The Secrets Of The Kingdom Of God
Key Verse 13:9
“He who has ears, let him hear.”
It’s very interesting that Matthew ends his last discourse in the previous chapter with a brief teaching before moving on to this new chapter entirely dedicated to parables about the kingdom of God. It seems that while Jesus was being persecuted by the Pharisees who were determined to undermine his gospel ministry, Jesus’ family had come to pay him a visit. We are not sure why they had come to see him at this particular time. Maybe they had heard what a hard time he was having at the hands of these bigots, and had decided to encourage him with a family get together, with love and with some home cooked meals. But the interesting thing is that when Jesus heard that they were at the door, he decided to use this visit a gospel lesson to teach a prerequisite course on the subject of his next advanced course on the parables of the kingdom of God. Listen to what Jesus said when someone informed him that his mother and brothers were standing outside: “Who is my mother” Jesus said, “And who are my brothers?” Then, “Pointing to his disciples”, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (12:46-50) It doesn’t mean that he was rejecting his human family at all. But Jesus wanted the world to know something very important! His family is much bigger than they think. They include those who lives by the Father’s will. They’re connected to Jesus through a bond of love and obedience to the word of God. If you love Jesus and obey God’s word, you belong to Jesus’ family. You are as close to him as a mother and a brother and a sister! There can be no closer relationship than to belong to the family of the King of kings. Jesus will soon begin to tell parables about the Kingdom he had come to establish. And there can be no greater kingdom than that! Therefore there can be no greater pursuit in your life than to seek for and to lay hold of the very kingdom which the Lord had come to give to those who would receive it. For this reason Jesus talks about the kingdom of heaven in this new chapter. And he says to all of us: “He who has ears, let him hear.” (13:9)
Surprisingly chapter 14 is a chapter of parables. And it’s equally surprising that Jesus teaches the people in the form of parables. Matthew tells us that “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’” (34-35) So, what’s a parable, and why did Jesus address the people only in parables? A parable is just a simple story with a simple teaching. But from what Matthew tells us there seems to be a deeper meaning to a parable. He says they are like clues leading to spiritual secrets that have been hidden from us for a long time— secrets Jesus began to reveal to those who would listen! There are six parables in this chapter. They are all secrets regarding the “Kingdom of God” which Jesus really wanted the people to learn— at least those who had a heart to learn. Those who had no heart to learn or didn’t care to learn, never learned anything. They were kept in the dark. They heard the parables, and as usual, understood the superficial meaning, but never really caught on to what he was really saying. So they never really saw the kingdom of heaven for what it was.
From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus’ main message has been the coming of the kingdom of God. It’s all he talked about from the beginning of his ministry the very end! What do you think God wants for the human race? He wants to give us his kingdom! Think about it! We live in a world where everything crumbles and fades away and eventually perishes. People waste so much time in this world trying to gain or hoard things that do not last. They waste their lives on things that aren’t worth it. But Jesus came with a message to look beyond this passing world. He tells us there’s something worth searching for, worth pouring our lives into, even worth dying for— it’s the kingdom of heaven. And that’s a treasure worth pursuing with our whole hearts. And Jesus came to teach us its hidden secrets so that we might inherit it. But to do that we have to do something most people don’t do— open our hearts and listen carefully to his message, to his words and live by them. And only God can help us do this when we really want to. Pray in your hearts that God will help you listen and learn the secrets of his kingdom.
Look at verses 1-3. Using a boat as a platform, Jesus began to preach to the people in parables. And his first parable was the famous Parable of the Sower. Why would he begin his teachings on the kingdom of God with this particular parable? Read verses 3-9. “Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.’” We need to read 18-23 as well. “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.”
This is one of the most important teachings in the whole Bible because it relates to the word of God and how a person receives that word in his or her heart. The four soils in this parable is what kind of heart a person may have when he or she hears the word of God. What happens to the seed of the word of God when it falls on each of these kinds of soil in one’s heart! Actually a person may have one of the four kinds of soils as his or her heart, or two or three or some people may even have all four kinds of soils. It all depends on how you are cultivating your heart! Your heart is a very delicate organ in your body. It’s not just an organ pumping blood. The Bible talks of the heart as the very being of the person, the seat of a person’s soul, where the person’s entire being feels and thinks and makes decisions accordingly. There is a good heart and bad heart, a kind heart and cruel heart, tender heart and thoughtful heart, a timid heart and brave heart, and such. Anyway, the heart is your very being! So we need to think about what Jesus is telling us in this parable about the heart where the seed of God’s word falls, and where it might grow or not grow.
