The seven short parables in this lesson teach us about the very great value of the kingdom of God. They also teach us of the universal nature of the kingdom. This brings us to the fifth and sixth of the seven themes of the parables that Jesus told (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 13).
The parables we have studied so far have mainly been about the grace of God. We have also seen the counterpart of that, namely the severity of God. This then led us on to see the importance of obedience to God.
Some people do not understand the importance of obedience, because they do not understand the severity of God.
There is something else that many people fail to appreciate, and that's the enormous value of the kingdom of God. People in every nation may possess these true riches if they enter into God’s kingdom.
The parables that Jesus told, reflect the great value of belonging to the world-wide kingdom of God. Nothing is worth having, that would rob us of that place. This lesson is about seven such parables.
We now look at the parables in Matthew 13 that address the fifth theme of the parables: the great value of the kingdom of God.
¶“44The kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. A man found it, and he concealed it. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Matthew 13:44).
There is a puzzle in this parable. Jesus simply says that "a man found" this treasure. He does not say whether the man found it by happenstance, or whether he was seeking the treasure knowing that it was buried in the field.
However the next parable is about a merchant seeking fine pearls. So we have some reason to think that people won't find the kingdom of God if they are not seekers. People need to be like Joseph of Arimathea who was "looking for the kingdom of God (Mark 15:43).
The treasure in this parable was hidden. Furthermore, when the man found it he hid it again. This does not mean that the kingdom of God is concealed, for indeed it is revealed (Romans 16:25-27).
The hiding of the treasure means that when you find the kingdom of God, you must secure it for yourself so that you keep it safe from the thieves and robbers among the devil and his ilk.
The extreme value of the treasure was recognised as greater than all the man's possessions, because he sold them all to buy the field in which the treasure was hid. The kingdom of God has treasure more valuable by far than anything we possess. We should gladly sacrifice everything we possess, if need be, that we might possess the kingdom of Heaven.
The man was overwhelmed with joy when he found the treasure. God brings us into his kingdom for this purpose, that we might share in his joy, and that for ever. This world has no lasting joy, but heaven has. That's why we should seek and secure our place in heaven, and not love the things of this world (1John 2:15-17).
¶“45Again, 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. ” (Matthew 13:45-46).
This parable is like the one before it. Again a man sells everything he has to buy a treasure he has found. No doubt there were many pearls on offer to this merchant, but he found one far superior to to all of them. The merchant could not resist this pearl, and he sent himself broke to get it.
It might be stretching this parable a bit but I cannot help asking why Jesus chose a pearl rather than a gold nugget or a diamond. It may be that a pearl is a ready made treasure that cannot be improved upon by man.
A pearl need not be melted down and purified, nor does it need facets cut upon it so that its glory may be seen. The kingdom of God comes to us already perfect. We cannot improve it in any way, or make it more valuable than it is.
¶“52And he said to them, 'Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of Heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure both what is new and what is old.'” (Matthew 13:52).
This one-sentence parable evokes the simple image of a man looking into his chest of family treasures —something you might do from time to time.
Of course some of your family "treasures" may have little value in the outside world, nevertheless they are true treasures. The man in the parable brings out some things that are new, and some things old. The kingdom of God was new in the time of Christ, and he was bringing in a new covenant.
However there are timeless and unchangeable principles that have been true since the foundation of the world, and these continue in the kingdom of God. The scribes and other religious leaders were often challenged by Jesus to rethink their traditions.
Certainly those scribes and lawyers held some ancient truths and should have held on to them. However there were new things the Lord was giving them in the gospel, that they should count among their spiritual treasure too.
We now look at the parables in Matthew 13, and one in Mark 4, that address the sixth theme of the parables: the great spread of the kingdom of God. It is a universal or world-wide kingdom made up of people from all nations.
¶“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.'” (Matthew 13:33).
This parable is also in Luke 13:18-19
The leaven or yeast in this parable represents the kingdom of God. The point about the yeast is that it permeated and leavened all of the dough into which it was placed. This represents the universal nature of God's kingdom. It is a world wide kingdom, a kingdom spread through all the earth.
Note —Making bread: Those who do not make bread themselves may not be familiar with the process of adding a little yeast or sour dough to fresh dough, kneading and proving the lump of dough, and setting it carefully to rise. Even those who do make their own bread may use an automatic electric machine. They may not understand or appreciate the process. It is probably worthwhile taking the trouble, if you get an opportunity, to see how bread is made in the old-fashioned manner, the better to appreciate the parable of the yeast.
