Posts Tagged With: kingdom of heaven

Matthew 13: The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like

I absolutely love the parables.  They are most certainly my favorite form of literature in the gospels.  Matthew has packed this chapter full of them.

They are wonderful word pictures, for those of us who are more visual than verbal.  They pack meaning for those of us who like a good symbol.  They are memorable and popular.  They also teach fantastic lessons about life and how to live life.  But first and foremost, parables tell us about life in God’s kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is like . . .

  • a farmer sowing wheat on various kinds of soil with differing results
  • a field of wheat maliciously oversown by weeds that has to wait to be weeded out then harvested
  • a mustard seed that grows of a mere speck to a large, useful shrub
  • leaven that works its way throughout an entire pot of flour
  • a priceless treasure one might stumble upon in a field but then that’s worth selling everything you have to buy
  • a pearl hunter who sells off his fortune when he finds the biggest and best pearl ever
  • a net that gathers all sorts of fish that will have to be sorted out later

Some pieces of art or music or literature are just better appreciated in their original state without much explanation.  I do believe that is often true of the parables.  So, today I am running the risk of ruining great art.  Please forgive.  What is Jesus saying about the kingdom in these parables?

The kingdom of heaven is mysterious:  There is no telling when we will brush up against true Kingdom.  We might be in the middle of our everyday tasks and run upon a move of God that is unlike anything we have ever seen before.  We might simply be walking home, and over there in the corner of a yard under a tree, where we least expected it, will be something more valuable than anything we have.  We just thought it was another hum-drum day, but this is the day that changes our life.

The kingdom of heaven is valuable:  In a world that often lacks any substance or value, when we find God’s Kingdom, we will do anything to have it.  It is worth more than anything we presently have.  We know this is something real and valuable.  It might necessitate a relocation or a restructuring of our life, but we will gladly do it.  There will be sacrifices, but they are small in comparison.

The kingdom of heaven grows abundantly:  The Kingdom usually starts in humble beginnings.  We might look at it and say this won’t amount to much, but often that is exactly where God plants the seeds of His Kingdom and they grow into something that is so much bigger than what we could do ourselves.  And those pursuits bring help and nourishment to others.

The kingdom of heaven is messy:  This isn’t going to go smoothly.  God is working to advance His Kingdom in this world, but there are powers of evil and darkness that want the same soul-territory.  Right alongside Kingdom will be anti-kingdom.  There are people who will swallow up any seed of hope we might plant in another person.  “The world’s worries and the seduction of wealth” choke our devotion like thorns and strong weeds (13:22).  Purification and complete rescue won’t come until the end.

Those with ears to hear and eyes to see will know where Jesus is coming from.  Others won’t.  For some Jesus is just too familiar.  But those who do hear and see are more blessed than even the prophets of old (13:16-17).

Which parable resonates most strongly with you in this reading?  Why?

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Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Matthew 7: Kingdom Is As Kingdom Does

There is just too much “doing” in this chapter for this sermon to be nothing more than pie-in-the-sky idealism.

  • The word “do” (or “don’t,” “does,” “doesn’t,” “didn’t”) occurs 15 times in this one chapter.
  • Jesus encourages his audience to “ask,” “seek,” and “knock” (7:7), all very active verbs.
  • Jesus summarizes all that the Law and Prophets were teaching using the very active Golden Rule: “So whatever you want people to do to you, do just that to them” (7:12).
  • The calling card of genuine Christians is “the fruit they bear” or “produce” (7:16-19; “produce” is used 5 times in 3 verses).

Clearly, the Kingdom will come into existence by doing.  Granted, the Kingdom is not of our doing, as if it is the work of our hands.  But we are disregarding the activity in Matthew 7 if we think God will bring His Kingdom while we sit back passively waiting.

"The Wise and Foolish Builders" by Danny Halbohm

Don’t get me wrong.  I am no legalist who glories in my good works.  People who sit in my classes hopefully will tell you that is not the focus on my teaching.  People who know me the best will also tell you I don’t have enough good works to glory in!  We don’t “do” in order to get; we “do” because of what we’ve got.  But the world needs more than a Church that offers cheap grace that neither changes anything within us nor demands anything from us.  This world needs wise builders who hear and do.  The skeptical around us need to investigate the vines of our lives and find abundant fruit.  They need people who have actually found the gate that leads through the “tight squeeze” (7:14) to the narrow path and have turned around to show others the way.

This is the sort of thing Jesus meant when he said “Follow me!” (4:19)

A rhetorical question (if you wish): who in your life needs you to “do” this Sermon?

