Leave Everything Behind

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46

Just when we wonder what the Kingdom of God is like, Jesus helps us see a clearer picture with parable after parable describing the Kingdom.

In this case, what we learn is that the Kingdom of God is so valuable, such a treasure, that the only proper response to finding the Kingdom is to abandon one’s old life and give up everything in pursuit of it. This extreme devotion and sacrifice is seen as “over the top” in our American, pacified Christianity.

Yet, these men in these parables didn’t think it was extreme at all. The first man was getting more than he gave up by selling all he had and buying that field. That field contained treasure worth many times more than all he had. Instead of seeing it as extreme, we could see it simply as a wise investment.

To give up everything one has in order to get a hundred times what one has is not extreme; it’s wisdom. It would be foolish to do otherwise. It would be foolish and irresponsible to leave that treasure sitting in a field because he was too scared to sell all he had and purchase the field.

The second parable reiterates this same point. This was a merchant who understood business. He understood the pearl industry. He knew a valuable pearl when he saw one. When he saw the price tag on that valuable pearl, he knew it would require him to sell all that he had in order to buy it. But, being the savvy businessman that he was, he also knew the pearl was worth a hundred times what was on the price tag. This was not “extreme” or “radical” or “crazy.” This was a sound investment. This was the only sensible thing to do.

This is what the Kingdom of God is like! The only sensible thing to do once we encounter the Kingdom is to abandon everything in our old life and pay any price in order to be in it. Jesus paid the ultimate price for us to enter the Kingdom. And so when we give up everything to follow Him, there is nothing “radical” or “extreme” about it. It’s the only sensible thing to do.

When people leave behind their pride and reputation to be outspoken about Jesus, it’s not extreme. It’s the only sensible thing to do. When people cry out in worship for what God has saved them from, it’s not “over-the-top.” It’s the only sensible thing to do. When people give up everything for Jesus, (including sexual preferences, job promotions, their good reputation, addictions, the American dream, the ways of the world, physical security, etc ) they aren’t being radical. They are simply treating the Kingdom as the treasure that it really is.

The rest of us, who aren’t willing to give up what’s comfortable for the treasure right in front of us, we are the ones who are acting foolish. We, with our “respectable” Christianity, have made a poor investment, holding on to our childhood allowance because we’re afraid to lay hold of the riches of our true inheritance.

The next time someone seems too “crazy” or “radical” in their Christian faith, it might be good for us to remember how Jesus described the Kingdom in these parables.

Immeasurably More

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

Matthew 13:31-32

Those listening to Jesus would have understood how small a mustard seed is. But they also would have understood that a mustard seed grows into a plant no larger than a small shrub. To say that what is usually a small shrub would not only become the largest of garden plants but then would become a tree that birds can perch in was quite an imaginary leap.

Those listening to Jesus who knew their Old Testament prophets would have heard in this parable an allusion to something God said through His prophet Ezekiel. Yes, Jesus was obviously saying that the Kingdom starts small and becomes much bigger than expected. But He was saying even more than that.

Listen to how God speaks about the kingdom of Assyria through the prophet Ezekiel.

Consider Assyria, once a cedar in Lebanon,
    with beautiful branches overshadowing the forest;
it towered on high, its top above the thick foliage.
The waters nourished it, deep springs made it grow tall;
their streams flowed all around its base
and sent their channels to all the trees of the field.
So it towered higher than all the trees of the field;
its boughs increased and its branches grew long,
    spreading because of abundant waters.
All the birds of the sky nested in its boughs,
all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches;
all the great nations lived in its shade.
It was majestic in beauty, with its spreading boughs,
for its roots went down to abundant waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
nor could the junipers equal its boughs,
nor could the plane trees compare with its branches—
no tree in the garden of God could match its beauty.
I made it beautiful with abundant branches,
the envy of all the trees of Eden in the garden of God.

