SERMON – JULY 26, 2020

WHAT THE KINGDOM OF GOD LOOKS LIKE
A sermon on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
July 26, 2020
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
We begin this morning with a quote from a famous actress who was widely regarded as “The First Lady of American Theater.” Her name was Helen Hayes. Beginning with her first professional role on stage at age 5, her career lasted an astounding 80 years. And she won awards for her work in all the major forms of media of the time: on stage, screen, sound recordings and television. Ms. Hayes was surely one of the most honored actresses of her generation. She was certainly one who knew and understood the necessity of how to communicate a story.
In speaking about the power of story, she once remarked, “We rely upon the poets, the philosophers, the storytellers, and the playwrights to articulate what most of us can only feel, in joy or sorrow. They illuminate the thoughts for which we can only grope; they give us the strength and balm we cannot find in ourselves. Whenever I feel my courage wavering, I rush to them. They give me the wisdom of acceptance, the will and the resilience to push on.”
Our Lord Jesus also understood the power of a good story. He frequently used the story telling as a method of teaching truths concerning the Kingdom of God. In fact, one biblical scholar has stated that fully one third of all our Lord’s teachings that we have recorded in the gospels is in the form of parables.
So what is a parable? The word in Greek literally means “a throwing alongside.” The definition of a parable that we all learned as Sunday School children is that a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” And that’s as good as far as it goes. The parables of Jesus include such tales as “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” and “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” Those are stories which have transcended the church and are embedded in our society—I would daresay even among people who seldom darken the door of a church. If you were to stop people on the street of our city and ask them what a “Good Samaritan” is or what a “Prodigal Son” is, more than likely you would probably receive a fairly accurate description of who that character is in the parable that Jesus told about them…
The trouble with defining a parable as “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning” is that not all of the parables of Jesus make for much of a story. For example, in today’s passage, Jesus tells five parables. The truth of the matter is that none of these parables are what one would call “riveting stories.” There are no memorable characters in these parables. And there is not much of a plot to speak of in any of them. That is not the point. The point is that Jesus told them to describe aspects of what the Kingdom of God is like. And as such, they teach us important lessons about the Kingdom that we should consider…and take to heart…
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These five parables of Jesus naturally fall into two sections—each section emphasizing some common teachings. So for the next few minutes, we’ll look at these parables together to seek what it is that the Spirit would show to us this morning…
The first two parables have to do with the modest beginnings of the Kingdom of God and how it becomes much greater as it grows and develops. The first parable is about the mustard seed—how it is proverbially the smallest of seeds, and yet, when it grows to its full height, it becomes a shrub so that even birds can come and make their homes in its branches. The second parable tells of how just a little bit of yeast introduced into a ball of bread dough will eventually leaven the entire loaf of bread…The Kingdom of God starts small, but then goes far beyond what anyone could conceive from those small beginnings…
In some ways, these parables can serve to illustrate the history of the church. The announcement of the coming Kingdom of God started with one person who was from an obscure backwater village. This carpenter from Nazareth went about teaching, and preaching and healing throughout Galilee—initially all by himself.1 But it was not long before he attracted some people who followed him. At first, it was just a couple of brothers—Peter and Andrew. Others were soon to follow until their number reached twelve disciples. From these twelve, the church grew into the thousands at Pentecost through the preaching of the Apostle Peter when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and with power.
By the end of the First Century, the church had grown in strength and numbers until it had been planted all throughout the Roman Empire. And by the 4th Century, the Christian faith became recognized as the Empire’s officially recognized religion. Its influence thereafter spread from India to the British Isles and from Northern Europe deep into Africa. And it continued to spread in succeeding centuries until it had been planted in practically every area of the globe…
While these parables bring to mind how the Jesus movement grew until it spread throughout the world, these two parables should also tell us something about the spiritual pilgrimage of each and every one of us…
Think back with me to the time when you first decided to follow Jesus…For me, I was a not-quite 10 year old boy when I made the decision to follow Jesus. A little freckle-faced fourth grader—I really did not have much to give to the Lord. But I knew that God loved me and I wanted to follow Jesus, and that is what I did. Looking back on it now, it was just a little bit of untested faith that I was offering up to God and to the church. Nothing else really…
But my faith did not stay that way for long. As I grew and matured physically, emotionally and mentally, I also grew spiritually. Over the years, the Lord has worked in my life in marvelous—and
1 See Matthew 4:12ff.
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often—mysterious ways. The way forward in my faith has not always been easy nor pleasant. There have been some hard times and some setbacks. However what started off as the itty bitty faith of a grade-school kid has blossomed into something much bigger and much more Christ-like than would have ever been evident at the beginning of my faith journey.
Isn’t that also somewhat descriptive of your life? At first, when you decided to follow Jesus, you gave what little faith you had to the Lord. Perhaps we could all could have said, “Lord I believe—help my unbelief!” But through the years, through all the trials that life has thrown at you—through all the ups and downs that your life has encompassed—though all the victories and all the disappointments that have come your way—the Holy Spirit has been busy at work inside of you. The Spirit has used your faith in Jesus and the circumstances of your life to enable you to grow stronger in the Lord. The work of the Spirit has made you more Christ-like in your words, in your thoughts and in your actions. The teaching of Jesus in this parable is that this is a picture of the life of the believer. From very small faith with which we started, eventually our faith grows much bigger. Through that process, we become much more dedicated disciples and much better servants of the living God…


Dateline—September 29, 2014
A builder, who is also an amateur metal detectorist, has unearthed one of the largest hoards of Roman coins ever to be found in Britain. Lawrence Egerton made the discovery as he explored some land in East Devonshire, in southwest England. He uncovered a cache of what turned out to be 22,888 copper alloy coins dating from the 4th Century. It is one of the largest and best preserved hoards of coins ever discovered from that era. Mr. Egerton was so excited by the discovery that he spent three days sleeping in his car by the site in order to stand guard while archaeologists excavated the treasure. Archaeologists believe that the coins were buried by a private individual or perhaps a soldier for safe keeping, but was never recovered. The coins bear the images of the Roman emperor Constantine, his family and immediate predecessors and successors. It is thought that the coins will find their place in the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in nearby Exeter after they have been purchased for over $127,000…2
The preceding news story has some striking similarities with the remaining three parables in today’s text. That is especially true of the first one, known as the Parable of the Lost Treasure. These three parables al speak of the priceless value and importance of the Kingdom…
In the first one, a man stumbles upon a treasure hidden in a field. He then proceeds to liquidate his assets, selling all that he owns, in order to buy the field containing the treasure…The second parable tells the story of a pearl merchant who searches far and wide for the rarest and most beautiful pearls. And when he discovers the one pearl that surpasses all others, then he too sells all that he has in order to acquire it…And in the third parable, Jesus equates the coming of the Kingdom with a fishing net that has been cast into the sea. When the net is brought ashore, the good fish will be separated from the fish that are worthless. In the same way, there will be a separation of the unrighteous from the unrighteous
2 Compiled from several news sources, especially the Daily Mail.
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at the end of the age. The difference between the two will be those who took the kingdom of God seriously…and those who did not…
During his earthly ministry, Jesus was never shy about explaining to people about the importance of the kingdom of God. He did not mince any words about it. He was crystal clear in his teachings. For example, Jesus told one wannabe disciple, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”…Another man came to Jesus and asked how he might receive eternal life. Jesus bluntly told him, “Go, sell everything you have, and give it to the poor. Then you can come and follow me.” There was no room for negotiation there…In another place, Jesus told the crowd a story about a man who started to build a tower before figuring out first if he had the resources to finish it. He said that if he is not able to complete it, he will become the laughing stock of the community for his foolhardiness. He said know what you are getting into if you want to follow me…
But all those teaching make the point that the kingdom of God is of surpassing value. That is why there are to be no rivals to the claim of discipleship in the life of the believer. Jesus said that nothing is more important or of more value than the Kingdom of God. To be a part of God’s plan in helping to accomplish God’s new creation is of the utmost importance. That is why we are followers of Jesus. That is why we are here. That is why we pray those words together every Sunday morning: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Because the kingdom of God is worth it.
The point of God bringing us salvation through Christ is not just to snatch us away to heaven once we die. NO. Instead, it is to use us as Christ followers to colonize earth with the life of heaven. We are to be the instruments through which the kingdom of God spreads and works in this world. God has chosen us to help bring about his new creation—to introduce to the world the way that god has always intended life on earth to look like—to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in our lives so that the love..and joy…and peace of knowing God will permeate through all of the world and into every area of human endeavor—and into every life…and every heart…and every situation…
What is better than that?…What is more important than that?…What is more priceless than that?
Let us pray—
O Lord, when we look around us and we are appalled by the intensity of the violence and cruelty in our world, help us to remember that the Kingdom has been growing quietly and steadily for centuries now. Remind us that it is stronger and more widespread than anyone knows. Bring to our minds the unexpected people and places where we have seen glimpses of Your kingdom’s existence. Give us hints from those encounters of the limitless certainty of the eventual success of Your kingdom in the world. And help us to take our place as a part of Your plan—a plan to help bring a quality of life on earth that mirrors the quality of life in heaven.
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We ask these things in the name of Jesus, who was confident of Your kingdom’s success even as he faced the horror of the cross and the desertion of his friends…
And to God alone be the glory! Amen.3

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