Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ as recorded by the apostle Matthew. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the first nineteen verses of the twentieth chapter. When you come to this particular passage of scripture you will find the apostle Matthew transitioning within the gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ to another parable which Jesus spoke concerning the kingdom of heaven. If you have spent time reading the gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ thus far within this gospel you will find that Jesus has already begun teaching parables concerning the kingdom of heaven. If you transition back to the thirteenth chapter of this gospel account you will find Jesus setting forth a series of parables intended to reveal spiritual truths and mysteries concerning the kingdom of heaven. Eventually there came a point within the life and ministry of Jesus Christ when He sought to set forth the reality concerning the kingdom of heaven in order that those listening to and hearing Him would be stirred within their hearts and spirits to seek an understanding of the kingdom of heaven. Within the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find Jesus beginning to speak to the great multitudes and crowds of people who sought Him out in order that He might begin teaching them concerning the kingdom of heaven and the mysteries surrounding it. It is absolutely necessary and imperative that we recognize and understand that which Jesus Christ sought to do, for although He spoke in parables which were essentially allegorical realities concerning the kingdom of heaven, He deliberately and intentionally sought to entice men and women to go deeper and to diligently hearten unto the words He was speaking. Jesus sought to speak directly unto the crowds of people who gathered together before Him, and began speaking parables concerning the kingdom of heaven in order that He might instill a desperate hunger within their hearts to know, to understand and to seek after the kingdom of heaven.
It’s interesting and worth noting that when Jesus first engaged Himself in public ministry within and upon the earth, one of the very first declarations He made was that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. This declaration concerning the kingdom of heaven being at hand was directly connected and linked to a powerful call to repentance within the hearts and lives of those who would hear, listen, walk with and follow Him. Essentially and in all reality one could not experience the fullness of the reality of the kingdom of heaven without and apart from repentance—a willful and deliberate turning away from and forsaking sin within their hearts and lives. It’s worth mentioning that only a short while after calling men and women to repentance for the kingdom of heaven was at hand, Jesus would instruct and invite men and women to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all the things they need within their lives will be added unto them. Please don’t miss the awesome and wonderful reality that the kingdom of heaven is something of supreme importance and intrinsic worth and value to the true and authentic heart of those who would seek to follow after Jesus Christ. Jesus began His public ministry inviting and calling men and women to repent for the kingdom of heaven was at hand, but He would transition to a place where He without hesitation and without reservation instructed men and women to seek first the kingdom of God. We dare not, we cannot, we must not, we ought not to miss or lose sight of this all important reality, for that which Jesus the Christ is seeking to accomplish is bringing men and women unto a place where the kingdom of heaven is their one desire and their sole pursuit. By inviting and instructing men and women to seek first the kingdom of heaven, that which Jesus was doing was calling men and women into a place where they allowed the kingdom of heaven to completely and totally infiltrate their lives, and be that which they desired and pursued with all their hearts. Jesus the Christ placed a tremendous emphasis on the supreme importance of the kingdom of God when He instructed and invited men and women to seek first the kingdom of God, as well as His righteousness.
SEEK FIRST! Oh please don’t be too quick to move past this particular invitation issued by Jesus Christ, for that which Jesus was seeking to do was invite men and women to place the kingdom of God above everything else they needed, everything else they desired, everything else they wanted within their hearts and lives. It’s important to note that Jesus never denied the fact that men and women had needs within their hearts and lives—only that they were to make the kingdom of God their supreme pursuit and sole ambition. When Jesus instructed and invited men and women to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, what He was doing was calling men and women to allow the kingdom of God to be at the very forefront of their pursuits and desires. The kingdom of God was to be something which became of tremendous worth and value within their hearts and lives, and something they desired above everything else. In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called and invited men and women to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then several chapters later He begins speaking to them concerning the kingdom of heaven. When you come to the thirteenth chapter or the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find Jesus beginning to transition beyond declaring the kingdom of heaven was at hand and inviting men and women to seek first the kingdom of God, thus making it of utmost significance and importance within their hearts and lives. In the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ we find Jesus beginning to set forth specific realities concerning the kingdom of heaven—albeit realities that were hidden and concealed within the parables. Using allegories, stories and illustrations, Jesus would begin setting forth and speaking unto men and women concerning the kingdom of heaven and what the kingdom of heaven was like. This kingdom of heaven which He Himself came to the earth to set up and establish within the hearts of men in the midst of earthly kingdoms and empires would begin to be spoken of in terms that would require men and women to engage themselves in diligent pursuit of an understanding concerning the kingdom of heaven. In other words, not only did Jesus invite them to experience the kingdom of heaven itself, it Jesus invited men and women to know and understand the kingdom of heaven.
