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Matt 13: Parables of the Kingdom Print E-mail
Monday, 22 August 2005

I would venture to guess that many of you could tell me some of the parables of Jesus if I asked.  If fact, for many of us, they are some of our favorite parts of Jesus’ teaching and all of the New Testament.  I think of the Prodigal Son or the lost sheep and how often I have reflected on these parables of Jesus.  Indeed, we are people who seemingly enjoy the parables of our Lord.

This morning, in Matthew 13, we come to several parables of Jesus concerning the Kingdom of Heaven.  We have already learned much about the Kingdom from Matthew and the teaching of Jesus in the first 12 chapters of the gospel.  Yet, here, we continue to learn more about the Kingdom from the teaching of the King.  But before we look at the parables and identify some lessons we can learn from them, I want to say a few words about parables in general.  Even though we enjoy them, if we are not careful in our interpretation, we can easily misunderstand them.

General Thoughts on Parables

First let me offer a working definition of a parable.  I say working because we want to be careful that we do not limit what a parable is.  This limitation can often lead to more confusion.  But for the sake of understanding, let me say that a parable is a simple story with two levels of meaning designed to capture an audience’s attention and challenge their worldview, or their views about a particular subject, such as the Kingdom of Heaven in the parables of Matthew 13.

As for the purpose of parables, Jesus actually gives us this in verses 10-17 and 34-35.  From these verses we see that there is a two-fold purpose to parables, namely to conceal and to reveal.  Jesus tells the disciples in verse 11, To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.  Christ is pointing out that the disciples are a chosen few who have been given the secrets of the Kingdom.  Yet, God in his sovereignty has chosen to conceal such secrets from others.  Even as we saw last week in 11:25-27, the Father has hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children…for such was your gracious will.  The Father is sovereign over his revelation and by his grace he has chosen to reveal to some.  Thus, Jesus speaks of the disciples being blessed in verses 16-17.  So, for those whom God has chosen to reveal such truth to, the parables enlighten and teach.  Yet, for others, the parables are meant to conceal, so that in seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, or understand.

Yet, God’s sovereignty in this concealing and revealing is not all we see, we also see the responsibility of man.  Look at verses 14-15 again with me.  In verse 15 we see that the responsibility to hear and understand and turn is given to the people.  Again, this is just like we saw last week.  After Jesus speaks of God hiding from the wise and revealing to the children, he then says, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Clear responsibility is given to the hearers to come.  Thus, we see the two truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility side by side in the text, even as we see throughout the New Testament.

We could also mention that another purpose of the parables besides concealing and revealing is to fulfill the Scriptures.  Matthew points this out to us in verses 34-35.  Again, another way that Matthew points to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah as prophesied in the Old Testament.

One last point concerning parables that we need to mention is that of interpretation.  For the most part, parables have one main point.  However, there are times (such as the Prodigal Son and even the Sower) when more than one point is being made.  Thus, in order to interpret them properly, we should identify the main point, or points, usually connected with the main characters or groups of characters, and avoid forcing too much meaning to all the various parts.  We do not want to miss the forest for the trees.

Lessons from the Parables concerning the Kingdom

We can identify eight separate parables in this chapter.  The main point of some of these overlap and so I want to identify these main lessons and then look at the parable, or parables, that offer the lesson.

First, true children of the Kingdom will hear the word, understand, and bear fruit.  This is the lesson we learn from the parable of the Sower, found in verses 1-9, and Jesus’ explanation of it, found in verses 18-23.  This story is familiar to us.  Basically, the Kingdom is compared to a man sowing a field.  As Jesus’ audience would have understood and related to, as the sower sows, some seed falls on the path, some seed falls on the rocky ground, some seed falls among thorns, and some seed falls on good soil.  In the story there are only two results from the soils: the path, rocky ground and thorns do not produce fruit, while the good soil does produce fruit.  Thus, Jesus is calling his disciples to be good soil, to hear the word, understand it, and thus produce fruit.

It is not difficult to see how this parable applies today.  Just as in Jesus’ day there are those today who respond to the word in similar fashion to the different soils.  Some hear the word and simply do not understand and so they reject it and the enemy snatches it away.  Others may hear the word and respond to it with joy and excitement, possibly even through a public profession and even baptism.  Yet, when difficult times come, because he has no real root, he will quickly fall away.  Others may hear the word but they just cannot let go of the things of the world.  Thus, the word is choked out and does not produce fruit.  And then there are those who hear the word, understand it, and thus produce fruit in their lives by being obedient to the commands of their Father. 

Thus, we are not just after professions or quick decisions in our own lives or in the lives of others that we minister to.  Rather, we are looking for sustained obedience.  Many who think they are on the road to heaven because of something they did years ago would benefit from the parable of the sower and the call to sustained obedience by our King.  Thus, true children of he Kingdom will hear the word, understand, and bear fruit.

Second, only the children of the Kingdom will escape the coming judgment.  It is this lesson that we learn from the parable of the weeds (v. 24-30) and it’s explanation (v. 36-43), along with the parable of the net (v. 47-50).  Both of these parables speak of the coming judgment and who will escape it.

