Today we are finishing up our series called the Kingdom of God is Like. Throughout this series we have looked at a variety of parables that teach us a variety of things about the Kingdom of God. Do you remember them all? There should be 10.
We learned that God’s kingdom is like…
A sower that throws seed on the ground because sometimes faith grows; sometimes it doesn’t.
A growing seed because faith grows through repeated, repetitive, consistent and persistent use of God’s Word.
A mustard seed because it is seemingly insignificant work that is of eternal significance.
A homeless fox because it is greater than any material wealth.
An abandoned burial plot because it is greater than any earthly task.
A plow because it is greater than any human relationship.
A treasure because it is worth giving up everything to make sure it’s yours.
A net because it collects all sorts of people on this earth – people that will be sorted when the kingdom work is over.
A banquet because the party will be so awesome in heaven there won’t be any regrets about unaccomplished earthly work here.
One thing that all of those parables have in common is that they focused on future fulfillment. Jesus was teaching his disciples about something that would happen later on.
Today’s parable deals with immediate fulfillment. As in – as soon as Jesus gets done telling it – the exact things he had just predicted to happen began to happen.
Intrigued? This is the parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene. Before we begin, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Parable of the Vineyard Crime Scene
This parable comes from Matthew 21:33. The timeline of this parable is important. It takes place at the end of Jesus’ three years of ministry.
For three years he has preached the good news of God.
For three years he has proclaimed forgiveness to ‘sinners.’
For three years he has befriended the lowly, scum of society.
For three years….
He has infuriated the religious leaders of the day.
In fact, they hated Jesus!
In fact, it would not have been a stretch to say: They hated Jesus!
Crowds had stopped following them and started following Jesus. They hated that.
Crowds had stopped listening to them and started listening to Jesus. They hated that.
Jesus called them “sinners” lumping them in with the scum of society – ‘regular, common, disgusting people.’ They hated that most of all.
And Jesus knows this.
He knows they hate him.
He knows they want to kill him.
He tells the following parable to them:
There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He does a lot of the hard work to get the place up and running. He tills the ground. He plants the seeds. He builds an irrigation system. He installs that fence-like apparatus up and down the rows so that the grape vines can grow onto it.
Then, when he has the winery up and running, he realizes – I could make a decent amount of money on this. After all, winery tourism is a huge deal. He builds a wall around it, installs a wine press, adds a watch tower, maybe even a nice patio for visitors to enjoy sipping on a Merlot while the sun sets on the chateau in the distance.
Then, when it’s ready to make some money: He rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. (v.33b) Not that he didn’t still have some involvement. (Our guy is smarter than that) He makes a deal with the farmers to pay him his share of the profits that they make on his winery. Maybe, 25%? (It’s one of those royalty deals that Mr. Wonderful loves to do on Shark Tank.) As long as they are making money on it, he’s making money on it too.
It’s his land and it’s nice they are able to use it at a low price and make some money too.
The time comes for him to pick up his money.
He checks the mail – nothing there.
He looks at his Google Money Request – no dice.
He searches his email for ‘winery royalty’ and there are ZERO search results.
He sends one of his trusted servants. “Could you go to my winery tomorrow and pick up the royalty payment for me? Here’s some spending cash and a first-class airline ticket. Thanks!”
And the servant goes.
And the man waits for him to return.
And he never comes back.
So he says to a second servant: “Maybe Bob wasn’t the most trustworthy. Maybe he took the spending money and went gambling or something? I don’t know. Here. You go to that winery and bring me the royalty check.”
And that servant goes.
And the man waits for his return.
And he never comes.
This goes on for three, four, five servants – until finally, one of them makes his way back to his master.
He in a cast.
The farmers did this to me. I introduced myself politely as your representative. I reminded them that this was your land and it was a kind thing for you to let them use it. And then, they smiled—and sucker punched me. They started kicking me. One of them grabbed a vine to strangle me. If it wasn’t for the pepper spray that I packed on my key chain, I would never have gotten out of there.
Worse. Some of the other servants weren’t so lucky.
I saw a company vehicle that had been torched.
I came across Bob’s blood-stained company jacket.
I hacked into some security footage that shows one of our guys being murdered because he asked for the money.
These aren’t farmers! They’re murderers! Let’s get ‘em.
But the entrepreneur doesn’t get angry.
He doesn’t call the police.
He doesn’t seek revenge…yet.
He says, “Let’s send my son.” They will respect my son. (v.37)
Entrepreneur Jr. gets called into the office.
They explain the situation to him.
They figure – he’s so well-known and so heavily photographed by paparazzi, surely the farmers won’t harm him because such a crime would result in obvious retribution.
But when his son gets there.
And steps out of the company limousine.
And he greets them with a smile and a hearty handshake:
“Gentlemen, I know you’ve had some differences in the past, but I am not here to take everything away from you. I’m just here to collect the portion of rent that is rightfully, legally my dad’s. If you can hand me that check, I’ll be on my way and you can go back to working this vineyard – my Father’s vineyard – in peace. Does that sound like a deal?”
He holds out his hand for the check.
And he smiles.
And the farmers smile.
And they reach in their back pockets.
But not for their wallets,
For their weapons:
“This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.” So they took him out of the vineyard and killed him.” (v.39)
II. The Reality of God’s Kingdom
This may be the darkest of the parables.
It seems like it belongs on HBO programming and not in the Bible.
But remember – every parable is an earthly story that teaches us about God’s kingdom.
And Jesus told this parable to teach the angry, hate-filled religious leaders something about God’s kingdom.
When he gets done with the parable he asked them:
When the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants? (v.40)
And they respond correctly.
He’ll bring those wretches to a wretched end. (v.41)
He’ll get revenge.
He’ll avenge the death of his son.