I am convinced that before we can gain a proper knowledge of that which is found in the twentieth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, it is necessary and imperative that we pay close attention to the parables which preceded this one. I believe that the parables which Jesus spike should not be understood independent from each other, but should be understood in light of each other. There would be those who would wish to study and examine the parables which Jesus spoke concerning the kingdom of heaven as separate from each other, and yet they don’t recognize or realize that the parables actually form one beautiful crafted masterpiece revealing the wonderful truth concerning the kingdom of heaven. The more I read the words which are found and contained within the New Testament gospel of Matthew, the more I am completely and utterly convinced that the words we find within its pages concerning the kingdom of heaven are one incredible work of art that brings us face to face with an overwhelming picture of the kingdom of heaven. In all reality, I am convinced that the parables which Jesus told concerning the kingdom of heaven should not only entice us to seek after the kingdom of heaven itself, but it should also entice us to seek a powerful understanding concerning the kingdom of heaven. I am convinced that it is not enough simply to seek first the kingdom of God, for we should also seek to understand the nature and characteristics of the kingdom of heaven as it was set forth by Jesus the Christ through His various parables. What’s more, is that the reality concerning the kingdom of heaven begins with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount when He not only laid forth the attitudes of the kingdom, but He also laid forth the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven as directly set against and diametrically opposed to the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes which was according to the law of Moses. Before we delve into the parables which are found in the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew concerning the kingdom of heaven, we must first recognize and understand both the attitudes of the kingdom, as well as the righteousness of the kingdom. We cannot truly and properly understand the kingdom of heaven which Jesus came to the earth to set up and establish without first understanding both the attitudes and the righteousness of the kingdom, for they set the foundation of the kingdom of heaven which Jesus would set up and establish within and upon the earth in the midst of the hearts of men, as well as the kingdoms and empires of the world. Consider if you will—first the attitudes of the kingdom of heaven, and next the righteousness of the kingdom as set forth by. Jesus Christ Himself in the Sermon on the Mount:
“And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:3-12).
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or not tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. Ye have heard that it was said but them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Race, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fools, shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Verily I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing. Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: but I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. Again, ye have heard that it hath been said, by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: but I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: nor by the earth; for it is His footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yeah; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall Sam it’s thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:17-48).
If there is one thing we must recognize and learn concerning the kingdom of heaven—both from the attitudes of the kingdom, as well as the righteousness of the kingdom—it’s that the kingdom of heaven is all about the heart. We cannot, we dare not, we must not seek to understand the kingdom of heaven without first recognizing and understanding that the kingdom of heaven is centered upon the reality of the heart of a man or a woman. In all reality, it might very well be said that at the very heart of the kingdom of heaven within and upon the earth is the heart of a man or a woman. The kingdom of heaven is not merely an external reality which is found here upon the earth within and among the kingdoms and empires of men, but is an expression of the heart that is found within men. If you read and study the Sermon on the Mount you will quickly discover that while Jesus begins the sermon speaking and teaching about the attitudes of the kingdom, He eventually transitions to speaking concerning the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven, which is vastly different than the righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes. The righteousness of the scribes and the Pharisees was an external righteousness that was based entirely and solely on external realities and appearances, while the righteousness of the kingdom was an inward righteousness that touches and transforms the heart. It is absolutely necessary that we recognize and understand that the righteousness of the kingdom centers upon the heart of a man or a woman, for true righteousness cannot and should not be understood based on external appearances and realities, but inward realities within the heart of a man and women. Oh, how many of us cannot understand the kingdom of heaven the way it was intended to be understood simply because we aren’t willing to look at, deal with and confront the heart within us? How many of us are so caught up on external realities and external appearances that we completely neglect and lose sight of the reality that the kingdom of heaven is entirely and altogether about the complete and total transformation of the heart within a man and a woman? When Jesus speaks concerning the righteousness of the kingdom, that which He is doing is setting forth a righteousness that begins with and is found within the heart of a man and a woman—a righteousness which is produced by repentance for the remission of sins, and then a deliberate and willful pursuit of Jesus who is the Christ and Lord. The kingdom of heaven demands a righteousness that is altogether different from the righteousness which is of the scribes and Pharisees, for the righteousness of the kingdom takes that which the Law of Moses demanded and required, flips it on its head, completely flips the script, and demands an entirely different righteousness—one that is found within the heart and is not entirely visible to the natural eye.
