“Now We Know What the Kingdom of Heaven is Like”

Matthew 13:31-35 & 44-58

We have been reading through chapter 13 of the book of Matthew and in this chapter Matthew has placed the parables of Jesus in which He describes the Kingdom of Heaven. Many people read these verses and they immediately have a picture in their mind of an euphorical afterlife existence. They have this belief that Jesus was teaching about His heavenly home and this is what we have to look forward to when we die. 

I’m not disagreeing with that view, but I think it is only seeing part of the vision Jesus had for us. It’s like I shared last week, it is like you are standing outside the window while Emily screams that I am hurting her and you have not walked inside to see that I am trying to remove a splinter from her finger. 

As we read through these Kingdom parables, instead of thinking “after I die,” I would like you to be thinking, how does this exist here today, in my daily living. 

Earlier in this chapter, Jesus explained the way people hear His parables, like a farmer sowing seed. The seed did various things depending upon the type of ground it landed.

Which type of ground are you today? At this moment? 

For what was sown on good soil is the person who hears the word and understands it. 

Today, we will read through six parables of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. We begin in verse 31, Jesus is sitting in a boat, just off the shore, speaking to the masses who were on the shore listening. 

He continues talking about the Kingdom of Heaven with the parable of the mustard seed. Many of you have probably heard a sermon on this parable that went something like my children’s message. Where God uses the small things in this world to do big things. I am not going to argue with that concept, because I believe God can use anything and anyone when we allow Him to. However, I do not believe that is what this parable is saying. I would like to invite you inside the house and hear this parable with a bigger context in mind. Given the context of this parable and where Matthew placed it in between the parable of the weeds and the wheat and the meaning of the parable itself, this parable should be read as another description of corruption in the kingdom community. 

Many of you have heard the majority opinion that like the small mustard seed, from very small beginnings the Gospel of Christ would grow so large that it would be able to provide refuge to all the nations, like the mustard plant provided space for the birds of the air to nest in its branches. 

But, when we look at what Jesus said in the just the previous parables, birds were equal to the emissaries of Satan. In fact, birds are symbols of evil throughout Jewish literature. And in reality, mustard plants rarely grow beyond the size of a small bush that would not be able to hold even one bird nest. So, in this parable the mustard plant has grown to be an unnatural sized tree with many nests. 

This language suggests Jesus was using Old Testament images of the tree as a great empire like we find in Ezekiel 17 and Daniel 4. 

With these images in mind, the parable takes shape into an exaggeration of this herb becoming a monster in the garden, providing a nest for much corruption. 

In verse 33, Jesus provides another illustration of corruption in the Kingdom community with the parable of the leaven in the meal. 

Again, if you are like me, you have heard many a sermon on this being a beautiful picture of the kingdom of God working its way through the whole world. 

However, when we look at the context and note how the word leaven has been used consistently as a picture of sin and corruption in Jewish literature, we realize Jesus was describing the corruption of the kingdom community. If we were to put ourselves back in the place of a Jewish person listening to Jesus, we would have been shocked in hearing the Kingdom of God compared to leaven. Also, note that the woman places a large amount of meal, my footnote says it would have been about ½ bushel or 22 liters, enough to feed 100 people. This is much more than a normal Jewish woman would use. Again, suggesting the idea of massive or unnatural size. 

Put yourself in the place of an observant Jewish mother. The idea of putting leaven in her bread would have been offensive. This isn’t a picture of the church gradually influencing the whole world for good. 

Jesus was letting people know that in the Kingdom community there would be threats of corruption and impurity not only from outside the community but also from inside the community. 

In verses 34 & 35, Matthew reminds us that since the opposition of the Jewish leaders He chose to speak to the multitudes in parables. Matthew also informs us that by doing so, Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy written in Psalm 78:2. It wasn’t that Jesus’ entire teaching and preaching was in parables, but for a season this is what He chose to do. Parables were also used in order to fulfill the last portion of the prophecy because the church itself was part of the “things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.” We will hear the same message from Paul in Ephesians 3 that the church would not be revealed in fullness until later. 

