- First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, Mississippi - https://www.fpcjackson.org -

Training for Kingdom Living

Now let me invite you please to take your copies of God’s Word in hand and turn with me to the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 13.  Matthew chapter 13 – on page 819 if you’re using one of the church Bibles.  We’re going to be reading from the forty-fourth verse through verse fifty-two.  Before we do that, let’s turn to the Lord together for His help as we pray.  Let us all pray.


Our Father, would You please send us the Holy Spirit so that the truths that He has inspired and preserved here now spread before us might indeed be etched into our hearts, received, understood, embraced, believed? Would You draw us from ourselves to our Savior?  Would You show us the infinite riches that is the treasure that is Jesus and enable us by faith to prize Him such that we let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also, that we may sell all that we have to possess the pearl of great price?  Work by Your Word, we pray now in Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Matthew chapter 13 at verse 44.  Hear the inspired Word of Almighty God:


“’The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up.  Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.


Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.


Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind.  When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad.  So it will be at the close of the age.  The angels will come and separate out the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


Have you understood all these things?’  They said to him, ‘Yes.’  And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’”


Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.


Failure at Kingdom Living


Penn Jillette is a one half of the well known illusionist act, Penn and Teller.  He is a decided atheist.  One day he was evangelized and said this about the experience – perhaps you’ve heard this before.  This was his response to having been evangelized as an atheist.  “I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize.  I don’t respect that at all.  If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever and you think that, well, it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward, how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?  I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and this is more important than that.”  Penn Jillette, not a Christian, he’s an atheist, but Penn Jillette can preach, can’t he?  He understands very well, at least in this one area, the implications of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.  To know the truth, to understand the truth, and not to share the truth is to fail in one of the most basic duties of Christian discipleship.


Help for Kingdom Living

This week we are beginning a short new series of sermons looking at the parables of Matthew 13, and I want to start by looking with you at the very last parable that Jesus tells in the sequence that we find in this chapter there in verses 51 and 52, because it is here that we learn Jesus’ objective in the disciples’ lives for the teaching that He has been giving them.  He wants them, verse 52, to be trained for the kingdom.  That is what He’s been doing with them as He’s taught them the parables; this is His goal.  It is training for kingdom living.  The crowds, who also heard, for the most part did not understand the parables.  They were not privy to Jesus’ explanations.  But the disciples, they were given both the parables and the interpretations.  They were given a fuller picture of the meaning of His words.  He wants them to grasp and embrace and be changed by the message.  Do you see?  Penn Jillette’s words sting my conscience; I don’t know about yours.  They remind me that I often fail to live like the disciple that I am, that I need help for faithful kingdom living, that I get scared, that I back off, that I often don’t speak when I ought to speak, that I run away when I should advance, and so I need instruction.  I need guidance and training. Don’t you?  That is the point of Matthew chapter 13.  It is basic training for the life of discipleship.  It is, if you like, boot camp for kingdom living. 


And verses 51 and 52 make that plain.  Would you look at the text with me please?  Verses 51 and 52.  I want you to notice three things here.  Fascinatingly, all of them have to do with the life of the mind.  First of all, the importance of understanding.  The importance of understanding for the life of discipleship.  Then secondly, the impact of understanding in a disciple’s life.  Here’s what understanding the truth that Jesus proclaims and the truth that Jesus embodies will to do us and in us.  Then thirdly, the implications for understanding the way we live out our discipleship.  Here’s what understanding the truth will do through us in the lives of others.  The importance, impact, and implications of understanding – I worked really hard to make all of those alliterate like that; I hope you’re awfully impressed.   The importance, impact, and implications of understanding.


I. The Importance of Understanding


First of all, the importance of understanding.  Jesus, up to this point, has given seven parables in Matthew 13, each of which highlights a different aspect of the kingdom of God.  He’s teaching about the new era that has exploded onto the scene into the midst of human history with His coming. Everything changes now that Jesus has arrived and these seven parables are explaining how and in what way.  Here we learn what the kingdom of heaven is like, how it grows, how it advances, what it’s worth is, what it’s value is.  What are the inner dynamics that shape its progress in the world?  What are the consequences of belonging to it or remaining outside of it? That has been the burden of His teaching in Matthew chapter 13 but the disciples have frankly struggled to grasp the message.  They are scratching their heads; don’t understand the point at all well.  I think we can detect perhaps some frustration behind the question of verse 10. “Why do you speak to them in parables?”  Perhaps even a little more behind verse 36.  “Explain to us the parable of the weeds.”  They need help; they’re looking for explanations.  They want a copy of “Parables for Dummies.”  They’re looking for the Cliff Notes on the teaching of Jesus. 


