THE ministry of messiah (23)

 

THE PARABLES OF THE KINGDOM

Our studies so far have been based on the order of events recorded in Luke on the basis that the events in Luke are in sequence.  Now that we have come to consider the Parables however, it is of value to look at these as they are set out in Matthew.  Matthew’s record is not in order, but the structure of his record is both interesting and instructive.

It can be show that the record is divided into 5 parts, each part being separated by the words “when Jesus had ended these sayings.”  It is suggested that these 5 parts relate back to the five books of Moses.  Again, it can be shown that Matthew groups together twelve miracles and eight parables.  Of these, we have already considered two, namely the parable of the sower, and the parable of the tares.  The parable of the tares, and the five which follow are introduced by the words “The kingdom of heaven is likened unto.”  These words are used six times in Matthew 13, and ten times in the entire gospel record.  In Mark and Luke the phrase is changed to “the kingdom of God” which occurs four times altogether.  Just in passing, we should remind ourselves that the phrases “the kingdom of God” and “the kingdom of heaven” are interchangeable terms and refer to God’s coming kingdom on earth.  It is termed “the kingdom of heaven” because its constitution comes from God in heaven.

The parables introduced by the words “The kingdom of heaven is like unto” have been described as Kingdom parables, and we shall consider six of them in our current study.  The parables of the Mustard Seed, and the Leaven for some reason are sandwiched between the parable of the Tares in Matthew 13:24-30 and its explanation in verses 34-42.  Both speak of small beginnings and perhaps therefore they had a particular relationship to the Ministry of Messiah, which began in a small way, as we hope to see.  Let us therefore consider the parable of the Mustard Seed

THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED

 We read in Matthew13:31-32:

“Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof.”

Two aspects of the parable are that the mustard seed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs.  Thomson in his book “The Land and the Book”, states that the Mustard tree can grow up to the height of a horse and his rider.  Nevertheless relative to other trees it would be small.  What the parable seems to be showing is that the Kingdom of God develops out of small beginnings.  Its king began by being born in a stable, in the humblest of circumstances.  After Christ’s resurrection, there were only 124 disciples.  The principle of small beginnings is shown in 1 Corinthians 1:26:

“For ye see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

Hence Jesus’s words in Luke 10:21:

“in that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight”

We see this also in Psalm 8:2:

“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightiest still the enemy and the avenger”.

This Psalm, we believe, speaks of David, the stripling, defeating Goliath the giant.  The truth is worked out in the small things of this life.  We see this from further words of Jesus where he teaches us to use the worldly goods that God has given to us for the furtherance of the Truth, and for the help of others that we might be granted those true riches in the kingdom.  Therefore we read in Luke 16:9-12:

“and I say unto you, make yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousnesss; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.  He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.  If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?  And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who will give you that which is your own?”

The kingdom therefore develops out of small beginnings.  A notable example of this is the widow’s mite.  Our Heavenly Father is concerned with quality, not quantity.

Let us now consider the Mustard Tree.  It is the greatest among herbs.  Bu it is not the greatest tree.  Babylon of old was likened to a very great tree, as we see from Daniel 4:11:

“The tree grew, and was strong, and the height thereof reached unto heaven, and the sight thereof to the end of the earth.”

But why does Jesus use the figure of a tree which is the greatest among herbs?  This parable is well demonstrated in Ezekiel 17:22-24:

“thus saith Adonai Yahweh; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:  In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar; and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.  And all the trees of the field shall know that I Yahweh have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish.  I Yahweh have spoken and have done it”

The low tree which flourished developed from a tender young twig taken from the highest branch of the high cedar.  Another aspect to consider is that the very metropolis of the kingdom of God will be in Israel which is about the smallest nation in the earth.  This is spoken of in Micah 5:8:

“And thou, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem”

But let us read this with Micah 5:2:

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel”

Truly God’s strength is made perfect in weakness!

THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN

 There are two opinions on this parable.  One is that the leaven symbolises the development of wickedness, parallel with the tares which will come to its fulness at the epoch of the kingdom.  The other view is that is refers to the Word of God working in the hearts of believers until they are prepared for the kingdom.  A very good case could be made for the first view.  Leaven is used as a symbol for the doctrine of the Pharisees, and represents malice and wickedness, but we must come back to the point that Jesus is likening this to the development of the kingdom of heaven, or the Kingdom of God.  Again, as with the mustard seed, the principle seems to be of small beginnings: “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump”.  Furthermore you cannot stifle the development of the Word of God.  Gamaliel recognised this when he said; “If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought.  But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; yet haply ye be found to fight against God” (Acts 5:38-39).

The Word of God is Powerful.  It is “the power of God unto Salvation”.  In Acts 12, we read of the death of Herod because “he gave not God the glory”, then we read in the next verse, “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”  We should never underestimate the power of the word of God.  Hence the importance of the Word going forth with power from our meetings.  Paul wrote to Timothy; “and the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.”

The brethren who we choose to speak should be more than orators, but faithful men, able to teach.  When the Master returns, the kingdom will have taken 6000 years to develop, but it will be the result of the Word of God working as leaven in the hearts of men and women.  That Word is not forced upon us, but it has to develop in “a good and honest heart,” – which explains why the kingdom has taken so long to prepare.  The time will come when as with the ark the door will be shut.  Hence the importance of redeeming the time.

It may be of significance that these two parables occur within the parable of the tares.  Could it be that Jesus had in mind the development of the Truth up to AD70, or up to the time when the Spirit Gifts were withdrawn, which was about the end of the first Century?  Brother Thomas considered that the object of the Spirit Gifts was to develop the ecclesias into a perfect man in the days of the Apostles, and he quoted the words of Ephesians 4:11-13:

“And he gave some, apostles, and some, prophets, and some evangelists, and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the Body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”

The parable of the leaven in particular could have had a primary fulfilment in the days of the Apostles, as with the parable of the tares, but nevertheless as we have seen, there is a long term view which is more important to us.

THE TREASURE HID IN A FIELD

 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy therof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field”

What is the treasure?  Let us turn to Proverbs 3:

“Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.  For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold … Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left riches and honour … She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her.”

Abraham saw that treasure in the land which God promised to him, and he left Ur of the Chaldees and gave up all that he might have that field: “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God”.

Moses also esteemed “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” (Heb. 11:26).  Mathew, whose name means “a gift” wanted that treasure, so he gave up his tax collecting to follow Christ.  This was the case with the Apostles and must also be true with us:  “and everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”

THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE

The emphasis in this parable seems to be on ONE pearl of GREAT price.  There is only one Gospel which is of great value, and we have to seek for it as for hid treasure.  As the pearl is hidden in the depths of the ocean, so the Truth is hidden in the depths of the nations in the Word of God.  It begins with a grain of sand within the shell, which forms an irritant which causes the oyster to secrete a substance to cover the irritant, which results in the formation of the pearl.  The sand could represent our earthen vessel through which we can manifest the righteousness of God.  The pearl is silvery and reflects the light of the sun.  So the gospel is “the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  As there was one pearl, so the truth should develop in us a single-mindedness, as there was in the Apostle Paul:  “this one thing I do … forgetting those things which are behind, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

THE PARABLE OF THE NET AND FISHES

“again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.  So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from the just, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

This parable rather deals with those who are gathered into the gospel net, and is similar to the parable of the Tares.  It reminds us that the ecclesia is a mixture of good and evil, as we see from 2 Timothy 2:20-21:

“But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour.  If a man shall purge himself of these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”

This shows us that “many are called but few are chosen.”  The Apostle Paul exhorts us to treat the Truth as though running in a race, and only one receives the prize, even though we know that more than one will receive it:

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?  So run, that ye may obtain.”

THE PARABLE OF THE INSTRUCTED SCRIBE

“Jesus saith unto them, Have ye understood all these things?  They say unto him, Yea, Lord.  Then he said unto them, Therefore every scribe which is instructed into the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.”

Jesus is teaching us that when we find this treasure in a field, this one pearl of great price, the Truth should fill our hearts and minds.  As we read in Proverbs 4:6:

“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart … Trust in Yahweh with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding.  In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”

We have to become scribes who study the Word, and fill ourselves with it.  Then we shall bring good out of the good treasure of our heart.  When Israel walked faithfully, they were very fruitful, as we see from Leviticus 26:10: “and ye shall eat old store, and bring forth the old because of the new”.

The new things were brought forth by Christ.  It was “a new and living way”.  But it was rooted in the Old Testament.  It was these old things that they were to bring out, and give a new application.  The Apostle Paul is a preeminent example of this.  He was a scribe instructed out of the Law and the Prophets, so that when he embraced Christ, and had those revelations direct from him, he was able to bring out of the treasure of his heart things new and old.  This is particularly shown in the Epistle to the Hebrews.  Here, the Apostle Paul is continually drawing out the Old Testament Scriptures, and showing their fulfilment in Christ.

As we know, the Gospel which we preach is rooted in the promises in the Old Testament.  May we be so instructed in the Scriptures that we bring forth out of the good treasure of our hearts good things.

Carlo Barberesi