Those of you who are 30 years old and older will remember the American diplomats who were imprisoned in Iran for over a year. In January 1981, they were released. As a symbol of welcome home, many people carried out the words of the song, “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree” and everywhere these diplomats went for the first few days, they saw yellow ribbons. Since that time, the idea of using ribbons to symbolize support for people, groups or ideas has grown. For example, yellow ribbons are used today by a group to symbolize support for suicide prevention. The city of Edmonton is using a yellow ribbon campaign to support military personnel and their families. There are hundreds of other ribbon campaigns of every colour. What began as a song and was used as a symbol for a special event has grown into an accepted movement that pervades our society and is understood by many people.
Not every movement is as successful. How many of you remember OokPik? The very first Ookpik was made by Jeannie Snowball, at the Fort Chimo Eskimo Cooperative in Quebec. In 1963, Ookpik was put on display at a large trade fair in the United States and caught on for a while, but that movement disappeared, and never really went anywhere.
We have been studying Jesus and what happened when he came to earth. He did amazing things. Two weeks ago, we saw how Jesus demonstrated power over nature, demons, illness and even life. People saw the power of Jesus and began to wonder what His movement would bring. Following the healing of a woman with a physical deformity on a Sabbath, in Luke 13:1-17, this issue was raised by Jesus. He explained the nature of the movement he was involved in. He talked about the kingdom of God and how the kingdom of God would come. The phrase “kingdom of God” appears 4 times in Matthew, 14 times in Mark and 31 times in Luke. It is evident that this concept is an important one in Luke and so we need to take some time to study the kingdom of God. As we think about the kingdom of God, another question is raised in this passage which we also need to think about and that is the question, “Am I a part of the kingdom of God?”
I. The Kingdom Of God! 13:18-21
What is the kingdom of God? Is it a kingdom present here and now? Is it a kingdom we are waiting for? How is the kingdom of God coming into the world?
A. What The Text Says 18-21
Jesus answers these questions using two parables in Luke 13:18-21.
In the first parable, he talks about a mustard seed. He describes it as one of the smallest of all seeds, but he goes on to describe the large plant that comes out of this small seed. Most commentators agree that he was likely talking about black mustard, which is a very small seed and grows to a bush about 4 ft. and even up to 9 feet high. What he says about the mustard seed is this truly amazing thing about plant growth that such a small seed slowly and steadily grows to a large plant.
The second parable is about yeast. In those days, they did not have Fleishman’s yeast in small packages that they could buy at the grocery store. What they had was a small piece of dough that had the fermentation that causes it to rise in it. They would put this small piece of dough in a new mixture of flour and water and other ingredients and the fermented dough would multiply throughout the dough and the whole mixture would then rise and make a nice bread. For the purpose of his illustration, Jesus speaks about a large amount of dough. NIV simply translates it as such, but in fact the original actually has 3 satas of flour. This is quite a large amount, about 22 liters or ½ a bushel of flour. Jesus illustrates by drawing the picture of a woman mixing the dough and letting it rise as the yeast permeates the whole mixture.
With these two illustrations, Jesus was describing what the kingdom of God is like. What are the lessons we are to learn about the kingdom of God?
The first lesson was important for the Jews whose history of expectation was that God’s kingdom would suddenly burst on the scene and take over the kingdoms of this world. Jesus’ parables indicate that this is not how it would be. Although he was doing amazing things, his movement would not rapidly mushroom to a violent confrontation which God would win. Rather, the beginnings of the kingdom of God would be inauspiciousness. As the kingdom of God has unfolded, we can see how that proved to be the way it was. What Jesus did when he was on earth hardly made a noticeable impact on the known world. What he was doing was occurring quietly in a small corner of the world. Few in Rome knew about what was going on. When Jesus died on the cross, it appeared to be the end of his movement, but it was simply further evidence that his movement would begin small - like a mustard seed. We need to know this because sometimes we get discouraged and wonder, where is the great victory of God’s kingdom in this world. It continues to be small, hardly noticed by the great nations of the world, certainly not having an evident and powerful presence in the affairs of the nations.
But smallness is only the beginning point of what Jesus was saying. The parable also illustrates the gradual growth of the kingdom of God in this world. A mustard seed grows imperceptibly day by day, first breaking through the ground to become visible and then daily adding leaves and growing larger each day in such a way that we hardly notice it. But are always amazed that what was not there a few weeks ago is now several inches high. So also, imperceptibly and gradually, the yeast permeates the lump of dough. Something is always happening.
