Jack Carroll - Matthew 13

Matthew 13. There are in the four Gospels, twenty-nine parables spoken by the Lord Jesus. Seventeen out of the twenty-nine were spoken in connection with the Kingdom of Heaven, and seven out of the seventeen are recorded in this 13th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. The number seven in itself is suggestive. It is the perfect number. So the fact that we have here in this chapter seven parables, all of them about the Kingdom of Heaven, suggests that we have here a complete representation of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. This expression “Kingdom of Heaven” has probably suggested to many of us that place to which the children of God go when they leave this scene, but in these seven parables we have not to do with the Kingdom of Heaven in the eternal sense but rather with the Heavenly Kingdom on earth here and now.  There are portions of scripture that have to do entirely with the future, eternal, everlasting, and Heavenly Kingdom but these seven parables in Matthew 13 have to do with the Kingdom of Heaven here upon the earth. 


One of the thoughts I would like to pass on this morning is this: That it is possible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, and if we do not enter the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth there is no possibility of ever entering that Kingdom when we leave this earth. That is one of the reasons why these parables spoken by the Lord Jesus should be of great interest to all of us.  These seven parables spoken by the Lord Jesus should be of great interest to all of us. These seven parables in Matthew 13 answer very important questions and answer these questions in the words of the Lord Jesus Himself, who “spake as never man spake.” Many times, perhaps there has arisen in our minds and hearts questions such as “What is this Kingdom of Heaven like?” “What are we to understand by this expression ‘Kingdom of Heaven?’” “Has it got to do with some future state or has it to do with our present lives in this world?” I would like to encourage you after this meeting to read over the 13th chapter of Matthew with this thought firmly fixed in your minds, that this parable has to do particularly with the present, not the future, and that it explains to us in the words of the Lord Jesus Himself just exactly what the Kingdom of Heaven is like here and now in this world. 


I might say that reading over the Gospels some of us have probably noticed that expression “Kingdom of Heaven” is peculiar to Matthew’s Gospel. It does not occur in Mark, Luke, or John. The expression “Kingdom of Heaven” occurs only in Matthew’s Gospel. That very naturally causes a question to arise in our minds, “Why does Matthew over thirty times in twenty-eight chapters of his Gospel use the expression “Kingdom of Heaven?” “Why does he seem to insist that this Kingdom which Jesus established was a Kingdom of Heaven?” I think the answer to this question lies on the very surface if we read over the Gospel carefully. 


Matthew wrote for those who were familiar with Old Testament Scriptures. That is the reason there are so many Old Testament prophesies quoted in this Gospel. He wrote for those who had been brought up in the Jewish faith and way and who had been taught from earliest infancy by the rabbis of the Jewish church to expect very soon the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, but their conception of that Kingdom of Heaven was an outward, material Kingdom, a Kingdom that was for the Jew particularly, if not only, and that would lift us and exalt the Jewish nation and Jewish people and make them the greatest people and nation in the whole world. When Jesus came, the minds of people everywhere were filled with this utterly false conception of the Kingdom; they were looking: for, expecting, praying for; and desired an earthly Kingdom: a kingdom like the kingdoms of this world, a kingdom that could result in the power of the Roman government being destroyed and the Romans expelled from Palestine; a kingdom that would left us the Jewish people and nation, and make them the greatest people and nation in the whole world, with Jerusalem its capital and with the leaders of the nation not merely leaders of the Jewish nation, but recognized leaders of the whole world.  In reading over Matthew’s Gospel, and, in fact, the four Gospels, it is well for us to keep clear in our minds that when Jesus came men and women were expecting a kingdom, but they were expecting an earthly kingdom, an outward kingdom, a material kingdom, a kingdom which was to satisfy their carnal desires, to feed their own selfish human natures and lift them up and exalt them and make them a great people and a great nation. When Matthew was writing this Gospel, right from the very beginning to the end, he put the emphasis upon this fact, that the Kingdom Jesus came to establish was not to be an earthly kingdom. It was a Heavenly Kingdom, a Kingdom from Heaven, and that is the reason why in the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 we read “Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth, as etc.” 