He’ll get the police involved and all of those murders will be arrested!
Then, he’ll get some new tenants – some better tenants – and rent out the vineyard to them.
Look at Jesus’ response to their answer:
Have you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” (v.42)
It’s one more mini parable. This one is about construction. Because in construction, when you are building a house – especially in the ancient world of stone built, brick by brick walls, one of the most important parts of building was the cornerstone.
A cornerstone needs to be a perfectly right angle. The 90-degree bend ensures that every other wall is aligned perfectly in the square. If it’s 89.9 degrees? The whole building will be off. If it’s 90.01 degrees, the building will be off.
It needs to be perfectly straight.
And perfectly hefty as it is foundational for the whole house.
Well, apparently when the builders were looking for the cornerstone – they came across a pretty ugly stone.
It’s not square.
It’s not straight.
It’s just a rock that doesn’t deserve a place anywhere really.
They pick it up and toss it into the construction dumpster.
They don’t need it.
Do you get it yet?
Do you understand the parables?
Because the religious leaders did.
In fact, mark it down!
This is the only parable that they ever understood perfectly. Look:
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. (v.45)
They were the ones who had rejected Jesus, the cornerstone.
They were the ones who kept rejecting God’s servants.
In fact, they were the ones who were literally plotting the death of God’s only Son!
And instead of repenting when they hear Jesus call them out…
Instead of asking forgiveness…
Instead of seeking compassion…what do they do?
They bring the parable to fulfillment:
They looked for a way to arrest Jesus. (v.45)
They looked for a way to arrest the Vineyard owners’ son.
They looked for a way to dispose of the rejected stone.
III. A Familiar Crime Scene…
Why? Why did the Religious leaders do it?
Why did they reject Jesus as Savior and plot his death?
They wanted to steal God’s glory.
PROBLEM: They wanted God’s kingdom to be about their glory.
They didn’t want to depend on someone else, they wanted the glory of depending on themselves.
They didn’t want to have to trust in someone else, they wanted to trust in their own awesomeness.
They didn’t want to have faith in some carpenter from Galilee, they wanted trust in their own sinful selves from Idiotville.
And they were so confident that they wanted no part of Jesus – they were willing to KILL him and fulfill the parable that he just told about them – forever etching themselves in the annals as wretched wretches…
…just to steal some of God’s glory for themselves.
But that’s the part where the crime feels eerily familiar.
It’s kinda like a calling card left by a serial criminal.
The Joker in Batman leaves behind a Joker card.
The local gang leaves behind their brand of graffiti.
The Wet Bandits in Home Alone leave behind a flooded sink.
This “STEALING GOD’S GLORY” thing is a calling card of a very familiar criminal:
Did ya’ll have a good Thanksgiving dinner? Maybe you had some delicious potatoes and some of those green beans with the crispy onions sprinkled on top. Maybe you had some delicious oven roasted turkey with gravy.
And maybe you were involved in making that meal happen!
You spent hours putting it together.
You have blisters from holding the French Chef knife.
Your wallet has a burn hole from the money you spent on the food.
You’re ready to enjoy the meal that you have earned.
And then, right before that first bite of potatoes and gravy, someone inevitably says : “Let’s all take turns saying one thing we’re thankful for.”
And someone thanks God.
And someone else thanks Jesus.
And someone else thanks this God guy again.
And finally, it’s your turn and you get your chance to speak and say: I’m thankful that…I didn’t get too tired this year to make the meal. I mean, I was, but I pulled through. I just buckled down and made the meal. You know – the one that you’re all eating! I did that. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Me. Thank you! I mean – Thank me for making this a great year for me”
Friends, watch out for self-righteousness.
He resides in each of us.
He wants us to steal God’s glory.
“Sure, God loves you. It’s because you’re so lovable.”
“You don’t need Jesus. You’re a pretty good person on your own.”
“OK! Fine, Jesus died for you! But YOU’RE the one who believed in Him so…who’s the real hero here anyway?”
Today, God approaches you like that vineyard owner and asks that you give him what is rightfully his – HIS GLORY!
And the warning from Jesus’ parable is this:
Don’t boot God from God’s kingdom.
Because without God? It’s not God’s kingdom.
And without God’s kingdom… well?
That’s just you. Facing God’s vengeance.
IV. The Cornerstone
Do you remember the rejected stone?
The one with all the bumps.
The one that looked like a terrible choice for any kind of stone, so the builders threw it into the dumpster?
This isn’t in the parable, but I imagine that before they left work for that day the workers went to clock out And as they left, they told their boss that the stone he recommended, didn’t work out! So, they threw it away.
And the boss apologizes. “No worries guys. I’ll work on it. I’ll find the perfect cornerstone and have it in by the morning.
The next day…
As they are drinking their coffee and preparing for another day of work, they come to the construction site and…WHOA! There in the corner – where the best of the best – the visually perfect and totally right stone should be – is that stone that they, the builders, had rejected.
It has become the cornerstone.
And despite the Pharisees’ rejection of Jesus!
And despite their dumping of him into the rejection heap of the cross
And throwing him into a make shift dumpster –called a grave…
Three days later.
Three days later…
Three days later, he comes back to life.
“The stone the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. The LORD has done this and it is marvelous in his eyes.” (v.42b)
Because no one else could have done this!
No one else could remove our sins.
No one else could win our forgiveness.
No one else could rise form the dead and then promise us eternal life as well.
Except God himself.
Here’s the truth: God’s kingdom is ALL about GOD’S glory.
It’s not about you achieving some kind of glory on your own.
It’s not about you getting enough glory so that God might like you.
It’s not about you earning your way to heaven.
It’s about his grace.
it’s about his forgiveness.
It’s about his glory.
