The Mysteries of the Kingdom
January 23rd, 1966 @ 7:30 PM
THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Matthew 13: 10-17
1-23-1966 7:30 p.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the evening message entitled The Mysteries of the Kingdom.
On Sunday night for a long, long time, and for a long, long time yet to come, the pastor is preaching through the life of our blessed Lord. We follow it so slowly that we hardly have a feeling of movement. But the life of Christ is so rich that if we were to dwell there forever we would not fathom the unfathomable, unplumbed depths of the riches of grace in Christ Jesus.
But in our preaching through the life of Christ we have come to the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. And this chapter is a collection by the apostle Matthew of the parables of our Lord concerning the kingdom. Now, if you would like to read with me the text, turn to the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, and we shall read beginning at verse 10 through verse 17.
And the message tonight will be introductory. There will be others that follow concerning the substance of these pictures, these parabolic portrayals of the great truths of the kingdom of our Lord. Share your Bible with your neighbor, and on the radio get your Bible and read it out loud with us.
Matthew chapter 13, beginning at verse 10 and reading through verse 17, all of us together:
And the disciples came, and said unto Him, Why speakest Thou unto them in parables?
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 it 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 Isaiah, 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.
Now the message tonight is introductory. We cannot begin to encompass the great and meaningful, significant truths that the Lord presents in these parables of the kingdom. The parabolic teaching of our Lord was most characteristic of Him. How was He; how did He do? If you were to ask somebody, “How is it that our Lord speaks and taught”? One closest to Him would say a manner of His teaching, a technique, a method of His presentation was to tell a story, to use a parable.
It was so characteristic of our Lord that the disciples came and said unto Him, “Why do You speak in parables?” [Matthew 13:10]. There was no one ever who could tell a story like the Lord Jesus, and He did it because a finely presented story is unforgettable! We can forget a syllogism, an argument; we can forget a homily, and we can forget a sermon, but a marvelous story stays in our hearts forever, and no one could tell a story like the Lord Jesus.
The whole gamut of life was before Him, and when you read the stories of our Lord, in them you can recreate the life of the people of Palestine. Sometimes His parable, His story, would be of the poor baking bread, patching a garment, sweeping out the house [Luke 15:8-10], or a poor widow pleading her cause before a judge.
Sometimes His stories would be concerning the rich, the king marching to war, or the farmer with his barns bursting in abundance [Luke 12:13-21]. Sometimes His stories would be in glaring contrast, as rich Dives and poor Lazarus [Luke 16:19-31]. He encompassed the whole area of life: the farmer as he plowed [Luke 17:7-10], the sower as he sowed [Matthew 13:1-9, 18-24], the shepherd as he tended the flocks [John 10:11], the builder as he raised a structure, the fields, the flowers, the birds, the beasts, even the dry watercourse which is so characteristic of Palestine, in which a foolish man built his house on the shimmering sand [Matthew 7:24-27].
And when the Lord tells the story, mind’s eye can follow it so poignantly, so perfectly. We can see—and you would think this actually happened, but it is just a story, a parable—you can see those great rugged cliffs and the wild of the country down which a man was traveling and fell among thieves, and a good Samaritan ministered to him [Luke 10:30-37]. That real! That lives, that seems actual. Actually, it’s a parable, a story that Jesus told.
We can see the mountains and all of the craggy twilight that brought fear when the shepherd went out and sought the sheep that was lost [Luke 15:3-7], or we can just see the bend in the road when a prodigal boy caught the first glimpse of home [Luke 15:11-32]. Those things seem so real and so actual. They are stories. They are parables spoken by our Lord. And the kingdom of heaven is enlightened, and brightened, and glorified, and elucidated, and explained when Jesus will say, “And it is like unto a father” [Matthew 21:28], or “like unto a shepherd” [Matthew 18:12], or “like unto a sower” [Matthew 13:3].
Now the word “parable” is Greek: parabole, parable, parable, para “alongside” and bole “to cast.” So a parable, a parabole is a “casting alongside,” putting two things together that one might explain the other; as we so often hear, “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning.” And any time that we really understand, it has to be in terms and in figures that we live with and that we can comprehend ourselves. Any ladder, any ladder that reaches upward must first have its foot on the ground. Otherwise we cannot ascend it, and we cannot understand it. So with these stories of our Lord; they are human, they are mundane, they are terrestrial, they are earthly. They are down here where we live, in order that we might climb the spiritual heights to understand the nomenclature and the language of God. And it is just that in the use and employment of our Lord.
