Valuable Kingdom

As we begin these thoughts, I want you to imagine with me. You’ve been given a large amount of money, and commissioned to find an amazing artistic masterpiece for a large wall in an important public building here in town. Experts pointed you the direction of a world-famous artist, and you’ve come to her studios to ask about what she might be able to offer you. You tell her about the large wall you’ve been asked to help fill. That you want something beautiful, awe-inspiring, with colors that jump off the canvas. She smiles as if she knows just what to do next. She opens a catalog of artwork she’s done in the past, and tells you to pick out your favorite. You are naturally drawn to one in particular, and you point to it. With a smile again, she guides you to an enormous room where you see a giant laser printer that just about takes up the space of the side wall. She punches in some numbers, and slowly but surely, the print you’ve just pointed to begins to come, inch by inch out of the printer. She smiles, tells you the price is only a small portion of the money you’ve been given, and asks you the sign the bill. But something doesn’t feel right, and you ask her… “Wait…couldn’t you do an original work of art for us, of the same size? How much would that cost?”

She presses pause on the printer, and looks you directly in the eye. She says, “Well of course I could. Sorry, I didn’t know you were open to that. I’d love to create something just for your wall. But that requires a bit more.”

She pulls you into a giant room with a canvas hanging against the far wall. It’s enormous. The floor is lined with all shades of the rainbow, and colors and textures you’ve never imagined. In a pile near them are brushes…some as small as a paperclip, and others as large as your head. She begins describing to you the process of creating a new work of art. How she spends weeks learning about the location, and who visits. How she then does research into how different colors evoke unique emotions to the residents in that area. Next she travels to remote locations to find ingredients that bring out the particular colors, and textures she’s looking for….and to help ensure this is a painting that can never be reproduced anywhere. You know the people who have sent you will be more than pleased by all of this. She then warns you, this may take several months to complete…and will definitely take all of the money you’ve been given. Possibly more.

But as she offers you the contract to sign….you quickly find your pen….knowing this will be exactly the kind of fine art you’ve been asked to locate for display.

The scripture we’re diving into this morning is a short one, and one that most of us have heard before. Here we get to be a fly on the wall in some of the most important conversations between God and humanity about this “new thing” He’s beginning in Christ, and what it’s all moving toward.

Jesus has just given the parable of the sower, and then the parable of the weeds among the wheat. He’s using parables to explain the Kingdom of Heaven in a way that anyone hearing his words would understand, even if they can’t explain it theologically.

We have the benefit, now, of knowing the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet still, these parables hold truths about the Kingdom of God that are great for us to think about. I think we often sell the Kingdom of Heaven short…and God needs us…God needs YOU to help get the message of the Kingdom out today.education_pearl

This past week, I asked my daughters what thoughts came to their mind when I said “Kingdom of Heaven”, or “Kingdom of God”.
Before I tell you their response, it’s probably important for us to take a look at what scriptures say regarding these phrases.

First, we recognize that even though they sound different, they usually mean the same thing. Most of the time, the New Testament refers to it as the “Kingdom of God”…but in the book of Matthew we find both being used interchangably. In Matthew 19:23-24 for instance, Jesus tells his disciples “It will be hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

So now that we know these are talking of the same thing…lets see what scriptures tell us about this Kingdom:

For example, in Luke 7:28 – “Among those born of women, none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.” – Based on this verse, where Jesus says “is”, and not “will be”…we realize the Kingdom is a present reality, not simply a future occurrence. This goes well with the parable of the weeds found here in Matthew 13. Jesus has sown good seed in his field, and in verse 41 Matthew writes “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers.”

Then in Matthew 18:3, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” – So even though it’s a present reality, it’s not one we naturally exist within with no participation of our own. It’s something we need to “enter into”.

So it’s here already, though not everyone is living according to it, and it will yet involve something more arriving as the parable of the weeds says, “the end of the age.” The fulfilling and completion of what has begun in Christ.

Once again, it’s a concept so much larger than we can simply contain in a phrase that starts with, “See, God’s Kingdom is this….” So we say many different things, all pointing at what God is up to in different ways. We understand this, even on a human level…when something incredibly beautiful or special happens.

When someone gets married, or has a child…inevitably, a question they’ll often be asked is, “How’s married life?” or “How’s the life of a parent?” These questions can’t be answered simply in a short response. The only real way to answer the question faithfully would be to invite that person to join in experiencing your life in a given point and even then….it’s tough to fully know the experience without being involved. A bystander will never know.

