This is a copy of the manuscript I used for my message yesterday 30th July 2017 at Shepparton Baptist Church.
Bible reading: Matthew 13:31-33 & 44-52 New International Version (NIV)
The Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast
31 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 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.”
33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is likeyeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”...
...The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl
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.
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.
The Parable of the Net
47 “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 blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
52 He said to them, “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.”
Have you ever had to describe something to someone who has absolutely no idea about what you are trying to describe? How would you describe snow to someone who has never seen it before? Imagine that you had to describe the taste of salmon to someone who had never eaten seafood before. How would you do it? How would you make any sense of it at all? I have a similar problem. Often, when I tell someone a joke, I have to then explain the punch line…
This morning we have heard Jesus use a few different parables to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It’s like a mustard seed, yeast, treasure hidden in a field, a pearl of great value and a net full of fish. If we were to summarise those we could say that the Kingdom of Heaven will start small, grow large, work into just about everything that it touches, is of great value, costs a lot and there will be a sifting at the end before people get there.
This morning I thought we could take an all too brief look at how the Kingdom of Heaven is already here and growing and how the fullness of the Kingdom of Heaven has not yet been realised.
Before we get there though, let’s spend a little bit of time looking at the parables that Jesus used.
In verses 31 & 32, Jesus talk about the smallest seed becoming one of the largest garden plants and becomes a tree. It’s a bit like that ad on TV for superannuation. From little things, big things grow. And that sums it up pretty well. From the smallest beginnings (twelve disciples), will come the largest of religions. Christianity. From 12 to millions. I really love the imagery of the birds using the tree to find rest and shade. It’s a great image of what Christianity can be. A place to find rest and protection from the harsh world. Some people so dearly need that. They need to be able to come and sit..to experience God…to experience love and acceptance. Mind youth focus of these two verses must be on the fact that Jesus is telling us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a small seed that will become a great plant.
Verse 33 then goes on to tell us how the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman worked through 60 pounds of flour until it was worked through the dough….wait…what? 60 pounds of flour?!?!?! That’s over 27kg’s. Has anyone ever made up that much dough with yeast in it? It’s an extraordinary amount and we best make sure we get that. Jesus is telling us that some yeast (interesting that we are not told how much yeast isn’t it?!). They key here is that it is a huge amount and the hearers would have been startled but the amount when Jesus spoke the parable. It’s shocking to think that Jesus would suggest someone make 27kilos of bread dough. The message that is here is that a small amount of something like yeast is worked into the dough! Do you get the impression that it was an easy task? I don’t. It would take some work to get the yeast going. Then it would have had to rest and rise. We need to realise that something small can have a great affect on it’s surroundings and change it’s make up forever. That flour will never be the same with yeast added.
We then jump from verse 33 to verse 44. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man found in a field. He then hid it, sold all he had in his joy and bought the field. It’s interesting that the man found the treasure, then buried it again to buy the field. So this man found the Kingdom of Heaven in a field, buried back in there for a while before he had the money to buy the field so he could have the treasure. As if he was so amazed by what he had found, that he wanted to make sure that there were no doubts about his ownership. It’s also interesting to note that it cost everything he had. Reminds me of Jesus telling us to take up our cross daily to follow Him. It costs us something to follow Jesus. And I’m not talking about money, although it could include that. We need to be able to lay down our old selves, our old ways to have the treasure.
This sense of how valuable the Kingdom of Heaven is, is reinforced with verses 45 & 46. Except this time, Jesus tells us that the merchant was looking for fine pearls. There is no suggestion that the man who found the treasure was looking for it (although it i implied). The merchant is looking for fine pearls but finds one of such value that he sold everything he had to buy it! Think about that for just a second. The merchant (who bought and sold things for a living), actually sold EVERYTHING he had to buy this pearl. He sold his ability to make a living. Another extreme saying from Jesus. Enough to capture the attention of those hearing it. It would have shocked them into thinking about just how valuable this Kingdom of Heaven is.
