Chad Kincer speaks on Matthew 13:31-33
Having an already, but not yet vision of the kingdom of God corrects false views of the Christian life and calls us to endure in obedience to Jesus.
A few years ago I received a confirmation email for my tickets to a U2 concert. I was beyond excited. I created a playlist from a concert set list I found online in preparation. I started thinking about what that night would look like for my wife and I, what we would do before and after, our dress code, where we’d have dinner. I had such joy in anticipation for the show. Yet, the real joy and fulfillment of that anticipation was still several months away. The excitement I felt over that silly email was nothing compared to what it was going to be like the night of the actual concert.
You and I live in a world that is consumed with experiences like this. Ones loaded with the tug and pull of what some theologians call “the already, but no yet.” It’s the inner play, the relationship between the things we have in the present moment and the way they point us toward the future, to how things will be. We’ve all felt this before, whether it’s concert or sporting event tickets, or a booked vacation months in advance. Yet, the real security and blessing of those tickets or booked vacations are not yet what they will be when you’re there on the beach or at that game. It’s a tension between the already and the not yet, the what is and the what is still to come.
This is the very thing Jesus addresses regarding His kingdom. But His parables about the mustard seed and lump of leaven are a bit strange to us. So before we discuss what Jesus is saying about the kingdom, let’s ask why He’s talking like this, in parables.
To Reveal and Conceal
In Matthew 13 there is a noticeable shift in Jesus’ teaching methods when He begins to use parables, story and metaphor. He uses this method for two purposes; to reveal and conceal knowledge concerning His kingdom.
10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Matthew 13:10-13 (ESV)
Through the first twelve chapters, Jesus has been celebrated, yet misunderstood. His kingdom has been gladly accepted by some, yet rejected by others. He begins to set the record straight about what this kingdom of God is and that it’s here with His presence in the world.
But it’s not just a shift in teaching style that makes these parables so significant. In these we also have the foremost teaching from Jesus on the kingdom of God.
The religious elite of Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, had come to understand the kingdom of God would be established in a very different way than it was happening through Jesus. They were astonished by Him, His miracles and teachings, but He wasn’t meeting their expectations. So they doubted and rejected Him, wanting Him dead. But, they were not the only ones who doubted.
In Matthew 11, John the Baptist doubted as he sat in a prison cell for speaking on behalf of this kingdom. John sent word by his disciples to Jesus asking Him if He was the One or should expect another, because the kingdom He was bringing looked nothing like he thought it would. Jesus responded, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).
Jesus didn’t stiff-arm John in the midst of his doubts. He didn’t say, “How dare you question me!” He simply said, “Blessed are you for not being offended by me. It doesn’t look like you expected, but I am the One. The kingdom is here, trust me.” Both here and in chapter 13, Jesus was establishing the fact He is the Messiah. He’s the one we’ve been waiting for. Look no further.
With this context in view, why does He describe the kingdom in the form of a mustard seed or like leaven?
The Kingdom in its Humble Form
32 It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”33 He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.” Matthew 13:32-33 (ESV)
With Jesus’ coming, the kingdom of God is now present in the world in the same way the seed is present in the ground having been planted by the farmer. In the same way the leaven is present in the flour, hidden there by the baker. It’s initial form is humble and may seem insignificant to some, maybe even foolish. How could the kingdom be here if we can hardly see its affects in the world where there’s still so much wreckage?
But the kingdom of God is here. It didn’t come by force, with a wild government overthrow, or violent revolution, or with the judgment of the nations. At least not yet. The kingdom of God is here, upon Jesus’ appearing, in the humble form of grace, with the forgiveness of sins. To receive all who will repent and believe.
But there’s coming a day when the mustard seed will begin to spring forth and provide a powerful presence in the garden. When that leaven will begin to rise, swelling into a hearty loaf of bread, large enough to feed a multitude. So it is with the kingdom of God, when it will come by force, to judge the nations. All who rejected the Son of God will be eternally banished and all who accepted the humble form of the kingdom will rest under the powerful shadow of the wings of the almighty God.
Like the mustard seed is present there in the ground, with all the power necessary to produce a mighty tree, but it’s not yet what it will be. Like the leaven is present in the flour, with all the power necessary to rise into a hunger-satisfying loaf of bread, but it’s not yet what it will be. So it is with the kingdom of God. It is already here with the all-transforming and all-satisfying power given to everyone who believes, but it’s not yet what it will be.
Rejecting the Now, Missing the Not Yet
This message would have sounded crazy to Jesus’ original audience. Many of the religious people understood the Old Testament prophets and believed the day the Lord came would be a cataclysmic, apocalyptic event where God would judge the nations and restore His people to immediate peace and blessing.
Many who heard Jesus on that day were offended and walked away. They couldn’t reconcile what they had previously thought with the Jesus’ message. They rejected the already humble blessing of the kingdom. Thus, in the same breath, rejected the not yet blessing of the kingdom.