But here’s the thing! Wouldn’t it have been much easier for God to win glory if he just put on some really cool laser light show?
Why didn’t he just stick to making a beautiful sunset?
Why did he go through with all of this awful, suffering and death…he obviously knew it was coming and went through with it anyway?
God went through with this suffering and death in order to bring you into his glory.
Because while God’s kingdom is all about God’s glory…, it’s also true that God’s kingdom is about YOU sharing in God’s GLORY.
That’s why Jesus did what he did.
He loved you that much.
In fact, that’s really the point of all these parables. Whether it’s about planting faith in our heart or preparing a banquet in heaven, whether it’s collecting us in the net of his kingdom work or being the cornerstone to build our eternal lives upon…It’s all about God’s glory and it’s all about YOU sharing in God’s glory.
Glory be to God!
God’s kingdom is marvelous in His eyes!
And…I hope…it’s marvelous in yours too. Amen.
Thanks Through the Life of Joseph
For Humbling Us
Of all the things that get in our own way, pride is our own biggest obstacle. Why? Because it’s entirely unjustified. We are not good. We have nothing good in ourselves. We can produce nothing objectively good. Only God can do that. Only God can make us good. Only God can help us. Only God and his blessings are worth being proud of. When we start to have pride in ourselves, we need to be humbled.
Like Joseph. Joseph had gotten a bit of a big head. Dad liked him best of all his brothers. He had dreams that his family would bow down to him someday, and he was a little too happy to talk about that. And so, God humbled him. God took Joseph from his cushy place as Dad’s darling and sold him into slavery to remind him that he had no power of his own, that everything worth anything comes from God alone.
And so when we get too proud of ourselves, too confident in ourselves, we thank God that he takes the effort to humble us again, to take our power away, to show us how little we have on our own, so that we can return to the source of our real strength, God alone.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” 21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. 25 As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
For His Own Timing
In an age of microwaves, the internet, smartphones, and other marvels, life has not gotten easier because of the conveniences, it has gotten more hectic. We expect everything immediately. I sent you a message an hour ago! I can’t believe it’ll take a full day before this is ready! These expectations only make life harder on us, we only contribute to it when we expect the same of others. And even moreso when we expect it of our God.
But God has his own timetable. With a perspective of time that we can’t match and wisdom beyond our understanding, God knows exactly when the right time to act is. And despite our best efforts to advise God, the time is not always what we think it should be, which would usually be “now”. God says be patient, I have better in mind for you.
Joseph had to understand this. He probably had hopes that he could be released from prison after helping one of Pharaoh’s own. But the time was not right. We’ll see shortly, he needed to stay where he was for now so that he could be in the right place to deliver a message from God to Pharaoh and in doing so save entire nations starvation.
For Daily Bread
The land of Egypt and surrounding nations were about to be in trouble. There would be seven very good years of harvest, but they would be followed by seven years of drought and famine. Imagine being lulled into the security of seven years of abundance, growing wasteful, and suddenly it’s all taken away from you. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you’ve had that moment in your life where it felt like all was lost. But the God of grace and mercy promises to provide. Even to people who did not know him or worship him as God. So God put Joseph in the right place at the right time to warn Pharaoh of what was coming.
We thank God for providing. We are utterly dependent on our God in all ways, but sometimes we forget just how much we depend on him daily, even hourly. We need food and drink. Shelter and clothes. And our God provides daily. We don’t earn it. We don’t deserve it, but our God gives it to us all the same. It doesn’t always come in the way we expect, but our God never lets us down. And for that we give thanks. And we show our thanks by offering part of his gifts back to him.
For Joseph, things seemed to turn out alright. Yes, he had difficulty, but now he was second in command of Egypt. Not bad for starting as a slave. Joseph could have let the power and authority go to his head, but instead he recognized that he was only where he was by God’s hand and that God had only given him this honor in order to serve a greater good, the saving of lives.
It was this attitude that allowed him to face another challenge with a godly attitude; the reunion with his brothers. He had it within his authority to have them jailed the moment he saw them, even executed if he saw fit. But he didn’t. He recognized that he was as much a sinner as they each were. He recognized that through their sinful actions God had worked a greater good as he always does. Such understanding allowed him to face his brothers without anger and instead with forgiveness.
We give thanks to God that he allows the same in us. That by his spirit he creates hearts within us that are able to forgive just as he forgave us. We give great thanks that we are pardoned by the blood of Jesus, but we also give thanks that by his power we are able to release old hurts and grudges and live at peace with those who have wronged us. What a great gift to not need to be burdened and burned up from within by anger and rage but rather to be at peace, knowing that our God worked good for us even through the hurts, and knowing that the blood of Jesus paid for the crimes against us even as it paid for the crimes we ourselves committed. We give thanks that we are able to forgive.
For Our True Home
Despite all the good that happened with Joseph’s life, there was still a problem at the end of it. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. Egypt was fine, and his family was provided for, but this wasn’t the place that God promised his great-grandfather. As fine as the living was, Joseph knew they wouldn’t stay. And he didn’t want them to stay, it wasn’t what God had in mind for them. Sure enough, down the road that would become very clear when the time came for Moses to lead the people out.
Despite everything that we have to be thankful for here and now, all the blessings God gives us, it is not perfect. It is far from it. Every day has its own pains and heartaches and troubles. Sometimes they pile on so deep and so quickly it could lead a person to despair. And so, we give thanks to our God that we are not staying here. This is not our true home, that is still to come.
There is much to be thankful for here and reasons to be happy while here. But we give thanks that God keeps our eyes down the path, in good times and bad, looking ahead to our true home that he has promised us. It is our greatest encouragement in all parts of life, that by the blood of Jesus we have an eternity with God to look forward to.
