Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like - Part 1

Read: Matthew 13:24-30

To say that the Kingdom is important to an understatement. The Kingdom is his core message. He speaks about it a lot in the Gospels, more than any other subject.

The Jews of that time were anticipating the renewal of their kingdom  through the coming Messiah. They rejected Jesus because his message wasn't what they expected, his Kingdom was not what they were anticipating. But many are falling back into a similar trap today, because of lack of knowledge of what the Kingdom is about. They don't necessarily reject Jesus but they are not living the Kingdom life we are called into because they don't understand the Kingdom Jesus taught.

John the Baptist understood, though not completely, that the coming Kingdom was close in the person of Jesus to fulfill the prophecy of the Scriptures (Matthew 3:1-3). After John baptized Jesus, the Lord began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matthew 4:17). We must realize that Jesus didn't come preaching salvation, good works, or a new religion. Jesus began to preach that is was necessary to radically change how we think because those who would follow Jesus would be citizens of his new Kingdom that was near and would spread out to fill the earth. Salvation, good works, and even elements of a new religion (John 4:2, 6:53) were simply part of this new radically different Kingdom being established.

My purpose here in these posts is to discuss how Jesus uses the phrase "The Kingdom of heaven is like..."  Let's establish up front that in using this phrase, 10 times in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus isn't it referring to some future hope, while it is that as well. Rather Jesus is referring to the here and now as he describes what the present Kingdom is like . There is a future Kingdom yet to come, but both John and Jesus understood the Kingdom has come "near." The Kingdom was to expand and fill the earth for that is God's cosmic plan for history (Habakkuk 2:14). 

The word "heaven" does to refer so much to a place separate from the world bur rather a reality where God reigns, be it in heaven or on earth.What is the Kingdom? The best definition of the Kingdom I have heard is simply this, "The Kingdom is where what God wants done is done." Maybe that is why the Kingdom parables are meant for those who follow Christ (see the explanation Jesus give in Matthew 13:13-15) because the unrepentant have no intention of doing what God wants done in their lives. But we need to make sure our thinking lines up with the Kingdom thinking Jesus taught or we too need to repent. 

The first time we read the phrase "The Kingdom is heave is like..." is in Matthew 13:24-26 which is the Parable of the Weeds." We read:
"Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared."
To start, we need to go back in Chapter 13. The "Parable of the Weeds" follows the "Parable of the Sower" or the "Four Soils" in Matthew 13:1-9. The "sower" and the "man who sowed good seed" are one and the same - Jesus. It is Christ who sows the good seeds in the "soil" of a person's heart but it is that person who is responsible for the condition of their soil and how they respond to the seed. 
We see this clearly in the explanation gives us in Matthew 13:18-23. Which is why Jesus calls us to repentance as the agency to prepare the soil. No repentance and the seed is easily snatched away (13:19). Little repentance and the seed is not able to root (13:21). Doubled-minded repentance and no fruit grows (13:22). Note that the seed is always good. It is the preparedness of the soil that makes the difference. Our job is to be soil preparers which takes us into the next part of the "Weeds" parable.

Continuing on, we read:
The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Good seed is being sown but everyone was sleeping so the enemy had opportunity to plant weeds. The weeds are the unrepentant, that much is clear from the context. The Sower had done his work and the enemy was hard at work as well.  Those who were called to cultivate the soil however were sleeping. Could it be that in their sleeping they are at least partially culpable in the enemies work? That seems implied from the context too. It also seems to be a chronic condition of the "soil preparers," which is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesian 5:14)

Now how are we to understand this parable with respect to the Kingdom? The Evangelical position historically is that Jesus is talking about the "weeds" and that they would be "burned up" at the harvest. This gave rise to the "hell and damnation" - "turn or burn" preaching still taught in many places today. But is that really the primary Kingdom principle Jesus is communicating? We know that the unrepentant will be judged, that those who reject the atoning work of Jesus will not enter the future Kingdom to come (Rev 20:15). But is there is something more Jesus is communicating for the present Kingdom? I think there is.

The parable tells us that those who reject Jesus, the "weeds," will live side by side with those who accept Jesus,  who are the"the wheat." Jesus is notably unconcerned by this cohabitation and he apparently doesn't want us, who are in the Kingdom, to be concerned with it either. Rather our concern must focus on how the "wheat" grows. The "wheat" are not only those who are in the Kingdom, Christians, but all those who are to come into the Kingdom, Pre-Christians. God knows who will be counted amongst the harvest. Our attention is to those who will be brought in which is why we are called to tend the fields, and that requires our proper attention to the task at hand.