Now, He did not invent it. There are parables throughout all literature, throughout the literature of the pagan world. There are parables that are extra-canonical in the Jewish Talmud. There are parables in the Old Testament. I do not think there is a more effective parable in this earth then the story of Jotham in the ninth chapter of the Book of Judges, when he says—and speaking in parables—when He says, “And the trees of the forest came to the olive [tree] and said, ‘Reign over us,’ and the olive refused. And the trees of the forest came to the fig tree and said, ‘Reign over us,’ and the fig refused. And they came to the vine and said, ‘Reign over us,’ and the vine refused. Then the trees of the forest came to the bramble and said, ‘Bramble bush, you reign over us.’ And the bramble bush said, ‘I will’” [Judges 9:7-15]; an illustration, a marvelous parable, that if the finest and the best does not lead us into this life and govern us and direct us, you can always count on it, that the dark and the evil and the compromised will do it. And yet that is a parable.
But our Lord took the parable and quickened it, and made it alive, as none other in the earth has ever sought to do.
Like Beethoven and the sonata; Beethoven did not invent or contrive the sonata—the sonata had been used in the progress of music for two hundred years before the days of Beethoven—but Beethoven took that instrumental movement of contrast and breathed into it the deepest and most beautiful meaning. In the same way did our Lord take a parable of old and make it come to life, a vehicle to carry deep spiritual truth. And it appeals to our hearts, as I have said, and we can never ever forget them—Jesus telling a story, a parable. It is no secret, nor is it inexplicable, that Aesop’s Fables, or the Odyssey of Homer, or the Canterbury Tales of Chaucer posses an undying, eternal youth. So it is in the marvelous stories of our Lord Jesus as they are told here in God’s Holy Book.
These are people who live in our day, who breathe our air, who speak our language, who live our lives. They are contemporary in every age and in every generation. These are not waxen figures, molded nineteen hundred centuries ago, that the suns of the passing centuries have melted away. These are not Christian fossils. These are not antiquities and curiosities dug up out of the past. These are not bits of history and segments of an ancient culture.
These are people who are living with us today. They are in our churches, they sit in our pews, and they listen to us, and they respond as we respond. The parables carry with them an undying lesson. It is a revelation for every age and every generation and for our own. It is light sufficient for the morning’s dawn and for the meridian strength of a noon day and for the mysteries of the gloaming twilight. God has a message here for us all.
Now how shall we do in the interpretation of the parable, the story, of the Lord? First of all our Lord says “You will not understand it; you will not understand it unless you are a believer.” First you must be a Christian. The parable has no meaning, it has no content of significance, it has no message, until first you are saved and committed in your heart. You must first be a disciple.
“Why do You speak?” [Matthew 13:10]. “Because,” the Lord said, “because it is for you to know the significances, the spiritual secrets of the kingdom [Matthew 13:11]. For to those who possess, God shall endow with abundance, but those who refuse, God shall take away even what they have. Therefore speak I in parables, that those who blind their eyes cannot see, and those who stop their ears cannot hear but blessed are you, because you open your eyes to look upon the marvelous truths of God, and you unstop your ears, and you listen to the marvelous words of God” [Matthew 13:13-16]. So to understand the parable in its spiritual meaning, we must be a disciple, a believer; we must be saved. Paul wrote it like this: “For the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto Him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” [1 Corinthians 2:14].
It is like putting pearls before swine [Matthew 7:6], to lay before a man with a rejecting heart the great spiritual truths of the Lord Jesus. He stops his ears; he doesn’t hear. He closes his eyes; he doesn’t see. He hardens his heart. He does not open his soul heavenward [Matthew 13:15].
So the parable, He says, is understood only by the man who will open his heart, who will open his eyes, who will open his ears. But, oh! Blessed is that heart that will be open God-ward, blessed are those eyes that will open in faith to look, and blessed are those ears that are attuned to the whisperings of the Spirit of our blessed Lord [Matthew 13:16]. So it is for us who are saved to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God [Matthew 13:10-11].
