Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Kingdom of God and the Parable of the Sower

Matthew's gospel has the most extensive teaching on the kingdom of God, which he refers to primarily as the kingdom of (the) heaven(s). The central message of Jesus, of course, was that the kingdom of God, or kingdom of the heaven(s), was near-at hand--all around--in your midst. by using the plural form of heaven, the heavens, Matthew emphasized this nearness (Mt. 3:17). The ancient view of heaven was that there were (at least) three heavens. The 1st heaven is simply the air, the spiritual world that surrounds us. The second heaven is the stars, planets, etc.--the celestial realm. The third heaven is the throne of God, or what we often typically think of as heaven.

Why is repentance linked with the kingdom of the heavens? If God is all around us, if the power and peace of his kingdom is readily available to us, then we need to repent--to change our heart and minds, to open our minds--to his way and this new reality. The kingdom of God is God's rule or reign, and we must repent of trying to rule our own lives, and instead follow God and his ways, and depend upon his power.

If we do not understand this, then we miss most of Matthew's gospel, which is filled with parables and teachings about the kingdom. So now I want to take the parable of the sower. The sower sows seeds, and this seed is the message of the kingdom--that God and his kingdom power is all around us. Note Jesus' explanation of this parable:

18“Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown" (Mt. 13:18-23).

1st Group - Some people hear this message about the kingdom, and they don't understand it. How can God be near us? How can he have any real impact upon our lives? They live their lives as if there is no spiritual reality. They do not pray expecting God to do much, if they pray at all. They think that what they achieve is done by their own power, intelligence, and hard work. They live secular lives.

2nd Group - The second group gets excited about the message that God and his kingdom is near. They want to live spiritual lives, dependent upon God. But they are rather shallow--perhaps thinking that God can be manipulated, or prayer works like magic, where God can be forced to do our will by having the right formulas or saying the right words. And when hard times come, they just give up the whole thing.

3rd Group - The third group also gets excited. But they fail to really trust God. They worry about things, rather than depending upon God. They pursue wealth as a means of empowerment, rather than trusting God for their power in daily living. And so, while they may still have an outward belief in this message, they are unfruitful. Nothing comes of it, because their loyalties are divided.

4th Group - The fourth group understands this message of the kingdom and lives by it. They really believe that God and his kingdom are all around. They trust in his power when difficulties arise. They pray fervently and expectantly. They have great understanding. And because of this faith, he produces a crop that is 100 times what is sown. Notice that in this case, God uses the faithful believer in the message to do amazing things.

So my question for you is, which group do you fall into? Do you know and understand the message that the kingdom of the heavens is near? Do you trust in God's presence and power in your life? Or do you trust in your own power? Are you stressed and worried? Or do you trust in God?