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Matthew 6: Kingdom Priorities

If the Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ manifesto about this new kingdom he is bringing, what is truly important in this new way of seeing life?  Jesus answers that question with as many explanations of what is not important as he does the affirmative.

The praise of your fellow man is not top priority.  Do your religious acts like tithing, prayer and fasting but if you are doing those to get praise from your neighbors and friends you have missed the point.  That momentary praise is all you will get.  Kingdom-people seek the praise of the Father who sees what is done without fan-fare or the spotlight (6:1-18).

The treasures of this earth are not top priority.  Nice clothes get moth-eaten.  Piles of coins get rusty.  Houses fall apart.  Cars get dented.  Jewelry gets stolen.  Investment portfolios crash.  Educational degrees become out-of-date.  Power and status are lost.  Beauty fades.  All these treasures broadcast to the world what is truly valuable to us, and this may not be complimentary.  Kingdom-people store up treasures in heaven.  These will never fade away, lose value or be lost.  And don’t tell yourself you can actually have them both; you can’t (6:19-24).

The needs of this world are not top priority either.  Food, drink and clothing might be at the top of Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” and we do need these, but we don’t get them by seeking after them.  God knows what we need and he will provide.  The worry that comes from a preoccupation with these physical needs will only detract from our occupation of advancing the Kingdom.  Kingdom people focus with faith on the needs of the world to come (6:25-34).

So don’t worry away with your “What’ll we eat?” and “What’ll we drink?” and “What’ll we wear?”  Those are all the kinds of things the Gentiles fuss about, and your heavenly father knows you need them all.  Instead, make your top priority God’s kingdom and his way of life, and all these things will be given to you as well. (6:31-33)

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Matthew 5: The Blessed Kingdom Life

There are some chapters that are just daunting to write about; the next three are some of those.  What can be said about the Sermon on the Mount that has not already been said and said better or is really worth saying?  Like James, these are chapters that will meet us where we are, somewhere different each time we read them.  Do share how God speaks to you this time around.

There are many different theories on what exactly Jesus was trying to do in the Sermon on the Mount.  Was he, the new Moses, giving a new law on a new mountain?  Was he setting out the moral code of the Church?  Was he giving the “impossible dream,” a perfectionistic dare that only punctuates how God’s Kingdom is only attainable by the power of God?  Or something else?

No doubt the parallels between Moses and Jesus are no accident, but 5:17-20 discount a view of the Sermon that diminishes or reverses the role of the Old Testament law.  No doubt the Church has turned the Sermon into its moral code, though we haven’t done so well, have we?  Consider how successful Christians are doing with lust, hatred, divorce, and love for our “enemies.”  Sayings like the following one do sound like they are “impossible” reminders of our own frailty,

Well then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect. (5:48)

But why does the sermon end with the declaration that we are as “foolish” as a man who builds a house on a sandy seashore if we do not do what has been said in this sermon (7:24-27)?

I would like to advance a different idea, one that is certainly not my own and has been gathered from many different places, none of which I remember off hand.  The Sermon on the Mount is a picture of life when you come into the Kingdom and when the Kingdom comes into you.  Partly idealistic but also partly practical and doable, this snapshot of Kingdom-life was Jesus’ invitation to a whole new way of life, here and now, a worldview (beliefs and actions) that if accepted would revolutionize the follower and those in his sphere of influence.

The Beatitudes

With this idea in mind, consider the Beatitudes (5:3-10).  Eight character traits or positions in life are put forward as “blessed” or fortune or happy — humility, the need to mourn, meekness, longing for divine justice, merciful, purity, peaceableness, and persecution.  Most of us would look at this list and say there is little blessing or happiness in most of these.  But these are exactly the kinds of people who will find God’s Kingdom to be an answered prayer.  These sorts of people will find what our present world’s system cannot or does not afford.  These marginalized, downtrodden, and sad people will find this new way of life that Jesus is bringing to be truly blessed.  These are the kinds of people who need a new system and they will find it if they will truly follow Jesus.  On the other hand, there are others who at the exact same time cannot embrace this way of life as anything other than a curse.  As an interpretive key that this is a plausible reading of the Beatitudes, I appeal to the “inclusio” or enveloping structure of the Beatitudes: both the first and last Beatitudes mention the “kingdom of heaven.”  In other words, all the falls between is the blessed Kingdom-life.

