28th March 2023
Read (Matthew 13v24-43)
Message (Scott Woodburn)
Where can we see the kingdom of heaven today? Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this earth (John 18v36) and so the kingdom of heaven has no earthly capital, no earthly borders, no earthly armies and no earthly king. So is the kingdom of heaven found only in heaven? No. The Westminster Confession of Faith is clear on where we can find the kingdom. It states "The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law) consists of all those, throughout the world, that profess the true religion, and of their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation."
We believe that the kingdom of heaven can be seen in the visible church here on earth. So is the visible church perfect? By no means. Jesus compared His kingdom to a man who sowed good seed in his field (v24). He went to bed and during the night his enemy sowed weeds among the good crop of wheat (v25). The wheat and the weeds grew together and caused consternation for the man's servants. They came to their master and asked "Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?" (v27).
The master knew that the weeds were the work of the enemy but he advised his servants to let the wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest when the master would command the reapers "Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn." (v30).
At first glance this parable seems to say little about the church of Jesus Christ but the Lord graciously explained its meaning. Jesus is the man who sowed the good seed throughout the field which represents the whole world (v37-38). The seed gives a picture of those who repent and believe the Gospel whilst the weeds show those who reject the Gospel (v38). Who sowed the weeds? The enemy the devil (v39). Therefore in the visible church there will be both Christians and the unsaved. The wheat and the weeds will grow together until the end of time. The harvest will take place at Christ's return when Christians will be called to glory and the unsaved will know the flames of hell (v39-42).
The church of Christ is therefore an extraordinary body and yet it is one that had the smallest of beginnings. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a single mustard seed which grows larger than all other plants becoming a great tree which offers a home to the birds of the air (v31-32). Critics point out that the mustard seed is not the smallest seed and when it is fully grown it does not become a great tree. But the Lord made no mistake. In his day the mustard seed was seen as a metaphor or an image for something incredibly small. Christ's point was simply that the kingdom may have had small beginnings but would grow to an enormous extent.
If the church began with Adam and Eve then we could argue that it has gone from just two members to countless millions across the span of time. In Elijah's day the church numbered just him and seven thousand others (1st Kings 19v18) but today the Gospel has gone to both Jew and Gentile right across the globe. The mustard seed has become a great tree and in the kingdom there is rest for those who seek Christ.
Furthermore the kingdom doesn't advance by the gun or bomb. Jesus said the kingdom is like leaven which a women hid in three measures of flour until all was leavened (v33). I'm no baker and perhaps you're not either so what is leaven? Leaven is a substance (like yeast) added to dough in order to produce gas bubbles which lighten and soften the mixture. In other words the Lord tells us that His church works in quiet and unseen ways but will bring transformation to the world around it.
By his parabolic teaching Jesus fulfilled Psalm 78v2 which states “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”
In light of Christ revealing to us great truth we must say that it is a tragedy when we treat the visible church with contempt. Nevertheless it is perhaps sinfully predictable. We witness great division in the local fellowship and sometimes gossip abounds. The church becomes a place that is only useful for funerals and weddings and despite an average Lord's Day service lasting just over an hour, we tell ourselves that it is too long and too boring. Amazingly, even among Christians, taking our place in the visible church has become a chore made all the more difficult by the easy excuse of Covid.
May God forgive us. In these parables Jesus tells us about His glorious kingdom and there is nothing wearisome about it. The visible church will be a mixed multitude until the end of time and throughout history she may seem weak and insignificant but by the preaching of the Word and the work of the Spirit, the leaven continues to make its way throughout the whole world. From tiny beginnings the visible church has grown into a great tree which offers shelter to the weary sinner. The regular Lord's Day meeting of your church is a wonderful and God appointed moment - don't swap it for Newcastle, the golf course or your sofa...take your place and marvel at the kingdom of heaven.
Q5 Are there more Gods than one? There is but one only, the living and true God.