- January 19th, 2014
Parables Lesson 3
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When Jesus began His ministry, the general theme of His preaching was things
concerning the “kingdom of heaven.” Matthew says, “From that time Jesus began to
preach and to say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’… And Jesus went
about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom,
and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.” (Matthew 4:17, 23).
In His famous Sermon on the Mount He repeatedly described many things about
the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3, 10, 19-20; 6:10, 33; 7:21). Therefore, it should
not be surprising that the general theme of Jesus’ parables was also the kingdom of
heaven. In fact, many of His parables begin with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” (Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44, 45, 47). Jesus also spoke regarding “the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 13:11). But what did Jesus mean when He spoke of the kingdom of heaven? What is it?
The kingdom of heaven—the term used in Matthew—is often called the kingdom of God (Luke and Mark). But Jesus also identifies this kingdom with the church. And, the church is referred to in other books of the New Testament by various terms, including the body (Ephesians 1:22,23), the family or house (1 Timothy 3:15), the temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), etc. Likewise, “kingdom” also refers to the church.
Matthew 16:18,19 – Jesus promised to build His “church” and give Peter the keys of the “kingdom.” This makes sense only if both terms refer to the same thing. Why speak of building an institution in one breath, then in the next speak of entering a totally different one?
Illustration: It would make no sense to say, “I will build a house and give you the keys to my car.” But it would make sense to say, “I will buy a car and give you the keys to the automobile,” because both terms are used for the same thing.
In Hebrews 12:23,28 – Notice the parallel statements. In vv 18-24, we are not come to the old law but unto the church (vv 22,23). In vv 25-29, since the old law was removed, we are receiving a kingdom in which we should serve faithfully (v28).
“Coming unto the church” = “receiving the kingdom.” Both the church and kingdom existed, and to receive one is to receive the other.
So, the church and the kingdom refer to the same people in the same relationship. The church is the people over whom Christ reigns. In that sense, the church and kingdom are the same.
It is a spiritual kingdom made up of Christ-followers. If He is not your lord….your king…are you really in His body? Are you really in the family of God? the kingdom of God, or the church of God?
With that in mind, let’s get started:
Bust or Boom?
Sermon shared by Glenn Durham
Read Matthew 13.31-33. Pray.
These two parables form a set. They are a set, literally and thematically. Together they tell of the hidden power and unstoppable growth of the kingdom of God.
It says in 1Corinthians 4.20: For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power.
I take that to mean that it is possible to adopt Christianity in words while avoiding the true effects of the faith. It is possible to accept the ideals of the Christian message, to agree with its principles and beliefs, even to defend it as true, yet to be a stranger to its transforming power. It is possible to understand intellectually or philosophically the teaching of the Bible and, at the same time, not to experience the Spirit in one’s life. For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power.
Christianity does embody a wondrous philosophy for life; it teaches the highest and purest morals; it urges humanity on to great ideals. I could agree with all that and still not personally know the power of God.
The kingdom does not consist in being able to talk about the truth, but when the truth does something inexplicably miraculous in your life. What in your life can you point at and say, “Look at this – it is amazing that this is happening in my life. This cannot be explained by natural causes; this is not the result of self-help, twelve steps, or my decision to straighten out my life. This is God’s seed, a supernatural work of grace planted in me from on high!” Do you know the work of Christ, or simply the words? Obviously we know the talk; we are here on Sunday morning. But does your life reveal the gospel coming to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction? (Cf. 1Thessalonians 1.4-5). These parables ask those questions of us by teaching us two remarkable traits of the kingdom.
First, these parables teach the hidden power of the Kingdom of God. The kingdom is like a tiny seed planted in a field; the kingdom is like a tiny bit of leaven placed into the center of fifty pounds of flour. From a minutely small and insignificant beginning, the work of God spreads with insistence.
It is like a mustard seed, the smallest of the seeds used in agriculture in Israel at the time. All would seem to be lost when that tiny speck is buried in dark soil. So it is with the kingdom. What could be less significant than preaching Jesus and him crucified? Yet this minute and seemingly dead word, planted in the soul by the Spirit through the hearing, grows to affect the whole person.