As we saw with John the Baptist last week, there is this expectation among the Jews that when the Messiah comes he will bring the final judgment with him.  In short, he will come and separate the good from the evil by rewarding the good and punishing the evil.  Seemingly, for those awaiting the Messiah in the first century, this is what they expected of the coming King and his Kingdom. 

Of course what they missed is what Jesus is expounding upon here in the parables.  They did not understand that the King would come, inaugurating the Kingdom, and yet there would be an extended amount of time between his coming and his judgment.  They saw it all as one event.  Jesus is correcting this view with these parables.  In reality, there will be a time when even though the Kingdom is present, evil will still exist and flourish.  This is the time we are in right now.  This is what we mean by the already, not yet aspect of the Kingdom.  Jesus has come and he has inaugurated the Kingdom.  In fact, he has defeated sin, Satan, and death through his death, burial, and resurrection.  Yet, evil still remains.  The war is still being fought.  The wheat and the weeds are growing together for a time.

But, make no mistake about it, the day of judgment is coming.  Yes it is delayed, but not forever.  The day of the final harvest is ever approaching and on that day there will be a final separation between the children of the kingdom and the sons of the evil one.  Listen to Jesus’ words in v. 37-43.  On that day the judgment will be final and only those who by faith in Christ have become children of the kingdom will escape the fiery furnace.  Thus, even today, we must ask the question: am I a child of the kingdom?  Have I placed my faith and all my hope in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?  If the net was drawn today, would I be counted among the righteous or the evil?  Yes, make no mistake about it, only the children of the kingdom will escape the coming judgment.

Third, although humble at the beginning, the children of the kingdom know that the Kingdom is growing.  Jesus teaches us this in the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven.  Look at verses 31-33 with me.  Again, the Jews were looking for this glorious coming King who would conquer Rome and defeat all their enemies and set up a victorious Kingdom.  They were not looking for a humble carpenter, who would eat with tax collectors, minister with fisherman, and ultimately die for sinners.  I mean we see their rejection of such a one at the end of chapter 13 when Jesus goes to his hometown of Nazareth.

Yet, Jesus makes it clear that even though the Kingdom has humble beginnings, it does not mean that it is not growing.  It does not mean that when the Kingdom is consummated it will not be glorious.  No, for now the reign of the King might seem invisible.  We might turn on the news and wonder if Jesus really is on his throne.  We might be overwhelmed at the rampant rebellion of men against God.  But brothers and sisters, let me remind you that the Kingdom is growing.  The leaven is working in the flour.  The mustard seed is growing.  And the King, the King is returning and on that day we will see the glorious victory of our God.  Thus, even though the Kingdom had humble beginnings, the children of the King know that the Kingdom is growing and that their King is returning.

Fourth, the children of the Kingdom value the Kingdom above all else.  Look at verses 44-46 with me again.  Although it only takes up one verse in the chapter, the parable of the hidden treasure is a glorious picture of our conversion.  At one time, we were sold on the treasures of the world.  We marveled at what they had to offer and we wanted them more than anything else.  Our hearts and our passions thrived on running after the temporary passing pleasures of this world.

And then the King showed to us the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.  Such knowledge was like a treasure to us hidden in a field.  The worth of such a treasure was so great, that we were willing to trade in all our desires, all our hopes, all the passing pleasures of sin, for just the chance at knowing our King.

I talked with one of our members even this past week about his conversion and he spoke of it in these terms.  He mentioned how he loved his sin at one time and could not get enough of it.  His fear of approaching Christ was in all that he had to lose.  And then he realized all that he stood to gain in a relationship with the King.  He looks back on those passing pleasures for what they truly were, only lies that kept him from his true joy and the true treasure in life, Jesus Christ.

Now, for those of us who have been converted, we know that our greatest joy rests in our relationship with our King.  He is the pearl of great price and the treasure hidden in the field.  We delight in bringing out of our treasures what is new and what is old and telling others the full wonder of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. 

I have mentioned before the impact that John Piper’s book Desiring God had on my life.  Much of the book is devoted to expounding on our fourth point this morning.  There is one particular passage that grips me every time I read it.  He is quoting from a sermon that C. S. Lewis preached and writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.” 1

That is it.  If you want to be a true child of the Kingdom, then stop settling for the passing pleasures of sin and feast on Jesus Christ.  If you want to escape the coming judgment, then stop trusting in yourself and your own abilities and place all your faith and hope in the finished work of Christ.  If you want to know that the Kingdom is growing and the King is returning, then take your eyes off the Kingdoms of the world and gaze upon the beauty of our risen Savior, who has promised to return for his Bride.  And if you want to know joy, true joy, then give everything you got for the hidden treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, the King whose glory knows no end.  Do not settle for anything less than a relationship with the King.  You will not be disappointed.  Amen.

 ~ William Marshall ~

     1John Piper, Desiring God, (Sisters, OR; Multnomah Books, 1996), 88

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