The Mystery of the Kingdom - Mark 4:9-12
“Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.’ When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. He told them, ‘The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”
Mark quotes this to summarise the message of the Kingdom parables.
The mystery of the Kingdom is the coming of the Kingdom into history in advance of its final manifestation. It is, what theologians call, "fulfilment without consummation." This is the truth illustrated by the several parables of Mark 4 and Matt 13.
The word ‘mystery’ suggests there are secret plans, thoughts, and activities of God that are hidden from human reason and must be revealed to those for whom they were intended.
However, the mystery is proclaimed to all even though only those who believe understand it. All are summoned to faith; but only those who respond are shown to have spiritual perception and understanding (i.e. only to those who have been "given the mystery" as Mark 4:11 says.)
The same can be said of Peter in Matthew 16.
Matthew 16:17 “Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”
Jesus is clearly indicating that one must receive supernatural illumination to understand the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Although the mystery is proclaimed to all, not all are "given" this understanding. "Flesh and blood" is incapable of revealing it.
In the parable of the four Soils Jesus said the Kingdom had come upon humankind but not for the purpose of shattering evil. It is now accompanied by no display of irresistible power. Rather, the Kingdom in its present working is like a farmer sowing seed. It does not sweep away the wicked (or none would have hope).
It seems that only those whose soil had first been prepared by God would later receive the seed and bear fruit. The farmer must sow the seed in ground that has been broken up and since good soil is not its natural state it must be prepared before scattering seed. In other words, unless God is the one who first makes our heart of stone into a heart of flesh, we will not receive the gospel message.
The Parable of the Weeds (Matthew 13:24-30
“Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Jesus affirms that in the midst of the present age, while society continues with its mixture of the good and the bad, before the coming of the Son of Man and the glorious manifestation of the Kingdom of God, the powers of that future age have entered into the world to create ‘sons of the kingdom,’ those who enjoy its power and blessings. The kingdom has come but society is not uprooted. This is the mystery of the Kingdom. The Kingdom has come into history but in such a way that society is not disrupted. The children of the kingdom have received God's reign and entered into its blessings. They must continue to live in this age. Intermingled with the wicked in a mixed society. The Kingdom that is present but hidden in the world will yet be manifested in glory.
The Parable of the Yeast - Matthew 13:33
“He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.’”
The parable teaches that one day the Kingdom of God will rule over all the earth, but has now entered into the world in a form that is hardly perceptible. The Kingdom of God is destined to permeate all human society until all the world is transformed by a process of gradual penetration and inner change. One day the Kingdom will prevail to such an extent that no rival sovereignty exists. The entire mass of dough becomes leavened.
In Jesus’ day and age, the mighty irresistible character of the eschatological Kingdom was understood by all Jews and would mean a complete change in the order of things. The present evil order of the world and of society would be utterly displaced by the Kingdom of God.
But Jesus’ ministry appears to have initiated no transformation like that. He preached the presence of the Kingdom but the world went on as before. How then could this be the Kingdom? Jesus’ reply was that when a bit of yeast is put into a mass of flour, nothing seems to happen. The leaven even seems to be engulfed in the flour. Eventually something does happen and the result is a complete transformation of the dough.
This idea of a gradual progression was unheard of by the Jews at the time but Jesus reiterated it again and again. No one could have guessed that Jesus’ small band of disciples had anything to do with the future, glorious Kingdom of God. However that which is now present in the world is indeed the Kingdom itself. This is the mystery, the new truth about the Kingdom.
The Character of God Revealed by the Kingdom Message
The God Who Seeks
The interesting element in Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom is paralleled by a new element in his teaching about God, that God is the seeking God. While the God of the prophets was active in history, the God of Judaism of Jesus’ day had withdrawn from the evil world and was no longer redemptively working in history.
Jesus’ message of the Kingdom is that God not only will finally act but that God was now again acting redemptively in history. God had now entered history in a way and to a degree not known by the prophets. The fulfilment of the OT promises was now taking place; the messianic salvation was present and the Kingdom of God had come near. God was visiting his people.
In Jesus, God has taken the initiative to seek out the sinner, to bring the lost into the blessing of his reign. He was, in short, the seeking God. This great truth is set out in three parables in Luke 15. He said it was the divine purpose to search out the sheep that had strayed; to seek the coin that had been lost; to welcome the prodigal into the family even though he did not merit forgiveness.
In each parable there is the divine initiative: the shepherd searches for sheep; the woman sweeps the house for the coin; the father longs for the prodigal's return. These parables illustrate, not primarily the sinfulness of mankind but of the love and grace of God.