When we read stories like this, we can be so quick to point the finger at the Pharisees for their short sightedness and rebellion. We’re so quick to judge those who rejected Christ and their lack of faith, as if we would have responded differently. But we’ve got to be honest. We’re more like them than we’re comfortable with. Many who had heard Jesus walked away from Him, because He wasn’t meeting their expectations, or giving them what they wanted when they wanted it. We too are tempted to walk away from Jesus and His kingdom when life isn’t giving us what we want from it. When God is not giving us the things we think we deserve from Him.
Just like the Jews that walked away from Christ, we too have many distorted views of the kingdom that would cause us to cash it in.
Distorted Views of the Kingdom
There are some who are close to bailing on Jesus. This life in the kingdom doesn’t look like you thought it would. Because of things in the past or the present, life is too hard.
There are others of us that come to church every week, hear the preaching, and enjoy the worship. Yet, every week we walk out in despair. You’re under the illusion you’re the only one who’s confused about following Jesus, the only one who’s really struggling with sin. Everybody else has it all figured out. You just can’t keep up.
Some of you have more doubts than you’ve ever had. You’ve got some sinful impulses raging and you can’t seem to find any victory.
Sunday service is not a celebration of those who have life all figured out. It’s for people whose lives are a wreck, to come together before God. We believe He stands to repair us, to heal us and to make us new. Jesus spoke directly to these false views of the kingdom.
24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. Matthew 10:24-25 (ESV)
When Jesus walked this earth, He wasn’t healthy, wealthy or prosperous. In Matthew 8, one asked to follow Jesus, He responded by saying, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20). To follow Jesus meant to follow a homeless Jewish man who trusted Himself to the will of the Father. If Jesus wasn’t entitled to these things, what makes us think that we’re entitled to these things?
Jesus wasn’t free from temptation. Matthew 4 shows Jesus Himself knows first hand what it’s like to do a dance with the devil in the wilderness. Yet, the Gospel of Luke says temptation didn’t stop there, but Satan left Him for a more opportune time. Temptation was something Jesus dealt with His entire life.
Jesus wasn’t favored among men. John 1 tells us He came to His own, but they rejected him.
No servant is greater than his master. No servant is entitled to more than his master. No servant is exempt from sufferings.
No Servant is Greater Than His Master
When Jesus walked this earth, experiencing all the same difficulties we do; temptation, heartbreak and sufferings, He did so with the presence, protection, provision and promises of His Father and with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. That was enough for him.
No servant is greater than his master. This means, you too, child of the kingdom, will walk the same road in this life as your king Jesus did, so that you might, “become like him in his death,” (Philippians 3).
But you too will walk with the presence of your Father...
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1 (ESV)
And with the protection and provision of the Father...
19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (ESV)
And with the promises of Father...
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 (ESV)
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)
And with the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
No servant is greater than his master. But we have everything we need in our master. Jesus speaks honestly with us.
33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (ESV)
36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” John 18:36 (ESV)
This is exactly why all throughout the New Testament, the biblical writers are fixing our gaze upward, calling our gaze to another day.
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:2-4 (ESV)
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13 (ESV)
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18 (ESV)
11 Besides this you know the time that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. Romans 13:11 (ESV)
We are not to think toward the coming day and shrink back as those who are destroyed. By faith in the Lord Jesus, and His life, death and resurrection, we are to fall safely and gladly into the hands of the Living God. There’s coming a day when every sickness will be healed, every tear wiped away and death will be swallowed up forever.
These promises are already yours. But not yet what they will be.
The Here and Now
• Keep walking faithfully with God.
Even when it doesn’t make sense, or when it seems like God has forgotten you and there are things swirling about you that are unexpected, sending your life on a trajectory you never would have expected. He won’t leave or forsake you.
• Endure through every trial and suffering.
You endure because you trust Jesus reigns and is working everything in your life together for good, so that you might be conformed into His likeness. One day you might rule and reign with Him in His kingdom as a co-heir.
• Keep confessing your sins.
Keep calling out for help. It may seem like there’s not victory, but He will heal you. He who started the good work in you will carry it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. His death, resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit secures your final healing and adoption.
• Keep living on mission.
Live as a light in this world, sharing your faith in a dark place. The King is still seeking more children. He is seeking those who already exist as His children to be ministers of reconciliation. Go. Be a megaphone for the glory of God to be reconciled through Christ.
The Not Yet Will Come
There’s coming a day when those eastern skies are going to break. When the not yet will become the right now. We will see our King face to face, not by faith, but by sight. On that day, may we hear Him say, “Well done my good and faithful servant, enter into my kingdom.”
So when life in the kingdom doesn’t look like you thought it would, remember the words of our good King. The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny mustard seed, a seed that is indeed growing with every sinner that comes to repentance. But it’s not yet what it will be. There’s still more mission to live out. The kingdom of heaven is like a tiny lump of leaven, leaven that is surely swelling, but the oven timer hasn’t yet clicked to zero. There are still more good deeds that need to be done.”
14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:14 (ESV)
May we fix our eyes on the glorious not yet and so endure living in the already.