Matthew 13: Kingdom of God (a sermon text)
I preached a couple of weeks ago (again!) and I decided to use Matthew 13 as my text. I had been doing some light research on the chapter and taught a little of it in my Sunday school class so I took the next logical step and went ahead with a full blown manuscript. It preached fairly well although I would agree with anyone who said it's a bit long. It preached long too. Anyhow, here's the text of the sermon. Enjoy.
The Kingdom of God
Sermon Text: Matthew 13
One of the things we understand from Jesus, that is, things explicitly taught by Him, to us–about how to do something–is how to pray.
So, when Jesus, for example, said “I will make you fishers of men,” it’s not like he explicitly told you and me–and I assume the majority of us are not fishermen in the sense that Jesus’ first disciples were–how it is that we are to go about doing such a thing. For that matter, what does it mean to be a ‘fisher of men’?
But some will argue that he did in fact teach us how to make disciples at the end of Matthew 28 and thus we do, in actuality, have our blueprints for how to be fishers of men.
We might also take the idea of worshiping in Spirit and truth. We do not really gather from his conversation in John 4 what that means or exactly how such worship might look–and I assume it would look profoundly different in our culture than it would in Samaria in the first century, or in Africa in the 21st century.
But whatever else we may decide about such things as these, and they may be radically different from person to person while remaining profoundly orthodox, is that at the end of the day, Jesus did teach us how to pray. We know the sort of things he taught us to pray–things that are typically quite different from the things we pray for, safe travel, sunshine and safe travel–not that there’s anything wrong with these things but that they are different from what he specifically said to pray for.
And, to put a fine point on this, Jesus told us specifically to pray, “Your kingdom come.” I have heard a lot of people pray before that the Lord provide us with daily bread, and forgiveness of sins, and that his will be done. But I have heard few, very few, people–elders, deacons, preachers, prophets, or little old faithful ladies–pray that God’s kingdom come.
And why? What is it about this kingdom that prevents us from praying ‘your kingdom come’?
It seems that even in this context of Matthew 6, it’s not as odd as it might seem to find Jesus talking to his disciples about the Kingdom. Matthew has had the kingdom in mind from the beginning of his Gospel when he started with a genealogy of ‘Jesus Messiah, the son of King David, the son of Abraham.’ When you start a book by talking about kings, the reign of kings, and the sons of kings well, then I suppose we ought to assume that perhaps the idea is going to be featured in the rest of the book.
And so it is and so it goes. Over and over again in Matthew we see a clash of kingdoms: Jesus collides with Herod near his birth, he collides with the satan after his baptism and many other times too, at times he collides with his own disciples, and other times with the leadership of Israel. Finally, he collides with the kings of Rome.
Matthew’s Gospel is one telling you and me not so much about how to be saved–in some strange sense of going to heaven when we die–but about how God was once again becoming the King of this earth and thus bringing about to fulfillment his plan which he announced in creation–if He created this heavens and the earth, then the heavens and the earth and everything in them are his and he will rule them–and specified in the person of Abraham in Genesis 12–that is, his plan to bless all nations through Abraham and the promised Seed who would crush this earth’s kingdoms which are so masterfully under the control and direction of the serpent.
And in some way we see God becoming King in Jesus and we see Jesus reclaiming the heavens and the earth for God through his death and his resurrection: All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, he said, now you go and tell this story and make disciples.
Scott McKnight writes, “I lay down an observation that alters the landscape if we embrace it–namely, we need to learn to tell the story that makes sense of Jesus. Not a story that we ask Jesus to fit into. No, we need to find the story that Jesus himself and the apostles told. To us common idiom, If Jesus was the answer, what was the question?’ Or, better, ‘If Jesus was the answer, and the answer was that Jesus was the Messiah/King, what was the question?’ (22) McKnight goes on to state, quite bluntly: “What is the kingdom story of the Bible? Until we can articulate the Bible’s kingdom story, we can’t do kingdom mission.’ (23)
If Matthew is telling us the story of Jesus, a King who was ushering in a/the Kingdom, what ought we to be looking for in this kingdom? And to answer this, I’d like us to flip over to Matthew 13 for a few minutes and make a few observations.
24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
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 like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. 35 So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:
“I will open my mouth in parables,
I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.”
