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Parables of the Kingdom

Date: Apr. 17, 2016

Author: Michael Mark

Matthew 13:24-52

Key Verse: Matthew 13:44

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

I think it is safe to say that most of us have thought about at one point or another what the kingdom of heaven is like.  Is it like in the cartoons, where everyone walks or floats on clouds and play harps all day?  There are also several books you can find now about experiences people have had when they died, gone to heaven, and came back to tell us all about it.  Unfortunately, many of the details in some of those books don’t match what the Bible says.  Last year in January 2015, one author even recanted his entire book, and he repented.  So what is the kingdom of heaven like, according to the Scriptures?  Today, we will learn what we need to know about what the kingdom of heaven is like, by going through 6 parables Jesus taught, all on that one singular subject.  What is the kingdom of God like?  3 of these parables were spoken publicly to a crowd, and 3 were spoken privately to his disciples.  May God grant all of us ears to hear.

First, we will look at the 3 parables spoken to the crowd.  Look at v.24-27, “Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.  The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field?  Where then did the weeds come from?’”  In this picture of the kingdom of heaven, Jesus presents to us a farmer spreading good seed in his field.  Then, an enemy came, very sneakily, and very stealthily, sowed weeds among the crop.  He came when everyone was sleeping, and went away.  People were familiar to this kind of sabotage in Jesus’ time.  It wasn’t common, but if you made an enemy, they could ruin your crop by doing this.

You also would not know what happened until it was too late.  When both of the plants are young, they look the same.  You can only tell them apart after they bore fruit – the wheat would look like wheat, and the weeds would show their seeds.  There is a kind of grass seed that Jesus may have been referring to called a darnel.  It looks like wheat, it is green in color, until the seeds appear.  When the seeds mature, they turn black.  They are poisonous to eat, causing a drunken nausea and vomiting, and can be fatal.  Continuing on in the parable of the weeds, the servants ask, “Do you want us to go and pull them out?”  It is understandable that they want to pull out these weeds as soon as possible, but in their zeal they forget that this could also harm the wheat.  The darnel’s roots have intertwined with the wheat, so uprooting the weeds would also uproot several of the wheat plants around them.  The master desires that not one grain be lost, so he says, “Let both grow together until the harvest.  At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn (v.30).”  So here you have a picture of the kingdom of heaven with wheat and weeds mixed in a field, and after harvest they will be separated.  Jesus will give an explanation of this parable privately to his disciples, and we will look at the meaning there.  For now this is all the crowd gets to hear and think about, so let’s now move to the next two parables.

The next two parables Jesus speaks to the crowd are similar, like a matching pair of parables, so we will look at them together.  Look at v.31-33, “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.  Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’  He told them still another parable:  ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”  Since Jesus doesn’t explain these two parables to his disciples, let’s try to understand their meaning by looking at what is happening in the parables and relating those to what we have seen happening in the kingdom of God, and also through the help of the Bible.

The common theme you see in both of these parables is the growth of the kingdom, and the beginnings of that growth.  They both start out very small, but they both end up having big effects.  The mustard seed is a typical plant grown in Jewish gardens which had the smallest seed of the plants at the time, but once planted it could grow as tall as 12-15 feet.  Not as high as some great trees, but for a garden it was large, and birds could build a nest there.  In the Bible sometimes great nations were referred to as trees.  In Eze 31:6, it was said of Egypt that “All the birds of the sky nested in its boughs, all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade.”  All nations could benefit and find safety under a greater nation.  The kingdom of God seemed to start out small, and insignificant.  It started with Christ, who was despised by the Jews, and his 12 disciples, one of whom betrayed him and all of whom deserted him at his death.  Neither were the disciples rich or powerful, but they were common people.  But after Jesus’ resurrection, and the Holy Spirit given to the 12 apostles, a foundation was laid for the kingdom which is continuing to grow.  Today it seems like it is invisible, and that other nations are overpowering it, but according to this parable, it will be the largest of the plants.  The kingdom of God will become the most powerful kingdom ever and forever on the earth.

