Daily Discipline #118
By Colleen Donahue
There is one topic more than any other that Jesus spoke about and that was “the kingdom of Heaven” or “the Kingdom of God”. In the four gospels, the kingdom of Heaven is mentioned 85 times and all but two of these are direct quotes by Jesus.
The Jews believed that “the kingdom” was eternal, universal and present. They saw God as king over all the earth – as the sovereign control over the universe. Therefore they saw the universe as God’s kingdom. King David wrote in Psalm 145:13 – “Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.”
But, the prophets looked for a time when God’s kingdom would take on a visible expression. They thought that through the promised Messiah the rule of God’s kingdom would be set up on earth. The Messiah would break through from Heaven into history, and the world would have to recognize and acknowledge His Lordship. The Jewish nation would be a world power with a wise and powerful king at the head of it. All of these attitudes and beliefs swirled in Jewish society at the time that Jesus Christ was born.
When Jesus started His public ministry, He came announcing that “the kingdom was at hand.” But what He spoke and what He did, didn't fit either of the Old Testament expressions of kingdom. He did not seem concerned about setting up a powerful Jewish nation. There was no inauguration of political reforms, or social injustice reforms. There was no rally of army recruits or build up of arms. When His disciples asked Him outright “Is this the time when you will reestablish the kingdom and restore it to Israel ?” His answer was that they should wait for the promised Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:6-8).
So, what was the kingdom of God? In what sense was it “at hand” and how was it to be “good news?”. Let’s look in this study at the beginning of Christ’s public ministry and teaching…..
“The Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand”- Why is This Good News?
KINGDOM - INTRODUCTION
“Kingdom” as used by Jesus Christ is not a place or a group of people. It was not confined to the Jewish nation. It is a community drawn from all nations whose membership is based on relationship with God. It is the rule of God in men’s hearts. To participate in the kingdom we become people that do the will of God. The kingdom is not even referring to the church but to men and women in any era who seek to live in harmony with God. (A person that is in the kingdom will be part of a body of Christ- the true church- but a “church-goer” may not be in the kingdom.)
The kingdom of God calls for people to respond – “to repent and believe the gospel”. Jesus is the entrance into the kingdom where He and His Father are king (as they are one with each other). Jesus came to set men free by snatching them from the kingdom of darkness and bringing them into the kingdom of God.
Jesus was opposed to the Jewish nationalistic hopes. He didn’t set about making any political or social reform program. Instead, He taught that a total reorientation of the mind was needed for behavioral reform. Instead of laying out new rules of conduct, He demanded new attitudes and values. A change of heart was needed before a change of behaviour could happen. He replaced regulations with principle.
Jesus ignored all of society’s barriers and prejudices. He showed that God’s love could not be restricted and He mingled freely with tax collectors, the poor, women, Gentiles, Pharisees and Samaritans.
The kingdom that Jesus Christ inaugurated was a hidden kingdom not visible to men of the world. It is the rule of God expressed through individuals that trust Jesus (and thus His Father) as king and give Him the Lordship of their lives. Although it is a hidden kingdom, it is also earthly in that it finds its expression in the here and now. The reality of God works through “citizen” hearts and then out to the world. Jesus, in coming to earth introduced God’s kingdom here on earth, but in His leaving earth He left His citizens the Holy Spirit as permanent resident in our hearts.
In these next verses Jesus presents a series of illustrations, each presenting just two options. A decision was needed by the people He spoke to. Would they commit themselves to Him and His teaching or would they continue to follow the teachings of the Scribes and Pharisees? It’s the same decision before us today.
Day 1-There are only two pathways and we all choose either one or or the other.
Deuteronomy 30:19/ Jeremiah 21:8 /Matthew 7:13-14
Day 2-The first impressions of a person can be deceiving. Their words and actions will soon give them away for we ultimately know someone by their good or bad “fruit”.
Day 3- What is the evidence that a man or woman has a personal relationship with the Father?
Day 4- Which one of these surfaces are you building the foundation of your life upon?
Day 5- Because the king, Jesus, had stepped into history, the kingdom of Heaven was “at hand” (Matthew 10:7). That is the motivation for our repentance or turning around to follow Jesus. The embodiment of truth.