The God Who Invites
Jesus pictured the eschatological salvation in terms of a banquet or feast to which many guests were invited. To invite sinners to the Great Banquet was precisely Jesus' mission. He called people to repentance but the call was also an invitation.
Jesus’ demand for repentance was not merely a summons to men and women to forsake their sins and turn to God; it was rather a call to respond to the divine invitation and was conditioned by this invitation, which was itself nothing less than a gift of God's Kingdom.
God is inviting sinners into the messianic blessing and demanding a favourable response to his gracious offer. What they cannot do for themselves, however, he does for them …
He is the one who brings to people the blessing he promises.
The God Who Fathers
God is seeking and inviting sinners to submit to his reign so that he might be their Father. An inseparable relationship exists between the Fatherhood of God and the Kingdom of God. In the eschatological salvation, the righteous will enter into the Kingdom of the Father. The prayer "Our Father in Heaven . . . your Kingdom Come," shows that Kingship and Fatherhood are closely related. It is a blessing and a relationship that cannot be enjoyed by all people.
Fatherhood is a way of describing the covenant relationship between God and Israel. This relationship is not grounded in fallen creation, but was created by the divine initiative. When Israel became faithless, God's Fatherhood was limited to the faithful remnant of the righteous within Israel.
Also, Jesus never called anyone but his disciples children of God. People become children of God by recognising his messianic sonship. God seeks people because he wants to become their Father.
The God Who Judges
God remains a God of righteousness retribution to those who reject his gracious offer. His concern for the lost does not change his divine holiness into a benign kindliness. God is seeking love, but he is also holy love.
The Power of the Kingdom - 1 Corinthians 4:20
Paul had some very arrogant opponents at Corinth. But he was confident that there was no kingdom power in their arrogance. So he says in 1 Corinthians 4:20, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” This raises two questions we will need to consider.
The Nature of the Kingdom of God
First, what is the nature of the kingdom of God?
Here it seems to be a present demonstration of power. But two chapters later in 1 Corinthians 6:9 it seems like a future realm: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?”
Is it future or is it present?
Is it a power to be exerted in the world by Christians or is it a realm that we will one day enter in the age to come?
Is it both?
How do these fit together?
The Power Exerted by the Kingdom Today
Second, what is this “power” that the kingdom exerts now in the church? Paul said the same thing back in 1 Corinthians 2:4–5,
“My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
What is this power?
Is it the power of 1 Corinthians 5:4–5 that the people use to deliver a member to Satan for the destruction of the flesh?
Is it the power of Romans 15:19, “the power of signs and wonders”?
Is it the power of Colossians 1:11, the power “for all endurance and patience with joy”?
And is this kingdom and this power for us today?
The Goal of Love
Notice that Paul wants to come with this power in love and a spirit of gentleness.
1 Corinthians 4:21 “What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?”
I don’t think he means that the rod of rebuke and discipline would be unloving. He simply means, Shall I come with disciplinary love or gentle affirming love?
But the important point for us is simply the connection between love, power, and the kingdom of God. The power of the kingdom is going to show itself in love. Love is our aim.
Our interest in these things is very practical:
- How shall we love unbelievers to Christ with greatest effectiveness?
- How shall we love our way into the unreached peoples with most effectiveness?
- How shall we most effectively love demonised, addicted, enslaved, broken people to the freedom of Christ?
- How can love most effectively break the power of entrenched institutional evil, like abortion?
Love and compassion are the fulfilment of all practical Christian living.
When you love, you “fulfil the whole law” (Romans 13:10). “Faith, hope and love remain, but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). “Faith working through love” is the only thing that is approved by God (Galatians 5:6). “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Love is the test of whether spiritual gifts and power amount to anything: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1–2).
Our goal is to learn how to love with the greatest power and effect that the kingdom of God will allow in this evil age.
An example of this outworking of the Kingdom message is what is called “power evangelism.” Almost every instance of successful evangelism in the New Testament involved some demonstration of supernatural power alongside the preaching of the Word—a healing, a deliverance, a prophecy, a resurrection from the dead, speaking of foreign tongues.
The point is that this part of New Testament evangelism is missing in the western church for no good biblical reason and that this accounts for some of our weakness and ineffectiveness. These confirming miracles (called “signs and wonders”) have a valuable function, not to replace the verbal gospel but to win a more open hearing for it and confirm it.
That’s the pattern in Acts 14:3, “So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. ”
The “signs and wonders” were the Lord’s direct miraculous witness to his Word.
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