Thankfully, we’ve been invited to do much more than hear about, or look forward to this “Kingdom of God”. It has arrived, is arriving in and through our lives all over the world today, and will arrive completely someday in the future. So by now we’ve realized, this Kingdom is less about a castle, and golden streets, and walls surrounding a specific physical domain….and more about the King.

So we find perhaps a better way of speaking about the Kingdom of Heaven/God, is to say “Where the rule and reign of God exists”.

But that still leaves some questions, and Jesus is offering a response to some of those questions in these parables. The first question he addresses is, “Why is God waiting for the Kingdom to arrive completely?”

We can, and probably often do, echo that same question in our own lives. Why is God allowing such horrible things to happen? Why is such suffering and loss being allowed to exist in a world that God desires to bring healing and restoration to? Where is the light in the darkness?

To that question, he tells the parable of the weeds. That the sower of seeds allows the weeds to grow, because if he came down to remove them right away, he would destroy some incredibly beautiful and precious things that are growing as well. So he allows them both to grow, and when it’s time he has his reapers go out and collect the weeds first, from out of the fields…leaving only the wheat.

He then tells two more quick parables on the same topic of waiting. Parables that we hear often, but usually it’s for some other reason, like encouraging us how something small can make a large impact. But that doesn’t seem to be the main purpose of these illustrations, however true it may be. What Jesus is alluding to here, are some amazing things take time and careful consideration as they grow.

Just as a mustard seed must have time and resources in order to grow from a tiny seed, sprouting roots and branches over time so that it’s large enough that the birds of the air might come and make nests in it.

In the same way, bakers are familiar with the time it takes, sometimes days, for a small amount of yeast to mix itself into what he says here is about 60 pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough. Jesus is acknowledging….yes…we are waiting. Yes, it seems like something should be done much faster….right away, in fact. But this is not about God swooping in and punishing as many people as possible. This is about the Kingdom growing, and having time to spread throughout the world, and all the precious and important ways the Reign and Rule of God is breaking through even now.

Then Jesus switches gears. Yes, he admits, the Kingdom is taking a while to come about completely. But that’s okay…you know why? Because what is happening, and what is coming….is so incredibly worth the wait. In fact, it’s more valuable than anything you can imagine!!

The first way is easy for us, It’s like a treasure hidden in a field – found, and hid – joyfully worth selling all you have to buy that field.  Like I said, this one’s easy. The return on our investment is larger than what we put into it.  It seems like he could go back and buy whatever he gave up originally to purchase the field.

The second is not as easy, and yet just as important. A merchant in search of fine pearls, finds a pearl of great value – worth selling all you have to buy it.  This one is a little harder for us. Once you’ve sold everything, all you have is this pearl. You have nothing else. But the Kingdom is such that once we recognize it, and know our life is all about this sort of thing…we are willing to let go of everything else we once declared valuable for it’s sake.

So to God’s people in the midst of suffering then, and still today, the words of Jesus are coming as a comfort and encouragement. God isn’t denying our world is feeling the impact of being broken by sin. He admits there are weeds growing among the wheat. But He is declaring that the ways His Kingdom is growing in our world today is worth the wait we patiently endure. It’s worth it!!! That can be hard to imagine, but when we have God himself saying it…it becomes a bit more believable.

But it’s not all great news, Jesus continues. Not everyone will accept that what God is doing is “good news”. It’s like a net thrown into a sea, catching all kinds of fish. The net was drawn in, with every fish imaginable within it. But some were not good, and were thrown out.

At the end of the age – the same thing. Chapter 13 says, “Angels will come and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire.”

We know that not everyone will accept the reign and rule of God in their lives, or for the world. Some will fight it with everything they’ve got. Some will set their hearts and lives against it….some will built entire empires and ways of life completely in the opposite direction. God’s net of the gospel goes out intending to draw all of mankind unto Himself that we might be a part of the coming reign and rule of God….but not everyone will be able to accept Jesus as Lord. We see that happening even today, unfortunately. But it’s not yet time for the sorting to be done…and that’s not our work anyhow. At the end of the age, the angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous. Those accepting and thriving or suffering to live in the reign and rule of God, and those who live for the reign and rule of other forces. For those denying God’s reign and rule, it will be suffering like never before as their complete foundations for existence are ripped away.

