“THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS LIKE…”
(Kingdom Parables, Part 2)
Matthew 13:24-52, Key Verse: 13:44
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
Last week we began to study Jesus’ ministry of parables with the parable of the sower. It showed us that the kingdom of heaven is planted in our hearts through the word of God and is meant to grow and bear good fruit. But whether there is a good result at the end depends on our heart’s soil condition.
Today we’re looking at six shorter parables and one concluding saying. The parables all start with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like.” Jesus uses a rich variety of illustrations to teach us about the kingdom of heaven; he must really want us to grasp its essence. We can summarize these parables by saying they teach us about: how the kingdom of heaven grows, the judgment aspect of the kingdom, and the great value of the kingdom. Let’s pray to find heavenly treasure in Jesus’ words today.
I. Good seed and bad seed (24-30; 36-43)
Look at verses 24-26. “Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.’” Like the parable of the sower, this parable features seed and growing grain. However, unlike last week’s parable, there isn’t just one sower. After the planting was done, while everyone is sleeping, an enemy comes and sows weeds. Then when the wheat came up and formed heads, the weeds also appeared.
We know that weeds are a great hindrance to any attempt at growing crops. Weeds grow very easily and rapidly. They can use up the soil and choke out the healthy plants. Usually, weeds spread and come up on their own, but in this parable someone comes and maliciously sows weeds on purpose. That’s really evil!
To understand this parable, we can cheat a little and look ahead to Jesus’ explanation to his disciples in 37-39a. “He answered, ‘The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil.’” The Son of Man, Jesus Christ, is the owner of God’s world, and he sows seeds of eternal life here. We can view the servants as gospel workers, who help water and tend God’s crop by serving his people.
The servants of the owner of the field were very surprised to see weeds coming up, because they knew the owner would only sow good seed. That’s when the owner revealed to his servants the reality of his enemy: “an enemy did this.” It teaches us that in this world there are spiritual forces of evil working in opposition to God’s good will, masterminded by the “evil one”, Satan. In the world, there are people who belong to God and people who belong to the devil mixed together. And we can’t always tell who is who. To carry the plant analogy a little further, maybe the weeds and the wheat plant look very similar while they are still young sprouts.
In verse 28 the servants said to the owner, “Do you want us to go pull them up?” The servants were willing and eager to help the owner with his weed problem. But surprisingly, the owner said, “No, because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.” (29). Instead, his direction was: “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.”
This teaches us so much about the character of the owner. It would be difficult to pull out the weeds without harming at least some of the good wheat. The owner is patient, and most of all the owner is gentle and doesn’t want any of his good wheat plants to be harmed. This gives us some explanation for why God allows good and evil to exist together in the world. It’s very comforting to know that God doesn’t carry out his judgment on the evil in our world because he is not willing to do anything to harm those who are his good wheat plants. I think God even uses the weedy people in our lives to build our character.
As Jesus’ interpretation tells us, the harvest time refers to the judgment at the end of the age, when the angels will harvest people’s souls. At that time, the wheat and the weeds will be separated once and for all. We can depend on that. This parable also teaches us what is and is not our role as gospel servants. Sometimes we are tempted to be spiritual weed-pullers, focusing only on the negative and thinking that our job is to stamp out all the bad behavior we see around us. But we are not the ones to carry out God’s judgment. As servants in God’s field, our job is to water and nurture the good plants, and leave the judgment to the angels. Let’s pray for patience and for understanding God’s heart as we serve in this weedy world!
II. Like a mustard seed and yeast (31-33)
The next parable is also agricultural in nature, but focuses more directly on the growth of the kingdom of heaven. Look at verses 31 and 32. “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’”
God’s amazing power is shown all throughout the living world. A mustard seed is so small that any bird could easily swallow it up (though maybe birds don’t like mustard seeds because they’re too spicy.) A mustard seed doesn’t look like anything special; it could easily be mistaken for just a little pebble. Yet somehow within that seed is the capacity to grow and form a plant that becomes large enough for birds can come and sit in. It’s because the seed has the miracle of life in it.
Jesus said that’s what the kingdom of heaven is like. The kingdom of heaven can start in a way that looks totally insignificant, such as one person making an appointment to study the Bible. Yet the spiritual results that come out of that can spread across the whole world. Missionary Sarah Barry looked pretty insignificant as just one young American missionary in Korea. But her collaboration with Dr. Samuel Lee had life in it to spark a movement that has spread to 90 nations. The church itself started with just a small group of humanly insignificant disciples, and yet it spread and gave life to the world. Maybe the birds perching in the branches of the mustard plant refers to how many souls are nurtured and protected in Jesus’ church. So we don’t need to be discouraged when it looks like our ability to serve is so limited and the number of people we impact seems small. We should believe that the gospel has the power of spiritual life in it, like a mustard seed.
Look at verse 33. “He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Yeast is even tinier than a mustard seed; it’s microscopic. But it is a living, single-celled organism. The yeast used in baking is the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It feeds on carbohydrates and releases carbon dioxide and alcohols, causing the well-known effect of making bread rise.
