July 24, 2011
Picturing the Kingdom
Fr. PHILIP EBERHART
Picturing The Kingdom of God
Our gospel readings for the past few weeks have been from this 13th chapter of Matthew, which is the primary source of teaching on the Kingdom of Heaven in his gospel account. There are references to “the Kingdom” in almost every chapter – one or two or three – but here in this chapter the whole is given to his parables of the Kingdom. Likewise we see this in parallel in Mark and Luke.
Jesus repeatedly refers to “the Kingdom” in his teaching and the study of these pictures – his parables and stories – is a rich source of wisdom and knowledge about the working of the world into which we are called as believers.
We are called to A KINGDOM
We in the good ol’ US of A have little knowledge or use for a King. We proved that just about 250 years ago, as we overthrew the tyranny of a king and set for ourselves “new guards” for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – those inalienable rights granted us by God.
So a king or a kingdom are somewhat foreign concepts to us here – we know them by reference but not in our experience, and in fact, our experience leads us to be diametrically opposed to the whole idea of kingship and kingdom.
So how do we come to One who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, when we have little or no experience with this kind of relationship? Can we study our way into the Kingdom of God? I don’t think so.
The first step into a Kingdom is ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
I must acknowledge the KING. That means I assent to His rule and place myself UNDER that rule, willingly. We use the word SUBMISSION today, to indicate the subjection of one will to another will – and so it is, we are submitted to Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the King of this Kingdom. He is its chief professor and to understand it we must come and submit to Him and sit at His feet – in His Word. It is here that we are taught the principles of this Kingdom. It is here that we learn anew how this Kingdom works – because it is radically different from the kingdoms of this world!
This morning I want to look at the Pictures of the Kingdom that Jesus gives us just in our reading. There are numerous other pictures and parables that He uses to describe this reality throughout the whole of the NT, but 98 of the 134 references to the Kingdom are in the first three gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke – the “synoptic” gospels. Some of those are parallel passages, telling the same story from different perspectives, but there are a significant number of these pictures. Let’s just look at the few that are presented to us in Matt 13 now:
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE:
A Mustard Seed ---
Known for the smallness of its seed, the mustard plant is a picture of the potential of the Kingdom. From small beginnings, the Kingdom of God grows into the largest plant in the garden! From the seed that was Jesus himself, falling into the ground in death, has come the billions who are now and have in the past professed Him as Lord and King. And the seed continues to grow even today.
Yeast Hidden ---
Once again, Jesus is talking about the powerful potential of the Kingdom, which with only a small portion of yeast, leavens a whole batch of dough. A little goes a long way. Here Jesus uses this metaphor in a variety of ways, making reference to the “yeast” of the Pharisees in some of his teaching, illustrating that the principle of potential works in a negative direction as well.
Last night at Anne’s birthday party, I and Oak were talking about the amazing influence that this congregation has for the Kingdom. With just a few folks, we are causing an influence for the Kingdom that is being felt around the world, not just in one place but in many. The Potential Principle is working among us here at REZ!
Treasure Hidden --- Pearl of Great Price
Later in the chapter, Jesus changes gears and begins to talk about the Principle of Relative Worth in the Kingdom of God. We have a scale of worth in our culture: It is based on ease of replacement. An airline pilot makes more than a janitor. He is “worth” more than the janitor. But in the social life of the Kingdom (and in the real life of America) all we need is to have a garbage collectors’ strike to know the relative value of that profession!
Here Jesus turns to helping us gain an understanding of the value of the Kingdom.
The treasure hidden and the pearl of great price are both illustrations of the Relative Worth of the Kingdom of God. It is worth enough to go and sell all you have in order to “buy” it. In other words, nothing we have here on earth can compare to its worth. It is supremely valuable! More so than anything we could ever possess in this world.
The Great Net ---
Finally, Jesus comes back to the illustration of the Kingdom as a place where both good and bad may grow (and be caught in the net) but there will be a sorting out process and ultimate destiny based on Kingdom reality, not on our value system.
This is similar to the parable of the tares, earlier in the chapter, that we heard in last week’s Gospel reading. The principle here is of the Ultimate Justice of the Kingdom. God will sort it all out in the end. In this world we have an ongoing battle with our flesh, we have an ongoing struggle with the fallen tendencies of our old nature and those of others.
The challenge so often among us is not to do God’s work for Him! We so badly want to sort out those we deem to be inferior or unworthy – those whose lives don’t show fruitfulness or, just those who rub us the wrong way. Especially in the church!
Have you ever noticed that God tends to place people along our path who, in our humble opinion, need to be “fixed?” And what do you do with such folks? Most of us try to fix them. Now, has anyone here ever been on the receiving end of trying to be fixed? Fun? Not so much!!
This parable and the parable of the tares earlier in this chapter, both point to the principle that God and God alone is the ultimate judge and arbiter. He alone will make the determination on our faithfulness and worth to Him, and we, being subject to Him in The Kingdom, better not usurp His throne by taking the judgment seat ourselves.
The final question that Jesus asks is, “So, do you get it?”
The Kingdom of God is powerful in its potential, taking the smallest of beginnings and making the largest of Kingdoms out of them. It is hidden power and potential, like leaven. We will not be able to see its influence until it starts growing inside. But when that happens it will change the whole because of its influence.
The Kingdom of God is worth everything. But once again its value is not apparent, it is hidden – something to be sought after like treasure, something to be sacrificed for at great cost – the cost of our very lives and livelihoods. It is worth it all.
And, the Kingdom of God is progressing – Here now, and Not Yet. It is a mixed bag of wheat and weeds, of fish, both good and bad. It is a huge net that has been cast by heaven around the world, and it is heaven that will decide at the end of the day on our worthiness and our ultimate fate and reward.
Jesus most chilling words are similar in many places. “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord! Will enter the Kingdom of heaven.” The ones who DO the will of my Father will be the ones to enter into the Joy of the Master. Jesus is always clear that what is required of us is obedience. We are subjects of a King and we must live always in the knowledge of that allegiance and with our minds ready and willing to make that allegiance first above all others.