Speaking of the invisible kingdom, we come to the matching parable of the yeast.  In the Bible yeast generally refers to something negative.  For example, Jesus once told his disciples to be on their guard against the yeast of the Pharisees (Matt 16:6).  Gal 5:9 says “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.”  I am not a good baker, but I presume this to be true.  In this parable a woman (note also how the main character here is a woman – Jesus gives everyone an equal chance to shine) mixes some yeast into 60 pounds of flour.  That’s a lot of flour!  That may be enough bread to feed 100 people.  The kingdom of God, like the yeast, is working, even though it cannot be seen, and it will not stop until it goes through the entire thing.  Take a look around you, look at your neighbor, look at me.  There is no outward visible sign the kingdom of God is working in me.  My face doesn’t turn red or blue or green, but the kingdom of God is working spiritually.  It is working unseen.  1 Thes 5:23-24 says, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.”  The yeast refers to the influence of the kingdom of God, which is working invisibly and spiritually through all of the people of the kingdom.

Matthew now concludes the public parables, look at v.34-35, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.  So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’”  We learned last week from Dan’s message why Jesus spoke in parables.  One reason was to hide the truth from those who would reject it.  Another reason was to draw people in, and teach them slowly and steadily.  Parables stick in our minds, so we can think about them more, until we are ready to receive the deeper teaching.  When we want to know more, we go and ask Jesus.  So the second reason Jesus told parables was to help people learn.  Jesus also fulfilled prophecy.  The prophecy Matthew quotes here is from Psalm 78:2, which was written almost around 1000 years before Jesus came to the earth.  What does this mean?  It means that Jesus is the one who utters things in parables, things hidden since the creation of the world.  It means Jesus knows the things that have been hidden, and has revealed them only now. It means that whatever Jesus is teaching you about the kingdom of God, is true.  What you are learning from Jesus now about the kingdom of God, is what the kingdom of God is really like.

The disciples were eager to learn about the meaning behind Jesus’ parables.  They knew Jesus was telling parables, and that there was a hidden meaning underneath them that they were itching to know.  After Jesus left the crowd and as soon as they get into the house, the disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”  Look at their hunger, their desire to know what Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of God.

We now come to the second half of this message, which will cover Jesus’ private conversation with his disciples only, and includes 3 more parables.  First, let’s look at the meaning of the parable of the weeds Jesus had earlier told to the crowd.  Look at v.37-39, “He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.  The weeds are the people of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil.  The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.’”  See here, Jesus is now speaking to them directly, explaining the meaning of the parable.  He is speaking about what will actually happen at the end of the age.  Jesus is the one who sowed the good seed in the field, which is the world.  The devil is the sneaky one who sowed the weeds among the wheat.  The weeds, that is, those who are the people of the evil one, will not be taken away until the end of the age.  This is why there are still evil people in the world.  Not because Jesus doesn’t care.  Not because Jesus can’t take them out, but because Jesus is patient he waits.  He waits for the people of the kingdom to grow.  He doesn’t want the people of the kingdom to fall away, especially if they are young, when the evil people are destroyed.  But there will come a time, this harvest, the end of the age, when the time is up.

Look at v.40-42, “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.  They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Here is something we learn about the kingdom of God: there will be no evil person there, not even one.  Everything that causes sin will not be in the kingdom of God, that includes the devil, demons, and even people.  They will all be thrown into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Jesus here talks plainly about hell.  Many people do not like to think about it, or hear about it – but hell is the counterpart to the kingdom of heaven.  It is where those who do not get into the kingdom go.  It is likened to a blazing fire.  Hell is a place of eternal torment and heat.  In Luke 16:24, we see a rich man suffering in hell saying, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