Matthew 4:17 / Mark 1:15
For Citizens of the Kingdom There is A Call For New Values –(The Beatitudes)
When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) He was sending out a call for new values and priorities. We are not to focus on the externals that a law imposes, but on our “in secret” relationship with God the Father. What counts is a believer’s inner transformation that changes his life to be like the Father’s. Our character as it changes to become like God’s, will also leave its mark on the physical world that we walk in. Closely observing the Sermon on the Mount will give us light about the behaviour of the subjects that are part of the kingdom of God.
Notes about the Sermon on the Mount:
1. The first part of this sermon is called "The Beatitudes" (Matthew 5:3-10)
2. If you notice the first beatitudes (Matthew 5:3), and the last one (Matthew 5:10), you’ll see the common phrase “theirs is the kingdom of Heaven”. This uses a literary device called “inclusio” which indicates that the kingdom is the subject of each of the verses in between.
3. A believer is blessed by God in the sense of being approved by Him. This is not the same as a promise of happiness.
Day 6-The Poor in Spirit- these are people that are utterly dependent upon God in everyday part of their life. They see that in themselves they are humble and insignificant. Anything that they know and accomplish are the result of God at work in their life. What is the reward for this attitude?
Day 7- Those Who Mourn—This involves a true grief for sin (for ourselves and the world’s) and also refers to the person that truly cares about others rather than self. What is the reward for this attitude?
Matthew 5:4 / Isaiah 61:3
Day 8- The Meek – A meek person puts God and other men first. They have no desire to be successful at the expense of others and find contentment with whatever God has given them to enjoy. The meek are not “weak” people as some might think, but rather they are in character mild, patient, and long-suffering. God values this quality in us and has many promises for the meek.
Matthew 5:5/ Psalm 22:26/ Psalm 37:11/ Psalm 147:6 / Psalm 149:4 / Isaiah 29:19
Day 9- Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – When we hunger and thirst to know God and do His will , then He satisfies the human heart. That is what is meant that “they shall be filled.” Satisfaction can be found in God alone.
Matthew 5:6/ Psalm 34:10/ Psalm 42:1-3,5,11 / Psalm 63:1-8 / Isaiah 55:1-2 / John 7:37-39
Day 10- The merciful – these are needy people that look to God for their supply. Because they are needy they are sensitive to those needs in others as well. When we show mercy to others what do we receive back?
Matthew 5:7/ Micah 6:8/ Ephesians 2:4
Day 11- The pure in heart – God’s approval is given to the person that is conformed to His image – NOT to those that follow some rules. Pure is from the Greek word Katharos, meaning “clean”. When we trust in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins, He also gives us a new nature enabling us to “start over”. Jesus called it being “born again”. When we have been cleansed by Christ, it is like our eyes have been opened and we can “see God”. We can suddenly recognize His hand in our life and we are no longer afraid to come to Him.
Matthew 5:8/ Psalm 24:3-4/ 2 Corinthians 5:17 / Ephesians 4:22-24 / 1 John 1:9
Day 12- The peacemakers – Peacemaking involves a Christlike influence that will calm the storms of life. “Peace” in scripture often refers to health and wholeness. Jesus restores us to wholeness by restoring our relationship with God. The reward for this trait is to be called a “son of God” (or children of God) which means that we bear a likeness to God Himself.
Matthew 5:9/ Romans 8:16
Day 13- The persecuted – If our values and priorities are those of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10) then we will be approved by God but NOT by men! As we live our lives according to God’s will, we will increasingly find ourselves at odds with the world around us. Unintentionally, we will expose the flaws of those around us who in turn will hate us for it.
Matthew 5:10/ John 15:18-19
Christ’s Sermon on The Mount brought clarification about the Kingdom of Heaven. It was not what men had interpreted the Old Testament to mean but something completely new. The Kingdom of Heaven is established in men’s hearts and is marked by a personal relationship with the Father (because of the reconciliation that Jesus Christ would bring about). The kingdom would take form on earth within men’s hearts. But, because it is “in secret”, the kingdom will be hidden from those that are not members.
