Luke 13:18-30 (NRSV)
He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Great teachers constantly tell you the same central point over and over again in a variety of ways.
It doesn't matter if one is teaching history or geography or literature --- there is usually some underlying principle that continues to peculate to the surface.
Sometimes the message is shared verbally --- other times it is shared non-verbally
Jesus may have been the greatest teacher because throughout his brief life we constantly can see his central message.
And that message, of course, is the coming of God's kingdom.
There is no doubt, but that the Kingdom was Jesus focus.
The question that I am often left struggling with is:
· Is the Kingdom the focus of my life?
· Is the Kingdom the focus of Ridge Church?
When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God he uses a number of images to illustrate this concept.
But we are struck with a small obstacle in our attempt to understand this Kingdom that Jesus proclaims.
For most Christians --- when we hear the word Kingdom of God --- we think of heaven --- and when we think of heaven, we think of life after we die
The problem is --- when Jesus was talking about the Kingdom of God -- he wasn't talking about some place we go after we die --- rather he was talking about the world that God envisioned for us all here and now!
A few chapters later in Luke, Jesus will be asked about where the kingdom is --- because the Jewish expectation was that the Messiah of God would usher in a new age and that it would be recognizable to all.
Luke 17:21 The Message
Jesus, grilled by the Pharisees on when the kingdom of God would come, answered, “The kingdom of God doesn’t come by counting the days on the calendar. Nor when someone says, ‘Look here!’ or, ‘There it is!’ And why? Because God’s kingdom is already among you.”
God's kingdom is in our midst!
It is a PRESENT reality!
We have spent quite a bit of time talking about what that Kingdom might look like this summer.
What are some of the hallmarks that we have talked about?
Jesus understanding of God’s kingdom was strongly influenced by the Hebrew Bible prophets.
Micah tells us pretty clearly what the values of God’s kingdom will be:
Micah 6:8 (NRSV)
what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
So in our passage this morning, what is Jesus telling us about the Kingdom of God?
We have two very different illustrations on the Kingdom this morning.
In the first, Jesus says that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed.
I don't know about you --- but hearing that doesn't mean a great deal to me.
Matthew, in his version of this story does give us some more information.
He tells us that a mustard seed is the smallest of seeds.
Why would Jesus compare God's Kingdom to a mustard seed?
I mean the mustard plant is hardly very noble --- in the Hebrew Bible, God's Kingdom is often compared to a great and mighty Cedar --- but a mustard plant??
It would seem as if Jesus' emphasis is not of the glory of a future kingdom, but rather on the present sign of its presence.
This is a parable on the Kingdom's beginnings --- not on its future glory.
The Jewish people in the first century expected a mighty cedar --- but Jesus ministry was more like a tiny mustard seed --- a promise of the mature plant.
Then there is our second parable --- this time comparing the kingdom to some yeast.
It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.
Yeast is old fermented dough that is added to a lump of fresh dough in order to start the leavening process within it.
The Greek word that had been translated as mixed really means "to hide" --- and it implies secrecy rather than the normal part of preparing bread for baking.
So the woman is trying to “hide” the yeast in a bunch of flour
What is also interesting to note is that the woman tried to "hide" the yeast into a huge amount of flour.
Our passage tells us that she hid the yeast in three measures of flour ---
Three measures would be equivalent to about 50 pounds of flour --- enough to make bread for 150 people!
It seems to me that the point of this parable is made in a rather humorous fashion.
Like the yeast, the Kingdom is powerful and uncontainable.
Its enemies may seek to conceal it, but like the yeast it will eventually leaven the whole lump.
While the parable of the mustard seed dramatizes the presence of the kingdom in its insignificant beginnings --- the parable of the yeast reminds us that even small beginnings are powerful and eventually change the character of the whole.
It certainly is a metaphor for the ministry of Jesus --- who would have ever believed that an itinerant preacher from the Galilee would change the world!
Then we get to the difficult part of this passage ----
If the beginnings of the Kingdom is small -- but the result is great --- will many be saved or just a few?
That is the question that is posed to Jesus.
“Lord, will only a few be saved?”
As is typical with Jesus --- the answer is a paradox
Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.
When we hear this passage --- what do you begin to think of?
Once again, for most of us, we jump to an almost immediate association with heaven
"What must I do to get into heaven . . ."
But I don't think that is what Jesus is talking about.
I believe that this is an invitation to experience and be a partner in the Kingdom
Jesus has already told us that the Kingdom is working its way through creation --- i.e. the parable of the yeast
And Jesus is telling us that becoming part of the kingdom is not easy
If we want to become part of it we have to discipline ourselves to choose the narrow door --- not the wide and easy one.
As many of you know, when I turned 51 a couple of years ago, I decided to take up running.
When I turned 50 I decided to complete a marathon walking, but now I decided I wanted to try and actually run one.
For 10 months, 3 to 5 times every week, rain or shine, I would be out running.
Because one of the things I figured out pretty quick --- If I didn't do the hard prep work --- I would never be able to finish.
Two years ago this October, I completed the Chicago Marathon.
I got home late Sunday night from my road trip to LA and Phoenix
It was a long and arduous trip, but I am so thankful that I was able to do it.
I was in LA for just about 24 hours --- I wish I could have stayed longer --- but I still had to drive to Phoenix and deliver some furniture to my parents.
Monday morning, Nancy and I got up at 4 am to drive to Oak Brook Illinois to run a half marathon.
It was the worse race of my life
It's not that I wasn't prepared physically ---- I had done the training.
But I persevered and struggled my way across the finish line.
I think the same thing is true with the Kingdom.
We have to prepare ourselves physically
But we also have to prepare ourselves mentally
We need to recognize that the kingdom is an opportunity for us to participate with God in transforming the world into God's image.
But many of us want short cuts --- we want the reward without the hard work.
Jesus came with one goal in mind --- TO OPEN UP TO YOU AND ME THE KINGDOM OF GOD.
Jesus came to invite us to share in that kingdom.
Now while Jesus uses some challenging language here, in the parable of the yeast he has already told us that the Kingdom is complete.
All the flour rises, not just some of it.
The kingdom cannot be stopped!
Jesus wants us to focus on living with Kingdom values
Unfortunately, we have spent 2,000 years rationalizing the expectations of the Kingdom, and shifting from it being a way of life to a way of believing.
Jesus calls us to Kingdom life
Life filled with: