Do we have any special treasures? Do we own heirlooms or treasures brought from distant lands? Are our families are among our greatest treasures? Are the things of the kingdom of heaven also among our most prized treasures?
I hope we will treat the things of God as our greatest treasures of all.
We will look at six special aspects of the kingdom of heaven.
The Kingdom of Heaven is …
In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus described some traits of the kingdom of heaven. He spoke in parables because the kingdom of heaven was still a well-kept secret. As it grows, it is becoming less and less of a secret. The kingdom of heaven has eventually become the largest venture of all time. It currently covers about a third of humanity, more than any country, religion or other corporate human enterprise. That makes it the largest kingdom on earth, albeit a spiritual kingdom, still hidden from plain sight. It has fulfilled the parable of the mustard seed and will some day leaven the whole lump of humanity. It is just like a buried treasure, not seen by human eyes and the most precious treasure in life. The kingdom of heaven is a mixture of good and evil, and old and new.
1. Like a Mustard Seed
Quibbling Bible Criticism
Have you ever been criticized for being imprecise? In conversation we could say something like, “Isn’t he just the smallest baby!” It is not a statistical conclusion but an everyday superlative. So it is with parables such as the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52. Those trained in scientific precision may quibble that there are seeds smaller than the mustard seed, but those trained in literary style would be quick to point out that is not the point of the parable. And that highlights where a lot of biblical criticism comes from. It often comes from those who are highly educated in a particular field and can only see things from that point of view. They may be totally ignorant of other fields of study with great flexibility and nuances of meaning. Jesus’ often taught with imagery and hyperbole.
No Little Flock Forever
What kind of plant was the mustard tree of Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52? Some experts believe it was the black mustard. It is a herb which can grow to three modern meters (ten old-fashioned feet) tall. Was this a contradiction to other descriptions of the kingdom being a small flock? While this may seem to indicate that the church of God would be small, the parable of the mustard seed gives the exact opposite impression. Perhaps they are two sides of the same story of the kingdom. The mustard seed certainly did correlate to the smallness of the kingdom in the beginning. However, it told a far greater future than an exclusive, perpetually “small flock.” Indeed, where Jesus did use the term “little flock?” He was addressing his disciples, not the eventual size of the Church (Luke 12:22, 32).
Church Growth Jesus Style
In Christian bookstores church growth is for sale at a price. Many church growth books contain information which is unavailable unless we pay for it. Thank God that the effective ingredient of church growth is not for sale at any price, Jesus. He promised that the kingdom of heaven would grow (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52). Is it wrong to get advice from those who have experience? Is it wrong that they are compensated for their research? Of course not, but one of the most important lessons available from Church growth books is that each situation is going to be different and tailor made by the One who will build His Church, Jesus. He predicted that the kingdom of heaven would grow to be the largest garden plant, a tree. In the garden of world religions Christianity is now the largest.
2. Like Leaven
Parable of a Domesticated Micro-Organism
How is the kingdom of heaven like a domesticated microorganism? In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to leavening. The most likely leavening agent at the time was a variety of yeast. What is it about yeast that helps us understand the kingdom of heaven? Notice the large amount of dough the woman used, three measures, about 27 modern kilograms (60 old fashioned pounds) — the weight of a 6-10 year old child. That is far too much bread for one family. It is obviously to be shared with a great many families. The kingdom is for sharing. Apart from making breads lighter, yeast does provide nutrition and taste. Even a small lump is capable of leavening a large amount of dough. God’s kingdom has grown from that “little flock” to the largest faith on earth.
Exclusivity is Idolatry
When churches claim to have an exclusive franchise they are not talking about Christianity, but human politics. The kingdom of heaven was likened to a small seed that produced a large plant and a small lump of yeast which leavened a large amount of dough (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52). Christianity is defined by Jesus and his Apostles who were taught directly by him as a faith issue, not a political one. When churches exclude others from communion or fellowship based upon human traditions or narrow doctrines, they are not defining Christianity, but their own tyrannical power plays. It is not Christianity but idolatry which places human traditions and twigs of doctrine above the teachings of Jesus. Only Jesus has the authority to define the kingdom of heaven, and he defines it as much larger than our narrow-mindedness seems to allow.
Heaven Will Win
Why do people fight various agendas seemingly out of fear? There are Christians fighting for or against gay, women’s, Muslim, conservative and liberal agendas. No matter what human plans are, there is only one agenda that will win in the long run, Jesus’. Human movements may seem to win for a season and the kingdom of heaven may seem to lose, as in countries where the Church is severely persecuted, but the end of the story is that the kingdom of heaven wins. That’s actually what both the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the leaven are about (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52). So, rather than take up arms to fight for or against human politics, what would we do if we believed that Jesus was in charge? Would we faithfully and patiently trust that heaven will win?
