Matthew 13 is a collection of eight parables. Today we will only deal with six of those eight. These six parables are verses 31-52. Together they present a single message that our Lord wants us to hear about the “Kingdom of Heaven”.
The kingdom of heaven is wherever God rules. It is in our hearts, it is heaven, it is the church, but it is also coming here on earth. But for the sake of our discussion we will confine ourselves to the church as the visible representation of the kingdom of heaven on earth. These six parables are a message to us about how God works in the church.
What do they say about the church? Basically, it teaches us three lessons.
First, He teaches that the church will grow. Look at verses 31-33:
"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches."
He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."
These two parables are parallel. Both have something small that grows bigger. A mustard seed grows to the largest plant in the field. A bit of yeast leavens the whole lump of dough.
That growth occurs effortlessly. Trees and yeast are living things. As long as they are alive they are growing. Numerical and spiritual growth come because we are alive in Christ. A seed, giving the right conditions will germinate. Yeast given the right conditions to sustain its life will multiply. God made them to grow. A church planted in the midst of the world, watered by the Word and Spirit will accomplish the will of the Father in spite of all obstacles.
The mustard seed grows into a big shrub and the birds come and nest in its branches. The birds are the lost and hurting people of the world, who are looking for some place to rest. It makes no difference to the tree whether it is big or little—birds will rest in it.
Whether a church is big or small makes no difference. Even the smallest church can grow, and can minister. We need to get our minds off the idea that we have to get bigger to be better. Instead, we need to focus our attention on being the most faithful to God that we can be where God planted us. The more active the yeast, the quicker it grows. The more passionate we are about doing the will of the Father, and the more we concentrate on growing deeper spiritually ourselves, the more we will be able to increase numerically, and the more impact we will have on the rest of the world.
God desires for His church to grow. If we are following His will, then we cannot help but grow. It will occur naturally, if we live obediently in the Kingdom of God.
Second, if we want the church to grow, we have to make the sacrifice. Look at verses 44-46:
The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Again, Jesus uses two parallel parables—a treasure hidden in the field and a pearl of great price. In both parallels, He uses these three words---“he sold everything.” The man with the treasure in the field sold everything else for it. The merchant found the pearl, and sold everything for it, too. They sold everything because they knew the value of their investment. They knew that if they could buy the field or the pearl they would multiply many times over what they had.
If the church is destined to grow, and God desires for the church to grow, then why are many churches, including ours, not growing? The answer seems obvious--they won’t pay the price. There are too many ideas, possessions, and comforts that we will not sell, not even for the kingdom.
Suppose you have a heart condition. The doctor tells you to change your diet. Your health becomes your pearl of great price. What is a cheeseburger when compared to your life? You give up the habits of a lifetime for the sake of your life.
What will we give up to grow God’s church? We’ve starve the church by forsaking the tithe. We insist that everything stay the same, preferring our comfort to God’s work. We hold back our time and energy, then we wonder why a church doesn’t grow.
We have to take care of ourselves and our own, there is no disputing that. We have to remain strong so we can do more to help. But we must still acknowledge that God’s kingdom demands our sacrificial giving. If we only give when it’s comfortable or convenient, then it is not a sacrifice.
Third, the church will grow, if we use all available means. Look at 47-52.
"Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
"Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asked. "Yes," they replied.
He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old."
Jesus compares the kingdom to net fishing, not line fishing. When you’re line fishing, you bait for particular kinds of fish. In net fishing you aren’t selective. You may separate good fish from junk fish later, but at first, you bring them all in. The secret of growing the church is to be inclusive and unparticular.
Someone told D. L. Moody once that he didn’t like his way of evangelizing. Moody asked back what his preferred method of evangelism was. The man replied, “Sir, I do not do evangelize.”
Moody answered, “I like my way of doing it more than your way of not doing it.”
The church doesn’t exist only for saints. It exists for sinners. We are here on earth to change the world. We can’t say it isn’t our responsibility. As long as we are on this earth, we must use any available means to bring people into the kingdom.
Dr. Manfred Gutzke was a seminary professor, evangelist and avid fisherman. He’d visit a friend’s private lake and take several fishing rods. He’d set some on the bottom with worms, others on the top with minnows, and some in the middle with crickets. When one rod produced results, then he would set them the same way. His method of fishing was determined by the preference of the fish, not his own. The same was true of his method of evangelism. If we are serious about doing God’s will, we must be flexible enough to do what is necessary to bring people to Christ. It may not be our preferred method of fishing, but if it produces results, then that is what we should do.
The second parable teaches the same message in a different way. When you live in a house for many years, you collect junk in your attic—pictures, lamps, etc. You may not think of them, until you move into a new house. You may go out and shop for new stuff for the house. You also rummage through the stuff you have in the attic. Some of the junk you stored in the past now works, when it didn’t before.
When we look at the methods for building a church it’s the same. There is no real difference between old and new methods. The important thing is that our methods bring results. If we get stuck on saying that ideas are better because they are new or because they are old, then we will miss the point. Methods must fit the situation. If we are sold out to the kingdom, then we must be flexible.
Let me summarize:
The Kingdom of Heaven, that is the church, will naturally grow. It is God’s will.
The Kingdom of Heaven, that is, the church, will grow if we are willing to make a sacrifice. It is the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. If we hold back even part of what we own or have, then the church may not grow.
The Kingdom of Heaven, that is the church, will grow, if we are willing to use any available means. If we hold on to methods and ideas simply because they sound innovative, or because they are traditional, then the church will not grow. If we are willing to truly serve God, and to do whatever it takes, then God will honor us by bringing growth.
First of all, we must determine whether or not we are part of the Kingdom. Is Jesus your hidden treasure, your pearl of great price? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to worship Him? If you are, then become part of His visible kingdom on earth, where you can make a difference.