“The Kingdom Prospectus”
November 17, 2013
Even with weeds, the kingdom is the place to invest.
I. Incredible Long Term Growth (Matthew 13:31-33)
II. A Few Weeds in the Field (Matthew 31:24-30, 36-43)
III. The Place to Invest Yourself (Matthew 13:44-46)
Investing is fascinating. I’ve not done it even as much as I should but it’s fascinating. Last week, for example, Twitter, Inc. held its initial public offering, or IPO; it became a publicly traded stock. One of the things that happens when a stock goes public is that a brokerage firm is required to issue a prospectus, a detailed description of the investment, who is offering it, their financial position, their growth plans, etc. The prospectus for Twitter, almost two hundred pages, was supposed to help really evaluate the potential of this investment. So before it even formally opened Twitter had moved from its initial offering at $26 per share to $45 a share. 1600 people became millionaires, mostly employees and others who had a share in the company when it was private.
If you read a prospectus right and get in on the ground floor of a good company, you can make incredible gains. You often hear people say ‘I wish I’d bought Apple.’ Between 1992 and 2012 the value of Apple stock increased by over 4000 percent. That’s pretty good. Google has only been traded for nine years, but it has returned over 900 percent on your initial investment. Not bad.
But Jesus tells us there is something in life with a far greater return on investment, a return so great that he recommends you sell all that you have and get in on the ground floor and watch it grow. That company he’s so bullish on is called ‘the Kingdom of Heaven.’ He often describes its nature and benefits in parables. In fact Matthew 13 could be called the kingdom prospectus, because here Jesus shows us that even with weeds, the kingdom is the place to invest.
But before we talk about the kingdom, I want to talk for a moment about parables. The verses we’re focusing on today are Matthew 13:24-46. But earlier in the chapter we have the parable of the sower, and a little bit later its interpretation. In between Jesus tells the disciples why he speaks in parables. In the same way, in our text, we find some thoughts on the purpose of the parables between the parable of the weeds and its interpretation. Before we get to the parables, and the kingdom, I want to talk about these two purpose sections.
So, after the parable of the Sower “The disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11He answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.13This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14Indeed in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: “‘“You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” 15For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ 16But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear.
This is a difficult passage, and we could devote a whole message to it, but in essences Jesus says that the parables are given to hide truth from those who will not receive it and reveal truth to those who will. Notice verse 11: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” The secrets or mysteries of God’s plan were hidden and could not be figured out by men, but are now revealed. Men expected a kingdom that would establish with power the final reign of God. Jesus brought a kingdom but one that would grow first in the hearts of men before that final triumph, a kingdom now and not yet. That kingdom, as it turns out, is one that can be accepted or rejected. Those who reject it see it as nonsense, so they either want to destroy Jesus or to make him that political king immediately. He speaks in parables in order to put a veil over the eyes of the unbelieving long enough to reveal the truth of the kingdom to those with ears to hear.
Matthew reinforces this in verses 34 and 35: All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. 35This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
The parables, Matthew says, were given not only to hide but to reveal. He quotes Psalm 78, in which Asaph describes his own prophetic moment – he only wrote a few Psalms – as uttering what has been hidden. In the same way the parables reveal what had been unseen. In the words of George Eldon Ladd, “The new truth, now given to men the person and words of Jesus, is that the Kingdom which is yet to come in apocalyptic power, has already entered the world in advance in a hidden form to work secretly within and among men"
With that being said, let’s look at the Kingdom Prospectus. We’ll begin with verses 31-33, which show the Kingdom’s incredible growth: He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. 32It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 33He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”
These two parables are central to Jesus’ kingdom teaching. The kingdom starts tiny and hidden but its growth is incredible. In verse 31 Jesus pictures a man taking a single mustard seed into a field and sowing it. One little mustard seed, about a twentieth of an inch long. Yet it becomes a tree, huge in comparison to its beginnings, large enough for birds to perch in its branches. The pious Jews in that day expected a kingdom that would be vast and glorious. What Jesus is teaching is that the small beginnings taking place in his ministry will lead to the Kingdom’s future glory. Though initially the appearance of the kingdom seems inconsequential, the tiny seed leads to the mature plant.
So, verse 33: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.’ As we saw earlier, it takes only a small amount of yeast to expand a small amount of dough into a large volume. In the same way the kingdom’s growth is all out of proportion to its initial insignificance. And you can’t see the yeast at work; it’s hidden, but all of sudden there is growth. In both parables it’s clear that at present God’s kingdom operates quietly, and from small beginnings but with great results.
So when Jesus asks us to buy into his kingdom, to come by faith and join his people and his movement, we can know that though this kingdom is still hidden, it has great impact. At any moment the kingdom may seem small, suffering reverses, stagnant in its growth. Over the centuries the kingdom’s numbers have stagnated or surged. After remarkable growth under the Roman Empire, there was a period of stagnation, until growth resumed after the Protestant reformation and in the modern missionary movement. But population isn’t the whole story. Jesus is talking about kingdom impact that is measured in hearts.
