- Sermon Notes
The Kingdom of Heaven
As we continue our study through Matthew chapter 13, Jesus is teaching the famous parables of the kingdom of heaven. First of all, it would be good for us to remember why Jesus taught in parables. When Jesus would teach in parables, He would often say, "He who has an ear to hear, let him hear." Everyone may have an ear, but does he have an ear to hear?
Jesus explained that parables reveal the truth for those who have an ear to hear, but they also conceal the truth for those whose hearts are hard and whose ears are closed to the truth.
It's also important to remember that a parable teaches one main truth. That's important to understand so we don't try to nuance every possible theological meaning out of every parable. Some parables Jesus explains and there is little debate about their meaning. Other parables, however, Jesus does not explain and therefore we look to the principles of His Word to help us understand their meaning.
In the parables we are looking at today, Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven. I'm convinced that He wants us to understand what the kingdom of heaven is so we are not surprised at what is unfolding here on earth.
Many people are confused when they think about the kingdom of heaven. They think about the conditions of heaven eternal and expect those would be the conditions of things now, here on earth, and they are greatly perplexed as to why that is not so. And so they ask questions like, "Why do the wicked prosper?" "Why does it seem that injustice is growing?"
But these parables give us great insight and understanding so we are not surprised and so our faith is not hindered or shipwrecked.
Let's look at the next three parables and gain insight also into what the kingdom of heaven means.
I. Don’t be Surprised by Tares
- In verse 24, Jesus presented another parable that begins by explaining the kingdom of heaven. Again, we must understand that He is not referring to heaven eternal, but he's referring to the kingdom of heaven on earth; the things that God is doing amongst men.
- Jesus explained that parable beginning in verse 36 and following. "A man sowed good seed in his field," Jesus said, He then explained that the Son of Man sows the sons of the kingdom into the world.
- He also explained that the enemy, the devil, sows tares as well into the world.
A. Wheat and tares must grow together
- In the parable Jesus explained that the servants discovered tares growing amongst the wheat and asked if the landowner wanted to root them out.
- Now would be a good time to explain what tares are since it's so relevant to the parable. Tares are darnel weed that looks very similar to wheat as it grows, but is actually poisonous.
- In that culture, a mean-spirited farmer might sow darnel into his competitor’s field so as to make them poisonous and he would either have to painstakingly remove them at the harvest or destroy the whole field.
- When asked if they should remove the tares from the wheat, Jesus responded, "No, lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root out the wheat with them."
- The greatest difference between wheat and darnel is that wheat is healthy and produces life while darnel is poisonous. What's interesting is that they look very similar. And that's the point.
- Jesus seems to be explaining that there will be false religions and false doctrines that grow up alongside that which God planted.
Illus – If someone were to create a counterfeit $50 bill, wouldn't they want to make it as realistic as possible? The same would be said of false religion.
- By the way, while on this point, it's important to say that there is a difference between false religions and having many denominations.
- The world likes to criticize the church because there are many denominations and church movements, but these are just different flavors. I see nothing wrong with that.
Illus – Baskin Robbins has 31 flavors and that’s actually a good thing.
- But… how can you discern between the false and that which is authentic?
Galatians 1:8, But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
1 Corinthians 15:20-22 The resurrection of Christ is the evidence of faith.
1 John 4:1, Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
B. Wait until the harvest
- Jesus explained that the workers were not to remove the tares from the wheat because they might damage the wheat in the process.
- Instead, both would be allowed to grow together until the harvest and then the tares would be separated from the wheat, bound in bundles and thrown into the fire.
Illus - Billy Graham was once being interviewed on Larry King Live and was asked the question, "Are things worse than they have ever been?" Billy Graham answered, "Things are getting worse, but they're also getting better." Of course he was asked to explain such an answer and so he said, "There is a parable of Jesus that the wheat and the tares must grow up together and as we come toward the end the poisonous tares are getting riper but the wheat is getting riper as well. Soon, the Lord will send forth his angels with his sickle and gather the unbelieving in bundles and cast them into everlasting fire…”
- The Lord doesn’t want the church harmed and rooting out every false thing would damage the church in the process.
Illus – When you hear there are tares, the temptation is to go on the attack and try and root out every false doctrine and every false thing even in the church, but we should be reminded of what Jesus said to Peter…
John 21:17, Jesus said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me? …feed my sheep.”
Illus - If a pastor decided to try to root out the tares and start preaching a message of fire, brimstone and condemnation, "Examine yourself to see if you're in the faith!" And hold them over the fires of hell until they’re medium rare, it would have the opposite result. Since the tares don't have ears to hear, they're not going to hear that either, but the dear, sensitive, sincere saints would become uprooted and discouraged and beaten down; that which God never intended.
- Our faith and our hope is that God will sort it all out at the end of the age. Our mission, if you choose to accept it, is to speak of the good news of Jesus Christ to the world and to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
- Those who have an ear to hear will hear and the wheat will grow up and produce fruit 100, 60, and 30 fold.
II. Don’t be Surprised at Birds and Leaven
- The next two parables follow along the same theme of Jesus explaining the kingdom of heaven to them.
- I'm convinced that Jesus wants them to understand so they are not surprised and so their faith is not disturbed when they see what happens here on the Earth.
A. Mustard trees are too big
- This next parable is very interesting. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that grows up to become a tree so that even the birds of the air, nest in its branches.
- But mustard plants were never intended to grow to this degree and it was certainly not common for birds to nest in mustard bushes.
- There are actually a couple of different interpretations of this parable. One interpretation suggests that the kingdom of heaven will start out small and insignificant but will grow to such a large degree that it will become a great tree. The interpretation therefore being very positive.
- But Jesus just spoke of the evil one as the birds that snatch away the Word of God in the previous parable.
- But a more common interpretation of this parable is that it is a warning that when the kingdom of heaven becomes large and successful, the birds of the air will come and make a nest.
- It occurs to me that success itself can become a great trouble for the church. I think it's very possible for churches and pastors to have what might be called spiritual greed. In fact, I'm convinced that in many places the success of the church is the main motivation.
- This happened in Israel as well and the Lord had something strong to say about it.
Ezekiel 34:1-4 They did not feed God's sheep
Ezekiel 34:11-16 God Himself would feed them
B. Leaven will puff up many
- The next parable is also interpreted two ways. One interpretation is that it's a wonderful and positive picture of how the kingdom of heaven will start out insignificantly but affect the whole world.
- The problem with that interpretation as I see it is that Jesus is speaking to Jews and all of them would have interpreted leaven as being a representation of sin.
- Jesus spoke of leaven as a picture of sin. The apostle Paul did as well. Wheat it used to make bread and that is a picture of the church.
- It seems to me that Jesus is giving a warning in advance so that no one is surprised when these things are revealed.
- Someone might say, "But this seems to paint a picture of the kingdom of heaven that's not all good and wonderful.”
- It's true that Jesus is painting a realistic picture so we understand in advance, but it's also important to understand that the church is still the bride of Christ and though there may be many things that are imperfect in the church, it’s still the bride of Christ that He loves.
- He therefore gives warnings so that we are aware and careful to build and strengthen his church.
- Jesus said to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees; either adding to the Word or taking away from the Word of God.
Matthew 16:12, Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
- But He’s also speaking about the purity of heart and devotion that God desires in His church whom He loves.
1 Corinthians 5:7, Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just that you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.
- When we understand how much God loves us and understand also how much He desires us to love Him, we understand why He would give us encouragement to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Matthew 13:23-43 NASB