Welcome to Becomning Closer! 

Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Nature of the Kingdom

Matthew 13, Mark 4:13-32, Luke 8:5-15

The lesson begins with an exercise: you have just moved to a new community. You are looking for the ideal church. So I ask you three questions:

·         What kind of people are in it”

·         How is it growing?

·         How do its members see it?

So then, let us begin our search for the -

Ideal Christian Church.

What kind of people are in it?

(Mat 13:3-9 NIV) Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. {4} As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. {5} Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. {6} But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. {7} Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. {8} Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. {9} He who has ears, let him hear."

(Mark 4:3-9 NIV) "Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. {4} As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. {5} Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. {6} But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. {7} Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. {8} Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." {9} Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

(Luke 8:5-8 NIV) "A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. {6} Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. {7} Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. {8} Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown." When he said this, he called out, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear."

If you will recall, last week Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand. This week, we continue the them and ask, “Just what is the Kingdom of God like?” A description, please.

Jesus does not begin with a theological explanation, nor a dictionary definition. He begins with parables. Simple stories from which one may extract an obvious meaning. There are many reasons for this. His disciples asked him why; here is His reply:

(Mat 13:10-16 NIV) The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" {11} He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. {12} Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. {13} This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. {14} In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. {15} For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' {16} But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

Parables are the way to the open heart -- which conceals the truth from those whose hearts are not open to it. No great intelligence is required; just a willingness to see the truth. So then, let us examine the reply Jesus gives, and see just what kind of people are in the Kingdom of God:

(Mat 13:18-23 NIV) "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: {19} When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. {20} The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. {21} But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. {22} The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. {23} But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

 

(Mark 4:14-20 NIV) The farmer sows the word. {15} Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. {16} Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. {17} But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. {18} Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; {19} but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. {20} Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."

 

(Luke 8:11-15 NIV) "This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. {12} Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. {13} Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. {14} The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life's worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. {15} But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

 

We are now able to see the folks who are in and around the Kingdom of God. The first group, the “hard soil” folks, show one characteristic. As Matthew has it, they do not understand the message of the Gospel -- so Satan has the chance to snatch it away.

There’s a lesson in here for the preacher and the teacher. No matter how well you explain it, no matter how eloquently you preach it, some people just won’t get it. That’s also a lesson for the church shopper. There is a myth out there that “if only the preacher were more eloquent (or spoke on the right subject) my uncle Louie would be on his knees shouting Hallelujah!” It is not so; some people just don’t get it.

The second group of folks are even more frustrating for the Christian worker. The first group doesn’t get it, and they go away. The second group gets it, and then goes away! The temptation is to say that they never really understood what they were doing, but this is not so. They did; they were just “shallow people.” We still use that phrase today, and for a reason. People like this pass through the church, coming from salvation via transcendental meditation and on their way to salvation through country western dancing. The key point is why: the period of testing. What happens when things go wrong? What happens when being a Christian is painful? So they last a little while -- but while they last they look good at it.

What a heartache for the Christian worker! You teach, you talk, you work -- and when the chips are down, they slide on to the next big thing. Expect it.

The third group stays even longer. In this instance, however, there is no persecution or heavy trial -- just the slow choking of the things of this world. In Luke’s account Christ tells us the three things that do the choking:

·         the worries of the world. Of all things; the one we are told so often not to care about (consider the lilies) becomes the snare. Perhaps this is why we are warned!

·         the deceitfulness of wealth. Have you ever thought of wealth as “deceitful?” Your money lies to you? It does; it promises security -- and it can’t deliver it.

·         the desires for other things. Sometimes it isn’t the money; it’s the woman (or the man); or the power; or the prestige; or the recognition. As we shall see in a later parable, anything that comes between the kingdom and you is wrong.

But the worker’s heart is overjoyed at the fourth group. This is the group that produces fruit -- and that is the test, isn’t it?

{Did you recognize anyone in this list of characters?}

Sometimes, however, we complain that some of the people in the church have no real business being there. After all, a true church would have no hypocrites in it, right? Or would she?

(Mat 13:24-30 NIV) Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. {25} But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. {26} When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. {27} "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?' {28} "'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' {29} "'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. {30} 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.'"

This is one answer to the question, “Why do the wicked prosper?” Satan has planted them in the same ground the Lord is using to raise his church. So, then, in our ideal church we should expect hypocrites. Where the currency is sound, expect the counterfeit.

There is one other aspect to this, however. Sometimes the hypocrite repents. It doesn’t happen often -- but it does happen. And the angels rejoice.

There is also a note of warning here. This will not go on forever; the age ends, the angels come with our Lord in His glory -- and the separation is permanent.