The point for investors is that that kingdom growth is assured. Too many believers for too long have seen investment in the kingdom as a secondary aspect of life. But Jesus is saying ‘don’t count out this little thing that the kingdom of redeemed hearts appears to be. Hold the kingdom in high esteem, for it is at work in secret and small ways that lead to incredible outcomes.
Billy Graham has preached the Gospel to more people than anyone in history. His backstory illustrates this kingdom growth. On April 21, 1855 a Sunday School teacher, Edward Kimball led a shoe salesman, Dwight L. Moody to Christ. Moody became the greatest evangelist of his day, with major impact in both America and Europe. In London, a young minister by the name of F.B. Meyer heard him. Mr. Meyer's soul was fired up by God’s Spirit that day, and he became a great teacher and evangelist. On one of his trips to Chicago, Meyer met a young man named Wilbur Chapman, who he took under his wing. Chapman became an evangelist as well.
Not long after, in Chicago, a group of young baseball players began to cruelly mock some Salvation Army workers. But one ballplayer, as he heard the singing and testimonies became convinced he was lost. That night Billy Sunday went to Pacific Garden mission and trusted Jesus. Fired up for Christ, he sought those doing bold evangelism. He became Wilbur Chapman’s assistant, and soon had his own evangelistic ministry. At one meeting, in Charlotte, North Carolina, a number of businessmen were saved. They formed a local group to continue the spread of the Gospel. In 1934 they brought an evangelist to Charlotte, a friend of Billy Sunday’s named Mordecai Ham. At one of his meetings a young man named Billy Graham was saved. That’s how the kingdom works.
And the kingdom grows this way despite being infested with weeds. Verses 24-30 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ 28He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
The kingdom, at present, is like this field, with its wheat and weeds. But just as the farmer waits for the harvest, so the kingdom waits for its final fulfillment. Verse 25: an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat. The weed thus sown would probably have been bearded darnel which looks a lot like wheat, but has long been considered a parasite in a wheat field. It can choke out a harvest. When the farm workers notice the weeds, they notify the owner. But he forbids them from trying to separate weed from wheat until the harvest for fear of spoiling the wheat. Only at the harvest do the workers cut down the weeds and burn them. Then they gather the good grain and store it for winter.
That’s the story. And as we are familiar with parables, we might well understand the thrust of the story without explanation. We’re expected to do that with most parables. But this is one of a few Jesus explains. Verses 36-43 Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42and throw them into a fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
This is amazing. It would have been a stretch for us to give this detailed explanation apart from Jesus’ guidance. Ever since the medieval church allegorized the parables to the point of ridiculousness, we’ve been cautious about this. But in this case Jesus gives a very detailed analysis of the metaphor – and teaches us about the fulfillment of the kingdom. He says ‘the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man.’ As we saw last week, this is Jesus’ title for himself. It’s typical for Jesus to put himself in his parables in the place where the Old Testament would put God, another evidence that he claims deity.
Verse 38, "The field is the world". Earlier Jesus told the disciples to go only to Israel, but that was only for the earthly period of Jesus’ ministry. Here he makes the whole world the mission field. Yet throughout church history there has been a tendency to read this as if the field was the church, that wheat and weeds grow together in the church. The church fathers and the reformers both tended to see it this way. Even some modern critics think that Matthew’s big idea is to address problems in the churches of the late first century.
But Jesus says ‘the field is the world.’ The kingdom is the whole world, though not all are sons of the kingdom. It’s the sons of the kingdom who are the church, the worldwide body of those who are saved. There may be weeds in churches, but they’re not part of the true church. And it’s for the sake of the sons of the kingdom, present and future that the "weeds," the sons of the evil one are now preserved, and the world is not yet judged. But it will be, at the end of the age, when the angels are sent to bring in the righteous and destroy the evil.
Verse 40: “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers.” The "sons of the evil one," “all who do evil" are thrown into the fiery furnace, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is Jesus’ common description of the torment of separation from God, the eternal judgment of hell. Verse 43: In contrast to the evil-doers, "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father." The allusion is to Daniel 12:3. These righteous people radiate perfection and experience bliss because they have entered the kingdom of their father, which is the kingdom of the Son, the fulfilled kingdom of heaven.
So what has Jesus said? He’s given a remarkable picture of the final establishment of the kingdom which Scripture variously calls ‘the final judgment,’ the last days,’ and ‘the day of the Lord.’ The end of the age, the angels, the harvest, the destruction of those who remain in sin and the bliss of the rescued, all of this is to be taken quite literally. Remember the purpose of the parables was to reveal mysteries God had not yet revealed, but in a way veiled to unbelief. This explanation is, for the disciples and us, a marvelous removal of the veil.