Jesus insisted the Rabbis of His day had misunderstood and misapplied its teachings. The Scriptures were not about behavioral conformity by a set of rules. The Scriptures were about the human heart and its need for transformation through a Father/child relationship made possible by Jesus. Christ’s listeners had to choose between the Rabbis legalistic approach or the true relational interpretation which Jesus presented.
OUR MISSION AS KINGDOM CITIZENS
Day 14- The first part of our mission is to be like SALT – which in Biblical times was used as a preservative as well as to enhance taste. If the citizens of the kingdom live by the values and priorities expressed by the Sermon on The Mount, then we will function as a preservative in society – delaying its decay.
Matthew 5:13/ Mark 9:50/ Luke 14:34-35
Note: It’s not WHAT we do but WHO we are that changes society. It is actually Christ within us being able to live His life out through our minds and bodies. If as Christians we lose the flavor and preserving that Jesus Christ brings, then as Christians we become useless to Christ’s mission.
Day 15- Our second mission is to be as light.
Read: Matthew 5:15-16/ Mark 4:21/ Luke 11:33
The Lord mentions two sources of light….
A. City set on a hill --- Houses in the Middle East were made of mud-brick, and then whitewashed. They did not blend in with the hillside but rather glowed in the reflective sunlight. In the same way we are not to blend into our non-Christian society. Again it is not so much WHAT we do but WHO we are. It is Christ within us.
B. A house lamp --- These were small lamps that always burned within a Mideastern home. They orientated you for finding the way just like our modern night lights. Our light might be small but yet big enough to guide even one person to walk. We are to just let Jesus Christ shine within us as we go about our daily tasks. Others will notice HOW we do things and be drawn to consider God.
THE MARKS OF CITIZENS IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Day 16- There will be a new focus in life. How will it shift?
Matthew 6: 19-24
Day 17- What will enable us to be free to seek first the kingdom of God?
Day 18- What will we stop doing?
Day 19- As Kingdom citizens, we are in a unique position to ask, seek, and knock directly on the door of our Father in Heaven. What can be expected from our prayers?
Parables of the Kingdom
In such a brief study it is impossible to plumb the depths of these short but packed parables that the Lord spoke. I suggest you read them through carefully asking the Holy Spirit to give you the truth needed. I will attempt to highlight some of the symbolism found in the stories.
Day 20-THE SOWER
Matthew 13: 3-9, 18-23/ Also related in: Mark 4: 3-9, 14-26 and Luke 8:4-15
Jesus makes it clear that individuals will respond differently to God’s Word. This differed from Jewish thinking that the Messiah would turn ALL of Israel and the nations to Himself.
The Sower – A sower’s job is to sow seed, not to make it grow.
The Seed – This is the Word of God. Since Jesus Christ came by the Word of God, He Himself IS the seed. (John 1:1)
The Soils—These represent different states of a man’s heart and their reaction to the gospel.
A. The wayside hearer – one with a closed mind and hard heart
B. The stony ground – One who hears with an emotional mind. Depth of faith, character and surrender are lacking.
C. Thorny ground – one who hears with a preoccupied, wandering mind. The cares of this world, the pursuit of riches, and the pleasures of this life distract the person from what is really important.
D. The good ground –one with a steadfast and understanding mind. The Word penetrates the whole soul of a man filling the mind, heart,conscience and will.
What kind of ground do you represent?
Day 21- THE WHEAT AND THE TARES
Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
The Lord presents the problem of evil in this parable. The real, the counterfeit; the good, the bad; these are woven within all areas of human society, including the church, and will be that way until Christ comes again. We are not to expect a perfect, utopian world here in this life.
In this story notice that there are two sowers, two kinds of seed, two harvests but only one good soil.
The field in this parable stands for the world- or the place that men live. It is the same world that God loves.
There are two sowers. The first sower, called a man, householder, or farmer, is Jesus Christ Himself. The second sower, called “his enemy”, is Satan. Satan and his forces are against all that is good, true, and noble. He uses men as his pawns. Jesus Christ is always the object of Satan’s malice. Satan always is somewhere behind evil.
