Parables of the Kingdom

Rembrandt's painting depicting the hidden treasure

We’re going to spend almost our entire lesson today in Matthew 13. Earlier, we looked at one parable from this chapter — that of the sower and the soils. Then we looked at the parables of of the mustard seed, the leaven, and the weeds out of this same chapter — each of these containing the words, “the kingdom of Heaven is like…” In this lesson, we’re going to look over a few more of those short parable where Jesus talks about the kingdom.

Reviewing the Kingdom

In our last lesson, we looked at what Jesus means by the kingdom. Is He talking about the next life, of is He talking about something a bit closer? Remember that when Jesus sent the twelve out to preach in Matthew 10, He instructed them them to teach, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 16:28 and Mark 9:1 even has Jesus promising that some standing in His presence would live to see the kingdom established with power.

Based on these passages and the events of Acts 2, it’s clear the the kingdom of Heaven can also refer to Christ’s church. While some of these parables can indeed apply to Heaven above, they are deeper and more immediate when we view them through the lens of Christ’s church — the kingdom doing His will in this world.

The Value of the Kingdom

The first three parables we’re going to look at speak to us about the value of the kingdom. Let’s start in Matthew 13:44 – 46:

“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.

“Again, 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.”

In both of these parables, the treasure has to be found. The first person finds their treasure by happenstance. They find it in a field, but there’s no indication that they were looking for anything. The second person was diligently seeking. They knew what they were looking for, and they knew where to look. In both cases, the result was the same — completely sacrificing all that they had so they could possess it.

Finding the kingdom is like that. In some cases, like Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9 – 24, God’s word may come into our lives without our looking for it. Simon certainly wasn’t looking to become a disciple, but that’s exactly what happened. Others, like Cornelius in Acts 10, will diligently seek God out. Whether by chance or by effort, both of these individuals’ responses were the same — to cling to the kingdom as a treasure of great value.

If we asked a group of Christians how each came to be converted, there would be a variety of histories. Some of us were raised in the church. Some of us might have fallen away at some point and returned when you realized what you lost. Others may have been converted by the influence of another person you happened to know, and yet others may have been seeking answers. Regardless of how you came to God, His kingdom is no less valuable to any of you. It is a great treasure, and it requires sacrifice.

Jesus told the rich, young ruler that he lacked one thing to inherit the kingdom. He told that young man to sell all he had and give to the poor. The rich young ruler went away sorrowful, and it was because he was unwilling to let go those things that were so meaningful to him. We have to decide what God’s kingdom is worth to us, and then we have to be willing to sacrifice. Sometimes, that looks like giving up people and things that can draw us away from God. Other times, it looks like sacrificing time and priorities, so we can do God’s work.

That brings us to an additional parable on this topic.

Matthew 13:52:

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.”

This parable creates a simple image. Here, the homeowner is showing off some valuables. Do you have anything you like to share with guests? Whether the treasure is old or new, it carries great personal value. And that makes you want to share it with others. No matter how long we’ve been part of the kingdom, it should be so valuable to us that we want others to know about it.

When we do that, it might be that we will help someone else find the treasure. It might be someone who wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but your influence helps them realize the kingdom’s value. You might be in the right place at the right time to reach out to someone seeking the truth. As Paul writes in Romans 10:14, no one can hear unless we teach. So, if you’ve already come to the kingdom, if you’ve already laid hold of that great treasure, then tell others about it so they can find it too.

The Kingdom’s Harvest

The other two parables we’re going to look at talk about the judgment. The first of these in in Mark 4:26 – 29.

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

This parable has obvious similarities with the parable of the sower. Again, Jesus is talking about a person spreading seed on the ground. This encourages us to go out and teach others about the kingdom. Jesus takes it further in this parable, though. In this case, the seed sprouts and grows, and Jesus says that the sower doesn’t fully understand the process. The beautiful thing is that he doesn’t have to. The earth knows how to nourish the seed, and the seed knows what to do with the nourishment. It just needed to be planted.

This is like what Paul is saying in I Corinthians 3:6 – 9.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.

If you’re not familiar with the context here, Paul is getting on the members of the church at Corinth for taking too much pride in who converted them, whether it be this preacher, that preacher or another. In this case, Paul says to them that the person who taught or baptized them is irrelevant. It’s God who saved them.

You or I? We’re just workers in the field. It’s our job to plant, and to be happy with simply doing that. We may never know how we might touch someone else’s life, but we keep on planting all the same. The planting may take time and effort, but it’s still God’s word working in the other individual that eventually brings about repentance and conversion. We start the work; God finishes it.

But there is a last bit to the parable. When the grain is fully grown, it gets harvested. From this point, the grain dies to go on to serve another purpose. The grain that is good will be preserved. That which is not good will be discarded, and that leads us to our final parable of this lesson: Matthew 13:47 – 50.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that 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 containers 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 fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The fishers simply fish. They throw the net out indiscriminately, and that is exactly how we should be spreading God’s word. We sing, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His site,” and though those words are a little culturally insensitive by current standards, they carry an important meaning. Regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, or any other divide, we are all precious in God’s sight. Do we then act like we really believe that? We cannot let cultural, economic, geopolitical, or any other barrier stand between us and casting that net as far and wide as we can.

And it’s because of this: at the end of the day, God will separate the good from the bad. It’s easy to point at someone behaving in an obviously ungodly way, or that wholly rejects the notion of God, and say, “You’ll be cast out.” But what about those of us who believe but refuse to cast our nets, refuse to sow, refuse to share our treasure? What do we think He will say to those of us who hinder the harvest through inaction? Will He not cast us aside also? As James sums up in James 4:17: ‘So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Conclusion

The kingdom of God is of immeasurable value. When we find it, we should be willing to sacrifice of ourselves to obtain it. Self-sacrifice is part of finding the treasure that is God’s kingdom. Then, if we truly recognize the value of God’s kingdom, we are going to share it with whoever we can, without assumption, without reservation, and without discrimination. We are going to teach and teach and teach. And we do this because we know the harvest is coming. We should be laborers in the field; we should be fishers of men; and we should be doing all we can to be like our God who wants all people to repent. That is when we know we truly value God’s kingdom.

lesson by Robert Smelser