"Students of the Kingdom"
(Delivered Sunday, January 7, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Over the past couple of months, we have been studying the seven 'kingdom' parables of our Lord as they're found in Matthew 13. In them, Jesus has revealed to us some precious treasures—'the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 13:11). He discloses to us, in these seven parables, crucial truths about the kingdom over which He reigns as King: its beginning on the earth, its nature, its spread, its immeasurable value, and—ultimately—its culmination in the final judgment.
As I have said, I believe our time studying these seven parables is time well-spent. These are among the greatest things that frail human beings could possibly know. Jesus Himself said that these things are a great blessing and privilege to hear about; because, as He told the disciples that He revealed them to, “assuredly, I say to you, that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (v. 17).
And this morning, we come to the eighth and final parable. It's a parable that should be thought of as distinct from the other seven. They were concerned with the kingdom itself; but this one is concerned with how we ought to respond to Jesus' teaching about that kingdom. You might say that this eighth and final parable is the one that 'bolts down' into our minds—in a very practical way—the truths that the other seven parables are meant to teach us.
After teaching His disciples the truths concerning the mysteries of the kingdom through these seven parables, we read;
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Now; to get us thinking about this final parable this morning, I'd like to show you something that I brought from home. I have in my hand a very old, worn-out Bible—a King James Scofield Study Bible. It's a very precious Bible to me, because it belonged to my mother.
This little Bible has an inscription written in the front, indicating that it was given to my mother in 1952—I believe at the time of her baptism in a Baptist Church in Wichita, Kansas. I was very grateful when this Bible was passed on to me a few years ago; because this little Bible and I are old friends. Growing up, I would always see it setting on my mother's dresser. It was the only Bible I knew of. It has played an important role in my life at many times.
When I was thirteen years old or so, I snuck into my parents room and borrowed this Bible. I had it in my mind that I ought to read the Bible; and so I took it to my room and started where it would make the most sense to start—with the Book of Genesis. I can still remember laying in bed, trying very hard to read the first few pages of this Bible. I got through some of the early chapters; but I was having an awful time with all the “thees” and “thous”. And then, it got worse. I got to chapter five—and to all the “begots”. I was having a hard enough time before then; but halfway through the “begots” section, I stopped, turned this Bible over, and looked at how much more there was to read! I figured that it probably took a whole lot of 'begetting' to make the Bible such a big, thick book.
Frankly, it was beginning to feel like I was reading an ancient phone book. And so, I closed it back up, snuck it back to my parent's room, and left it there. So much for being interested in reading the Bible!
But then, a few years later, something very important happened. In 1973, I heard the good news of Jesus Christ; and I placed my faith in Him. I trusted Him as my Savior, and welcomed Him into my life. And would you like to know what I did immediately after Jesus came into my life? I went back into my parents room and borrowed this Bible again, snuck it back to my room, and began to read. The difference was startling to me! The Bible—the very same Bible that had been such a dry and obscure thing before—was now making sense to me.
I was very interested in what it said—even starving for what it said. I couldn't put it down, because something had radically changed—not in the Bible, but in me! Now, I had a personal relationship with its divine Author. I wanted to know about the Jesus who had died for my sins and had transformed my life. (I don't know if my mother knew about it, but I even began to underline verses in her Bible!)
Not long afterwards, I did something that was very scary to me. I went to church. I went to the only church I knew anything about—which was the Presbyterian church down the street from our home. I wasn't exactly sure what a Presbyterian was; but they apparently had a church; and I knew I needed to go to one. And so, down the road to church I went; and I took this Bible with me.
And look! After all these years, I have this Bible in my hand. I have had many Bibles since then, of course; but this one has a special place on my bookshelf; and I still love to pick it up and read it.
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Now, I'm not sharing all of this with you just so you can hear a sentimental story about a Bible. Rather, the fact that I have this Bible in my hand today—a Bible that I just couldn't make sense out of before I trusted Jesus, but came to love and read and understand after I trusted Him—illustrates an important spiritual principle. If I may, let me open up this old Bible and read to you from 2 Corinthians 3. That passage describes the spiritual principle principle that lies behind my own inner-transformation with respect to God's word.