Matthew 13:19/ John 8:44/ 1 Peter 5:8
Notice the time of evil sowing. It is “while he was sleeping”. Satan is a coward and always chooses to work in darkness. Evil is sown in secret.
Ephesians 6:12/ Proverbs 4:19
There are two products in this parable. The Devil sows the wicked amongst the good and the two together constitute Christendom today. Tares were the product of darnel which is a seed just like wheat. You can’t tell the difference until it is grown. This is Satan’s method: opposition by imitation. There are many who resemble Christians by going to church, praying, and reading the Bible. But, they are without Christ. The tares are “the children of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). They don’t have their origin with Satan but they have allowed their character to be molded by him.
John 8:44/ Acts 13:10/ 1 John 3:10
The wheat is called “good seed” or “children of the kingdom”. Jesus sows you and me (his good seed) in the world where we work and labor so that we can bear fruit.
There are two questions asked in this story. The first question is: “Did you not sow good seed in your field? “ (Matthew 13:27)
In part 1 of this question there is an acknowledgement that the field is the Lord’s, that He did the sowing, and that He sowed only good seed. Similarly, the earth is the Lord’s. He originated and first spread the gospel (or good news) and nothing but the gospel.
Psalm 24: 1-2 / 1 Corinthians 10:26
Part 2 of the question is an asking of the origin of evil and its continuance in the world today. The Lord’s answer is clear…..
Matthew 13:28a / Ephesians 6:12
The continued presence of evil is part of a mystery to be revealed. As Christians, our main concern is with victory over it rather than in a full explanation.
Romans 8:35,37/ I John 5:4
Because Jesus is the embodiment of the kingdom, a man’s reaction to Him places himself either as part of the wheat or part of the tares. It is not that God has judged him. He has judged himself.
Day 22- THE MUSTARD SEED PARABLE
Read: Matthew 13: 31-32 / Also recorded in:Mark 4:30-32 and Luke 13: 18-19
A. The grain of mustard seed. It was symbolic for small beginnings.
B. The sower. This is the Son of Man or Jesus Christ
C. The field. The field is the world
D. The great tree. Herbs grow very quickly into a tree like appearance. It suggests loftiness, expansion, prominence and the ability to feed and nourish.
E. The birds of the air. In this parable series these birds or fowls are agents of evil (Matthew 13:4,19). In fact they frequently are in scripture (See Jeremiah 5: 26-27/ Revelations 18:2). They symbolize Satan and his subtle forces.
History confirms the fact that from the very beginning of Christ proclaiming His message, the church grew rapidly to become a place of spiritual food and rest for many. At the same time however, it has also been a roosting place for the enemies of God who seek its shade and fruit for their own purposes. Satan and his forces have worked their greatest havoc from inside the church. Truth and error have become mixed so that today the church has been corrupted from its simplicity in Christ. It has become great on the earth but the meek and lowly heart of Christ is often missing. True Christianity has been replaced with “Christendom” which is a man-made visible church with Jesus Christ as only a nominal head.
As individuals in Christ’s body, we must keep out of our own lives all that is contrary to the purpose and spirit of Christ. The “birds of the air” must not be given lodging in the tree of our life.
Day 23-PARABLE OF THE LEAVEN AND THE MEAL
Read: Matthew 13:33-35
Various commentators interpret this parable as showing influence of the gospel until the whole world is converted to Christ. But, with careful study this seems a false interpretation. The Bible makes clear that evil will be side by side with good until the judgement day and in the end even some of the elect will fall away. In the three parables preceding this one we have seen the rejection of the divine word (the Sower), the opposition to the divine work (The tares), and the aborting of the divine design (in the mustard seed). This abortion of the divine design came because instead of scattering seed in all lowliness and instead of scattering it everywhere, the church has been concerned with building larger denominations, institutions and orders.
