what a clear warning to us, brothers and sisters, in Matthew 13:22. Watch out for the cares of this world…consumption with the day-to-day, I need to do this, I want to accomplish this…if we are not careful, these things will choke our hearts. And the deceitfulness of riches…don’t miss the subtle danger in the imagery here – a thorn does not choke suddenly, but gradually, almost unknowingly, desire for money and things, and consumption of money and things, divides and eventually destroys the heart.
But then, Jesus says, you have the fruitful heart. The person who hears the word and understands it, and it bears fruit through their life. Now the measure of that fruit may be different from person to person, but there is fruit nonetheless. The fruit of the Word will be evident in people’s life in the world.
All of this begs the question…what kind of heart do you have? Are you rejecting the message of the kingdom? I urge you to receive it. By the mercy of God, soften your heart today toward Christ. Is your heart superficial? Did you make a decision or pray a prayer years ago that has no real meaning in your life today? Since then, you have fallen away, and there has been no evidence beyond religious motion of a new heart within you? Has your heart been divided, consumed with the cares and pursuits and possessions of this world such that you have resisted submitting to the rule and reign of God in Christ? Or is your heart receiving the Word, understanding it, and are you bearing fruit for the kingdom of Christ?
Oh, I pray that you would receive the good news of the kingdom like this today, that the fruit of the kingdom of heaven would become evident in your life… And along those lines, obviously, one of the ways we bear fruit is by sowing seed. These disciples had already been sent out in Matthew 10 to sow seeds of the kingdom, to spread the message of salvation, and undoubtedly, just as Jesus had promised, they had faced resistance. But think about how encouraging this parable would have been. “Keep sowing the seed,” Jesus says. “Don’t stop sowing the seed.” Oh, this is a good word for parents who have children who seem to be rebelling against the message of salvation at every turn. Don’t stop sowing that seed. Or children who have parents who are rebelling against the Word, men and women who have husbands and wives that are hard to the gospel…students who have friends…men and women with coworkers…I think about the missionaries around the world that I hear from who listen to this podcast every week who are serving in extremely difficult areas of the world…to all of us, Jesus says, “Don’t stop sowing the seed.”
Yes, there is an adversary who is at work to rip that seed from hearts, and yes, there is pressure and persecution and worries and wealth to keep people from receiving this message…but keep sowing the seed. And hope and pray and trust that the Lord of the harvest, through your continual seed-sowing, will indeed bring about the fruit of the gospel. Keep sowing the seeds of the kingdom.
The parable of the weeds and net…
Then Jesus moves on to…The parable of the weeds and [I’ve included here also the parable of the] net. The parable of the weeds comes second, and the parable of the net comes second to last, and they both make an almost identical point…and in a sense, they build off of the parable of the sower.
In the parable of the weeds , You have fruit-bearing plants sitting side-by-side with weeds, and you have workers in the field saying, “Should we go ahead and separate the two?” and the owner says, “No.” Now remember the context here, particularly as it relates to the kingdom of God…Jesus had come into a picture where all of Israel saw themselves as in the kingdom…but what we’re seeing in the ministry of Jesus is that some are part of the kingdom, but others are clearly not. And it was thought that when the Messiah came, He would bring judgment on all those who are wicked and unrighteous…which was in part why John the Baptist had even wondered if Jesus was the Messiah…because judgment had not yet come on the unrighteous. So it’s almost like Jesus is saying in this parable, “Just wait.”
He tells this story where the good seed represents true believers. Sons of the kingdom who submit to the reign of God in Christ. These are the fruit-bearing plants from the parable of the sower. On the other hand, the weeds represent counterfeit believers. And there’s some debate about this…some wonder if this is simply talking about all unbelievers, or if this is specifically referring to people who would have identified themselves as a part of the people of Israel, or even would identify themselves today as part of the church…though they are not actually true believers.
And the more I studied this passage, the more it seems to me that, in its original context, this seems to be referring simply to people who are side-by-side with other believers, and may even look like they are a part of the kingdom (including even the supposed religious elite of Jesus’ day), but the reality is, their hearts (much like we saw in the parable of the sower) were far from Jesus. There is no question, and we see this emphasis all over the book of Matthew and the New Testament for that matter, that some, even many, people who profess faith may not actually know and embrace Jesus for who He is.
And therefore…The harvest [in this parable] represents future judgment. When the weeds will be separated from the wheat. And the picture is grim. It will be A day of terrifying condemnation for the wicked. Verse 40: “The weeds will be gathered and burned with fire.” Verse 41: “The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This day is coming…a day of terrifying condemnation for the wicked, and…A day of triumphant celebration for the righteous. “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Those who have embraced Christ, believed on Christ as King and Lord and Savior, will radiate His glory forever and ever.
Now, the parable of the net… Reiterates the same truth. Some have asked, “Well, why would Jesus tell two stories that basically communicate the exact same point?”