Verses 47-50 add another dimension to the parable already told. We get that the Kingdom of Heaven will start small and grow large. We get that it will invade all aspects of life. We get that it is such a valuable thing to have. That we need to be willing to sell everything we have to obtain it. But now we see that at the end of the age, there will be a sorting. Here is the introduction of the concept that the Kingdom of Heaven will start small and grow large but it will not end in a hurry. That the end of the age will come before the end of the Kingdom of Heaven (does that make you wonder about church growth??? It does me). At the end of the age, Angels will come and sort the wicked from the righteous, just as the fishermen sort the their catch from the good fish and the bad fish. The part that sort of does my head in is that Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like that net. When it was full, the bring it to the shore to sort….hang on…isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven already sorted? Isn’t the Kingdom of Heaven full of the righteous? It’s an interesting twist that I haven't come to a decent conclusion to yet. But here we have it, at the end of the age, there will be a sorting of wicked from righteous.
Verse 51 sees Jesus asking the disciples whether they get it or not. They simply answer yes. If it were me I would have tried to keep very quiet about then….
Our final verse, 52, is also the conclusion of this discourse. Therefore every teacher of the law (or scribe or even religious person) 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 is pointing out that His disciples always carry old and new in their hearts. They are Jews and now they are also something new. The encouragement is not to let the old disappear while the new happens. It’s important to remember our heritage. While some of it is a hinderance to our faith, much of it is vital. There needs to be a balance. We cannot preach Jesus crucified without referring to the Old Testament. The same can be said of the Old Testament. We cannot live in the the OT and ignore what is said in the New Testament. Both inform and fulfil each other. It’s a sad day when we begin to focus too much on one or the other. That's why part of my regular preaching plan is to go from a NT book to an OT book. We need to keep the balance. The OT looks tragic and brutal if we don't overlay it with the NT. The NT doesn’t make sense if we don't overlay the OT. Both are treasures. Bothe are part of the Kingdom of Heaven story. The OT points to Jesus and the NT tells us about Him.
As I read through these parables or analogies or stories of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, I can’t help but pick up a common thread. With each of these parables, there is a period of waiting. Once the seed is planted, there is a wait before it reaches maturity. You need to let dough rest to allow the yeast to work through the whole batch, a pearl of great worth would have taken time to grow to that size and fishing isn’t a five minute job. There is a sense of patience that goes with the Kingdom of Heaven. A sense that God is at work in making something of great worth. It's the same with the Kingdom of Heaven. It started over 2000 years ago when Jesus came to this planet but it isn’t finished. The full realisation of the Kingdom of Heaven won't happen until Jesus returns. We see that in the story of the catch of fish and how it will be sorted. At the end of the age (which is when Jesus returns) the wicked and the righteous will be sorted.
In the meantime, the Kingdom of Heaven continues to grow (despite what you hear around the place). It continues to increase in value. It continues to include more and more people.
That gets us to a really simple point. The Kingdom of Heaven isn’t a place, or an ideology, or a religion. The Kingdom of Heaven is people. Or more precisely disciples of Jesus. It started when people obeyed the command of Jesus “come, follow me”. I’m not sure if you realise this or not…but if you are a disciples of Jesus, you are already part of the Kingdom of Heaven. Heaven is already part of you. People say that they can’t wait to get to heaven. The truth for Jesus followers is that it is already part of our experience. We already have a taste of heaven in our lives. Every time you pray, every time you connect with Jesus, you experience heaven. Isn’t that just amazing? That precious gift of the Kingdom of Heaven already exists. It exists because we exist. It exists because we chose to follow Jesus. It exists because of what Jesus has done for us.
We need to remember that we exist in a time waiting for completion. Until the return of Jesus, we have work to do. It’s up to us to represent Jesus to others so that they can enjoy the wonder that is the Kingdom of Heaven. You hear people talking about Kingdom building. For me, that’s not the goal. The goal is to let people in on this amazing facet of our lives. Like the treasure in a field. It was worth selling everything to obtain. Like the pearl, it was worth everything to have. So too, is it when it comes to a relationship with Jesus. It is worth everything. It has an eternal consequence. And the eternity starts right now.
My challenge to you is this; don’t seek to convert people. Seek to represent Jesus to them, show them how precious our gift is and how much we desire them to share in it. Honestly, I can’t imagine a better thing to give them. Giving them the chance to be part of the already but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven.