Expository Sermon on Matthew 13
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 8/19/2023
©2023 by Maylan Schurch
Please open your Bibles to Matthew 13.
If you heard my sermon last week, or watched it online, today’s sermon is Part Two. I’ll set the stage for it if you didn’t hear it.
Last week I mentioned how, whenever you listen to the news, you hear lots and lots of information about world turmoil. Jesus says that just before He returns there will be “wars and rumors of wars,” with nations rising against nations, and all this has been true ever since He spoke those words. And nowadays we have so many more ways of learning about how earthly governments can be so unfeeling and even brutally selfish, even against their own citizens.
And this got me to thinking about the “kingdom of God.” I did a little Bible research, and discovered that Jesus mentions the “kingdom of God” far more than He ever talked about wars and rumors of wars. He mentioned God’s kingdom over 50 times in the book of Matthew alone, and here in chapter 13 alone, “the kingdom of God” shows up around 12 times.
Even though Jesus firmly states, “My kingdom is not of this world,” He inserted God’s kingdom into the Lord’s Prayer, urging us to pray for its arrival – both in our hearts, and eventually when He arrives to set it up. Jesus looked forward to the time He inspired John to write about in Revelation 11:5 when heavenly voices shout, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”
You could call Matthew 13 the Gospels’ “kingdom chapter,” because Jesus fills it, almost end-to-end, with parables about God’s kingdom. These are the parables which begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”
And last Sabbath I was able to get through only the first parable – the one about the sower going forth to sow grain. As I mentioned a week ago, since Jesus considered God’s kingdom so important, we need to discover in these parables clues about what we need to make sure we are its citizens. We need to keep traveling toward that kingdom.
Last week I suggested that we should pack a “kingdom kit” as we study these parables. I found two kingdom-kit items in the Parable of the Sower, and I will list them for you here, and then I will add to them as we go through the rest of the parables in this chapter this morning.
So if you have pencil and paper, or are making notes on your phone, here were last Sabbath’s first two kingdom-kit items. The AV people will put them on the screen, and then I’ll add to them as we go along. So here they are.
1. Listening ears
2. Softened hearts
Remember how Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”? And remember how, at the end of the parable of the sower, it was the seed which landed on “good ground,” in other words, soil which was prepared to receive the good news, and which brought forth such a great harvest?
So now, we are going to hunt for some more “kingdom kit” items, and try to learn how to use them. Here comes another farming parable:
Matthew 13:24 – 30 [NKJV]: Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’ ”
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this parable. Some of it I’m going to talk about a little later. But for now, let’s lay down Sermon Point Three, to add to the first two we covered last week.
In our personal “kingdom kits,” Jesus wants us to pack not only listening ears and softened hearts, but also devil-discernment.
Whoa. Did you see that one coming? Devil discernment?
A few minutes ago, I mentioned that Jesus didn’t speak a whole lot about “wars and rumors of wars,” and He also didn’t speak a lot about the devil.
But here in this parable He mentions him. Because even though Jesus doesn’t talk about the devil unless it’s necessary, there is an incredibly important reason He mentions him here.
You see, back in Matthew 4, as soon as He was baptized, Jesus hiked out into the wilderness, and there the devil came to him and tantalized Him with three carefully-designed temptations. Jesus resisted each of these temptations. And whenever a demon-possessed person came into the Savior’s view, He ruthlessly cast that demon out. Jesus did battle with the devil on a daily basis.
Glance back at verse 26, and we will see a crucially important reason we need to pack devil-discernment in our kingdom kits.
Verses 26 – 27: But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’
Do you see what’s going on here? A lot of people miss it, and I missed it for years. What we have here is a farming version of the story of the great controversy between Christ and Satan. As you know, that controversy is mainly over the character of God. What is God like? It is God fair? Does God mean good to us, or evil? Does God really know what He is doing?
Here we have a group of servants who thought they knew their boss very well. Their boss always knows how to select good seeds from a good seed supplier, and they’ve learned to trust Him. But now, suddenly, here are these weeds. They can’t figure it out.
And what is so tragic is, rather than simply ask the boss, “What happened? Why are there weeds amongst the wheat?” – Rather than ask him that, instead they start making slightly distrustful noises, and ask him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field?” Even though they’re very polite, there seems to me to be just a hint of concern as to whether their boss is smart as they thought he was. Maybe he’s losing it.
The boss quickly reassures them about what happened.
Verse 28: He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’
It turns out that this parable was one of the two in this chapter which Jesus decides to explain to His disciples. So let’s glance down at verse 36 and listen to Jesus’ explanation:
Verses 36 – 39: Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.” He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil . . . .”
So, Jesus was an expert at devil-discernment. He had known Lucifer in heaven, and it was probably Jesus Himself who personally confronted and cursed the serpent in the garden after the temptation of Adam and Eve.
Just a caution here. I don’t believe there’s any Bible evidence that Jesus wants us to be oppressed and obsessed about the devil. I don’t think He wants us to get up in the morning, dart our eyes fearfully around, and say to ourselves, “I better watch out! The devil is crouching around the corner!” Jesus wants us to be careful, but not obsessed.
I don’t think Jesus wants us to be like the young man several decades ago who spent a few weeks as our church custodian. I think he was barely out of his teens, and we needed a custodian, so he faithfully came in once a week – mostly at night – to vacuum the sanctuary and clean anything else that needed spiffing up.
This young man was a very sensitive person, and a few weeks after he’d started, he phoned me and told me that he was uncomfortable here in the sanctuary all alone at night. He said, “You know, I think I can sense demons in the room.”
I was very careful not to laugh, and I kept my voice very thoughtful as I told him that I didn’t think there were any demons in the sanctuary. I think that what happened was that there he was, all alone, surrounded by a lot of dark glass windows, it was easy to feel spooked, especially if you are a sensitive guy. He never mentioned those demons again, and I’ve had fairly recent contact with him, and he has never once mentioned them. I think that he, too, realized that his super-sensitivity had gotten the better of him.
So, we don’t need to go down the obsession trail. But we don’t want to go down the opposite trail, the trail that says that no, there’s no such thing as devils or demons or Lucifer. There is a devil, and he has harassed humanity and defamed God for thousands of years.
Another thing I don’t believe we should do is to try to guess specific things the devil is doing. For example, the relatively rare Category 4 hurricane that is approaching Mexico and Southern California — did the devil stir that hurricane up? We don’t know. There’s nothing in the Bible that gives us a command to, or permission to, try to diagnose the devil’s deeds in detail.
In Matthew 24, when Jesus mentions that there would be wars and rumors of wars, disasters, and famines, and earthquakes, He did not say that the devil would always be the direct cause of these things. He just said they would happen. So let’s be silent where Jesus is silent.
So what do I mean by saying that we should pack “devil-discernment” as part of our kingdom kit? I think we just need to keep the general idea in our mind that the devil is Jesus’ enemy, and he will do whatever he can to give Jesus and His Father a bad name, and will do whatever he can to discourage us.
I think we can take courage from Peter’s frank discussion of the devil, and how we can defend ourselves from whatever he’s doing. Put some kind of marker in Matthew 13, because we’ll be back here in a few seconds. Turn to first Peter chapter 5. Notice how Peter surrounds any discussion of the devil with ways we can resist him.
1 Peter 5:6 – 11: Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
I think this is a wonderful passage. Usually we don’t quote quite as much as I’ve quoted it here. Peter’s point is that the devil is dreadfully dangerous, but God cares for us and can give us strength to resist the devil.
Now let’s move on to a fourth item I think we need to pack in our kingdom kit. This item shows up in two back-to-back parables. Let’s start with verse 31.
Matthew 13:31 – 33: Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field, which indeed is the least of all the seeds; but when it is grown it is greater than the herbs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
My mom and dad had four kids, and dad went off to work early every weekday morning. And since mom was the one who dealt with the kids when dad was gone, she didn’t have a lot of time for things like baking bread. I think that she and dad finally decided that store-bought white bread was a more efficient option than having mom bake bread.
But I was always delighted whenever mom baked her own bread. I didn’t know much about yeast, but I could smell it when she was working it into the dough. And once a lump of dough had risen, I somehow managed to pinch out a piece from the top, and it tasted like bready chewing gum.
Notice that Jesus tells a parable for the men, and then a parable for the women. The men take the tiny mustard seeds and plant them, and they grow to an immense size.
And notice a very fascinating fact in the leaven parable: Jesus knows the recipe for bread baking! He doesn’t say the woman simply took the leaven and put it in “some” meal. He says the woman took it and hid it in three measures of meal. Jesus knew the recipe for bread!
So what is the next item we need to pack in our kingdom kit?
In our personal “kingdom kits,” I believe that Jesus wants us to pack not only listening ears and softened hearts, and devil-discernment. I believe He also wants us to pack patient growth.
Every once in a while I talk to people who have driven across my home state of South Dakota. They often tell me it’s very boring. In the western half, once you get past the Black Hills, you enter an area that’s a whole lot like Eastern Washington. Then things cheer up a bit by the time you get to the Missouri River, and you get into green croplands, but still there are not anything like mountains or hills that you have out here.
But when you’re driving across South Dakota – and especially across Montana – you just have to have patience. Patience is what we need as we travel to the kingdom. Think how horrifying it would be if God were a fly-off-the-handle type of God. You would not be sitting here, I would not be standing here, the kids would not be sitting here. Don’t get fooled by God’s occasional expressions of emotion in the Old Testament. God is patient.
And He wants us to be patient too. In Galatians 5:22 and on, Paul lists patience (or longsuffering) as the fourth spiritual fruit, after love, joy and peace.
And since patience is wrapped so thoroughly in the other fruits of the spirit, this kingdom-kit patience needs to be patient growth. It’s not a patience where you simply grit your teeth and hang on, or go hide somewhere and not get involved with other people. As we travel toward God’s kingdom, Jesus wants us to have patient growth, patient development. In God’s kingdom, we are not spectators. We are participants.
Let’s look for one more item to pack in our kingdom kits. Again, Jesus gives us two parables to illustrate this item. Let’s start with verse 44.
Verses 44 – 46: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
When I would read that treasure-in-the-field parable as a kid, I would get a funny feeling about it. I wondered whether the treasurer-finder shouldn’t have gone to the people who owned the land and said, “Hey, here’s some treasure I found on your property.”
My dad faced this literal dilemma when he was mowing ditches and pastures for the county highway department. He was out there on his tractor and mower, and he came an old abandoned farmhouse. He stopped the tractor and wandered over and looked through the house. It had been vacated for many years, and he could walk right in and look around. I don’t know where all he looked, but he discovered an old stocking with several hundred dollars in it.
He picked it up and took it home with him, and he asked mom what she thought he should do with it. She suggested that since the money was so old – probably silver certificates from the 1920s and even before – that he should just keep it. But dad did a bit of checking around, and discovered who had owned that place. And it turned out that the woman who had lived in the farmhouse was now in a nursing home. So dad took that cash to her, and she was very grateful to him.
So, what about this treasure-finder in the parable? Well, as I understand it, this man did a perfectly legitimate thing. Often times, especially when people were living through a time of national unrest, they would bury most of their money in one of their fields, and that way they might have something to sustain them when there was peace again.
But here in the parable, the treasure was still there. This meant that the original owners – who by now were long dead – had not needed the money. And the current landowner had no connection to the money. My dad was able to find the owner of the stash of cash, but the parable treasure-hunter wasn’t able to do that. So – in Jesus’ eyes – this man made a legal, moral, very intelligent decision.
There’s an interesting difference between these two parables. The man who found the treasure was surprised. He evidently came across it by accident. But in the parable of the pearl, the merchant was hunting for pearls. When he saw one that was perfect, he sold everything he had and bought it.
In fact, that leads us to Sermon Point 5:
In our personal “kingdom kits,” I believe that Jesus wants us to pack not only listening ears and softened hearts, and devil-discernment, and patient growth. I believe Jesus wants us to pack complete commitment.
In fact, the men in both parables sold everything they had in order to acquire something of great value. And Jesus says that this is what the kingdom of heaven is like. Jesus Himself did exactly this very thing. He looked down and saw a human race which needed redemption, and He gave up everything he had.
Paul describes this in Philippians 2:7 – 8: “[Jesus] made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”
Total commitment, right? But if you keep reading the verses which follow that, you see what happened to the Savior:
(Verses 9 – 11): “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In other words, as we head toward this kingdom, our kingdom kits packed with what Jesus had suggested, we can take courage knowing that Jesus Himself is king!
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