Jesus cannot teach about the kingdom of God without teaching about hell – that is the reality.  Why is hell so painful?  Because it is the wrath of God against sin.  What is sin?  It is our unbelief, our pride and rebellion against God.  It is our selfishness.  Matt 25:41 tells us that eternal hell was intended for the devil and his angels.  The devil led a rebellion against God in heaven, he hates God, and he hates his creation.  That is why he is out there putting poison in the fields, he wants to kill us, because of his sin.  Should he not be punished?  Hell was originally intended for the devil and his angels, but we fell into sin too.  We sin, because we are sinners.  When we die, we will face judgment before Jesus Christ the judge.  There, all our sins will be revealed.  Every empty or angry word you said will be called to account, every lustful thought recorded, every evil thought and deed you have ever done will be read back to you.  Every angry backlash against God, every unthankful word to the one who gave you life will be made known to you.  That is why there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell – because you know it.  You can’t deny it.  You will be justly sent to hell because of what you’ve done, you will feel the guilt, the shame and the misery.  In hell, you may curse God, but you will still be guilty.  And it will be eternal.  You will live with your guilt for all eternity.  Why?  Because make no mistake.  Time only exists now, and it is short.  The end of the age is just that: the end of age.  Eternity is the only thing next.  Hell was reserved for the devil and his angels, but because of our sin, we will end up there too, unless we are saved.

And that is precisely why Jesus came.  He came to take our punishment – all of it, drinking it down to the dregs.  What will it take to save us from eternal torment?  It will take an eternally righteous sacrifice.  Jesus is the Son of God, who is equal in power and glory with God.  He is eternal, without beginning or end, and is without sin.  He emptied himself of his glory, become like us, humbling himself, taking on human flesh.  The eternal Son of God became like a mustard seed man.  He came to bear the full brunt of the wrath of God in his body for us.  He felt the pain, the agony, the burning.  He felt the full weight of the eternal wrath of God.  He was treated like a sinner, so that we might be treated like a saint.  And that is the gospel, the good news – that the Son of God came to die for you and I, for the forgiveness of our sins, so that we might get that chance to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Look at v.43: “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  This, in my opinion, is all you need to know to be satisfied with the knowledge of the kingdom of heaven.  By God’s grace, he tells us much more about the kingdom, but this, I think, is all you really need to know.  “Then,” which is after the weeds have been separated out and thrown into the blazing furnace, “the righteous will shine like the sun.”  This is what the kingdom of heaven will be like.  It will be populated with the righteous who will shine like the sun.  Who is righteous?  Saved sinners who believe in the gospel will be counted righteous.  Not by works, but by the grace of God.  And they will shine like the sun.  I don’t know, but all of you now look kind of like dim light bulbs.  In heaven, you will shine like the sun!  Dan 12:3 says, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.”  1 Cor 15 talks about our resurrection body, which will have a different splendor than it has now, it will be raised imperishable, in glory, in power and in spirit.  “And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. (1 Cor 15:49).”  Rev 21 talks about the New Jerusalem, “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp.  The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. (Rev 21:23-24).”

Look at v.43 again, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.  Whoever has ears, let them hear.”  Where will they shine?  In the kingdom of their Father.  God will be their Father.  When we are saved, we become children of God.  1 John 3:1a says, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!”  Through Christ, we can come to God, and we begin our prayers with, “Our Father, which art in heaven.”  In Luke 12:32 Jesus teaches his disciples, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

Is this your desire?  Your aim?  Your goal?  Do you want the kingdom?  Look at v.44, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.  When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought the field.”  This is our key verse, can we all read it together?  We have now come to the pair of parables Jesus told privately to his disciples.  The second portion of this parable is in verses 45-46 which say, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”  The common theme in both of these parables is the value of the kingdom of heaven.  The kingdom of heaven was of so much value, that these two characters sold everything they had in order to possess it.

What is the difference in these two parables?  One man stumbled across the treasure he found, hidden in the field.  The other man was a merchant, perhaps a wealthy man, with wealthy tastes.  He always looks for the finest things, and he found the finest pearl there ever was.  So the difference is one stumbled across his treasure, and another found it by looking.  What Jesus is saying covers both ways we come across the treasure of the kingdom of God.  Some people stumble into it.  A coworker of mine, after rejecting his wife’s pleas for him to believe in God was suddenly hit by the truth when he was watching a science documentary.  The documentary was talking about how sound waves hold and arrange all matter in the universe together, and suddenly it came to him: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  “And God said, let there be light, and there was light”  Others of you here, and maybe some of you university students, current and past, came to study the Bible.  You liked it.  You enjoyed it.  But somehow later, you came to love it.  Some of you may have found the emptiness of life without God, you came to a conference, or a worship service, looking for answers, and what you found was the kingdom.  Some of you, and I pray even today, have heard about salvation, righteousness and the kingdom of God, and you want it.