Paul was writing to the Corinthians about his ministry of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. And he spoke of how he sought to preach it plainly and clearly to the Corinthians;
Paul was saying that, even though the Jewish Scriptures—the Old Testament—pointed to Christ, the Jewish people could not understand what it was saying to them about Him. Even though they had the Scriptures and revered them and studied them, they couldn't see Him in them. They suffered under the same condition that I suffered under—that is, a spiritual veil was over their eyes that obscured their view of Christ. I could have been the most brilliant scholar in the world when I picked up my mother's old Bible; and I still wouldn't have really understood what it said. There was a spiritual veil over my eyes; and I was spiritually blind to the Bible's truth.
But the day that Jesus came into my life was the day that the veil was lifted. Then, at last, I could understand! The same thing happened to the Jewish people to whom Paul preached, and who believed on Jesus. In fact, the same thing happens to any man or woman to whom God gives the grace to believe, and who then trusts in Jesus. The veil is finally lifted from their eyes; and they can understand! At long last, it all begins to come together and make sense!
Paul went on to write,
What a vital spiritual principle this is! The key to understanding God's truth is not found in human wisdom or skill of understanding. Rather, the key is being in a relationship with Jesus Christ by faith. As a great Christian named Augustine once said, “Seek not to understand that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” That's the correct order of things. The truths of the Bible cannot be understood apart from a personal relationship by faith with the One who is the main subject of the Bible—Jesus Christ. As Paul says; when the heart of a man or woman turns to the Lord Jesus, the veil is taken away. That's what happened to me. Countless numbers of people, who have trusted Jesus as their Savior, have the same testimony.
Now; all of this has relevance to our passage this morning. Jesus taught seven kingdom parables. (We don't have time this morning to review them. I'm going to encourage you to read them for yourself.) Some of the parables were ones that Jesus taught to the multitudes at large; and they didn't understand what He said. Some of them were ones that He taught to His disciples privately; and He explained all that He said to His disciples in a personal way—all from the context of a relationship with Himself. He is the great theme of the kingdom parables; because He Himself is the King! The mysteries of this kingdom cannot be understood apart from Him; but in Him—that is, in a personal relationship with Him by faith—the veil is lifted away.
And when that happens, things start to come together. The truths about Jesus' kingdom begin to click! Such a man or a woman soon finds that they are hungry—almost starving—to know more of what God's word says about His kingdom program; because it's all beginning to make sense. They see the truth because they, now—at long last—believe on Him and have a relationship of love with Him. The Holy Spirit, who the Lord Jesus places in them, serves as that resident Teacher—teaching them all things concerning Him (1 John 2:27). They gain new insights into Jesus, and of His Father's great program for Jesus' kingdom reign on earth, Old truths become fresh and relevant in the light of the new; and new truths become added to the stock of the old. We gain a new perspective on God's plan for the ages. Even the things we see in the daily news begin to make sense in the light of Jesus' teaching concerning His kingdom.
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Now, back to our passage this morning. When Jesus had finished teaching His disciples the 'mysteries of the kingdom' through these seven parables, He asked them, “Have you understood all these things?” The word translated “understood” means “to send things together”. We could say that He was asking them, “Have you put all the pieces of these things together; so that you now comprehend them?” And because He was the divine Teacher, He knew that they could understand.
They said, “Yes.” We might question whether they understood these things as much as they thought they did. But in response to their “yes”, Jesus takes the opportunity to tell them yet one more parable. And this parable teaches them—and us—how best to respond to these 'mysteries of the kingdom' so that they are “bolted down” into our hearts in a very practical and beneficial way.
First, notice that we are to respond by . . .
1. SEEKING THESE THINGS AS EAGER LEARNERS.
When Jesus asks, “Have you understood these things?”, it was because they first had asked Him to explain them.
Look back at verse ten. Jesus had just spoken the parable of the four soils to the multitudes. We're told, “And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” And do you remember His response?
