Read Matthew 13
Have you ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld or Universal Studios or Six Flags over somewhere?
After you pay to park miles from the park and ride the shuttle driven by the 19 year old kid who is talking to his girlfriend on his cell instead of checking to see who is falling out of the back car, you finally arrive at the lines at the entrance to the park.
When you finally get inside the park proper, one of the first things you do is get a map. You don’t want to go the long way to the Pirates of the Caribbean.
You get a map. You want to know where everything is.
The disciples had followed Jesus all over the place. They had seen some things. They had heard many teachings. They had seen their Master at odds with the religious rule makers and rule keepers of the day.
They wanted to know about this place of rewards but they also wanted to know about God’s judgment. They wanted to get their map before they got through the lines at the Magic Kingdom. Some wanted to ride the Matterhorn and others were going straight to the Tea Cups, and they wanted to know what was inside.
OK, it has been a few decades since I have been to an amusement park. I know the rides have changed, but you still want a map.
Sometimes our vision of God’s Kingdom or the Kingdom of Heaven resembles an amusement park, well, without any lines to stand in. We all have EE tickets and are at the front of the line. Again, it has been awhile since I have been to the Magic Kingdom.
Only Jesus had lived in the Kingdom of God. Only Jesus could explain his Father’s Kingdom.
If I were to give you directions as to how to get around in Kuwait City using landmarks familiar to me and those who were there with me, you would likely decide to just get a rental car with a GPS. Unless you have been there the landmarks and their colorful descriptors don’t mean a whole lot.
It is sort of like giving directions in Oklahoma.
Go a mile north of the old Phillips 66 station. It is Joe’s Place now. The Phillips sign is gone but you can get beer and bait there and the even serve catfish out back on Fridays when the weather is just right. Just a little bit past Joes, turn west for a pretty fur piece until you get to the section line where the Miller’s barn burned down 9, maybe 10 years ago. You can’t tell that there was ever a barn there now but that’s where you turn south for three-quarters of a mile. You will see the rusted out cattle guard on your right. It’s not much use now that the fence is gone, but that’s where you turn in.
You can’t miss it.
If I wanted to explain the lay of the land in a land unfamiliar to you, I would need to use things familiar to you to explain what you had never seen.
Jesus used parallel examples to teach his disciples about his Father’s Kingdom. A sower, seed, and different types of soil; wheat and weeds; mustard seed and yeast; hidden treasure and pearls; and even fish caught in a net.
What says the Kingdom of Heaven more than a bunch of fish flopping in a net? The next time that you sing When We All Get to Heaven, just visualize a net full of fish flopping every which way.
Jesus explained using Isaiah’s words:
This is why I speak to them in parables:
“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
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.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.
At the end of this chapter of parables, Jesus asked his followers: “Have you understood all of these things?”
The disciples responded in the affirmative. Granted, Jesus gave them the Cliff’s Notes for two of these parables, but the disciples said that they understood the lot of them.
What did they understand about the Kingdom of Heaven?
How about to enter it, you must have receptiveness. We might call this a teachable spirit. We are a place to for God’s word to take root and for his Kingdom to grow.
How about, God’s Kingdom grows within us in spite of the world around us. So often we ask God to remove the mess around us when he is offering to build his kingdom inside of us.
How about, God’s Kingdom is not something we enter through massive gates. It enters us as a very small seed and grows and grows and grows.
How about, God’s Kingdom works its way through us affecting every part of our lives. God’s Kingdom comes alive inside of us. Within the world there are boundaries. Within our lives given to God through Christ there are no boundaries. He lives! He rules! We are his people the sheep of his pasture.
How about, when the Kingdom is no longer just a concept or a dream or a desire but a real treasure, we do whatever it takes to take hold of it.
Regardless of your politics on the matter, those children that managed to get to the United States from South America saw the Land of the Free as a reality for which they would give up everything they had known.
So many people want to be a Major League Baseball player or a rock star or an astronaut but in reality these are not dreams. They are just wishes. No real effort is put into them.
But for the young man or woman who realizes that being a doctor or a lawyer or a missionary is really what they must be; that person will sacrifice so much to realize their dream.
Likewise, when the Kingdom of Heaven is tangible and reachable and something that we can realize, we will give up so much of this world that seemed shiny and attractive at first but now is just something subject to theft and oxidation.
How about, when the Kingdom is no longer just a concept or a dream but a real jewel of great value, we give up all of our worldly stuff that really owns us and we buy this valuable jewel.
Our image of meeting St. Peter at the pearly gates may not quite jive with how we will enter the Kingdom.
Little by little we come into the Kingdom of God and it grows in us while we are in this world, but at some point there will be a harvest. There will be a catch. There will be a catching up in which we have no control at all.