This is something that we can see has already begun to happen in the kingdom of God. It would have been hard to see after Jesus died and especially after Jesus ascended into heaven and the disciples were gathered quietly and silently in Jerusalem. But since the day of Pentecost, the kingdom has been growing mightily. As Philip went into Gentile territory and Paul moved beyond the Middle East into Asia and Europe, God’s kingdom grew and continues to grow. Every time we hear missionary reports about conversions in remote places in the world, every time someone becomes a follower of Christ in our neighbourhood, we rejoice to see the kingdom of God gradually and steadily growing. Reports which reveal the worldwide extent of the kingdom of God are an encouraging indication of how God’s kingdom is permeating the entire world.
The third point of the parables is that what begins small and grows imperceptibly and gradually will one day permeate the entire world. This is the promise of hope. This is the amazing thing that God is going to do in a complete way when Jesus comes again. As we read the prophetic passages of Scripture - Matthew 24, Luke 21 and the book of Revelation, we have a glimpse of what we are looking for. As Jesus humbly taught and healed the people, inviting them into the kingdom, he represented the mustard seed and the small amount of yeast. But there is a different picture of Jesus in Revelation 19 in which he is riding on a white horse with the identification, “King of Kings and lord of Lords.” That is a very different picture, representing the final end of this parable, and the final consummation of the kingdom of God.
One writer speaks the words which encourage us out of these parables when he says, “Don’t be troubled by your ordinary life today. Faithfully follow Jesus. At history’s finish line, you will be a champion.”
B. What Other Passages Teach
Before we go on to ask the other question raised in this passage, let us take a brief look at some of the other passages in Luke which speak of the kingdom of God.
One of the questions which has often been debated is the question, “where is the kingdom, is it present with us now, or is it entirely yet to come?” Jesus answered this question and helps us understand a little more about the kingdom of God.
In Luke 17:20-21 we read, “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” In other words, as Paul W. Harrison says, “Wherever God rules over the human heart as King, there is the kingdom of God established.”
But when Jesus was having the last supper with his disciples, we also read in Luke 22:18, “For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”
This has been confusing for many people, but it should not confuse us. If we look carefully at all of these teachings, and also the parables we looked at today, we will realize that God’s kingdom is slowly growing now as people turn to Him and allow Him to reign in their hearts. At the same time, we look forward to the day when God’s kingdom will come with power and He will reign over all. The kingdom of God is a movement. One which began slowly in Jesus’ day, which is continuing to grow today and which will be complete when Jesus returns.
II. Who Will Get In?
So as the people of Jesus day observed the miracles of Jesus and heard his teaching, many began to wonder if this was the kingdom of God present among them. As we have seen, Jesus explained that His kingdom would slowly grow in this world until the day when it finally came in completeness.
As Jesus presented this reality, another question began to form in the minds of the people and may well form in our mind. The question, and it is an important question, of who will be in that kingdom. Because the kingdom comes so quietly and gradually at this time, there are many who miss its coming.
There was a Jewish debate about the coming kingdom of God. People had read the prophets and were aware that because of unbelief, many would not be a part of the kingdom. They had read the words of the prophets that talked about a remnant being saved. Perhaps this debate was in the mind of a person who asked him, in Luke 13:23, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
Jesus, however, was not interested in a theological debate. He turned the question back to the man when he encouraged him to be a part of the kingdom. In the words that follow, Jesus says some things that we need to take very seriously.
A. The Time Is Now!
We need to understand first of all that there is a time when it will be too late to become part of the kingdom of God. Jesus uses the illustration of a door saying that the “owner of the house gets up and closes the door.” Today, the door is opened, but the day is coming when it will be shut. Of course, we understand that God is the owner of the house and the illustration is quite clear that one day, the opportunity to respond to the invitation to enter the kingdom of God will be gone.
We don’t know when the door will be shut.
We don’t know if all of a sudden Jesus may return. When Jesus returns, it will be in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, as quickly as it takes you to blink and then it will be too late. Then you will have missed your opportunity.
We don’t know when our day of death may come. Perhaps we will drive along one day and a truck will come into our lane and we will be gone. If we have not entered into the kingdom of God before that, suddenly it will be too late. Can you imagine what would happen if there were no yellow traffic lights, if it would go suddenly from red to green? The traffic chaos could be devastating unless people were always prepared. Life does not always have yellow warning lights to warn us when the light is going to change and when it will be too late.
"Delay is the deadliest form of denial" is one of the laws for which Prof. C. Northcote Parkinson is famous. He was asked to explain it once at a tea. "I will," replied Parkinson, "in a few minutes." (Unknown, Leadership)
If you have been delaying the decision to follow Christ and become a part of the kingdom of God, the best time is now.
