Sermon for Sunday July 30th, 2017, the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: 1 Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136; Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Text: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46
Topic: The Kingdom of Heaven
In the passage appointed for today’s Gospel Lesson, the Lord Jesus gives us several pictures of the kingdom of God, so that we may appreciate its growth, value and permanence both in the world and in the lives of all who have become members of God’s family by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE PARABLE OF THE MUSTARD SEED
The first of these parables in our Gospel Lesson today contrasts the tiny mustard seed to the tree into which it grows, a tree big enough for birds to nest in (Matt. 13:31-32). The mustard plant grows into a large bush, in which birds can still find room to nest. Jesus uses exaggeration of a literal element of the story to describe how large the kingdom of God is, and how it grows from such a small seed. The kingdom of God has been growing throughout history and throughout the world. In it all believers will find a place of rest, in the love, joy and peace of God the Holy Trinity forever. This is really a very encouraging parable, since it describes the continuing growth of God’s kingdom. The Lord Jesus may have been alluding to Ezekiel 17:23, where God takes a young branch of the cedar and plants it in the mountain heights of Israel and it becomes a huge tree, giving shelter to birds of every kind. This was a prophecy of the Messiah and His kingdom. Here, Jesus might be referring to the small beginning of God’s kingdom in his own death on a cross and resurrection from the dead, but that small beginning issues in a large kingdom, which gives shelter to all who turn away from sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
The application of this for us today is that we must realize that though some churches may be small, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is vast, including all Christians. Another lesson to be learnt from this, is that though Christians are persecuted, tortured, killed in many places on earth, and though the Christian faith is opposed in many areas, the growth of God’s kingdom is unstoppable! The number of believers may have shrunk in some parts of the world, but overall, the number of the faithful is always growing, even in countries where persecution is the most severe.
THE PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN
The second parable in our Gospel Lesson reinforces the same point about God’s kingdom. It is compared with yeast which a woman mixed into three measures of flour (to bake enough bread for a hundred people) and it was all leavened. If we were to be concerned about what the flour represents and who the woman represents, we would be trying to interpret the parable as an allegory. But it is a parable whose main point is to drive home the truth that the kingdom of God grows continually and permeates mankind, and those who live in the kingdom of God, experience the life-changing power of God’s grace in the Lord Jesus Christ.
What is the kingdom of God but His rule or dominion over mankind? All who have turned away from sin and selfishness and confessed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are living in the kingdom of God. As God’s children, we grow daily in his grace, and reflect the kingdom of God more completely in our life and character. This accords well with the prayer of the Bishop when he lays hands on a confirmation candidate in the confirmation service:
“DEFEND, O Lord, this thy Child with thy heavenly grace; that he may continue thine for ever; and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until he come unto thy everlasting kingdom. Amen.”
(p. 297, The Book of Common Prayer, 1928)
Since the Holy Spirit is the Companion and Counsellor of Christians on earth, we increase daily in the Holy Spirit as we pray, listen to God, turn away from sin, confess our sins, obey him, praise him, thank him, and intercede for others. As we do this, Christ the King becomes more fully the Lord of our lives, and the kingdom of God extends more fully through us. God’s kingdom grows in us as we cooperate more and more with the Holy Spirit who indwells us. This story reminds us of how the kingdom of God at work in us requires our willing obedience:
Pastor Craig Barnes told this true story in one of his sermons:
When I was a child, my father brought home a twelve-year-old boy named Roger, whose parents had died from a drug overdose. There was no one to care for Roger, so my folks decided they would raise him as their own.
At first it was difficult for Roger to adjust to his new home. Several times a day, I heard my parents saying to Roger, “No, no. That’s not how we behave in this family.” “No, no. You don’t have to scream or fight or hurt other people to get what you want.” “No, no, Roger, we expect you to show respect in this family.”
In time, Roger began to change. Did he have to make those changes to become part of the family? No. He was part of the family by the grace of my father. But did he have to work hard because he was in the family? You bet he did. It was tough for Roger to change, and he had to work at it. But he was motivated by gratitude for the amazing love he had received.
Do you have a lot of hard work to do now that the Spirit has adopted you into God’s family? Certainly. But not to become a son or a daughter of the heavenly Father. No, you make those changes because you are a son or daughter. And every time you start to revert back to the old addictions to sin, the Holy Spirit will say to you, “No, no. That’s not how we act in this family.”
— M. Craig Barnes, in the sermon
“The Blessed Trinity,” National Presbyterian Church, Washington, D.C. (May 30, 1999)
The growth of God’s kingdom is unstoppable, and we do best to listen to God’s Spirit and obey Him at all times, so that His kingdom may grow to completion in our lives.
The permanence, power and growth of God’s kingdom is depicted in far more dramatic fashion in King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, where the stone not hewn with human hands not only smashes the iron and clay feet of the image, but also becomes a mountain filling the whole earth (Daniel 2:23). This stone represents the kingdom of God, which consumes all kingdoms and abides forever (Daniel 2:44).
THE PARABLES OF THE HIDDEN TREASURE AND THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE
The third and fourth parables of our Gospel Lesson underscore the supreme value of God’s kingdom. A man who finds treasure hidden or buried in a field, in his great desire to gain legal possession of this treasure, goes and sells everything he has to buy the field. Similarly, a merchant who buys pearls, in finding one of high value, goes and sells all he has to buy it. In a sense, the two sets of parables hang together. The kingdom of God will not grow as it should in our lives, unless we realize how extremely valuable it is. It is so valuable that we need to make it our highest priority, whatever that decision costs us.
What is your attitude to God’s kingdom? Does it have so much value for you that you have made it your highest priority?