Ezekiel 31:3-9

Jesus was saying that the Kingdom of God will start small but will become more powerful, more majestic, more beautiful than even the great kingdoms of the world (like Assyria).

The Kingdom of God will tower higher than all the kingdoms of the world. It will become like a great cedar of Lebanon. All the nations and peoples of the earth will rest under its shade. It will be majestic in its beauty. Nothing will rival it.

Zechariah 4:10 reminds us not to despise the day of small beginnings. Things in the Kingdom of God always start small. Yet, if we are faithful, the Kingdom will grow up around us in ways that are wildly unexpected. The Kingdom grows in ways that are beyond our imagination. This is how the apostle Paul put it when he wrote to the Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3:20-21

God Is Not Your Enemy

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.’”

Matthew 13:24-30

This is one of the most important parables in all of the Gospel accounts. This is Jesus explaining how the Kingdom of God in the world interacts with the kingdom of darkness. More people need to spend time meditating on the truths of this parable, especially people who struggle with idea of why there is evil in the world.

One day God will end history and bring an end to evil in the world. One day all wrongs will be made right. One day God will intervene in the most dramatic of ways. There will one day be a harvest and a judgment, and no one will escape this reality.

But until then, we have to understand that the wheat and the weeds will both grow. The Kingdom of God will grow but so will the kingdom of darkness. The spread of the gospel, the bringing of justice, the power of God on display in the world will continue to increase. Yet, so will the ways the enemy sows his seeds of evil. Evil will also continue to increase. According to this parable of Jesus, God will one day remove evil from all of creation, but if He does so too early it does damage. Peter explains this phenomenon this way:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:8-9

God is not being slow as He waits for the final harvest. God is being patient. He wants more and more people to enter the Kingdom of God. The moment God removes evil from the world, history transitions into eternity. And once that happens, the doors shut on the wedding feast of the Kingdom (Luke 14:24) just as the doors of Noah’s ark shut before the rains came (Matthew 24:36-39). God is keeping those doors open as long as possible.

As we see the pain and suffering in the world, our reaction to the evil we witness should be the same as the farmer’s reaction to the weeds, “the enemy did this.” As Jesus later explains the parable to His disciples, He makes clear, “the enemy who sows them is the devil“(Matthew 13:39). God gets blamed for so many awful things because people don’t understand the truth of this parable. Satan is actively sowing seeds of evil and darkness into people and into the world. We have a real enemy and it’s not God.

As followers of Jesus, we should be encouraged that the Kingdom of God is growing and advancing. The Church will continue to prevail around the world. As Jesus said to Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it“(Matthew 16:18).

And just as we are encouraged by this truth, we need to be vigilant about the reality that the enemy will continue to try to advance the kingdom of darkness everywhere he can. As Peter says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour“(1 Peter 5:8). We need to be alert and of sober mind, aware that we will run into growing weeds even as the wheat grows.

Not every situation in your life is from God.

Have you been blaming God for something He’s not responsible for?

New Family

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 

1 Peter 1:3-4

We might see someone born into a royal family or an extremely wealthy family and catch ourselves wondering what it would be like to be born into such wealth and power. Yet, those of us who are in Christ have experienced exactly that reality even if we don’t realize it.

When we surrendered our life to Jesus and received the Holy Spirit in us as a deposit, a guarantee of the coming inheritance of the Kingdom of God, we were born again or born from above. We experienced a second birth. And in this birth, we were born into the Royal Family of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are now sons and daughters of the King. We are princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God.

Jesus told Nicodemus:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again (from above – literally in the Greek).” …

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

John 3:3, 5-8

When we are physically born into this world, we start with our body. Our bodies are a part of the family that we are born into. Then, in time, our soul (mind, will, emotions) and spirit become a part of the family as we learn to communicate and build relationships with our family members.