B. Will You Be In?
As we read in this passage, we read the amazing news about the many people who will be a part of the kingdom. In verse 28, Jesus talks about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets. He talks about people who will come from all directions and will be part of the kingdom of God. Jesus also talks about the amazing great reversal which will take place in which the last will be first and the first, last. He does not elaborate on it here, but in the next passage, in Luke 14:21, he talks about the poor, crippled, blind and lame who will enter into the kingdom banquet in place of the invited guests.
These people will be in, but two times in this passage, Jesus indicates that not everyone will be in when He says, “I don’t know you.” This has reference to the Jews who thought that by their nationality they would be included. But Jesus warns that nationality means nothing.
Have you ever wondered whether Jesus will say to you, “I don’t know you?”
Jesus tells of those who plead to be allowed in when the door has been closed. To their insistent pleading and knocking, the master of the house replies, “I don’t know you or where you come from.”
As they continue their insistence, they argue that they knew all about Jesus, that they had eaten with him and had heard his teaching. Once again, the master of the house replies, “I don’t know you or where you are from.” Then we hear the other shoe fall. We hear the words of judgement and the enormous regret as they realize that they are condemned to exclusion and will not be in the kingdom of God.
How sobering, how dreadful to be left out!
The man who asked the question about “only a few being saved” had the question turned on its head.
He said , “Is it many or few?”
Jesus said, “What about you?”
The question must be answered by all of us. What about you? Are you sure you are in the kingdom?
It is not enough to know about Jesus. It is not enough to have read His book. It is not enough to associate with Christian people. It is not enough to be engaged in good works.
It is possible, even for people who have grown up in the church, to one day hear this sad phrase, “I don’t know you.” If our Christianity is a cultural thing which we embrace because it is acceptable to do so, we may well hear the words, “I don’t know you.”
If we read the Bible, go on service assignments and even attend church every Sunday, it is still possible that we will hear the words “I don’t know you.”
It is not enough to have, what Amos calls a “Once upon a time” kind of faith. If we once accepted Christ, but have now drifted away and are living in our own kingdom once again, we may well hear the words, “I don’t know you.”
The statement “I don’t know you” tells us exactly what is required and what will give us assurance that we are and will be a part of the kingdom of God. It is about a relationship with Jesus. The only way we can know that we will not hear these words when the door closes is if we know Jesus today. To know Jesus is to admit that we are utterly lost without Him. It means that we accept His solution to our lost-ness and sin and it means that we enter into a living, daily relationship with Him - one in which He becomes the Lord, the master, the king of our life.
Bishop John Taylor Smith, former Chaplain General of the British Army, was preaching in a large cathedral on this text: “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In order to drive it home, he said: “My dear people, do not substitute anything for the new birth. You may be a member of a church, but church membership is not new birth, and “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.””
On the left sat the archdeacon in his stall. Pointing directly at him, he said, “You might even be an archdeacon like my friend in his stall and not be born again, and “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” You might even be a bishop like myself, and not be born again, and “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.””
A day or so later he received a letter from the archdeacon, in which he wrote: “My dear Bishop: You have found me out. I have found me out. I have been a clergyman for over thirty years, but I had never known anything of the joy that Christians speak of. I never could understand it. Mine has been hard, legal service. I did not know what was the matter with me, but when you pointed directly to me, and said, “You might even be an archdeacon and not be born again,” I realized in a moment what the trouble was. I had never known anything of the new birth.”
He went on to say that he was wretched and miserable, had been unable to sleep all night, and begged for a conference, if the bishop could spare the time to talk with him. “Of course, I could spare the time,” said Bishop Smith, “and the next day we went over the Word of God, and, after some hours, we were both on our knees, the archdeacon taking his place before God as a poor, lost sinner, and telling the Lord Jesus he would trust Him as his Savior. From that time on everything has been different.”
—Harry A. Ironside
As surely as the sun will come up, as certainly as spring will come again, God’s kingdom is growing and in the end, it is His kingdom which will prevail. In all of eternity, the kingdom of Hollywood entertainment will fall apart. The kingdoms of Saddam Hussein and George Bush will disappear. The kingdom of our job, our family, our home will pass away. But the kingdom of God will continue to grow. It will grow in spite of opposition by those who are hostile, it will grow in spite of neglect of some people, it will grow in spite of the carelessness of many. In the end, when all other kingdoms have fallen to the dust, the kingdom of God will stand, strong and eternal.
Are you a part of this kingdom? When Jesus comes and sets table at the heavenly banquet for all his subjects, will you be at that banquet table? If you know you won’t be or are not sure, please choose the kingdom of God today. If you would like to make this commitment today, please speak to me or someone else today.