Understanding vs. Feeling

And Jesus knows that they’ve struggled, and so now as He brings this season of teaching to its conclusion, not unreasonably He turns to them with a question and asks, “Do you understand all these things?”  Clearly this is one way we know that Jesus was not Scottish because the disciples immediately say, “Yes, we understand everything that You said perfectly!”  Actually it must have been immensely encouraging for them as they’ve struggled to comprehend Jesus’ message to know that despite their confusion their Master really does want them to understand.  He wants them to understand.  We live in an experience-driven age, don’t we?  We tend to assess truth by how it feels.  Our moral values are shaped by whether or not something feels right to us.  But that is not where Jesus starts in the whole area of Christian discipleship.  The priority, the first step, the primary place is given to the mind, the understanding.  In His explanation of the parable of the sower in verse 23, the great difference between those who receive the seed of the Word of God and bear fruit and respond to it well and those who do not, the receptive good soil and all the other soils, the great difference, verse 23, is that the good soil hearers understand the message.  They’re the ones who bear fruit so when Jesus asks them, “Do you understand all these things?” He’s not asking if He has been clear; He’s asking if the Word of God has sunk down deeply into the only seed-bed that can produce lasting fruit.  He’s asking if the message has penetrated their understanding.  “Do you understand these things?” 


That’s the first question that Jesus asks us.  It’s the bedrock on which a living faith that trusts and obeys is built.  Understanding, knowledge full-orbed, intelligent in the complete Biblical sense of the term, relational, intellectual, experiential understanding – that is basic to the life of discipleship.  And so this is the great question that Jesus asks you this morning.  First, fundamentally, “Do you understand?”  You’ll never come to trust in a Jesus you do not know and believe to be true?  Of course you need more than understanding.  Even the devils believe in an historical formal sense, Paul says, and tremble.  The Devil’s a better theologian than all of us.  He knows the truth but he does not rest on it and believe it.  We need more than mere understanding.  But you can’t get by with mere feeling, with an experience, much less with an abstract bare decision.  You do need to understand to grasp the truth clearly. 


Preaching, the Life of the Church, and the Renewal of the Mind

That, by the way, is why preaching is so important in the life of the church.  This is preaching’s basic mandate.  It’s not about giving practical tips for productive parenting; it’s not a matter of plucking at the heartstrings or moving the emotions.  Preaching aims at the mind.  Jesus wants you to understand.  “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed” – Romans chapter 12 and verse 2.  Be transformed; have your life transfigured, completely changed inside-out, renovated.  How?  How will you be transformed?  By the renewing of your mind.  A changed life is simply the pervasive effect of a renewed mind under the ministry of the Word of God and the blessing of the Spirit of God.  Paul says, writing to Timothy in 2 Timothy chapter 2 at verse 7 – “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.”  Think over the message of God coming through Paul and understanding will be given.  The target the apostolic Scriptures aim at as they seek to incline your will and fire your affections so that you say “No” to sin and “Yes” to obedience is your mind.  If you’re not thinking more deeply about the Word of God and the person of God and the Son of God and the Spirit of God and the glory of God and the grace of God, if you’re not longing for clearer views of the Gospel of God, you are not growing as a disciple in the kingdom of God.  A thoughtless disciple is a contradiction in terms, like a lightless sun or a tiny giant.  A walking contradiction.  A thoughtless disciple is a contradiction in terms. 


Are you looking for some emotional encounter with God?  Are you seeking a sense of transcendence?  Maybe you’re tempted by charismatic claims to ecstatic, irrational experiences of God.  Do not be misled.  Don’t be misled.  There may yet be wonderful experiences of the presence of God to break into your life that will thrill you and humble you and make you worship, but the authenticity of all spiritual experience can be gauged by this great criterion.  Has it been mediated to your emotions and to your will through your mind, through your understanding as it has been driven into the Scriptures?  “Do you understand these things?” is the question Jesus presses onto the disciples.  The understanding is the bedrock on which a life of Christian discipleship rests.  A thoughtless disciple, a disciple who doesn’t want to read everything he can get his hands on, everything she can get her hands on that will show them more about Jesus and His sufficiency, that will help them in their battle with sin, that doesn’t want to wrestle with things they do not yet understand, pleading with God that He might shed them light on those difficulties from His Word, such a Christian is a contradiction in terms.  A thoughtless disciple is a contradiction, a walking contradiction.  The importance of understanding.


