Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Devotional: The Present and Future Kingdom, Matthew 13:24-43

Matthew 13:24-43 contains the second round of Jesus’ parables in this central teaching section of the Gospel. As with the soils parable, Matthew has structured the passage so that the telling and explanation of the parable frame additional related teaching by Jesus. Thus, these sections need to be interpreted by and in reference to one another. Here Jesus is teaching about the present nature of the kingdom, from the ascension to the second coming, and how it compares and relates to the final kingdom that will happen when he returns. The parable of the wheat and the poison weeds teaches that, in the present age, the kingdoms of Satan and God will exist together and it will be sometimes difficult to tell who is who until the final judgment. God tolerates this because he wants as many as possible to make the decision to be part of his kingdom and receive his blessing before the final judgment and end of the age. The parables of the mustard seed and leaven explain that this will be because the present kingdom tends to appear small, hidden and insignificant, but it will permeate the world to become large and influential before Jesus returns. Jesus leaves his people mixed with the devil’s kingdom in this age so that we can be the means to bring them into Jesus’ final kingdom.

Jesus again uses a familiar agricultural image to make his point. (Matthew 13:24-30) Sometimes the enemies or business rivals of a wealthy landowner would secretly plant poisonous weeds in his field to ruin his crop. Once their roots intertwined, they would be very difficult to remove without damaging the wheat crop. However, once they were harvested they could easily be separated, the poisonous darnel burned for fuel, and the cash crop stored and sold. The main point of this story is that both God’s and Satan’s kingdoms will exist together in this present age, and it won’t be completely clear to us who are in and who are out until the return of Jesus. (Matthew 13:36-43) God is patient and wants that even the worst sinner will “reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9)” This also reminds us that it is not our place to judge the final destination of anyone. That should be left up to the “son of Man and his angels” (13:41). Our job now is to be the good soil that believes, perseveres, follows and serves in God’s kingdom. Even if we are misunderstood and seem insignificant and overlooked now, we can be certain that our faith will be vindicated by King Jesus when he returns.

The mustard seed and leaven parables amplify the point Jesus is making in the weeds and wheat parable (Matthew 13:31-35). Just like Jesus’ ministry at his first coming the kingdom will start in a small and hidden way. It will spread through relationships that bring Jesus’ blessing and care to the needy and multiply until it permeates the entire world. Like a mustard seed, it will start as the smallest of movements. But then it will grow to provide a place where all the weary and weighed down “birds” can “Come to me… and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:20). Like leaven, the kingdom of God invades the world in a hidden and inconspicuous way but then permeates all levels of society until it affects everything. The kingdom of heaven conquers by eating with sinners, healing the sick, including the outcast, reconciliation with enemies and displaying the humble servant heart of Jesus. This is how we earn the right to present the truth of who he is and the high requirements of his service.

This kind of meek and self-denying approach seems stupid by human standards. But Jesus’ resurrection and 2000 years of Christian history show that this is how God changes the world we live in. Let’s leave judgment and vindication to him and focus on what he calls us to do.

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