First, Jesus tells us that there’s a kind of heart that resembles a path (4, 19). Those whose hearts are like a path are obviously hardened. And it’s hard for the word of God to enter their heart much as a seed would have a hard time to dig through a cemented path to take root. What makes a heart so hard that not even the word of God can get in there? It’s hard to tell. Sometimes too much suffering or hardship in life does that. Sometimes too much over thinking does that. And that seed of the kingdom which God is so eager to plant in that heart remains on the surface and can’t go in. There’s nothing wrong with the seed. Even the hard heart acknowledges that the word they hear is good. It’s beautiful and sometimes even comforting. But it takes a little humility to crack through the hardness, and requires repentance. If they take too long to repent, then as the Lord says, the evil one comes and snatches it away. That’s why the Bible continues to tell us words like this: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (Heb.2:12,13)
Second, Jesus tells us that there’s another kind of heart— and that one resembles a rocky soil (5-6, 20-21). A heart that like that’s got too many rocks is a heart usually ruled by too many emotions. Emotions aren’t all that bad. But when we let our emotions rule our hearts rather than let faith rule our hearts, especially when it comes to the word of God, then emotions becomes the downfall of many. There’s tons of examples in the Bible where emotions have let God’s people down, when they should have stood by faith. From God’s perspective, your emotions should always give way to the word of God in faith. Jesus here tells us that when a heart who is ruled by emotions hears the word of God, that heart usually responds well. It’s elated and shouts for joy. But Jesus says that that emotional heart cannot possibly maintain the word of God. And Jesus also tells us why. Just as much as a rocky soil will not let a seed put down deep roots, so also, an emotional heart will not allow the word of God go deeper into that heart (and it needs to go deeper otherwise, it will not grow and bear the fruit it was planted to bear). Because of the rocks in that heart, that person can never build a right foundation in the word of God. He or she cannot properly commit to the Christian faith. Emotions always get in the way just like rocks always get in the way of roots! Jesus tells us that at the critical time, when that person has to stand by faith he is drowned by his emotions, and betrays the grace of God. The only solution to a rocky heart is repentance! Always repentance— it breaks up the rocks! “The righteous will lives by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
Third, Jesus tells us that there’s another kind of heart— the heart that resembles a thorny heart (7, 22). If you think about a thorny ground, it’s actually rich ground because anything and everything can grow in its soil. And so is the heart that is like it! All kinds of things can grow in the heart. Good things and bad things. A heart like the thorny ground may seem to be productive and fruitful, but in reality it is one of the most deplorable kinds of grounds one can have. Think about it! A heart like that can cultivate all kinds of heretical new age philosophies as well as embrace the Christian ideals as well. It can embrace the gospel of grace as well as the gospel of health and wealth. But as the Lord tells us, eventually, there is no doubt that as weeds will grow to choke up the good plants, so also all the false weedy teachings will grow up to choke and snuff out the word of God which alone can save and give the heart a fighting chance in this life and in the life to come. Jesus was serious about the secrets of the kingdom of God. Not any kind of heart can cultivate the secrets of the kingdom of God, and we need to cultivate them if we are serious about getting there. The kingdom of God is no joke. It is not a matter of belonging to one church or another. It is not a matter of confessing one creed or another. It entirely rests on Jesus and his teachings about the kingdom of God. We need to weed out anything in the heart that gets in the way of the seed of the kingdom. We need to remove the weeds. How? Repentance! That’s how Jesus taught his disciples to solve all problems. Humbly submit to God and let him open our hearts and cleanse them himself from anything that is offensive and anything that gets in the way of his word.
Fourth, Jesus finally described the only kind of heart that we need God to turn our hearts into— the good heart soil (8, 23). Read verse 8 and 23. “Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop–a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” “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.” But we have to hear these words with our hearts as our key verse says, otherwise they fall on deaf ears! How does the Lord describe a good heart soil? What is a good heart? It’s a heart that accepts what Jesus says— believes it— and loves it enough to give it a place in the heart above everything else— even above the way that heart thinks— even above the way that heart feels. This kind of heart really understands the value of Jesus’ words and teachings— and the power they have to change one’s life, and to help that life cross over from this dying world to the kingdom of heaven. Some people really have no clue how precious the words of the Lord are. They treat them as a philosophy they can take or leave, or something they can sift through, take what they like and leave what they don’t like. Some debate his words as if they are debatable! Some even sneer at what they hear. They don’t realize that his words are more precious than life itself. They are a treasure beyond value! When you begin to think like this; when you know this in your heart, that’s when your heart soil is changing to good soil, an environment where every word sown in your heart grows to fulfill its purpose. That’s the secret! First, you cherish the word of God— then you meditate on it with all your heart— then you struggle with it in prayer— and when we have found its hidden meaning— if it conflicts with the way you think or feel— then you put these away and make room for his word instead to rule in your heart. That is a good heart soil. In that soil the word of God can grow and grow until its fruits has no limit!
Read verse 10. “The disciples came to him and asked, ‘Why do you speak to the people in parables?’” It’s not always easy to understand the Bible, even the very simple stories that seem so plain and simple! Even Jesus’ disciples were frustrated! Why is he using riddle like parables when he could speak so much more plainly! Jesus told them in verse 11: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” The parables were for everyone. But the secrets of the kingdom of God which the parables held were not! They were for the few, the chosen, the elite! And who are these few? Look at verse 9. “He who has ears, let him hear.” Read also verses 16-17. “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” Who then are the few who are blessed to understand the secrets of the kingdom? The true disciples of Jesus! According to Jesus, the secret of the kingdom of God are given to them alone. And why? Clearly, it is the grace of God. But also because they had demonstrated something others had not! They demonstrated a love for Jesus and for his teaching. Because their ears were not closed but ever open to hear what the Lord had to say to them.
