“The Mystery of the Kingdom” Matthew 13:1-17 October 11, 2009
SI: Please open your Bibles to Matthew 13.
This morning we’re beginning a six-week study of this chapter.
Matthew 13 is a collection of what are known as Christ’s kingdom parables.
Jesus told many other parables, but these are grouped together for a particular
reason. They are parables aimed at believers, to help us see more clearly
what it means to live in the kingdom of God.
Chapter starts with one of Jesus’ best-known parables, the Parable of the Sower,
or, as some people like to call it, the Parable of the Soils.
We’re going to read that parable, but we’re going to study it next week.
Instead, we’re going to focus on what Jesus told his disciples after
he told them the Parable of the Sower.
They asked him: Why are you teaching in parables?
We need to study his answer and take it to heart.
INTRO: We have some good neighbors who live right across the street from us.
They are immigrants from South Africa and now naturalized American citizens.
They are all very proper and respectful in a British colonial way.
Very mindful of boundaries. Never overstepping or imposing.
A few years ago, when their children were still at home and in high school,
one Saturday morning we saw that their yard had been rolled.
They have three big pine trees in their front yard and they were covered
with toilet paper. Whoever did it, did a fine job.
A little while later I saw my neighbor outside, so I walked over laughing.
But when I got closer, I saw that he was not laughing one bit!
He was deeply offended. With a restrained British outrage he told
me that his private property had been violated and that he was shortly going
to call the police.
I said, Kevin, getting your yard rolled is not a bad thing.
It just means your kids are popular.
Some of their friends did this last night.
It’s messy, but it’s a very traditional, harmless prank.
Nobody considers it trespassing. Nobody considers it insulting.
Make your kids come out here and pick up what they can
and rain will take care of the rest.
When I let him in on that secret of Southern small town life, he got it,
and he relaxed.
Something that a short time before was profoundly disturbing to him—
in his way of thinking a violation, an insult. Something that made him
feel an outsider, became something entirely different.
It became, in this new way of thinking, a sign that he was part of the neighborhood.
Now, let’s apply that to this passage.
Jesus began to do something the disciples didn’t understand.
He started telling the crowds parables. He had told parables before,
but always as a way of illustrating truths he was trying to explain.
But at this point in his ministry,
as he began to get more and more resistance, there was a shift.
He began to speak to the crowds only in parables, and gave no explanations.
The people were entertained, but they didn’t understand.
The disciples asked Jesus, Why are you doing this?
This is no way to build a following. You are speaking riddles to them.
The people aren’t getting it.
Jesus’ answer was perplexing.
He basically said: I don’t intend for them to get it.
They won’t get it. They can’t get it. They will hear but will not understand.
These parables aren’t for them, they are for you.
These parables are for believers only.
They are about the secrets, the mysteries, of the kingdom of heaven.
And I’m telling them to you, and explaining them to you, so that you get it.
I want you to understand how things work in God’s kingdom.
Because if you get it, and really take it to heart, will be blessed.
Then, Jesus proceeds to tell this string of parables.
In these parables he explains what God’s kingdom is, and how you get in,
and how things work in the kingdom, and what the values are,
and what the trajectory and future of the kingdom is.
To the degree that you understand the kingdom of God,
and make your decisions based upon it, you will be blessed.
The reason you will be blessed is because the kingdom of God is reality.
It’s the way things really are. And as you conform your life and expectations
to God’s reality, you will inevitably be blessed.
Jesus says: Blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear.
So before we jump into the parables themselves, as will next week.
Focus more closely on these words of Jesus—verses 10-17—
as he explains to the disciples the purpose of the parables.
Let’s ask this question. What does it take for you to get it?
What does it take to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven?
Because if you can’t answer that question, and more importantly,
if it’s not true of you, then you will study these parables, and listen
to my sermons, and you will be no different from the crowds that followed
Jesus in total ignorance.
Jesus tells us it takes three things to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven:
Grace, Faith, and Growth. Let’s look at each.