For the Savior
You might be surprised to hear that for as much attention as Joseph gets in the Bible, he’s not actually part of the line of the savior. That was his brother, Judah. Still, his life did serve one very important purpose. His actions and intervention during the Egyptian famine ensured that his family did not starve. His brothers lived, and their families lived. And through Judah, down through the line, was eventually born David the King and through David’s line was the ancestry of both Joseph and Mary, and from them, Jesus.
God made a promise in Eden, that someone would come to crush the serpent’s head. Jesus has done this for us. By Jesus we are saved. By Jesus are sins forgiven. By Jesus is the eternal home opened to us. Without him, this would all be meaningless. All the other things we might be thankful for are just dust in the wind, here and gone. Without Jesus the eternal gifts would not exist. Without Jesus we would have pale comforts for a short time until an eternal death.
And so more than anything this evening and every day, we give thanks for the Savior. We could lose everything, have all our earthly possessions taken from us, our family dead or gone, our health destroyed and be in pain every moment the rest of our lives and we could STILL be thankful, because it will end and Jesus will take us home. Above everything and at every moment, we give thanks for the savior Jesus.
Do you know someone rallies around this cry? Or maybe the more modern YOLO – You Only Live Once? Or going way back to classic Latin carpe diem? Seize the day! Whichever one it is, it’s a call to live life to the fullest, to get the most out of it, and never shrink from an opportunity that you might regret missing out on later.
Maybe you know that person, maybe you try to do it yourself. Today, as we continue our series on The Kingdom of God is Like, we’re going to look at some people who lived that way.
First, a little bit of recap and context. Maybe you’re aware, maybe you’re not, but this is our third week in what we call the End Times season of the church year. It’s a time when we focus on what the end of this world will be like, what we’re looking forward to, and where our ultimate confidence is.
Last week was the Sunday of Final Judgment, and appropriately enough we looked at the parable of the net. We saw how the angels would gather up all the people at the end of the age and separate them, good from bad – judging them, as it were. And we heard pretty clearly what would happen to those bad fish.
Today, we look more at the outcome for those good fish in the Sunday we call Saints Triumphant. This day celebrates the end that awaits the holy people of God, the triumphant celebration in the kingdom of heaven after this is all over. And our parable today, again appropriately, revolves around a great banquet being held. So, let’s take a look at the start of that story Jesus tells:
15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ ”
Let’s pause there. What do we have so far? A man, with apparently significant resources, prepares a grand banquet. Out of the blue, no apparent reason, just to celebrate. And he sends invitations out to all his friends, to all the movers and shakers and well-to-do people of the area. To anyone worth inviting. To this grand feast. Let’s think about that part first. Now, maybe you’re like me and you just love food and good times with friends. The idea of this could appeal to you a lot. But let’s try to put it more into our context. A dinner party today is, hey that’s great, but it’s not the end-all, be-all of our lifestyles. It was perhaps a bigger deal at that time. So maybe translate that into something that really speaks to you. A Caribbean cruise? A wilderness retreat? A Disney vacation package? A massive party in an airplane hangar?
Think about it, whatever comes to mind as the best kind of time you can think of having. Think about that grand time and then think about getting a card in the mail inviting you to it. It’s from someone you trust, it’s not a prank or a scam, it’s real. Imagine the excitement of holding that invite in your hand. Someone else is going to the trouble of getting this all set up, taking care of all the arrangements, the travel, the catering, the cost, the guest list, whatever it is. All you have to do is show up.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there at the appointed time?
Okay, maybe there’s a few things. A sudden death in the family or severe illness. Natural disaster getting in your way. Some stuff that’s not really in your control. But that’s not what happens here. The call goes out, the banquet is ready. Just show up and enjoy it! And the servant sent to gather the guests gets… excuses.
And I mean, it’s not like they’re terrible excuses. They all have something to do that is more important to them than enjoying a nice banquet. One wants to check out a new purchase of land. Another needs to field-test his new oxen. Still another has a wife he needs to take care of. Seems reasonable. But on the other hand, would an evening out of their lives to attend the banquet really have ruined these other things? You could kind of see it going either way, right?
See, here’s the problem with the “No Regrets” lifestyle. You can’t do everything. Every day you’re faced with choices of doing one thing over another. And we all value activities differently. Maybe for you living life to its fullest means going out and being social every evening. Maybe for me it means eating a whole bag of Oreos and reading comic books all night. But at every juncture, at every decision point – how do you know which one you won’t regret?
You can’t. You just can’t for any earthly activity. But we’re not really talking about earthly activities, are we? Remember a parable is an earthly story that teaches us about the Kingdom of God. So this banquet is not a banquet, it’s God inviting us to best celebration there ever is and ever will be. The triumph of heaven.
Last week we talked about the uncomfortable reality that hell is real. But just as real is heaven. It’s better than you or I could imagine. It’s better than the best cruise where you don’t get seasick, better than the best camping trip with no mosquitoes, better than a Disney vacation without any lost luggage or crying children and better than the biggest celebration without the awkward relative who drinks too much. Better than any and all of that put together. It’s utterly peaceful, utterly joyful, completely exciting, and without any pain, ache, or fatigue. It’s a grand celebration that never gets boring or tiresome. It is, quite plainly, the best.
Now imagine… what on earth could possibly stop you from being there?
So why do we make excuses all the time? Because we think we don’t want to regret missing things that come up here and now. Some of them are utterly mundane and trivial. “I’ll get to God later, for now I need to try out this new Xbox game.” Those should be easy to spot. Some…like the excuses in our parable, well they seem more reasonable. “I’ll get to God later, but right now I have to sort out our finances.” “I’ll get to God soon, but right now I have to get the shopping for Christmas done.” “I’ll get to God, but this new relationship needs attention first.” “I’d like to have time for God, but my family needs me to do so much for them.”