Then, look at verses 36. Later on, Jesus had spoken another parable to the crowds—the parable of the wheat and the tares. And when Jesus had sent the multitudes away, “His disciples came to Him, saying, 'Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.'” And He did.
So, do you see the attitude of their hearts? They wanted to know more. They were eager to understand the little hints of truth that Jesus was dropping before the multitudes; and so, they went to Jesus privately and asked that He explain it to them. And He was very glad to do so. That's why, when it was all over, He asked them, “Have you understood all these things?”
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Dear brother or sister; the things that Jesus is teaching us in these parables are among the greatest truths people could know. They disclose to us God's program for history on this earth; and how it all comes together in Jesus returning to this earth—when He will receive to Himself the kingdom that He is, even now, establishing and spreading throughout the world. A man or woman who has these precious truths dropped before them would be foolish not to grasp hold of them eagerly.
How do you receive them? It's as if Jesus, in this morning's passage, is turning to you and saying, “Have you understood all these things?” But what is your answer to Him? Do you respond by yawning and saying, “Sorry, Lord. I wasn't listening. What things are you talking about?” Or, do you say, “Yes, Lord. I understand a little bit about these things. My heart is stirred by them. But there's much I don't understand, and I'm hungry to understand more. I want to know the mysteries of Your kingdom that You have revealed in these parables. I believe on You; and I present myself to You as Your humble student. I am eager to grasp these things. I hunger to know them. I long for them. Please, teach me more.”
These things—if I may say so respectfully—are not for public consumption. They are not for passive listeners who are only mildly curious about them. They are meant to be received by eager, hungry learners who love Jesus Christ, have ears to hear Him, and a heart to go forward and follow Him. They are for those whose heart-cry is “Thy kingdom come!” Apart from Jesus Christ, the truths in these parables cannot be understood. But through an authentic relationship with Him by faith, they can be.
Jesus says, “For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have an abundance” (v. 12). So then, let's be sure that there is nothing in our lives that hinders our coming to Him for more. Let's be sure that there's nothing that dulls our interest in His glorious kingdom program. Let's be hungry enough for these things that we would go to Him to gain a deeper grasp of them. Let's prove ourselves to be the kind of eager learners that He sees fit to impart a fuller understanding of the mysteries of His kingdom!
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That's one of the ways that we are to respond to His parables about the kingdom—by becoming eager learners of the truths they teach. But let's not kid ourselves. These things will take work to grasp. And so, a second way we are to respond to them is by . . .
2. STUDYING THESE THINGS AS CAREFUL SCHOLARS.
He speaks of “every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven . . .” A scribe was a man who served an important role in the Jewish culture of Jesus' day. He was skilled in the study and interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures. He would serve the community by helping people understand the meaning of God's word, and by showing them how that word should be applied to the practical and spiritual matters of life. They were esteemed as the “biblical scholars” of the day.
Jesus' use of a scribe in this parable illustrates the kind of attitude we should have toward the truths of the kingdom. We are to be careful “scholars” in these things. Our Lord expects us to recognize the immeasurable value of the truths He is imparting to us, and then to respond appropriately by putting in the time and effort and discipline necessary to understand them. He is exhorting us—in accordance with our own unique capabilities—to put forth effort; to work hard; to be careful “scribes who are instructed in the kingdom of heaven”.
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When I think of this, I think of what the writer of Hebrews once wrote to the believers under his care. He wanted to write to them about some of the deep things of the faith; but was a bit frustrated. He couldn't write to them as he wished; because they had become “dull of hearing”. At a time when they ought to have made progress, they were still too immature in their understanding. He told them,
There is an expectation placed on us with respect to the mysteries of the kingdom. We aren't supposed to sit passively and receive information about the kingdom—as if the Lord wants to merely pour knowledge into empty heads. Rather, we are expected to work at growing in what we are taught. We're to have a good foundation of the basic truths of the faith; and once that foundation is laid, we're to move on and grow up in our understanding of kingdom truths. We are to be like 'scribes' who are—literally—“discipled” (that is, carefully instructed and trained) in the mysteries of the kingdom. We are to be scholars—astutely trained scholars in the school of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, who work hard at understanding and applying the kingdom truths He imparts to us.