When we are born again, when we are born from above–from the kingdom of heaven–we start in the reverse order of our physical birth. We begin with our spirit. Our spirit is united with the Holy Spirit. Then, in time, our soul (mind, will, emotions) becomes more and more saturated with the Kingdom. Then in the day of the resurrection we will get a resurrected body, a glorified body fit for the Kingdom of God.

We don’t have to wish we were born into a different family, one with less dysfunction or more money. This is the beauty of the gospel. No one is locked into the inheritance of their earthly family. When we accept Jesus as Savior and King, when we surrender to Him and receive the Holy Spirit, we get a new family and a new inheritance.

We are born into a living hope that never dies. Our inheritance from God is one that will never perish, spoil or fade. It is an eternal inheritance that will last forever and that we have access to now through obedience and faith.

Out of Season

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

2 Timothy 4:1-3

Paul encouraged Timothy to be prepared in season and out of season. I’ve seen the importance of this in my own life.

There are moments when we do “in season” kind of ministry. We are the one asked to speak on Sunday morning or asked to lead a bible study. We are the one asked to pray for someone or answer a tough theological question. For the “in season” moments of ministry there is a process of preparation, creation, and execution/delivery. The moment is pre-planned and the expectations are established. These are the moments when you can be at your best and bring the best version of yourself and your gifting to the table.

However, the danger of these “in season” moments is that we can easily slip into using our own strength to accomplish the task rather than being dependent on the Lord. The secondary danger is that–especially for those with outgoing personalities–these are moments when we could be fake. With predetermined ministry moments where a person puts their best foot forward, there can be a temptation to be inauthentic.

This is why Paul wanted Timothy also to be ready in the “out of season” moments of ministry. These are spontaneous moments, unexpected moments when a ministry opportunity presents itself without warning. It could be someone asking for prayer at an unexpected time and place. It could be when the Holy Spirit spontaneously sends us to say something or do something that we hadn’t pre-planned. These “out of season” moments cannot be faked. They come from the overflow of our hearts. They come from the authentic place in our character that has been forged in the secret place with God.

This is why daily time with the Lord is so vital. Daily worship, prayer and scripture reading carve out room for the Presence of the Spirit to dwell with us intimately and continuously. When God’s Presence is always “near” and “at hand”(Matthew 3:2, 4:17; Mark 1:15) we can be ready to release the Kingdom at any time wherever we are. We don’t have to wait for a powerful moment in a Sunday worship service; we could be at work, at the grocery store, the coffee shop or the gym.

One reason these “out of season” moments are so powerful is because they are nearly impossible to fake. They communicate to the world that following Jesus isn’t about a show on Sunday but about daily life transformation born out of the grace of the gospel. People need to see the real, the authentic, the tangible power of the Kingdom on display in real life, or they will continue to surround themselves (their Facebook feed, their podcasts, their Twitter and Instagram) with teachers who just tell them what their itching ears want to hear rather than the truth of the Kingdom.

Fruits and Gifts of the Kingdom

Every fruit of the Kingdom of God can either be cultivated as a fruit or it can be imparted, given as a gift. When it is cultivated, it lasts. When it is imparted, it is experienced right in the moment but doesn’t always last. Let me explain.

Paul writes to the Ephesians:

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 

Ephesians 5:8-11

So the “fruit of light” is “goodness, righteousness and truth.” We know from Galatians 5:22-23 that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” And we know from Romans 14:17 that, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In other words, things of the Kingdom of God (like peace, joy, truth, goodness and righteousness) are things that grow in us by the Spirit as they are cultivated. They increase gradually over time as we walk in the Spirit and in obedience.

Yet, there is another side to each of these fruits. Take “righteousness” for example. We know that not only is it a fruit that grows in us but that it was also a gift given to us. Theologians say that the righteousness of Christ was “imputed” to us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” There was an exchange on the cross. We received the righteousness of Christ as a gift and He became our sin. Romans 5:17 calls what Jesus did for us by forgiving us and making us holy “the gift of righteousness.”