We think we’ll regret it if we don’t do these things we “should” or “have to” do. Switch your perspective on regrets. We said before there’s no way to know which earthly activity you might regret missing. Sure. But I can tell you this for a fact: When your end comes, when the banquet is ready, you will regret it if you’re not there. I can also promise you this: when you’re there, you will not regret a single thing you missed here.
Think that over a second time. Let it sink in. You will not be in heaven saying to yourself, “You know this sure is a great time, but I’m sorry I didn’t get to see the Grand Canyon before I got here.” How absurd! Replace that with whatever you want. There is nothing you can miss here that will somehow regret in heaven. But whenever we put something ahead of time with God, whenever we cut him out of our lives because we’re afraid of missing out on something else, that’s exactly what we’re doing! Day by day, inch by inch, God gets squeezed out of our lives because we fear missing out on something else here.
Now, perhaps I’ve got you thinking, just like I’ve got me thinking, about all the times I’ve turned down God’s invitation in order to do something utterly trivial in comparison. That’s not a great feeling. Might have you feeling a little worthless overall from that behavior. If that’s how I treat his invitation, why should God even bother to invite me?
If so, take a look at what happens next.
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “ ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”
The choice guests don’t come. They all think they have better things to do. But the meal’s prepared, the celebration is ready, it can’t just go to waste! So, the master sends his servant back out. Go and get anyone you can find. Get those that have nothing better in their lives, those that would never turn down such an invitation. I don’t care that they can’t pay me back, if I get no favors or a return invitation someday. Gather everyone who’s worth nothing to anyone.
They do. But there’s still room. So, he sends his servant back out. Go even further out. In fact, there’s an interesting connotation in the original language here. The places the servant is sent the second time are places that robbers and highwaymen were known to lurk. In other words, you’ve got all the worthless people in here? Go and gather the criminals as well! I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done – I don’t want a single space to be wasted.
My brothers, my sisters, it doesn’t matter that you have nothing good to offer God for a place at the banquet. It doesn’t matter if you’re not worth inviting. None of us are. But Jesus himself has prepared this feast. He is the one who ensured there were more than enough places to go around. And God the Father wants none to be wasted.
Here’s the plain facts: Jesus died and rose for all. Because he is God, his death on the cross is valuable enough to pay the price for every person who has ever and will ever live. Heaven can never run out of room. Everyone is invited. You are invited. The only people who will not be there are those that turned away because they had something “better” to do. Anyone who looks to Jesus, who actually shows up is welcome to come in.
And it doesn’t matter what you’re worth to God. He’s God. He doesn’t need anything, there was never a chance that you could bring him something he didn’t already have. More than that, even if you’re a criminal, if you’ve fought against him in the past, he still wants you there. He wants everyone to enjoy the banquet prepared by his Son.
Being there in the end is all that matters. That banquet celebration in heaven is the only thing you’ll regret missing out on. It is the only important thing in your life. A hundred, a thousand other things will scream for your attention demanding that they be dealt with before the most important one, but don’t mistake urgent for important.
Your relationship with God will almost never seem urgent. So, you have to make it the priority. You have to make sure God gets time on your calendar and the best of your gifts first, every time. Make that happen first, because it is the most important, it is the one thing you will regret if you don’t. Then, after you’ve given God your first and best, then you can continue dealing with the other urgent matters in your life.
The kingdom of heaven is like the grandest banquet you can think of, it is the best party, the best vacation, the best experience you can imagine multiplied by more than you can imagine. And you’re invited. Jesus bought you a place. Don’t meander towards that end, run towards it. Don’t ever think for a moment you’ll regret spending time with him, in his word, doing his work over something else in this life. Nothing here even comes close.
Live with that banquet feast in mind. Live for God. No regrets.
The Kingdom of God is Like...A Net
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like. It’s a series all about parables. Parables are short earthly stories that teaching about the eternal kingdom of God. So far, we have heard that the kingdom of God is like buried treasure—which, to be fair, seems like a very flattering comparison.
Treasure is valuable
Treasure is beautiful.
Treasure is worth selling anything and everything to make yours.
Treasure seems like a great comparison for God’s kingdom.
We compare God’s kingdom to a fishing net.
Fishing nets are stinky.
Fishing nets are smelly.
Fishing nets come with those some of those little algae goobers encrusted on around the edge.
It’s not as flattering of a comparison.
Why is God’s kingdom like a fishing net? Before we look at this strange comparison which teaches us some very important truths about God’s kingdom, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. 1st Century Fishing
Jesus’ parable is from the parable-filled Matthew 13. It comes right after the parable of the treasure and stands in stark contrast to it. Remember – each parable emphasizes a different aspect of the Kingdom of God. The parable of the Treasure reveals the value of God’s kingdom; the parable of the net reveals methodology.
Look at what the parable says:
Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. (v.47-48)
Anybody here go fishing? Nowadays fishing consists of packing up a rod and reel, stopping by the local bait shop, picking out a nice, big juicy earthworm (or maybe a wriggly, black leech), then heading out to the local pond, casting, stopping to untangle the line from the tree branch behind you, casting again, watching as your line drifts into the middle of the lake…and then…
And waiting some more.
Eventually some fish grabs the hook, line and sinker.
You pull him in and…
If he’s an acceptable length and weight – you keep him.
If not …plop!
If it’s a delicious looking salmon, in the basket.
If it’s a creepy looking dogfish, not so much.
Back at Jesus’ time, the fishing is a bit different. Fishermen would drag their nets to the shore and paddle to the middle of the lake. Then, they’d toss a weighted net overboard. Then, slowly they’d move along with the waves, while their net dragged against the bottom collecting any and every fish that happened to get in the way of the net. When they’re done fishing, they pull up the ropes, cinch the corners and pull the net up.