As far as investing in the kingdom goes, this parable tells us that there will be weeds among the wheat. The kingdom won’t always look like it’s thriving. In the world and in the church and in ministry and on mission, opposition will try to choke off the fruitfulness of God’s people. Until Jesus finally rescues us, the kingdom will not be 100 percent pure. But God triumphs in the end.
So it is a good investment, the best investment. Verses 44-46 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
How much is the kingdom worth to those who find it? Jesus says ‘worth everything.” His first example is finding treasure in a field. In a land as often conquered, like Palestine, some people must have buried their treasure. But finding such a treasure would only happen to one in ten thousand, and this rarity dramatizes the importance of the kingdom. Under rabbinic law if a man came on such a treasure and lifted it out, it would belong to the field's owner. So the man is careful not to remove the treasure till he has bought the field. He has to sell everything to do so, but he gains far more. Carson says “the kingdom of heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of discipleship, and those who know where the treasure lies joyfully abandon all things to secure it.”
The second example is a bit like the first: we have a merchant in search of fine pearls and he finds one so incredibly valuable that he sells everything he has to buy it. Unlike the man in the last parable, the merchant apparently pays full price. Though he is an expert in pearls, this single find so far surpasses any other the merchant has seen that he considers it a fair exchange. It may be that Jesus is appealing to the Pharisees; they so treasure their hard won expansions of God’s Law that they are unwilling to give them up even for the sake of the one who is fulfilling that law and doing the good the law intended.
But how do we translate these metaphors into our own lives? We have to tackle this from two directions, I think. The first is to treasure what we receive in the Son’s kingdom, and the second is to be willing to give things up for its sake.
These two are related; I strongly suspect the reason more people don’t give up a lot for the kingdom is they’re shrewd investors; they don’t feel they’re getting value for the exchange. But the problem is not with the kingdom – it’s with our estimation of it. If we don’t recognize its value now, and as impatient moderns don’t treasure anything ‘not yet,’ we’re in trouble. Our prayer has to be to be able to see the treasure, to recognize the pearl. We need to learn that participation in the kingdom through faith in Jesus offers the only worthwhile present blessings and the only true eternal benefits to be found in this world.
I could list some of these in my own feeble words, but the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1 does a much more beautiful job: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- 6to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” And verse 13: “you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of his glory.”
Much of that is not yet. Much of that is now. Believers experience the Holy Spirit, and through him the presence of Christ and being in Christ now. Believers experience the freedom of forgiveness and the new life of the redeemed now. Believers walk as sons and daughters of a heavenly Father now. Why can’t we see this? He offers us a feast, through his Spirit, through his word, through his work and we, in the thought of C.S. Lewis are sitting in the dirt finding pleasure making mud pies. The kingdom, the rule and reign of the Messiah king in the lives of his rescued people is the pearl of great price, the treasure in the field, and nothing, nothing in this world compares with it.
Some believers have always recognized this. I could tell countless stories of people who gave up worldly success for kingdom service and knew they got the good end of the deal. In the early 1900’s young Martyn Lloyd Jones embarked on a promising medical career. He was a brilliant doctor, called to one of the best hospitals in London. But in a short time God convinced him that preaching could do more for men than medicine. He gave up his career and preached in a little church ten years before being called to London’s Westminster Chapel where for thirty years he taught the word to audiences eager for true healing.
In the 1940’s a young couple were building a business empire in California, a modern bakery, using the latest means of production and distribution. But Bill Bright was found by Jesus and in his conversion all the glitter of wealth faded. By 1951 he’d left his business behind to minister full time at UCLA, forming an organization called ‘Campus Crusade for Christ.’ I believe that ministry, now called Cru, is still the largest evangelical organization in the world.
And you know the story of Jim Elliot, who with four others gave up his life trying to bring the Gospel to an unreached tribe in South America. Elliot could have pursued acting, writing, politics or traditional Christian service, but instead he willingly put his life on the line for the sake of the growth of the kingdom. His famous words are a perfect reflection of these parables: “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot earn.”
So what might you ‘sell’ to invest in this kingdom? It’s going to be different for each of us, but you can’t expect to go full out for the things of this world while going full out for the kingdom. So you and I have to continually consider what not to do, what gain to forgo, what resources to redirect so that we can invest ourselves in the work of the kingdom, our time, our energy and our money.
Here’s a random list of what some people have chosen to put down in order to take up this beautiful work: career and advancement, hobbies, the bigger house, the new car, the fully funded retirement plan. The time eaters - television, facebook, xbox, ipad, ipod, iphone. Some have given up life in a beautiful place to pursue Jesus amid squalor. Some have given up their freedom. Many have given up ‘their own time’ to invest time for Jesus in their families, their churches, their neighbors, their communities and among the emotionally and physically impoverished. The list could go on, but you get the idea.
Not everyone is called to each one of these things, but we’re all called to recognize that the kingdom, even with weeds in it, is the best investment of our time, energy and money, offering incredible returns and long term growth. You can’t hang on to everything you’ve got if you’re going to be a player in this market. You’ve got to put something down to take up this offer.