Note also, please, that what grows does not come from what was already there, but from something outside, something planted by the power of God, something hidden in your heart by God’s grace.
The Bible uses a variety of images to show that true Christianity is not simply a set of new ideals or new morals or even an acceptance of forgiveness (as wonderful as the promise of forgiveness is). Christianity is life on an entirely new order.
1Peter 1.23: “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” 2Peter 1.4: “you may become partakers of the divine nature….” James 1.18: “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth.” John 3.3: “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Matthew 13.33: “the kingdom is like leaven hidden in three measures of flour until it was all leavened.”
These images all have in common the hidden power of God working his marvelous grace. The kingdom of God does not typically come with flash and fanfare; its power is not that of dynamite or bombs.
Consider how useless a seed is if slammed against a sidewalk. Take your gun, fill the chamber with powder, but instead of steel shot, use acorns. When you fire the gun, a mess of acorn innards will stain the sidewalk, but no damage will be done. Instead, however, take that acorn, plant it in the ground beside the sidewalk, and wait 20 years. The roots from the tree will grow slowly and imperceptibly, yet powerfully and insistently, until they reach under the sidewalk and destroy it. Even concrete must give way to the power of life.
Dr. Knox Chamblin, a bible scholar, puts it like this: “Beware lest the present hiddenness of the kingdom blind you to its present reality. The kingdom has been inaugurated; its powers are already mightily at work. Just as power is released in the seed and in the yeast precisely as they are hidden away, so too the powers of the kingdom are being unleashed precisely here and now, in the time of its small beginning” (Commentary on Matthew, RTS: 1989, 100).
The seed is an outside force. You must be born again from the Spirit, spiritually recreated. There is no such thing as a true Christian who is not born again. Being born again is not a type of Christianity, but a way of saying that the Spirit has entered your life. By God’s will you now share in the divine nature. Is there some grain of work in your life, begun and sustained by God, that can only be explained by his power? Have you been born again by imperishable seed of the word of God? The kingdom of God is a hidden power.
Second, these parables teach the growing power of the Kingdom of God. Both the seed and leaven grow. Inevitable, secret, growth characterizes the kingdom of God. They appear small and unimportant at first, but they grow to make all the difference.
In fact the growth of the Kingdom is unstoppable. Even more than these pictures of the vine, kudzu, which is rapidly eating most of the southern states. Originally imported from Africa to control erosion, in the absence of natural predation and limiting factors, this vine grows quickly, uncontrollably, and almost unstoppingly.
So too the work of the kingdom does not replace your personality and who you are. Jesus does not make us into robots. God’s grace does not change us into something wholly different. Instead, God’s work affects and improves all that we are. Not that all our problems are cracked and fallen away. Not dynamite destroying your sidewalk of sin, but something from God growing under your problems, lifting them up to push them out of your life.
Maybe example would help. Let’s think about how a true Christian might grow in thinking, acting, and feelings.
Is your thinking growing? Not simply that you know that God is holy, but the holiness of God is more and more real to you. Does God’s holiness affect how you think about yourself and others? Does this truth disturb you, change you?
Not only that you know the Bible is true, but that its teaching grips your heart and gives you a new way to see everything else in life. Do you see your problems in light of what the Bible says, or only in light of how they bother you? Are you growing in your thinking? Are you transformed by the renewing of your mind? When you grasp a teaching from God, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” does it change how you think about yourself or others? Is your thinking different now than five years ago?
Being part of the kingdom also means growth in actions. When we are first born, we do things by mere instinct. A baby puts everything in his mouth, good and bad, to feel and sense it. But as we age, we learn to control what we put in our mouth. We progress from instinct to self-control. Are you growing in actions that show self-mastery? Are you becoming more human, not simply instinctual or animal like? Are your behaviors indicative of one who has a different power directing and developing what you say and do and how you act in high-pressure circumstances? Do your actions show that God is working in you powerfully and significantly?
Those who are in the kingdom also grow in their feelings. The more God works in your life and changes your thinking and actions, the more sensitive your heart grows to the things that move God’s heart. Are you weeping over your sin and rejoicing over his love? Last week I said that we ought to have joy over what God has joy. When the Father spoke to Jesus while he was here, he said, This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. Is your heart thrilled to know that the Father loves you just as he loves Jesus?