But here’s the thing:
Can you tell which fish are bad?
Can you tell which fish are good?
Can you tell which fish are future 5-star restaurant menu items?
And which fish belong on some Discovery Channel documentary on deep sea monsters?
No. It’s too much of a jumbled-up mess!
So…what do the fishermen do?
They take the net back to the shore.
They open the net and begin separating:
Too much like Uncle Joe…
Fishing at Jesus’ time required a lot of sorting. But…
The fish cannot be sorted from the good from the bad while they are in the net; rather they are sorted when the fishing is finished.
II. A Priceless Treasure
But remember – this is a parable.
Parables are short earthly stories that teach about the kingdom of God.
Things are about to get real.
Real and a bit uncomfortable.
Look at the meaning of the parable:
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (v.49-50)
At first glance, this might seem to be another parable.
The parable of the furnace…
But – let’s be clear: The second half of the parable the part about the blazing furnace and the angels, that’s not the illustration part.
It’s the explanation.
It’s not an illustration, but the reality.
In fact, this parable is all about realities.
Realities that are quite uncomfortable.
(1) Hypocrisy is Real
Because… that dragging net represents the kingdom of God at work. And there is no greater representation of the kingdom of God at work than visible local churches.
In a church, God’s Word is proclaimed.
In a church, people are baptized.
In a church, people celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
In a church, people pool resources to go and plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
In a church, God’s kingdom is at work.
And when God’s kingdom is at work, it’s like a big old net that collects people of all type and varieties.
Big and small.
Young and old.
Black and white.
Tarheel fans, Wolfpack fans and Duke fans.
But most importantly to this parable…
People that are a part of God’s kingdom.
And people that only look like it.
NOW STOP! Immediately. Because what some of you are about to do is quietly, sheepishly raise your finger and slyly point at someone else here. “Pastor, I think it’s him…”
NOPE. That’s not the point.
In fact, the point is the exact opposite. Because remember – while the net is in use – that is, while the people of God are using God’s Word – it’s impossible to see which are true believers and which are hypocrites.
It’s kinda like trying to identify which fish are good and which fish are bad when they’re still in the net.
You won’t be able to tell who’s a hypocrite and who isn’t in a church simply by looking at them.
You won’t be able to tell most hypocrites simply by looking at them.
But there is one person in the church…
That you should be able to identify as good or bad.
You know you.
You know your heart.
You know if your heart is following Jesus or if this is all just some big show.
Something you do because your parents told you to do.
Something you do so pastor will get off your back.
When it comes to facing the reality of hypocrisy, it doesn’t start by looking into the world…
Or looking into another Christian church…
Or looking at other people in this church…
It starts by looking in your heart.
(2) The End is Real
The second reality has less to do with now and more to do with later.
Take a look at Jesus’ words – This is how it will be at the end of the age. (v.49) He then goes on to describe angels, divine, holy messengers of God – no longer invisible – fully and completely perceptible - picking people up like fish and separating them.
If you are a hypocrite, you need to pay very close attention to this section.
Because, truth is, you might be able to fool other Christians.
You might be able to fool them with a fish sticker on the back of your car and “Christian” listed on your Facebook profile’s religious preference.
You might be able to fool others at church.
You might be able to fool me.
You can’t fool God.
And at the end, you will be separated.
And placed wherever it is you belong.
And can I say something obvious? There’s one place that you don’t want to be your final destiny.
(3) Hell is Real
Look at the description of where the bad fish go:
“The blazing furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (v.50)
Notice. The verbs are present tense.
Notice. The verbs are continuous.
That’s because this is eternal.
Stop – real quick – because the devil is doing everything possible right now to make you say:
“Pastor has gone off the deep end. Pastor is talking all mean like. Pastor is saying thing I wish he wouldn’t.”
I am because I love you.
And I don’t want you to go to this very real and very awful place.
But more importantly Jesus loves you.
After all, look at whose words about hell these are:
The same guy who told the blind guy to see…and he did.
The same guy who told the deaf guy to hear…and he did.
The same guy who told the lame guy to walk…and he did.
The same guy who told the storms to stop…and they did.
The same guy who told the Pharisees to go ahead and kill him because he would come back to life…
And they did…
And he did.
Jesus has street cred.
Whatever he says will happen, will happen.
And to those who reject Him?
This hell thing?
(4) Good Fish are Real
I’m not gonna lie.
Thus far this is one of the least uplifting sermons of all time.
Because – if we are talking about bad fish – how do you not begin to be filled with absolute fear!
We are sinners.
All of us.
And I am included!
I’m like some ugly carp at the bottom of a mutant ooze infested landfill with three eyeballs where his gill should be.
I’m gross and my sins are gross.
I think -- There is no reason that God would ever want to collect me in his basket and take me to heaven!
Here’s something interesting. When Jesus uses the word “end” here in verse 50, he uses the word: syntelia. That’s a form of the world telos which means: the end.
The end is when judgment will happen.
The end is when God will bring justice against sinners.
Now – here’s where things get really interesting.
Because about a year and a half after Jesus spoke this parable --
Jesus spoke something else.
On the cross.
Right before he died.
Which is the exact same root words that Jesus used in our parable to denote the end times.
IT IS FINISHED.
In other words, judgment has happened! From God’s perspective – Jesus has been judged as the bad fish.
And you – friends—you have been judged righteous.
Think about that!
We are sinners.
We are filled with a yucky past.
We are grody to the touch.
Yet because of what Jesus has done, you have been declared GOOD.
Ready to take home in the take basket.
And understand this point too:
We are not judged by our good merits.
We are not judged by our good deeds.
We are not judged by our good tries.
We are judged entirely by what Jesus did for us on the cross!
