The Kingdom is Like…

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Jesus loved to ask questions. In fact, the Gospels record some 100 of them. It was a favorite teaching technique of His, and it would make for an interesting Bible study to look at all 100 of those questions. But telling parables is what our Lord is primarily known for. He seemed to have a story for any and every occasion.

The Kingdom of God was a subject that the Jews were very interested in but didn’t quite understand. Our Lord had to resort to parables to help them understand the concept. Let’s take a look at some parables that concern the Kingdom.

John 3:5

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” (NIV)

Nicodemus was a Pharisee who recognized that Jesus was different. It was to him that Jesus spoke some of His most famous words:

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. (John 3:3 NIV)

To even just “see” the Kingdom of God, a person has to be regenerated; re-created. Jesus’ notion of being “born again” is common enough to us, but those words were revolutionary in Jesus’ day. Nicodemus didn’t have a clue what Jesus meant. In verse 5, Jesus expanded His concept from being “born again” to being “born of water and the Spirit.” Jesus mentions “water,” and there are different ideas as to what He meant, but if we look at how the word “water” is used throughout John’s Gospel we see that it refers to the old order of the Law, with it’s baptisms, purifications, and cleansings (refer to 1:33; 2:6, 7; 4:6, 7; 5:2, 3; 7:28 – 39). Remember, according to Jesus’ own words, He came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it. The old order – the ceremonial use of water in Judaism – hadn’t ended. So, what Jesus was getting at with Nicodemus, the Pharisee, was something like this: the Pharisee was actually on the right track with his theological beliefs, but he wasn’t going far enough. He knew the Law, he followed the Law, but what he lacked was a spiritual transformation brought about by, not the letter of the Law, but the Spirit of the Law.

To be born again means letting the Spirit change you. Just observing the rituals of faith gets you nowhere. Nicodemus had started, but he needed to go deeper. A lot of people are like that today; people who live right and obey the laws of man and God think that’s enough. But it isn’t nearly enough; it’s just a starting point. If a person like that wants to “see” the Kingdom of God, they need to go much deeper.

Matthew 21:28 – 32

But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work on the farm today.’ ‘I won’t,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father told the youngest, ‘You go!’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t. Which of the two was obeying his father?”

They replied, “The first, of course.”

Then Jesus explained his meaning: “Surely evil men and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom before you do. For John the Baptist told you to repent and turn to God, and you wouldn’t, while very evil men and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to repent, and so you couldn’t believe.”  (TLB)

Talk about insulting! This little, innocuous story was a terrible slap in the face to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Jesus said they were no better than the second son who lied to his father. The first son didn’t really want to obey his father; he didn’t want to get his hands dirty. But the more he thought about it, he decided to obey and get to work. He may have been reluctant, but in the end he did the right thing. The second son lied outright to his father. It was clear that Jesus placed religious leaders in the same category as sons who lie to their father.

Like the teaching about being born again, this little story applies down to this day. Many people have joined the church and appear to be religious and they think they are Christians; they think they are really born again because they are doing the right things and believing the right things, but they are not true believers – they are not really born again – unless there has been a transformation in their lives.

When someone becomes a Christian, he becomes a brand new person inside. He is not the same anymore. A new life has begun! (2 Corinthians 5:17 TLB)

The “evil men and prostitutes” recognized how bad they were; they saw their sinfulness and did the right thing: they came to Christ for salvation. They may have come late, but at least they came. At first they didn’t want anything to do with God, but they came around eventually. But these religious leaders, while they looked good on the outside (“Sure I’ll work in the field!”) inside there was nothing.

When a sinner repents and accepts Jesus as Savior, He changes them from the inside out. Like Nicodemus eventually figured out, a person is born again with they are made spiritually new. Only that person will see the Kingdom.

Mark 4:26 – 29

Here is another story illustrating what the Kingdom of God is like: “A farmer sowed his field and went away, and as the days went by, the seeds grew and grew without his help. For the soil made the seeds grow. First the stalks pushed through, and later the heads of wheat formed, and finally the grain ripened, and then the farmer came at once with his sickle and harvested it.”

Mark is the only Gospel writer to record this story. The very simple truth of this story is that the growth of the Kingdom of God is something that man doesn’t understand. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery how God rules and reigns over the hearts and lives of man. It’s a mystery how the Kingdom influences every sphere of human existence.

The farmer does his job; he sows the seed then goes about his daily routine. Mark wrote, “the soil made the seeds grow.” The Greek word used literally means, “automatically.” When the farmer does his job, the soil automatically does the rest. With no more help from the farmer, the soil does its job.