The idea is the same as that in Daniel 2, where the kingdom of God is compared to some of the great world empires. The kingdom of God is a spiritual kingdom with no national boundaries.
The figure of leaven or yeast is also used by Jesus and the apostles to represent the very opposite of what it does in this parable. Jesus said, for example, "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees" (Matthew 16:6). We observe from this that evil also can permeate the whole world, just as much as can the goodness of God. We have to choose which of these leavens we will nurture, and which we will kill.
¶“31Jesus put another parable before them. He said, '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 it grows larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree. The birds of the air can come and make nests in its branches.'” (Matthew 13:31-32).
This parable is also in Mark 4:30-34 and Luke 13:18-19
The mustard plant can grow very large, so that even birds might nest in it and find refuge. The seed however, is as small as those of the other brassicas. It is rather amusing that such a small seed can produce such a big plant.
Note —MUSTARD: A small hard seed of certain Brassicas (the “cabbage family”). Some mustard varieties are perennial. In good conditions they can, although a herb, grow into a small tree (Matthew 13:31, Mark 4:30, Luke 13:19). Mustard seed (usually either white Sinapis alba or black Sinapis negra) is ground to make the pungent mustard paste, or cracked in a little hot oil to start a stir fry or curry.
With this simple fact (that from a small seed a large plant can grow) Jesus illustrates the spreading of the gospel throughout the world. The kingdom of God (the large plant) grows from the planting of the gospel in hearts of men. The word of Christ from small beginnings can cause enormous growth and have influence attracting people to Christ from far afield. This is represented by the birds coming to nest in the branches.
¶“26And Jesus said, 'The kingdom of God is like a man scattering seed on the ground. 27He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows —he knows not how. 28The earth, by itself, produces first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once the man puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.'” (Mark 4:26-29).
In contrast to the Weeds in the Field parable we find this little parable that is disarmingly simple, like the parable of the mustard seed which follows it. There are no weeds to complicate this story.
Note —A Parable for Children: The parable of the sprouting seed was mentioned in our introduction to the parables as one easy to tell to a child. You can actually let the child plant some bean or sunflower seeds in a pot or patch. Then let the child wait and watch day by day to see them sprout and grow — and wonder how. It's then easy to tell the child that God makes them grow, and likewise God’s word is like a seed that grows in our hearts to make us good. Blessed is the little one for whom someone does this.
The spiritual nature of the kingdom of God is shown in this parable. The kingdom is of God, not of man. How does the gospel seed sprout in the hearts of men, and cause them to bear fruit for God? It is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.
We cannot make the kingdom of God by laying brick upon brick, or by multiplying gold and silver, or by sending ships to Tarshish. All we mortals can do is plant the seed God gives us, and wait for God to make it grow. We can nurture and husband the sprouting seed, but it is God who gives the increase.
Men and women build great religious organizations and say, "See! the kingdom of God!" However the kingdom of God is not a man made religious organization. People might dig themselves gardens, and organize these gardens in neat sections with paths around them. But that is not the crop. The crop is the plants that grow stage by stage until mature for harvest. They grow by the power of God alone. The gardener has nothing to do with that, except to nurture the process and watch it happen with wonder.
¶“47'Again', said Jesus, 'The kingdom of Heaven is like a net that fisher-folk threw into the sea. The net gathered all sorts of fish. 48When the net was full, the fisher-folk drew it ashore. They sat down and sorted the good fish into containers but threw away the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and cast the evil into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50).
The last parable is about fishing using the art of the dragnet. A long net is set out beyond where fish are feeding, and the ends are pulled toward the shore to encircle the fish. This can be done with small boats, or even by folk wading where the water is shallow.
The net is drawn in, dragging the catch of fish with it. Undersized fish mostly escape through the net. The fish that are caught are then sorted, the good which are collected in containers, and the rubbish which is thrown away.
I have watched skilled fishermen in Vanuatu using a dragnet toward evening between shore and reef. This parable evokes an especially strong image for me. Beyond the reef are the vast reaches of the great Pacific. The fish come from far away places.
"Taem ol man oli sakem net long solwata, oli save pulum i kamso. Nao oli sidaon, oli seraot ol fis, oli putum ol gudfala fis i go long basket blong olgeta, be ol rabis fis, oli sakem" (Baebol Long Bislama).
The parable looks toward judgment day and touches on the fourth theme of the parables, namely "God looks on the heart." It is the heart and spirit of man that counts in the kingdom of God.
When God's angels pull in the great dragnet one day, and the fish are sorted, that is what will distinguish the good from the rubbish —not people’s wealth, not their power and glory in this world, but whether their heart is right with God.