Now here's an important point we must grasp. Jesus tells us that when we disturb the "weeds" we might also disturb the "wheat" uprooting what he has planted. Consider the Parable of the Sower and the four soils. The efficacy of the seed is dependent on the condition of the soil. If our focus is the "weeds" we aren't paying attention to our primary task. Jesus is concerned with the condition of the wheat and understood that the "weeds" pose no threat to his plans. To focus on the weeds could be detrimental to health of the "wheat."

How often though do we want to confront the "weeds" and pull them out, thinking that will improve the harvest. We fear what the weeds may do. Jesus tells us to leave them alone. But our pride gets in the way as we think we can't have these "weeds" among us and so we fight against them. That is because we do not understand the nature of the Kingdom we are called into.

A "culture war" rages today in ways that is doing more damage than good, as Christianity becomes increasingly irrelevant in our nation. We live in a post-Christian pluralistic society where our voice is only as important as the next, when it is considered at all. This past Easter, for the first time it was reported less than a majority of Americans were planning on going to Easter service. The question of the hour is: why is the Church in decline? Could it be our attitude toward the unrepentant, the "weeds," who we want to stand opposed to do? Are we paying more attention to the "weeds" than the "wheat," which is why reproducing discipleship is so lacking?

The Kingdom is an alternative reality, different from the world and distinct from it. Our attention is to be on tending to the harvest to add to the Kingdom, even as the weeds grow up. We aren't to make our message about pulling out the weeds, but nurturing the wheat. That requires we see the harvest as Jesus does and follow his directions on how to care for it. We don't spend ourselves pulling out the "weeds," that's not our task. Therefore, being a "culture warrior" is not a Kingdom assignment, although too many Christians make it one. The Kingdom principle here is our focus is to be on what Jesus tells us is of first importance. The "Land-owner will take care of everything else in due season.

As an example of what I am talking about, I recently received one of those emails. You know the kind - the alarm is going off, some "godless" agenda is being promoted, we must respond immediately, we must stand opposed to this, God wants you to forward this email to everyone you know, and if you don't you shouldn't expect God's blessing. I typically delete such emails but a statement in this one caught my attention that I found so sad. The email stated: "please don't complain when God does not have time for you because He is far busier than we are." The theologically unprincipled idea being expressed is that God is too busy for you if you can't take the time to help boycott what the writer was objecting to. My response in part was that, "God is never busy, he is never overworked, and he certainly does not need our defense, nor does he desire our fearful response to what non-believers do."

I can hear the objections, "but if we don't stand against this kind of thing, it will only get worse!" To which I respond, " do you know and so what ?" If Jesus is unconcerned with the "weeds" so should we be. We are not going to change the culture by pushing back against it, declaring "you are wrong!" We should understand that's not working because it is not a Kingdom principle. It is not our role in the Kingdom to change the culture by denouncing it. The Kingdom is to present a place and way to live that is radically different than the world. We don't change culture, as much as we create it. That is why Jesus calls us to focus on the "wheat" and to leave the "weeds" alone.

Many churches, ministries, and Christian stand opposed to the "world,"to our culture, but don't offer the reality of the Kingdom as an alternative - a realm of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17). The Kingdom will spread out only as we understand what Jesus meant when he said, "the Kingdom of heaven is like..." Jesus is asking us to refocus on what is primary, what we are tasked to do. We must tend to the harvest field with single-minded purpose not get distracted by what the world does. It is often easier to react to the "weeds" but doing so will only impede the spread of the Kingdom and the health of the "wheat." And, get this, when we finish the task the "weeds" become a non-factor.

My desire is to see His "kingdom come, his will be done on earth as it is in heaven."(Matthew 6:33) How about you? Then let's focus on the task we have been called to. If you're not sure what that is I would love to talk with you further. Or, for starters, I recommend downloading the 40 day prayer guide at Ethnic Embrace USA.

Next time we will consider the assurance we can have about how the Kingdom will grow by looking at the "Parable of the Mustard Seed" (Matthew 13:31). That should help us to refocus on our priority task. 

No comments:

Post a Comment