36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
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.
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.”
So, the kingdom story. I’m intentionally zeroing in on these short parables in chapter 13 because in a way they are some of the clearest ideas Jesus gives us about the nature of the kingdom of God and what it looks like. It’s almost like Jesus is going on a verbal rampage…scraping up every metaphor and simile he can to bring the reality of the kingdom home to the people he was speaking to that day.
The kingdom of heaven is like a seed, it’s like a farmer, it’s like a treasure, it’s like a garden full of wheat and weeds, it’s like a merchant, it’s like a net…if he came to us now and preached this sermon, I wonder what he’d say…
The Kingdom of heaven is like an american picker who digs through mounds and mounds of trash looking for treasure and when he finds some he dickers and deals until he gets the right price so he can make a profit…or something like that.
But whatever else we might say, this kingdom of God that Jesus was ushering in, bringing to light was different from anything anyone had seen or was expecting.
Here we see Jesus in a boat in the water…resting above the waters much like the Spirit of God did at the creation. I bring this up because it’s my contention that that is precisely the point: the announcement of the kingdom by Jesus is perfectly in line with God’s intentions in creating us to begin with: to rule over us, but to bless us; to be our king, but in sweet fellowship with us; to ask for love from us, and never to demand; to set boundaries for our peace, but to provide for us in all things.
There is Jesus in the boat, above the waters, speaking into the people of this world, creating a new people, and announcing his kingdom to them. In a sense, beginning the re-creating of the heavens and the earth and the people who will live there under God’s righteous rule.
And telling them about the kingdom and what it looks like and what it smells like and how it tastes and feels–engaging the sense in order to help us understand what Jesus says we cannot fully understand.
Notice a couple of the more salient points Jesus makes about this Kingdom.
First, Jesus seems to be saying that kingdom is visible. “Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.” (16). I think what Jesus is saying is this: you don’t have to do somersaults and cartwheels and dance around in space to find the kingdom. He’s saying open your eyes. Open your ears. Open your senses. Pay attention to what you see and hear and smell and feel and taste. Kingdom reality is all around us.
Just a chapter or two earlier Jesus told the John the Baptist: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (11:4-6)
But he also points out to us in chapter 13 that there are people who will neither see nor hear. They have closed their eyes and ears to what God is doing.
Our problem now probably is the same. But nowadays not only do we close our ears and eyes to what God is doing, but we utterly refuse to believe God can do such things or that he even will. We have simply said things like: God doesn’t heal. God doesn’t raise the dead. God doesn’t. God won’t. God isn’t. He shut that part of life off. And perhaps when we decided that God doesn’t heal anymore that’s when we also stopped preaching the good news of the kingdom to the poor.
Perhaps that’s when we started being offended by Jesus.
Who says God doesn’t, or can’t, or won’t heal any more? Who says that that’s no longer a kingdom priority? Maybe we need to challenge ourselves a little more on these issues. Maybe the answer to the so-called problems the world has with Muslims is not more bombs and guns and death but for more Christians to share the good news of Jesus and to let Jesus do his work among them.
Who says that Just because Jesus resurrected and ascended that these things are no longer a part of his kingdom? The book of Acts says in verse one that the Gospel of Luke was about all that Jesus began to do and teach which leads us to understand that the book of Acts is about all he continued to do and teach. Not by might. Not by strength. By his Spirit.
Second, there will be opposition and violence done to the kingdom of God Jesus announces. The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field but while his men were sleeping his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.
So, here’s a couple of thoughts. Yes. There will be opposition to the kingdom of God. There will be enemies. But notice that Jesus neither tries to specify who the enemy is nor where he comes from or what his intentions are. Jesus doesn’t look at his disciples and say, “Atheists will come in among you and spread bad seeds.” Jesus doesn’t say, “Evolutionists will come in among you and spread their ill will.”
Jesus simply says: yep. there will be bad seed among you, sown by an enemy, that you may well recognize but that you are not to try to harvest on your own.
What? Yep. Jesus tells his people to leave the weeds alone. We are not to hunt down the enemy. We are not ID the enemy. We are not to harvest the weeds. His point his this: It’s my kingdom, it’s my field, it’s my right to harvest, and I will do so when the time is right. And isn’t his timing always right? Later in the chapter he makes this point again. The parable of the weeds is explained in verses 36-43. He says: “The son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers…” Then he notes in the parable of the nets in verse 47-50: “When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good in containers but threw the away the bad. So will it be at the end of the age.. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous.”