So Jesus came to establish a Kingdom on earth where the will of God would be done by men even as that will is being done in Heaven. In other words, the Kingdom He came to establish was not to be an outward, material kingdom, but was to be an inward and spiritual Kingdom the rule and reign of God in the hearts of men. So that from the very beginning of his ministry to the close, the establishing of this Kingdom was the one passion of His life, was the theme of every sermon: wherever He went He had just one desire and purpose, “To seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and He sought to put this same passion and purpose into the minds and hearts of others so that they, too, would seek first the Kingdom of God and make the extension of that Kingdom and one all absorbing and consuming passion of their lives. I feel perhaps that there are some of us (if not all of us) who have not had that real love, purpose, and passion in our hearts that would move us under all circumstances and conditions to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. So that here in this Gospel of Matthew, the first book of the New Testament, it is made clear and plain to our minds and hearts that this Kingdom of God is not something that will exalt us but will humble us; not something that will satisfy our selfishness, but will encourage us to live for Him to be unselfish; not something that will feed the natural pride of our hearts, but will move us to true humility and lowliness. It will not encourage us to live for ourselves, but to live for others so that we may “lay up treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” 


In reading over this 13th chapter of Matthew, we note the question that was asked by the disciples, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” It would seem there came a turning point in the ministry of Jesus. He didn’t speak in parables at the beginning of His ministry. It seems He only began to speak in parables at the end of two years. Jesus got into a boat. pushed out a little from shore, and spoke first the parable of the sower, and afterwards the disciples asked Him, “Why do you speak in parables?” A parable is what we might call a story with two meanings; a meaning on the surface, and a meaning below the surface; a meaning that some of those who were listening could only understand from a purely human or natural viewpoint, but which others who were listening could understand its spiritual meaning and spiritual significance, and Jesus said in answer to this question, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it is not given."


There were numbers of people who listened to Jesus and all they heard was the story, and all they understood was the surface meaning, but there were others of that company who not only understood the surface meaning, but they could understand the real spiritual meaning that Jesus was seeking to convey to their minds, the lesson He was anxious for them to learn. At the close of this chapter, after He had spoken all the parables, He asked those disciples, “Have you understood all these things?” They said, “Yes, Lord, we have understood,” and then He said, “Therefore, every scribe which is instructed unto the Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old.” Now that ye have understood these things, now that the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven have been made clear to your minds, you are responsible, having been instructed, to bring out of this treasure house things that are new and things that are old.


I think what He meant to convey was this:  Now that they had been helped to a clearer understanding of the Kingdom of Heaven, that was like a treasure which was now enriching them, and they were henceforth responsible for taking out of that treasure things that were new and things that were old, things fresh to their minds, and things the Holy Spirit might bring to their remembrance that God had taught them in other days. I would like this morning, if I could, to fasten upon every child of God, every saint and servant of God, the serious responsibility that rests upon them after they have been instructed in the things of the Kingdom of Heaven, to see to it that they pass these things on to others, and if we do that, instead of impoverishing ourselves, by passing on to others treasures out of God’s truth we will be enriching ourselves, for to everyone, said Jesus, “That hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken."


I wish this morning I could help you to understand these parables a little better, and that I myself could get help to understand them a little better. As I have said, they give to us in the very words of Jesus, a complete representation of the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, the Heavenly Kingdom in this present evil world. 


There are seven of these parables. There is the Parable of the sower, the parable of the tares, of the mustard seed, of the leaven, hid treasure, pearl of great price, and then the parable of the dragnet. It would seem that the first six are joined together. The parables of the sower and tares seem to go together, also the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven, and the hid treasure and pearl of great price. 


I have written opposite these different parables in my Bible a word or two which when I turn over to this chapter suggest to me at once the main lesson which these parables were intended to teach. I have sometimes thought we make a mistake in trying to read too much into any parable, There is usually but one little thought, one main lesson, which Jesus was anxious to teach in His parables, so that when we begin to read our own thoughts into every little detail of these different parables we often miss the mark altogether. Speculation is not interpretation, reading our own thoughts into the Scriptures is not interpreting them. I have written thus:


The parable of the sower - - - - - - - - - - - - - “beginning”

The parable of the tares - - - - - - - - - - - - - “opposition”

The parable of the mustard seed - - - - - - - - “outward growth”

The parable of the leaven - - - - - - - - - - - - “inward working”

The parable of the hid treasure - - - - - - - - - “finding”

The parable of the pearl of great price - - - - - “seeking

The parable of the dragnet - - - - - - - - - - - - “separation”


These will help us to understand the real meaning of every parable and to grasp more clearly the real meaning of every parable and to grasp more clearly the real purpose in the mind of Jesus when He spoke these seven parables—beginning, opposition, outward growth, inward working, finding, seeking, separation—ultimate and eternal. 


How does the Kingdom of God begin in the human heart, in the human life?


Jesus tells in this first parable that it begins by the sowing of seed. He says that seed is “the word of the Kingdom.” He Himself was the Sower, the Pattern Sower, and the seed which He sowed was “the word of the Kingdom.” The soil was the hearts of men. There were four different kinds of soil, but only one kind producing a harvest; three, parts of the seed seemingly was wasted, one part only produced a harvest, and that a harvest in proportion to the depth of the soil, thirty, sixty and one hundred fold.


