Summary: God’s Kingdom advances by seeing and hearing Jesus.
Read the Shorter Catechism question and ask the congregation to answer: “How is the word to be read and heard, that it may become effectual to salvation?”
Congregational Response: “That the word may become effectual to salvation, we must apply ourselves to it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; receive it with faith and love; lay it up in our hearts; and practice it in our lives.”
[Read Matthew 13.10-17. Pray.]
Kingdoms advance by force.
Consider the recent change in power in Egypt and the current conflict in Libya. Old regimes controlled with power, and new leaders wield their authority in the same way. Muammar Gaddafi began his rule by a coup d’état; and now a new generation threatens to overthrow him.
But Jesus’ rule is different: “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said. “If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting…. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18.36).
Now certainly the Bible calls Jesus a King. At his birth, the Magi recognized the signs, traveled to Jerusalem, and asked: “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him” (Matthew 2.2). And at his death, the inscription over him read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (John 19.19).
In our text today, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven, his kingdom, about which he alone reveals the secrets, a kingdom best described with parables. Jesus’ reign and rule advances, not by force, but by seeing and hearing. Other kingdoms do not advance in this way.
We easily see the contrast when we compare Jesus to Muammar Gaddafi or Hosni Mubarak. But what about the kind of kingdoms that we have in the States? We might suppose those advance by hearing; our elected leaders certainly talk a lot. But consider, for example, President Obama’s healthcare program. He speaks eloquently to persuade us to support his ideas; but ultimately, his agenda advances by coercion – health insurance and healthcare will change and you cannot prevent it. Whether you hear or not, or whether you see the benefits or not, it advances with the power of the presidency and the force of the law. The Tea Party folks use the same methods. They demonstrate, and give speeches, and seek to persuade – in order get more than 50% of the votes and force their kingdom on the rest of the country. If they do not have the power of the majority, their rule will not advance.
I’m not saying that is wrong, or that we could or should operate a different way. I am saying that is the way with all kingdoms that arise from this world and its systems.
But Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world; his advances by seeing and hearing. “Take care then how you hear” (Luke 8.18), Jesus taught at another time. Take care how you hear because heaven’s rule advances by hearing. Now to be sure, some hear, but do not hear; just as some see, but do not see. This should not surprise us, for Isaiah prophesied this very thing. A dullness of heart, a lack of faith, an unwillingness to be convicted and changed, these mean that even what is heard is not heard, and what is seen is not seen.
Up to this point, I feel like I am pretty much tracking with Jesus. This makes sense to me. Some hear, yet are unwilling to listen, so though they hear (in a sense), they do not HEAR. Some people saw in Jesus a poor Jewish man, possibly deranged, certainly despised and afflicted. The glory of God, veiled behind the mask of humanity, was not seen by all who saw. Even today, some people hear Jesus speak through the Bible and attribute the words to a prophet, or a visionary, or a charismatic leader, or a fool – a variety of possibilities exist for hearing Jesus and yet not hearing God speak directly to your soul. I feel like I understand so far.
But then what seems strange (and if I am reading this correctly, it confused the disciples too): “Why do you speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13.10). “If they see, but do not see, and hear, but do not hear, should you not seek to communicate with utmost clarity? Instead of figures of speech, speak plainly, Jesus! Why do you speak to them in parables?”
We begin, today, a series in the parables of Jesus, often his preferred teaching method. You may have heard that a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” That simple and easily remembered definition is a good start at understanding this word which occurs 45 times in the New Testament. The word itself is a compound of two Greek words, para [para] the preposition which means, “beside” or “alongside of,” and the verb ba,llw [ballo], to cast or throw. A parable, then, has the idea of a story thrown beside a real life situation in which there are parallels. So, when we hear Jesus speak in parables, if we think, “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” you will be headed in the right direction.