Now, in the interpretation of a parable, how shall we interpret the parable, the story of our Lord, for it has a heavenly meaning? It is told for a spiritual significance. Now how shall I interpret it? In the simplest way possible, always. Always, if there are two explanations of any passage of Scripture, and one is devious, and circuitous, and the other is simple and plain, always, always the simple one, and the plain and the obvious one.
The kingdom of heaven is so different from what most people think. A learned minister can stand up and mouth multitudinous syllables and speak all kinds of theological language, and the people understand nothing that he says. But they will go out the door and say, “Ah, what a learned man.” Unless they themselves betray their own ignorance, why, they say, “Was not that a magnificent sermon?” and they never understood a part of it. He did not even understand the theological language of it. That is not preaching! That is not presenting the truth of the Lord God. No man ever spoke so simply, so plainly as the Lord Jesus—little one-syllable words! And your finest preacher will always be the man who speaks in plain language, and the people understand, and they are blessed and encouraged in the faith of the Lord. So, in the interpretation of parables, always the plain and the simple meaning, always.
And the Master almost inevitably will have one great spiritual truth that He is seeking to uncover, to reveal in a parable. And when you put too much in all of the details that follow you become ludicrous, and you lose the great purpose of our Lord in telling the story. Almost always there is one great, ultimate meaning, one deep spiritual truth, and when we find that, you will find it plain and simple and obviously told in the parable.
Now another thing about the interpretation of parables: they are figures, they are numbers, they are colors, they are forms, they are references, and they are true to themselves through the whole Word of God. By this I mean that Jesus is not mixing figures. He does not do it, nor does the Bible do it.
I had a family leave this church—now, I am not lamenting, I am not lamenting; I do not object to their leaving—but I had a family leave this church because I believe that God is consistent in His figures. So in interpreting the Word of God, I took the meaning that God gave to a parable, and I interpreted it according to the meaning of that parable all the way through, of that figure and type all the way through. And they were so offended that they left us and joined another church. Well, that’s fine with me, but I am not going to change my basic and fundamental persuasion, which is the truth of God, that the Lord is consistent in what He says always, and you can count on the consistency of the Lord God.
Now I want to illustrate that to you. A lamb: a lamb is not one thing in Genesis and another thing in Leviticus, and another thing on the Day of Atonement, and another thing in the New Testament, and another thing in the Book of the Revelation. A lamb will have the same meaning, it will have the same type, it will have the same spiritual significance all the way through the Word of God, because God gave it that meaning. And the Lord God wrote that book here in Genesis, there in Leviticus, here in Deuteronomy, and the Psalms and the Prophets, in the New Testament, in the Epistles, and in the Revelation. They are not forty different authors. They are just men who wrote down God’s message. The author of the Holy Bible is the Holy Spirit of God! [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. And He doesn’t mix His metaphors, He doesn’t scramble His similes, He doesn’t becloud His types. But it will be the same all the way through. A lamb will be a sacrifice for our sins, an atonement, wherever the lamb is used, always. A wolf will be a type of the viciousness of these who are children of darkness, of Satan, and of the kingdom. And when you see a wolf, it is always that teaching and that spiritual significance.
It is the same way with leaven. “Oh, pastor, now, you wait!” I am telling you that God does not mix His metaphors. He does not confuse His types. They are the same all the way through. And I can interpret; I can count on the consistency of the Lord God. I can do it. That is the interpretation of the Holy Book, according to the mind and the Spirit of the Lord.
The same thing about numbers: seven is always a complete number, completeness, seven; and six is always a number of incompletion. It is the number of a man who falls short, always. And 666, he is ultimately and finally fallen short.
I preached several sermons on spiritual numericals. They are consistent all the way through the Word of God. So when we read the Bible and when we read the parables, we can see what God is saying because He has taught us how to interpret by reading in the pages of His Holy Book. And it becomes an open door to us who have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand [Matthew 13:15-16].
Now our time is gone. But I must say one other word. I must say one other word. The parables, the stories of our Lord that are collected here by the apostle Matthew, these parables and these stories concern us. They concern this age, this day, and this kingdom. There is another kingdom; this is not the only one. There have been other ages. There is another age, our ages that are yet to come. But these stories all are of this day and of this time. They are parables, stories that pertain to us now in this life. How is the kingdom of heaven? And how does it fare, and how does it do?
