Kingdom Come

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51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

Matthew 13:51-52

 

The kingdom of heaven. Jesus standing between old and new. Ancient promises fulfilled, while something new emerges. “God’s future was breaking into the present – heaven was arriving on earth.” (NT Wright, Simply Christian)

This is deep. These concepts were radically new and unexpected when Jesus spoke them. Jesus’ central message was that this kingdom of heaven was at hand, was essentially staring his followers in the face. The explanation required layers of meaning, backed up a continual, self-sacrificing demonstration of love by an incarnate God.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like…scattered seeds, fruitful in receptive soil, something tiny that grows exponentially into something beautiful and useful, a net and a harvest, where evil will one day be expunged. The kingdom of God…grows, produces, is mysterious, is unassuming, flourishes alongside evil, and will be subject to a final judgment.

Wrapped up in this information overload was Jesus’ invitation to imitation. He bid his disciples to walk with him, to trust him, to “come and see.” He asked them if they understood what he was saying. I imagine their answer as more of a question than a response…a shaky “Yes?” I imagine Jesus smiling back, knowing that this was going to take a lot of active learning. He affirms them, calling them scribes (people entrusted to copy the ancient text of Scripture!) They will be like the master of the house, commoners elevated to wealthy homeowner status, a kingdom inheritance! They are compelled now, to share this secret kingdom treasure, making sense of the old and the new to their circles of influence. And bring forth they will! The fact that we are pondering these words today is evidence!

I find it baffling that Jesus entrusted this kingdom message to a select few, in whom he invested divine time and energy, every resource at his disposal. It was God’s perfect plan. It wasn’t just information to be learned; it was the presence of God to be experienced. It was a preparation for the Holy Spirit that would, through people like you and me, make this kingdom real through every tumultuous period of history since, right up to the present day.

The kingdom of God is at hand, my friends.   It’s already here and its fullness is yet to come! We are the ones who now have the privilege to take this old and new treasure and bring it forth! May God’s kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven, through you and through me!

A Net

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47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 13:47-50, ESV

 

Matthew ends this parabolic discourse of Jesus with a unique message to this insider troupe. These followers, made up of fishermen and tradesmen, tax collectors and housewives, commoners by all accounts, were being let in on great kingdom secrets. The king of kings, himself, was calling them to clandestine royalty, to be his secret agents in the kingdom of heaven. This mission, if they chose to accept it, was going to be costly, dangerous, and difficult. They needed courage and hope. Jesus served it up where it all began for them, at the fishing docks.

Jesus first called Peter, Andrew, James and John as he walked by the Sea of Galilee where they were fishermen. While they were mending their nets, Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-22) As hard as that was for them to grasp, they left their nets and followed him. They witnessed him proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, while healing every disease and affliction among the people. “Repent, for the kingdom is near,” was Jesus’ favorite tagline, his most used good news message.

Far from the political or military powerhouse the disciples and every expectant Jew anticipated, this messiah was soft-spoken and tender, meek and mild. His kingdom was near, but not nearly what they expected! He asked them to turn the other cheek, to resist fighting evil with evil. (Matthew 5) That took uncommon restraint and humility. Jesus assures them in this final kingdom likeness, that evil will not be overlooked in the kingdom of heaven. Judgment is coming. Evil will be put in its place.

“The kingdom of heaven”, he said, “is like a net,” a really big net. Probably understood by these fisherman to be a 750 to 1000 foot long wall-like structure, 25 feet high at its center and 5 feet high at the ends, weighted at its bottom, and buoyed at its top, this massive net could bring in large quantities of fish, the good with the bad. Just like they had to separate the good eating fish from the less appetizing or “unclean” ones (Lev 11:9-12), God will separate the evil from the righteous at the end of the age. Just like the wheat and the weeds were allowed to grow together, the net will be no respecter of persons. Every man, woman, boy and girl will find themselves in its scope. The good news is that it was not up to the disciples nor is it up to us as Christ followers today, to determine the good from the bad when fishing for men. God’s got that covered. He’s just and merciful.

Thankfully, for those of us who choose to recognize the enormous value of a God who gives himself to anyone who will receive him and apply his salvation to their life, he will show unlimited mercy. His righteousness is ours for the taking! But to those who will not accept Jesus death on their behalf, who choose to go it their own way, depend on their own righteousness, and who allow themselves to be used by Satan to promote chaos and evil in this world, a day of divine fairness is coming. They will get what we all deserve, ultimate death and despair, a complete separation from God.