Why is the kingdom of heaven like yeast? Jesus didn’t explicitly interpret this parable. In most places in the Bible, yeast is used with a negative connotation, but I don’t think that’s the case here. The analogy to yeast seems to highlight the invisible, yet pervasive influence of the kingdom of heaven and kingdom people. God’s people, who have the kingdom of heaven in themselves, influence every aspect of our society, though often in an invisible. God spreads his people all around in different environments like a woman working yeast through a batch of dough. In the book of Acts, we see how God spread his people and their influence all throughout the Roman Empire, even through persecution. M. Paul and Mary Kim got spread from Korea to Texas, to Tennessee, to Louisiana, and now here. Their influence must be so that God wanted to spread it in lots of places. In this technological world, we may think the most influence comes from people who are making the most noise in the media. But it’s not true. The invisible influence of a godly life has power that goes far beyond mere words. Let’s believe that our personal holy influence, though hard to see visibly, can make the whole world rise up to the kingdom of heaven.
III. The value of the kingdom (34-35; 44-52)
At this point Matthew interjects to teach us about the purpose of Jesus’ speaking in parables. He quotes Psalm 78:2, which says “I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.” We shouldn’t forget how privileged we are to have access to the depth of wisdom of Jesus’ parables. They contain God’s wisdom hidden since the creation of the world.
That leads us nicely to two short parables that teach us about the value of the kingdom of heaven. Now skip down and let’s read verse 44. “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” To help us understand this parable, let’s imagine what it would feel like to unexpectedly find a very great treasure. Imagine the thrill of finding something that would make your life so much better from that point on. Some people might think about winning the lottery; but I think a better example is the joy of finding the husband or wife that God has prepared for us. Everybody loves to find treasure. Jesus is saying that the kingdom of heaven is the greatest treasure anyone can find for their life. It is true and spiritual treasure.
Also notice that in this saying, the kingdom of God is compared to hidden treasure. Why is it hidden? Maybe it’s because the spiritual treasure of the kingdom of heaven is not something visible in this world. We find it when the word of God goes into the inner places of our heart. So to receive this treasure, we have to be sensitive to spiritual things, not just things that could improve our earthly life.
In the parable, the man who finds the buried treasure experiences great joy. And this joy led him to take action. He sold everything he had to buy that field. Would you say this is a wise move? Of course! It would be foolish not to do this after finding such a great treasure. So this parable is really teaching us about how we should value the kingdom of heaven.
The second saying in this group has a similar theme but is about someone who’s more of an investor. Look at verses 45-46. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” A merchant is a person whose business is to know the value of things. This merchant accurately assessed that the value of this pearl was enough to be worth selling everything he had to buy it. He didn’t feel the loss of the things he sold because he was so happy thinking of the pearl. Again, that’s how we should regard the treasure of heaven found in the gospel. Of course, we don’t buy the treasure of the kingdom of heaven with money. But what we invest our time, effort, and yes, also money in shows where our true value system lies. One of my favorite sayings from Proverbs is Chapter 23 verse 23: “Buy the truth and do not sell it.” We saw this value system expressed by Paul in Carlos’ message from Philippians 3 last week: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” Paul “sold”, or gave up, all the benefit of his Pharisee credentials to have the treasure of Christ, and he considered that he was a big winner in that exchange.
Sadly, many people seem not to be as wise as these two treasure-seekers; they put little value on the kingdom of heaven compared to earthly things. Many things that people value in this world are worthless. We need eyes like a spiritual merchant to see what is of true value.
The last full parable in this passage is very similar to the parable of the weeds and wheat, but this time Jesus uses a fishing rather than agricultural analogy. Look at verses 47-50. “‘Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Instead of weeds and wheat, there are good fish and bad fish. In our Friday Bible study, someone pointed out how “all kinds of fish” can refer to how the kingdom of God has people from all nations, languages and tribes. We are “fishers of men” and we try to catch all kind of people for the kingdom. Maybe some of them are actually bad fish. But everything will be decided at the judgment.
When we digest all these parables thoroughly, we can have a very rich impression of the kingdom of God in our hearts. Matthew shows us that that Jesus’ disciples were a main focus of his “parabolic” ministry. He wanted them to fully absorb his spiritual treasure. In verse 51, Jesus quizzes them: “‘Have you understood all these things?’ Jesus asked.” They obediently answered, “Yes.” I don’t know if they really did. But anyway, Jesus went with that and told them what a blessing it was to be well-trained in spiritual things.
Look at verse 52. “He said to them, ‘Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’” In Jesus’ time, faithful Jews studied the scriptures very diligently to become teachers of the law. But Jesus’ teaching was on a new level. The teaching of the kingdom of heaven, as exemplified in the parables, is dynamic and life-giving. Of course, we should study the Old Testament too. Then, with the help of the Holy Spirit we can dig out the word of God and apply it to ourselves and others in ways that are always fresh and real. When we became Jesus’ disciples, we found hidden treasure, which we began to accumulate in the storeroom of our hearts. Some of us have had some of our treasures for a while now, but we should always be adding new ones. As well-qualified Bible teachers, we can bring out our old and new treasures to bless others. May God bless you to have the treasure of the kingdom of heaven and cherish it above all else.