55. Christ’s Kingdom Taught

Focus on Christ Meditations: 55.  Christ’s Kingdom Taught

Mt 13:11   He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”

We have considered Christ ascending to heaven and the fact, declared a number of times in the New Testament, that he then sat down at the right hand of the Father to rule in the midst of his enemies until the time comes for him to return and wind up all things and hand back the reign of the kingdom to the Father. Thus we started considering what this rule of the kingdom means and looked again at the Old Testament prophesies that frame Jesus as a coming king, a ruler over a kingdom that will never end. We concluded that with Daniel’s prophecy and started to think about what dominion, kingdom and reigning mean and we will return to those consideration in the next study when we look at how Christ’s kingdom was expressed, is being expressed and will be expressed, but for the moment we pause up and note just what Jesus taught about the kingdom. To do this we will consider the ‘kingdom parables’ of Matthew which is the best resource for this.

In study no.36, the third about Jesus being a teacher, we noted that in Matthew’s Gospel there are two blocks that carry these ‘kingdom parables: first there was  Mt 13:1-52 and then there was Mt 21:28-22:14. Let’s simply note again those parables but now add what they taught about the kingdom. Most of them begin with the words, “the kingdom of heaven is like…”. Sometimes in the Gospels it is referred to as “the kingdom of God”, with the emphasis on the ruler, and at other times, “the kingdom of heaven”, with the emphasis being upon the character of the kingdom. Note these parables in Matthew’s Gospel:

i) Mt 13:1-52:

The Sower (v.1-23) – the kingdom comes by preaching which gets a mixed reception.

The Wheat and the Tares (v.24-30) – good & bad exist alongside each other until the end,

The Mustard Seed (v.31,32) – God’s kingdom will grow to be the biggest on earth.

The Leaven in the Meal (v.33) – it will spread slowly but surely across the earth.

The Hidden Treasure (v.44) – finding the kingdom is worth everything else you have.

The Pearl of Great Price (v.45,46) – ditto, it’s a demand to give up all.

The Fish Net (v.47-51) – at the end of the age will be a final accounting.

 ii) Mt 21:28-22:14:

The Two Sons (v.28-32) – entry to the kingdom is not by words but by actions.

The Bad Tenants (35-41) – Israel had rejected God’s servants & would answer for it.

The Wedding Banquet (22:1-14) – refusal means rejection, but the offer is open to all.

iii) Also note:

The Generous Employer (Mt 20:1-16) – it’s all about grace.

The Ten Virgins (Mt 25:1-13) – be ready for Jesus’ return.

The Talents (Mt 25:14-30) – Jesus expects fruitfulness from his disciples in the meantime.

So how can we summarise these ‘kingdom parables’? (and note there are other analogies and stories in Matthew – see our series, ‘Analogies and Parables in Matthew’). Let’s try and do it by content or subject matter.

a) Growth of the Kingdom

– it comes by preaching and has a mixed reception

– it spreads slowly and surely and will grow to be the biggest on earth

b) Entry into the Kingdom

– it demands everything you have, i.e. total surrender to Jesus

– it’s not about what you say, but what you do (Israel had rejected it)

– entry is by grace not by you earning it

– those who reject it will be rejected by God

c) the outworking of the Kingdom

– even though good and bad appear to co-exist, the bad will be judged

– life in the kingdom involves celebration

– Jesus expects fruitfulness of his disciples in the kingdom

– because he will return, we need to be faithful and ready.

Now what is interesting is that these things appear very general and when it comes to detail we are left wondering. The big issues, in respect of our personal lives, are about obedience (see Mt 7:24-27), about living by grace, and about being fruitful. Warnings are there for the casual, the disobedient and the rebellious, that there will be a time of accounting; God does not turn a blind eye, but holds the accounting for the most appropriate time which may be here in this life or, if not, at the end of time.

But all this still leaves us wondering exactly how Jesus ‘reigns’ and so that will be the subject of the next study. For the time being, hold on to the idea conveyed in the list of parables above, that Jesus is quite specific in his expectations of us and life is not random; it is all about what Jesus HAS done for us, and how he NOW expects us to respond, and if we fail to respond positively, about how he WILL deal with us in the future. For the time being, the offer is there to enter into the wonder of being one of the subjects of the Kingdom of Heaven, here on earth, today. Hallelujah!

9. Maths of the Kingdom

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  9. Maths of the Kingdom

Matt 13:10-12   The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There were times when Jesus appeared to speak in riddles, we might say today, and in our verses above is one of those: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Now this is one of those times when context is very important (it usually is!).  Jesus has just referred to “the secrets of the kingdom”. In other words he is speaking about how the way His Father’s kingdom works.

If we were talking about material possession it would sound quite unfair: whoever has a lot will be given more and whoever is poor will have the little he has taken away. Yes, in material terms that sounds quite unjust. And surely the Bible shows that God is concerned for the poor!  But if this is about the principles of how God works then it is more likely to be about spiritual principles than about material ones.

So what is the ‘has’ and ‘more’ and ‘abundance’ that is being referred to? Look at the text: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more.”   It is the knowledge of how things work in the kingdom. As you come to God, and His Holy Spirit starts teaching you about the new way to live as a Christian, you first of all start learning basics: you can now pray,  worship, read your Bible; those are what are sometimes called spiritual disciplines. But then we learn that this new life means no to bad attitudes, words and behaviour and yes to good, Jesus-like behaviour. Christians are good and loving people as they are being remade in the image of Jesus.