MP#1 First, it takes grace to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
The disciples ask Jesus this question: Why do you speak to the crowds in parables?
Why are you explaining things to us and not them?
Look again at Jesus’ incredible answer in verse 11:
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven.”
It has been given to you. In other words, it’s a matter of God’s grace. It’s a gift.
You don’t get it spiritually because you are smarter or more moral
or more believing—you know these things out of the sheer grace of God.
People responsible to believe, but seeing the kingdom, and understanding it and
embracing the kingdom with your heart—is given to you by God’s grace.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there, he says something even more provocative.
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven,
but to them it has not been given.”
He not only says that God has given this knowledge to the disciples,
but that he has not given it to the multitudes who have not believed.
And that emphasizes, from the other direction, that knowing the mysteries of
the kingdom of God is first of all a matter of God’s sovereign grace.
Now let’s pause here for a moment and let this sink in.
Jesus said: “To you it has been given but to them it has not been given.”
John Calvin did not say those words.
Presbyterians and Reformed folks did not say those words—Jesus did.
Jesus says that God has chosen to give to some the knowledge necessary
for salvation and not to give it to others.
That’s God’s sovereign grace. That’s life in the kingdom of heaven.
The King pours out his grace on the unworthy sinners he chooses.
And until he does that, you cannot know anything leading to salvation.
Now, if that is how it is in God’s kingdom.
If salvation is 100% God’s grace, what kind of person does that make you?
Look at your bulletins. Look at the hymn of response singing after sermon.
How Sweet and Awesome Is This Place by Isaac Watts.
Watts depicts salvation as a rich feast.
We come into the banquet room, and look at incredible blessings of God—
and what is the response of the heart touched by God’s grace?
Look at he second stanza.
While all our hearts and all our songs Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues, “Lord, why was I the guest?”
He elaborates on that question.
“Why was I made to hear thy voice, And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice, And rather starve than come?”
That’s the question, isn’t it? Why did I become a Christian when others didn’t?
Was it because I just happen to have a more believing heart than most?
Was it because I have a little seed of goodness deep down that others don’t?
Look at his answer in the last stanza:
‘Twas the same love that spread the feast, That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste, And perished in our sin.
The love of God drew me in. God chose me before creation of world.
Were it not for God’s grace, I would have refused salvation.
I would have preferred to perish in my sins.
Last two stanzas of hymn interesting—not singing today.
Watts says—So Lord, have mercy on nations, draw them in.
And fill up the church so it’s packed with your people, singing your praises.
Lord, expand your kingdom of grace. I want to see you glorified.
What kind of person does grace make you?
Utterly humbled. Profoundly thankful.
The difference between those who believe and those who don’t is not that
some are better than others innately, or more believing than others innately.
It is simply the love and mercy and grace of God to you.
You can’t be proud about that. You have nothing to pat yourself on back for.
The Lord Jesus saved you by grace alone so God gets all the glory.
What does this tell us about our study of the parables in coming weeks?
The only way you are going to understand Jesus’ parables is if God the Father
gives you the grace to understand. And if he has, you must approach these
words of Christ with humility and thankfulness and a desire for God’s glory.
Make that your prayer. In for incredible blessings as study these words.
That leads to second point.
MP#2 It takes faith to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
How does Jesus say that God’s grace is expressed in our lives?
He says, “It is given to you to know the secrets of the kingdom.”
God’s grace means you are given a special knowledge.
Jesus elaborates on that knowledge.
He calls it seeing with perception and hearing with understanding,
having eyes that really see and ears that really hear.
He calls it having a heart that understands. Jesus is talking about faith.
Jesus is saying that when God pours out his grace on you,
that grace has the effect of enabling you to believe.
And what does Jesus say is the content of that faith? He is.
“Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see,
and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
The Old Testament saints, Abraham and others who looked
forward to the Messiah through the promises and prophecies.
And now that he has come, believers in the New Testament see him clearly.