II. The Impact of Understanding


And secondly, notice from our passage what understanding Jesus’ words will do in us and to us as the light begins to dawn and we begin to grasp the truth with increasing clarity.  Here’s the impact of understanding.  Look at verse 52 again.  “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house,” and so on.  To understand Jesus’ words, He says, is to be like a scribe trained for the kingdom.  That’s a remarkable statement when you think about it.  Remember who Jesus was speaking to.  The men, the disciples that He was addressing for the most part, they were uneducated fishermen.  There was Simon the Zealot; he was a revolutionary.  There was Matthew the tax collector who perhaps had something of a rudimentary education.  But these are not exactly the brightest and best.  This is hardly Jesus’ brain trust assembled to launch an intellectual revolution.  Not at all.  Extraordinarily ordinary men.  Unremarkable men; that’s who they were.


There was a group of people in the culture of the day who were the intellectual elites, the teachers of the law, the official scribes.  They were trained in the interpretation of the Torah, they enjoyed considerable social prestige.  They were the sophisticated teachers of the community.  And here Jesus calls the disciples – these are men with calluses on their hands.  They’ve never been to university – He calls them scribes trained for the kingdom of heaven. Rough, ready, working men with none of the sophisticated rhetoric or the polished erudition of the teachers of their day and Jesus says, “If they understand My message, if you understand My message, you are light years ahead of the pack.  You’re the real scribes, trained for the kingdom.”  To understand the message of Jesus is to be trained as a scribe for the kingdom.  That’s quite an upgrade in social status, to get the first principles of who Jesus is and what His kingdom brings is to be light years ahead of the learned and the wise who do not know Him. 


The Foundation for Kingdom Training

We become scribes trained for the kingdom.  That word “trained” there really simply means disciple.  In these parables, as in Jesus’ whole ministry, He is creating disciples who are ready for life in the kingdom that He is bringing.  Now there are all sorts of suggestions today about discipleship, aren’t there?  Some of them are even good suggestions.  Fellowship is important. You need a mentor.  Accountability is key.  Scripture memory will stand you in good stead.  Get into a small group.  Those are all good suggestions, but don’t miss the basic trick to discipleship.  Jesus says the foundation of growing as a disciple is really rather simple.  It is to hear His words and to understand it in faith.  To know the truth and the truth will set you free.  To get into the Word.  To be exposed more and more and more to holy Scripture.  To be exposed to more Bible.  That’s the basic key to being trained effectively for kingdom living. 


Maybe today you find yourself running around, burning out; you’re exhausted, you are weary, you are doing, doing, doing, and the one thing needful has been neglected.  Please don’t confuse going to more meeting with growing in Christian holiness.  Please don’t confuse busyness with godliness.  Please don’t think that your discipleship mechanisms are the same thing as discipleship itself.  Don’t think that serving is the same as sanctification.  If you’re like me, what you want is a shortcut, right, something that will deliver an instant dose of spiritual vitamins and bypass the need for hard mental work on my part. 


Call to Discipleship, A Hunger for the Word

But Jesus’ call to discipleship, do you see, is a call to think.  How were Matthew and James and John and Simon and the others, how were they trained as scribes for the kingdom?  They listened to Jesus and gradually perhaps but really they grew in their understanding of His message and it revolutionized their lives.  That’s what Mary was doing at Jesus’ feet in Luke 10, remember?  Mary and Martha – Martha’s busy, Mary’s sitting at Jesus’ feet.  She wasn’t sitting there, doe-eyed, you know, having an experience.  What was she doing?  She was hanging on her Master’s every word.  She was thinking deeply about the teaching of Jesus Christ.  She was wrestling to understand and bring her life into alignment with the direction Jesus’ word was pointing her.  She hung on His every word.  Is that you? That is the appetite and posture of a disciple.  Do you want more Bible, not less?  Are you impatient with Bible-teaching, Biblical instruction?  That’s what it means to be trained for the kingdom of heaven.  The Bible is Jesus’ training tool wielded by the power of the Spirit in your life to make you a scribe in His kingdom. 