The wheat gets cut down and hauled to the barn. Weeds are bundled and burned. Fish are netted and sorted.
There is no response for us in these events. The thistles don’t get a chance to become wheat. They may have disguised themselves as wheat up to this point, but the harvester knows his crop.
There is no response for us in these events. You don’t have a chance to work your way to the other side of the net where the good fish are hanging out. You are scooped up and the fishermen know which ones are keepers.
There is a time for that Kingdom to manifest itself in an instant, but as with most things in our lives, the Kingdom will materialize over time. We know this process in:
· Speech and language.
· Facial hair.
· Savings accounts.
Some things take time. Some things come with process and progress.
But some things just seem to happen:
· Traffic accidents.
· Traumatic events.
There may be alliteration but little theology in categories beginning with the letter “T” but some things just seem to happen all at once.
So Jesus tells us of a kingdom that is all around us, growing within us, and so valuable to us that when we see it, we will sacrifice everything to be a part of it. The onus of being a part of this kingdom is very much on us.
It is here ready for us to dwell within.
It is here ready to stake a claim within us.
Will we partake of it?
Then Jesus tells us of the kingdom that will be upon us all at once.
One day we are swimming with the rest of the fish and then in a moment, we are scooped up with the rest of the fish. Everything is in the hands of the fisherman at that point.
There is the Kingdom of Heaven that is growing and building now and there is the Kingdom of Heaven that will come upon us without notice.
If we are living and growing in God’s Kingdom each day, then the Kingdom to come with be a fantastic surprise.
It will come upon us without anxiousness or decision on our part.
For some, this may not be a pleasant experience. Indeed, some have rejected God’s Kingdom and his Lordship.
And when it comes down to the fish sorting, we are not the sorters. In all of my biblical studies and theological training, this is what I know about fish sorting: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.
I am called and trained and equipped to be a fisher of men but when the time comes for sorting I am in the net with everyone else, but I am not anxious.
For those who have done their best to follow Jesus and seek God’s Kingdom and his righteousness before all else and have truly been ground in which the word of God has taken root and grown; this will truly be the best surprise of our lives.
For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, we know that the Kingdom to come will be beyond anything we have seen.
“What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived”
the things God has prepared for those who love him—
these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.
The Spirit gives us a taste of this Kingdom that is beyond what we can conceive.
So what is the Kingdom of God like? Well, Jesus compared it to some things that we might comprehend but then he said to get ready for things that go beyond what we know now.
The Holy Spirit has been left as a good deposit on the kingdom to come.
The Kingdom of Heaven is here and within us and growing all around us and it is to come.
It grows in us when the word of God falls upon good soil.
It spreads throughout us like yeast throughout the dough.
It is worth whatever we must give up from our temporary treasures.
And in God’s Kingdom, in this Kingdom of Heaven, we are home. Whether we are here in the body or in the kingdom to come, we are at home.
Jesus concludes these several parables with a remarkable statement.
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.”
Most of the time the Teachers of the Law seem to be taking it on the chin when they encounter Jesus. Here we see quite a promise—a promise of treasures new and old.
At this time, most of the Teachers of the Law were wrapped in obedience, compliance, and ritual and missed the mercy and the heart of God.
But for the one who would have eyes to see and ears to hear—who had a teachable spirit—he would know not only the revelations from the Ancient of Days that had been written so far but the Kingdom of God that had come and would come.
For the modern day disciple who has been subservient to doctrine and dogma, there is hope and promise.
For the God fearing people who feel bound by commands so much so that their lives are about not messing up, there is freedom and life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
For the one who struggles with reconciling the Thou shall not’s with the All things are permissible’s, we have eyes to see both as gifts from God that we should treasure.
We have treasures old and new.
We live in a kingdom that lives within us now and is to come.
We long to live our lives to the full; yet so desire the one to come.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven like?
It is like every step that you take in faith.
It is like every gift that you use for the good of the Body of Christ.
It is like every time that we have acted with mercy instead of ritual.
It is like every time we have trusted God over our own understanding.
It is like every time where we are the salt of the earth and people taste God’s goodness in their encounters with us.
It is every time that someone comes to us not for money or a handout but because they see the light of the world in us.
It is like every time that we love one another.
It is like every time that we forgive, especially those who don’t deserve it.
It is like the cup of cold water we give someone just because.
It is like so many things that we already know but just look at as things we do instead of the kingdom in which we live.
We don’t have to worry about getting a map for the Kingdom of Heaven that is to come. In that Kingdom we will be overwhelmed by joy and wonder and we won’t be worrying about navigation.
As far as the Kingdom that is growing within us, we have a map and a Guide and even some guardrails along the way.
We have the Bible and the Spirit and the Body of Christ to help us navigate the Kingdom of Heaven while we reside in this world.