Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
July 27, 2014, Pentecost VII
Genesis 29:15-28, Psalm 105:1-11, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
From the Book of Genesis:
Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing?
From St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
And from the Gospel of St. Matthew:
Jesus said to His disciples: “Have you understood all this?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
The thirteenth chapter of Matthew records the events of a crisis day in the ministry of Jesus Christ. He knew that the growing opposition of the religious leaders would lead to His crucifixion. This fact He had to explain to His disciples. But their logical question would be, “What will happen to the kingdom about which we have been preaching?” That question is answered in this series of parables. So, He first explained the truth concerning the kingdom, and then later explained to them the facts about the Cross.
In this series of parables, Jesus explained the course of the Gospel in the world. If Israel had received Him as King, the blessings would have flowed out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. But the nation rejected Him, and God had to institute a new program on earth. During this present age, “the kingdom of heaven” is a mixture of true and false, good and bad, as pictured in these parables. It is “Christendom,” professing allegiance to the King, and yet containing much that is contrary to the principles of the King.
The seven parables describe for us the spiritual course of “the kingdom of heaven” in this present age. The first two were covered in the last two Sunday sermons: The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Wheat and Tares.
The first parable in our Gospel reading today states: “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in this field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
The mustard plant of Palestine was very different from the mustard plant which we know in this country. In the East, the mustard seed symbolizes something small and insignificant. It produces a large plant, but not a “tree” in the strictest sense. However, the plant is large enough for birds to sit in the branches.
Since Jesus did not explain this parable, we must use what He did explain in the other parables to find its meaning. The birds in the Parable of the Sower represented Satan (Matt. 13:19). Passages like Daniel 4:11-12 and Ezekiel 17:23 indicate that a tree is a symbol of a world power. These facts suggest that the parable teaches an abnormal growth of the kingdom of heaven, one that makes it possible for Satan to work in it. Certainly “Christendom” has become a worldwide power with a complex organization of many branches. What started in a humble manner today boasts of material possessions and political influences. The New Testament warns us of a growing decline in the ministry of the Gospel as the end of the age draws near.
The second parable states: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
The mustard seed illustrates the false outward expansion of the kingdom, while the leaven illustrates the inward development of false doctrine and false living. Throughout the Bible, leaven is a symbol of evil. It had to be removed from the Jewish homes during Passover (Ex. 12:15-19; 13:7). It was excluded from sacrifices (Ex. 34:35), with the exception of the loaves used at the Feast of Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-21). But there the loaves symbolized Jews and Gentiles in the church, and there is sin in the church.
The kingdom of heaven began with the sowing of the Word of God in the hearts of men. Much of the seed did not bear fruit; but some was fruitful. Satan opposed the work of God by sowing counterfeit Christians, by encouraging a false growth, and by introducing false doctrine. It would seem that Satan is winning, at least in New England. But the test is at the end of the age, not during the age.
The next parable in our Gospel reading states: “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.”
At the close of this age, God will have three groups of people: the Jews (the hidden treasure), the church (the pearl of great price), and the saved Gentile nations who will enter into the kingdom (the dragnet).
Once again, we need to look to the Old Testament to help us understand the symbolism in this parable. The treasure is the nation of Israel (Ex. 19:5; Ps. 135:4). That nation was placed in the world to bring glory to God, but it failed. It became a nation hidden, a treasure not being invested to produce dividends for God. Jesus Christ gave His all to purchase the whole world in order to save the nation (John 11:51). On the cross, Jesus died for the whole world; but in a special way. He died for Israel (Isa. 53:8). The nation suffered judgment and seeming destruction, but in God’s sight it is “hidden” and will be revealed again in glory.
There is, then, a future for Israel. Politically, the nation was reborn on May 14, 1948. But the nation is far from what it ought to be spiritually. God sees Israel as His treasure, and one day He will establish her in His glorious kingdom.
The next parable is known as the pearl of great price. It reads, “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
The pearl represents the church. The Bible makes a distinction between Jews, Gentiles, and the church (1 Cor. 10:32). Today, the church, the body of Christ, is composed of believing Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11ff). Unlike most other gems, the pearl is a unity – it cannot be carved like a diamond or emerald. The church is a unity (Eph. 4:4-6), even though the professing church on earth is divided. Like a pearl, the church is the product of suffering. Christ died for the church (Eph. 5:25) and His suffering on the cross made possible her birth.