Jesus leaves the crowd and goes into a house. The disciples ask for an explanation to the parable of the weeds and wheat. We went over Jesus’ explanation last week. Jesus was still in the house talking with His disciples as He continued with more parables of the Kingdom of Heaven. 

The previous parables dealt with the corruption in the kingdom. The next two parables will talk about how highly the King values the people of His kingdom. 

The parable of the hidden treasure reveals how Jesus, the man who finds the treasure, gives His all so that He may buy the field which is the world. Those listening would have known that under rabbinic law, if a workman came upon a treasure and lifted it out of the field, then it would belong to the master, the field’s owner. 

However, the man was careful not to lift the treasure out until he had purchased the field. Jesus, at the utmost cost of His life, bought the lives of those who believe. 

The next parable, of the costly pearl, again has Jesus as the buyer and we, the individual believers as the pearl. Again, He sees the believer as so valuable He would happily give all to have it forever. Pearls were seen as the loveliest of all possessions in the ancient world. This means having every person in the Kingdom of Heaven was also seen as the loveliest thing in the world to Jesus. 

It may sound crazy for a merchant to sell all that he had for just one pearl, but that shows how much the one pearl was valued and how much Jesus values His creation. 

The next parable of the Kingdom of Heaven shows us that the world will remain divided right up to the end. 

There goes the concept that the Church will reform the world by ushering in the Kingdom. This parable of the net tells us that both the wicked and the righteous, similar to the parable of the wheat and the weeds, will be around until the end of the age. At that time, angels will appear and assist the King in separating the two. Jesus returns with the use of apocalyptic language where the wicked will be thrown into the fiery furnace, complete with weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Jesus then asks His disciples if they understand what He was teaching. Great teaching discipline. He has just spent quite a long stretch of explaining the Kingdom of Heaven. Like any good teacher, He checks in with His students. 

Are you with me? Any questions?

I don’t know about you but I am surprised they say, “Yes.”

Jesus takes them at their word and does not deny their claim to understand. Jesus does go on to clarify what will be expected of those who understand. Jesus clearly expects His disciples to become teachers of what He has taught them. As teachers they are to teach the Good News, which may be new but not something that overshadows the old. Both the old and new were seen as treasures to be taught. 

Jesus finishes teaching with parables and leaves the area and goes back to His hometown, Nazareth. He did the same thing there as in any town, He went to the synagogue and began teaching. The people of Nazareth were surprised that one of their own could have grown up to be so wise. They remembered Him as a child growing up, the carpenter’s son. 

They knew His mother and brothers as well. They didn’t remember anything spectacular about Him. In fact, the town of Nazareth was about as unspectacular as they come, so the citizens didn’t know what to do with Jesus. Because they could not imagine the Messiah coming from Nazareth, they took offense. They were not welcoming or even friendly towards Jesus. They don’t even refer to Him as Jesus, they call Him, “this Man.” It was like the success of Jesus was an embarrassment to them. They couldn’t wrap their heads around it. Because of that, Jesus chose not to do many miracles. When God chooses to work in concert with our human decisions, our unbelief can and may hinder God’s work. In other words, it gets in the way. 

We shouldn’t be too hard on those in Nazareth. Were we to check ourselves I think we would find our own times of unbelief that get in the way of God moving us or things around us. 

How does one recognize the Savior? Our Messiah? As we study the Gospel According to Matthew we recognize the preconceived notions the religious leaders and the Jewish people had concerning what the Messiah would be like. 

It is difficult to let go of preconceived notions. 

Developing an open mind or “growth mindset” as we call it in the educational realm. 

Jesus sacrificed His all for His creation. Having enough of an open mind to consider that as truth and walk towards the center is the first step. When we are walking towards Jesus, He becomes more real and understandable. When we take offense, we are not open to the miracles that are happening. 

May we respond to Jesus 

like the father in Mark 9 did, 


 “Everything is possible for one who believes,” Jesus said, 

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, 

“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”


Let’s pray.