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June 7, 2021

Six Pictures of God’s Kingdom

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From time to time, I go back and read one of my favorite parts of the Bible: the parables. These are the very short stories that Jesus told to make a point. Usually, they’re pretty straightforward, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point: Loving your neighbor isn’t that complicated. Take care of the one in need.

In the middle of the book of Matthew, Jesus gets on a bit of a parable roll. He tells six in a row, and they all focus on the same topic: the kingdom of heaven. It’s like he’s holding up a diamond and rotating it bit by bit—as the light hits it from different angles, you notice something new about it.

Keep in mind that this section follows soon after the famous Sermon on the Mount. At that time, Jesus gave his best-known teaching, depicting in living color that God’s kingdom is counterintuitive—upside down. When you get hit, turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Blessed are those who mourn. Do your good deeds in secret. It’s all in there. One of the big takeaways is that God’s kingdom doesn’t work like those of the world.

Then, a few chapters later in the text, Jesus brings more clarity and dimension to God’s kingdom. He uses stories, parables. For folks like me, that helps.

With that background, let me share at a very high level what I see about God’s kingdom from these six parables in Matthew 13.

1. The Sower: A farmer goes out to plant seed and drops the seeds in four different spots, leading to four different results.

What we learn about the kingdom:

  • God’s kingdom is not forced upon us, nor does it affect everyone the same way.
  • God’s kingdom must be received and planted into our hearts to take root.
  • God’s kingdom is mysterious with how it works and shapes people and cultures.

Notice that second one, “God’s kingdom must be received.” Put another way, “I’m not in control.” That’s a tough thing for most leaders to acknowledge, but it’s a reality that shapes how we approach God and his kingdom. We don’t control God’s kingdom; we receive it.

2. Wheat and Weeds: A farmer wakes up one day to find that a rival has sowed weeds all through his wheat crop.

What we learn about the kingdom:

  • God’s kingdom is mixed in with enemies and fakes.
  • God’s kingdom is not completely revealed till the harvest.

God’s kingdom doesn’t operate on our timing. At any given point in time, you may look around and say, “I’m not exactly sure what God is doing.” If that’s you, you’re in good company.

3. Mustard Seed: A small seed grows into a huge tree.

What we learn about the kingdom:

  • God’s kingdom starts small but explodes into great influence.
  • God’s kingdom is designed to provide tangible blessings to those in need.

There’s a verse earlier in the Bible that says, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” It’s one of the things God does—take things that we would overlook and use them to do his work. The parable of the mustard seed shows just that. The kingdom starts small.

4. Leaven: A woman works some yeast, otherwise known as leaven, into flour, slowly but surely working the yeast into the whole batch.

What we learn about the kingdom:

  • God’s kingdom has the ability to alter people and cultures.

Os Guinness said, “Jesus made clear that the kingdom of God is organic and not organizational. It grows like a seed and it works like leaven: secretly, invisibly, surprisingly, and irresistibly.” The nature of the leaven is that God’s kingdom works its way through the world and history, and, indeed, it does get all the way through.

5. Hidden Treasure and Priceless Pearl: A man finds a treasure in a field and, seeing its worth, sells everything he has to buy the field and the treasure within.

What we learn about the kingdom:

  • God’s kingdom must be sacrificially and supremely pursued.

What have I—what have you—sacrificed to gain God’s kingdom? The kingdom may cost a lot, but it is worth far more.

6. The Net: Some fishermen throw their net into the sea and pull up a huge catch of fish. They then sort through the catch to separate the fish that they were actually aiming for.

What we learn about the kingdom:

  • God’s kingdom is a discerning instrument to filter all of life and work.
  • God’s kingdom does not include everyone.

God’s kingdom involves some discernment. It’s not just an “everybody and everything come on in.” There’s design and purpose to it, which is exactly what we would expect from a God who is both personal and purposeful.

Conclusion

I didn’t pull out the parables to find something to write about. I pulled out the parables to re-anchor my mind and heart toward Jesus.

Might I suggest the same to you? Take a morning this week, grab a Bible (or click here),and read through these parables. Maybe practice that every day for a week. What do you notice? Keep the eleven kingdom insights I highlighted in front of you and personalize the comments.

We’re modern people. We’ve got smartphones and representative government and the periodic table, after all. But I’d assert that we’re not that different than Jesus’ original listeners. Our focus is on today and tomorrow and the years to come and our legacies, perhaps, but most of what we think about is this world, this “kingdom.” Jesus’ original listeners were pretty much the same.

But Jesus says there’s another kingdom that exists at the same time and in the future. Anchoring your mind and heart in God’s kingdom can revolutionize your life and work.

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