Why don’t we talk all the time about Kingdom of God and hardly ever about ”the church”. Why are we nasty and horrible about “the church” in a way we would never be about the Kingdom of God.
It’s all a mystery! Jesus did two things in his three years of ministry. Told stories about the Kingdom of God and healed people. No wonder the crowds were numbered in their thousands. Leave healing aside for a moment, Jesus taught people about the Kingdom and they loved it!
I agree with Hybels, the church is the best hope for the world, because it best represents the presence of the Kingdom. It is where people can best taste and see that it is good.
1. Kingdom Growth
The first story is about growth of a mustard seed. The native Black mustard of Galilee was more of a weed (considered a nuisance) but it could be controlled and cultivated for its seeds to be used as a spice. The seeds themselves were only 2mm in diameter but the plants could grow up to 8-12 foot. They usually grew alongside other edible plants in a garden but they could get out of control if unattended. It would eventually become a tree with branches strong enough for the birds to come and perch/roost which is an image that connects to the Old Testament imagery of the kingdom in Ezekiel and Daniel.
On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. (Ezekiel 17:23 also 31:3-9; Daniel 4:10-12; 20-22)
From something so tiny; small enough for birds to snack on, comes something that is large enough and strong enough for the birds to live in.
Jesus’ second example is about bread. As there were no bakeries, Jesus takes a common household picture of preparing the dough that was to be baked into bread. Jesus pictures a woman who takes some yeast or what was known as leaven (fermented dough from the previous batch) and she kneads (massages/works) it into about 22 litres of flour which would end up being quite a large amount of bread and would feed quite a lot of people.
Without yeast/leaven the dough could not rise; a tiny piece of leaven has its effect upon the entire mass of dough.
Jesus was speaking of his Father’s kingdom in a very different way to what the Jewish leaders were hoping for. He speaks of his Father’s kingdom against their prevailing views of physical wealth and political authority and order. His message speaks directly to the heart of his disciples and the crowd who weren’t royalty, rich, powerful or famous. They weren’t an army or political movers-an-shakers. But in the kingdom all these things do not matter. God’s kingdom grows out of the smallest and insignificant of things.
Through Jesus, the kingdom has already begun to rise and grow in this world. Sometimes it may not look like much but the great certainty of these two parables is its growth is inevitable – unavoidable – inescapable.
If we look in on ourselves to see signs of growth and maturing faith we might be disappointed and consider our faith as small and insignificant.
This is exactly the wrong place to look if we want proof of kingdom growth and our relationship with God. John Calvin once said about his assurance that "Christ is more than a thousand testimonies to me."
Meaning that we are persuaded by believing in what Christ has done on our behalf; that God’s promises are made certain in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension.
The kingdom and our fellowship with God can seem like a hidden and distant reality but in Jesus, the kingdom is certain and its growth is underway; in Jesus, our union is complete and fellowship is as certain as the Father’s love for his Son.
It spreads despite Satan’s efforts (Matt.13:24). The parable of the wheat and the tares elaborates on that. This is the clash of two mighty kingdoms.
2. Kingdom People
Not everyone will finally enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt.13:24ff). Despite bearing appearances, only the genuine will benefit from being in the kingdom. The parable of the wheat and the tares, indicates that some will benefit while others definitely will not. The kingdom will be taken from those who should have received it and given to those who deserve it (Matt. 22:1-14) as seen in the parables of the Wedding Feast, and the Great Supper.
True disciples are those who have ears to hear and who do the will of their Father; who bear fruit for the Kingdom as in the parable of the Sower (Matt 13:3).
It is those who prepare for the Lord’s return and work for the kingdom, as in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, or the parable of the talents. (Matt. 25). Or those who live the right way, as illustrated in the story of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10).
Various parables show that attitude is important. For example, they are to be merciful as God is merciful, grateful for their salvation (the Two Debtors: Luke 7:41 Luke 12 & 16)
Now is the time to sort things out and have the right priorities and to have a spirit of humility (the Rich Fool, Lazarus and the rich man, the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18).
3. Kingdom Future
God’s great love for the lost is amply illustrated in the three stories of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep in Luke 15. Jesus says later on in Matthew, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34; 26:29).
But also he is coming in judgement when the wheat and the tares are gathered and sorted; or the fish are separated in the dragnet; or the servants are held to account, and are dealt with accordingly, as in the parable of the talents.
It is here were the people who belong to the kingdom receive the most encouragement. To belong to the kingdom is to hope for its future. In the future it will no longer be mysterious and hidden and Christ as its King will be an undeniable reality.
Our inheritance is a wonderful inheritance. Being united to Jesus in his death and resurrection, through the Spirit, we are the adopted children of the Father and co-heirs with his Son. We receive the same inheritance as Christ does and are loved with the same love and share the same relationship to Abba Father (Romans 8:15-17; 1 Corinthians 15:42-50; John 17:26).
To the uninitiated these are mysteries: to those who have entered they motivate us to see how the Kingdom operates. Peter had in mind when he encouraged the persecuted Christians to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3: 15).