Then Jesus closes with an incredibly important word that we do not want to miss. In verse 51, he looks at his followers as a youth pastor might look out over his teens. He asks, “Everyone still with me? Everyone tracking and following what I’ve been saying?” They respond enthusiastically, “Yes!”

He smiles, and tells them that every scribe who’s been trained for the Kingdom of Heaven is unique. They are like the owner of a house who brings new treasures and old out of storage. Jesus is pointing out that one of the best ways to spread news of the Kingdom of God is to point out what God has been doing already for hundreds of years. What God has been up to, both in the Old Testament, through the new testament and even today. Treasures both old and new. He is bringing redemption, dwelling among his people, transforming lives and healing creation. Making all things new, and already we see New Creation breaking through those who are in Christ.

And so we have the secret that’s not so secret. The truth that Jesus died to proclaim. The thrust of the gospel that we can sometimes miss. Ready to hear it?

When we live out the reign and rule of God, we are not only proclaiming but we are ushering in the very real existence of the Kingdom of Heaven here and now.

The movie “Heaven is for Real” came out on DVD this past week, and people all over the country are thinking about this topic. They’re looking forward to golden palaces and streets, and escaping the suffering of this world. But we recognize once again this morning, that a “Heaven” of golden streets and castles is not all we look forward to. If you’ve ever traveled I-80 around Walcott, Iowa, then you have a good picture of what I’m talking about here. The “World’s Largest Truck Stop” features several restaurants, convenience store, arcade, movie theater, dental offices, pet grooming, laundromat, barbershop, chiropractor, church services, auto repair, oil changes, and of course….gas. It’s an incredible place to stop and rest. Even spend some quality time. But it’s not intended to be your final destination. So it is with Heaven. God has promised it’s a great place to be. Jesus declared he’s gone to prepare places for us there, and it has many rooms. But it’s temporary housing, as we all look forward to the New Creation that will be brought about as God’s reign and rule come fully like never before.

When I asked my daughters this past week, what comes to mind when I say “Kingdom of God”, can you guess what their responses were?

“A golden castle” was the very first response. I don’t know whether to blame Disney or simply smile and be okay with that level of understanding. But somewhere along the way, I have got to help my daughters understand the Kingdom of God is less about a castle and streets and more about who our lives proclaim as Lord even today.

The Kingdom of God becomes a present reality we are not only enabled, but called and commissioned, to live within here and now. As we do so, we are in the same place as the physically resurrected Jesus Christ. We are declared “New Creations” in Christ, and transformed so that our very being is no longer of this age, but comes to us from a future age when God has completed all that He has begun long ago.

This is incredibly valuable stuff! There’s nothing our world has to offer that can compare to it. It’s worth more than anything your life might be tempted to wrap itself around. It’s a greater pursuit than any achievement your world sets before you. It’s worth waiting for, and there are beautiful things happening even now.

So I ask you the same question Jesus asks his disciples in verse 51.

Have you understood these things?

Will you go out into the world this week, proclaiming a new understanding of the Kingdom of God? Because there are people in your life who need to hear what God is saying this morning. God is not waiting for some cosmic mathematical equation to finally arrive so that his mysteriously decided date arrives and he can finally move on to the next phase of his plan. The reign and rule of God is breaking through in your life and mine RIGHT NOW, and is transforming as the treasures of His Kingdom are bearing fruit in our world….fruit that tastes like New Creation. Fruit that points to the ways and experiences we will share with our Lord and with each other, for an eternity when all things have been made new completely.

The world is full of suffering. You hear voices of doubt, asking where God is in the midst of it all. Will you allow the mustard seed the time and care it takes to grow? Ask God for patience.

Maybe sin has impacted your life. You’ve been on your knees in desperate prayer, calling out to God in the midst of darkness. But you are not in a dark room waiting for a candle to be lit. The sun has risen, and you are watching it ascend to the brightest time of day. Will you trust in Him through the suffering in your life this week?

You struggle with the temptations of our world. Focused on self, or pleasure, or losing control to anger or greed. You’ve chosen things other than God lately. Will you set down all the things of this world, and stop chasing after the false values and riches this world offers – and trade them for pursuing the valuable treasures of God’s Kingdom? That is the beginning of His call on our lives this morning….may our lives be our response this week…

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