Indeed, the most unlikely people are in our Ideal Christian Church. And why not? The Lord invites all. He even tells us a “fish story” to make this clear:

(Mat 13:47-50 NIV) "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. {48} When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. {49} This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous {50} and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Indeed, we now see that God is quite indiscriminate in this matter. Here is no fly fisherman looking for the game trout; no trolling for bass -- just the commercial fisherman dragging the net through the waters. He’ll sort them out when he gets them ashore -- on the Day of Judgment. So then, we should expect all kinds of strange people in his Kingdom (including yours truly!)

How is it growing?

It is a strange thought that we expect Ideal Christian Church to be growing like wildfire. It in fact does not do so. Hear the words of the Lord:

(Mat 13:31-32 NIV) He told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. {32} Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."

(Mark 4:30-32 NIV) Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? {31} It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. {32} Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade."

It is interesting to me that our Lord uses this illustration. It shows two things to me:

·         First, church growth is just that: growth. We often read of explosive growth in a church in America, and pine for such a preacher. Often enough it is the area that is exploding into suburbs; the preacher is just rounding up the usual suspects. Church growth is like biological growth -- it has its own natural rate.

·         But look at the size of the thing! It will not remain small forever (though a particular congregation might). It will grow, or it is not the church. Missionaries, anyone?

So often we are convinced that the secret of church growth is in some magic formula. It is not so; the power of growth is in God Himself, and Him alone. Our Lord even tells us that we do not know how church growth happens!

(Mark 4:26-29 NIV) He also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. {27} Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. {28} All by itself the soil produces grain--first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. {29} As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."

(The context in Mark shows that this parable was delivered at the same time as the others, though it occurs only in Mark’s account). If nothing else, it shows that the preacher doesn’t cause growth. There are two great lessons to the preacher (and, by extension, to the teacher!):

·         You have no idea what your words might do -- so choose them well. You are planting seeds; God gives the increase. How it works, you don’t know. (Which is quite frustrating to those of us who are sure we know it all).

·         One thing you do know: it is inherent in the Word to produce fruit. How, when -- you don’t know. That it will, you do know.

Indeed, the effect of church growth is mysterious in the extreme. The parables have more than one meaning at times, and none more so than this one:

(Mat 13:33 NIV) He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

(Note: because yeast is often used in the Old Testament as a metaphor for evil (remember the unleavened bread of Passover) many strange interpretations of this passage have bee given).

This parable can be seen in a number of ways:

·         In it, we can see the church as the conscience of the world. We are the little leaven that, working through the world, shows them right and wrong.

·         In a similar vein, we can see this as the way the Holy Spirit chooses to work. He convicts the world of sin and judgment -- but almost imperceptibly, gradually.

·         Therefore, the expectation that church growth is explosive, or the church (more likely, the preacher) is a failure is false. Church growth is almost hidden from the world.

·         It’s also a lesson to each of us. We often think there is so little that we can do. There is so little yeast, so much bread dough. Somehow, the yeast causes the bread to rise. So can we.

How do its members see it?

If there is any one word to answer that question, it would be “precious.” For some, whose life has been filled with the wickedness of this world, it becomes a “hidden treasure” or “pearl of great price:”

(Mat 13:44-46 NIV) "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. {45} "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. {46} When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

For those whose life was the way of sin, repentance is indeed a life changing experience. They throw away everything they have held to before, and exchange it for the Kingdom. To the drunk, to the addict, to the desperately sinful of any stripe, the Kingdom is the thing they gave everything to get -- and gladly.

But what about those who were “raised right?” What about the person who isn’t beset by sin? Surely the Kingdom does not look so valuable to them? Not so, says Jesus. Indeed, he addresses Himself to those who among the most learned and “righteous” of the day, the Scribes (experts in the Jewish law):

(note the two translations)

(Mat 13:52 NIV) He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."

(Mat 13:52 NNAS) And Jesus said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings out of his treasure things new and old."

The one learned in righteousness is even better off! For he now has not only the righteousness given to him by the Law (or his parents, or whatever) but he also has the Kingdom itself! What a rich man is he! (And what a rich man am I.)

Summary

·         Do not be discouraged when you look around you and see that not everyone in the congregation is 100% involved in the faith. Did he not tell you it would be so?

·         Do not be discouraged if the growth of the church (or your class, John) is not what you think it should be. God provides the increase, lest you should grow proud.

·         Rather, prize the church, the Kingdom of God, above all else. Make it the treasure of treasures in your life -- for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Previous     Home     Next