It was a gift for Jesus to describe the kingdom this way! We face a similar challenge to our resolve today as followers of Jesus when we face evil on so many fronts.   Disciples are not immune to the destructive forces of lies, cheating, stealing, sexual sin, abandonment, rejection, personal violations, violence, and even death in all its cruel forms. We live in a fallen world, but we serve a victorious king! In his kingdom, evil will not prevail. Let go of the very human need for vindication and retribution, so that you can live a life full of the peace and joy only God can give. God will fight for you, friend. And He always wins! Redemption and renewal are on the way.

Value

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I saw this meme on my Facebook feed this morning: “The enemy wouldn’t be attacking you if something very valuable wasn’t inside of you. Thieves don’t break into empty houses.” (From One Purpose – 31 Days of Encouragement) “Really?” my subconscious said. “Indeed,” the Spirit confirmed. Amy, “do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (I Co 6:19) Amy, Jesus beckons, (Jn 14:23) “If anyone loves me, [she] will keep my word, and my Father will love [her], and we will come to [her] and make our home with [her].” Based on some of Satan’s recent attacks, this makes perfect sense. Hidden inside of me, mysterious as it may be, is a treasure of the highest value imaginable!

Jesus continues his parable-palooza in Matthew 13, but now he moves indoors, from the crowd to the committed. To the crowd, Jesus’ words were a great mystery. They were hard, even counter-culturally crazy at times. Many chose to turn away upon hearing them, but to the called, they were “the words of life.” (Jn 6:60-68) The concepts didn’t always make sense, but the disciples seemed to grasp that something very valuable was transpiring in their midst. Truth that “had been hidden since the foundation of the world” was being proclaimed. (Matthew 13:34-35) It changed everything.

It’s no surprise then that Jesus would tell this inner circle in confidence:

44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

He was asking them to do just that, to “sell all that they had” to follow him:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27)

Why would anyone do that? Because the kingdom of heaven was that valuable! Like a field with buried treasure or a costly pearl, both hidden and invisible, it is worth the effort to find and claim and make real. The disciples had a great epiphany after Jesus death, burial and resurrection. He showed back up. His own Spirit came upon them and indwelled them and the world has never been the same!

The kingdom of heaven, friends, is inside of you. It’s the Spirit of God that makes his home with you. His kingdom is anywhere where He sits on the throne of an open heart. It’s hidden beneath the layers of flesh and desire that make you human. It’s Spirit. It’s truth. It’s a treasure. It’s the sand inside of you that is being transformed into a pearl. It’s so valuable that Satan is trying to move heaven and earth to get it. Don’t give him the pleasure of the slightest access. Guard your heart. Value the God in you!

Grow

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31 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31-32

My husband was talking about our trees yesterday. Before he pruned some branches, he stared at them. They looked like they were trying so hard to survive. They had done some miraculous gymnastic like adaptations to keep growing, but they weren’t healthy.  They had to go.

Jesus said the kingdom of heaven grows. It starts small and increases in size.  It assimilates material into a living organism. It springs up and develops to maturity. It develops from a parent source. It has an increasing influence. It becomes increasingly acceptable or attractive.[1]

Left to my own devices, I’ll grow, but more like the unhealthy branches of my backyard trees. My instinct is to start big, to get ahead of the process, and to control. I try so hard self-preserve and self-protect. The kingdom of heaven, however, in in God’s hands. He’s growing a kingdom that is big and beautiful and strong, but it starts with a tiny seed planted in me.

A small mustard seed miraculously becomes a large, healthy plant able to sustain even the homes of birds! While we may understand the stages a seed goes through to become such a flowering plant, the process itself is mysterious.   It requires transformative change. We may set the conditions for this change, but only God can empower the increase.

Sometimes that happens in the dark recesses of the soil. Sometimes it happens in broad daylight. Sometimes it requires pruning. Other times, it requires pollination and fertilization. For me, God grows me in dark, secret places, but also among friends. His Word and his gentle voice suggests that I make adjustments, but sometimes he has to make some forceful cut backs. His Spirit convicts, guides, and makes groans to the Father on my behalf. This is mysterious, but the transformation in me is no less exponential. It produces faith, trust in a God I can’t always understand, but who I am convinced is real and personal.

Later, Jesus says, if you have faith, even as small as a mustard seed, God can do things through you that you can’t even dream possible! (Matthew 17:20) That’s the kingdom, friends. It’s so near; it’s in our mouths and in our heart. Paul says it’s the word of faith that we proclaim. (Romans 10:8-9) That’s Jesus, the final word, the only one that matters. Believe him. Share him. He has the power to save, to transform hearts, and to grow a kingdom so large from the tinniest of seeds.

 

 

[1] These are all definitions of the intransitive verb form of “grow” in the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary.