Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The puzzle of the Kingdom of Heaven

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Matthew 13:33-46

TO CHEW ON: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven...The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field..." Matthew 13:33,

Jesus' stories were both fascinating and puzzling for His followers over 2000 years ago and to a large degree they are still that way. Many of his parables concern the kingdom of heaven (also called the kingdom of God). This subject for the Jews in Jesus' time would have been especially captivating, considering their domination by the Romans and hope that Messiah would set up an earthly kingdom to throw off that domination.

Jesus never intended to do that. That much is clear from the many times He stated that His kingdom was not of this world. And so for us these many years later, we still puzzle over the precise meaning of the kingdom of heaven. Is it a time, a place, a state?

The parables in today's reading are a bit like puzzle piece in the picture of what that kingdom will look like.

1. Permeating everywhere (Matthew 13:33):
Like yeast grows silently yet surely, eventually permeating a whole lump of dough, so the kingdom of heaven does its work of penetrating evil and transforming lives wherever we find it.

2. Pure, though now mixed (Matthew 13:37-43):
In the story the wheat and tares (non-wheat) existed together. Jesus explained that the wheat was the sons of the kingdom, the tares were the sons of the wicked one. That tells us that there is an aspect of the kingdom that is present (Jesus Himself, the "Son of Man" is the good seed sower, and those who accept His teachings He calls "sons of the kingdom" - Matthew 13:38).

The parable implies that it's not our job as individuals or as the church to determine who is wheat (who is saved — a son of the kingdom) and who is not. That's the job for the angels (Matthew 13:39,41). "Premature separation in the present age is out of the question and becomes more destructive than purifying," says J. Lyle Story in my Bible''s study notes (New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, p. 1315).

3. Decisions about the kingdom in this life have eternal consequences (Matthew 13:40-43):
Jesus talks about the "'end of the age'" when angels will  separate those who grew into kingdom grain and those who didn't, will "'... gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and those who practice lawlessness" and cast them into a place of torment.'"

4. Hidden (Matthew 13:44-46):
Jesus likened the kingdom to hidden treasure and one valuable pearl. I imagine this pearl sitting in a box with other pearls. Though it looked a lot like the others, its greater value was obvious to the pearl merchant who knew what to look for. In other words, this pearl was hiding in plain sight. That's the kingdom too, its value apparent to those who look for the right thing.

4. Precious (Matthew 13:44-46):
Jesus likened the kingdom to a "treasure" and a "pearl of great price" worth giving up every earthly possession for.

These little pictures of the kingdom of heaven serve to heighten our expectation. They also help us live realistically on earth as we:
  • Refrain from making pronouncements and judgments on who is saved and who isn't.
  • Refuse to get discouraged at the apparent insignificance of the kingdom and how it seems not to be flourishing in many places.
  • Understand the kingdom of heaven's penetrating and permeating power wherever it is, growing silently and secretly. 
  • Realize our decisions on earth (for or against what Jesus taught) have eternal implications.
  • Value the kingdom's worth--greater than any earthly treasure or wealth.

PRAYER: Dear God help me to get the big picture of kingdom of heaven realities. May I not grow discouraged but live like a kingdom daughter as long as I am on earth, doing my bit to help it spread and grow. Amen

MORE: "Hear the Call of the Kingdom" - Keith and Kristyn Getty

Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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