Summary: The Kingdom of God grows when we hear the Word of God and respond obediently and faithfully to God's Word planted in us.
I love to garden…but I am not a good gardener. I have been around gardening all my life. I have been working in gardens since I was a little boy. As a kid I can remember helping mom and dad rake our fall leaves into the garden in the fall and dad would burn them and turn the ashes into the soil for the following spring. I remember helping he and mom dig up the soil, drop seeds into the ground and then later pick green beans and break beans, even can beans, and my favorite part, eat beans. Later, I helped a my mom and step-father in their garden at home. But as time when by and other interests caught my attention – like sports and girls and girls…did I mention girls, I wasn’t drawn so much toward the garden. So I never really got into the science and the art of gardening. I was only on the periphery, only half-engaged. My step-father is a retired county agent, with a master’s degree in plant science, with shelves and boxes of books on gardening and plant science and decades of experience in advising gardeners and farmers, but I never soaked it in, or paid close enough attention to what makes a great garden and a skillful gardener. I had all this cultural and scientific knowledge of gardening at my disposal, but I did not learn it, soak it in and allow it to become part of me, so that now I am a gardener…but not a good gardener. The produce of my gardens has been mediocre at best. My wife and children are under no delusions. They know that we would all starve if we had to rely on my meager ability as a gardener. If I had lived in NT biblical times and spoke the language of the NT, which is koine Greek, I would have been known as a gardener who is ἐπαχύνθη (epa-kun-they). ἐπαχύνθη means thick or dull or even calloused.
That word ἐπαχύνθη appears only twice in the New Testament, once in Matthew 13:15 and another time in Acts 28:27, and both times it is used to express the thickness, the dullness, the “duh”, of all the people, and it seems it is most everyone, who fail to grasp the obvious but overlooked fact that the kingdom of God is breaking into the world with power and effect. ἐπαχύνθη describes the attitude of people who fail to miss the reality that God is in the world and he is up to something. And even when Jesus and then the apostles proclaim clearly and with power that the kingdom of God is in their midst, the crowds and even the religious people of the day do not hear it. In their dullness and thickness and callousness, they become angry, resentful and violent toward the Word of God preached.
The first use of the word ἐπαχύνθη is found in Matthew 13:15, where Jesus says, “For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” Jesus complains that the people have dulled their heart, their sense and sensibilities, to the voice of their Creator and have instead chased after the things, the allure, the agenda of the world. They are oblivious to the fact that God is on the move, is working in the world, and is waiting for them to get on board. It is like the old Afro-American spiritual “Tis the Old Ship of Zion”
'Tis the old ship of Zion,'Tis the old ship of Zion,'Tis the old ship of Zion,Get on board, get on board.
It has landed many a thousand, It has landed many a thousand, It has landed many a thousand, Get on board, get on board.
But Jesus says nobody is getting on board. Nobody is finding landing in the kingdom of God because they are dull and thick to the ways, to the purpose and the dream of God for His creation and for you and me is not realized.
Who is it that is dull, thick and calloused? There are two groups of people, according to the NT.
In Matthew 13:15 we find that it is the mass of people. Jesus speaks to the crowds. There are so many that they press up against him and he has to get on a boat and push out in to the waters a bit. And Jesus speaks to them in a metaphorical parable to paint a clear picture to the people but they don’t get it. They are too distracted by the vices and the vicissitudes of life, by the allure of money, power and position or by the disappointments and the struggles of life. Whether it is good fortune or bad fortune they had hardened their hearts and thickened their minds so that they do not hear the clear, powerful message that God is on the move and ready to transform a broken world into a beautiful kingdom of heaven on earth. If they would only hear he says in Matthew 13, then I could heal them.