When you come to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you are immediately brought face to face with the parables which Jesus began teaching in order that He might set forth the realities and principles of the kingdom of heaven. One thing that has often puzzled and intrigued me concerning the teaching of Jesus is the seemingly interchanging of “the kingdom of heaven” and “the kingdom of God.” If you read and study the New Testament gospel of Matthew—as well as the three other New Testament gospels—you will quickly discover that Jesus not only spoke of and referenced “the kingdom of heaven,” but He also referenced “the kingdom of God.” As I am sitting here right now I can’t help but wonder within my heart and mind whether or not there is a difference between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God. Since there are essentially two distinct and two different titles for the kingdom within the life and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ, is it possible that there are essentially two different realities being spoken of and expressed within the teaching and preaching of Jesus the Christ? Is it possible that there is in fact a difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven, and one is directly contingent upon the other? I can’t help but wonder if when Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God, and when the New Testament authors speak of the kingdom of God, what they are actually speaking of is the kingdom of God which exists in heaven where the very throne of God is. I can’t help but wonder if the kingdom of God refers to that place in heaven where the living God of heaven and earth sits upon the throne encircled round about by myriads upon myriads of angels, along with seraphim and cherubim—not to mention the great cloud of witnesses which have run the race before us. Is it possible that the kingdom of God refers to that reality which exists beyond the natural eye and is found in the supernatural realm of eternity where our Heavenly Father sits upon the throne in heaven? When we speak of the Kingdom of heaven, do we and are we speaking of that which is established within and upon the earth? In other words, are we speaking of that which is a direct extension of the kingdom of God which exists in the realm of eternity? Is the kingdom of heaven the direct manifestation of the kingdom of God within and upon the earth—not only within the hearts of men and women, but also directly in the midst of the kingdoms and empires of men in the earth? The more I read and the more I study the words which Jesus the Christ spoke concerning the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, the more I am convinced that the kingdom of heaven is the means and method by which the kingdom of God is manifested within and upon the earth. When we speak of the kingdom of heaven, that which we are actually speaking about is the kingdom of God being manifested upon the earth within and among the kingdoms of men through, by and with the hearts of men and women who walk with and follow Jesus the Christ.
With that being said, it is necessary that we now turn and direct our attention to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, for within this chapter we find a series of parables spoken by Jesus concerning the kingdom of heaven. What’s more, is that not only do we find a series of parables set forth by Jesus before those great multitudes who gathered before and unto Him to listen to and hear Him speak, but we also find Him explaining unto His disciples why He spoke in parables in the first place. We will first read the words which Jesus spoke concerning His reasoning for speaking in parables, and we will then consider the actual parables which Jesus spoke unto the multitudes:
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them” (Matthew 13:11-17).
“Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:3-9).
“The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? From whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto Him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matthew 13:24-30).
“The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matthew 13:31-32).
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened” (Matthew 13:33).
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matthew 13:44).
“Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it” (Matthew 13:45).
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:47-50).
