Matthew chapter 13 is known as the Parables of the Kingdom. Jesus’ 7 parables within this chapter are God’s perfect provision for the imperfections we experience daily. Jesus teaches that if you understand gospel growth and gospel judgment, you will understand gospel gain—why fully embracing Jesus and His kingdom is like finding a hidden treasure or a priceless pearl. Something of such great value that it is worth selling everything you have, or even giving your very life, to get.
Gospel growth, gospel judgment, and gospel gain are the three themes that will make sense of the seven parables. And those are the themes that will make sense of this world and our calling as Christians in it.
First we have gospel growth. Imagine you lived when Matthew wrote his Gospel, let’s say thirty or forty years after Jesus says the words, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, and make disciples of all nations . . .”
In your lifetime you have seen some remarkable things. You have seen thousands of people, many of them Gentiles, come to faith in Jesus. You have seen the gospel spread to regions of the world you have never even heard about. In hundreds of towns throughout the Roman Empire there are house churches everywhere! The gospel has certainly spread.
But other than the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came down upon Jerusalem in power, the seed of the gospel has grown in very subtle ways—a convert here and a household there, fifty people meeting in Lydia’s house in Philippi, ten in Paul’s jail cell in Rome. And compared to the Roman Empire, the church kinda seems small and insignificant. From an outward appearance it feels like Caesar, not Jesus, is Lord. In law, the marketplace, culture, and art, Caesar appears omnipotent and omnipresent. As a humble Christian you might be conflicted. You may be wondering, "Is Jesus really going to win? It sure seems like Rome is winning."
Until the day when we see “a great multitude that no one could number” (Revelation 7:9) we will be tempted toward discouragement, just as the early church was, and also tempted to sell out, to compromise the message by using methods that don’t line up. But the parables of Matthew 13 teach us: Don’t. Don’t sell out, and don’t give up. Keep on sowing the seed. Others will water. And God will continue to grow His gospel.
Then we have Gospel Judgment
Gospel growth is the first theme of these parables. The second theme is gospel judgment. The gospel brings joy to those who believe, but judgment to those who do not. If you read through the seven parables carefully, this theme is hard to miss. In fact, this theme of judgment is prevalent almost everywhere in Matthew where Jesus speaks in parables.
Three of the seven parables in chapter 13 have this judgment theme. In the Parable of the Sower, the theme of judgment is subtle. It is God’s judgment that those who are hard, shallow, or self-indulgent have the seed of the gospel “devoured”, “withered away” or “choked”. Because they heard but didn’t heed and saw but didn’t strive, what they had is “taken away”. That’s judgment.
But that is just the subtle stuff. There is nothing subtle about the endings of the Parable of the Weeds and the Parable of the Net. Both parables end with these same words, “and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. The weeds represent “the sons of the evil one.” But then, quite interestingly, these weeds are defined as being within the kingdom. They appear to be those who profess faith in Christ but don’t walk their talk. This is why they are defined as “law-breakers” (v. 41) and, even worse, as not merely sinners but those who cause others to sin. These weeds will be gathered, bound, and burned.
But why are we always looking for a way around it? Why does judgment, when found on the lips of Jesus, get a bad rap? Think about it. We call judges in our country from the Supreme Court to the lowest court “justices.” The idea is that their rulings are just and bring about justice. Nobody complains if a justice punishes a lawbreaker for breaking one of our nation’s laws. The Bible depicts Jesus as the ultimate Justice. Why then do people complain all the time about God punishing someone for breaking His laws? Our laws are imperfect. His are perfect. Our justices are imperfect. His Son is perfect. Jesus is the ultimate just Justice.
It is good news that one day Jesus will come and judge the living and the dead. It is good news that in the death of Christ we have the death of death, the death of our spiritual death. He died for our sins. He took on the full wrath of God so we might be fully right with Him! That is the gospel—Jesus is Savior! But “Jesus as Judge” is also the gospel. When you wake up in the morning and open the newspaper and read what it reports—everything from terrorism to murder, scandals to kidnappings—don’t you long for justice? Don’t you long for a world made right? Don’t you long for the Kingdom of Heaven to reign on Earth?
Jesus will judge the world in righteousness. Jesus will also judge the church in righteousness. The weeds will be weeded out and the bad fish and bad soils and bad apples disposed of. They will be sent to eternal destruction at “the end of the age” when the Son of Man comes upon the clouds of Heaven with his angels in power to save and to judge.
This theme of judgment—gospel judgment—is what believers are to hope for. The day when we will “shine like the sun” as we are finally delivered from evil, even from our sins and failings. But for the unbeliever this theme of judgment is a gracious warning and invitation. God is still offering salvation to all. He is scattering the seed of the gospel everywhere. Take hold of it. Plant it deeply and safely within the good soil, and watch it grow like wheat waiting to be harvested.
We have looked at gospel growth and gospel judgment. Lastly we come to gospel gain. This theme is found in parables five and six.
Notice the parallels between these two parables. They both begin with, “The kingdom of heaven is like . . .”and they both end with the same action but with slightly different words. In verse 44 the man goes and sells everything to buy the field, and in verse 46 he went and sold everything to buy the pearl that was found. The element of joy is mentioned in the first parable and implied in the second.
So two parables make the same point. And what is the point? That God wants me to be rich? No. That it’s okay to spend one’s life looking for hidden treasures? No. The point is “that the kingdom of God is so valuable that it is worth sacrificing anything to gain it.” The gain is worth the pain.
In Philippians 3:8 Paul says, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”
I don’t know about you but, I want to follow Jesus even if it means persecution or poverty because it means citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. As Jesus said concerning persecution in the Sermon on the Mount, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” Gospel gain!
To most people in the world the Kingdom of Heaven is hidden. But to those who recognize its value search for it, find it, and they take hold of it despite the cost! Gospel growth, judgment, and gain are the three themes of these parables. Gospel growth says to us, “Don’t be discouraged. The gospel has grown, it is growing, and it will continue to grow until harvest time.” Gospel judgment says to us, “Don’t be less gracious than God. God will eradicate evil, but first He wants people to repent, find the kingdom, and embrace the King.” Gospel gain says to us, “The Kingdom of Heaven is worth infinitely more than the cost of anything.” The sacrifice is worth it, for it will bring eternal blessings when the King of the kingdom comes again to gather the good fish, the fruitful wheat, and all those beautiful birds nesting on the branches of that once tiny mustard seed.