A pearl grows gradually, and the church grows gradually as the Spirit convicts and converts sinners. No one can see the making of the pearl, for it is hidden in the shell of the oyster under the waters. No one can see the growth of His church in the world. The church is among the nations today, and one day will be revealed in its beauty.
So, in spite of Satan’s subtle working in this world, Christ is forming His church. He sold all that He had to purchase His church, and nothing Satan can do will cause Him to fail. There is but one true church, a pearl of great price, though there are many local churches. Not everyone who is a member of a local church belongs to the one church, the body of Christ. It is only through repentance and faith in Christ that we become a part of His church.
The next parable in this series states: “the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind; when it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into vessels but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.”
The preaching of the Gospel in the world does not convert the world. It is like a huge dragnet that gathers all kinds of fish, some good and some bad. The professing church today has in it both true and false believers; good and bad.
Remember last week’s parable about the wheat and tares. At the end of the age, God will separate the true believers from the false and the good from the bad. When Jesus Christ returns to earth, to fight the battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19:11ff), He will separate believers and unbelievers already on the earth. These are living people who are not a part of the church (which was already in heaven) or Israel. These Gentiles will be dealt with in righteousness: the saved will enter into the kingdom, but the unsaved will be cast into the furnace of fire.
When Jesus had completed this series of parables, He asked His disciples if they understood them, and they confidently replied, “Yes, Lord.” Understanding involves responsibility. To explain this, the Lord added a final parable (Matt. 13:51-52) to remind them of their responsibilities.
Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The scribes began as a noble group under the leadership of Ezra. Their purpose was to preserve the Law, study it, and apply its truths to daily life. Over the years, their noble cause degenerated into a routine task of preserving traditions and man-made interpretations, and adding burdens to the lives of the people (Luke 11:46-52). They were so wrapped up in the past that they ignored the present! Instead of sharing living truth from God’s Word, they merchandised dead doctrines and “embalmed” traditions that could not help the people.
As believers, we do not search after truth, because we have truth in God’s Son (John 14:6) and God’s Word (John 17:17). We are taught by the Spirit of Truth (John 16:13) who is truth (1 John 5:6). We search into truth that we might discover more truth. We are scribes – students – who sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His words (like Mary, sister of Martha). One joy of the Christian life is the privilege of learning God’s truth from God’s Word. But we must not stop there.
The scribe emphasizes learning, but the disciple emphasizes living. Disciples are doers of the Word (James 1:22ff), and they learn by doing.
It is difficult to keep our lives balanced. We often emphasize learning at the expense of living. Or, we may get so busy serving God that we do not take time to listen to His Word. Every scribe must be a disciple, and every disciple must be a scribe.
The scribes preserved the Law but did not invest it in the lives of the people. The treasure of the Law was encrusted by man’s traditions. The seed was not planted so it could bear fruit. The “spiritual gold and silver” was not put to work so it could produce dividends. As Christians we should be conservative but not preservative.
The steward guards the treasure, but he also dispenses it as it is needed. He dispenses both the old and the new. New principles and insights are based on old truths. The new cannot contradict the old because the old comes out of the new (Lev. 26:10).
The new without the old is mere novelty and will not last. But the old does no good unless it is given new applications in life today. We need both.
The Lord over and over again is showing us what the kingdom of heaven is like and those who will attain it. Imagine what could happen in people’s lives if they first sought the kingdom of God. Imagine what would happen in marriages, workplaces, and people’s lives, if they first sought the kingdom of God. Oh yes, it’ll start small (like the mustard seed) as we’ve learned, but grow into something magnificent and it’ll impact others.
He gives us victory and more victory! We need not fear life or death, things present or things to come, because Jesus Christ loves us and gives us the victory. This is not a promise with conditions attached. This security in Christ is an established fact, and we claim it for ourselves because we are in love! Believe it – and rejoice in it!
We are free from judgment because Christ died for us and we have His righteousness. We are free from defeat because Christ lives in us by His Spirit and we shall share His life. We are free from discouragement because Christ is coming for us and we shall share His glory. We are free from fear because Christ intercedes for us and we cannot be separated from His love.
No condemnation! No obligation! No frustration! No separation!
Only eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven!
Let us pray:
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.