So we understand: there will be a sorting, but Jesus makes it expressly clear that this sorting is not happening now and that it is not our job to make it happen. The sorting will come at a later time and it will be done by those who are asked to do it.
In fact, we may not even know they are weeds until they fully grow up and the harvest is upon us.
Still, there are enemies. We need to be aware. Alert because the devil does prowl about looking for someone to devour. The kingdom, as it stands, and as I understand it, right now, is not a matter of absolute purity.
It is a matter of obedience and grace and perhaps those weeds grow up among us for a time in the hope that the weeds will somehow, miraculously change. In the meantime we wait. We are probably not fond of waiting, but wait we must. NT Wright notes, “Somehow Jesus wanted his followers to live with the tension of believing that the kingdom was indeed arriving in and through his own work, and that this kingdom would come, would fully arrive, not all in a bang but through a slow process like the slow growth of a plant or the steady leavening of a loaf.” (170).
We can learn to wait on God’s righteous judgment.
Third, the Kingdom stands in marked contrast to the grandiose kingdoms of the world. I think Jesus is deliberately alluding to Daniel chapter 4 where we are told that Nebudchadnezzer was like a giant tree where all the animals and birds found shelter. But in that same chapter, Daniel told Neb: “Therefore, O King, let my counsel be acceptable to you: break off your sins by practicing righteousness, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the oppressed, that there may perhaps be a lengthening of your prosperity.” (Daniel 4:27).
So here’s the somewhat obvious connection: The kingdom of heaven that Jesus announced and inaugurated is NOT like the kingdom of Babylon (Neb also said: Is this not great Babylon which I have built by
my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”) in any way. Which is to say, the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms of this world which are marked by injustice, cruelty, violence, aggression, want for power, strife, immorality, war, treaties, and oppression.
Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. It has small, innocuous beginnings but it grows and overtakes the world (Daniel 2:44-45). The Kingdom of heaven stands in marked contrast to the kingdoms of the world. The kingdom of heaven is built around Jesus who gives shape to the outline and is the substance that fills it. The kingdom will produce, but not like the kingdoms of humanity which are built on the backs of the weak and powerless. [I also noted other references to the Book of Daniel in this chapter. Verse 32, Daniel 4; Verse 37, 41, Daniel 7; Verse 43, Daniel 12. I don’t think these are mere passing allusions. Jesus is thinking about that Kingdom that Daniel talks about over and over in his book.]
But he is saying also that the Kingdom of God is different. We can scarcely compare it to the kingdoms of this world because they are so markedly different, so markedly unrighteous, and unjust. But eventually, this kingdom of Jesus will take over the world entirely, fill it from sea to sea with the knowledge of God. Habakkuk: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14)
This is the kingdom that Daniel said would grow: “But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth….And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break into pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…” (Daniel 2:35, 44)
Well, that’s all I can say for today because as Paul the apostle wrote, the kingdom of God is not about talk, but about power. It’s important for us to talk about it, but it’s also important, perhaps more so important, for the kingdom’s power to be demonstrated among us. And how will that happen? How will this kingdom manifest itself among us, among you? How has this kingdom of God been slowly working among this congregation?
How has Jesus shaped you and formed you? How has he given shape and fullness to your everyday lives as faith people in this community?
In what small ways has the kingdom taken root here among you and like leaven begun to spread?
In what ways has the kingdom demonstrated its power among you?
In what ways are you waiting patiently for God to act among you by allowing weeds to grow and while God waits patiently because he desires that none are lost but that all are saved and come to a knowledge of Jesus?
And finally, ask yourself as a congregation. Are you trumpeting the kingdom of God? Or some parody of it called the kingdom of America. This is key. We preach Messiah crucified and resurrected.
We preach a kingdom that will not perish from the earth, but one that will take over the earth, destroy the kingdoms of the earth, and last in righteousness and justice.
So, one final question, what, then, is the content, shape, and substance of your prayers? Do you pray His Kingdom come?
That’s the question we really need to answer.