Jesus was the Pattern Sower. He called out and separated unto Himself others who would be willing to follow Him in the sowing, and would just as gladly and heartily give their lives in service true to God and man as He was giving His. The seed was the word of the Kingdom. I was meditating a little on this and asked myself the question, “What were these words of the Kingdom which Jesus spoke?” We can rightly think about them being “the word of the Kingdom,” the seed of God which, sown in the hearts of men, would produce a harvest. What He said to Nicodemus in John 3 and what He spoke to different individuals was “the word of the Kingdom,” and those who heard these words and gave them serious thought and consideration, were not ashamed of them, and were willing to let them sink down into their hearts and germinate, were those who became “new creatures in Christ Jesus,” their lives were changed and they were delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son. 


So that the preaching of the Gospel is the sowing of the seed. That is what we are trying to do today. This company of men and women is to me what a field is to the farmer. He goes out and scatters seed. Much may be wasted, but there is a hope that some will fall into hearts ready and prepared, responsive hearts, with one desire and purpose, to know God’s mind and will and willing to do it whatever it means or costs. When “the word of the Kingdom” falls into such hearts, whether inside or outside, that seed will spring up and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and an hundred fold. 


The next parable suggests opposition of the enemy, the adversary of God and of man. It is true that opposition is suggested in the first parable.


Wayside -- hardness of heart, permitting birds of the air to pick up the seed and take it away. Opposition from our own flesh in the parable of the stony ground, unwilling to suffer and be reproached; and in the thorny ground were the thorns springing up and choking the word—the cares of this life, etc. while there is some growth for a little while, there is deep down in the hearts of such men and women an unwillingness to be broken, to have the thorns removed, and even though they may stagger on for a while, in the hour of testing and trial it will become manifest that the seed did not take root.


In this parable of the tares we read of the Son of Man sowing good seed in His field, and while men slept the enemy came and sowed evil seed. Both sprang up and seemingly there was little difference for a while, but later on it became manifest. It was suggested that it might be well to dig the tares up, but the owner said, “No, lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let them both grow together until the harvest, Etc.”


The first two of these parables were interpreted by Jesus Himself, so that there can be no doubt in any mind about the meaning of them. The sower is the Son of Man. The good seed are “the children of the Kingdom,” but the evil seed are “the children of the wicked one.” The evil seed are the tares. It was a kind of seed that was much like the wheat. One could almost need to be an expert to know the difference. When these two seeds were sown, one by the Son of Man, the other by the adversary, the devil, they were very much like each other, It was very difficult sometimes to distinguish between the two; to some it would seem to be altogether impossible, and that difference was not in evidence until the harvest was approaching. 


What Jesus meant to say here was that the devils purpose all through the ages has been to counterfeit the work of God in order that he might deceive men.  This explains to me all the different false systems of religion in the world.  This explains to me the many different kinds of false professors of religion that are in the world. Sometimes it is very difficult to distinguish between what is true and what is false, but the difference will be made manifest sooner or later, and that difference leads to ultimate and eternal separation. 


Some of us spent a little while in Los Angles this winter, and I think if there is any city in the world where Satan has his seat it is in that city in Southern California. I think it is the city where the word “Babylon suggests the actual religious condition that exists there. I think every known religion is represented in Los Angeles, both heathen and Christian, and I have run across some who were very like the Truth, but their very likeness to God’s true Way made them all the more deceptive. 


I ran across some people who were very busy in seeking to form a New Testament church. They had left a number of other churches and had united together, and now they were busy, exceedingly busy and exceedingly aggressive in seeking to found a New Testament church right there in the city of Los Angeles.  One of their leaders came across one of our brothers an elder of a church, and this elder had a very interesting conversation with him. They talked together for quite awhile, and this brother convinced him the early Christians never spent a dollar in erecting a building for the worship of God, but met together in small groups in consecrated homes and there sought to worship God in Spirit and Truth.


These people got so stirred up that they rushed to their N.T.s and is covered to their surprise that what this brother said was true, that there were no church buildings erected by the true people of God, there were buildings, but the people of God were put out of them and did not worship in them. They met in homes consecrated to God in small groups. When they saw according to the letter of the word that the proper course was for God’s children not to meet in public buildings on the first day of the week, but in homes, they said, “We will do that too; we will sell our tabernacle.” Previous to this they had gotten their members to invest their money in a lot and buildings. Now they got to see that this was wrong and they were going to sell this tabernacle and give back the money. They said, “Now we are going to have a N.T. church and meet in homes.” 


I also spent a while with one of the leaders, and I was trying to bring home to him this fact: You can’t have a N.T. church without the N.T. ministry. The N.T. ministry was the foundation of the N.T. church, and this leader was asked this question, “Have you one single individual in your fellowship who has obeyed the teaching of Jesus, “Sell all ye have etc.” and has made himself poor, homeless for His sake, preaches the Gospel without money and without price?” This man had to say, “No, we have not.” 


They had what they thought to be a N.T, church. It was just another branch of these tares which the adversary of God and man was seeking to sow in the world, so that men and women might be deceived and that God’s true children might sometimes be discouraged. When they were brought face to face with the very foundation of the N.T. church they said, “No, we don’t have it; we don’t want it.”’ 


I wonder do you value the ministry? Do you value having a ministry that has the true marks of Christ? Do you value having in your fellowship men and women who have actually fulfilled these conditions, sold all, made themselves poor, homeless for His sake, preach the Gospel without money and without price, who would scorn the very thought of making merchandise of the word of God, and are just as gladly and heartily giving their lives in true service as those we read of in the N.T.? Don’t be discouraged if some of the tares are very like the wheat, See to it that you are true and loyal to the  ambassadors of the King, the sowers of the seed, and do your little part in seeking to promote that unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace which gladdens the heart of God and brings blessing to men. 


The next parables are the parables of the mustard seed and the leaven. In this parable of the mustard seed, Jesus said that a man took it and sowed it in his garden. It grew and became a great shrub, it never became a cedar, a redwood, or an oak—just a shrub. It might be noticed in a garden, but it would be absolutely unnoticed in the forest. Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven is like that. It was one of the smallest seeds. If you had a grain of mustard seed in your hand you would find it hard to see it. It was a very small seed and away back in those days when they wanted to suggest or talk about something very insignificant they used the expression, “As small as a mustard seed.” This mustard seed sown in the garden would spring up, not into a might tree of the forest, but into a shrub that we might take notice of in the garden; but it would be unnoticed in the forest. What does it mean?


I remember a couple of years ago I got some of this Palestine mustard seed and I gave it to a few of the friends and encouraged them to sow it in hope some of them would be able later on to produce a real mustard tree or shrub. Some of them tried very hard, and most of them failed altogether. This mustard seed was very small and when it was sown it was a long time coming up. Some thought it would never come up, but finally they noticed it was just beginning to show over the soil, a tiny hair, and it remained like that for weeks. They kept nursing it along and it began to grow, and later they had a fair plant. 


One sister got this plant growing so well that it got a little too big for the inside of the home and she thought she would take it out and plant it in the yard, so very carefully she put it into the ground. It grew into a shrub and she wrote me, “Why, the Scriptures are being fulfilled right in my yard. The birds of the air have come and lodged in the branches of the mustard tree.” I was very anxious to see one of these mustard trees, I expected to see something really worth looking at; something I would admire. I was hoping the blossoms would be very nice to look at, but when I saw that mustard tree I was disappointed and almost ashamed of it. It wasn’t worth looking at; the blossom was anything but pleasing. 


What Jesus meant to convey that day to those disciples was that they need never expect this Kingdom of Heaven in the world to be very much to look at. There are some of us who are disappointed that we are not being recognized as a great people. Sometimes, perhaps, you feel like saying, “Why don’t we put a little advertisement in the paper and tell what we are and how wonderful we are, and get the world to look at us?” Jesus said that when we look at Babylon, the mother of harlots, we are filled with a “great admiration” “how great.” Then we think of a little mustard shrub that there is nothing to it at all, and yet that is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like in the world, according to the teaching of Jesus. 


How easy it is to be identified with the great trees of the forest. Sometimes we are ashamed to say that instead of being associated with these, we are associated with the little mustard shrub that there is nothing to it at all, and yet that is what the Kingdom of Heaven is like in the world, according to the teaching of Jesus. 


How easy it is to be identified with the great trees of the forest. Sometimes we are ashamed to say that instead of being associated with these, we are associated with the little mustard shrub which, as far as the world is concerned, is “mean, unnoticed, and unknown.” Is there not something in this to make you rejoice you are mean, unnoticed, and unknown? The world does not recognize us and best of all, we do not desire it. We are glad to be “outside the camp,” bearing His reproach, and wish to remain there unnoticed and unknown. The mustard tree will grow in spite of the opposition of Satan, but will never become a mighty tree of the forest. It will ever remain just a mustard tree The world knows us not. If we were recognized by the world, if the world was making room for us, it would bring home to our hearts that we had departed from the faith and that the Lord had forsaken His people. 


The next parable is that of the leaven. “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven.” If there are any religious cranks in this meeting, I am going to get into trouble right now, because there has been more discussion and argument about this parable than about any other, but I am not going to worry about it. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like leaven,” and that’s enough for me. (Leaven does not always mean evil. See Leviticus 7:13; 23:17) The mustard tree had to do with the Kingdom as a whole and the “children of the Kingdom” as a whole, and it makes clear that their growth in the world would never be much or bring any recognition from the world.