by David Groendyk
Most Christians know the Sermon on the Mount, but did you know there are actually five sermons, or “discourses”, in Matthew? The Sermon on the Mount is the first, then chapters 10, 13, 18, and 24–25 are the others. Chapters 10 and 13 explain what our mission looks like for us as Christians spreading the gospel. Chapter 10 focused on equipping as people to face persecution, but chapter 13 tells us how the kingdom of God itself looks when it grows. Jesus does his teaching here primarily by explaining the kingdom through a number of parables.
The famous parable of the sower (vv. 1–9, 18–23) gives us a general synopsis of how it is the kingdom grows and what kind of responses we can expect from people as it grows. Parables can be hard to understand sometimes, but thankfully Jesus himself explains this one for us! One of the main takeaways we ought to have from this parable is that the kingdom of God grows by the spreading of the Word (v. 19). If we do not speak, people won’t be converted. You may have heard the popular saying, “Preach the gospel; if necessary, use words.” The parable of the sower cuts against that saying. It is the verbal proclamation of the gospel that leads to salvation. That’s not to say doing good deeds or mercy ministry are not important. They are. But those actions in and of themselves won’t save anyone. The Word is what saves people. You’ll see even the focus at the end of the chapter in verses 56–58 is the people’s response to Jesus’s teaching. People are transformed and the kingdom spreads through the preaching and teaching of the Word.
The parable of the sower also shows us the various effects the preaching of the gospel will have. Some will receive it, some will receive it at first then fall away, and some will never listen. Now, I don’t want to push this point too far, but I think it’s interesting that 75% of the responses to the Word in this parable are negative. We ought not be surprised or discouraged when Christians are the minority in this world. In fact, pay attention to this theme in the New Testament: we are often being equipped to live in this world as the minority. The parables of the mustard seed and the leaven teach similar principles (vv. 31–33). The mustard seed and the leaven are both small in size, at least in the beginning. The kingdom of God will look small in this life. And, what makes it more difficult, is that we don’t always see the kingdom working. Seeds do a lot of growing underground, and we can’t see what leaven is doing inside of bread. Likewise, the kingdom is advanced in people’s hearts. The Word does most of its work secretly in ways that we can’t see.
Therefore, take heart! Don’t be discouraged though it looks like this world is winning! Don’t be ashamed of this gospel though it might seem foolish! The kingdom of God looks small now, but there will come a day when it will be displayed in its full glory and majesty. The tiny mustard seed will become a huge redwood that birds from all over will come to nest in. God’s kingdom will be an entire new heavens and new earth someday, and we will not be put to shame for what we believed. Even when we see evil ones in the midst of the church (vv. 24–30, 47–50)—those who fall away, those who have tremendous moral failings, those who unnecessary divide the church—we shouldn’t be discouraged. I’m reminded of two verses of “The Church’s One Foundation”: “Though with a scornful wonder men see her sore oppressed, by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed, yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?” And soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song. The church shall never perish! Her dear Lord to defend, to guide, sustain, and cherish, is with her to the end; though there be those that hate her, and false sons in her pale, against both foe and traitor she ever shall prevail.”
Even as we trudge our way through the difficulties of the Christian life, we’re to remember the inestimable value of the kingdom we possess (vv. 44–46). There is nothing we should not be willing to sacrifice for the sake of attaining the kingdom. An inheritance of infinite value awaits us after this life. How would your life, your attitudes, your habits look different if you truly valued the kingdom of God as much as it should be valued?