Well, clearly this is a point worth emphasizing…much as he does in two other pairs of parables that we’re about to look at. This is absolutely worth emphasizing…Jesus is making clear that coming judgment is inevitable.
One writer put it somberly: “The dragnet of God’s judgment moves silently through the sea of mankind and draws all men to the shores of eternity for final separation to their ultimate destiny…believers to eternal life and unbelievers to eternal damnation.” The dragnet of God’s judgment is coming, and He will separate every single one of us in this room into two categories according to how we respond to Jesus. On one side, the hard hearts and superficial hearts and divided hearts who did not embrace Christ as King. On the other side, the fruitful heart who heard and received and believed and embraced and followed Christ as King. And for all those who do not do that…Coming wrath is unimaginable.
He will throw them into a fiery furnace. Remember…people ask, “Well, isn’t that just imagery, symbolism?” Surely God will not throw sinners into a fire. Well, what if this is a symbol? What’s it a symbol for? A snowy vacation…a wintry retreat…a week at the beach. No…this is a symbol of a terrible place to be. George Whitfield said, Hearers were urged to “consider the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or for a day, but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which people will realize that they are no closer to the end than when they first begun, and they will never, ever be delivered from that place.”
John Bunyan said,
in hell “thou shalt have none but a company of damned souls with an innumerable company of devils to keep company with thee. While thou art in this world, the very thought of the devil’s appearing to thee makes thy flesh to tremble and thine hair ready to stand upright on thy head. But oh, what wilt thou do when not only the supposition of the devil’s appearing but the real society of all the devils of hell will be with thee-howling, roaring and screeching in such a hideous manner that thou wilt be even at thy wit’s end and ready to run stark mad again for anguish and torment. If after ten thousand years, an end should come, there would be comfort. But here is thy misery: here thou must be forever. When thou seest what an innumerable company of howling devils thou art amongst, thou shalt think this again-this is my portion forever. When thou hast been in hell so many thousand years as there are stars in the firmament or drops in the sea or sands on the seashore, yet thou hast to lie there forever. Oh, this one word-ever-how will it torment thy soul.” (New Cyclopedia of Prose Illustrations, ed. Elon Foster [New York: T. Y. Crowell, 1877], p. 450)
The parable of the weeds and the net…coming judgment is inevitable. Which begs the question in your heart, “Or you among the wheat…or the weeds?” Again, where is your heart?
The parables of the mustard seed and leaven…
This then leads to the parables of the mustard seed and leaven, Which likewise both make a similar point, though slightly different. Jesus tells the parable of the mustard seed to illustrate how outwardly, the kingdom grows from an insignificant beginning to an extravagant end. Again, remember the context here.This is the Messiah who’s supposed to be ushering in the kingdom of God, and it seems so small, so relatively insignificant, particularly compared with what people were expecting. So Jesus chooses the smallest seed possible to say that yes, these are seemingly small beginnings, but the fruit that is born in the kingdom will lead to an extravagant end.
You think about it…what we’ve seen in Matthew…starting with a baby in a manger in the middle of sheep and cows and goats…virtually exiled to Egypt and then brought to of all places Nazareth…now gathered with a small handful of disciples sitting around Him…a weak and inept group that would in the days to come begin to literally turn the world upside down…in a way that you and I, 2000 years later and thousands of miles away from that spot, are gathered together as a part of this kingdom…and in a way that years from now, maybe even days or minutes from now, one day a throng from every nation and tribe and people and language will shout the praises of Christ the King, and Revelation 11 says “the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever.”
Outwardly, the kingdom grows from an insignificant beginning to an extravagant end, and inwardly, the kingdom permeates every facet of our lives and every corner of the earth. This is the parable of the leaven…which transforms bread from the inside out. Just a little bit can spread into every part, and this is the picture of the kingdom of heaven…starting as a seed in your heart…and slowly working its way through your thoughts and your beliefs and your affections and your motives and your actions, and through you into others’ lives and through them into others’ lives…
Do not underestimate the impact of the kingdom of heaven. Or its value…
The parables of the treasure and pearl…
The parables of the treasure and pearl, Where Jesus tells the story of a man who finds a treasure in a field…in a day where treasure could not be hidden in safety deposit boxes or well-protected banks and people would simply bury their greatest possessions in a remote place…and this treasure had been completely forgotten, gone completely unnoticed, even by the owner of the field where it lay…so the man goes and with joy sells everything he has to buy that field, knowing that it is worth more than everything else he has put together. People coming up to him, saying, “You’re crazy.” But he wasn’t crazy to sell everything he had; he was wise and happy…because he knew he had found something worth losing everything for. And this is the point…the kingdom of heaven is something worth losing everything for.
Oh, see the picture of reward here. There is great reward in submitting to the redemptive rule and reign of God in Christ…it is greater reward than everything this world has put together. See the worth of having God rule over you, knowing that He will work all things, even the toughest things, together for your good…even amidst earthly pain, you can know that He is working all things for your eternal joy. Paul said in Philippians 3, “I count all things (all things) as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I suffer the loss of all things in order that I may gain Christ.” Oh, this is so key, brothers and sisters.
This is so key. He is better than the best things this world has to offer: money and health and strength and friends and family and husband and wife and children…He is better than all of them put together. Jesus is supremely satisfying in such a way that if you lose everything on this earth…your money and your heath and your strength and your friends and your family, but you get the kingdom of heaven…this is a happy trade-off. The rule and reign of God in Christ over your life is your joy which nothing in this world can ever steal from you…nothing in eternity will ever steal from you. The kingdom of heaven is something worth losing everything for…
We joyfully let go of all things in order to passionately take hold of one thing. Like a merchant who finds one pearl and gladly sells all of his other pearls to get that one.
Oh, Jesus is speaking to disciples here who would lose much for following Christ…most of them would lose their lives. But they were following a King who promised, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time and in the age to come eternal life.” We come to Christ because He is great reward. He’s better than the best things of this world put together, and He’s worth letting go of all things in order to take hold of Him as the one thing. Which then leads to the parable of the homeowner.
The parable of the homeowner…
It’s a quick parable – verse 52 – where Jesus talks about the master of a house who brings out of his treasure vault new and old things. And with this image, He’s describing the scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven…basically the student/teacher of the law who understands the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus makes two primary points of comparison between the scribe and this homeowner to teach His disciples.
First, notice the disciple’s treasure: We [as students/scribes of the kingdom of heaven] have seen the secrets of the old covenant revealed in the new covenant!
Just as a homeowner has valuables from the past and the present in his home, so the student/disciple of the kingdom knows that there is value in both the old and the new. He does not reject the revelation of God in the past; he values it and treasures it…at the same time, he understands it in light of the value of God’s revelation in the present…particularly in the person of Christ as the supreme fulfillment of all that God promised in previous revelation.
And brothers and sisters, if I could simply jump right from this text right into this room, I want to remind you what a treasure we have. We have the Old Testament in its entirety, and we have seen how all of it points forward so magnificently, so brilliantly, so powerfully to Christ. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Don’t you know, young man, that from every town and every village and every hamlet in England, wherever it may be, there is a road that leads to London?…So from every text in scripture there is a road towards the great metropolis, Christ.” And we have seen Him in this Word…we have seen the claims of the old covenant revealed in the Christ of the new covenant. But that’s not the only point of comparison here, for a scribe was not just a student of the Word, but a teacher of the word.
So for a scribe to bring forth treasure from the old and new was not for him to do so merely for personal gain. He brought forth treasure for the sake of showing and sharing treasure…which then leads to the disciple’s task: We now proclaim the good news of the kingdom [the old covenant fulfilled in the Christ of the new covenant] to every person and people group on the planet! We now tell everyone everywhere: Jesus is King! He has come…and He has died on the cross for our sins to reconcile us to God. Gladly submit to His rule and His reign over your life! Because He is coming back to usher in His kingdom…a kingdom where we will be with Him, and He will be with us, and there will be no more sin and sorrow and sickness and death! Don’t just treasure this good news of the kingdom; teach this good news of the kingdom! Which leads us to two primary applications.
For us in this room in light of Matthew 13. First and foremost, I invite you, I invite every single person in this room, to humbly and joyfully receive the message of the kingdom.
Humbly and joyfully receive the message of the kingdom.
Let go of your sin and guilt and shame. Leave behind the pleasures and pursuits and possessions of this world. And find in Christ a King worth losing everything for. Receive His mercy, and submit to His good and gracious mastery of your life. Do not harden your heart toward Christ, do not toy superficially with Him, do not give Him token affection in the midst of your concerns and riches in this world…yield your heart and mind and life to Him…Humbly and joyfully receive the message of the kingdom.
Confidently and urgently spread the message of the kingdom.
And then confidently and urgently spread the message of the kingdom. Don’t put your notes up…just let this soak in…The dragnet of God’s judgment is moving silently through the sea of mankind, and one day soon, He will draw all men to the shores of eternity for final separation to their ultimate destiny in either everlasting life or eternal death. We know His judgment is coming, so warn and plead and pray and work—sow the seed of the gospel—so that the people around you, and so that ethnic people groups around the world know the good news of the kingdom of God.
We are a blessed people, aren’t we? To come to this table, to receive this mercy…to celebrate our King. There’s an ancient hymn called “How Sweet And Awful Is The Place” (it’s been renamed “How Sweet and Awesome Is The Place”), and I was reflecting on its lyrics as I studied this text this week. In light of the mercy of God by which we hear and understand this good news of the kingdom, and in view of His coming judgment, listen to these words:
How sweet and awesome is the place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!
While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?
“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”
’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.
Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.
We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.