Thursday, March 3, 2016

Parable City

(by Pastor Joe)
The Word for today: Matthew 13:24-52
"Take me down to the Parable City
where the wheat grows high and the pearls are pretty!"
-attributed to a band called Firearms & Flowers
Welcome to Parable City. Population: you. What a task we've been given today: to try to understand the Kingdom of God (aka the Kingdom of Heaven). Are you ready for your mind to explode?
First off, what exactly is "The Kingdom of God?"
To start, think bigger! It is always bigger than what we know or see. It has much more to do with reign (God's rulership) than realm (a geographical location). It is much bigger than any particular place or nation, much bigger than any era or time period, much bigger than any particular church, heck, it's even bigger than THE Church! To simplify, the Kingdom of God is anywhere where the rule of God extends to, any situation where His will is done. This Kingdom will culminate with the return of Jesus Christ, but it is in effect here and now.
To help us in this, remember the words from the Lord's Prayer: "Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10). You and I can participate in God's Kingdom every time we carry out His will. Whenever a person repents of their sin and turns to Christ, whenever the Word of God is clearly preached, whenever the Name of Jesus Christ is magnified in anyway-- God's Kingdom is being extended as His will is done. We don't go to this kingdom, we live in it and bring it where we go.
Jesus, wanting to clarify the real Kingdom of Heaven, from the false expectations and assumptions that other people had, told parables. In His trademark way, the Master uses common illustrations to help us better understand something. Six times in today's reading, Jesus says: "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..."
...wheat among the weeds (tares)[v. 24-30, 36-43]
...a mustard seed [v. 31-32]
...yeast (leaven) among the flour [v. 33]
...hidden treasure [v. 44]
...a pearl of great price [v.45]
...a net [v.47-51]
Question: What does this all mean?
Answer: Illustrations
God's Kingdom does not work like anything we've ever seen. In these six illustrations we see three different ideas brought out. All of these ideas center on what we cannot visibly see.
The parables of the wheat/weeds and of the net are one and the same. They teach us that we cannot, by mere sight, determine who is in and who is out of God's Kingdom. There are lots of fish in the sea, there are lots of plants in the field, and God alone separates them. In the world and church alike, the lost and the found, the sheep and the goats, the saved and the unsaved all mingle together.
Sometimes in our pride we think we can accurately label who is what. Sometimes in our pride we think that we are the gate-keepers of Heaven, we are God's bouncers, that we make that decision. I am grateful that responsibility has not been entrusted to any mortal. (Just see the dark periods in Christian history when men claimed to have that final say! Whenever one person or one denomination claims to have a monopoly on salvation, bad things happen.)
This parable does NOT mean we can't make sound judgments or inspect fruit. It certainly does not mean that there are other ways to God than Jesus Christ. But it does mean that neither you, nor me, nor Billy Graham, nor the Pope, nor anyone else has the knowledge or authority to determine someone else's ultimate destiny. It calls us to be careful as the wheat and weeds often look indistinguishable.
The parables of the mustard seed and leaven are also one and the same. Both stories use the example of something seemingly tiny and insignificant and how that transforms into something beyond all expectation. In God's Kingdom, seeing is not believing. God's ways are greater than any predictions or expectations we may have. Both these parables foreshadow the story of the church: how that small, unlikely, rag-tag group of 120 has literally "turned the world upside down" (Acts 17:6 ESV). It goes to show that we cannot, by sight alone, judge God's work by mere appearance. Remember how Jesus Himself was passed by, rejected, overlooked and scorned because of His humble beginnings; after all "What good can come from Nazareth (John 1:46)?"
God's Kingdom is bigger than anything we can see or imagine. This tiny mustard seed will continue to grow and this yeast will continue to leaven in ways those first Christians (nor even ourselves) could never envision. Don't ever underestimate God or His plans.
The parables of the hidden treasure and valuable pearl teach us that the Kingdom of God has so much more worth than is apparent on the surface. God's Kingdom is worth more than everything in the world added together, and yet it often sits, hidden in plain sight as heedless people pass by this incomparable treasure. People of the time expected a sort of "universal salvation health care system" to take care of them and make life easier; where all they had to do enroll was be born. God tells us that salvation is indeed free and open to all, but that the road is narrow (Matthew 7:14) and you must be born again (John 3:3).
In short, these parables bring us both warning and hope. They warn us that we won't, until the end, be able to see or know the true extent of God's Kingdom; and therefore not to make poor or hasty judgments based on incomplete information.
They warn us that God's Kingdom will never be a majority movement. We remain yeast, leavening and unsaved lump of dough, we remain wheat amongst so many weeds, we remain that mustard plant in a jungle of lostness.
They also warn us that most people will never see or understand the true value of Christ and His Kingdom. They will think it strange that we give away our money, our service, our time, and even our lives for what they see as "religion." They will laugh as we refuse to compromise our morality. They will mock us for trusting in the Bible as the literal Word of God. They will scorn us for not following the latest fads in culture or legislation or science or philosophy. They will wonder if we've somehow lost our marbles or been brainwashed by a cult.
But at the same time, these parables bring so much encouragement when we begin to understand the beauty and greatness of the Kingdom, and the even greater beauty and greatness of our King. Jesus Christ is the perfect Judge, and He will one day sort out the jumbled mess of our world. Jesus Christ is always greater than our expectations; and we will watch and worship as He continues to increase, before our very eyes, for all eternity. Jesus Christ is infinitely valuable, and as we slowly (or quickly) lose our health, position, abilities, retirement funds, bank accounts and possessions, and whatever else the world holds dear; we will truly see what it means to have our real treasure in the only thing that lasts- namely Him.
Don't forget the Kingdom today! Certainly, don't forget your King!

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