The way Jesus describes faith shows us that faith has two elements.
First, there is content to faith.
There is an intellectual element that must be known and believed.
There is the understanding of certain things about God and Christ.
And a belief in the truth of those doctrines.
And second, there is a volitional element. That’s the term theologians use.
Volition has to do with our wills.
It is putting your trust in Christ and embracing him so that the direction
of your life is toward him and his interests and kingdom.
It is the combination of those two elements are what Jesus means
when he says that knowing the secrets of the kingdom requires
eyes that really see and ears that really hear.
This week Allison got an email from a friend of hers from our seminary days.
It’s a real life description of saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Shows what Jesus meant when he talked about eyes that really see, ears that hear.
There is a Jewish person at work that I have become friends with named Lori. Basically, she
thought of me as having the 7th Heaven TV show pastor’s wife life. I don’t know how we
became close friends, but we have, and she soon learned my life was far from 7th heaven.
(She’s referring to the debilitating health problems family has suffered.)
Her son was in rehab about five months ago for drug addiction and alcohol abuse. She was very unhappy and unsettled before, and I had some good opportunities to share with her about my faith which holds me and keeps me going through our suffering. I thought it was time to go to the next level of witnessing with her. Last Sunday Charlie (her husband) preached from Hebrews—a very strong sermon about Jesus, full of the gospel. He told me to print it out and give it to her. I gave her the sermon yesterday.
Today I didn’t ask her about it—I figured I’d let her say something. She came to my office and closed the door. She sat down and said, “Okay, now I have a ton of questions about Jesus. I’ve read that sermon three times so far and I am fascinated and thinking it might be true.” She went on to tell me that she’s thinking Jesus probably is the Messiah—since the Jews have been waiting so long and no one is showing up as the Messiah—maybe they missed him. She said she doesn’t know what’s going on with her—Why is she interested in Jesus all of a sudden?
Then she started asked me a bunch of questions about Jesus . . . and I did my best to explain to her about Jesus coming as the Messiah. She said that growing up she was raised to be afraid of other religions and now she’s actually interested and can’t understand why.
Leslie goes on to tell Allison that this woman’s husband is also asking questions
so they have invited this couple over for supper Friday night. She asked for
prayer that God would bless the supper and open their hearts to the Gospel.
It’s a fascinating email. Shows God’s sovereign grace taking the initiative,
and the work of the Holy Spirit.
But what I wanted to point out is the nature of faith.
There is this content that must be believed. Who Jesus is. The Messiah.
And then there must be a receiving and trusting Jesus for salvation.
What does this tell us about our study of the parables in coming weeks?
The only way you are going to understand Jesus’ parables is if you have true
faith in him. Otherwise, just like the crowds, you won’t get it.
Do I need to say that at Christ Covenant? Of course. Every church there are
people in the pews who know about Jesus, but are not trusting him.
First parable we will study, Sower, deals with that very issue.
Seed of the Word falls on four different hearts. One heart like shallow soil.
Faith in Jesus doesn’t go deep. These are people who know about Jesus.
Know he’s Son of God, but they just trust Jesus to get what they want from life.
When they don’t get it—financial success, romance, healing—fall away.
May that not be true of you. Come to parables with true faith in Jesus.
So what’s the mark of true faith? Brings us to the third quality necessary.
MP#3 It takes growth to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.
When Jesus answers the disciples’ question, he quotes from Isaiah 6
which we read earlier in the service.
God showed Isaiah a vision of his glory, and then called him to preach
to the people of Israel. But he told Isaiah that vast majority of the Israelites
would not respond because they had regressed spiritually.
They had the truth once but they had closed their eyes and ears, their faith had not
grown toward God, instead their hearts had grown dull—
so the Lord would use Isaiah’s preaching as judgment.
Jesus takes those words and applies them to his own ministry.
He says that the people of his day are just like they were back then.
He says that they too have heard the truth, but have become dull and unbelieving.
And as a result, they cannot understand and apply his teaching.