Each of these parables set forth within the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew were taught by Jesus in order that He might express a wonderful and powerful reality concerning the kingdom of heaven, and what it looks like within and upon the earth. When we come to the nineteenth chapter we find Jesus again revisiting His teaching concerning the kingdom of heaven, and speaking forth yet another parable concerning the kingdom of heaven. In the twentieth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew, Jesus speaks forth a parable concerning the kingdom of heaven, and describing the kingdom of heaven being likened unto an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. This householder agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, and sent them into his vineyard. This same householder would go out again at the third hour of the day and saw others standing idle in the marketplace. Upon seeing others standing idle in the marketplace, this household invited them to work in his vineyard, and whatever is right he would give unto them. This same reality would happen again at the sixth and ninth hours, as this householder saw others standing in the marketplace and invited them to work in his vineyard. Finally, at the eleventh hour the householder went out again and found others standing idols, and asked them why they stood idle all day. When this householder asked them why they stood idle all day, they responded to him by declaring that no man had come along and hired them. Upon hearing their reply, the householder invited them to go and work in his vineyard alongside all those who had already been invited to labour within it. Thus far, by the time we reach the eleventh hour, the householder had already issued five distinct invitations to work and labour within his vineyard, and now has a great number of labourers working diligently within his vineyard. When the evening came, however, and the householder sought to pay those who had agreed to work in his vineyard, those who were invited last were called first to receive their wages, and were given a penny for their labour and their work. The householder—beginning with those who were hired last and working through until he reached those who were hired first—would give each many their wages for the work they performed and completed within his vineyard. As the parable goes on, Jesus reveals how those who were called in last to receive their wages were given the same wages as those who were invited last and were invited first. Disgruntled and frustrated with the householder’s handling of payment for their services, those who were hired first grumbled and complained in the hearing of the householder thinking and expecting that they would and should receive more than what those who were hired after them had received. Because they were hired first early in the morning, they felt entitled, and they felt they deserved more than what those who had come after them had received—this despite the fact that each one who was hired to work and labour in the vineyard agreed to work for the same wage.
As you read this particular parable which was spoken by Jesus Christ concerning the kingdom, you are first struck with the invitation to labour and work in the vineyard of the householder. The very first reality we notice when reading and considering this parable is the invitation to labour in the vineyard, and not only labour in the vineyard, but also labour together with others in the vineyard. I can’t help but read this parable issued by Jesus Christ and consider the awesome and tremendous reality that there was not only an invitation to labour in the vineyard, but also a wonderful invitation to labour together with others. What we learn and what we discover when reading the words of Jesus within this parable is that when seeking to understand the kingdom of heaven, we must understand it in terms of a wonderful and powerful invitation to labour for the Master within His vineyard here in the earth. This invitation is not only an invitation to labour in the vineyard, but also an invitation to labour together with others. I absolutely love that there were essentially five different invitations that were issued by this householder to those who were found in the marketplace seeking to be hired to engage themselves in work. I can’t help but wonder if those who entered in the marketplace did so in order to position themselves as being free, available, reading and willing to work for whosoever would hire them and agree to pay them for their labour and their services. What we find within this particular passage of Scripture is a powerful picture of those who positioned themselves as being ready and available to work and labour in whatever capacity that might have been. This particular parable reveals unto us that the kingdom of heaven is about those who position themselves as being ready and available to work, and are simply waiting for an invitation to engage themselves in some form of work. The kingdom of heaven is not only about a willingness to work, but also about an invitation to work in the Master’s vineyard, and an invitation to work together with others in order that the vineyard might be tilled and harvested. There is perhaps no passage that illustrates this best as what is found in the final few verses of the ninth chapter and the opening verses of the tenth chapter. I leave you with the words which close out the ninth chapter of the gospel of Matthew, as well as the word which are found in the opening verses of the tenth chapter:
“But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few; Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He will send forth labourers into his harvest. And when He had called unto Him his twelve disciples, He gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease. Now the names of the twelve apostles are these; The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip, and Bartholomew; Thomas, and Matthew the publican; James the son of Alphaeus, and Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus; Simon the Canaanite, and Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils: freely ye have received, freely give. Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses, nor scrip for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worth of his meat” (Matthew 9:36-10:10).