Or think of a negative emotion, like bitterness. We grow bitter because the mercy of God is not as real to us as the things people have done to hurt us. I forgive when God’s mercy is more significant to me than my hurts. This is growth in humanity, not simply stimulus-response, but in an emotional response defined by the reality of the kingdom. If, indeed, the kingdom of God is real to you!
Let me tell you something wonderful.
It does not matter what condition you entered here this morning, you can leave a different person. Not because this sermon is so life-changing or because you can decide to be different. But because God plants something new in us.
We can all be impatient – we want things done now. So I need to remind you in whom the work seems slow, do not be discouraged – the kingdom is hidden and gradual.
But maybe for some here, you must admit that you are not seeing any supernatural growth. Is your experience in word and not power? If so, how do we change?
We change by receiving the power of the kingdom, the seed and leaven. How do you receive the power of God?
Look to Jesus. Hear what He says.
Jesus Christ is greatest example of power. He was the son of God. If he wanted, he could have commanded twelve legions of angels to do his bidding. Yet he did not use his power.
There is no greater power than to abstain from power in order to serve. If you have power to crush someone, yet put your power underneath them to serve and lift them, that is greatest power.
That is Christ on the cross. With the power of God in his hand, he uttered not a word so as to bear your powerlessness. He bought you strength by becoming weak for you. You can only get his strength by acknowledging your weakness.
Will you? Even if you do not know what means. Ask for help. Ask for the power to be given to you. Come forward and let us pray with you for this. Come during the music, come afterward. Catch any of the pastors after the service. Call us this week. Write one of us a note. We will help you look to Jesus. Perhaps right where you are this morning you are wanting to receive Jesus again as king; to give up those things you have clung to that keep you from kingdom citizenship! Whatever form it takes, will you respond today?
Mustard seed looks pathetic; leaven looks so insignificant as placed into bushel of flour. But they grow and change everything else. This is what the kingdom is like. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19)
To give encouragement to His disciples, Jesus taught parables that illustrate the fact that the kingdom of heaven may start small, but is destined for remarkable growth. To teach this encouraging lesson, Jesus used the Parable of the Growing Seed, the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and the Parable of the Leaven. While there are many similarities, there are also subtle differences between these parables.
Describe the events in this parable.
What is peculiar about mustard seeds?
On another occasion, Jesus used the mustard seed to describe a person’s faith. Explain how the mustard seed was used in that example (Matthew 17:14-21).
Compare the stone in the prophecy of Daniel (Daniel 2:31-45, esp. verse 35), with the mustard seed in this parable of Jesus. What are each teaching?
Did the church begin as Jesus said it would (See: Acts 2:41-42; 4:4; 6:7; 9:31; 21:20)?
The mustard seed grew into a tree so that the “birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” What does this mean regarding the church?
Why isn’t the church growing today?
The Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21)
In the Parable of the Growing Seed, Jesus showed His disciples the marvelous power
that was contained in the Word of God to convict and convert the sinner and bring a
bountiful harvest. In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, Jesus taught that the kingdom
will grow despite its small beginning. Since Jesus had just taught parables which show that not everyone will hear the Word of God, and Satan would do his best to undermine the efforts of those who faithfully followed the Lord, the disciples may have been discouraged. To give them encouragement Jesus taught parables showing the kingdom is destined for remarkable growth. The third of these parables is the Parable of the Leaven.
Describe the events in this parable.
What was leaven?
Jesus symbolically used leaven in other of His teachings (Matthew 16:5-12; Luke 12:1), and so did the apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 5:1-13). How is leaven used in these passages?
Compare or contrast how Jesus is symbolically using leaven in the Parable of the Leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21).
Is the leaven in the Parable of the Leaven a positive or a negative influence?
What would the “three measures of meal” (the loaf) represent in this parable of Jesus?
In what ways does the growth of the Kingdom compare to leaven hidden in three measures of meal?
How does our being the “salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-16) fit in with the Parable of the Leaven?