Now, of course, it is true that soil needs to be cultivated and fertilized. The seed doesn’t sow itself. The servant of the Lord certainly has responsibilities, but remember this:

The person who does the planting or watering isn’t very important, but God is important because he is the one who makes things grow. (1 Corinthians 3:7 TLB)

That’s right. All the farmer can do is what he can do and then trust that the soil will do the rest. For the child of God, all he can do is what he is called by God to do and then trust that God will do the rest. Nobody understands how a sinner gets saved. It’s our job to sow the seeds of salvation, but it’s up to God to do the rest. Our job is to share our faith with the lost. The rest is up to God. We may wonder what good a word of encouragement can do in terms of the salvation of one who is lost. But you’d be surprised what God can do with simple phrases like, “I’m praying for you,” or a “God bless you.” Put a good word for God out there and trust that He will do the rest. You don’t have to understand the how’s and why’s. Just do it.

The seeds of salvation you plant today may not yield noticeable growth for years to come. But then it’s not up to you to make it grow; only God can do that. Don’t get discouraged in witnessing and sharing your faith. Don’t ever give up. Keeping doing the good work! John MacArthur wrote:

Since Scripture imparts salvation, effective evangelism depends on the faithful proclamation of the Word. God will prepare the soil and bring forth the fruit. We must be faithful to plant the seed.

Amen to that!

Matthew 13:24 – 30; 36 – 43

This parable is sort of a sequel to the one we just looked at. The farmer plants the seed, and the soil works its magic. Thing is, if you’ve ever planted grass seed then you’ve noticed that you get a lot more than grass growing. You get weeds. How does that happen? You plant grass seed and weeds grow. Yes, there’s plenty we don’t understand about the Kingdom of God, too.

Here is another illustration Jesus used: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a farmer sowing good seed in his field; but one night as he slept, his enemy came and sowed thistles among the wheat. When the crop began to grow, the thistles grew too. (Matthew 13:24 – 26 TLB)

The answer to this thistle problem is found in the previous “parable of the sower.” Jesus already told us that only one-quarter of the sown seed ever fell onto good ground. The other three-quarters never produced anything of lasting value because those seeds fell onto bad ground. In other words, only one-quarter of the people who heard the Gospel responded in faith. The rest may have heard it, but they didn’t respond properly.

Well, it’s hard to tell the difference between the good wheat and the bad thistles. Not everybody can tell the difference between true believers (the 25% who responded to the Word) and the hangers-on (the 75% who didn’t). The farmer (the Lord) cautioned his men (true believers) not to yank up the thistles (the hangers-on). Why not? It’s because it’s very difficult to tell the difference some times. Those people who aren’t true believers may be false teachers, who from time-to-time actually teach something right. Or they may be people who honestly think they are saved when they aren’t, but for all intents purposes they look like genuine believers. And it may well be that if you try to pull up a thistle, you may end up hurting some wheat.

It may seem odd to you that the Lord would allow thistles – non-believers – to co-exist alongside wheat – true believers. But consider this. The Kingdom Heaven is here, now. It is co-existing alongside the world. As the Kingdom of Heaven grows; as lost souls find Jesus and get saved, the Kingdom grows. The visible part of the Kingdom is the Church. Yet at the same time, Satan, whose kingdom is temporarily the world, is doing his part to throw a monkey wrench into the works. He sows his seeds of false teaching into the Kingdom of Heaven and it produces false believers who infiltrate the Church.

You know, it’s a wonder the Church is still standing! Three-quarters of those who hear the Gospel don’t respond or they respond improperly. Others hear the false teaching and believe it. Let’s face it, there are a lot of thistles in the field these days. There are a lot of non-believers in the Church today.

Jesus wants us to know that He is well aware of the situation within His Kingdom, as it exists now. We true believers shouldn’t be upset or disturbed that the wheat and the thistles are growing together. One day, the Lord will do some gardening! That’s His job, not ours.

I will send my angels, and they will separate out of the Kingdom every temptation and all who are evil, and throw them into the furnace and burn them. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the godly shall shine as the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Let those with ears listen! (Matthew 13:41 – 43 TLB)

Yes, the “day of reckoning” will come. Our Lord will do His work and we have to watchful, aware, and patient until that day comes.

The Kingdom of God is a present reality. It’s here now, at least in spirit. One day it will be here in actuality. The decision people make today will determine their place in – or out – of the Kingdom. The seeds of the Gospel are being sown every day. People are hearing it every day. Let’s pray they make the right decision, while there is time.

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