III. The Implications of Understanding


The importance of understanding, the impact of understanding; finally the implications of understanding.  Jesus’ word trains us for kingdom living, that’s what it does in us, but a scribe who’s been trained as a purpose beyond themselves.  Jesus’ goal is not simply to do something to us and in us, but to do something through us in the lives of others.  Look at the text one more time, verse 52 – “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”  A kingdom scribe, a disciple of Jesus Christ is like a wealthy householder who opens his treasury now – why?  With what end in view?  Is it to dazzle everyone with his own affluence and wealth and make you impressed by how well-off he is?  Is it to gloat over his riches?  Not at all.  He brings out of his treasury, things new and things old, for the good of others around him to share, do you see.  That word “treasure” I wonder if you noticed is the same word used back in verse 44 for the treasure hidden in a field that the man finds and sells all he has that he might buy the field and possess the treasure.  It is the great prize of more value than anything else this life may offer.  The great prize, of course, is the Lord Jesus Himself.  He’s the treasure.  He’s the pearl of great price.  He is – His person, His work, His message, His obedience and His blood, His cross, His empty tomb, His reign at the Father’s right hand, that all provides the key. 


That is the point in which old and new find their integration; old and new are alike – part of the treasury that is all about Him.  The old things and the new things here probably refer to the old covenant Scriptures that promise the coming Messiah and spoke about Him and explained why He came and the new things the fullness of revelation that dawned when Jesus stepped onto the scene and brought all of those promises to their fulfillment.  But both of them make sense only with reference to Him, do you see?  The old and the new covenant Scriptures is the treasury that speak of and sparkle with the glory of the person and work of Jesus Christ and we’re to draw from it, not for our own benefit alone but for the good of those around us.  To be a scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven is to bring out treasures for the good of those around us.  We’re given instruction not just to savor; we’re given instruction to share. 


Truth and Treasure Worth Sharing

And now we’re right back where we started, aren’t we?  Remember Penn Jillette’s challenge? Let me read it to you again.  “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?  I mean if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it and that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you, and this is more important than that.”  The mark of a disciple trained for the kingdom is not simply that they know the truth and love the truth and want more of the truth; it is that they share the truth they prize with others that they may come to prize it too.  They’re working at opening the treasury to display Jesus to all and to any.  They want people around them to taste and see what they’ve tasted and seen.  And I think actually Jesus’ point here is even more radical than that.  He’s not simply saying, “This is what a disciple ought to do.  He ought to share.  She ought to share the message with others.”  I think He’s saying, “This is what a true disciple always will do as the Word of God gets hold of their heart.”  You won’t be able to keep it to yourself when the loveliness of Jesus captures all your gaze, when the sufficiency of Christ becomes the rock on which you rest for time in eternity, all of your weight, all your dependence.  When He is increasingly all to you, you will find it increasingly difficult to keep Him to yourself. 


Remember the woman of Samaria in John 4.  That was the case with her, wasn’t it, when she met her Messiah.  What was the first thing that she did?  She ran, she ran right back to the town filled with people that despised her and rejected her in utter self forgetfulness and said to them all, “Come and see a man who told me everything that I’ve ever done.  Could this be the Christ?  Come and see my Jesus.  Come and let me show you the treasure that I have found.”  I wonder if you are a disciple.  Do you understand these things?  This morning Jesus is calling us to enter His school.  He wants every disciple to be trained for kingdom living by His Word, not simply so that we might grow but that we might be useful in bringing the Gospel to bear upon the world, to bring from the treasury of Scripture glorious gems to turn before their eyes, sparkling with the magnificence of Jesus Christ.  May the Lord be gracious to us to train us for kingdom living by wielding His Word with power in our hearts today and in the days ahead.  Shall we pray together?


Our Father, we bless You for Your holy Word.  Forgive us when we have turned to other things for our sustenance, or when we have glutted our appetites on the fast food and junk of the world and are left with little hunger for the truth of Your Word.  Would You awaken in us today by Your Spirit through this text a hunger for more of Jesus that we might be trained for the kingdom to bring out of the treasury things new and old for the glory of the Master’s name and the salvation of the lost?  In whose name we pray, amen.