Old Testament Law and the Kingdom

Or consider what Jesus was doing in the long “you have heard it was said/but I say” section at the end of this chapter (5:21-48).  Jesus is not taking on the Old Testament law as 5:17-20 won’t allow it:

Don’t suppose that I come to destroy the law or the prophets.  I didn’t come to destroy them; I came to fulfill them! (5:17)

Jesus has come as a restorationist.  He is the rabbi who does not wish to start a new religion, rather has come to return God’s people to what they were called to in the beginning.  Jesus is not saying to ignore the Old Testament laws not to murder, commit adultery, divorce, swear falsely, reattribute justice fairly, or love your neighbor.  Kingdom people respect and keep God’s law (5:19).  Instead, Jesus is attacking the reductionistic legalism of the Judaism all around him that settled for the letter of the law and ignored the underlying attitudes that cause sin in the first place.  In so doing, he was in fact calling Kingdom-people to a “covenant behavior [that] is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees” (5:20).  Life in the blessed Kingdom is obedient life, but of a deeper kind than had become the norm in the world — even the religious world — around them.

Matthew 5 is a majestic start to a truly magnificent sermon!

What do you think?

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Matthew 4: The Kingdom Arrives

In the last chapter, we saw John preach about a kingdom that was coming.  Now with Jesus’ arrival that message changes slightly:

“Repent!” he would say.  “The kingdom of heaven is arriving.” (4:17)

Matthew then summarizes the message Jesus preached in the synagogues of Galilee as “the good news of the kingdom” (4:23).

We are still trying to determine what exactly this “kingdom” is but one thing we can know for sure is that Jesus is central to it.  As Jesus comes, so too does the kingdom.  Maybe at this point we can tentatively say that the kingdom is what one experiences when Jesus comes into one’s life.

"Follow Me, Satan (Temptation of Jesus Christ)" by Ilya Repin

I have always thought the way Satan decides to phrase his temptations is interesting, given what had just happened at the end of Matthew 3.  There we saw God’s Spirit alight on Jesus and a voice (presumably God’s) say,

This is my son, my beloved one,” said the voice.  “I am delighted with him.” (3:17)

Many others have noted that these three sentiments are three of the most basic affirmations a human needs to hear and be sure of in his life:

  • This is my son” — I claim you.  You are mine.  You belong to me, and I am glad to make that known.
  • My beloved one” — I love you.  I have deep affection and concern for you.  My emotions about you are positive.
  • I am delighted with him” — I am proud of you.  I approve of you.  I see what you do and it makes me happy.

It is interesting to me that Satan decides to attack Jesus at this most basic level: “If you really are God’s son . . .” (4:3, 6).  It is as if Satan is saying, “I know what you just heard, but are you sure?”  Maybe you need to test this.  Let’s put this to a test.  Make some bread.  Take a jump.

How often are our doubts and failures attached at a deep, even unconscious level to an uncertainty of divine acceptance, love and belonging?

Jesus’ path to victory is also instructive.  In the midst of this attack intended to produce doubt, Jesus hangs on to God’s words.  For Jesus the answer to the doubt and accusations of Satan was found in what God had already said.

We can learn from Jesus’ commitment to Scripture.

What grabbed your eye in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Matthew 3: The Kingdom of Heaven is Coming

I hope your Easter was a truly blessed one!  I spent much of the weekend in solitude and with family (in part, because I was sick on Sunday), but it was a very good weekend of reminders of frailty and new life.  I did spend time with Henri Nouwen, one of my favorites especially on Easter.  If you would like to read my Easter mediations click here to go to my personal blog.

We have just made a huge jump in time in Matthew 3.  Kids have grown up to be adults.  The time for ministry has come.

"John baptizing Christ" by Guido Reni

This is the first mention of John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, in Matthew.  He is one unorthodox bloke, to put it mildly.  He must have failed his seminary class on seeker-sensitive preaching:

He saw several Pharisees and Sadducees coming to be baptized by him.  “You brood of vipers!” he said to them.  “Who warned you to escape from the coming wrath?  You better prove your repentance by bearing the right sort of fruit!” (3:7-8)

His first words are what strike me in this chapter:

Repent!” he was saying.  “The kingdom of heaven is coming!” (3:2)

John’s first words introduce us to what will be a major theme in Matthew, actually the biggest idea Jesus and his followers ever talked about.  What is this kingdom?  It is coming here?  When?  One’s understanding of the Gospels is sadly deficient if one does not come to understand what the “kingdom” is.

What struck you in this chapter?

Categories: Matthew | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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