In other words, their faith has proved false because it did not grow—
There was no life in it, no Holy Spirit at work.
They’ve regressed and the word of God makes less and less sense to them.
Can that still happen today? Yes it can.
I heard a very sobering example of this a few days ago.
Larry Taunton, who many of you know, had organized a debate at UNC,
between Dinesh D’Souza, who is a Christian apologist and Bart Erman.
Erman has written a number of books about the Bible.
Media refers to him as a Bible scholar, even though he is an outspoken agnostic.
He’s also the head of the religion department at UNC.
And he’s notorious for attacking Christian students who are in his classes.
So the debate served it’s purpose in punching holes in his arguments,
and encouraging Christians on the campus. Praise God for Larry.
But the thing that is most troubling about Erman are not his arguments against
the Bible. Those are easily answered. The most troubling thing is his story.
He grew up in a Christian home. He went to Moody Bible Institute in Chicago,
then he went to Wheaton—both fine evangelical schools.
Then he went to Princeton—which was once, a long time ago an evangelical school.
And there he turned his back on the Christian faith and started attacking it.
Larry described a conversation he had with this man after the debate
in which he was totally closed to everything in the Bible.
And this was the strange thing for a man who is called a Bible scholar—
he wasn’t even able to respond rationally to the Bible passages Larry
presented to him. Responded to every one with an emotional attack.
That’s a dramatic, over the top, illustration.
Everyone doesn’t regress to the point that they become a deliberate
enemy of Christianity and try to destroy it.
But Jesus is saying that there is a spiritual principle at work.
If your faith is not growing, then it’s going to regress—
and you will become less and less capable of understanding the mysteries
of the kingdom of heaven.
It doesn’t mean you will lose your faith like Dr. Erman.
You might remain a Christian, but you will be so weakened that you
will be knocked around and tossed by every wind and wave.
You won’t get it. Bad things will happen in your life and you will be cast down,
because you won’t understand the secrets of the kingdom.
You’ll be thrown into turmoil when you because you won’t be able to see your
problems as they really are. You’ll be unable, as Jesus teaches in these parables,
to put everything in the perspective of the sovereignty of God and the second
coming of Christ, and eternal life.
So Jesus gives his disciples this frightening picture of regression—
but he does so to strengthen them and to say—let this not be true of you.
You are my disciples. And you are growing in your faith.
The Holy Spirit is in you. Cooperate with him. Walk with him.
An as you do, the secrets of the kingdom will become more clear.
The Apostle Peter puts it well at the end of this second letter.
“Be on your guard so that you do not fall from your secure position.
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
And there we have both sides of this—the warning not to fall away—
and the absolute importance of growth in Christ.
What does that mean for our study of the parables?
As you hear these powerful words of the Teacher. As the Word of God
penetrates you, let it do it’s work and make every effort to cooperate
with the Holy Spirit and grow in grace.
If you do, secrets of the kingdom will be more clear, you will be blessed.
CONC: What does it take to understand secrets of life in a small Southern town?
What does it take to know you can laugh when you get up and find
toilet paper in your trees?
A love for your new home and a desire to fit in.
Acceptance of the strange traditions of these Cullman folk.
Trust that your neighbor isn’t pulling your leg when he says not to worry about it.
My neighbor has all of those qualities—he gets it—and his life here is good.
What does it take to understand the secrets of life in the kingdom of heaven?
How can you look at everything in your life—the good and the bad—
the past and the future—and understand it in terms of the greater reality
of God’s rule?
It takes the grace of God—which he gives freely.
Grace that makes you humble and thankful before him and other people.
Grace you can ask for and he will give.
It takes faith in Jesus Christ.
Knowing him and trusting him so he becomes the focus of your life.
You are blessed when you see him and hear him.
It takes growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
That means cooperation with the Holy Spirit,
so that the words and teachings of Jesus sink in deep.
May these things be true of you and me as we listen to the parables
of the Teacher in coming weeks.