Leaven – throughout scripture this is symbolic of that which disintegrates, breaks up and corrupts. The meaning wouldn’t change for this one parable. Leaven, being hidden in the meal is symbolic of the way Satan’s subtle forces work from the inside of the church to cause confusion, divide and militate against the truth. Whenever Jesus used the word leaven it was as a type of bad, corrupt and unsound doctrine. For example, when he spoke of the “leaven of the Pharisees”, He was referring to their hypocritical formality and binding rules of religion. It is a truth that today the world is far from being converted while the church is being corrupted. Thus in this parable, believers are warned to beware of false doctrines which would be infiltrating all parts of the Kingdom.
Note: For the next four parables, Jesus is in the house with His disciples (Matthew 13:36) and speaks now to “men of faith” rather than “men of sight”.
The next four parables show that the inner secrets of God cannot be discerned by sight.
Day 24- THE TREASURE HIDDEN IN A FIELD
Read Matthew 13:44
In this parable, Christ gives us a picture of the world, and of His relationship to it. The treasure is the Kingdom of God hidden within men’s hearts throughout the world. The man is Christ who not only sold all that He had for our salvation, but He also bought the world. The world was purchased through Christ’s death -- not for its own sake but for the treasure that it contained.
2 Corinthians 5:19/ 1 John 2:2
Day 25 – THE MERCHANTMAN AND THE PEARL
Read: Matthew 13: 45-46
The merchantman is a picture of Christ seeking His church and willing to sacrifice all for it. Most interpretations reverse the meaning to say that it is men seeking Christ. But, Christ can’t be bought. To “buy and get Christ” is unscriptural. The sinner is not the active agent in choosing Jesus Christ. John 15:16 makes it clear that “you did not choose Me but I chose you!” The preciousness of the pearl consists not so much in its intrinsic value as the price paid for it. There are many symbolic truths about pearls which we don’t have space to go into, but here is one.
In Christ’s time, pearls were used for the adornment of kings. A man seeking pearls was doing it for the embellishment and glory of someone other than himself. So it is that Jesus Christ purchased us that He might present us to His Father who will eternally own us. We are the Father’s jewels and we bring Him the glory He desires.
Day 26- PARABLE OF THE FISH NET: GOOD AND BAD FISH
Read: Matthew 13: 47-50
The net is symbolic of the wide reach of the gospel. It is flung onto the sea which stands for the whole mass of fallen humanity.
Isaiah 57:20-21/ Daniel 7:3/ Revelations 13:1
The net gathers some of every kind but not all. This symbolizes the fact that the gospel will have no affect on many. While Jesus is the principle “fisher” of men, He doesn’t work alone. He uses the “saved” to save more. The fish “of every sort” (i.e. good and bad) within the net is another picture of the visible church. It will be a mixture of those that truly belong to the Lord and those that may be religious outwardly, while inwardly do not have the Spirit of Christ. While men perform an initial separation of the fish, it is the angels who will do the final separation at the time of judgement and they will be exact.
Matthew 13: 41-44
Therefore in this parable, we find two main points:
1. In the church good and evil are intermingled and
2. A time of separation has been set.
Day 27- THE PARABLE OF THE SCRIBE AND HOUSEHOLDER
Read: Matthew 13: 51-52
In this parable, Jesus used scribe as a synonym for disciple or “learner”. Jesus commissioned His disciples to be scribes. They were to interpret the mystery and message of the Kingdom of Heaven to an ignorant world.
The scribe is compared to a Householder who was the master and final authority of the property. As householders, we are called to serve up from our storehouse (or treasure) what others need as well as what we need. “Things old and new” are brought from the treasury. While the Law is old and the gospel is new, one builds upon the other rather than contradicts it. New meaning will come from old truths in every generation.
Can you see why Jesus taught so much about the Kingdom of Heaven? The rule of God within men’s hearts was His mission and every man and woman was infinitely precious to Jesus – so precious that He sacrificed His entire life to purchase us for God. While the purchase price has been paid, God has left it open for every man to decide for himself whether or not he wants to submit to God’s ownership. The decision to belong or not to belong to the Kingdom of God is made by every man sometime before his death. We either accept God’s Lordship, reject it, or don’t think about it. A decision to ignore it is a decision of rejection. Both decisions have eternal consequences but God’s heart for you is that you’ll spend eternity with Him.
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