And we are judged righteous.
And by faith in Jesus, we are the good fish!
We will not be thrown out.
We will be collected and taken home.
(5) Heaven is Real
Because that’s what the good fish have to look forward to.
This parable just touches the surface of it. It says that the good fish, will be placed into baskets.
But what it doesn’t say is that those baskets have someone’s name written on the handle.
They have someone’s name written in Black, Permanent Marker.
Because the good fish – that is – those made holy by faith in Jesus Christ – will be brought to God’s home.
The kingdom of righteousness.
The home of peace.
And unlike this world --
With danger lurking on every corner…
And predators chasing after us…
And giant waves of life hitting us again and again…
Heaven is peaceful.
Heaven is a place of forgiveness.
Heaven is a place of peaceful rest.
Heaven is yours.
Friends! Praise the Lord for being caught in the net and taken home to heaven. Amen.
Today we are continuing our series called The Kingdom of God is Like. It’s a series all about parables. Parables are short earthly stories that teaching about the eternal kingdom of God. Last week, so far, we have heard that the kingdom of God is like a sower, a growing seed, a mustard seed, a homeless fox, an abandoned burial plot and a plow.
Today’s parable is well timed, because it fits in perfectly with a certain holiday.
I don’t know about you, but this past Wednesday, there seemed to be an extreme increase in the number of pirates that live in Raleigh.
Over at the new school, we have a security system with a key fob and you’d think it would lock out pirates, but these pirates were tricky and made their way into the school -- little 3-foot-tall pirates. With eye patches and stuffed parrots.
Pirates love treasure: gold necklaces, silver artifacts, coins, jewelry, bottles of rum. They loved treasure so much that they’d run ashore near a local port, approach someone’s front step and force them to give them treasure.
Not at all unlike what some little 3-foot-tall pirates did around my house on Wednesday!
And then, pirates take the treasure, sail to some deserted isle and bury it.
Deep under the ground.
With a few pieces of wood lain across the top:
“X” marks the spot.
Jesus’ parable today says this: “The kingdom of God is like a hidden treasure.” Before we look at it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Hidden Treasure
Jesus’ parable is from Matthew 13. Take a look: The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. (v.44) In his parable, the treasure is found by a man at work in a field.
It’s the middle of the hot day.
He’s using a fence post digger to dig a hole for the fence post he’s installing around the back of his owner’s property.
He’s slams and digs.
He slams and digs.
He slams and digs.
All day long.
Sometime around quitting time….
He slams and…
He slams and…
At first, he thinks it’s a rock. He looks around to see if he can adjust the post hole so he doesn’t have to go through the trouble of moving the rock. But right as he’s about to adjust the hole to the right and he’s thinking of his company’s slogan: “THE RIGHT HOLE IN THE RIGHT SPOT ALL THE TIME,” the glint of the evening sun shines off of something in the middle of the ground.
What is it?
He reaches down.
He brushes the dirt off the top to reveal – a metal crest on the top of an ancient chest.
His heart starts pounding.
To the front.
To the back.
To the side.
Until he gets enough of the dirt out of the way to pull the chest out of the hole and look inside.
It must be worth millions of dollars.
The man looks around.
The thing is – this isn’t his land. It isn’t his property. And the chest isn’t his property.
If he lets anyone know that he found it on this land, then the treasure will no longer be his. It’ll belong to the guy who’s fence he’s digging.
He puts the chest back into the hole.
He covers it with dirt.
He takes two twigs and aligns them in an “x”.
He heads up to his employer, wishes him a good evening and leaves for the day.
But his work isn’t done.
Later that night, he gets onto his bank account and empties his 401k into his checking account.
He goes on Facebook marketplace and begins placing anything he owns on sale:
His bass fishing boat.
His Mickey Mantle Rookie Card.
Even his Xbox!
The next morning, he heads to the bank and he puts his house on mortgage!
He takes all of this money.
He heads to work.
He slams a check worth 3 times the amount of the property onto his client’s desk:
I’ll buy this property.
I just think it’s nice.
I figure if I put fence post holes into it; it might as well be mine.
At 3 times the price, his client can’t say no.
The man buys the property.
The property is his.
Everything on the property is his.
But he doesn’t care about most of it.
He only wants THE TREASURE.
II. A Priceless Treasure
Jesus says this: “The Kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” (v.44)
Because here is the truth:
God’s kingdom is eternally priceless.
There is nothing as valuable.
… nothing as precious.
…nothing as eternally priceless as the kingdom of God.
It lasts forever.
Brings enduring peace.
And connects you to your heavenly father.
If you’ve ever searched for kingdom of God, then, you understand the digging for treasure scenario.
Because the religious landscape can be a lot like the Sahara Desert.
Places to dig everywhere. Where is the treasure…?
And so you start digging near a very peaceful looking pile of dirt.
A lotus flower is growing nearby.
“Oh! This must be the Sand of Spirituality. I’ve heard of that. Maybe this is where I’ll find the treasure of God’s kingdom.”
And you dig
And you learn breathing practices.
And you fold your body into a pretzel.
And you listen to Yanni.
And you think that you are closer to God…
Because you stopped feeling stress…
And started feeling nothingness.
Oh, the wonderful nothingness.
Suddenly – you think of that jerk Bob from work.
He should be slapped.
And you realize…
You are the same.
You still sin.
You still feel guilty.
Now you just own a bunch of Yanni CDs.
This is not a treasure worth keeping.
You walk a bit farther and you find a big old pile of rocks.
It’d be tough work to dig over there. But then again – that’d make it the perfect place to put the treasure – under the stones of Self-Righteousness.
And you dig and work hard because you figure if you work harder than anyone else, God will be impressed!
You work hard at being nicer to your family.
You work hard at never saying a mean thing.