May I say to you today, whether you may have already known it or not, that you can have it!  You can have the kingdom of heaven through faith in Jesus Christ.  And may this thought fill you with joy.  The Spirit of God extends this invitation to all, as Isaiah wrote in Isa 55:1-3,6,7, “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!  Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.  Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?  Listen, listen to me and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.  Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.  I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David…Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on him while he is near.  Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts.  Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.”    

Does this mean we all sell our houses, cars or possessions, pool them all together and live communally?  The early church did something like that – but it was not compulsory, it was voluntary.  I believe that parents ought to provide and care for their families, and that God graciously gives us all things for our enjoyment.  Do we have to abandon everything to enjoy eternal life?  Here is an answer summarized from John Calvin, a noted theologian: the meaning of the parables is this: that the Gospel does not receive from us the respect that it deserves unless we prefer it to all the riches, pleasures, honors and advantages of the world.  To respect the Gospel means to be satisfied with the spiritual blessings it promises, and throw aside everything that would keep us from enjoying them.  Those who aspire to heaven must be disengaged with everything that would hinder the progress of spiritual blessings.  Christ exhorts those who believe in him to deny only those things that are hindrances to godliness, and at the same time permit us to use and enjoy God’s temporal favors.  To sum it all up – if it hinders godliness, get rid of it.  Pursue godliness.  Otherwise, you may also enjoy the fruits of your labors.

Now let us look to the third and final parable of the kingdom Jesus told to his disciples, from v.47-50, “Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish.  When it was full, the fisherman pulled it up on the shore.  Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away.  This is how it will be at the end of the age.  The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  The parable is similar to the first, so perhaps Jesus wants to reiterate and emphasize the judgment.  That he is the judge, and there will be a separation of the righteous and the wicked at the end of the age.  There is no reference this time to someone putting bad fish in the catch; the bad fish were already there.  But perhaps he wanted to emphasize the judgment to try and keep the disciples pure and disciplined.  So for us too, let us remember that there will come a day for judgment for each of us, but also know that our righteousness is not from ourselves, but is found in Christ.  We put no confidence in the flesh, but we put all our hope in Jesus Christ.

Jesus finally asks his disciples in v.51: “Have you understood all these things?”  “Yes,” they replied.  I’m going to take the Bible’s word for it – the disciples understood the parables Jesus was teaching them.  Based on that answer, Jesus exhorts his disciples to share that knowledge with others.  Our discipleship doesn’t end at just knowing about the kingdom, but we teach what we know to others.  Jesus said to his disciples in v.52: “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”  Jesus begins with the word “therefore,” indicating that he accepted their answer that they understood.  Then he said every teacher of the law.  He wasn’t talking about those outside the room he was in.  He was talking about those in front of him.  They would become teachers of God’s law.  Not superficially, like the hypocritical Pharisees of the time, but they would be the ones who can apply the new knowledge of the kingdom to the Hebrew scriptures.  For us, for example, we can now teach that Genesis 3:15, the offspring of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, was talking about the Messiah.  We can teach that when Abraham sacrificed Isaac it was a preview of God sacrificing his one and only Son.  We can teach that King David was a preview of the everlasting king, Jesus Christ.  We bring out of our storeroom new treasures as well as old.  So we don’t just receive the treasure of the kingdom of God, and let it collect dust, but we bring it out of our storerooms and share it with others.

Through today’s passage we learned from Jesus what the kingdom of heaven is like, through 6 parables: 3 given in public to the crowd, and 3 given in private to the disciples.  The kingdom of heaven is near us, growing, and working invisibly.  The kingdom of heaven is a treasure of surpassing value.  And one day the king, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, will come again to separate the wicked from the righteous, and bring us into his kingdom.  May you be found as a good seed, righteous with your life in Christ’s hands, so that he may bring you into the kingdom of the Father where you shall shine like the sun for all eternity.

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