They had a certain attitude that the crowds who were there did not demonstrate— certain attitude that Jesus longed for the crowds to have, so that they too may become the few, the chosen, the elite, the disciples who have ears, who hear, who listen, who learn! Jesus’ disciples were special in that their attitude toward God was that of learning. They were not satisfied only to hear a parable. They did as Jesus was expecting them to do. They want to hear more! They asked questions. They wanted to learn more about it. They wanted to meditate on it. They were ready to put away other things, even important every day things in order to spend time learning his teachings about the kingdom. And after they had learned the meaning of some teaching he had given them, it was not the end, it was actually the beginning of their learning! They then searched their hearts to see if there was anything there that hindered the word they had learned from growing in their heart. They wanted to weed out whatever was offensive to the word of God which had been planted in them. They went and prayed, and repented, repented and prayed. If they saw pride, they repented of their pride. If they saw selfishness, they repented of their selfishness. If they saw unforgiveness, they forgave, they wept, they showed mercy, they learned secret after secret of the kingdom from Jesus! These were the ones who discovered secret after secret about the kingdom of God and they are the ones who passed them on to us through the gospel of Matthew that we might share them with one another. If there is anything in your heart that needs weeding, or a rock that needs removing, or a path that needs breaking up in order to make that soil good, may God help you to work it out with his word this very day. Amen.
Look at verses 13-15. According to these verses there are those who will always be blind to the secrets of the knowledge of the kingdom of God. Why? Mainly because they have no heart to receive the word of God! The world is full of them. At the time, when Jesus was preaching, Israel was a religious nation, with people crowding the synagogues and with the temple bursting with worshipers, yet Jesus still spoke only of a few who actually tapped into the secrets of the kingdom of God. And all because how they hear, and how they receive the word of God, and how they treat the word of God when it falls on their ears. As we said, it’s a serious issue, and a matter of grave importance, our attitude towards it. Jesus could have been discouraged because so many heard but did not listen, and so many looked but did not see. But even so, Jesus himself wasn’t discouraged at all. And Jesus didn’t want his disciples to be discouraged either because of the indifference of people. Look how he encouraged them: Read verses 16-17 again.
Jesus went on to tell another parable to his disciples to more effectively demonstrate the character of the kingdom of God. Look at verses 24-30; 36-43. It’s the parable of the weeds and explanation of it. There are several things here about the kingdom of God. The good seeds are the children of God; the weeds are the children of the evil one. Both children seem to grow together. But here’s the question: “Why doesn’t God just get rid of evil and also get rid of evil people— he is able to do that— so why doesn’t he— surely he’s able to?” So Jesus explains something to us. God is patient. He doesn’t want the slightest harm to come to any of his children. At the same time God is hopeful. Who knows that some who are now evil might repent and turn to him, he would forgive them and make them his children! We cannot forget that God is a caring father. Jesus reminds us that in this world, God does not work by eliminating evil, nor evil people just to make things easier for us. Yes we suffer in an evil world, but we do not see what God sees nor do we know what he knows. We must trust him, and live by faith and pray that his kingdom come, because his kingdom will surely come according to his promise.
Jesus again gave us another parable about the kingdom of God. Read verses 31-33. He’s describing here the character of the kingdom of God. How does it start? It doesn’t start big. It doesn’t seem significant at first. It has a small beginning like a small mustard seed. But when it grows, it will grow enormous and become a haven and shelter for numerous peoples and nations. How beautiful is the heart of our God. While the world marvels with the big and flashy things, and is impressed with the glitter and gold, with the flash and pomp, with the power and might of its own achievements and glory, the kingdom of God began in Jesus in a small manger, and grew among 12 disciples, going around preaching and teaching and serving and sacrificing and loving and caring and praying and dying for an unworthy world. It didn’t seem impressive and glorious, but the kingdom that is Jesus and in Jesus Christ is the most beautiful and powerful and glorious thing we can ever belong to. It is indeed glorious because in it now shelters all those who are broken and weary and burdened, who long for rest and peace. Indeed the kingdom like yeast has grown to influence everything in this world and beyond. Jesus’ love has caught us off guard and has spread in and through us to contain the whole world. Now his love is the influence that drives every Christian and every body of believes everywhere. Praise him our King of the Kingdom. Indeed the influence of his kingdom is great!
Read verses 45-46. The word of God is a treasure. The kingdom of God is a treasure. It is a treasure that we should set out in our lives to find and to invest our lives in. May God give us such a conviction that what we have in our hands is not a book, but a treasure to cherish, to hoard, to study, to learn from, and to struggle with until we have learned its secrets and made them our own. Amen.