You work hard to give extra money to charity.
You work hard at never taking a second glance a member of the opposite sex.
You work hard at being self-righteous.
Until you’re scrolling through Facebook after a day of finding self-righteousness and…
An ad pops up for a TRIAL offer of something…with a scantily clad lady telling you to buy it.
And you look her a bit longer than you should.
And you think about using some of the money penned for God to buy that thing to make the pretty lady happy.
And your spouse walks in and sees what you’re looking at, so you say something mean in response.
And then you want to get rid of the guilty your feeling, so you tell her about all the bad things she has done.
Those stones of self-righteousness come tumbling in on top of you.
This isn’t the treasure.
And you dig other places.
You dig in the mine of Material Wealth. No treasure.
You dig under the sands of self-allegation. No treasure.
You dig in the pile of filth known as Facebook. No treasure.
No connection with God.
In fact, you start to notice a pattern – all these attempts at getting closer to God are the same:
Do Mormon things and God will like you.
Do Islamic things and God will like you.
Do Jewish things and God will like you.
Do Hindu things and God will like you.
Do Tom Cruise things and…well…Tom Cruise will get richer.
It’s all the same! It’s all worthless! It’s all meaningless!
When you’re about to give up.
When you’re tired.
When you’re exhausted.
When you say: “I’m through! I’m done with this religious stuff. God hates me and that’s that. I might as well give up. I might as well put down my shovel and…”
What was that?
There appears to be something here.
There appears to be something different here.
This is the Gospel.
It’s the message of sins forgiven.
It’s the message of the true God.
It’s the message that Jesus lived for you.
It’s the message that Jesus died for you.
It’s the message that Jesus rose for you.
It’s the message that Jesus has removed every last one of your sins.
It’s the message that you are his child, you are forgiven, and you will be in heaven with Him.
It’s this message:
You know it is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Think about it!
That’s the value of Jesus’ blood.
It’s more valuable than gold.
It’s more valuable than silver.
It’s more valuable than a treasure chest of jewels, a treasure chest of rubies or even a treasure chest of those golden foil wrapped coins with chocolate inside.
It’s more valuable than good works.
It’s more valuable than good feelings.
It’s more valuable than any halfhearted, sin-tainted attempts at being holy.
It’s the blood of Jesus.
Our sacrificial lamb.
The perfect Son of God.
His blood has infinite value.
And friends – it pays for your sins.
It pays for your guilt.
It means forgiveness – full forgiveness – free forgiveness – absolute forgiveness --
III. WHAT NOW?
(1) Give up Untreasures
That’s what the man who found the buried treasure did. He sold everything he had. He made room for the real treasure.
He made certain the REAL treasure would be his.
Do the same with God’s kingdom.
Because here’s the truth:
The devil will do everything possible to make you think that something that’s NOT the treasure…IS the REAL treasure.
Don’t get rid of that addiction; it’s too valuable to feeling good.
Don’t get rid of that priority; it’s too valuable to being cool.
Don’t get rid of that self- righteousness; that’s the secret treasure that truly connects you to God.
It’s all lies.
Lies that will prevent you from keeping the true treasure buried within your heart.
And if you listen to the devil, instead of burying the Gospel deep in your heart, you cling to something utterly worthless.
It’s like someone trying to offer you a check for a hundred, billion dollars!
But you really like the piece of mushed banana that you have in your left hand right now so…I’ll pass.
Don’t be foolish!
Don’t fall for the devil’s lies.
The Gospel is eternally priceless!
Get rid of the fake treasure that’s taking up the spot where you’re the REAL treasure of Jesus needs to be.
And bury the treasure of the Gospel deep in your heart.
(2) Bury the Treasure
That doesn’t mean: “Hide the Gospel and tell no one about Jesus.” Nope.
That’s entirely contradictory to Jesus’ own directive to “Go and make disciples of all nations…by teaching them.” (Matthew 28)
Rather it means to hide the Gospel deep within your own heart.
To bury it deep within your soul.
To place it into the very core of your being and who you are.
How do you do that? Get a surgery with one of the fine doctors at Duke and have him implant one of those little Bibles from the Gideons?
You spend time in God’s Word.
You read The Gospel message.
You study the Gospel message.
You gather for worship.
You gather for Bible study.
You spend time with Jesus, because in doing so – his message – the message of the Gospel – moves…
From the pages of Scripture
To your eyes.
To your brain.
To your heart.
It’s like a beautiful diamond. You go down to the Jeweler’s and look at it in the light --
And if it’s cut well – no matter how you look at it – you see something magnificent.
It’s the same with the Gospel message.
Here’s I see God’s incredible compassion.
Here I look at God’s amazing power.
Here I look at the value of Christ’s redemption.
Here I enjoy the view of my atonement.
Here I see the mesmerizing perspective of peace with God.
And here I see the glories of heaven itself.
Bury God’s kingdom deep in your heart.
** The audio has an extra story in it. You can find it here **
I said the parable of the treasure fits well into a recent holiday.
But I wasn’t referring to Halloween.
Wednesday was also the 501st Anniversary of the Reformation. It’s the anniversary of a time when the treasure of Gospel was rediscovered.
Because the religious climate at that time – in the Christian church – was such that there was no treasure.
If you wanted to get God’s’ forgiveness, you needed to…
Do good things.
Say prayers to Mary.
Cross yourself in the right way.
Give money to charity.
And buy pieces of paper that said: “You are forgiven.”
And it was in that climate – in that treasure-less church that God re-revealed the TRUE treasure of the Gospel.
That Jesus is your Savior.
That in Him you are forgiven.
That by faith you are saved.
Friends, it’s 500 years later.
That treasure is at our fingertips again.
Don’t lose it.
Bury it deep within.