3. Like Hid Treasure
Parable of Buried Treasure
Buried treasure is not just Hollywood fantasy but also a historic reality and even a business. Treasure hunters include archaeologists and marine salvage operators. Two separate half billion dollar fortunes were recovered in 1985 and 2007. Yet, the most valuable treasure of all is within reach of most people. That treasure is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52). The kingdom that Jesus referred to is in our own communities, yet few are finding it today. Its importance is far more than everything else combined. The kingdom of God is presently in this world but hidden. Those who have heard rumors or stories about a treasure, but have not yet found it, are not yet ready to sacrifice everything for it. Only those who have truly found it and experienced it are willing to give everything up for it.
Our Treasure Chest
Investigators often find clues to distinguish insurance fraud from a genuine fire. If a family photo album is found in a corner, it may be an accidental blaze. Family treasures are not usually left behind in fraud cases. On the other hand, if we awoke in a house fire and only had time to grab one thing while fleeing what would it be? What are our greatest treasures? Family members and photo albums are genuine treasure. Gold watches and sports trophies are just junk jewelry. Our lives also contain moments of genuine treasure and cheap substitutes. Staying faithful to a spouse for life and having children and grandchildren are genuine treasures. Worldly titles and honors are often just phony costume jewelry. Hopefully we have also found the most precious treasure of all, the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52).
4. Like a Costly Pearl
Parable of a Nacreous Jewel
Since ancient times pearls have been highly sought after and prized. They do not have to be cut or fashioned by humans, but are already perfectly formed by the hand of God. Both parables of buried treasure and the pearl of great price emphasize the value of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52). The buried treasure was found by accident. The pearl was found by an individual who was looking. Some found Christianity by accident and others have been looking. When we learn about the kingdom of heaven do we recognize its value? Both individuals recognized the life-changing magnitude of their discovery. Jesus was describing an unreserved response of absolute commitment to the kingdom of heaven. What is the most prized jewel in our lives? Is anything else worth more than our place in the kingdom of heaven?
5. Like a Fishing Net
Parable of a Drag Net
Jesus first disciples had been net fishers called to be fishers of men. A fishing net gathers fish without regard to kind. In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus described the kingdom of heaven like a dragnet. The kingdom also picks up people indiscriminately. In trawling, when the net is full, the catch is then separated out into useful and undesirable fish. At the final judgment angels will assist in sorting the righteous from the evil. The kingdom of heaven catches all these fish, but does not separate them until the end. The job of the angels will confirm what we have already chosen, either our destructive ways or his way of the cross. Are we willing to partake of a miracle or are we self-satisfied and unwilling to be changed by God? Our choices now have bearing on our end.
6. Like New and Old Treasures
From the least of us to the greatest, we all have an agenda. For a small child, it may be very simple like food, toys and childish distractions. For a teenager it often seems to be excitement. For older people it may be paying the bills, making a name or material ambitions. Some Christians have an agenda, but when we use that phrase, we often think of negative things. As Christians we should all have an agenda, but that agenda ought to be a closer walk with Christ’s agenda. In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus described a few aspects of that agenda in the form of coded parables. He is building something large and all pervasive. His agenda is a treasure greater than any other and his plan is to bring out of his treasure both new and old things.
The Church is a Construction Zone
Things can look messy until the final assembly. From building a piece of furniture to piecing together a whole car, the construction phase of an operation can look rather like disorganized confusion to an untrained eye. The construction phase of the kingdom of heaven is no different. The Church is a construction zone not a completed project. In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus gave some clues to his strategy behind building the kingdom. The plans were older than time but the new development phase had already begun with his ministry. Like any enterprise it started off small, but in it would become the biggest venture of all time. It is a scheme that will eventually reach all humanity. It is the greatest treasure the world has known. It will involve a sorting process. It will involve treasures old and new.
Old & New Worship Together
One of the great controversies of our time is church music. Some stubbornly persist with centuries-old hymns and organ music. Younger Christians leave churches in droves and music is one of the biggest reasons. Modern music offends some older Christians. There is an answer, but it requires some maturity and education. In Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 Jesus described those who were skilled in Old Testament studies and became students of the New Covenant as being like those who had treasures from both. So it is with churches mature enough to move towards a blended worship music style. Grandchildren are glad to honor grandparents’ music choices and grandparents love their grandchildren enough to shower them with musical blessings that reach their hearts. Churches that have moved towards blended worship formats bring out Christian music treasures which are both new and old.
Earthly treasures will all fade, but the new and old treasures of the kingdom of heaven are forever. Are they among our greatest treasures?