Keys to the Kingdom
Week 6: Gathering in the Kingdom
Today we will look at one short parable related to GATHERING in the kingdom of God. Next week is Pentecost Sunday and we conclude our study of the Keys to the Kingdom by looking at advancing the Kingdom through Acts 2. Let’s read these few verses in Matthew 13:
47“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
This kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Didn’t we look at a parable a few weeks back dealing with two kinds of products from the soil, wheat and weeds? Wasn’t there a separation that happened in that parable? Doesn’t this parable have the same basic meaning? Well…yes…but with a different emphasis.
With the wheat and the weeds, we learned that both the good seed, which becomes the wheat, planted by Jesus—the very Word made flesh—and the bad seed of weeds which was sown by the enemy are to grow together until the harvest, which is the end of the age.
Likewise, the good and bad fish are living in the same lake, taking in the same water through their gills. Also, like the wheat and tares, there is an end-time component. The fishermen represent the angels who will come at the end of the age to separate the good fish from the bad. But in reality, apart from Christ, we are ALL bad fish! Faith in Jesus Christ’s saving work on the cross makes us RIGHT with God, not good. To be sure, what we DO as a result of faith in Christ can and should be good. How we live our lives before leaving this earth matters, whether good or bad. Listen to a litany of attributes of a true Christian by the apostle Paul in Romans 13:9-21 [READ].
But I think the emphasis in this passage is on whether one is right with God through Jesus or not. The emphasis is more on the end-times aspect of the kingdom. Those who are righteous are separated out from those who are not (“wicked”). The wicked are thrown into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
The phrase, “blazing furnace,” is a biblical reference to hell. It’s an uncomfortable subject, I realize. But here’s something you might not know. Jesus talked more about hell than he did heaven. Listen to what a contributing writer to the Gospel Coalition, Leslie Schmuker, writes, “Jesus doesn’t only reference hell, he describes it in great detail. He says it is a place of eternal torment (Luke 16:23), of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), where the worm does not die (Mark 9:48), where people will gnash their teeth in anguish and regret (Matt. 13:42), and from which there is no return, even to warn loved ones (Luke 16:19–31). He calls hell a place of “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30), comparing it to “Gehenna” (Matt. 10:28), which was a trash dump outside the walls of Jerusalem where rubbish was burned and maggots abounded. Jesus talks about hell more than he talks about heaven, and describes it more vividly. There’s no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned against the absolute reality of hell.”
Jesus also uses the phrase “gnashing of teeth,” in this parable. I know of at least eight instances in the NT where that phrase is used…and all by Jesus…and all with a view of the end of the age. According to one commentary, this phrase, “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” indicates the misery of disappointed expectations. Friends, it is inescapable. We cannot seriously consider the characteristics of the Kingdom of God without including judgment, heaven, and hell.
I know that is an unpopular topic. We want to talk about inclusiveness. We would prefer what Craig Groeschel calls a “Cafeteria Christianity”. “Give me a double helping of forgiveness but hold off on the personal sacrifice.” “I’ll take a scoop of grace but let me pass on the repentance from sins.” We want to exclude sin and the consequences of sin from our vocabulary. EVERYBODY GETS A TROPHY!
No. Sadly, some will experience the misery of disappointed expectations. Some will not see heaven. Some are NOT in the kingdom of God…perhaps even some in this room! That is, unless we repent of our sins and believe the Good News: Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, bore our sins on the cross—paying the penalty for our guilt and shame. Then He rose from the dead, giving those who believe in Jesus as Messiah new life IN HIM. We no longer bear the weight of our guilt. We are FREE! We are ALIVE!
Okay, I lied. I told you there was one small parable left in this discourse from Jesus. Actually, there’s one more. Let’s pick up in verse 51:
51 “Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.“Yes,” they replied. 52 He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
I wonder if his disciples really got what Jesus was saying. You know it is…when you hear a long story from somebody and they ask, “Did you get all that?” You don’t want to be rude and say, “Well, I kind of got lost thinking about one part of your story and didn’t catch the rest of it. Sorry.” They weren’t about to do that with Jesus! So, they say, “Uh, yeah, sure.” Jesus picked up the vibe…so he rounds out his discourse of parables by describing the kingdom in a similar way that he did when the disciples asked why he spoke to the people in parables:
“Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.”
In other words, those learners…those followers of Jesus who have the Word of God in them will be given more of the wisdom of God’s kingdom…more of the sovereign presence of God…more of the authority from heaven…more of the life that God intends for His image-bearers. But those who do NOT have God’s Word in them, then it will all be taken away. In the final judgment, they will have NOTHING.
In verse 52, Jesus says that every “teacher of the law who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven…” “Teacher of the law” in Greek is γραμματεύς (grammateus), which means a scribe, one learned in the Jewish law, a religious teacher. It also can mean a person of learning. Typically, we expect our teachers to be people of greater learning than ourselves. [In some colleges and universities, that expectation is met with disappointment!]
But Jesus goes on to say that the teacher becomes a disciple in the kingdom of heaven/God. The use of the word “disciple,” μαθητεύω in this passage literally means, “having been trained or instructed in the kingdom of God.” E.g., the Jewish teacher who, having been instructed in the kingdom of God is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old. His Jewish audience would understand he was saying that there are both treasures found in the Law but also in the New Covenant through Jesus.
Allow me to divert away a bit from the most likely meaning of this passage to talk about what treasures YOU have in your storeroom. What’s in your shed? Is it treasure or trash? About a month ago, I woke up at 3 AM on a Monday morning unable to go back to sleep. I had planned to take part of that day—my day off—to clean out the shed at the parsonage. For far too long I had allowed “stuff” to be thrown in there any old way. I couldn’t find anything I ever looked for! It was frustrating!
[That’s one of the reasons I let it get like that…it seemed too overwhelming to remedy. That’s how it is with many issues in our lives. The effort seems greater than the reward. The relationship with my mom or dad, or my child, or sibling, or friend is so cluttered with past hurts and painful memories, I just don’t want to spend the energy trying to rebuild those relationships. Or…my financial problems are so deep with all kinds of debts that I just don’t know where to start. Instead, I just keep digging a deeper hole. Or…my sinful habits have been with me so long that I don’t have the emotional power to begin sorting it all out.
So, I just keep throwing more stuff on top of my already complicated and confusing life, numbing the pain with binge TV, internet porn, drinking, or other forms of self-medication.]
But sooner or later, it’s time to clean out the shed. In a literal sense for me, it was at 3 AM on a Monday morning! So, after fixing a cup of morning Joe, I made my way out into the dark to tackle that seemingly insurmountable task. I fired up the flood light and started dragging every item out of the shed, carefully sorting the treasure from the trash. I filled our large grey roll cart full of junk from that shed. But I also discovered a few “treasures” I had forgotten we owned. Some things were like NEW to me since I hadn’t seen them in years!
I think Jesus is saying that, as learners of the kingdom of God, we will discover the truth of how God intends for us to live as citizens of the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation. True disciples of Jesus Christ want to be even MORE discipled! We already have the Treasure of Christ in our hearts…but we want to have an ABUNDANCE of all that God has for us…we want the NEW treasures God has for us.
If we want to be in the kingdom of God, we need to let God clean out our closet! We need Jesus Christ to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. But we have to be willing to let Him have all of us…the good and the bad. Only He can transform us into treasure fit for heaven.
The Kingdom of God is many things:
- It is the reign and rule of God in our hearts, and also in this earth and in heaven…in the natural and supernatural.
- It is the Word of God, which is both Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and the Holy Scriptures
- the Bible, which is powerful and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, able to cut through soul and spirit, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
- The Word is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness
- It is planted in the hearts of those who are open to transformation and the results are a great crop
It is IN the world but not OF the world…growing alongside the enemy’s kingdom until the end of the age
It is growing, sometimes slowly, but surely. The kingdom can and should impact the world for Jesus Christ
It is of great value. By that, I mean it is the life-long relationship with Jesus Christ that is worth giving everything for. It is a treasure hidden in the field and a pearl of great price. But it is also the reality that WE are of great value to God…so much so that Jesus paid for us with his life!
Finally, the kingdom of God is distinguished from the rest of this world in that, at the end of the age, only those who are right with God are included in the kingdom. Those who are part of this world will be gathered up and cast into the blazing furnace—the lake of fire—where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
We’ve covered a lot of ground over the past six weeks. Next week we will look at one final aspect of God’s kingdom—advancement—on a day we call Pentecost. To wrap up, let me invite you to prepare your heart for a time of the Covenant Meal we called Holy Communion.
As you do, let me ask you this: are you a believer and follower of Jesus Christ? Do you repent of your sins and accept forgiveness offered through His shed blood? If not, are you willing to do so today? If God is speaking to you, don’t let this moment pass.
If you are already a believer and follower of Jesus, is there still clutter in your shed? Do you need to clean out your closets so that there’s room for more of ALL that God has for you? Will you commit to being a deeper learner of the things of God SO THAT you may be able to live more like Jesus? Will you commit to serving Jesus in whatever way He calls?
Holy Communion is a time to reconnect and recommit to Jesus and to His kingdom.