The Kingdom of Heaven is like…
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 (NRSV)
Today’s Bible passage includes 5 parables which all begin with “The kingdom of heaven is like…”
The kingdom of heaven is Matthew’s term for what the other Gospel writers term the kingdom of God.
The terms are synonymous. When we think of a kingdom, we usually think of a physical, geographical kingdom ruled by a monarch, such as the United Kingdom or the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (Although some people might think of imaginary kingdoms like the Kingdom of Corona.)
The kingdom of heaven/kingdom of God is ruled by a monarch, the King of Kings, but it is a spiritual kingdom.
Graeme Goldsworthy, a former Moore College lecturer who has written a few books on the kingdom, defines it simply but profoundly as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.”
The kingdom of God was central to the message of Jesus. He talked about it as being present but also coming; now but not yet; as having arrived and begun but not yet finalised or consummated.
Jesus said: “The kingdom of God is in your midst (or among you)” but also taught his disciples to pray “Your kingdom come”.
His teaching included several parables on the kingdom, including the 5 short ones we are looking at today.
I sent an email to families earlier in the week suggesting they ask their children which of the 5 images they like the best and to send me a photo of something related to it.
No-one sent me a photo of the first one, but it’s my favourite. So here’s my picture.
(1) The first one is the parable of the mustard seed (v31-32)
The mustard seed was a traditional symbol of something very small. Elsewhere in Matthew Jesus talks about faith that is as small as a mustard seed. Here the tiny, tiny seed is planted and grows into a massive bush. It could be up to 4 metres tall, and big enough to be called a tree.
That in itself is a wonderful picture of the kingdom of God starting small but growing and growing and growing down through the years.
But there’s another very special aspect. The birds come and roost in its branches and find protection there. This is a picture of the coming of the Gentiles into the church, the kingdom.
(2) The second one is the parable of the yeast (v33)
Thanks to Ava Hovenden for this next picture.
A woman takes a little of yeast and mixes it into the flour. A lot of flour! This is a big baking.
But the little bit of yeast spreads right throughout the mixture and causes the dough to rise resulting in delicious bread (or delicious pizza as Ava and her family had on Friday night).
In the previous parable, the growth is visible outward growth, but in this one the yeast is hidden in the dough and works on the inside, although with pleasing observable results.
Often in Judaism yeast or leaven symbolised the infiltration of evil. But not always, and not here. But Jesus certainly would have had everyone in the crowd listening and thinking and intrigued with this image.
There’s an aspect of this parable that hadn’t registered with me before, and it’s the waiting –
“until all of it was leavened”. The Message Bible says: “God’s Kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread – and waits while the dough rises.”
Just so, there’s a waiting for the fullness of the kingdom.
Both these parables, which are also together in Luke’s Gospel, emphasise immense growth from small beginnings. But with the next 3 parables there is a shift in emphasis. These next 3 parables introduce the element of choice.
(3) The next parable is the one about hidden treasure (v44)
I was sure that this was going to be the most popular story and that I’d get multiple pictures of pirate treasure or similar. But I didn’t, so this picture is from the internet.
The man stumbles across a great treasure buried in a field and goes and sells all he has to buy the field, and the treasure. Commentators differ as to whether this was morally underhand or not, according to Jewish law. Jesus is not dealing with that issue though. The key point is that the man chooses to sell all he has to get the treasure.
(4) We see something similar in the next parable – the parable of the pearl merchant (v45, 46)
This picture is from the Paynter household. The writing at the top says: “One of the rarest and most valuable pearls ever produced.” I’m guessing they didn’t buy it!
But in the parable, the merchant finds his dream pearl and sells everything to buy it. Unlike the parable of the buried treasure, this man was a merchant deliberately searching for the best pearl.
But in both parables, the choice is made to give up everything to gain the prize.
It is of course the prize of the kingdom.
(5) The fifth parable is about the fishnet that catches all sorts of fish (v47-50)
Again, I thought I might get some pictures of the kids with their prized fish catches, or the prized catches of their parents. But I had to resort to the internet again.
The new element here is one of judgement – the sorting out of the fish into ones that are kept and ones that are thrown out.
“So it will be at the end of the age” says Jesus. That is, when the fullness of the kingdom finally comes.
Although this is a new element in one way. It is really the culmination of the theme of choice in the previous 2 parables.
It is a misrepresentation of the parable to say that people, us, or the church or church leaders are the ones who do the sorting, the judging, now. That’s God’s prerogative at the end of the age.
This parable, along with the previous 2, was a challenge from Jesus to choose the kingdom; to accept his kingship and reign. It remains exactly that for us today. We too must choose whether we are willing to give up what we cling to, to gain the greatest treasure of all.
There are 3 more verses to consider as I conclude.
Jesus asks his followers whether they understand. They say “yes”, though we are left wondering.
Then Jesus says: “Therefore every scribe (or teacher of the Law) who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what new and what is old.”
This is like another little parable, though quite different from the previous.
Jesus is saying that those who have been instructed in the kingdom of heaven, as they have, now have a store of old and new things – an old heritage in Israel and the new insight into it from Jesus’ kingdom teaching. With that goes the responsibility to draw on and pass on both aspects, interpreting the old in light of the new.
I found this quote very helpful. It’s from Brian Stoffregen from CrossMarks Christian Resources.
“If the kingdom is only an old treasure, it may be nothing more than a dead tradition, a history lesson, something passé and taken for granted. If the kingdom is only a new treasure, it may be nothing more than a passing fad, a sudden infatuation, something that has no depth.
The treasure of the kingdom is as old as the power of God working in the creation of the world; God’s calling of Abraham and Sarah; God’s leading the people in the Exodus; God using Cyrus to free his people from Babylon; God’s earthly presence in Jesus Christ; God’s actions in the saints of old including the apostles and Martin Luther.
The treasure of the kingdom is as new as hearing the stories of God and God’s love for us today. It is as new as falling in love with God again today. It is as new as God’s power living in our lives this very minute.”
Friends, the treasure of the kingdom is worth everything you can offer and more!