So righteousness first came to us, imparted to us, as a gift when we received salvation. Now, because of the Holy Spirit, righteousness grows in us as a fruit. And I believe all the fruits of the Kingdom can do this. They can both grow in us as a fruit and be imparted to us as a gift.

Take “peace,” for example. Peace is listed as a fruit of the Spirit, a fruit of the Kingdom. Yet we also see Jesus release it, impart it, as a gift. In John 14:27, Jesus said to His disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.” Then again when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room after the resurrection, He imparts His peace to them (John 20:19-21).

I have firsthand experience being in situations where I was praying with someone, and either I or the person I was praying with released, through the Holy Spirit, something to the person we were praying for. I’ve seen peace released to a person and watched them physically feel peace fill their body. I’ve seen joy released to a person who was depressed and watched them erupt in laughter for the next 10 minutes, only to tell us later that they haven’t laughed like that in years. I’ve seen love released to a person and watched them break down in tears as they got overwhelmed with the love of the Father.

I can’t say that I know how it all works; but I’ve seen it enough to believe that, somehow, each fruit can grow in us as we cultivate it or can be imparted to us as a gift. As is the case of any gift, it doesn’t seem to last as long as a cultivated fruit tree that continues to produce good fruit year after year. Or maybe a better way of saying it is that when these fruits come as imparted gifts, they come as seeds that must be cultivated if we want them to stay long-term.

Another way of saying it is that when these fruits come as imparted gifts, they give us just a taste of the Kingdom, revealing who we really are and what we really have in Christ–what’s available to us if we’d be willing to cultivate it.

Without God

If we were to run into a Gentile pagan from the first century who somehow time-warped to our culture today, most Americans would say things like, “They seem very nice and very religious. They are so faithful to be mindful of all of their gods…They are just a really good person…They are more religious than I am…I find their religious practices so interesting.” It might be similar to how most would respond to living next door to a Hindu swami.

Without question, as a follower of Jesus, we should be gentle, kind and loving to those of all faith traditions. It’s the fruit of the Spirit! Yet, the typical American attitude about the truthfulness of polytheistic religions is very different than the apostle Paul’s attitude.

This is what the apostle Paul said about the polytheistic faith of the Gentiles in the first century:

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 

Ephesians 2:11-12

Paul looked straight at those who used to worship a pantheon of gods and told them that not only were they separate from Christ in their old life but that they were “without hope and without God in the world.” It wasn’t just that they had a different religion than Paul. Paul wasn’t interested in affirming a universalistic religious pluralism. The worship of many gods was (and still is) completely bankrupt when it came to the promises of God, completely void of hope, and completely disconnected from the true God.

Before we follow Christ, here is how Paul describes us:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 

Ephesians 2:1-2

Following the ways of the world is the same as following “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,” otherwise known as Satan. He is called a “ruler” because he has a measure of power in this world to deceive and torment people. Satan is “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” He is actively trying to get people to reject Christ and live in unbelief. Satan is happy to have people believe anything but the truth of the gospel regardless of how “religious” they are.

Yet, Satan is a conquered ruler. He does exert a measure of power, but all of his authority has been stripped away by Jesus. Jesus now has all authority as He Himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”(Matthew 28:18).

Imagine an oppressive ruler who had been completely conquered and overthrown by good and generous Kingdom yet was still on the run trying to exert his power over the kingdom he once had. All of the oppressive ruler’s authority has been taken, but by using the power he has left, he tries to get people to believe he still has authority. And so he only has the amount of authority that people are willing to give him. He goes from village to village usurping the people’s authority who haven’t yet been told “the good news” of their freedom. And even those who have believed the good news are a target and must stand firm against his attacks (Ephesians 6:10-18).

This is why we can’t sit idly by in silence, but we must “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”, and teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:18). Following Jesus isn’t about having one set of beliefs among a myriad of comparative religions. It’s about a relationship with the rightful King and Lord.