Whatever field of occupation we may be in, whatever academic training we may have received, Jesus calls us to make the truths of His kingdom our most important field of study. If I may put it this way, He wants all of us to “major in 'Bible'”. Now; this doesn't mean we have to be specialists in New Testament studies, or experts in the original languages. Rather, its primarily a matter of the attitude with which we receive His teaching on the kingdom. When we receive the truths of Jesus' kingdom eagerly, do we have a heart to then go on from there and do the hard work of making use of what was given to us? Do we think carefully about the Bible's teaching regarding Christ's kingdom, and make sure that we rightly interpret what He says? Do we consider how the individual principles of the kingdom relate to the broader scheme of God's redemptive program as it is taught to us in the Bible? Do we work out the practical ways that kingdom principles apply to our daily lives as kingdom citizens in the midst of a fallen world?
Let's go beyond a mere 'superficial' understanding of the truths of the kingdom! Let's pursue a godly 'scholarliness' about these things. Let's please our Lord by seeking to be good 'scribes instructed in the kingdom of heaven'. If we are willing to seize hold of what He has given us of the truths of His kingdom, and are willing to work hard to grasp them with a full understanding—putting what He has given us to good use—then He will honor our efforts and give us more.
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So far, then, we've seen that we are to welcome the truths of the kingdom of Jesus in a certain way. First, we are to receive these things as eager learners. And then, having received them, we are to lay hold of these things by studying them as careful scholars.
This leads us to a third and final way we are to respond to these great truths; and that is by . . .
3. SHARING THESE THINGS AS GRACIOUS HOUSEHOLDERS.
Jesus speaks this final parable; saying, “Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old.”
A “householder” was, literally, a “house-master”. He was the manager of a household, or a family, or a large estate. He was responsible for making sure that everything in the treasure-store was well-stocked; so that when anything was needed for the provision of each member of the household, and for the smooth operation of the house, it was provided.
And Jesus describes the man, in this case, bringing out of his treasure store “things new and old”. When the householder goes into the storehouse to bring out something into the open, he discovers something else—some valuable “old” thing—that he had forgotten was there. He brings out not only the “new” but also—to his surprise—the “old” that now has new value and importance.
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When someone is well-taught in the principles of the kingdom that Jesus has shared with us in His parables, they are just like that householder. They may have had a bit of Bible knowledge here or there before that time; but once they enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ and become well-trained and well-schooled in His kingdom, they know even more. It's as if—just as I was sharing with you earlier—the spiritual veil becomes lifted from their eyes; and at long last, they finally begin to understand the truths of Gods' word.
New truths become added to their store of knowledge; and old truths become fresh and alive to them in the light of the new. They begin to make connections between seemingly unrelated old truths that were never made before. It sometimes seems as if new truth was put into their Bibles overnight; because they make discoveries in old passages that they never made before—truths that were there all along, but that their eyes are suddenly opened to. And new insights into old truths cause those old truths to shine out with new relevance in everyday life. They become like householders, who discover in their treasure “things new and old”.
And please notice that the householder doesn't just keep it all stored up in the storehouse. He brings it out and shares it all with others. The woman or man who becomes well-taught in the kingdom of heaven becomes a fountain of biblical truths. They help others to see the connections between the “old” and the “new” truths they discover in God's word. They bless everyone around them with practical insights from God's word that apply to specific needs for daily living.
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The Bible tells us about a great scribe in the Old Testament—a man named Ezra. He's one of my favorite Bible heroes. The Bible tells us that he was a skilled scribe (Ezra 7:6). We're told that Ezra served the people of Israel well, because he “had prepared his heart” to do three things: “to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (v. 10).
That illustrates how Jesus wants us to respond to the things He has taught us in His parables of the kingdom. He wants us to think carefully about how we receive them, retain them, and distribute them. He wants us to receive these things by being eager learners who “seek” truth from Him; retain these things by being careful scribes who “do” what the truth says; and to be gracious householders who distribute the truth by “teaching” them to others.
By God's grace, may we be good students in Jesus' school of the kingdom!
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