The kingdom of heaven is here in this earth, and it is here among God’s people. And it is here among evil people. It is in our day and in our time and our generation. For example, the Lord will say, “Now hear you the parable of the tares: the field is the world, and we live in it. The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the children of the wicked one. And the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world” [Matthew 13:38-39].
So I know that the kingdom of heaven is Christendom. It is the world in which we live. It is the United States. It is Great Britain. It is South America. It is Italy. It is the world in which we live. And in that world there is a kingdom. I think there is a kingdom of darkness presided over by Satan in this world [Colossians 1:13], and I think its manifestation is atheistic, blaspheming communism. I do not think there is any other explanation for the violent inroads of communism in this present world. It is a kingdom of darkness.
There is a kingdom of life, and of light, and of glory, and that is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 19:14]. And how does the kingdom fare when it is launched forth into this world? How does it do? We are told that in the parables. It runs the risks, and it takes the chances, and it enters the fray, and the battle, and the confrontation, and there is every kind of vigorous opposition and blasphemy and rejection [1 John 2:16].
That is correct. But the Lord says there are also conquests, and there are victories, and there are rewards. And we are not to attempt a separation, not we. That separation lies in the hands of the Lord. I am not to judge. It is in the prerogative of God to judge. But what I am to do is to sow the seed of the Word, and to witness, and to testify, and to pray, and to appeal [Matthew 13:3-9]. And how shall I fare when I go forth with the seed of God’s Word and sow it into the hearts of men? How shall I fare?
Some will not listen. They will not listen. Upon some hearts it will fall and be received joyfully, then to my disappointment fade away [Matthew 13:4-7]. But into some lives and into some hearts, it will bear a hundredfold reward [Matthew 13:8]. And I’m not to be discouraged, but I am to sow the seed of the Word, and I am to witness and to testify. And God will give us some; not all, but some.
A man came to Spurgeon and said, “If I believed that, I’d be so discouraged.” “Oh, no!” said Spurgeon, “I am encouraged; for I may not win all, but God in His sovereign grace hath promised me some” [Matthew 13:8]. We will not fail.
Two men knocked at my study door tonight before I came over here, when I was getting ready to preach tonight. They knocked at my door, and they had a young fellow between them, a boy twelve years of age, and they had won the little fellow to Jesus. Oh, there is a reward! And this morning there came down a young man. I never had seen him before. He took me by the hand, and he said, “Sir, I have been won to Jesus. I have become a Christian.” I said, “Well, who won you to Jesus?” The way he said it intrigued me. He said, “Melvin Carter, Melvin Carter won me to Jesus.” I said, “When did he win you to Jesus?” He said, “Last Tuesday afternoon, he won me to the Lord.”
We may not win all, but God will give us some! And we are not to be discouraged. Therefore we shall sing, and rejoice, and witness, and testify, and pray, and commit our lives, and God will give us some. He will not fail us, He will certainly bless us.
Now this is just a little preliminary word concerning the parables of our blessed, blessed Savior. Now may He reward us again tonight in His infinite grace [Ephesians 2:8], and in His elective purpose.
Tonight, you, somebody you, give your heart and life in faith and in trust to Jesus; come, come. If you are in this balcony round, there is time and to spare, there is a stairwell on either side, at the front and the back; come, you! The press of people on this lower floor, into the isle and down to the front: “Pastor, I give you my hand; I give my heart to the Lord, and here I am.”
A family to come into the fellowship of the church: “Pastor, my wife and our children, all of us are coming.” A couple, two of you, or one somebody you, while we sing this appeal, make it tonight: “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Come. Into that aisle, or down one of these stairways: “Here I am preacher, and here I come.” Do it now. Make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.
THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1-23-66I. The parables of Jesus
A. A characteristic manner of Jesus
1. An unrivaled teller of stories – they were unforgettable
2. The word pictures He painted encompassed whole area of life
B. Meaning of the word “parable”
1. Earthly story with heavenly meaning
2. Illustrated a mystery of the kingdom by some familiar thing of earth
3. Jesus did not invent this form of a story(Judges 9:7-15)
C. Timeless appeal to the human heart
1. Revelation of truth in every age
2. Pre-eminently so, the parables of JesusII. Mysteries of the kingdom
A. Understanding the parables conditioned upon discipleship(Matthew 13:11-13, I Corinthians 2:14)
B. Interpretation of parables
1. Simplest way possible
2. Jesus does not mix figures
a. Figures true through the whole Word of God