Then we start finding that God has equipped us by the presence of His Holy Spirit and has given us gifts and abilities to be used to bless us and bless His world. Some we may call natural talents and so a person may be a good dancer, or artist, or homemaker, or a hundred and one other things that help them enjoy living in this world and making it a better place. But then we find out about spiritual gifts and we realise that as God leads us we can do the things Jesus did, bringing revelation and power into His world as he enables us.

But in a sense, this is merely the start. As we grow in Christ, we grow in our understanding of how God works. Moses asked, “Teach me your ways,” (Ex 33:13) meaning teach me the ways you work so I can know and understand you more fully, obey you and please you.  What he actually said was, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” He wanted to know God and please Him. That was Moses heart and it is the heart of the seeker.

And that brings us back to our starting verses. Again and again in Scripture there is this clarification that it is seekers who will find and know God.  Moses’ call to Israel was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4) That was a basic. But before that he had warned about Israel going astray and the path back was quite clear: “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) Note in each case it is a whole-hearted seeking after God. The person who is wishy-washy in their intent towards God is not going to find.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount taught about right priorities: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The “these things” in this verse are material things and so Jesus is saying make spiritual issues priorities and God will sort out your material issues for you. Jesus also taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7) but the tense in each case there means, for the present context, “seek and go on seeking and you will find.”

It’s a little bit like the meaning behind James’ teaching: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) If you ask for wisdom believe that God WILL give it to you. The faint hearted half-believer won’t get it because they won’t believe it when it comes!

So returning to our original verses,  “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance,” it is the whole hearted seeker who will have insights and understanding of the ways God works and what God wants, and the more he has the more he will see and want to see more. Seeing and understanding is satisfying and makes you want more. Thus the seeker isn’t a seeker just for a moment but for a lifetime.

But then we have the other person: “Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  This is the half-hearted person who is really little concerned for the kingdom, little concerned for what God wants and, although at the beginning of their spiritual life the Holy Spirit does a work in them, their response is still half-hearted and, failing to have a whole-hearted seeking approach, they shrivel spiritually or stay in a state of suspended spiritual animation, losing any real signs of life.

Jesus taught this in the parable of the Sower that precedes this teaching and is explained after this teaching: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” (Mt 13:3-7) and then, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Mt 13:20-22)

The message is clear: different heart conditions produce different results. The final one is “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Mt 13:23) Good ground is a good heart. A good heart is a seeking heart. A seeking heart gets more and more from God. What a gem of truth!

8. Revealed

Meditations in 1 Peter : 8 :  Revealed

1 Pet  1:12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

I have to confess to not liking secrets, they smell of division, and yet I recognise that sometimes secrets are quite valid. You keep secret the presents you have bought for a birthday or at Christmas. You keep secret difficult times you may be going through from your young children who could not handle the worry. If you are working on an invention it is legitimate to keep it a secret until you have patented it. If you are planning changes in business or war, it is legitimate to keep the plans secret until they have been finalised and thought through properly. In Britain we struggle with a ‘Freedom of Information’ Act  which is sometimes abused so that people are required to relinquish information prematurely. We also live in an age when ‘leaks’ appear common and someone ‘spills the beans’ before the information is ready to be released.

The prophecies about the Gospel in the Old Testament are God’s ‘leaks’. It was like He was so excited about what the Godhead had planned, that He couldn’t help sharing bits of it with His prophets. But why keep it a secret? Why not come out with it to Abram, say? “In many centuries I am going to send my Son from heaven to reveal my love on the earth and then to die for the sins of the world.”  Why didn’t God say that? Well, I suspect the answer has got to be that it wouldn’t have helped us. We wouldn’t have understood it and we’d still have been sceptical of Jesus when he came and threatened our religiosity.

As Peter continues to talk about the prophets who received the revelations in the Old Testament period he says, It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you.” Now I confess to finding that strange, I’m not sure I understand it, and I haven’t found a commentator who explains it satisfactorily, because he is basically saying that they were told by God that this was for a future generation but in reality they could not have known which generation would enjoy the fulfilment of their words. It has, therefore, to be a general sense that is being referred to, the sense that this is going to happen at some future date.

Possibly an example of this was Balaam who eventually brought a word that is usually taken to refer to Jesus: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Num 24:17) and then, “A ruler will come out of Jacob.” (v.19) It is a word that is also so dressed up with references to other nations being subjugated that it has to be very much spiritualised to be applied, yet the point is that he does know that it is yet for some time in the future.

These things have now been brought right into the present by the preaching of the Gospel says Peter: when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel.” On the day of Pentecost Peter started his message by a long reference to Joel (Acts 2:17-21), explaining how what was happening was a direct fulfilment of his prophecy. He then cited David’s psalm writing (Acts 2:25-28) that indirectly pointed out the fact of the resurrection, and then about Jesus ascending back to heaven (Acts 2:34,35).

After the healing at the gate called Beautiful, Peter taking the opportunity to preach again declares, “this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Christ would suffer.” (Acts 3:18) and “He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets. For Moses said, `The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you.” (Acts 3:21,22) and, “Indeed, all the prophets from Samuel on, as many as have spoken, have foretold these days. And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, `Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’ When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:24-26). In each case the general teaching followed by a specific example.

Of course Jesus himself on the road to Emmaus said to the two disciples, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25-27)

The message is very clear: the Old Testament prophecies clearly pointed to Jesus and Jesus and his apostles used that to verify all that had taken place and which we now call part of the Gospel. The angels in heaven were likewise kept in suspense as they looked on and saw what was happening on earth yet the revelation was not given to them but to prophets and then apostles. It’s a Gospel for mankind and it was to mankind that it was shared. Hallelujah!